All posts by Kevin Roberts

Recipe for Spiritual Awakening

As we near the end of the twentieth century, the new age remedies and spiritual magic bullets seem to be multiplying exponentially. As our societal dis"ease" slowly develops a tolerance and resistance to each new pill, opportunity is rich for astral hucksters and pyramid schemes that prey on the disillusioned masses. The "soul" food consumer’s motto must be "let the buyer beware" as we settle into a different paradigm of bodymind healthcare.

Bill Wilson, a cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, noted that while some people had dramatic mountaintop spiritual experiences, most of us are apt to have a gradual increase in consciousness, or as William James put it, an awakening of the "educational variety." The solution lies in staying consistently on the new path, leaving behind destructive attitudes and behavior, keeping a constant eye toward the observation of reaction to the environment, and generally seeking support from the like-minded. In order for us to have sufficient momentum for an ongoing awakening, all aspects of the bodymind must be included; we need do more than talk the talk. Almost fifty years ago Moshe Feldenkrais boldly stated, "I contend that all successful [psycho]analysis, whatever technique is employed, is invariably accompanied, and probably preceded, by an alteration of posture and a change of muscular habit both in body and face."* True awakening must come from the very core of our being and proceed in all directions.

What is it we want from spirituality? We look for stability, or better said, balance, since living requires movement. (As spiritual beings we move towards evolution or involution; the idea that we can remain the same is an illusion.). It could be said that our overall diet is unbalanced, that some nourishment is lacking, leaving us empty and looking for something to fill us. Many of the quick fixes are like spices, convincing us temporarily that we are consuming something different. However, for the long term we need an entirely different substance. This is called metanoia, a new way of thinking, or if you like, of digesting impressions.

Now that we are getting an idea of what we are hungry for, we can start looking for recipes. There exist many traditional methods of preparation and even some updated versions that are easier to translate or digest. Since we need nourishment on many levels, we can omit the ones that are specific, or specialty dishes. It has been said that man cannot live on bread alone. This leaves us with esoteric truths in the form of parables and mathematical formulas. For us to have a balanced diet, I recommend a variety of recipes, of course combined to taste or digestibility.

The question remains as to how we prepare the bodymind to assimilate this food. Our junk food diet has left our palate in a state of confusion. Receiving gentle guidance honoring the unity of all aspects of the bodymind will empower this awakening, which is an ongoing process that requires maintenance, to begin. Consider using support groups and bodymind practitioners to help you gain momentum in this process. Soup’s On!

* Moshe Feldenkrais, Body and Mature Behaviour, 1949. P. 129.

Identifying Stress: Why Good Health Leaks Away

Most of those who are open to the so-called alternative or complementary therapies are familiar with the many studies showing how stress is related to disease and dysfunction. Stress could be defined as a force that strains or deforms, in our case it hampers our ablility to stay balanced and healthy. The causes of stress are often cited as pressure in the workplace, trouble in relationships and even rush hour traffic; all quite vague and widely ranging and, perhaps most importantly, never questioned sources of this drain on our health. Since stress is such a central theme in all illness, it is in our best interest to be exact and thorough in our investigation. While many therapies are aimed at reducing or relieving stress already accumulated, the purpose of this article is to stop stress at the source, before we are affected by it.

During my recent month long visit in India, I was witness to lifestyles that are beyond western imagination. External events that are blamed for stress were rampant: constant loud noises, overcrowding, unbelievable traffic, vehicle exhaust, human waste in the streets, poverty, trash, pollution – the list is endless, yet the people there were not noticeably stressed out, in fact, the ones I met seemed quite relaxed. On returning to the states it was like a blissful paradise, no honking horns, clean toilets and lots of room, and I wondered how anyone could be stressed in this environment. Still, in a couple of weeks I found myself getting stressed in traffic and was prompted to investigate this phenomenon.

Since the external environment had not changed since I had returned, it seemed logical to look inside for what had changed in me. The inner spaciousness and appreciation for the beauty of my surroundings had been replaced by worry, self-importance, impatience, fidgeting and non-stop chatter. I had discovered the source of my stress, the unconscious workings of my human machinery, a self-imposed nightmare that would be my undoing. I could no longer be ignorant and point my finger saying "I could relax if they would change" because it was clearly an inside job. However there is no need to believe me; a few short days of observation and you will have your own proof.

Fortunately for us, there are practical steps we can take to remedy this situation and they have already been thought out and organized for us. Esoteric schools throughout the ages have catalogued these "leaks" and developed effective measures to take against them. What follows is a list of six common leaks, how to recognize them and how to stop them. Once we quit losing all this force our biggest problem will be what to do with all our extra energy.

1. Uncontrolled Imagination: the process of endless more or less morbid associations flowing unchecked through our head. Examples are worry or daydreaming. In some people this creates great anxiety, a form of stress, in others the stress is an indirect result. Either way it is a drain on resources. To counteract, notice the flow of associations or direction of thought. Find a substitute, think of some definite thing, a poem, song, sunset, etc. that is different than the flow you have observed. Then notice how things are different, that is, did worrying really help the situation or just drain your energy?

2. Internal Considering: the process of taking external events personally, like when someone cuts you off in traffic, or of thinking the world owes you, like you somehow deserve to be treated better. This is the result of self-love or self-importance and pride. One possible solution is to see yourself in the scale of all creation, to see your relative size and importance compared to the cosmos. Another is external considering, or putting yourself in another person’s place, which gives insight into their behavior and shows that nothing personal was meant. Internal considering often coincides with uncontrolled imagination.

