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This Room is Where I am and This Room is What I Make it: Collective Healing Through individual Excavation by Whitney Casal

From the September 2020 Issue. 

Read the rest of the issue here.

We’re creating the room we deserve. When I close my eyes to imagine the room in its embodied form, it isn’t a physical space. “The room” is a collective agreement; “the room” is a mental space; “the room” is a reimagined reality. Most of all, “the room” is any way we wish to perceive it. It exists however we imagine it, because it is what we imagine it to be.


I intuit this “space” as one where the healed parts of us are containers for the pieces still being mended or not yet even acknowledged. An ongoing desire and commitment to healing is resoundingly present. The collective agreement is that we hold ourselves and each other with integrity and deep understanding. Reciprocally, we are held in the compassionate circumstances we ourselves create.


Through my experiences in and out of COVID-induced isolation, I found myself engaging in somatic practices that offered ideas of connecting to past selves. These modes of moving and thinking provided a space for making friends with past versions of myself, or at the very least, making peace with them. Call them ghosts, call them demons, call it your inner child, call them memories. What I propose is that excavating all the parts of ourselves, invite in a knowing. As artists, we often engage in this practice , yet a new kind of unfolding is available when we aim our arrows at a specific purpose beyond research or art-making. (Of course, our aim can include these purposes too; arrows can fly in parallel). Aiming so far begs the question, though: how can inviting all the versions of myself to the table facilitate personal healing?

The unfolding is a transformative process that uses truth and transparency as vehicles. Knowledge is not only intellectual but also intuitive and ephemeral; dancers know this to be true, maybe more than anyone else. When we tap into new ways of seeing and experiencing, our inner landscapes shift to reflect back on the outer world. On my own path, this process of unveiling has been intense--and extremely uncomfortable at times. But the loosening of tightly bound grief has created space for letting go, an outpouring of what is no longer useful. The now-empty space receives transformative nectars that act as a kind of loving glue, supporting me through the pouring and filling, the unknowing and knowing.

As one of my teachers once said, “In the dance between the desire to hide and the deep need to be seen, we find connections that create change.” While imagining a future full of what we deserve (being seen), we must first refer to what has already happened (in many cases what has been hidden or ignored). Of course, we’re afraid that opening this portal will reveal truths we’d rather not look at — and it will. Prying the lid off that tightly sealed jar, new oxygen rushing into the fermented stew that we call the past. Past mistakes, past grievances, past traumas, past embarrassing versions of ourselves, past growing pains. The inevitable truth is that all of this is carried with us even when we choose to ignore it. In that case, it’s worth the discomfort to trust yourself to bring “it” — whatever it is— out of the shadows. The acknowledgment brings us one step closer to the reckoning, and eventually it might not weigh so heavily. Healing increases exponentially in this way. To make internal space is to create opportunity for external growth, for increased capacity, for expansion into new realities. 

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As I share all of this, I believe it especially important to note: the only thing we can really be sure of is that one rarely understands the metamorphosis while it’s happening. Let’s not forget, the caterpillar breaks down into physical goo in order to rebuild itself into a butterfly. One of the most literal metaphors for transformation, and still a potent reminder that the process is often messy and uncomfortable. In fact, feeling displaced and out of sorts most likely means we’re in the phase of being broken down, just so that our molecules may find each other again in new configurations.


So how do we create the room we deserve? There are no prescribed steps, the path is jolted, and jagged, and barely lit, and we all set out from different points. The process might look a myriad of ways. My own vehicles have been through meditation, breathwork, movement, dancing, singing, and being in community (yes, even over Zoom) with others engaged in these practices. As dancers, we are professionals at embodiment, so as a starting point, perhaps these questions may be helpful: What happens when I turn the research inward? How can embodied practices aimed at knowing suppressed parts of myself be a transformative action, internally and for the collective?


Most important in all of this: individual healing is collective healing. The room speaks with its hands drenched in equity and with accountability dripping from its lips. The room is co-created by the individual actions of many. The room is built by our own commitments to ourselves, for each other. There’s a filling and a pouring that’s inextricably connected: fierce grace moving us from and into integrity, all the while moving us closer to a shared intention. Let us be encouraged in knowing that the act of engaging in healing work is one of radical hope, a prayer of optimism that speaks into existence what life – or in this case, the room – can be, and the potential we have in becoming.

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