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