Hello there! The shift towards spring invited me to try something new. Above, listen to me read this essay for you. Another way to drop in together. peace!
At some point over the past few years, I declared myself a Shapeshifter.
I was (and still am) in jobs where I “wore many hats,” a jack-of-all-trades kinda gal. I even put “Shapershifter” on my Linkedin Profile (lol!). It felt radically honest and more simple than projectmanager–yogateacher–artist–dancer–techconsultant–communityorganizer. That’s just exhausting and spreads me out, diffuses my energy. So, shapeshifter emerged as a spacious label/container/identity that could house myself and my work out in the world.
For me, this shapeshifting energy has felt like a wild, rebellious teenager: refusing labels and boxes, ignoring authority and status quo, and forging her own path. I have felt slippery, hard to pin down, all over the place, and, at times, unfocused. I have also felt creative, adventurous, adaptable, interesting and interested in so many things.
I really want to avoid labeling things, or parts of myself as bad or good. Being a shapeshifter just is. By naming and claiming it, it becomes an empowered identity.
With awareness though, I do see the shadow of shapeshifting. As a human socialized as a woman, shapeshifting can mean appeasing, deferring, or bending over backwards to make others comfortable. Shrinking, being palatable to people and powers that be.
Shapeshifting can be a survival strategy. Being adaptable is crucial in a swiftly changing world and economic landscape. Like codeswitching, learning how to belong, how to fit into different environments is often necessary to survive said environment, especially those with marginalized identities.
The process of witnessing ourselves in these patterns can be uncomfortable, and it’s valid to want to curse the environments that necessitate them. Somatic elder and teacher, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, encourages us to nurture gratitude for our survival patterns.They kept/keep us alive! As we bring awareness to these patterns, we see what no longer serves us and begin re-shaping, shedding, and creating new patterns. I remember this as I get judgy of myself for being avoidant and passive at many times in my life.
As a dancer, I am a literal, physical Shape Shifter. I make shapes with my body, often with other bodies. Together we shift, shift, shift, and shift. Over and over. Is dance just a series of body shifts?
In my contact improvisation practice, awareness of my physical patterns sheds light on many other aspects of my life. How I relate to others, how I take up space, how I listen and make choices, how I move through the world.
In receiving touch from someone in a dance, there’s a tendency to take it as a directive, to lean away or continue the flow of movement initiated by your partner. I noticed myself in this pattern, especially early on in my contact dancing. It’s a valid response and can be very enjoyable in the dance!
As my dance evolves and I try on new patterns, dance with new people, I feel more possibilities. The truth is that there are many choices in any given movement in the dance (life). From a point of contact with a dance partner, one could move away, move towards, or just be still with the sensation.
How we respond in one moment, can lead to a totally different dance. We’re met with a series of moments, yet another opportunity to choose. Listen, respond, surrender, redirect, offer, receive, push, release.
This is a gift of movement and community dance. Another pathway towards awareness and, if we choose, transformation. This also makes relating to each other with our bodies vulnerable - our patterns are on display in physical, felt ways. What a joy it is to nurture spaces where we can play with these patterns and experiment with one another. Here we are: dancing, shapeshifting, changing. Together. I am glad we survived to experience this.
Threading this into the width of my life, I invite in conscious, responsive shapeshifting. Shapeshifting to continue surviving and thriving.
As someone who is adaptable-flexible-go-with-the-flow, I’m finding a few things are key: discernment, honesty with myself, and co-creation with others. Just because I can do something, just because I can rise to an occasion or adapt to a particular scenario - doesn’t mean I need to! Checking in with myself and being in conversation with the community or environment I’m in will inform the next shape I take.
I’m curious how shapeshifting can disrupt flow, can create new pathways, new rhythms, new worlds. I/we can be shapeshifters on a mission, shapeshifters with directive, with vision. Already, we are shaping worlds.
I always have questions!
Yes, I can shapeshift through a workweek. And, can I re-shape what work and a week feel like?
How are my neural pathways re-shaped by my choices and actions?
What shapes feel generative, expansive, fruitful? Which ones feel constricting or dangerous?
Affirmations for the Shapeshifter
I am adaptable, responsive, and ever-evolving
I don’t know exactly where I am going, but I have a vision that guides me
I trust my shapeshifting. I trust your shapeshifting.
It’s beautiful how we keep shifting ♥
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p.s. for more meditations on shifting/evolving/ever change, I recommend Gabi Abrão’s Notes on Shapeshifting.
Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen developed Body Mind Centering. She’s an embodied angel on earth! Here’s a little snippet of her work and presence.
From Octavia Butler’s Earthseed:
God is Change And hidden within Change Is surprise, delight, Confusion, pain, Discovery, loss, Opportunity, and growth. As always, God exists To shape And to be shaped.
Keep shifting to take up as much space as possible... and now inside my ears. I love to hear it.
Beautifully done Emily! Thank you for your words of inspiration.