Summer 2019 Research Grant

Jeff Nichols
The Mountain Commons
5 min readJun 27, 2019


This summer, IMR is helping to fund an exciting project from Prof. Allison Shir and Nathaniel Wooley, from Westminster’s Dance program. Here’s Nathaniel’s first report:

Summer 2019 IMR Student/Faculty Research Progress Report 1, June 1, 2019 Nathaniel Woolley and Allison Shir

Sacred Mountains: Where body and Spirit Converge Structure and Implementation of Research

As researchers, we had initial discussions on how to structure the physical practice and experiential methodology of our site-based research; we had a conversation about the phenomena of repetitive rituals in spiritual practices and the tendency to ascribe a certain sacred number of repetitions. We decided to embody this practice in our research, settling on the number seven as a framework to use to infuse meaning into our patterning of ritual and physical cultivation of space (hereinafter #7). We selected the #7 after I, the student researcher, listed numbers randomly to illustrate this idea and Professor Shir, the faculty mentor, latched on to the #7. Her initial attachment stemmed from knowledge that it is traditional for the bride in variants of Ashkenazi Jewish marriage rituals to circle the groom seven times. I attached the patterning of this ritual to the practice of circumambulation, a sacred tradition surrounding mountain spaces. From there a cursory google search revealed an array of worldwide sacred rituals and beliefs centered around the #7. While we plan to continue to research specific religious uses of the #7 and incorporate those into our experiments and we understand that by ascribing meaning we have created meaning, so far its use has been as a structural device through which we organize space, time, inquiry, behavior, and movement.

The embodiment of our practice consists of seven sections (sections one and two are repeated in reverse order at the end to give a circular structure and aesthetically symmetrical conclusion to each session). The experiential structure of the physical practice is as follows:

1. Walking Towards — Walking into the mountains and discovering or choosing space; tuning into the environment.

2. Opening Ritual and Greeting — Circumambulating the space 7 times; thanking it, creating meaning and sacredness of the space, noticing the space.

3. Movement Game — Physical/mental game that enhances perceptual awareness i.e. the convergence of mental/physical/spiritual sensitivity to the environment.

4. Experimental Activity — Physical and aesthetic studies of the body and environment in relation to overarching research questions and the weekly readings that have been read prior. This is documented with journal and film.

5. Composition — Discussion of experimental activity gives rise to framework for movement composition based on the experiment. This is documented with journal and film.

6. Showing and Sharing/Doing and Discussing — Further theorization and physical embodiment of experiencing/reading/experiment/composition.

7. Writing/Drawing — Concise textual or visual documentation of important discoveries or insights.
2. Ritual of Thanking and Goodbye — Inverting of the prior circumambulation; reflection, thanking,

goodbye, mindfully uninhabiting the space.

1. Walking Away — Leaving the space; “returning away’ from the mountain and reentering anthropocentric space.

Session Summaries (Sessions conducted at Silver Lake in the Brighton area unless otherwise noted).Session 1, Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Site: Jeweled Net of Marshmallows

Weekly reading: Paul O. Ingram’s essay “The Jeweled Net of Nature” from Buddhism and Ecology . Walking Towards: Conditions are snowy as we hike into the space, searching for a site. After five minutes we discover a snow filled observation platform above the lake. It has a bench to store our materials and a vista of the surrounding mountains. We name it after the “jeweled net” referenced in the week’s reading and the marshmallow like mound of snow inside the platform. Opening Ritual: Embodiment of the opening ritual (7 circumambulations) is successful, though difficult in the deep snow. Movement game: we invented and played “I Spy, Catch, The Senses, and The Elements.” Experimental activity: our activity was “Sitting Observing Developing.” Composition: We devised a 7-sectioned movement phrase distilled from the experimental activity. Doing and Discussing: Our discussion was about the elements/senses, uncertainty and transience, the ecosystem, and how sacred spaces aesthetically operate. Writing/Drawing: We engage in personal journaling. The ritual of thanking: The building snowstorm obscures our footprints as we complete the ritual. Walking away: We continue walking the path around the lake; completing circumambulation of the larger space.Session 2, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Site: Snowhenge

Weekly readings: “Self-Fulfillment Through Organic Learning,” “Awareness Through Movement,” “Feldenkrais Interview [transcript],” “Man and the World” Author: Moshé Feldenkrais. Walking towards: Our hike in is only 30 seconds as we are drawn to a human-made ball of snow in the middle of a snowy field. We name the site “Snowhenge” because of its likeness to megaliths. Opening Ritual: We circle the ball seven times, creating a “snowhenge” in the snow. Movement Game: We use our “delicate hand muscles” (discussed in the reading) to draw patterns on the “snowgalith”. Experimental Activity: A 3-minute aural scan of the space with eyes closed, followed by a 3-minute movement improv based on the scan. Composition: We tell each other what stood out in our respective improvs, then compose movement based on those observations. Doing and Discussing: We discuss the corporeality of time and space, questioning how we develop and learn from perceptual awareness. Writing/Drawing: We engage in personal journaling. The ritual of thanking: We walk seven circles in the deep snow. Walking away: Our walk back is short and populated by interaction with other hikers.
Additional Information

Each week, Allison and I alternate the selection of readings that inform our theory and practice. Thus far, spiritual and ecological theories and dance and somatics related writings have informed the research. We meet every few weeks to comparatively discuss the readings, how they manifest in the doing of the research, and the connections and conclusions that can be ascertained from this. Our first such meeting was on Thursday, May 30, 2019.

I am maintaining a weekly blog where the readings, research sessions, a bibliographic archive, and film and photographic documentation are broken down and presented in an integrated format. Website link:

Lastly we decided to change the way we divided the schedule of the group and solo research. After our first few sessions we will be conducting the group research throughout June and the beginning of July before conducting the solo research throughout July and August. This makes it easier to schedule others to participate in the research.