Rituals of Beauty
A feature by Leslie Kenton published in Harpers And Queen
AWAKE IN A DREAM
Rituals of movement are vital to health and beauty. However, most physical movements tend to be disconnected from the psyche. They are things you do mechanically and which although they can be decorative, are fundamentally without significance.
Coex (short for consciousness-expansion) a ritual of movement discovered and then developed over many years by yoga and dream expert Tony Crisp, is different. It is a form of spontaneous movement which is wrought with meaning. Instead of being imposed on your body from without, in a mechanical way, it arises naturally from within. Indeed coex is not so much a ritual of movement as a ritual of allowing movement to take place. It is a remarkable tool for eliminating long-term tensions, for realigning the body and for building that essential bridge between one’s inner being and its authentic outer expression – a bridge which I believe to be absolutely necessary to lasting health and beauty. Crisp himself is wont to say that the ultimate purpose of coex is simply ‘to touch the beauty that is within one, to own it, and to allow its free expression’. In the process, practising coex regularly, say once or twice a week for an hour, tends to uncover whatever conflicts exist between ones inner and outer being, to free energy and vitality which has been locked into such conflicts, and to slowly, organically, begin to put things right through your movements and postures.
The subtle feeling sense
Tall, lean and lanky, Tony Crisp is an unassuming man in his mid-forties with the perseverance of a goat and the humility of a monk. He is best known for his work with yoga and his exceptionally good books on dreams. Crisp is someone who never accepts anything until he has proved it for himself. He is forever asking questions and constantly reminding you that whatever answers he now has are only partial answers and that meanwhile he continues his search. Working quietly with coex over many years with a great variety of people, he has come to believe that each of us has a powerful ‘feeling sense’ – a kind of subtle sixth sense which responds both to one’s internal and external world. This feeling sense (some psychologists call it the ‘self’, others the ‘inner being’, still others simply ‘the unconscious’) also holds within itself the total experience of one’s life – even those things which have been consciously forgotten – and has the key to whatever biochemical, physiological or psychic changes are necessary to any particular time to achieve high-level health, as well as the free expression of one’s individual nature or destiny.
Crisp is by no means alone in working to develop means of activating this feeling sense. It is also a major focus of work for many psychologists researching on the phenomenon of self-healing, as well as for physicians working in the fascinating new field of psycho-immunology – the attempt to unravel the mysteries of’ the mind-body continuum. But what is so remarkable about the coex system is that it is so simple to learn, and once learnt can be practised on one’s own, and that for most people it proves to be so powerfully effective.
Often, as a result of trauma, life stress and social or family situations which are not naturally supportive of individual growth and development, we become separated from our own feeling sense or we tend to relegate it to the level of insignificance. When this happens, one’s life tends to become strongly habitual, mechanical, and eventually largely unsatisfying, no matter what kind of worldly success, excitement and glitter it may contain. For any real sense of joy, satisfaction or meaning can only come when the inner and outer being are linked up and when what Crisp calls the feeling sense is allowed the freedom to regulate both physiological and psychological processes. That’s where coex comes in.
Coex is done either standing at ease in the middle of a room or lying relaxed on a firm surface. It can be remarkably beautiful. I watched one woman. who was using the technique for the first time, lie quietly breathing. She then found that her hands began to move gently as though she was exploring the texture and quality of space near her body. Crisp encouraged her to go with these fine movements. Gradually they developed into larger stroking gestures in the air around her. Her imaging facilities came into play as the physical movements continued and she sensed that she was in what she later described as a kind of womb. But instead of being dark it was permeated with light, immensely safe and beautiful. Then gradually her torso and shoulders began to move as well until slowly she emerged from this extraordinary womb world into clear air and more light. She began to weep quietly, stunned by the power and the beauty of an experience which had come quite spontaneously from within her. When she later began to try and make sense of the imagery that accompanied the movements she realised that her own feeling sense (which until then she had not even been aware of) had created for her a physical expression of the particular life situation she was in at the moment. She was on the verge of a new beginning as far as her work life was concerned, and had been feeling rather unsettled and anxious about it. She found this coex experience enormously helpful because it made her realise that the career changes she had planned had not been motivated by some capricious wish but were very much in line with the direction in which her deepest self was leading her. She also discovered through this experience that she does indeed have a feeling sense which she can experience for herself and that if she listens to it, it will express a summary of her life situation at any particular time or help her work through whatever blocks or tensions she experiences.
