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5. On Being Alert

Animals are instinctive: they have an ability to stay still, they have an immediacy of response, and they are naturally graceful and harmonious with nature. Animals know how to heal themselves. When wounded or sick, they withdraw and stop eating, licking the wound. Animals have many ways of communicating with one another. Their senses are sharp. Their movements speak. An animal stays alert because its degree of awareness determines its survival. The alternative to alertness is death.

Human beings have similar capacities, but don't choose to use most of them. A person's instinct speaks first in any situation, but the pushy intellect often gets in the way. It talks us out of following our intuitions. We rarely sit still as animals do or respond to situations immediately. Our bodies are naturally graceful, but we lose touch with them. When something hurts, we complain loudly and run to the doctor. We talk incessantly to one another, rarely listen, and thereby effectively block other natural means of communication. Our senses are dulled by lack of use. Although human beings have consciousness of their own mortality and animals seemingly do not, humans rarely behave with the moment-to-moment alertness that this knowledge demands.

The intellect loves to dominate. Its domination clouds the expression of our natural abilities. If you learn to turn the intellect off, when necessary, the abilities reassert themselves one by one. When you follow your true instinct, your actions usually succeed. Each of us has experienced the sharpening of our senses when we sit very quietly and focus our attention. Sounds we usually never notice emerge birds, crickets, wind, water. They fill the space. The scents of moss, rich soil, or the hair of a friend suddenly become noticeable. We can feel thoughts and emotions from other people as clearly as if they were visible, tangible objects. And, little by little, many people are reawakening ending to their innate ability to heal themselves and to their ability to communicate in ways other than speaking.

It is the same with movement. When you think about doing a movement your mind is not still, and the body doesn't do the movement correctly. Instead, both the mind and the uninvolved area of the body need to stay still, but alert. The movement can then take place while "you" remain in the center of silence. This is the difference between thinking alert and being alert.

Being alert and moving without thinking are two important animal characteristics to study if we wish to understand clearly the "animal in us" and integrate that naturalness of movement into our own motions. Every animal has its own essence, every person has his or her own essence, every species has its genius. We can learn to run, jump, leap, and be still with animal genius. Apparently, to keep us humble, the only thing we can't do is fly.

When we study animals, many of our closed-minded attitudes and mental blocks, such as fear, insecurity, and game-playing are revealed. You can't fool an animal. It senses your fear immediately and reacts by taking a stance and preparing to attack. A mother bear freezes dead still when she first spots you. Do you respond without panic? Then perhaps she takes her cub and withdraws silently into the woods. You can approach any animal if you control your thoughts to that degree of purity where you see the sameness between yourself and the animal. Love the animal, and you will find that place of oneness between you. The animal becomes your teacher in that moment. You learn its essence and the language of its movement, and you see its characteristics in yourself.

To experience our animal characteristics and to sharpen our awareness, we do many exercises in our workshops at Le Centre du Silence. In "The Cat," catness pervades your being. "The Phoenix," condenses the lifespan of this remarkable bird into a few minutes. When the moment of its death approaches, the phoenix gathers palm fronds, arranges them around itself, and burns up in them. Out of the ashes arises a little phoenix. In this exercise you become a bird you fly! You transcend the barrier of gravity between birds and humans, and you experience the legend on a physical level.

Other exercises develop individual senses like smell, sound, and touch. Can you recognize your friend with your eyes closed, using only your sense of smell? Does every centimeter of your skin touch and respond to touch with the same sensitivity your fingers have? When the senses awaken, refinement of the senses becomes possible. The result? Alertness, flexibility, balance, grace, and a host of other subtle faculties come into play. The body strengthens; every muscle and blood vessel responds. In the center of silence, movement speaks.

In yet another exercise, each student chooses an animal he or she is sympathetic with such as a cat, bird, elephant, or raccoon. The characteristics of that animal are transposed into the body. The student becomes that animal, following its behavior in its own setting. If you choose to be a bird, you hunt for worms, build a nest, sing to protect your territory, and fly. We don't imitate the animal, but we find the sympathetic meeting point between animals and humans and explore it.

Using the body as the medium for learning what the animal has to teach us, the exercises help students find inner resources that suggest their own inherent abilities to express themselves. When you allow yourself to "become" an animal, your body acts on a visceral level your intellect would other wise never allow you to "stoop" to. Your natural behavior on this level reveals a whole, new, unexplored world that expands your repertoire of natural expression. It is a delightful and totally absorbing exploration of the self.

We learn to transpose animal characteristics into human ones. Performing a slothful person and performing a sloth in a forest are two very different things. Performing inadequacy and being inadequate are not the same thing either. You have to be articulate enough to show inadequacy adequately or slothfulness keenly. With this skill, students are able to deepen the meaning of each movement they make, because they bring it out of a primordial place within themselves. And then, the movement speaks.

"Samuel brings awareness to the soul of people and gives the artists who work under his direction the need, dedication, and love for the world of silence and the beautiful art of movement."

 

- Marcel Marceau, BIP 1961

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Le Centre Du Silence
P.O. Box 745
Lafayette, CO 80026

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About LCDS

LCDS is an independent school for self-discovery through the human Arts.  The school offers seminars and workshops teaching the concepts of Theater, Mime, and Movement.