Consciousness, autonomy, the profound and the ordinary – Insights from Continuum Movement: At the Crossroads retreat
I recently had the pure delight of spending five days on a Continuum Movement retreat near Sydney with my dear friend and inspiring teacher Amber Gray, who, amongst many other skills and credentials, is the only Continuum teacher to regularly visit Australia and offer this rich practice.
Continuum Movement was developed by Emilie Conrad, a US dancer who spent five years living and dancing in Haiti in the 1950s. It was during this time that Continuum Movement was birthed out of a deep curiosity and insight, into a rich practice of somatic inquiry. It is a practice that uses breath, sound, movement and an evolving philosophy of life to tap into and awaken the natural intelligence of the body and its fluid resonance. In my experience, it fosters an easeful practice of listening and a profound state of open, alive awareness that I have not encountered so deeply in any other practices or traditions.
The title of this particular retreat was “At the Crossroads”, drawing on Amber’s experience in the vodou traditions and ceremonial practices of Haiti (out of which Continuum emerged). With our Continuum ‘dive’ structured according to the phases of Haitian ceremony, Amber wove the history of Haitian vodou and insights from the philosophy and tradition through the retreat. The crossroads is the place, the plane, the movement between birth and death, light and dark, love and fear – that, like the yin-yang of the Tao, ultimately reveals these polar opposites as one and the same, inseparable and interdependent. During the retreat, we were invited to bring our questions, our desires, our offerings and honourings to this crossroads and receive our own insights through the practice.
When I talk about Continuum, I often find myself describing it only as ‘weird’ or ‘amazing’, at a loss for words as I am still trying to find ways to articulate what the practice is and why it is so powerful. The most ‘useful’ way I have discovered to describe it recently is a “moving sound meditation”. But even that does not do justice to the richness of the practice, which alternates particular patterns of breath, unusual sounds, and simple movements with “open attention” – where you rest into echoes of the patterns and follow the impulses and sensations that arise into spontaneous movement. In this space of open attention, you can experience profound physical unwinds, emotional releases, deep rest, trance states, or the experience of the body ‘being moved’ by some natural intelligence that is awakened. Or perhaps you are simply present and awake to the very ‘ordinary’ experience of being in your body and your everyday mind.
One of the most potent lessons I have received through my practice of Continuum is that the ‘profound’ states and the ‘ordinary’ states are equal in value. They are all expressions of consciousness, of being, of life: consciousness doesn’t change, only the states of the mind change. And they are all equally precious, equally wonderful, equally ordinary, whatever they may be. Many traditions teach their students not to go chasing ‘spiritual’ experiences, as the very chase can lead you astray from the discovery of awakening into simple being.
A key element of Continuum is an emphasis on what Emilie called being “self-referential” – which we might also think of as autonomy. Rather than simply doing what you’re told to do moment to moment, as in many traditions of discipline, you are taught the sound/movement sequence (the “dive”), and then you make your own way through it. In this way, your experience emerges through your own intelligence, wisdom and self-reliance: through listening. You become your own guide, your own teacher, and the master of your own experience.
In a Continuum ‘depths’ retreat, there is an ‘all-nighter’ – this is a period of time, often 24 hours, in which you are in silence and you continue to practice the dive throughout the night in the hall. It is through this ‘all-nighter’ that I felt the potency of the practice in awakening this sense of natural autonomy. Although the space and the ‘dive’ is there as the guide and the container, and at certain set times the group comes back together to sit for a few moments in silence, the beauty of this practice is that you can do just as you feel during this whole time. Unlike other practices of ‘discipline’, you are encouraged to have a cup of tea when you like, go for a walk, take a break, spend time in nature, rest, sleep, journal, draw – you follow the impulses that arise as an expression of your own being. So I did just that. And at the completion of the ‘all-nighter’, and a whole array of profound, mystical and very ordinary experiences, the only words I had to express were, “I just feel so natural!”
In a conversation with Amber on my constant monkey-mind musings on what the practice is, what it’s for, what are we doing, Amber’s simple response to me was, “You know what it is. It’s a life practice.”
And I finally awakened to that simple realisation.
In deep reverence and gratitude to Emilie Conrad, who passed away last year; to my dear friend and teacher Amber Gray; and to all of the Continuum teachers who are keeping this evolving, rich practice of discovery and life alive.