Body’s Imagination: Movement and Analysis as Modes of Research

Richard Wainwright
London, England
Association of Jungian Analysts, London

Giving Priority to the Body

The current interest in the body as both an object and subject of research in many different disciplines is, in itself perhaps, an expression of the body’s knowing, informed by a longing to recover our body selves as sources of feeling knowledge and an aspiration to make new connections with the world in repairing what we sense has been broken. We give priority to the body in being open to its knowing.

To begin I would like to take you into a theatre laboratory where dancers and actors, who are also therapists, are involved in movement improvisations, summoning forth and encountering the un-for-seen. I am hoping you will get a sense of how Active Imagination and the imagination of action are as involved with each other as mind and matter.

It’s the second session of our first days work. We are learning how to be with each other. Everyone begins lying on the ground. Breathing is enough to begin with. Bodies need time to settle to submit to the unforced pulse of inspiration, time for the habits that preoccupy to dissolve. From stillness minimal movements extend into rolling and the pleasures of in-folding and unfolding. Already a sense of rhythm is born from the body’s awareness of whatever is other: the floor, the walls, the sources of light, other bodies, extending in space to the others of others. Simple rolling provides the dynamus needed for rising on to knees and descending to the ground. The open vision of exploration moves us to the point of divining where things might go from here. When we are in the zone of body’s intuition we need sensation to bring home what’s been divined. The way down to the ground is the way we go to come up. In the rhythms and cadences of rising and falling we are moved into standing, into walking, opening out into running. Through exploration we discover intention and at that point of our awareness you could say we’ve moved, or been moved from exploration to seeking.

In the language of Neuropsychology the seeking system is an “emotional operating system”. It’s factored into the central nervous system and it relates us to our remotest ancestors. It’s about:

  • locating resources, foraging, searching
  • persistent forward locomotion, sniffing, motor arousal
  • curiosity, investigation, anticipation
  • spontaneously active associative networks (fantasy)
  • also known as a motivational system because it drives and energises. It’s the neural correlate of vision. (Panksepp, 1998)

In the Laboratory there is time for the principle of movement flow to “break down” into its constituent parts. From different centering positions, strange creatures begin to emerge by following the body’s inclination to find provisional form in imaginal territories between human and animal, between me and not me. This is borderland work where imaginations of the body, seeking form in play, disclose extended repertoires of affinity.

In Theatre and Dance we use obstacles to give objects priority, to allow ourselves to be affected by them, to be transformed in shape, function and body state. Objects are as complicated as we are, because they, like us, are subjects. We are made of such stuff and so are they, that even when they are absent, our relationships with them affect our bodies, which we acknowledge in speaking of presence. The process of re-imagining them through play and improvisation is the basis of theatre. Both theatre and therapy can help us to explore, seek, discover and behold how strange we are. Hopefully both encourage us to ask: Who’s here? – rather than: Who am I?

In the laboratory choreographic possibilities emerge from greater physical involvement and confidence, extending the range of relationships between moving bodies and between bodies and space. Behaviour becomes more complex as it becomes more social. Playful apparitions from an in between world crawl, sit back on haunches, run on all fours, explore new territories, encounter objects and obstacles which engage, or move them into spontaneous exchanges, while seeking and foraging like Satyrs or Sileni who bridge the animal and the human, being both and neither.


In improvisation, collaboration allows us to second sight the borderlands and edges of experience where we feel implicated in the play of me, not me and not not me. I’d like to break down this vignette and recycle the fragments to mirror some other bodies of imagination that bear upon it: “Broken mirrors in which the world beholds itself in pieces”. (Octavio Paz)

Recovered Innocence

Encounters with the unforeseen evoke unexpected memories of childhood. In the process of reflection there are several recognitions that it was not just in the detail of recollection that a connection to childhood was restored. It was more in the sense of a frame of mind, or a way of imagining. You can only feel like a child when you are not a child. The child remembered is a version of me in the past, a version of not me in the present and a connection to not not me, which is located in the present informed by both the past and the prospect of a future. In other words the remembered child is both me and not me, whilst being identical with neither.

