Boundaries (Upd: Dec 13, ’20)

Butoh has the tendency to work with the hidden or subconscious, but sometimes the shadow/edge/dragon may be so strong that a retreat is called for. This is not a moment to create another shadow (e.g., guilt or shame). We should respect where we are in the work.

A warrior must know when to retreat/put up a wall/raise the shield. Remember: sometimes retreating from one shadow means advancing to another. Putting up a wall may also entail putting up a nurturing space.

Find the balance.

One characteristic of shadows is their ability to remain in the same place we left them. Time allows for restrategizing (if returning is the intention).

But we must also ask ourselves if we truly want to be using war metaphors on the shadow/blind spot. Maybe it would help if the shadow is not viewed as an enemy, but having its place in the greater scheme of things (like a bug in an ecosystem). This idea is at the basis of Özerk Sonat Pamir’s Ecosystems of Emotions.

Resolving shadows does not mean being consumed by them, but working with them. A little taste of the shadow may go a long way. Sometimes anything more is redundant or beating a dead horse. We must also gauge whether we necessarily have to dive into the deepest depths of hell in order to learn or gain something. When we learn through punches, new shadows may be created, which may worsen the situation as a whole. If we do take the path of hell, we must go with a certain degree of protection as well as nurture.

Contemporary Metaphor Theory

Schema diagram by Aleksander Szwedek

In terms of contemporary metaphor theory, boundaries fit the image schema of BLOCKAGE. Image schemas to Lakoff and Johnson are “recurrent patterns in perceptual-motor experience that derive from our bodily interaction with the physical world.”¹ According to SIL International Glossary of Linguistic terms, a blockage schema entails “a force schema in which a force is physically or metaphorically stopped or redirected by an obstacle.”² Like so many other image schemas, we are bombarded with this schema at all moments of our lives.

We see this image schema at play with the idiom of possessing a “thick skin.” But if we have too thick of a skin, perhaps then we may not be able to enjoy enough or feel enough.

Note: Boundary shares the same image schema as floor and statue. Hence, if you are working with the subject of boundaries, perhaps also work in close resonance with the floor (or wall) or with a stillness image.

Protective Tools

1. Theater/Play

We go into the subconscious body while under the protective circle of theater. Know that outside of class or time limits of personal practice, hard edges do not have permission to affect us. Think role play.

2. Riddle

You can lighten the sentiments of the work by thinking about it as an unsolved riddle or joke. Make use of curiosity instead of any series of negative emotions such as fear, horror, or despair. Yes, shadow work is serious, but perhaps not as serious as you might think.

3. Procedure

Go through the motions one by one, without emotional investment. The target is seen and the only desire is to reach this target. Be a mechanical warrior till you reach the target.

4. “Yes, And…”

The key to this protective tool is spy-like integration. Open the imagination and know that everything has its place. So the line goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. “Yes” is the spy; “And…” is your creative potential. Change things from the inside. Wink, wink. See more on “Yes, And…” Here.

Exercise 1: Karate Painter

The defensive stance of a martial artist and the stance of a painter can look similar. While one defends, the other creates art. Move with a flow that is ready for anything. Sometimes the lines between art-making and protection may even blur. Allow exactly what you need to be the artist while effortlessly protecting yourself from anything keeping you from being the artist. Find your Jo-Ha-Kyu in this.

Exercise 2: Protection Bubble

Like blowing a balloon, blow a bubble of protection that no unwanted forces can penetrate.

Exercise 3: Knife of Power

Visualize a flaming dagger. Stab in every direction possible, including within your body (without physical contact).


¹ Johnson, Mark (1987). The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason, University of Chicago.
² SIL Glossary of Linguistic Terms. Blockage Schema. 2020.