Before Goddard Susan Moul was working as a business consultant and had just been certified to teach yoga. Her thesis, The mouth of the body, beginning with mine, was a collection of essays that cover the range of approaches to embodied self awareness she investigated during her semesters at Goddard. She is now a senior member of the Healthy Living Faculty at Kripalu, where she teaches workshops in yoga, meditation, and embodiment.
Susan: Initially I had taken yoga teacher training to support my personal yoga practice, but then I realized I wanted to take this new thing and open up my life with it. I found to my surprise that I actually did want to teach, and I wanted to reestablish my writing practice as well. I chose to do graduate work in order to be able to do what I wanted to do credibly and substantially.
Upon realizing I wanted to do an MA I knew I wanted to do it at Goddard. My whole life I’d had the sense that Goddard is where people go to become revolutionaries. And I knew I would learn what I needed to learn and it wouldn’t be about just running all the bases to get the piece of paper. I knew I would be designing a course of study tailored specifically to the work I wanted to do.
I wanted to destabilize a lot of the conversation and questions that arise out of taking something called a ‘mind’ as separate from the body. My experience with yoga and with writing had led me to feel that the wrong questions were being asked. I didn’t want to know or to teach ‘how’ a body ‘works’; I wanted to know (and still want to know) what a body is. Graduate work helped me to get a basis for pursuing this question.
My work was highly interdisciplinary and the low residency MA in Individualized Studies Program’s framework supported me in this; I drew not only on physiology and philosophy but also on neuroscience, physics, mathematics, poetry, and literary and art criticism. I was also able from the first semester and throughout the course of my studies to explore connections between theoretical investigation and writing. Based on much that I was encountering in attempting to understand cognitive structure, I including in my writing practice experiences such as self video, which let me investigate narrative pause. I continue to evolve the style of writing that emerged from this exploration.
Goddard’s low residency MA in Individualized Studies Program was the perfect environment and natural midwife for my work on embodiment and embodied writing. There was aesthetic rigor in combination with nurturing, intelligent, close reading of my work. I received direction and guidance in combination with faith and support for finding my own way.
I now do curriculum development and program development for Kripalu, and design and teach my own workshops. No matter what I teach I’m still studying what I was studying at Goddard. I also apply the Goddard model in my teaching here: supporting students in choosing a path, discovering how to make it real, and seeing it through.
From convection / further notes on the body as a spiritual vehicle, a piece Susan wrote during her third semester in the program about a Gabrielle Roth dance workshop:
a day of body moving through seven hours of dance at one point well over an hour without leaving off even to take instruction or water
one hundred people
at some point an outside door is opened for half a minute and our bodies are revealed as great clouds of steam I feel/ a literal awe
what is ecstasy
in lyrical movement our bodies exceed the limits of faith the ends of belief the experience of experiencing motion/ evolves because nothing stops it that first exercise of walking now the basic tenet of self knowledge the room a steady pulsation of natural breath that has not known the spectrum of judgment that ranges from inhibition to uninhibited it/ is a free breath born in a free body a/ free land
You do not have to regard the watcher as a villain. Once you begin to understand that the purpose of meditation is not to get higher, but to be present here, then the watcher is not efficient enough to perform that function, and it automatically falls away.
the fifth rhythm is stillness / a rhythm whose living is in the breath
calling you into spaces between the beats, between your bones, between your moves. Your body shifts through many shapes, sometimes holding them, feeling their vibration, sometimes letting them go. Your attention is drawn to your inner dance, where everything is alive, awake, aware.
what I learned was if I wanted to hang on to my story I could and no one would stop me or want to stop me unless they were also hanging on to a story and then our energies would tangle up somehow we’d collide we could get fluid we couldn’t find the space we made with our own movements but only the increasingly sharp edges of the stiffness the rigidity of the form/ I
found that I could go on insisting on this thing or that about myself it was not difficult to maintain the sense of being clumsy if I wanted that or the memory of violence if I couldn’t bear to be without it
that somehow in struggling these issues I’d increased their strength I’d insisted on them / by wanting to stretch them and make some room for myself by finding ways to engage or improve the situation I had inadvertently or perhaps/ it occurred to me then/ deliberately/ made them stronger resilient to change all weather wear that
made my weaknesses and idiosyncrasies and neuroses color the experiences so that I came to see that solidity as the world and to see that as myself and that I lived in the concave convex flux between this diaphragmic self world boundary/ an
utterly nonexistent boundary that I created with my own body that I lived as a body and re inscribed with every movement
when the possibility existed every single moment of letting it go
The breath is strong the vitality intense. The time is now, the place here. Every gesture is total, measured, your body full of breath, your look direct.
a gasp an intake of air a freshening to life and a dance that sloughed off the accumulation of habit and
if I did these things/ danced for three days with total strangers stripping and stripping and letting go of stripping/ if I did this and did not accept that it could change everything then why was I doing it/ if I
did this practice this dance these rhythms this re patterning of every wave of my own energy and did not allow the reality within which I experienced them to acknowledge the character of their pervasive reality the truth then I could simply go home afterward and have had a good time/ something out of which to make a memory
eventually slow I/ find my self moving through broad and gently tapering circles of sacrum knees hands and shoulders rolling bones and gluts across the floor the relationship of hip to arm returning me at angles to standing the understanding of limbs and back muscles folding me again to the floor and after awhile each time I’m on the floor I find I stay a bit longer/ we
are all on the floor there is a long period of meditation and integration
coalescence arises/ writes patanjali in the yoga sutras/ and the body and the infinite universe are revealed as indivisible
He’d asked his father on his deathbed, “What was the most important thing in your life, the Torah?” And the old man had answered, “My body.” “I was stunned,” his son now told me. He stared past me in awkward silence and finally said, “I always thought my body was just a vehicle for my mind; feed it clothe it, send it to Harvard.”
Trungpa, Chogyam. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1973.
Roth, Gabrielle. Maps to Ecstasy. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1998.