Ariane Mnouchkine, the director of Theatre du Soleil captures the importance of this dimension in theatre: “I think there is something in the actor’s work which compels him or her, not fall back into childhood, but to enter childhood”. (Williams, 1999, p. 171)

To re-enter childhood rather than regress into it requires openness to the quality of emotion in the service of seeking its objective sign in an embodied action. Peter Brook has picked up on this dimension of theatre as a recovery of innocence, shining through and illuminating experience. Recovered innocence de-ranges the dispositions of our habitual behaviours. The habits that block drop away when there is no hierarchy. It’s safe to play when nobody is on guard, because everyone is disarmed. (Brook, 1993)

Innocence is often either idealized as the unspoilt, the virginal, the unpolluted, the harmless etc, or disparaged as stupidity, ignorance, unawareness etc. Damasio catches this latter dimension: “I write about the sense of self and about the transition from innocence and ignorance to knowingness and selfness”. (Damasio, 2000, p. 4) Neither idealization nor disparagement allow for the sense of innocence that Brook envisages in its being recovered temporarily through the dissolution of “the habits that block” and therefore of an openness to imagination and the world.

The Lived Body

The idea of openness to the world and its objects is at the heart of Husserl’s construction of the lived body as a moving interaction between our body selves and the objects of the world. We experience these movements through what he called kinaesthetic sensations that are essential to our constitution and our extension in space. The living process of the body knowing itself through movement is fundamental to our human being. The relation I/Thou is both created and discovered through our relations with the moving world, which is there from the beginning.

The descriptions and concepts of Neuropsychology evoke the rhythms of inter-subjectivity and co-ordination during infancy in terms of movement: gesture, breathing, eye contact, and affect attunement. “I” comes into being through spontaneous acts of attention and intention, which are matched by core regulatory emotions. Mother and baby inspire each other through their plays of anticipation, expectation, cycles of arousal and resolution. It’s the origin of dance. Kinaesthetic awareness and self-awareness are born before speech in the plays of face and voice, the rhythmic cycles of accepting and rejecting contact. Our early plays and moves constellate the basis of consciousness and knowledge.

The body’s imagination allows us to take in the world through the skin, bearing in mind that skin is a semi porous membrane and therefore not fixed. It is literally indispensable to consciousness. The notion of innocence as a re-entered, or re-covered state is a form of likeness, it is implicit and has continuity with imagined earlier states of openness to experience. It’s a state of availability to interest in what is other.

Disappearing and Revealing

When I’m interested I lose consciousness of my body through my interest in what is “not me”, because in a sense I am my body. In a state of interest, inter-being, I lose concern for my personal identity. When interest opens us to the un-for-seen, the body disappears in revealing what is other. This is the domain of Hermes psychopompos, that animating god of crossroads and borderlands who divines and conceals in keeping negotiations open with the vibrancy of the in between. In play self-consciousness appears to dissolve, because the body’s disappearance is a function of the embodied nature of imagination. In other words the body’s own structure leads to its self-concealment and thus to the idea of the intangibility of mind that informs Descartes’ Error.

Extended Repertoires

Nobody can live all of the lives, which in the beginning we may have the potential to live, but we can imagine being what we are not and take things a good deal further through means of make believe. Our plays with dressing up, dressing down, cross-dressing and un-dressing are plays of appearance and disappearance without which body and imagination are deprived of each other, deprived of the grace of Dionysos. Imaginal bodies in the theatre and body’s imagination in the temenos are haunting allusions both to each other and the ever changing subject that moves both, but can never be possessed by either, unless in a state of play, which is also known as possession.

Dionysian imagination helps to crack open the restricting shell of single identity so that we become hospitable to the gifts of complexity. When we are moved by interest in whoever peoples our stage, our inter-actions may leave us dis-composed in a state of grace. In this territory our idea of personal identity and persona/lity can be understood as spaces, or scenes. Re-spect for scene moves us from acting to inter-acting so that we are no longer trapped in the literalism of the single dimension.

When we get into fixed positions about who we really are, we signal that we’ve lost the plot. As Bion saw it, pathology arises from remaining in one perspective, which Jung might have characterized as over identification with Persona, or with Ego, closed to the repertoire of The Self.