3. Unconscious Muscle Movement: the tensing of muscles without purpose. This can range from the nervous tapping of a foot to full-blown muscular armoring of the whole body. Observe movements and tensions in daily activities. One method I find efficient is to exaggerate the tension/movement and then relax. This helps me to see how much force is being drained and at the same time how ridiculous I must appear to my peers. Ongoing observation will uncover specific tensions for specific situations.

4. Automatic Talking: the mindless filling up of space with idle talk. If you don’t immediately think of someone who does this, you may be an automatic talker yourself. This leak distracts us from our task, whether it be your job or just being present to your feelings, and makes it impossible to center ourselves to gather our energy. When you find yourself doing this (and we all do it), stop in mid-sentence if you have to and see what it is like to be silent. Often we stop listening to people because we are planning our reply/reaction. Try counting internally to three before answering a person; take time for a breath. You may be surprised how much can be said in a few well-chosen words.

5. Lying: if you are one of the people who claim they never lie you have never seriously observed yourself. Ask a close friend for help if needed. Any basic automatic reply, like "I’m fine," will be a lie and, worst of all, we believe it ourselves. Myriad energies are leaked in covering and inventing lies, not to mention the energy lost when we act based on our belief in our own lies. It’s not that we should always tell the truth but that we should know every time we do lie. There’s an old joke – How can you tell when someone’s lying? Their lips are moving.

6. Expression of Negative Emotions: I saved the biggest leak for last. I could easily write a whole series of articles on the destructive force of this leak. Its worst characteristic is that it seems to feel good when it is being done and many people who unconsciously want to stay sick unknowingly thwart their own healing process. Try it for yourself: don’t say anything negative about that special person, place or thing that most annoys you. See how long you can go. You will quickly see how much energy you lose because you will not be able to stop for long without a lot of practice. And when you’ve mastered not saying things out loud you can try not thinking them.

There are many practical exercises for plugging up leaks. For those with chronic diseases this may be the only answer, because no external cure has a chance against these leaks. Even if you have a lesser problem like allergies or headaches, practical exercises are very effective. We already knew that stress causes disease, and now we know how to eradicate stress.

If this list of leaks is too long to remember, there is a short form. We leak energy away whenever we lose our sense of self and/or lose our identity – that is, whenever we identify with something. All forms of leaks fit under the general heading of identification. In order to stop the stress from external events we need simply to separate from them by not identifying. This will keep all our healing energies within us, where they belong and will even give us an added sense of presence in the bodymind which makes everyday events flow smoothly.

For more practical esoteric exercises, feel free to contact me by email or refer to the website.


Identificando el Estrés. ¿Porqué se derrama la buena salud?

Por Kevin S. Roberts.

La mayoría de quienes están abiertos a las, así llamadas, terapias alternativas o complementarias están familiarizados con muchos estudios que muestran que el estrés está relacionado con las enfermedades y las disfunciones. El estrés podría ser definido como una fuerza que presiona o deforma, en nuestro caso, obstaculiza nuestra capacidad de permanecer equilibrados y sanos. Las causas del estrés con frecuencia son citadas como presión en el trabajo, problemas de las relaciones y hasta el tráfico en horas pico. Todo muy vago y dentro de un amplio rango y, quizás lo más importante, nunca se cuestionan las causas de este derrame de nuestra salud. Ya que el estrés es un tema tan central en toda enfermedad, es de nuestro mayor interés ser exactos y exhaustivos. Mientras que muchas terapias están dirigidas a reducir o aliviar el estrés ya acumulado, el propósito de este artículo es el de detener el estrés en la fuente, antes de ser afectados por él.

Durante mi reciente visita de meses en la India, fui testigo de estilos de vida que están más allá de la imaginación occidental, eventos exteriores que son considerados estresantes eran rampantes allá; ruido constante, sobrepoblación, un tráfico increíble, el escape de los vehículos, deshechos humanos en las calles, pobreza, basura, polución, la lista no tiene fin y aún así la gente allá no estaba notablemente estresada. De hecho, con quienes me encontré parecían estar muy relajados. De vuelta a los Estados Unidos me parecía un paraíso dichoso, sin cornetas, con baños limpios, mucho espacio y, me pregunté ¿cómo puede alguien estar estresado en este ambiente? No obstante, en un par de semanas me encontraba estresado en el tráfico, lo que me impulsó a investigar este fenómeno. Como el ambiente exterior no había cambiado desde que yo había llegado, pareció lógico buscar dentro lo que había cambiado en mí. El espacio interior y la apreciación de la belleza circundante había sido sustituído por preocupaciones, auto importancia, impaciencia, parloteo incesante. Así descubrí la causa de mi estrés, los trabajos inconscientes de mi maquinaria humana y una pesadilla auto impuesta. No podía seguir ignorante y señalar con el dedo diciendo "me podría relajar si ellos cambiaran", por que se trataba claramente de un trabajo interior. Sin embargo, no hay necesidad de que me crean, unos pocos días de observación y ustedes tendrán su propia prueba.