Crisp has come to believe that this kind of information and power rises from the part of our being which holds the total experience of life. Once you contact it and open up communications with it, he insists, you can then begin asking questions like, ‘OK, what can I do about this or that?’ and you start to establish a good communication between the inner and outer being. ‘People who have never been aware of this before discover how creative they are in the sense that something flows out of them,’ says Crisp. ‘And they discover that a particular posture or movement has great meaning for them. They not only contact the overall creative process which has brought them into being as a person, they also touch something which is an awareness of their life overall, seen as a whole rather than in fragments such as physical health, their mental well-being, their work, their sex life, and so on.
Sometimes the coex experience can be enormously joyous, particularly when the energy is flowing freely. At other times it can be very difficult. That occurs where there is some kind of energy block – when one’s vitality is temporarily trapped into some internal conflict or there are chronic areas of tension in the body which have not yet been resolved. But what is remarkable about the technique is that by going with the individual physical movements which occur, such tensions are not only gradually worked out, leaving your body stronger, straighter and more alive than before, but also the imagery and memories which occur in the process can bring exceptional insight.
A link with ancient traditions
An accomplished yoga teacher with a training in bioenergetics and considerable knowledge of various religious traditions and psychological practices, Crisp had long been conscious that there is in the West a powerful and usually unconscious longing for transcendence. It is out of such longing that what one might call the ‘supermarkets of transcendence’ have grown up – the extraordinary variety of meditational techniques and spiritual practices which have caught many people in their webs.
Many people, perhaps dissatisfied with their Christian background, take up some foreign religion or practice, and after the honeymoon of excitement is over, they feel that they have exchanged one rather restricting set of beliefs and values for another. Why? Because, Crisp says, real transformation can come only when there is an integration between the conscious self and the feeling sense. Then a person begins to discover and to develop his own values – values which, because they are entirely personal and authentic, will continue to grow and change infinitely so there is never a sense of being closed into a system. But how, he asked himself years ago, could one encourage this to happen?
Through reading masses of literature about self-help and exploring consciousness-expanding and psychological methods throughout history, as well as working with students in classes to help them relieve tension and stress, he began to see that there was already a technique which has been used in every major culture of the world and which was both potent and effective. It is a method which, instead of relaxing away tension, brings about its active release through physical movement. In Japan this method is traditionally known as Seitai. There, individuals or groups have traditionally met together and after performing three ritual postures allowed spontaneous movement to take place. In India it is known as Shaktipat.
Through his work with dreams and his in-depth study of dream function, Crisp knew that during sleep each of us experiences spontaneous movements while we are dreaming. Most of these movements are only barely expressed through the body: they show themselves as twitches or small leg or hand twitches. Sometimes however they are more exaggerated so that we even awaken ourselves by speaking or shouting in a dream. Many scientists studying this phenomenon in sleep laboratories have come to believe that these movements are part of a self-regulating or self-healing process which happens to all of us while we are sleeping. Crisp has discovered that when you take on a passive state of mind while awake, the same process can occur – indeed, that’s what Seitai and Shaktipat are all about – but with an important difference. For, since you are awake, you can consciously work with and direct the process as well as becoming much more aware of its significance and its meaning. Such awareness, he discovered, also appears to increase the efficiency of the process. Just as we often express important feelings or information about our health or life through the content of our dreams, so the same process shapes the drama of our movements and our feelings while practising coex.
In the beginning was the seed
Since not everyone is able to experience that communication between their feeling sense and spontaneous physical movement the first time they use coex, Crisp has worked out a couple of simple imaginary exercises which help many people to begin to get the feel of it. The first he calls the dry seed. It relates to certain aspects of human experience, such as life in the womb, but has no significance in itself and is merely a kind of introduction to coex. For once you have practised it a couple of times it can lead you to an experience of just how strong a bridge can be built between your inner and outer world and to deal with any specific problems on which you may want to work.
