Dancing our victims…

I recently completed a facilitators’ training for the Prison Dharma Network’s “Path of Freedom” curriculum.  Part of that curriculum looks at conflict as a function of the drama triangle and its distinct (though often shifting) roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer.   In the Path of Freedom model, the alternative to the drama triangle is the empowerment triangle, in which we consciously shift towards roles of co-creator, challenger and coach.  Needless to say, I find this model very useful in my own life and am looking forward to being able to bring the Path of Freedom curriculum into the prisons here (next fall).

Meanwhile, I decided to explore the theme of shifting from victim to a more empowered role at the women’s prison here via “JourneyDance” –  a yoga-dance form that grew out of the Kripalu yoga tradition.  It was quite inspiring– especially because the women far exceeded my expectations in their willingness to be who they are, to play and to receive.  Here is my fairly detailed account of our victim/empowerment dance:

I started out talking about how I had been looking at/wrestling with my own victim stories that week and invited them to use our time together, if it was right for them, to explore these themes as well.  I also reminded them that this was not about judging or blaming our victims, but rather seeing them clearly so that we could choose more empowering options.  In the mellow stretching sequences I led a combination of messy chaotic, contracted movements with big long wide open stretches as a way of setting up the energetic distinction.  As we began to take up space in the room to some Cuban samba I invited them to drop in and out of a “victim” dance and right away one woman remarked at how different the victim’s dance felt and how easy it was to go there and feel it.  We then did a fun follow-the-leader dance to Michael Franti’s “Hello-Bonjour”: “I don’t need a passport to walk on this earth, Anywhere I go ’cause I was made of this earth, I’m born of this earth, I breathe of this earth, And even with the pain I believe in this earth…”

Then we moved into some shamanic drumming/chanting and I asked each of them to take turns making a sound and a movement associated with being a victim and the rest of us would mirror it– we had roars and whines and boo hoos and growls.  Then we went around again, starting with our original sound/movement but gradually transforming it into an empowered sound/movement — again with the rest of us mirroring.  Without me even cuing it the empowered movements were visually “above the line”– upright– and the sounds were courageous and bright.  I then noted that the victim dance/feelings were called “below the line” and the empowered dance was “above the line” and so we took the victim sounds/movement down towards the floor and as we rose up they became boisterous and strong and jubilant– we went back and forth and on our last time up– Aretha Franklin started in with R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  (Sometimes the music timing gods are really with me!)   As everyone sang along, I invited them to dance respect for ourselves and for each other.  After that was an Irish jig “Lord of the Dance” and I had each of us dance our strong jubilant dance in the center while the others mirrored and radiated love to the center dancer.  Next up was “Falling or Flying” by Grace Potter; they each chose a scarf to dance with as they explored this question– are we falling or flying?  “Are we falling or flying, Are we living or dying, Cause my friend this too shall pass, So play every show like it’s your last.”

Finally, we slowly transitioned to shavasana (relaxation pose) with some Tibetan music, belly breathing and a loving kindness meditation– sending kind wishes to ourselves, to loved ones, to other inmates, and to all beings.  We closed with a seated meditation, and I asked them to visualize holding their victim in their arms as a mother might, and to send her safety, happiness, health and ease as well…


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