Afortunadamente para nosotros hay pasos prácticos que podemos dar para remediar esta situación y ya han sido pensados y organizados para nosotros. Las escuelas esotéricas a través de las epocas han catalogado estas ‘averias’ y desarrollaron medidas efectivas que tomar en su contra. Lo que sigue es una lista de seis derrames comunes, cómo reconocerlos y cómo detenerlos. Una vez que dejemos de perder toda esta fuerza nuestro mayor problema será qué hacer con toda nuestra energía extra.

1. Imaginación incontrolada: el proceso sin fin de asociaciones más o menos mórbidas que fluyen sin control en nuestra cabeza. Ejemplos son la preocupación o el ensueño. En algunas personas esto crea gran ansiedad, una forma de estrés, en otras el estrés es un resultado indirecto; cualquiera de los casos es un derrame de recursos. Para reaccionar note el flujo de las asociaciones o dirección del pensamiento, encuentre un sustituto, piense en alguna cosa definida, un poema, una canción, una puesta de sol, etc. Eso es diferente del flujo que usted ha observado. Luego note como las cosas son diferentes, es decir ¿preocuparse ayuda realmente en la situación o sólo drena su energía?

2. Consideración interna: el proceso de tomar los eventos exteriores a título personal, como cuando alguien se le atraviesa en el tráfico o pensar que el mundo debe, como usted de alguna manera merece, tratarlo mejor. Esto es resultado del amor propio o de la propia importancia y el orgullo. Una posible solución es verse a la escala de la creación, ver su tamaño e importancia relativas comparado con el cosmos; otra es la consideración externa o ponerse usted mismo en el lugar de otra persona lo cual le dá comprensión de su conducta y le muestra que no signifiaba nada personal. La consideración interna con frecuencia coincide con la imaginación incontrolada.

3. Movimiento muscular inconsciente: la tensión de musculos sin propósito. Esto puede variar desde un golpeteo nervioso de un pie hasta la armadura corporal a todo soplido de la totalidad del cuerpo. Observe los movimientos y las tensiones en las actividades diarias. Un método que yo encuentro eficiente es el de exagerar la tensión / movimeinto y luego relajar, esto me ayuda a ver cuánta fuerza se derrama al mismo tiempo lo redículo que debo parecer a mis semejantes. La observación sobre la marcha descubrirá tensiones específicas para situaciones específicas.

4. Hablar automático: llenar el espacio con charla ociosa. Si usted no puede pensar inmediatamente en alguien que haga esto puede que usted mismo sea un conversador automático. Esta avería nos distrae de nuestras tareas, sea en el trabajo o para hacer presencia a nuestros propios sentimientos y hace imposible centrarnos para juntar nuestra energías. Cuando se encuentre haciendo esto (y todos lo hacemos) deténgase a mitad de oración si es necesario y vea cómo es estar en silencio. Con frecuencia dejamos de escuchar a la gente porque estamos planeado nuestra respuesta/reacción. Pruebe contar internamente hasta tres antes de responderle a una persona, tómese el tiempo par un respiro. Puede sorprenderse de lo mucho que puede ser dicho con pocas palabras bien escogidas.

5. Mentir: si usted es una de las personas que claman nunca mentir, nunca se ha observado a sí mismo. Pídale ayuda a un amigo cercano si la necesita, cualquier respuesta automática como ‘estoy bien’ puede ser mentira y, lo peor de todo es que nosotros mismos lo creemos. Mucha energía se derrama para encubrir e inventar mentiras, sin contar la energía que perdemos cuando actuamos basados en nuestras propias creencias, en nuestras propias mentiras. No es que siempre debamos decir la verdad, sino que debemos saber cada vez que mentimos. Hay un viejo chiste.
– ¿Cómo sabes cuando alguien está mintiendo?
– Sus labios se están moviendo.

6. Expresión de las emociones negativas: me guardé de última la avería más grande. Yo podría fácilmente escribir una serie completa de artículos sobre la fuerza destructiva de esta avería. Su peor característica es que se siente bien cuando se hace y, mucha gente que quiere seguir enferma sin saberlo, merma su proceso de sanación.
Pruebelo usted mismo: no diga nada negativo sobre esa persona especial, lugar o cosa que tanto lo enoja, vea qué tan lejos llega. Usted verá rapidamente cuánta energía pierde porque no será capaz de deterlo mucho tiempo sin mucha práctica. Y, cuando tenga el dominio de no decir las cosas puede probar a no pensarlas. Hay muchos ejercicios prácticos para taponear esta avería. Para aquellos con enfermedades crónicas esta puede ser la única respuesta porque ninguna cura externa tiene chance alguno contra este derrame. Aun si usted tiene un problema menor como alergia o dolores de cabeza, los ejercicios prácticos son muy efectivos.

Ya sabíamos que el estrés causa enfermedades y ahora sabemos cómo erradicar el estrés.

Si esta lista de averias es muy larga para recordar hay una forma abreviada, derramamos nuestra energía cuando perdemos nuestro sentido propio y/o perdemos nuestra identidad, esto es, cuando nos identificamos con algo. Todas las formas de derrames encajan bajo el encabezado general de identificación. Para detener el estrés de los eventos externos simplemente necesitamos separanos de ellos no identificándonos. Esto mantendrá nuestras energías curativas dentro de nosotros donde deben estar y nos dará un sentido agregado de presencia en el cuerpo-mente que hace a los eventos diarios fluir suavemente.

