edition September/October 2020

Leaping Over Barriers

On Finding Oneself in Unknown Space.

Tuna, the Cat © Inky Lee

If all seems lost and waves of sorrow wash over her, Berlin based performer and writer Inky Lee strives to fathom the possibilities of the yet unknown space she has been thrown into. In her essay, she intricately interweaves her personal experiences of loss and finding herself anew with her experiences in a recent movement class and the wider context of systemic violence, as well as our shared practice of living together.

Inky Lee
Performer and Writer

There’s not much to fear when there’s not much to lose. Sorrow has at times undone me to this state of bare existence. A pit of void would open from underneath and I would fall. Initially, it feels scary to fall into darkness without control. However, when I let myself fall, I begin to realise the possibility of the new space that has opened up. This new space, uncovered by abandonment of fear that had limited myself into habitual parameters of safety, is a chance to a new kind of freedom. Figuring out how to navigate and utilise this space is a process that demands patience. I am writing from a place where I am entering this new space, slowly learning its mechanism and potential.

In a recent time when sorrow has flushed me out completely was when someone I loved died suddenly in an accident. The process of mourning felt like falling helplessly down a black cave. At one point, however, I had reached the bottom. Slowly, I adjusted to my new environment. I could see that the world I used to live in was still out there. I learned to let the light seep into the stony walls. The darkness gradually brightened. I discovered spots where colours of light would play and found pathways that led outside.

I have been currently living another wave of sorrow. I have been finally acknowledging and contemplating on the daily occurrence of racial and sexual violence done to me. Accumulative layers of aggression in the intimate space of my neighborhood and my home have become too thick to swallow. I began to sense the clumps of the history of violence that I have repeatedly swallowed sitting undigested in my body, clogging the flow. In an effort to find a way to support myself, I began attending in-studio Klein Technique classes as soon as the Corona regulations allowed. Living in a body that is strongly marked from the outside, I felt comfort in zooming into the inner core of my body. I would spend time staring at my anatomy book.

I had developed a habit of thinking of stones whenever I needed to suppress my explosive emotions, such as laughing uncontrollably in an improper situation. In the time of the current emotional flood, I have turned to study the core stone of my body, the bones. In her essay Dancing from the Spirit, Susan Klein wrote: “Bone is at the core of who we are and through it we know the essence of our being.” Therefore, “our power and identity come from working at our deepest physical level – the bone.” I wish not to neglect the fact that some human bones are marked as inferior, due to their origins and their respective traits, and that they configure themselves in order to live through this savage reality. It still was heartening, however, to think about my identity in relation to my bones, instead of the labels – Asian, female – of society.

The Klein classes were a manifestation of the oneness of body, mind, and feelings. As I worked on my physical structure to “let go of unnecessary tension and use the space,” as Hanna Hegenscheidt, the teacher, would suggest, wild emotions would arise. I would breathe through this turmoil and focus on my sit bones to heels connection, rooting into the ground, while I hollowed into my hip sockets. I began to trust my body‘s inherent knowledge, as I created space inside to process the physical and emotional tension it had been holding. When Hanna instructed us to shift our weight completely to one thigh bone or, more precisely: on one of our trochanter sides, my immediate reaction was that of fear. If I would really transfer all of my weight onto one leg, the sensation could be intense. An easy way out would be to cheat or to avoid. However, when I moved past the initial fear, I could get closer to understanding my core structure and its potential use.

The dense history of aggression due to my appearance has formed habits of self-protection and survival in me. To encounter, understand, and undo these habits hasn’t been an easy task. I’ve felt sorrow, pain, and exhaustion. Heavy waves of sadness would rush in at random moments, and in order not to get swept away, I had to persist in trying my best to hold myself together. Repeated witnessing and experiencing of violence produced an ever-present tugging of pain from underneath my viscera. As taught in Klein, I would do more harm to myself if I continued ignoring the source of pain. Neglecting it would only create more and more intertwined and deep-rooted discomfort. It was time for me to face the pain and understand its layers.

