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Stories: Health and Healing
Collective Resonance and The Creative Connection
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Renee Levi Interviews Dr. Natalie Rogers

On the Presence of Collective Resonance in Group Process

While teaching a course called Expressive Arts for Social Change: A Person-Centered Approach for Saybrook Graduate School, Natalie Rogers created an environment in which many of the students reported feeling the "magic" related to Collective Resonance. In this interview with Renee Levi, Natalie describes some of the methods she incorporates into her Creative Connection process and how transformational they can be for those involved.

RAL: Please describe to me an experience of collective resonance. It’s probably useful to choose one that sticks out in your mind. What happens so that I can enter into it with you? . NR: I’d like to talk about some experiences we are having during the new certificate program in expressive arts at Saybrook Graduate School. In April of 2004 I began teaching a course called Expressive Arts for Social Change: A Person-Centered Approach. It meets for 6 separate weeks of intensive experiential training over a two-year period. These are adult students with jobs and careers who are looking to use the expressive arts in their mental health profession, or are looking to change careers and using this as a time and place to search their inner truth for guidance. Let me explain a little about the expressive arts process that I teach and facilitate.

The Creative Connection is the title of my book, and a process that I have evolved over time. It is a transformative process in itself and it has to do with combining or integrating movement, art, sound, journal writing and person-centered type sharing. This does, indeed, connect us to our body, mind, soul, spirit, because it uses all aspects of ourselves. We’re not just talking about our process, we are embodying a process of getting acquainted with our feelings and thoughts – mostly our feelings – through movement, which helps us be in touch with our feelings. The movement, of course, is non-verbal, and helps us become aware of our feelings. Then we use these feelings to express ourselves through visual art, either through clay or collage or paint. And while doing all of this we may be using our voices making sounds. Not necessarily words but just sound to express our feelings.

All of this helps us come alive. Our bodies become really resonant to our own self and to others. So that’s part of the process I’m talking about.

RAL: Wow.

NR: In one of the introductory courses something happened that was quite astounding to most of us. This was in January during the time when there was a huge wave of national energy and dissent regarding a pre-emptive war on Iraq. This group had already met for several days and we were well bonded. It was January 18th and that was the day a lot of my colleagues were at the San Francisco anti-war rally. I decided to try to bring the anti-war rally into the classroom here in my studio. The students met in my beautiful, big studio for 4 days of movement and art and sound. First we just talked about what was going on, the facts as we knew them, and then our feelings about them. There was definitely anxiety and tension in the air regarding going to war and bombing innocent civilians as well as military targets. Many feelings came up about despair and anguish and hopelessness, fear, grief, and injustice -- terrible injustice and powerlessness. One woman said she felt hopeful. She thought that all this debate about peace and war worldwide would indeed change the consciousness of the world about the lack justification of war and the total devastation that war causes. So there was one hopeful person and she made a good point. But the rest of us were feeling angry and upset about a possible pre-emptive first strike against a country that had not attacked us. We had all these feelings rising up in us against what our Administration was about to do. After we talked about it for awhile, I said, “rather than just talk about it more, I want us to move it. Let’s move our bodies to express it.” I asked people to get up. I put some colored scarves in the middle of the floor so they could use them in dance. I asked them to move with their eyes closed. Then I told them to let out any sounds that they wanted or to enact what they were feeling in any way that they wanted. I put on music -- Marvin Gaye’s piece called “What’s Goin' On?”

RAL: Oh yeah, (singing) what’s goin’ on…

NR: The words are, “Mother, mother, mother, there’s too many of us dying. Brother, brother, brother, there’s too many of us cryin’. War is not the answer.” And then it goes into a lot of really painful words about children and people dying even though the music is very upbeat.

RAL: Mmm. I know the song well.