Compassion: Going to the Source

While listening to a lecture about Tibetan healing, I realized the need to find a practical method to attain compassion. Za Choeje Rinpoche, the sixth reincarnation of a sacred healer, spoke well as he told us that negative emotion is the root of all disease and that the healer must meet this negative emotion with compassion. His talk was full of esoteric truths, but the practical application of the method is secret and shared only with initiates. Not much help for us in the West. Yet there is a practical method available to us. We must work however, if we are to gain the ability to sustain compassion.

First of all, we must heal ourselves; only then may we be able to create conditions for others to heal themselves. So, as we begin, we will look at ourselves both as healer and as the diseased and unbalanced patient. We all have this negativity; culture demands it. It has been said, and rightly so, that Western society runs on negative emotion. There is a certain energy to it. We will discover why as we work to understand this term.

We can find this method for attaining compassion as we work to cure ourselves. In this healing we can start with the non-expression of negative emotion. This in turn will give us a whole new vision of negative emotion, and of what we get from it. Being negative is fun – yes, fun, to our ordinary state of being. We also love to watch others be negative; it gives us fresh material to be negative ourselves. Try not being negative for a day, or even an hour, and you will quickly see how attached you are to it. Notice, for example, how thoughts and feelings turn as you exercise the physical body. Once you allow the negative emotions, you will quickly tire and begin to ache. Notice others who are in good or bad relation to exercising the body and how the expressions on their faces match it.

Let’s look at the debt we set up by getting sick and being negative. Once we have whined to all those around us, we are compelled to listen to them. And how quickly we become indignant with someone who won’t hear our tale of woe. If you study this closely, you will see that we need to be sick often in order to maintain a societal balance. The next time you find yourself sick, try not telling anyone. While it will be difficult, you may notice you get better immediately. Another exercise would be to not look at a car crash, as everyone else rubbernecks; notice the curious feeling of having deprived yourself of such a ‘delight.’

By a constant and thorough study of negative emotion in ourselves and the struggle to not express them, we will begin to "remember ourselves" -that is, we will be able to see and know ourselves well enough to stop the negativity before it starts, or gains momentum. This effort will also enable us to value balance of the bodymind in a profound way, and tools to help achieve this balance, such as the Zen Imagery Exercises, will become more attractive. When this process becomes a permanent part of us, we become able to awaken to a new state of consciousness.

When we have attained this new state, we will be able to maintain compassion. Let us start by defining compassion, knowing we need more than a mere label; we need a practical working understanding. We might think of a coming together of our individual passions, "feeling with." Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines it thus: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. This may leave us with more questions than we started with. An Eastern source, the Law of Five Elements, shows compassion as a result of balance; the earth, or grounding, element is in the middle of the four directions. When the bodymind is in balance, none of the four directions will pull us from our center of compassion; not even the negative emotions of others. In our struggle to heal ourselves, we now understand the distress of others. This is key – we must place ourselves in the other person’s position, which can be called "external considering." Only by travelling the path ourselves can we understand the dis-ease of negative emotion in others.

As we work on ourselves it will also be helpful to notice how we are affected by positive contact as well. Only by becoming impartial may we attain compassion. We must keep to center at all times and this will come only with difficult work and a non-judgmental study of ourselves. The importance of keeping our center of gravity within ourselves will become clearer as progress is made. A good exercise to this end is to struggle to attain ‘non-desires’ over desires. This will eventually make us impartial.

After we have learned compassion in all external circumstances, we will be ready to talk about love. Compassion is often thought of as having something to do with love – here we must also take some time to avoid taking a wrong turn. Love is said to be the answer; it is also said God is love. If the name of God is unpronounceable, the meaning of love may be as close as we get to indefinable. Unfortunately most religions and spiritualistic sciences tout love as a means to awaken; in reality it just feeds imagination. Yes, love is intoxicating; it is a drug. We must therefore come to a practical means of discernment, for it is dangerous to dream of love too soon. For now it will just blind us. We must first mature in our consciousness; then we will be more able to understand such higher concepts as love.

To match negativity with compassion outwardly, we must first do it inwardly. This is not so easy a task as reading an article (or even writing one). It takes consistent, long-term efforts and persistence. Even in reading though, you may have begun to understand the difference between a true healer and the mere "physical mechanics" currently practicing mainstream and alternative medicines. All healers start broken and to the extent they heal themselves, they may direct others.

It takes a mature compassion to look impartially into the eyes of fear, rage, depression, excitement, paranoia, judgment, anxiety, and the myriad other forms of negative emotion. We ‘feel with’ the other without becoming negative ourselves and the example we set is immediately noticed, both within and without. This is a healing of the human experience that comes from the source of compassion.

For more ideas on work with negative emotions see the exercises on the Kesdjan web site.

Healing Emotion

Much can be, and has been, said on the subject of emotion. The word emotion itself means to express or get out. Yet often times emotion leads to unsatisfactory results. We feel drained instead of invigorated. Surely this natural function of the bodymind has a possible healthy purpose. Here we shall examine what that purpose, or function, is, where we went wrong, and how to remedy the situation; this will lead us to healthy emotion.

