My InterPlay Weekend: Exploring body-wisdom as an evolutionary possibility

Dante at Play

After three days of dance and play I feel like a river washed stone. Free of the crustiness that builds up over a year of work I feel my body to be content and my heart full. My family and I have been part of the Canberra InterPlay gathering. We have played with a group of about thirty others in a celebration of body-wisdom. We have explored meaning and soul and the frivolous in community and reconnected with our inner family of selves. All of this has got me thinking…

The human body is a fantastic thing. Strangely our culture — Western culture — fails to celebrate this fact. It treats it instead either as a problem that gets sick, needs maintaining and disciplining or as a vehicle of consumption. Generally it is the taken for granted instrument of our ego expression. That I am my body is a given and yet many of us sense there is something more. A spirit/consciousness presenting itself via the form we are given and then craft in this world. Of course the antagonism between body and spirit has its roots in the war we wage on the body and its desires when pursuing so called spiritual and religious goals. So here we have it: There is this strange schism between body and soul that I have been trying to work out all my life.

Interplay fun!

In recent years I have come to realise that the antagonism is only there when we feed it. Rather than grappling with the ‘Problem’ we can simply dance around it; side step the issue and take the initiative to celebrate and play with the body as a vehicle of joy and health and possibility. This somewhat romantic position may seem lazy and escapist in a world filled with real problems and knotty issues. But to me the tools we need to reimagine our world and play a part in its healing lie in the domain of joy and play where our creativity and motivation and spirit can come to the fore and offer rich paths into the future.

I was in India in February 2013 with my wife Alison when we met a Jesuit priest called Prashant at Fireflies, an earth-spirituality ashram in Bangalore hosting the annual Dialogue en Humanitée. Prashant was quite remarkable, especially for a Jesuit, as he approached life with an informality and passion which he shared with others through the form of InterPlay. Alison and I were both struck by the way InterPlay effortlessly wove together body and spirit. Every morning of this conference we danced and played as a community and when we returned to Australia we determined to explore this form more. The journey lead us to meet some remarkable interplayers from Sydney, InterPlayCanberra, Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Tony Hole — Interplay leader and co-facilitator with Susanna Pain for the Canberra weekend

They offered a beautifully sequenced approach to embodied spirituality which I took into my work as a futurist and educator. My work focuses on nurturing and exploring living cultural forms as expressions of a pragmatic neohumanist spirituality. InterPlay offers me tools and context to develop in community the relational ethics and spiritual processes that consciously take us into action on behalf of and in celebration of the world we share. InterPlay helps me really anchor such work in the celebratory and sacred space of play and community.

Walk. Stop. Run.

For me the logic in all this is the inter that vivifies the play. We play together, we play as individuals and then spread out into the populated space of an InterPlay experience to explore the possibilities of embodied being in robust and dynamic community. The play nurtures culture that is open, inclusive and affirming of the body as a vehicle of the sacred.

One of the things that would strike anyone with a background in dance, theatre and improvisation is that the tools are remarkably simple. We move, run, stand still, free form dance, pose, form body sculptures, improvise on words, chatter and babble etc… Yet the simplicity is deceiving. There is a deep intentionality in the processes experienced at InterPlay gatherings. They build incrementally over time dissolving resistance and fear whilst opening heart to spirit. In fact it is of critical importance that interplay acknowledges the role of spirit in the process. It delights in affirming our spiritual potential through simple actions and humble movements. You do not need to be athletic, able bodied or trained as a dancer. All you need is to bring a willingness to allow the processes in to do their work. Vulnerability and trust are the key elements in all this. InterPlay challenges us to trust the body as a vehicle of Grace in this world and put aside our defensive masks.

This openness brings me back to the inter in interplay. The Buddhist monk Tich Nhât Hanh once talked of inter-being. His beautiful commentary on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra explored the fact that we all inter-are. Without the other we do not, indeed cannot, exist — we only ever exist, find ourselves and fully embody when we are in community. Of course, as Hanh acknowledges, this relational awareness is not restricted to human community but extends to being in-community with the living and physical elements of our planet and the Cosmos. So the ‘inter’ points to the spaces — so misunderstood as empty — between one another.

Light Sculpture exploring space

The space between, taken as vacuum, is a grand misapprehension that underpins the rationality of our modern world. To see the space as full and rich offers an entirely different way of living and inter-being. It challenges the great isolation of modernity with the great inclusion of an emergent reality — a new culture of inter-being. The physical process of our planet and the social process of late capitalism are forcing us to evolve new ways of understanding and practicing Being. We are all connected and we need to live as such.

Yet culture does not grow out of intellectual and rational understanding. It grows out of the heart space of communal experience in which aspiration and yearning for wholeness and security lead us to create new meanings and new identities with the qualities called forth by our environments. Body wisdom, play, resilience, connection, compassion and creativity are undoubtedly such qualities on today’s evolutionary list. These are fostered though the light work in which spontaneity, joy and community offer spiritual clues to our future potential as individual and cosmic beings.

So if you were in Canberra on the weekend and happened to peak into the Mary McKillop Conference Centre you would have seen a group of people playing together. Limitations and inhibitions were not present there, rather play and exuberance danced with deep reflective moments of honesty and sharing. The group was small but size has little to do with evolutionary advantage. What really matters is a commitment to life lived in fullness and spirit.

Three graduats (Marcus, Alison and Glenys) with InterPlay leaders Susanna Pain and Biff Ward