NR: While the music was on I suggested they listen to the words as well as move. We had all this input about pain and suffering. The movements were incredible! One woman had a black scarf over her head and was just sitting there. Her movement was really non-movement as she just sat and almost nonverbally wailed. Other people were dancing their rage or letting their arms flail. Their bodies were really speaking. This is where a collective consciousness seemed to happen. These people were moving with their eyes closed. That was the instruction. The reason we have people close their eyes is so that they are more aware of the feelings in their bodies. Also, they are not worried about what they look like or what other people are doing. From there the collective spirit emerges. It’s what I call going through the deep, dark tunnel of experiencing, or re-experiencing, the shadow aspect of ourselves, the parts that we want to repress or put a lid on, hold back, because they’re too painful.

We go into the pain in order to go through the tunnel to experience some light, hope, or the ability to act. And out of that experience that day, after we’d done movement for just ten or fifteen minutes really, I said, “Without talking, just find a media that you would like to use to express what you’re feeling visually. It doesn’t have to be an image -- it can be abstract -- it can be just color and line and form.” There’s a place in my studio where people can hang big pieces of paper on the wall and paint large pictures or they can choose collage materials or clay. One man made an angel of death out of clay and wrote a poem about it. Other people created collages of war and peace and then they wrote. This sequence is what I call the Creative Connection ® process. Often we use movement and sounding first and then go to visual art and journal writing. All of that takes an hour or two during which time there are no words. People are not talking to each other.

RAL: No words. Ahhh…

NR: This is the collective consciousness of the group -- or the collective unconscious, I don’t know which! It could be called the resonance, as you would say. It is as though you can cut this sacred space with a knife, you can hold it in your embrace.

I’m a witness to all of this, holding the container. Holding the space for people to feel safe, to be authentic, to be their real selves.

RAL: So your role is as a witness, you said? As a holder, a container. You’re actually consciously holding that space for them.

NR: Oh yes! I’m witnessing what they’re doing. I’m taking it in like a sponge (chuckle). I say things just gently once in awhile such as, “It’s okay. Any feelings you have are okay. Any sounds you make are okay.” I try to softly convey, “I’m here. You can do what you need to do to first be aware of your feelings” because that is the first step, to be aware of your feelings. The second step is to express them through movement, then through visual art, then through writing. Finally, we share our experience.

RAL: Oh, so there’s another step there.

NR: Yes.

RAL: Which is talking about it, pairing up and talking about it to another person?

NR: Yes. And I’ve already given instructions, but this particular group is very well trained because they’re already non-analytic therapists. They are person-centered which, as you know, is my philosophy and that of my father.

RAL: Yes.

NR: But if this is a group that doesn’t understand person-centered philosophy and methods I first give them practice in empathic listening so they know how to hear someone deeply. As we listen to a person very carefully and empathically, that person can then open to their next inner step and go deeper to discover their real inner truth.

By then we have fifteen or eighteen people who’ve all been through an hour and a half or two hours of deep inner journey, separately but together. And that’s what seems to create the sacred space where people really find a deep spiritual sense of who they are and sometimes, which was true with this group, what the collective is. The collective spirit.

RAL: They find it. Do they talk about it as the collective spirit?

NR: Yes, particularly in a group like this. Of course, you do need a facilitator. I don’t deny the importance of my role, which is to say, “Anything’s okay, I will hold it. If you need to shout or scream, I’ll be here.” Or, “If you need to cry, I’m here.” You know, they need to believe that’s true. But when they say thank you to me I say, “ Let’s talk about how we did this for each other. We’re all here. We can do this for each other.” The important thing is not to judge people, and not to analyze people or interpret their art. I have guidelines that I set which make it safe.

RAL: Even before you said it I’m imaging this dance between the individual and the collective through this whole process. For this study, anyway, the collective is my focus. So would you say that the collective, the sacred space, is built over the whole process? I’m struck by the beginning, by the movement, by the music and the movement. That’s really when it starts, right?

NR: For me, and for those of us in this culture. I think it’s very different for each culture, probably. In our culture it’s not typical that we use our bodies to take the first step, which is to pay attention to the messages our bodies give us. We’re just not very familiar with that.