Emotional expression is something we are born with, in that we are capable of it without instruction. This expression settles in when we are primarily involved in learning how to move (see Language of Movement). Movement is learned by imitation, so we naturally have some crossover in emotional imitation. Since people in general do not have healthy emotion, and we imitate people – namely our parents, siblings, and other caregivers – we imitate this deviation from healthy emotion right from the start. (Let us not put blame on these folks, for they are in the same boat with us.)

A few basic examples are useful to ponder as we consider where we strayed. One easy illustration is ‘controlling’ emotion – which really means stopping it. Of course we need control, just as with bowel movements, which we also learn at this time. However, with our bowels we are allowed relief at a proper time; emotions are postponed indefinitely. This is evident in common phrases like "There’s nothing to be scared of . . ."; or "It’s going to be alright," etc. If we learned also an appropriate time and place for expression of emotion, this control could become useful. There would be a lot fewer temper tantrums as well.

Another example is ‘labeling’ emotions, generally as good or bad, acceptable and not acceptable. When this happens – say, when a little girl is allowed to cry but nothing else – then all expression is funneled into one outward manifestation. This is not a satisfying expression and drains the system of energy.

Both of these examples are forms of my third example, ‘denial’of emotion. This includes any attempt to discount emotion, such as "I’ll give you something to whine about!"; which basically says our emotion is wrong, or should not exist. When emotion is met by this kind of violent reaction, it gradually shuts down, or is denied. This repression of emotion takes a great energetic toll on the bodymind. These three examples should suffice to make a beginning in our journey.

One of my favorite sayings is "The only negative emotion is an unresolved emotion." Truly resolution defines emotion. Until it ‘comes out,’ it is not yet emoted. This strange energy of unexpressed emotion is a poison to us. The way to relief is to lance the boil, so to speak. There are many methods for getting ‘caught up’ with old emotions; I will not detail them here, but bodywork is fundamental to most of these methods. They must be resolved because any current expression will be tainted by them. The key in this, and please read this carefully, is not to analyze during emotion. Many lines of esoteric teaching tell us that thought opposes emotion, and you will find this is true. The emotion must be allowed to run its course. Then, if you wish, you may analyze (you will find things much clearer then as well). In reality, analysis is usually an attempt to abort expression, albeit unconsciously (that is, by imitation).

So now we have covered, in basic formulations, where we went wrong and how to fix it. We now come to the why: Why have emotion at all? What good is it? Since we know that emotion is part of our machinery, we will look for its normal, or healthy, function. I will begin with Five Element Theory, which provides a simple, yet complete understanding of emotional integration. The five basic emotions are fear, anger, joy, compassion, and grief. If we see each ‘element’ as being in relationship to the others (and not as good or bad), and needing balance in this relation, we are moving in the right direction. Each element can be ‘symptomatic,’ or have too much energy, as when anger becomes rage. Each element can be depleted, as when joy becomes sadness. Or they can be in balance, in which we could call fear ‘respect’ (this gives a new meaning to ‘fear of God’). If we look carefully, we can distill every emotion to one of these five and then seek balance. Five Element Theory has much to say about this balance.

Where would we be without healthy anger? We would have no boundaries. Without fear we have no sense of scale. Without joy we are depressed (this topic will be addressed in another paper). These emotions are as necessary as the air we breathe; in fact they are related to and are in the air. Without them we are choked off (yes, there is a direct correlation with asthma and other diseases). This leads into our final point: What does healthy emotion look like? Here we must be clear by using objective results. In the last paper we spoke of "expression of negative emotions" (see Identifying Stress) as a leak in the bodymind. Let’s explore what this means in the context of healthy emotion. We all have experience of two basic modes of expression: one kind gives energy, the other drains us. Notice that I didn’t say "feels good" – this is because expression of negative emotions often seems to feel good. There is a movement of energy with negative emotion, but it is energy moving out of us. So it is important not to look for results during expression, but afterward. After crying, for example, are you exhausted or refreshed? Healthy emotion always refreshes us. This is an objective result.

After practice, careful observation, and a tabulating of results, you will begin to notice a definite ‘taste’ to both healthy emotion and negative emotion. We need to use this taste because of the speed of emotion (see Somatics and the Unconscious), which is infinitely faster than ordinary thought. In this way we will develop an ability to emote in a healthy way and control our leaks. The effects of this on our physical health will be quickly and clearly evident.

The Essence of Healing

Something happens during a massage that is very difficult to explain for most people. Being touched in an intelligent way evokes something outside normal experience: most people feel different in one way or another. Whether that is younger, lighter, emotional, out of whack, or something else, there is a unique feel to it. What has happened? Is there a way to be more exact about it?

A word that is thrown around a lot is "essence" (or essential), and we must take a closer look at this term for a beginning of understanding of this question. There is a meaning to essence that each of us knows, and it is at this meaning that I point. Essence is what a thing really is before it becomes changed, before it becomes different due to the effects of the world around it. What then is the essential thing about you? It would make sense that if the acquired things changed, the only stable point of reference would be this essential thing.

When you look at a small child, you see some definite quality to them; often this is called innocence or simply light. The child glows. The myriad contradictions that exist in adults have not made it into this child yet-the world is an open door to children, and they look at you directly with no shame. At some point this quality, which is best seen in the eyes, goes away and is replaced, or displaced, by some new acquired thing. For lack of a better term, we will call the acquired portions of ourselves "personality." Personality is acquired through education; be it formal, by imitation, or through social structures. These necessary parts may or may not be in accordance with our best interest; they may, in fact, completely obscure reality.

