Last week, while walking the Erie Canal path, a friend and I came upon a beautiful pileated woodpecker.
He was looking for food in the roots of a tree that had just been removed. I wondered if he had been evacuated from his home in that tree. He was stunning.
It’s always interesting to see what images, symbols, animals, etc..appear and what they may have to tell you about why they have paid you a visit. What are some of the characteristics and symbolism that pertain to this unique creature?
Their colors are black and white with red on the top of the head. Some resources say that the red equates to stimulation of mental activities, or positing a new way of looking at things.
The pileated woodpecker pecks holes into trees and wood in order to get grubs and insects to eat. When this bird appears, perhaps his act of digging pertains to digging into a book or topic for further analysis or to obtain knowledge to feed upon?
Other associations with the woodpecker are the knocking sounds he makes. Who or what is trying to gain your attention? Is it Opportunity knocking? Perhaps its time to answer this call. This bird is equated with determination and the ability to gain one’s attention. They are highly communicative. Do you relate to these characteristics?
In American Indian traditions, the pileated woodpecker symbolizes the heartbeat of mother earth, the life force. It indicates the power of rhythm, the rhythm of life and staying connected to this natural rhythm.
This rhythmic aspect is the aspect that I connected with as rhythm affects our physical energy. And, as a therapist, I am always looking at the rhythms of others’ coping patterns, learning patterns, and relationship patterns, etc.
When leading Dance/Movement Therapy groups, a good way to warm up the group is to establish group rhythmic action. It provides a way for all members to connect to both internal and external rhythms. And, group rhythmic action is a powerful way to provide support, a structure that allows members to begin exploring thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Establishing a group rhythm helps to establish group rapport and promotes safety. I recalled one group of psychiatric patients in a hospital setting that I led several years ago. After initiating and having the group sustain this group rhythm for a few moments, I remember one gentlemen who was often quiet, say loudly, “Hey. We are all in this together!”. “Yes, others agreed!” and I supported the participants to express their thoughts as the group developed.
There are often magical moments that arise during dance therapy groups once members feel engaged and supported. Another group came to mind as I was driving home from my walk. A few years ago, I was told to lead a group of patients who were struggling with eating disorders and family members who arrived for weekly family night. It was my first week working as a therapist in this partial hospital setting. I was understandably a bit nervous as I had not met any of the participants before. I remembered that we were “All in this together”, and used this notion as fuel for establishing group rapport that night with all members of the group.
My co-workers were unfamiliar with dance therapy and seemed curious about what would occur. I welcomed them to join, but there were no takers. (One of the many things I’ve learned over time is that even staff members can be reticent at times to engage in full body action during their workdays. Most spend many hours engaging clients in verbal interactions from a seated position, forgetting about how powerful use of the body in therapeutic interactions can be).
That evening contained some of those magical moments where you as the facilitator ride the continuum of structure versus freedom, allowing for members to begin to trade leadership roles. Even the most initially “resistant” member of the group became fully engaged. My “observing ego” marveled at how participants were smiling and laughing with one another as we continued to dance together.
I played a Neil Diamond song, Sweet Caroline, as it is impossible not to sing along with this one, and the group spontaneously connected wrapping their arms around each others’ waists beginning to form a kick line to the song! I helped to concretize this iteration of movement to the rhythm of the song. Simply, it was a hoot and such an organic way for each one to feel connected and get to know one another more deeply than they would have with any other modality.
I began to cool the group down, concretizing the themes, eliciting feedback, slowly down the movement and grounding members before coming to a close.
I opened the door of the group room to let in some air and the three co-workers who had been listening at the door, almost toppled over when I did so. They did end up coming in and joining us at the end as we all began to socialize with one another before the family night ended. Establishing group rhythmic action allowed a structure to begin forming rapport with the clients, their family members, and the staff!
Marian Chace, was one of the pioneers of Dance/Movement Therapy. Chacian DMT supports a structure that helps foster a safe environment. Chacian theory is comprised of four core concepts: body action, symbolism, therapeutic movement relationship and rhythmic group activity. Chace (1993) continued to say “our real lives are lived in rhythm and movement”.
The above post is just one example of how being curious and playful in your life, noticing, observing, and being non-judgmental (i.e., mindful) can help bring you increased enthusiasm and excitement. When you allow yourself to “play with ideas” from the symbols, metaphors, dreams, and animals that present themselves, you are most certainly rewarded with feelings of inspiration and creating a sense of health and well-being.