Why do I want to be witnessed?

I’m exploring here my desire to be witnessed in movement practice and what seems to happen when I experience being witnessed.  I acknowledge that the developmental root of this desire is within the mother/child dyad – the need for the mother’s gaze.  If there is any sense of lack arising from this need, it can lead to a longing for “being seen” – a sense of want based on longing and lack.  I know this longing well, and it has affected my relationships with important others all my life.  But I have already said that I want to take desire beyond longing and lack.  I am curious – is my desire to be witnessed just about longing and lack? – or is it more than this?

It doesn’t feel like a longing – it feels like a desire.  Partly this is because I have increasingly given myself the opportunities to experience it.  There is a sense of the excitement – frisson – about being witnessed when I move.  I know it will be a different experience from when I am moving within a group without having a focused witness.  It is also different from moving within a public context where I am noticed and watched by others.  There is some similarity to when I am performing for an audience – certainly then there is a sense of intensification – but I don’t have to be performing to feel these effects.

Movement practice is not therapy.  It feels very different to me, even if there are therapeutic outcomes that can arise from it.  So, let me try to distinguish having the attention of a therapist from having the kind of attention I am talking about.

As a dramatherapist, I have developed some understanding of the effects of therapeutic witnessing.  There is, of course, the sense of holding, receiving and supporting, which relates to the developmental roots mentioned above.  It’s an important function of the therapist role – to give the client a healing experience of being seen – and this is on-going in both one-to-one and group therapy.  But, in a therapy group, I have noticed something more than this can arise.  What I have experienced when being actively witnessed in a therapeutic group setting (the focus of the group is on what I am expressing) is an intensification in what I am feeling and a heightened focus in what I am doing.  It suddenly feels more “real”.  I believe I become more connected to myself as well as to the context I am in.  I have talked about this in the past with my dramatherapy students, and they have reported a similar experience.

Witnessing, of the kind I desire, means giving agreed, gentle and curious attention from a kind of distance.  The witness has no particular desire to affect the actions of the person being witnessed.  They have no particular agenda for the other within their role – although, just by witnessing, they do affect them.

I had a lovely experience recently of being witnessed in a movement group.  The instructions to the witness were to allow and witness the other’s “complexity” as they moved. I felt the usual “frisson” and also an intensification of my awareness and focus.  But something more than this began to happen – I felt free.  And with this a kind of playful joy arose.  Was it my complexity being “allowed” that enabled this?  Was it the quality of the attention my witness gave me?  Was I just at that place in my own process where this could happen?  Or a complex mixture of all of these?

The context of a group seems a factor in what I experience – whether the witness is another in the group, or the group, itself, is witnessing.  Is this about having a social context? – about the primal group (family)?




Desire as Life


It is possible to view, and to feel, desire as an expression of life force: the desire of each alive being to have its own life – the desire to grow, to express one’s being, and to procreate – the desire of life to create more life.  In early spring the desire for the return of the light arises strongly in me and others – for the return of the life that light brings.  When the light is returning, there is a huge energy for life seen and felt all around.

In my life I have experienced several bouts of lengthy depression – some deeper and longer than others.  In that place, desire disappears.  I have never arrived at the point of reaching a true desire for death, but I certainly know the lack of desire for anything at all.  There has always been something that keeps me going – but it never feels like desire.  Eventually, I have learned that depression does not last.  The last time it arose, I saw it and knew it quite quickly – and knew I just had to wait it out.  That was an awareness that took the darkness and fear out of depression – but not the lack of desire, energy, motivation and joy in life.

Over 30 years ago, in my Jungian readings, I came across the metaphor of a mythological journey of descent for depression – and saw that I could view it as my psyche needing time in the underworld.  I couldn’t follow it there – my body was left empty in the land of the living.  I had to wait for re-emergence, and the time needed has varied from a few weeks to many months.  But learning about, and resonating with, the mythological journey to the underworld or Earth’s seasonal cycles, is one thing.  It took more years and further descents for the realisation of this to become embodied and part of my deep knowing.  Discovering the metaphor was a seed of understanding, not the lived understanding itself, which required repeated journeys into depression.  These kinds of insights keep deepening with lived experience.

As shown in the poem below, there can be a kind of longing in depression – but it is not desire.



I have wanted to lie down in a muddy field –

to have rain dissolve my bones and my flesh –

to become earth again.


I have wanted my body to be carried by a river

out onto the sea –  shifted like driftwood –

above the deep wet.


