The Heart of Listening

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The Heart of Listening

– Blog written by Caroline S’Jegers for Heart of Ecstatic Dance Training (next training: 23-29 February 2020 in Amsterdam!)

As a DJ and dancer, I experience listening as an art form. Listening requires presence and practice. Silence and connection. Listening can only be experienced through the body, while staying connected to our inner voices of wisdom as well as to our surroundings. Listening asks of us to fully inhabit our body and thus: to tend to its needs. The body speaks a language of its own, its messages are instinctive and connected to the senses. The body re-members: it shelters and stores experiences, in relation to the wild soul. At the heart of listening lies (the art of) listening to the wisdom of our soul – which happens only through the experience of embodied presence.

“Some say the soul informs the body. But what if we were to imagine for a moment that the body informs the soul, helps it adapt to mundane life, parses, translates, gives the blank page, the ink, and the pen with which the soul can write upon our lives?” (Clarissa Pinkola-Estes)

Birthing into Being
Giving birth to my son was one of the most mystical experiences of my life which humbled me deeply to the (he)art of listening. The laboring process started before I could ‘understand’ what was happening with my logical brain. I was feeling pain and contractions in my womb/lower back, yet I kept on thinking these were simply preparing my body for the ‘real deal’. So I tried to go to sleep, and kept on turning and turning in my bed. The pain started to become so intense, that it was impossible to sleep and impossible to think clearly. Every time I contracted my body, the pain became more intense. Every time I started breathing with the contractions (which were moving towards the center of the earth), my body would relax. I started listening to the messages that my body had to share (I had no other choice), as if my life depended on it (which it did and so did the life of my son). I started to ask questions: how does this energy move through me? Which sounds does it make? How does my body want to move? It responded with deep, roaring sounds and spiraling movements. I started praying and communicating with my son, gently whispering to him: “You are welcome, follow your own rhythm, I am here.”

The combination of deep listening, prayer and presence allowed for my body to take my soul on a journey (and vice versa). It felt as if I had entered a dream-trance-state. My body was floating on the waves of the contractions, and my heart and soul were moving through the cycle of life, death and re-birth. This allowed for me to open up even more – deeply rooting myself into the earth while at the same time expanding into space. By the time we realized that our son was about to be born, my husband and I called our midwife. Hazel was born twenty minutes later, in front of the fire place, in our cosy and warm yurt. My husband welcomed Hazel into the world, as he gently slipped into his arms and passed him on to me. The animal world cheered at Hazel’s arrival. Our cat had been following me from the moment the contractions started and was lying on top of the yurt, protecting our home. And the owl started howling the moment silence entered our round-shaped tent. The silence spoke louder than words and was almost tangible. The birth of Hazel initiated a re-birth for me – from maiden into motherhood, a re-birth for us as a couple – from partners to parents, and a re-birth for the three of us as a family. Our midwife arrived – in the middle of the night – to help us with the afterbirth…

The Darkest Hour of the Night…
We are living in a time of great transition: as a human species, we are being confronted with global warming and with natural disasters that are mainly being created by our own actions. It’s as if we are collectively moving through a re-birthing process, (often) unaware of our own contractions. By fighting against our own pain, we experience (even) more pain. And by numbing ourselves, we cannot allow for  what wants to be born through us, to fully integrate. We treat our own body the way we treat the earth: we over-consume, rape, ignore, control, manipulate and overwhelm our own systems. Yet, the darkest hour of the night is the hour before the sun sets…

With a deep desire for community and connection, more and more people are calling out for new and passionate initiatives. Ecstatic Dances are shooting up like mushrooms! The dance creates a safe space where we can (re)connect ourselves to life – through body, mind and heart.

“Let everything into you – beauty and terror.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

While dancing, I learned that the only way out, is through. Moreover, there is no way out! From the moment I enter the dance floor, I am in. From the moment I have been born on this earth, I have been a full participant of life. By allowing myself to feel both the terror and the beauty, I am constantly re-birthing myself into being. I am not saying this is easy. Since Hazel’s birth, I have for instance decided only to travel in Europe by public transport (and I have not traveled beyond). This means that I travel sloooow and only say ‘yes’ to DJ gigs when I feel a full and embodied ‘yes’. This choice has meant saying ‘no’ (which is not always my biggest strength) to other inspiring gigs. Yet it has given me the chance to be home more often – and to deepen my connection with my family and with my work in new and unexpected ways.