RAL: You’re right, yeah.

NR: But indigenous cultures are.

RAL: Yes.

NR: You know, some Native Americans – they may know who their spirit guides are or what the animals are saying. They tune in to a whole body awareness that we’re not familiar with. So it’s reacquainting ourselves with that process that others who are so-called ‘primitive’ but are actually more evolved in a lot of ways, already understand.

RAL: So in a way it’s kind of like ‘shaking up’ (chuckle). And it’s also that first piece which you said is so critical – the awareness piece. So would you say that first piece – the moving, the using our bodies, the allowing – is, in my terms, a vibrational thing, really?

NR: Yes! That is certainly part of it.

RAL: …because bodies are moving in the space…

NR: Right.

RAL: That’s really the awareness piece that later allows the expression of it?

NR: Yes. It is. In this culture I almost always use movement first even if people are in wheelchairs. You know, to use whatever they can move, because we are a culture of sitting and thinking and talking. We are so left brain oriented. So the movement does a lot of things that helps us become aware of our feelings.

I know that my body picks up on a cellular level what’s happening in the world. Tension builds up in me and in my colleagues as we contemplate the possibility of this pre-emptive strike.

RAL: Yes.

NR: And this tension happened to me before the Gulf War, too. It’s as if my body begins to feel, “Oh my G-d, I’m taking in this built-up tension.” And I do not fear for myself, but for the pain of possibly bombing innocent children and people.

RAL: It would be interesting to have somebody study what that means for disease rates immediately after events like this because I believe it manifests. And sure, that’s what this study is trying to map. I’m particularly interested in the beginning. You said eyes are closed while people are moving, and then I think you said that you sense, right then, a shift to the collective?

NR: Yes. I believe I do.

RAL: How does that feel to you? How do you know?

NR: This happens to me in the Authentic Movement class that I am in as a participant. Authentic Movement is a very special practice, in and of itself. What I sense is that when people are truly expressing things they feel through their body, and it’s authentic, not play-acting, there is an altered state of consciousness that becomes riveting to the witness.

RAL: Wow.

NR: You can tell. And I know when I’m in that state myself – when I’m a participant – and suddenly my body is telling me what to do, not my mind.

RAL: Okay.

NR: It’s a shift. And that shift is a – as you say, a felt experience – of being in an altered state where I’m not controlling my body or my sound. But somehow my body is doing it first and then I’m trying to understand what I’m doing later.

RAL: Rather than the other way around.

NR: Rather than the other way around. It’s a shift. I describe it as an altered state of consciousness that I both experience as a participant and as a witness. Also it can be described as a shift between left brain to right brain.

RAL: Mm-hmm. When you’re witnessing this, Natalie, are you aware of… Could you describe to me what actually happens? What do you observe in the body that you know that this is happening?

NR: Oh, I would love to. These are good questions. I should ask the women that I know that do authentic movement, too, because they’re good at describing it. How would I describe it? (Pause). Well, one thing to say is that it’s beyond words (chuckle).

RAL: Yeah! (Laughter). And that’s valid, you know?

NR: Mm-hmmm.

RAL: You know? And I don’t want to force you because it’s…

NR: I’m trying to think what kind of words would describe it.

RAL: Let me ask you a different question. When you are a participant, where in your body do you feel it most?

NR: It’s an all-over feeling. Well, you know, people describe something similar in meditation when they change from the alpha state to the theta, I believe. I know in meditation when I’ve shifted into a different state of consciousness where it’s peaceful. And for a few seconds or a few minutes the thought process is gone and I’m just totally… Well, alignment is a word that comes to me.

RAL: Yes…

NR: I’m aligned with spirit. That would be true in authentic movement too. I’m aligned with spirit. I don’t know if it’s ‘higher’, but I’d say my other consciousness or a different consciousness or a higher consciousness. It’s not that all the things I experience are beautiful – quite the contrary.