This may seem like a travesty, but it has happened to us all. The solution lies not in lamenting the situation, however, but in finding an efficient way to relearn the portions of this education that are faulty, or at the very least are getting in the way of us being healthy and living up to our potential. Personality has been in charge of most of us for quite a while and will not take lightly to being ordered around, so a method other than a direct approach will be useful. Conscious touch is such an efficient indirect approach. How to take best advantage of this work is what I will speak of next.

Most of us will find this post-massage condition unsettling and make immediate attempts to "return to normal." But it is possible to prolong this state and learn from it. As a follow-up to a session, many therapists suggest a short walk, a bath, or another nurturing activity that makes no social demands. This is why: it prolongs the contact with essence. Although essence is not "grown up" or educated, it does have a good idea about right function of the bodymind. It notices things that the personality misses. And when we discover things ourselves, it is far more useful than having someone else, like our therapist or spouse, tell us; we organize the information differently internally.

Personality must return for us to function and be responsible in society, but information discovered by essence can be integrated, which will result in personality making useful adjustments. It is these very adjustments that constitute healing; wrong "learnings" and traumas become resolved, and we "feel young" again. This often happens without any cognizance in the "head-brain" or reliving of past events. No catharsis is necessary. When essence and personality assume their proper roles, healing is a natural result. [Note: there may be some awkwardness getting used to new patterns and postures (both physical and emotional), much like adolescence.]

One popular term that may serve to help you understand essence is "inner child." There is a lot of talk about listening to, and nurturing, the inner child. True healing involves raising this child and allowing it to catch up with personality. Essence is undeveloped and as such is unreliable, but without it we are not whole. Understanding this will give new meaning to such expressions as "emotional two-year-old." With the right kind of work and attention, this "two-year-old" can become the same chronological age as the rest of you-thus the meaning of becoming as a little child.

As you now begin to see, there can be much more to massage and bodywork than mere mechanics or relaxation. Keep this in mind as we look further into the experience that makes up somaZen Bodymind Integration.

KSR 2/27/00

Gut Feelings

Gut Feelings

There are many common sayings in our language that express a deeper meaning even though they sound trite. Such things as "a gut feeling" or "a pain in the neck" say something more than the words would indicate. In somaZen we pay special attention to phrases like this, because they tell us something of what is going on inside, which is crucial if a massage session is to be therapeutic. Beyond this, language is important in each special modality and science; somaZen is no exception. I would like to explore the knowledge of common sayings in both lights.

Most people come to massage for a back rub or relief from a stiff neck. There have been many explanations for this, and massage schools generally spend a majority of their time with the back. In somaZen, using a very simple and practical logic, we think of the back as what is behind us, that is, our past. Much can be learned in looking at the back in this way. The neck is more complicated, and if we think of a "bottleneck" or a traffic jam, we can see why. All the systems of the bodymind traverse the neck, so there are several scales of tissue, making proper treatment more complex. Both of these areas are easier for people to sense, or realize, because they are close to the head-brain. This may sound ridiculous, but there is invariably pain in other areas of the body, which are effectively blocked because of the neck’s proximity to the only brain we use regularly.

This brings us to the idea of other areas of cognition beyond the head-brain. This will be an ongoing theme as we explore the ideas behind somaZen. For example, let’s look at the expression "gut feeling." For us to receive a message from the abdomen, we must have a clear pathway for data to travel. Thus, to avoid these feelings or sensations, we may create tension between them and our head-brain. Once the pathway is opened up, we may be uneasy, since we are becoming aware of past conflicts, unresolved because we could not sense them. There are myriad supports for not having feeling in modern society and family, which result in "stiff-necked" people. Unfortunately, when our neck is not flexible, we lose perspective, since we cannot look around. It is also quite true that our actions are guided by something that we are not even in touch with, which is revealed quickly by impartial examination.

Moving further south, through the pelvis and the legs, we contact the ground, the basis, or foundation, of our existence. The term "mother earth" is loaded with meaning. Do we strike the ground, or does it hit us? How does our relationship with our mother figure into this? When we have achieved a balance, we will caress the earth and be caressed by it. So we can look for many issues in the feet in this light. An additional way of seeing things is to look at when muscle groups were first used. The calf muscles, for instance, are first used significantly in walking, which represents a definite period in childhood. Unresolved traumas from this time may well be stored in this area.

Many of these sayings of common wisdom reveal much about our acquired worldview and our "selves." Think of a few from your past. For myself, I remember one thing most clearly from my grandmother, the saying "If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his hiney on the ground." These kinds of sayings provide a possibility for pondering our nature, the meaning of our existence. When we do this, sayings of common wisdom not only provide opportunities for assessment but also give direction to our own development.

My father always said, "It ain’t help unless they ask for it."

KSR 5/01/00

Unlocking the Bodymind

We are all familiar with the term ‘having the knees locked,’ and it is more or less known how soldiers who lock their knees while standing at attention will collapse after a short while. I have never heard of this phenomenon’s being investigated, but now propose to study this with a view toward finding the energetic principle behind it. In my bodywork practice I have learned to recognize patterns of the tissue that result from locking the knees, which I have verified by asking hundreds of clients. Using these data, I have been able to track the effects of this posture throughout the bodymind. Depending on the type of person, the arrangement of the hips, and other factors, it is possible to accurately assess and predict complications due to this locking. Bony structures, soft tissue, and organs are effected, as well as thinking and feeling. Quite a bit of fallout from one little habit!

