The Holy Alternative: Art as Medicine, Ritual, and Environmental Activism


“Ecosomatics:  an emerging interdisciplinary field that connects movement education, improvisation, healing arts, psychology, ritual, performing arts, and good old-fashioned play with ecological consciousness.”  –Somatic educator Nala Walla

Deep in the backwoods of our bodies lives a wild creature that we call Soul.  She is a mystery, a mystical myth that slips between the shadows and sings out through dreams. She is faster than the speed of light, the very spark that ignited the Big Bang. Prophetic visions, irrational images, and guttural emotions–She speaks to us from within the dark pools of our subconscious.

But the engine of daily life drones into us, and we often stop listening.  We forget, it seems, how to turn towards and listen into the forest. Instead, we get drunk on distractions. We funnel noise into our inner ears with fancy headphones. We stay stuck to the bright screens instead of gazing up to meet another’s eyes.

It’s as if we are being hypnotized by a mysterious force: It keeps us taut, controlled, confused; it suffocates us with a belief that we are isolated. We toss and turn in the night, wake with a sense of anxiety, an impending doom that taunts and tells us that we are lost, that we have no home.  Our bellies bloat, our bones grow brittle from poor nutrition.  Why are we so tired? Why do we feel so disconnected from our bodies? Why do our brains eat themselves, and from where is that insatiable hunger churning?

This is a critical moment to heed the call of our Soul. We are confronting what Carl Jung describes as the true religious experience: when the unstoppable bullet hits the impenetrable wall.  It’s time to break the spell and return back to the wilderness.

From the deeper chambers of our bodies, an uprising surges. Soul’s voice grows louder. Her song fills us with an equally intense amount of terror and ecstasy.  But eventually we realize that we have no choice.  Our inner warrior heart will not settle with mediocrity.  We must march inwards, towards Her rhythm, blind riders moving into the unchartered psyche, to find Her again.  

Three artists following the call of the Soul founded Altaer Education in 2009.  When we discovered the joy of dancing in the wilderness, we thought: how can we infuse our artistic endeavors with more of this raw play? The memories we have as children of strapping on scarves and shawls, dancing and singing and growling outside among the fireflies and water skippers—these were our practices of freedom, and they charged us with life.  

As dance artists we have been lucky enough to preserve and progress these practices. The word “Altaer” comes from two words: Altar (holy shrine) and Alternative. In other words, we believe that our practice of art is both holy and transformational. Our practices become a living altar. From the devotional process of our art, we gain creative solutions and applications to adapt to new ways of living.

Altaer holds wilderness retreats, workshops, and classes for artists and non-artists. We teach body-based therapies such as Qigong, Yoga, Dance, and Voice as vehicles to journey back into the wild nature of our bodies and Earth. Retreats in the wilderness teach us how to perceive ourselves outside of the script of consumer culture. In this new light, the body-based art awakens us to the potential of who we are.

Somatic pioneer Nala Walla (who coined the term “ecosomatics”) describes it like this: “since our bodies are quite literally composed of and from earth, a re-inhabiting of our bodies amounts to a profound activist strategy for re-association with Earth and re-indigenization to Place.”  Aligning with our bodies and journeying down into our deepest core is not a new concept—these are age-old traditions. 

But now is the time to really own these practices, because, as she explains “since our habitual denial of the body lies at the root of our mistreatment of the Earth, these small ripples eventually become a sea change that affects the entire world.”  Walla suggests that if we recognize our own wilderness, the flesh and blood of our bodies, we initiate an embodiment of activism, practicing behaviors that come increasingly closer to those of true “indigeneity.”

When we listen in and discover the spring waters of the Divine Feminine gushing at the base of our very own spines, we tap into a deep well of creativity and empowerment.  We begin to dance again. We shimmy and wiggle, pant and sweat, cringe and expand. And little by little, breath by breath, we move deeper, a little closer to the core of our spines.  We journey down to the perineum floor, as intricate and secret as the cenotes that run under the Mayan ruins. We journey up into the pineal gland, that bright and ceaseless light guiding us through the fog.  

Be it daily classes or weeklong retreats, Altaer provides spaces to ignite this new connection so it will directly feed our daily lives.  We feel our toes rooting anew into the mud, remembering, as Walla explains it, how to be “indigenous to the places we live.” We cultivate our energy during morning meditation and yoga in order to grow our own food and be generous within our communities. The film from our eyes melts away and we see the moon with new clarity. Awe, curiosity, and a deeper sense of purpose returns to our veins.

Our perspectives shift and we learn about wild edible plants, therapeutic herbs, and permaculture design.  In this quest of learning the language of the Soul, we learn the language of Mother Nature in all her forms.  We recognize our responsibility as stewards and guardians of the land.  All this revelation and learning becomes the sustaining force that calls our Souls back from the dark shadows of the psyche. We unhook the brainwaves of lack and isolation and plug them into ones that vibrate pure gratitude, joy, and resilience. We recognize that, together with Soul, we have the power to create how we want to spend our lives on Earth.

As we take back our bodies and authentic beings, we also take back the healing power of art. Gone are the days of artists being tied to institutions and power entities that control, with their endowment, the content and creative ideas at play. We liberate ourselves from the market forces of art-making and live in our creative urges right where we are: at home, work, in our private moments, our families, our gardens and dens. Our audience expands beyond the auditorium and becomes the trees, the birds, and the sidewalk. Walla says:

“All of the arts originally evolved within the context of place and community. Long before they arrived in the halls of academia, on Broadway or within the walls of dojos and museums, the arts belonged to the Folk, who wisely cast them in valuable healing, therapeutic, and integrative roles. Though the above places can surely house the arts, the practice of these arts, like our bodies, is designed to move out of doors as well, where it can be put to practical use in our every day lives. In true egalitarian fashion, the arts have always offered anyone who practices them deep understanding of Earth’s grand cycles and strength of community.”

We are ready to return art and Nature’s wisdom back to the hands of everyone. Altaer offers retreats where we can unplug the burnt out and mangled wires of our adrenal systems from the Matrix—and re-set them into Pachamama’s Higher Intelligence.  Our workshops empower everyone—not just trained artists—to become their own master and healer. We reclaim the body, we reclaim art’s true healing power, and we reclaim the health of this planet. We support each person’s individual, and ultimately, collective journey back into the wild forests of the psyche and the globe.

To learn more about Altaer Education, please visit www.altaer.org.  Read current articles on our lifestyle blog and check out our next big gathering, Wild Spirit Mountain Retreat: http://altaer.org/wild-spirit-mountain-retreat-2013/