Towards an embodied psychedelic consciousness
After attending the first Breaking Convention international conference on psychedelic consciousness in 2011, I was pleased when the opportunity arose to present my work this year. Not only are aspects of my research and choreographic method informed by working with psychedelics, or entheogens, but I felt that too often the psychedelic state is associated solely with the head and the brain, and the body is rarely considered or recognised as the foundation of consciousness. Furthermore, written or spoken language is almost exclusively privileged as the vehicle of communication, even of thought itself, a position which is unwittingly blind to the corporeal bases of language (voiced and written) and meaning; dance, or ritual movement (which is common to all vertebrate species), as a sensual and kinetic language is still largely misunderstood by a production-oriented culture that consistently constricts or inhibits the free expression of the body. Ankoku butoh, the dance of utter darkness, seeks to address these issues in its uprooting of all conventions related to formal dance, society, philosophy etc. At the heart of butoh is a radical choreographic and notation ‘method’ – butoh-fu – poetic assemblages of sounds, words and images which stimulate or provoke forms and movements in the dancer. It is highly synesthetic, and as such relates to the heightened states of bodily awareness that are induced with the use of psychedelics – the multiple synesthesias that in fact operate continually, though generally below, the threshold of mundane consciousness.
In order to show ‘performance phrases’ of Div Shir and contextualise the work, I gave a lecture-demonstration. The following notes are drawn from that presentation and the discussions that ensued. Towards a tactile-kinesthetic psychedelic consciousness…
In the realm of the senses
The body is our oldest magical tool – we have the same physiology as our ancestors who left Africa – and the body’s techne can be rediscovered in combining free exploration or play with a rigorous engagement with it. For me one aspect of this involves the use of threshold doses of psychoactives or entheogens to deepen my perception of movement and sensations; and critically, to heighten my ability to perceive and respond to (movement) patterns. Both these relate to the domain of Eros, to hunting and shamanism. Above all, I emphasise that psychedelic consciousness must be embodied: mind and consciousness are not the preserve of the brain, but of our entire organism. In order to engage with the denizens of the otherworld, to navigate the terrains of altered states of consciousness – and remain grounded and rooted to the telluric source of energy – our explorations need to incorporate a physical praxis.
I have a long interest in animal movement and the possibilities to transform the human body, to metamorphose and attain an expanded or altered sensory awareness. The initial stimulus for Div Shir came from the Olmec sculptures of the shaman transforming into a jaguar. I studied the iconography related to this figure, and in the studio began to improvise based on the postures, beginning from the seated position and extending into rotations and waves of the spine – a kind of skin-shedding allowing the emergence of the other being. This also encompassed breathwork and circulating energy.
Inevitably, perhaps, because of the nature of my personal magical practice and as a devotee of Babalon, the early studio work rapidly developed into an exploration of a dark feminine feline, the Div Shir: I related this phase to a statuette known as the Guennol Lioness. A study and observation of the movement and behaviour of the Asiatic lion was integral to realising the feline forms in my body. This aspect of the work was also informed by Marcel Detienne’s essay ‘The Perfumed Panther’ (Dionysos mis à mort, 1977) which pursues ideas of the erotic and transgressive sexuality in the context of the hunt and wild spaces.
The choreography maps shifts of the axis from vertical to horizontal and returning to vertical; from human to animal to a hybrid form that incorporates both. Situating the ‘fall of man’ at the point that he stood up, i.e. when our ancestors become bipedal, with all the consequences of that ascent; and a possible ‘return to paradise’ in the realm of the senses and a reintegration of our animal and elemental natures.
The practice of butoh enables such an archaeology of the body, and thus of consciousness: by uncovering the past it is exposed to and enters the present. This opens the future to creative transformation.
When Peter Grey reviewed the first Breaking Convention, he spoke of cognitive sovereignty. I will add to that the importance also of corporeal sovereignty. We must reclaim the commons of our shared humanity, our ancestry, our cultures and myths and our environment. The totality of Nature. Our first and immediate site of resistance is our own body.