Here, not there…

Fact: The brain is designed for movement (See the TED talk, The Reason for Brains ).  Movement enables worldly engagement – how we enter into relationships with people and things — navigate, communicate and execute our plans, Some argue that thought itself is movement (Sheets-Johnstone 1982).


I view the brain as an organ of reaction and prediction. We either are reacting to the something that just happened (the past), or predicting what’s going to happen (the future). Needless to say, our brain always is hard at work keeping physical and emotional balance in whatever the conditions. At any given moment, the brain is asking: ‘Where am I?’ ‘Am I safe?’ ‘Where am I going?’ ‘What am I going to do?’  The mental effort to keep equilibrium – even at a non-conscious level – underscores our sense of homeostasis and harmony.


But these mental processes are stressful if not counterbalanced by more restful states of being. To recover from stress requires focused attention to the present moment. Meditation provides one very potent way to a becoming more present — a means of transcending the more pedestrian doing brain towards a calmer state of being.  Meditators train their brains through a variety of techniques to achieve a state of brain wave synchrony and coherency. Over time, these techniques temper the mental flip-flop of reaction-prediction, giving way to a more discerning, reflective way of living.


Meditation mainly is taught through prolonged periods of quiet stillness – by eliminating movement –  which could be distracting.   Human Origami also can provide excellent insight – and training –  through mindful movement. In many ways, Human Origami seeks the same end: a state of presence that is effortless, expansive, and spacious, curious and creative. Rather than stillness, the pathway to change of state is tethering the mind to movement and rooting the awareness in momentary flux and change. Human Origami offers a somewhat paradoxical experience –  access to a state of non-doing while in action.

Pleated Matter


To gain entry into this maze, movers need first to abandon habitual notions of how to move. To start, movers need to turn off the goal-directed mind. They need to slow down, listen for – and most importantly – sense – small shifts in the movement moment  – its direction, effort and quality. These qualities are not ordinarily visualized as an endpoint or finished product (a folded shape, for example). Rather, to give up this kind of control, the mover must place the means before the ends – sensations of touch and minimized effort in expanded space and time.


Giving up control also means letting go of preconceived notions of correctness, rightness or beauty. Better to notice what movements arise in the moment and follow them. As a fold emerges in the moving moment – one doesn’t necessarily know how it will appear, what it will look or feel like and in what direction it might travel. There’s no need to anticipate where any fold might go, nor add muscular effort to finishing a line.  Allow the folding impulse to arise, sequence on its own. Here, staying curious is the key – to become a witness to the folds as they arise, rather than the driver of the movement.


Try this: Lie down on a flat rug or floor on your right side in a loose fetal position. Slowly — very slowly — unfold this shape, extending your body fully. Avoid the urge to stretch. Without intending to roll to the other side, play with the continuum of folding and unfolding until you ‘find’ yourself transitioning to the opposite side.  How closely-knit can you come into that folded shape without squeezing? How long can you extend, not only your body – but your feeling of energy lengthening and widening into space without trying to stretch. Let go of anticipating how far the extent of the line of movement. Commit to not finishing the line of the movement, but following its directional changes. At what point in time and space where folding gives rise to unfolding and unfolding reverse into enfolding? This tipping point can become an open-ended, inexhaustible investigation into the deep universe of folding. It feeds on its own energy to reverse itself. The process is both generative and recuperative – an ongoing, cyclical process that gathers energy from the nuclear core of the fold and from the tips of the extremities as they meet and extend into a sensed field of continuous movement in expanded space.


To learn more about the history of Human Origami – how it was created – and the process, check out my 2017 article, Human Origami: The Embryo as a Folding Life Continuum.




Maxine Sheets Johnstone. Thinking in Movement. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 1982; 39(4)