The process of birthing is raw, unexpected and savage. It changes and opens us to the bones. And only if we allow for transformation to take place, does it show us its mysterious beauty. It asks of us to take action, from a place of embodied presence and radical responsibility.

The Risk to Blossom: A feminine perspective on DJ’ing
I learned the craft of DJ’ing while being almost the sole woman in the midst of mostly male DJ colleagues. I had up until then always believed that DJ’ing was for men. So I started relationships with male musicians and DJ’s – listening to music and dancing with all of my e-motions, yet never saw myself as a DJ. Up until the day when my life became unbearable. I was working as a journalist/photographer at that time and was feeling deeply unhappy. Dance and music were my biggest passions, yet I had integrated the collective lie that I would never be able to live from my passions. So I remained hidden…

“And the day came when the risk to rain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Anais Nin)

Until the day came in which I made the jump… And cut my sword through my own limiting beliefs. I was fed up with holding myself back, and went – yet again – through another re-birthing process. I started creating Ecstatic Dances, learned the techniques of using a DJ program, listened to music for hours and hours and hours… and discovered how to craft musical journeys.

There are many ideas about how to create the ‘perfect’ wave for Ecstatic Dance, and the most known is: starting gently, then building the music towards a crescendo and then letting it unwind again. Yet, what I have come to experience, is that every dance floor and every specific moment asks for something very different. Sometimes, the dancers are very playful. At other times, there’s a lot of tension in the room or the full moon fills the dancers with warm-blooded energy. My own feelings also add up to the mix. If I feel angry, sad or confused, I see it as my task to channel this energy into my craft. Every emotion can be used as an entrance into the process of creative flow. This does not mean that I will mainly play dubstep music while feeling angry. It means that I acknowledge how I feel, and use the energy of this emotion to stay present in my own body and in the space.

There is no such thing as ‘Ecstatic Dance’ music, yet it sometimes requires a whole lot of digging to finally find that ONE song that truly moves you. Only by listening to the subtle layers of the music (and by listening and listening and listening again), will the music start sharing its messages. Lately, I can even hear the intention behind the music I listen to. How a song has been recorded and produced, matters – big time! One of the important tasks of a DJ is thus to hold space through music, while being connected to the orchestra of the dance.

Orchestra of the Dance
Now take a moment to listen to your own body. Which sounds truly allow for your body to feel at ease? What is moving you and what is asking to be moved through you? Maybe you receive an image, a message, a word. Can you receive it fully? Dive into the silence: how does silence resonate in your system? If you feel tension in your body, ask yourself: what do I need?

Personally, I experience the sounds of nature as soothing and the rhythm of my heartbeat as connected to the rhythm of the earth. I tend to use music on the dance floor that gives the dancers an ‘organic’ experience, meaning that it relaxes the body and expands the mind. From here, space is being created for the inner voice of the heart to share what is wanting to be expressed. In the beginning of my DJ career, silence would scare me. At the end of the dance, when many dancers would be lying on the floor while integrating the dance, my inner critical voice would arise – telling me I had to hide away. I even wanted to go up to everyone, saying sorry for the mistakes I had made! The fear of not being enough – which often resulted in panic – would overrule the beauty (and terror!) of what was taking place.

Silence brings us in connection with something much larger. As a DJ, it is our task to be an embodied leader while at the same time getting out of our own way. For me, this means handing the role of dance orchestra conductor to the divine. Learning to trust that I am being guided while guiding others on a journey. Listening to what is needed on the dance floor, while staying connected to myself at the same time. Only by being embodied and rooted in my own experience, can I be present for the dancers. And only by being present with the dancers and the space as a whole, can I stay connected to the (re)birthing symphony that is being created as it moves (through) me.

The music chooses me, the vibration of sounds take the dancers on a magical journey and our bodies become the vessels through which the sacred orchestra of the dance can come to life. How this unfolds, is always a mystery…

See you on the dance floor!

Caroline S’Jegers