This piece on the quest for authentic self-expression was inspired by:
1) Kate Shela's truly wonderful 'Power' ecstatic dance workshop in Melbourne. In which we were assisted to explore both the raw strength and the fragile vulnerability of authentic power - in expressing who we truly are unapologetically and unashamedly to the world.
2) A conversation about Improv recently, with someone who said they were impressed that I run such events.
Both of these experiences caused me to reflect on my own difficult life-journey around confidence and expression. (A journey that still continues.)
I've been on a huge personal voyage around self-expression. Few people know I was agoraphobic until I was 24. Not to the extent of being too scared to leave my home, but close to it. Certainly I felt afraid all of the time and was unable to function normally, make friends, speak up for myself, ask a girl out... I'm not going to delve into the why's and wherefore's. Enough to say that my father was psychologically ill, to the extent of having electro-shock treatment and being physically violent to me. And that the secondary school I went to (ages 12-17) was an unbelievable nightmare of abuse (by teachers and pupils) and bullying (by small gangs who would collectively 'stomp' people). One thing I do know, is that all of this built in me a life-long quest for authentic self-expression, not to mention a healthily critical distrust of authority.
Eventually my spirit guided me to seek professional help. I saw a Jungian psychologist (when I was 17) and a Somatic Therapist (when I was 18-21). Plus (by divine chance) somehow entered a very healing relationship ages 20-22). All this assisted me to begin to climb out of the dark and clinging hole of my own fractured psyche. I continued to explore different forms of humanistic and (later) Tantra- and Transpersonal-based self-development, until something big finally shifted when I was 24. I was able to go to University as a sufficiently confident person to have an excellent time there, and began to explore many things I'd been unable to as a teenager.
Then, in 2005, the path of self-development had become so rewarding that I reached the point (apparently quite a natural one when you study anything with dedication for long enough) of wanting to share some of the benefits. Specifically I felt drawn to run workshops where people interacted authentically on verbal and feeling levels for the joy of self-development. I was also partly motivated by the fact that there was nothing of this sort happening in Melbourne that was cheap, regular and affordable. (Hard to believe that this was the case only a decade ago!)
Immediately, I discovered another layer of massively debilitating fear. The idea of standing and talking in front of a group felt as awful as annihilation. The terror in my body meant I could hardly speak when I tried to imagine being in such a situation, certainly could not 'project', and had nothing even approaching the basic level of embodied confidence required to put a group of participants at ease. So I looked around to find some way to practice expression in front of a group. I was already a dedicated explorer of ecstatic dance, but that wasn't close enough to what I needed.
I was lucky to find Al Wunder's 'Theater of the Ordinary' Improv training. Al himself claimed that it wasn't self-development, yet for me (and others) it was one of the most useful things I've ever done. I still recall the first time I stood in front of a group and spoke (a true story about something odd and amusing that had just happened in my life). It was one of those 'pivotal life moments'. Combined with my continued expressive dance journey, and some coaching from a friend who was already a confident and passionate public speaker, all this was enough to get started.
In 2006 I began running my own fun little Improv events in Brunswick, then studied Transpersonal/Tantric Breathwork and ran groups in that for a couple of years. Then I began designing and running Tantra, Authentic Relating and Menswork events. Many other trainings have also assisted me, including the potent Meisner Technique studies I discovered first with Jonathan Horan and more recently took to greater depth with Clare Dea of Meisner Melbourne.
I want to close by reminding people that confident self-expression isn't an “either you have it or you don't” deal. It can be more effectively approached in my opinion as an ongoing quest. One in which you expand and open in different areas at different rates. For instance, I still have a challenge around speaking in front of 'cold' groups that aren't my workshop participants. And I still can't always (or even usually) just dance with whoever I would like to at Five Rhythms. I also discovered that basically I'm a natural introvert. I like my own company, I'm not great with small talk and I find big loud groups difficult to relax into. Yet I now have good friends, the courage to attend workshops around being real and open, and design and run great little events with natural confidence. I can even sometimes be appropriately and courageously bold and expressive with someone I'm attracted to. All of which was once utterly alien to me.
Arven (17th Oct, 2016)
Arven Alexander is a self-development enthusiast, currently residing in Melbourne, Australia.