I have wanted to stretch and thin out –

the wind to blow through me –  my cell walls to open

like wings to the air.


Fleeing like Daphne, this longing to shapeshift –

turn away from the fire – has never endured.

I return to desire.

Lemon Desires

Desire is everywhere.  I was recently presented with a number of items and invited to choose the one I desired – I went straight to a lemon.

Lemon Desires


This lemon wants to have my attention – and it does.

It wants me to break open its bright yellow skin.

As I do, my desire increases with its

only-possible-as-lemon scent.

Its desire meets and engages my desire.

We are in a mutual desire relationship.


This lemon wants its seed released

to germinate, to reach for the warmth,

then the light of the sun.


This lemon wants to express its treeness –

to root, branch, leaf and blossom –

to open its blossom, exude nectar and pollen –

to arouse the desire of bees.

The exotic, erotic blossom desires to pollenate

and be pollenated.


This lemon embraces the desire of

seed, tree and blossom to fruit –

and requires the whole cosmos

for its fulfilment.

I desire to be a willing participant

in this relationship of desire –

to see, to touch, to hold, to smell,

to break into, to taste –

too sour!

What is Desire?

In many conversations I have had about writing this blog and exploring desire, there comes the question of definition:  What is desire?  I don’t feel any urge to answer this in a definitive way.  I have already said that longing, for me, is not desire – and yet I know it is an important element of some desires.  It just does not equate with desire for me.

However, I am always interested in what others say about this question.  A friend recently sent me this quote, which is from “Abraham Hicks” who is a channelled teacher.  I have nothing to say at the moment about the value or not of channelled teachings, but I found the quote interesting:

We would describe the sensation of desire as the delicious awareness of new possibilities.  Desire is a fresh, free feeling of anticipating wonderful expansion.  The feeling of desire is truly the feeling of life flowing through you.  But many people, while they are using the word desire, feel something quite different. Desire for them often feels like yearning.  For while they are focused upon something that they want to experience or have they are equally aware of its absence.  And so, while they are using words of desire, they are offering a vibration of lack. They come to think that the feeling of desire is like wanting something that they do not have.  But there is no feeling of lack in pure desire.

I recently wrote a “found” poem on desire as a verb.  A found poem is one that is basically something the poet has found, and turned into a poem just by how it is arranged.  This poem I “found” in my much used, very battered paperback Thesaurus, which has been a companion for about 55 years. I have hardly changed what was there on the page and it is still in the same order that it was.

To Desire: Roget’s Pocket Thesaurus, 1963


To wish, wish for, care for, affect,

like, take to, cling to, fancy.

To prefer, have an eye to, have a mind to.

To have a fancy for, have at heart, be bent upon.

To set one’s heart (or mind) upon,

covet, crave, hanker after, pine for, long for.

To hope, etc.

To woo, court, ogle, solicit, fish for.

To want, miss, need, lack, feel the want of.


Note how Roget finishes with lack.  And there is no inclusion of anything like what Abraham Hicks describes as “pure desire”.  What is this “pure” desiring?  What jumps out for me in the Hicks quote is the word “expansion”.  This word resonates with my own sense of deep desire – that it is an opening to, rather than a closing around, the other, whatever that other may be.  This quality of expansion takes desire out of the realms of craving and of lack.



Wings of Desire

The poem below is named after a wonderful Wim Wenders’ film from 1987 called Wings of Desire.  Filmed in black and white, it tells the story of an angel whose task is to support mortals in need on the streets of Berlin.  There are many deeply touching moments in this film, but the crux of the story is that the angel falls in love with a trapeze artist and renounces his angelic status to become human so that he can love her more fully.

I have two children, first a son and then a daughter.  I feel utterly blessed in this.  I still remember the powerful desire for children that gripped me in my early 30s.  Each time it was different.  The first time there was a viseral tension in it: must have!  But the second time was different.  As the poem shows, I felt my heart calling out and a definite answer came back.  After her birth, I never felt the desire to have a baby again – although I love babies.

Wings of Desire

For Alice


Standing in weak winter sunshine

on the draughty floorboards

of our small tied cottage,

I closed my eyes and silently

called from my heart,

“Are you there?”


To my surprise, you answered

with a soft feather touch on my face –

my desire for you touched

by your desire for me –

this body – this life.


For days after,

in solitary moments,

I felt you fluttering around me –

and then a great calm.


It was no surprise

when the sickness began.

Had you been a boy,

your name would have been