If you want to try the ‘dry seed’ exercises you simply need to set aside a few minutes in a place where you are reasonably sure of not being disturbed. Make sure you are dressed in comfortable clothes and low shoes (barefoot if you prefer). Now try standing with your feet apart and your arms extending upwards or, if you prefer, lie flat on a firm surface, arms stretched above your head. Does this feel to you like an image of a dried seed? If not, then begin to explore your feeling sense in regard to body postures and movement in order to discover what does express this image. If the first exercise expresses it, then explore it and find if there are subtle changes you would like to make until you find your own personal expression of the dried seed. Each person has a different feeling sense so that when the exercise is practised in a group you end up with many different postures. It will probably take you about five minutes to explore this feeling. Once you have begun to experience the felt sense in regard to this dried seed image then you can tune into it more easily for other exercises such as one he called the ‘planted seed’ or, far more important, simply call upon it to allow spontaneous movement which is not based on any exercise or externally derived image. To do this, Crisp suggests that, either standing at ease or lying comfortably, you simply allow your body movements take you. In many cases your body will continue for lengthy periods to go through a particular movement which slowly alleviates long-term tension. In others, as in the case of the woman who found herself in the womb of light the experience is as permeated with spontaneously generated imagery as it is with spontaneously generated movement.
When Tony Crisp himself first began to practise coex he had suffered for a long time from chronic pain between his shoulders, particularly when he was driving. His first spontaneous movements were shoulder circling. ‘I used the coex technique about an hour a week and was amazed that for a whole hour my shoulders continued their spontaneous movement. If I attempted to consciously exercise, I need an enormous effort of will to continue such movements even for a few minutes. But in coex most people find such movements effortless.’ After several weeks his shoulder tension disappeared and never returned so he could drive long distances without any pain.
Once you have begun to establish this communication between what Crisp calls the feeling sense and your outer awareness, what use is it? First, it can dramatically improve both the look and functioning of your body and make your movements naturally graceful while raising overall energy levels. Also, there appears to be a spontaneous healing ability in each of us, which we can activate by allowing the feeling sense expression in our emotions and movement. Finally, according to a growing number of psychologists, attempting first physical and then psychological growth appears to be one of the major drives in people. Coming in touch with the feeling sense can help you untangle whatever knots or blocks may be interfering with your further personal growth. You can use it to explore any question which is important in regard to work or relationships or to any area of your life. Having defined the question as succinctly or clearly as you can, then explore it with spontaneous movement and simply watch without criticism what emerges. There may be what seems like meaningless movements. If you allow these without criticism, a ‘theme’ usually arises, Then you only need to gently keep the question which you have asked in mind, while looking at what the movements are dramatising or expressing through your body, to see how the feeling sense is commenting on the question. One can gradually learn to allow one’s feelings and even one’s voice and imagery to express as freely as the body is expressing. Then you work with this process until you get a clear response. When you do finally integrate this response it often feels as if your unconscious self has just been waiting for this to happen and you get a pleasant sense of integration. Sometimes, movements or feelings will seem to express a particular drama which repeats itself over and over again. This usually shows that one may have got stuck in habitual ways of expressing oneself. When this occurs, you can actually begin to see what is happening instead of it remaining unconscious and so can then take steps towards redirecting your energies.
Once you have learnt the coex technique, it can be helpful to put aside an hour at least once a week or perhaps twice, looking at areas of your life or health with which you need help. It is, of course, important to remember that with every coex experience you are dealing with the dream function. This means that the experience of the practice can express powerful emotions and drama in a symbolic form. Some people for instance will experience what appears to be a past life or a dream where one discovers a body which has been buried. Crisp is very clear about all this. He says, ‘In meeting these we must understand them as symbols of our inner conditions, not representations of outer realities. And we then need to ask the question, “What is the meaning of this?” until the coex process goes beyond the symbol into bringing up an understanding of its connection with everyday life.’
Simple but profound Coex is so simple that anyone, once they learn the technique, can practice it on their own. But it is often better and easier practised with a friend, whose role is simply to be there with you both as a silent companion and also when the movement and images start to come to remind you of the question to which you may be seeking an answer. Until now Crisp has been teaching coex only to select groups in Britain and abroad, feeling that he had to get the technique right before he could write about it in book form or teach it to a wider audience. Now, however, he is holding moderately priced training sessions, some for psychologists and those who wish to teach the technique and others for interested laymen who simply want to make use of it in their own lives. It is, I believe, the most interesting tool for growth and consciousness expansion I have come across in a decade. See also: Liberating The Body; Rituals of Beauty. and Mind and Movement.