The most recent experience I had in my own authentic movement class as a participant was experiencing myself as a growling, angry animal. I just let myself be that. I was growling and on all fours and crawling and getting really ferocious. I was aware at that time that I was in an altered state of experiencing some huge amount of anger and aggression. I didn’t know what I wanted but I allowed myself to enact it. It’s not playacting, it’s not like putting on a play, it’s like something’s coming from inside that needs to be released and let out.

RAL: Oh, I see. You think in that case it was coming from inside, it wasn’t coming from outside.

NR: Well, if you define outside in terms of the world. Then I sat down to write because in authentic movement class we don’t talk after we do this, we write. What came out was a deep angry feeling about greedy, greedy white men who want to have it all. Have the oil, have this, have that, and they are power-mad. “I want it all, I want it, I want. I want the oil, it’s right there, I need it, I want it.” It’s like being in the middle of a little boy’s temper tantrum. Also, through this movement I became aware of that part of me that was them. So my consciousness shifted again into a knowing that this is what my body was enacting, both anger at them and identifying with them. And then I shifted again, and I asked myself, “Okay, Natalie, how do you collude with them?”

RAL: How do I what?

NR: Collude. How do I collude with the greedy white men? If I buy a new computer, am I colluding with the corporate greed? Or is the Internet part of how we fight back? So when I sat down to write, I was in my right brain being very intuitive and fully expressing my anger at big corporate control. And then I shifted to a different consciousness. I started to take responsibility for my part of it. You know, “just don’t blame everybody else.”

RAL: Mm-hmm. That was your mind coming in, right? But prior to this you were really just in your body. So now you’re analyzing and sort of directing your energy.

NR: Yes, exactly. I began asking myself some further questions.

RAL: Yes. So that’s the dance between right and left, right?

NR: Yes, mm-hmm.

RAL: That’s what is beautiful about it, it’s whole. It’s whole.

NR: Mm-hmm.

RAL: And when they were dancing - let’s just go back to the Saybrook group. You said when you first described it that you felt a collective resonance begin even though their eyes were closed. So it’s clear they really weren’t seeing one another. But you, as witness, were actually witnessing a move into the collective?

NR: Yes. I’m not sure I could see it visually. I felt it.

RAL: Could you describe what that felt like. How did you know they were colluding? I mean, together?

NR: Well they were each doing very individual things…(pause). How would I describe it?

RAL: Was it an energy?

NR: Well, energy is certainly a one word for it. But what kind of energy? What would I call it? It’s as though people are feeling each other’s pain and sorrow and anger. I think it would have been quite different if I were just witnessing one person doing this, which I also do as a psychotherapist. But it’s quite different when you’ve got the group energy. Some people are using angular, strong, hard movements because they’re angry or other people are hiding under a black scarf grieving. And other people are trying to open their hearts to send out loving energy. But there’s a collective awareness, an energetic awareness.

In our authentic movement class a group of five or six of us move for forty-five minutes with our eyes closed. The facilitator, who is an expert witness, often tells us (when we are finished moving and are sharing our experience) such things as, “When one of you was lying down with your hands over your eyes, somebody else was doing that, too.” Even though we can’t see each other, we do things that are either similar or in response to each other without even knowing it.

RAL: Oh… Mm-hmm.

NR: That’s very interesting to authentic movement practitioners.

RAL: And the role of the witness is to connect those, right? To observe and tell the group what actually was happening, because otherwise you wouldn’t know, your eyes were closed.

NR: Yes, you wouldn’t know what others were doing. However, that’s not the major function of the witness. The major function is to make a safe space for each person to do their own inner work through movement and also to respond to each individual with feedback if they want it. But, a third thing, I would say, is to talk about the collective.

RAL: I see. The third question has to do with shifts. You did talk a little bit about the shifts when you were moving. I guess, I assume, that as you go from stage to stage, to the art, to the journaling, to the talking, you perceive shifts in the collective. A deepening, or…?

NR: Yes. Often. Both individually and collectively because the same kinds of shifts happen when we’re doing visual, as with the movement.