Shifting Weight and Recovering Balance

Being open to roles and responsive to robes we can move from looking to being looked at and learn when to remain unseen. Our moves from being inside an experience (feeling/ sensing) to being outside (observing/reflecting) and in between (divining) are indications of the imagination’s embodied capacity for balancing, for self-regulation. With Hermes’ help we learn to make moves to be moved, to include ourselves in the whole round of existence. Therapy in this sense is devoted to restoring balance through supporting the capacity for self-regulation, which is disseminated throughout the whole living process of psyche/soma. The idea that the principle of self-regulation is an inherent potential within the psyche, mirroring the organic roots of the psychoid, is implicit in Jungian psychology.

Who’s Here?

Having experiences of being movers, actors and witnesses in movement improvisations gives us foundations in being available, open and flexible to the unforeseen demands of time, fate and image. The characters and images that emerge don’t just come out of private space, but are con-stella-ted by the play of bodies, exploring, seeking and finding. Our bodies in play with another or others are always in the making. What’s moving out there when there are no fixed patterns touches something in us. It recognizes the movement in us that’s doing the recognizing too. What is out is also in.

Subjects and Objects – Nouns and Verbs

“The models and theories of subatomic physics express again and again, in different ways, the same insight – that the being of matter cannot be separated from its activity”. (Capra, 1979)

Analytic representations involve us in a paradox. The analyst’s body is the site of vivid images, sensations and impressions, but the conventions of discursive speech often trap analysts in the grammar of objectivity. By representing bodies as nouns we objectify active processes. If we re-imagine these processes as verbs we might remain open to what

is active in imagination and move from the privileged position of the box seat where bodies are objectively perceived.

Therapeutics and movement improvisations, like poetics, are about evocation. They evoke feelings, emotions, memory and a sense of multiple directions. Evocation connects us to presence; the presence in imagination of an embodied here and now/ the presence in the body of an imagined there and then. Representation subjects the body to the semantic, or semiotic. Evocation involves us while representation keeps us at a distance.

When we remain open to the nature of imagination we might conceive of bodies as both nouns and verbs at the same time. If the body is objectified we need to ask what does the object think or feel. When the body of whatever kind is objectified “like a patient etherised upon a table”, the circuit breaks; the dance of himeros and anteros, of noun and verb, of I and Thou is suspended. No dance – no transformation.

Remembered Guests

The reality of the body is not given But to be made real, to be realized (William Blake)

For Blake innocence, as the face of virginity, is not something given, or something to be preserved, but a state of being that’s realized through experience of the world. Innocence is recovered through immersion in the flux of making and unmaking that is the body’s experience. A recurring image in myth and poetics: Odysseus, Dante etc., it’s not so much an expression of the body but a symbol of the living body’s efflorescence that society can neither label nor decipher.

The creative process of exploration and discovery in which the senses are the antennae of the soul requires a condition of availability to what is other for something received to be incarnated. The body in a state of receptivity is not inclined to demonstrate, but rather, it allows something to be seen. A state of recovered innocence is both open and active. Being open to the un-fore-seen, it opens us to the dynamic of self and other that informs every level of our human being. It is the common ground of our disposition for symbolic communication, because it is, as it were, disseminated through the body as a living organism that is both unified and fragmented.

When judgement is suspended, there is no need to short circuit the sense of loss and longing we may have for those states of availability we associate with re-entering innocence. Perhaps Peter Brook had this in mind in giving a new twist to the meaning of “brain washing,” through which the habits and agitations of the insistent mind that keep us in thrall to limited repertoire are temporarily dissolved.


  • Peter Brook, A lecture given at the Edward Lewis Theatre, Middlesex Hospital, London, 5/10/1993, under the auspices of the Institute of Psychoanalysis.
  • Fritjof Capra, “Dynamic Balance in the Subatomic World,” Parabola (1979, Vol. 4, No. 2).
  • Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens, Vintage, 2000.
  • Jaak Panksepp, Affective Neuroscience. OUP, 1998, ch. 8.
  • David Williams, Collaborative Theatre: The Theatre du Soleil Sourcebook, Routledge, 1999.