Recently I attended a seminar on sacred dance and recognized a number of other ‘locking’ points, so I began to consider the overall effect of ‘locking.’ By studying various personality styles, health patterns, and attitudes, it was easy to see that this locking has a strong effect on the quality of life of each individual. These patterns are deeply ingrained in each of us and very difficult to change, but the sooner one begins, the sooner one will have success. Otherwise we will remain locked up for the rest of our life.

Start with an experiment for yourself. Stand with one knee locked, then the other. Notice which feels more ‘normal.’ See if the force of gravity flowing through the leg that is usually locked creates any differences in your body. Don’t worry if you can’t sense anything at the beginning; it takes some time to develop this ability. Make efforts to change whichever knee is locked in everyday life, looking for differences not only in body sensations, telltale pains, and overall energy but also in emotional disposition and mental attitudes.

Now look at the sacroiliac joints. By gently tilting the pelvis forward or back, depending on your body type, you can notice an ‘opening’ (for lack of a better word) that connects the legs to the torso. This position will seem a bit strange, because it requires attention to maintain it. Do not tilt to an extreme position, just slightly away from where you are normally. Practice this tilt while sitting, standing, and lying down. For some people, like myself, there is a forward pattern in standing and a backward pattern in sitting. You can also add a slight twist to the right and then the left, again noticing which direction seems normal, using your attention to twist to the other side.

The next locking position is what Ida Rolf called the ‘lumbo-dorsal hinge.’ It is located at or near the twelfth thoracic vertebra. This very important place is especially compromised in modern man, particularly by our poor emotional response and hunching over computers all the time (like I am now). Unlocking this ‘joint’ can be accomplished by slowly lifting the sternum, as if being pulled up by a string. Just doing this will evoke a deep breath, which indicates how healing it can be. In all these exercises, do not force things; make the movement as small as possible. In this way the change in energy flow can be more easily realized.

In moving through these exercises, you may have sensed that the movements are becoming increasingly subtle as we get further from the ground, yet the energy flow–or gravity, if you like–is becoming easier to sense. Our next stop is the shoulder girdle. This is a very interesting situation. As obvious as it is anatomically, most people do not notice that the only bony connection of the arms to the torso occurs at the sternum. With the shoulders the movement is a gentle spreading of the collarbone (clavicles) away from the sternum. As you do this, notice when the arms ‘get heavy.’ Do not try to pull the shoulders back; this will cause increased tension, rendering the exercise useless. This exercise is particularly useful for those in the ‘helping’ professions, who reach out with their hands constantly. With practice, you can learn to reach out while staying open at the base of the throat.

The base of the skull (really the top two vertebra) is our next challenge. This is a tricky area, because there are many different postures and the neck is so central to personality. I suggest you check this area out with someone who is knowledgeable in this arena. Remember that having curve in the neck is necessary to avoid injury, because it absorbs shocks. Start by trying neck rolls to get a sense of areas that are stuck. Many people are locked in the back, but it is not safe to give a general direction in this case; many people I have worked with have been given wrong advice and now have problems. The key really is a more subtle movement and keeping a curve. When you can feel energy moving through, you have a good indication.

There is also a locking point at the top of the head, but we will have to speak of that at some other time.

I will conclude with the ankle, completing the cycle. The ankles generally (although there are exceptions) lock (or collapse) inwardly, or pronate. Pronation can develop into some fairly serious compensatory patterns, as many bodyworkers know. To unlock this pattern, I have found walking to work best, using attention to focus on the third toe. If you can sense the bone all the way back to the ankle (make sure your foot points forward), you will notice that the arch has been restored. The foot becomes like a suction cup as it hits the ground, and walking becomes much more stable and takes much less energy. Indeed, one begins to feel as if he or she were caressing the ground, and there is a sense of what is under the surface. This is the energy flow from the earth to the heavens, and vice versa.

Clearly this will be an ongoing exercise, but you will notice results immediately. The worries of the day will fade as you discover a new world within yourself, so practice it daily to get the required momentum going. Ida Rolf (and other great bodywork teachers) emphasized that the force of gravity flowing through us will lift us up when we are properly aligned. I have found this to be very true. Many teachings also speak of the human being as an apparatus for transmitting forces between the cosmos and our planet; you can begin to verify this by tasting the flow in yourself. In this the world becomes a better place.

KSR 8/20/00

The Split

The somaZen approach to the integration of the bodymind is, as you may have noticed, optimistic and to a certain extent idealistic. Even the term ‘bodymind’ shows this, as opposed to the Western term ‘mind/body’ (with its obvious split). Although I have been called quixotic by some of my past teachers, this trait has not been a problem as long as I acknowledge that not everyone (in fact, almost no one) is interested in seeking the deeper reality of their essential connection with the sense and aim of their existence. Thus I would now like to speak about the touchy situation of using the somaZen approach with clients every day in a bodywork practice. This is the philosophical ‘unity in diversity.’

