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Gaia & the Guardian

with photographer Susie Lang & performance artist Mark Stevens

It was a pleasure and honor to explore the relationship of these archetypes during a photo shoot this summer with compatriots in deep play, my dance partner and engineer Mark Stevens, and photographer Susie Lang.

Gaia, who in my work is the archetype of the sacred prostitute, is about connecting to body and earth wisdom. She’s about sensuality, feeling and honoring natural internal and external cycles. It’s my sense that if a collective reconnection with her could happen, then internally, a more harmonious balance with our bodies would be found. We would more fully accept ourselves and appropriately respond to our body’s inner workings. Externally, we would learn to respect the earth as another sentient being that we are intimately dependent on. Ultimately, if it wasn’t too late, the climates of body and earth would become healthy, hospitable, and habitable.

The Guardian, I have thought, stands at the entrance to the inner sanctum. It is the gatekeeper, guardian of the inner soul flame. It maintains an awareness of all inner and outer conditions and allows entry only when it is assured that a sacred connection is possible.

This archetype has puzzled me. It looks frightening on the outside, as if it were a terrifying warrior. However, almost every time I’ve worn it, I’ve experienced a curious sense of passivity bordering on ineffectuality. It postures in my performances as if it were commanding force, however internally, I’ve only once felt a sense of its real power and presence. I was curious how Mark would find himself working with it.

As our journey began across the cold red rocks in the chilly early morning air, I found myself as Gaia feeling disconnected from the Guardian. He seemed far more intent on acting as a protector rather than holding an aware presence. He seemed primary focused on keeping Susie distracted and almost willfully unaware of where Gaia was or what she was doing. She felt a profound sadness and emptiness in this. She kept reaching out to him, trying to bring him to her, trying to encourage him to follow. There was so much she wanted him to see and to feel!

Later I would ponder. The Sacred Prostitute has been an archetype I’ve felt incredibly close to, but also unbearably unable to fully express in her sacredness. Is this the primary dynamic happening in my life and the world? Gaia is reaching out in desperation. There are endless layers, aspects and depths of earth, body and soul to be experienced and appreciated. Yet, the most time is spent in fear of feeling and connecting, trying to distract from where we’re actually at. Personally, I’m afraid of my feelings and don’t want to reveal them. I’m afraid of the potentially overwhelming power of what I should be stewarding. The Sacred Prostitute is ignored under a pretense of honoring and protecting her.  

Externally, of course, the unpredictable wildness of nature can be terrifying. To control it, the earth has been used and abused in every possible way. Humans are its pretend stewards, totally disconnected with its natural rhythms and ways. The planet is suffering and we’re willfully not paying attention, focused only on our needs and desires for personal security and gain. Species are dying, time is passing, opportunities to engage parts of the earth and ourselves that can never return are disappearing daily. Where is the Guardian?

With sunlight quickly creeping up the hills behind and above us, we made our way to a beautiful, tiny canyon that I call Gaia’s Garden. Gaia and the Guardian climbed the rolling cliff faces. Again, the Guardian seemed far away and disconnected. With every step, Gaia began losing hope for the contact she desired. As she gave in to despondency, she suddenly slipped down a craggy outpost. The Guardian rushed from his perch to help. Briefly, the two had what she longed for. Awareness. Skin on skin. Connection. Skin on earth. Attentiveness. Care.

Recently, I explored these archetypes further with my friend, actor, Joseph Culp in his Walking Theatre Group. Joseph, as the Guardian, helped Gaia stand up and walk again. He seemed to be very present, but Gaia didn’t trust that he wouldn’t leave her again.

“What can I do to show you that I’m here?” the Guardian asked.

“Dance with me,” Gaia replied. And as they did, she could feel that he wasn’t in touch with his body. “Listen. Listen. Listen.” She repeated. “From the inside.” He closed his eyes and they slowly began to move in rhythm.

In the Gaia’s Garden exploration, connecting first required authenticity. There was an acknowledging of the real feelings, a giving in to them, grieving, and falling down with them. I believe this is the calling now. There seems a collective necessity to acknowledge and grieve the losses within self and upon earth, and to face the consequences of years of inattention, willful blindness, and disregard. It’s also time to appreciate, recognize, see and feel what is still left. The moment has come to move into a more mature awareness of the true Guardianship that will allow Gaia and ourselves to survive and thrive.

It may be our last and only hope.

Photos by Susie Lang