The new space I have entered was quite watery, as in underwater. The constant influx of water felt at first overwhelming. However, when I let myself sink, I sensed newfound space. Underwater, movements and sound traveled slowly and I could perceive small details. In Klein classes, we focused on fundamental questions, such as how to stand and walk. In this new space, I contemplated on the basics: How do I exist? As Klein suggests, everything is already there. My bones and deep tissues are already there. My work is to unlearn my inefficient habits of using the shallow muscles and to train my body to access the core structure that is designed to support it. Similarly, the history of violence, of the past and the present, is inscribed in me. Now that its movements are magnified by the slow motion, my work is to decide and reorient myself how I would live with and use it. Learning how to use my deep structure is in a way giving it a voice. Let it be felt and be used at last! In my new space, I wish to be less silent and let my embodied knowledge be heard.

Investigating into my deeper self is a slow learning process with fluctuations and no final arrival. It can be tiring and frustrating at times. Once in class, I became aware that I was not transferring equal weight on my right leg as I walked. When I transferred more weight to my right leg, my right ankle suddenly began to hurt. Letting go of one superficial pattern of holding tension may reveal another deeper one, and then another one underneath, which can feel distressing. It is important, therefore, to remember that I can always take a break. One time, the physical pain around my left shoulder blade combined with my emotional surge was too irritating so that I tried first resting on the floor, then had to exit the class. When I was ready to focus again, I returned. Hanna mentioned how she sometimes has to also take a break and go chop some woods. I still hear her saying, “Don’t use force, but use the space.”

I am not romanticising or victimising when I speak about my body and feelings. They are real. After explaining that our pelvic floor can hold us like how the ground holds us, Hanna emphasized that she is not making this up, but it is real. “You see some athletes just fly. They move from their pelvic floor. In some, however, you see the effort.” I stared at the beautiful pelvic floor in my anatomy book. How profound it was to know that it is there, in me, to hold me from underneath.

Audre Lorde, fighting with breast cancer and forced to face her mortality, wrote that what she regretted most were her silences. Whenever I am about to forget the fragility of life, I seem to get into an accident. Two days ago, I got hit by a bicycle. This incident came as a flash of reminder of how short my life could be. I echoed Lorde’s question, “Of what had I ever been afraid?”. Holding back from expressing my true self due to fear felt like a wasteful diversion from living my life fully.

My cat, Tuna, must have felt this clarity as well. A while ago, she decided to climb up a high chestnut tree in my courtyard. I completely lost sight of her and only the neighbors who live high up could spot her, peeking out from their windows. They reported that she was at the crown of the tree. For the first couple hours, I remained playful. When a neighbor said that I should call a fire truck, I began to feel uneasy. Around the third hour of Tuna’s tree excursion, she was finally ready to descend. She was meowing on the lowest branch, looking quite desperate, but could not climb down further because there were no more branches. I grabbed a neighbor who was passing by and asked for a tall ladder. Puzzled, he asked, why? I pointed at Tuna. He didn’t have a tall enough ladder for this purpose, but had a “different idea,” and ran inside. He returned with a big orange-red fabric, saying that Tuna could jump and we would catch her. We held the fabric and did our best versions of cat communication. Tuna was meowing, I was meowing, and the neighbor was hissing, “pss pss pss.” At last, Tuna jumped and we caught her!

Holding Tuna in my arms, I pondered on the importance of a collective pelvic floor. The fabric we used resembled the color of human muscle. Tuna knew that we were ready to catch her; therefore, she jumped. Although we were unsure how to communicate with her, we tried our best. Leading up to this moment, I kept patiently checking in with Tuna. When she was ready, I was there for her. How could we implement this process in building a communal support system that encourages leaping over barriers of fear? How could we hold each other at crucial moments? I wondered as I activated my pelvic floor.

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