The Personal Body and the Political Body

The personal body and the political body

can embodied awareness make better citizens of us?


These are the questions that Andrea Juhan muses on when we meet to talk about Encounter, the body of work she has developed over 25 years of teaching which originally evolved out of Gestalt Awareness Practice, psychodrama, somatic psychotherapy, 5RhythmsⓇ conscious dance and Authentic Movement.

These are timely questions, a quick look at the news headlines in any country is enough to see why. Nations across the world are struggling with the refugee crisis as millions of families lose their homes to persecution, war, famine and environmental disasters. At the same time, racism, radical fundamentalism and resurgent nationalism are on the rise with increasingly conservative and extremists governments being elected into power. If there ever was a time for citizens to stand up, speak out and act for what they stand for and make a difference in their world…our world…surely this is the time?

For Andrea, this is where the group process she has evolved with Encounter can make a difference. As she sees it, the premise in this undoubtedly complex question is simple: most of us don’t really have an awareness of the impact we have on the world around us. “We have a skewed vision of who we are, partly because it’s hard to see ourselves and our shadows clearly and partly because other people aren’t really honest: they don’t want to offend, or are afraid of pointing them out.” she says.

She points out that when we get caught up in our personal dramas and shrink to hide ourselves or lash out and push others away we cannot be present and stand up for ourselves – or others. We become silent witnesses and bystanders who watch life unfold from the sidelines. And what this world needs, argues Andrea, is citizens who can tap into our collective creativity and track not just their individual experience but the “whole field of experience” happening around them.

Andrea shares “The way to do that is to explore, move and give shape to those unhelpful habits and mechanisms that keep us disconnected and truly participating in the world around us, and then literally teach ourselves different possibilities. Possibilities that we can then take off the dance floor, into our lives and out into the world. From the personal to the political.”

What Andrea says is really resonating with me. Often, I find myself reacting to people and situations on automatic pilot, “resorting to deep rooted protective and defensive habits” as Andrea puts it. It’s these moments when I’m overcome by emotions or spiralling thoughts which keep me shut down and unable to connect. I see it in how I show up – or not – from my most intimate relationships to the communities I am part of to the wider political world around me. I know how these blind spots keep me stuck in times of distress and confusion, unable to make clear choices and act on what Andrea calls my “inner knowing”. Finding ways to shift that sounds appealing.

In Encounter workshops and groups, movers work “live” with what comes up spontaneously in the group and in the moment. They then get to investigate underlying personal and interpersonal issues that come to the surface and practice moving beyond their habitual patterns. “When we are given an opportunity to interact in pressure situations in a supportive environment that is safe enough”, says Andrea, “our shadows quickly show up and then we can work with them and learn to do something different.”

“I’m passionate about this work because it’s honest, relevant, compassionate and constructive. Where else do we get that?” she concludes.

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