While each person who comes for a session has indirectly asked for the sum total of your abilities and experience, it is necessary for you as the therapist to make a call on what exactly the client is prepared for. Clients often ask me, "Well, what do you see?" In answering a question such as this, I must go inside and externally consider the client in order to assess what part of the totality of what I see is actually useful for them to know about at the current stage of their process. That is, how well is their head speaking to their body, and vice versa? To lead a client effectively, I must be entering into familiar territory, so to a certain extent I can fall back on my own experience at that stage, but the process is different in each person, so this approach is not really adequate.

Earlier in my practice I was willing to just rub people who did not want to make use of my skills in facilitating integration, reasoning with myself that I needed to pay bills, etc. Over time, this strategy became less and less acceptable. (Perhaps you have run into this also.) Then I began to add subtle touches to the session in an attempt to draw attention indirectly to potentials in this area, and these attempts were occasionally effective. Basically my thought was that if I can give clients what they asked for in five minutes, then the rest of the session belongs to me. It may seem ‘immoral’ to do such experiments on paying clients, but the data accumulated in this fashion constitute most of what I have learned. And in reality, merely fixing what the client asks for will not be of use to the client in the long term without underlying issues being resolved as well.

When I began my practice and was told by a ‘successful’ therapist that my aim should be to get clients off the table, not to get them on the table, it sounded well with my quixotic nature and has really stuck with me, resonating inside. At the time it was an unreachable goal, but over the years I have been less and less concerned with getting repeat business and more involved with actual integration in my clients. There is no better reward than seeing a client who has not come for several years and being told that the reason is they did not need to—their complaint does not exist anymore, and in fact their whole life has changed for the better as a result of their work with me! This kind of verification is random and does not come often, but is worth waiting for.

The reality for a therapist who has gained mastery over his work is that he or she must constantly hold back, giving just a small amount of the possible, so as to not overshoot the ability and desire of the client to ‘get better.’ Although people do come asking for healing, we must realize that the meaning of this word for them is much different from its meaning for us. To gain the mastery we have in integration, we must personally go through intense intentional suffering. We must, so to speak, open the wound further in order to clean it so that it may heal. This kind of work is not at all attractive to the general public! In fact, most who enter the healing professions avoid this as well, trying the vicarious approach of watching their clients go through what they themselves are afraid of. If you are pursuing bodymind integration, you must carefully consider this vicarious approach in your own behavior. Going through your own personal suffering is the only way for your work to become nonviolent and truly compassionate.

In a general way, we attract clients who are at the level we have just gone through, so there is not much problem with most of our clients. It is the few who somehow slip through that this paper addresses. For me, these people always seem a bit strange and out of place to have come to me, and when I notice this, I must be on alert. After all, our creed is first and foremost to ‘do no harm,’ and giving someone too much can ruin chances of future integration. In this we have a sacred trust; there are far too many ‘healers’ out there who exploit this trust, as is constantly evident in the general public’s attitude toward healing. We must be grounded in our own experience and direct knowledge, never accepting theories blindly but verifying each and every aspect as we go along.

When we run into a situation with a client that involves something we have not resolved in ourselves, it is a signal to begin work in earnest on ourselves. I have told clients before that although the head and the body may be ‘split’ from one another, I must not alienate the head, because the head writes the check. This is a comical but true statement. In most people the body wants healing, the emotion wants healing, but the head does not wish to commit to anything it perceives as threatening. We can lament the ‘mind/body’ split, which began supposedly in the ‘dark ages,’ but the reality in this moment is that we ourselves are split, and until we attain to unity ourselves, we will continue to dissect our clients. Once we have connected the head and body in ourselves, we will begin to understand how to lead the client in this direction. The head knows only words, so we must somehow talk to the mind while working with the body.

Of course this ‘talking to the mind’ is against the law in many states; certainly in Texas it is illegal for massage therapists to talk to their clients in a therapeutic way, for this is the well-protected realm of counselors. So I am not suggesting engaging in a counseling type of dialogue at all, but merely to assess through the feedback the client gives on the bodywork (which will automatically include the needs of the ‘head’) the way to proceed and get the head ‘on board.’ This is no easy task, but it is necessary for integration. As I have suggested previously (see "Somatics and the Unconscious"), there are many ways for this communication to happen, and it is these alternative ways that must be used. For what it is worth, these alternative means of communication are more effective, because they have not grown accustomed to lying!

Occasionally, we will overstep our bounds, and a client will not be happy with our treatment. At this point we should not beat ourselves up but instead look deeply at the interaction and our own level of presence during the session. Mistakes are bad only if we do not learn from them! And to learn, we must not rationalize our behavior or blame the client. We know from business that ‘the client is always right,’ and if we remember this, the client will also be a teacher for us. I have recently had two such clients, one who stopped the session and left without paying and another who complained so much a few days later that I gave the money back. In both cases I gave the client ‘what they asked for’ but neglected to properly consider what they were capable of receiving. Even though I know the treatments were effective, I must own the fact that I was wrong in giving what they asked for because it is my responsibility to ‘do no harm,’ even if the harm is to a negative attitude. The temptation to rationalize in situations such as this is very great, but I cannot grow as a human and as a therapist if I engage in such rationalizing.

If there is one common element for staying young, it is ongoing learning, and bodymind integration offers you an opportunity for a lifetime of staying young. As I write this on my forty-second birthday, I feel at once more mature and youthfully vibrant. With the world as my teacher, I shall never run out of subject matter, of mirrors into my being.

KSR 1/30/02