RAL: Oh really?

NR: Oh yes, definitely. Let me give you a personal example. I’d like to talk about my grief after my father died. In my book, The Creative Connection, I have pictures of my artwork during the year following his death. My paintings just started out being black paintings and paintings of feelings of being overwhelmed, such as a little tiny figure in a tidal wave. I did that again and again and again, which released it and then it began to transform. For people who are angry, I suggest they do ten paintings of being angry. The images don’t have to be faces or people or things, just color, line, abstract forms, if you want. But just do it again and again and again in an afternoon and you will find the shift. I feel the shift immediately when I do that. I begin to feel the release. First of all there’s the awareness of what you’re feeling, then the release, then more release, and then you begin to get some insight into what you’re feeling, and then colors begin to shift. Maybe there are lighter colors. Also, you may begin to see what you can do to take responsibility for the feelings or the situation. It’s both a shift between intellectual insight and self-understanding and then releasing what’s there. The images and the colors speak back to you and give a sense of self-awareness and further depth.

It’s like peeling the layers of an onion or opening the lotus blossom. Because you keep going further and further until you find something more satisfying, something deeper - an inner truth.

RAL: And then as you do that individually, how does it affect the collective?

NR: When we’re dong the artwork all together – I’ve often said this even though I’m not a church-goer – it feels like a sacred space, like church. Everyone is focusing on their artwork, whether it’s clay or collage, or anything – it could be all different media at once. However, while each person is focused on their own inner journey, the collective journey seems like a light in the room or a sense of an energy atmosphere - almost visible. I think that if I could see auras the energy would be visible. I and the others in the group very easily experience the energy. It really affects people.

RAL: When you just said that, what color came for you?

NR: Yellow.

RAL: Yellow. Okay.

NR: But I make that up because I don’t see it. (Laughter). I’m making up what I’m saying because I don’t actually see that color. I’m not that attuned to auras, but that’s the color I think I would see. That is what I feel.

RAL: And if I were to ask you again, right this moment, being back in that amazing, palpable quiet. If you just closed your eyes for a moment and you were there again in that space, and you took a body scan, is there any part of your body right now that’s just sort of…?

NR: Yes, my heart.

RAL: Your heart. Okay.

NR: My heart.

RAL: Okay. Thank you.

NR: Heart chakra. Definitely.

RAL: Wonderful. And so you said when everyone is focused on his or her own inner journey, the collective journey becomes just more powerful, right?

NR: Mm-hmm. It deepens everyone’s process.

RAL: It deepens everyone’s process individually?

NR: Because of the collective energy. People always talk about that.

RAL: And vice-versa, right?

NR: What do you mean by that?

RAL: Well, as it deepens individually, I would imagine they’re putting more of their authentic self into the space…

NR: Yes, definitely.

RAL: …so the collective…

NR: …because it’s cyclical, like a circle. The energy you give out comes back to increase the energy.

RAL: Right. So by the end, because you’ve done this iteration: they’re doing their art, then the journaling, which is deeper yet, and they come together as a group?

NR: Mm-hmm.

RAL: Describe that feeling.

NR: Well, first I have people talk in pairs or triads, usually pairs, and the energy is very excited. It goes from being very quiet to being highly energized as they discuss their own inner journeys with each other. It’s not raucous, but it’s very lively, very active, and very positive.

And then we come together as a whole group and I ask them to consider what has been most important in their process. When we get back into the large group to talk the shift goes again more to the left brain. We think through what just happened and why it happened and then, you know, what’s going on in each of us. People look at the personal issues they want to further or deepen.

RAL: So is there a point in time when everyone is sitting together and actually dialoguing all together.

NR: Yes. I close almost every group with that kind of a large circle. Even if there’s seventy people, I do that.

RAL: You do? And is there a ritual or anything you do at the end?

NR: To close it?

RAL: Mm-hmm. Just curious, I don’t know.

NR: Well, sometimes. With the Saybrook group we did some sounding. You know, like om-ing!

RAL: You did?

NR: Yes.

RAL: Wow.

NR: It was wonderful but then I made a huge mistake!

RAL: What?

NR: We were all very high in an altered state of consciousness. I let them leave the room in that state. I forgot to ground people. And I know better! Thank G-d they all got back to the hotel - it was only two miles. I went over to the hotel for dinner, and within the two miles I took two wrong exits myself!

RAL: (Laughter).

NR: Most of the students were sitting at one table and I said, “Oh my G-d, I forgot to ground us!” and they said, “Yeah, we were in such an altered state. We didn’t know where we were going and got a little lost.” And I said, “Well don’t ever do what I did.” I know better. You know, there are ways that we always do it in our institute training program.

RAL: How do you do that? I’m curious.

NR: I get people to stand in pairs and I demonstrate how you can just brush the aura down. Without even touching your partner, you can bring the energy from the top of their head down into the ground.

RAL: Uh-huh.

NR: And hold people’s feet on the ground. I mean, we’re usually barefooted anyway.

RAL: Back down to the first chakra and into the earth.

NR: Right. And then the partner asks if their “subject” wants to be touched, and again, the energy is brushed down their body into the ground.

RAL: (Laughter). So you let them leave your studio in the higher realms, right?

NR: Yes, and that can be dangerous.

RAL: You know, this sounding - I’m just curious - did it come up spontaneously or did you plan that?

NR: The om-ing? I guess it was spontaneous. I don’t really remember. I may have suggested it.

RAL: I am curious with that group because it began and ended with actual physical resonance.

NR: Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.

RAL: Because it was dancing and Marvin Gaye in the beginning and then it was a felt need, I suppose, to chant or do something resonant again.

NR: That would really pull us all together in the same band,…(laughter)…same energy. And that was after four days!

RAL: Ah! Wow.

NR: A lot happened for each person. I received a lot of feedback on how transformative it was.

RAL: Natalie, that was just beautiful, thank you. Just a couple more questions. This one, as I read it over sounds a little trite for somebody like you. But, what value or significance has your experience of collective resonance had for your life or work?

NR: It’s interesting that trying to understanding the collective, which is very difficult, has become part of my work. It was never anything that I intended. I founded an expressive arts institute in 1984. We’ve been doing intensive 400-hour training programs. By the time people go through a couple hundred hours of this, we are more and more aware of what’s going on in the group. And when I first started the program, I thought it just had to do with individuals, more like individual therapy within the group. But what became apparent after feedback from the participants was that this is a spiritual journey. The collective creates a transformative space, a space to really connect with higher powers.

RAL: I describe the group as a sensing organ. The individual is of course important. But, for me, the importance of the is in a world sense because we do work in groups and we live in groups and we are in communities and we’re in nations. How can groups implicate order, or the universal, or an intelligence or guidance or wisdom beyond the individual human being or individual group of human beings? …but how can we be a sensing organ for what is trying to be voiced? How can we voice what’s already there? And how can we manifest it? How can we express it? How can we counteract the shadow sides of what groups can do? This is what we’re seeing.

NR: What we’re experiencing, yes.

RAL: …what we’re experiencing more and more. So actually the underlying purpose of my study is really for the individual to bring to their own consciousness these experiences that they may have had. Then, in that sense, I think it raises the vibrational level. Then we begin to talk about it together and it raises the whole collective consciousness to counterbalance the opposite forces.

NR: I think all that’s happening on the Internet now, that describes people all over the world who are meditating or saying prayers for peace at certain times of day, does make shifts. If I’d heard about this kind of behavior twenty years ago I would have thought that it was just gobbledygook, but now I find it’s really true. Research is being done at Harvard Medical School and other places about people healing physically when prayed for. I would have thought that was ridiculous a few years ago.

RAL: This has been really interesting, Natalie. Thank you for your time and thoughts.

(Link to Profile for Natalie Rogers)

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