by Emilie Conrad
Excerpt from Chapter "Continuum Movement", New Dimensions in Body Psychotherapy, edited by Nick Totton, Copyright 2005, Nick Totton
He sustained an injury to his skull and spine in a motorcycle accident a year ago. Although paralyzed for a few months, he had recovered to some degree. He is ambulatory, but continues to maintain many areas of pain and immobility. There is a rigidity, particularly to his jaw, face and spine. I can see although he is able to walk, there is not much communication in his system. His movements have a disrupted robotic quality. Some of him has returned to life, and part of him is still in limbo.
He was a gymnast and clearly he still has maintained a well muscled structure although it is quite limited in its expression.
I am particularly aware of how he is holding his head, and the immense immobility of his jaw. He describes the constant pain in his head and back, and at the moment he is living a very cautious existence. A part of him seems to know that is not exactly "all there".
As I watch him speak and tell me of his concerns I am aware there continues to be a great deal of shock.
As someone who has specialized in movement, my approach to shock is to address the mobility of breath and whether sensation is registering. What I often find is that breath is constrained, often trapped in the upper chest or throat. Sensation if it registers at all, is minimal, a generalized fogging of sensation. In some situations particularly with abuse, sensation can become hyper responsive, in which the person registers an extreme heightened reaction to all sensation no matter how mild. To me this response is shock with an alternative strategy.
In my experience, trauma, whether through an accident or some other means, becomes patterned into the system; much like a scar added to a fingerprint, the trauma continues.
Our understanding of the continuance of post traumatic stress syndrome has received great attention. A person surviving a concentration camp will certainly experience trauma. Someone falling off a bicycle will also be traumatized. All experiences in which one faces one's own death are similarly imprinted.
Extreme stress can also be seen as related to shock and trauma. Perhaps to a lesser degree. But stress paralyzes and numbs, most likely due to the cortisol that floods our system. Considering paralysis to be a l0, stress can be seen as high as a 5 on our immobilizing desensitizing scale.
Depending on the degree of shock or stress will be the degree of suspension of breath, movement and sensation.
Maintenance of shock signifies that vitality is also suspended. When vitality is elsewhere, our ability to interact has been compromised by the limitation of movement and sensation. Our primal tendency for self-organization has become compromised.
It is mystifying how some people will recover from an accident, and others do not. Much of what determines the healing potential of a situation is the degree and the length of stress or shock. Limitation of movement and sensation will inhibit the organism's capacity for self-renewal.
Primary to any healing process is to establish communication within the system. If there is no communication, or if it is faint or partial the self-organizing processes of our bodies will become short-circuited. We still carry an inherited response to danger. Suspending breath mediates movement and sensation. In the animal kingdom one cannot be detected if there is no movement. Breath determines intrinsic mobility and adaptability. Breath becomes key in summoning our life force. Breath equals movement, movement equals communication, which creates new interactions, inviting self-renewal and innovation. All of takes place within the fluid system of our bodies. These movements are intrinsic, internalized, establishing an ancient rapport, a miniaturization of the cosmic soup, a creative flux in which fluid interactions have reached such complexity that new life is summoned.
What is required is to engage the person at their fullest. A person in shock cannot do this. The primitive responses of their bodies are held in suspension. Waiting...waiting to be released.
I begin by asking Thomas to create sounds.
Sound is audible breath, and for most people sound is an easier way to access breathing than concentrating directly on breath. Sound gives more obvious feedback than breath alone, which is much more subtle and requires a more nuanced attention.
Sounds create different shapes; some are lateral some are tubular. With each sound different parts of the mouth, tongue and throat are stimulated in a variety of ways.
After exploring several minutes of sounding, I ask Thomas to go into open attention. Open attention is the harvesting of sensations and internal interactions as a result of a direct activity. At first, he is aware of very little sensation, in fact he is feeling a heightening of the pain in his jaw. This is not unusual. In the engaging of new interactions the increase of blood supply and activity will often intensify all sensation including pain. He is aware only of his pain.
I am aware that his shock may have suspended his ability to feel. The increase of sensation will soften the hard suspension of shock. The reptilian circuits through sensation will begin to buzz again.
Most people are rudimentary in their ability to feel. Sensation is not considered important, particularly in our Western techno-society, which has moved far away from the river of life and the revelation of the human body.
Sensation for most people will circle around pain, sexual arousal, things that feel good and things that don't feel good. Sensation becomes slotted into known categories and we take no further interest.
An array of sensation will represent an increased capacity for response. If I have only one response to a situation, my choices become very limited. If my responsive capacity becomes more developed, the intelligence of my system has the opportunity to broaden, and I am able to register more options within a given situation.
Pain is useful information, and can be a complex response to situations that may or may not be physical. For example, if someone is in a painful life situation, a difficult boss, or a work situation where one feels helpless to express anguish, often the emotional response will go underground and surface as pain. Helplessness can become symptomatic, appearing in the arms or hands where we defend ourselves; this is usually referred to as "somatizing". A painful situation is being transferred to the body. Pain is important feedback. Our system is trying to tell us something. We have hidden our feeling and now the pain is being expressed in my back.....neck...... anywhere..... sometimes everywhere.
Nature protects us from extreme pain by shutting off our sensation by a global numbing. We survive but we cannot feel.
The problem is, when awareness locks into pain, we are unable to respond to anything else. We have localized our attention to such a degree that we are creating a stasis of awareness. Our pain will remain a repetitive response to sensory information and evolve into a defense strategy.
When we have narrowed our perception, no matter how justified, we create a form of paralysis. We may still be ambulatory, but our awareness becomes truncated and unable to move. We are the living dead. Not able to be responsive at the most basic level of our system, we become cut off from the information around us and the primitive part of our nervous system becomes increasingly muted.
Habitual responses whether painful or delightful are basically maneuvers of our defense system to maintain a status quo. The habitual response can be ecstatic or difficult, it doesn't matter. What matters is my awareness is trapped in stable sameness and I am unable to shift it.
My fear has now immobilized my awareness and I have created a feedback loop that keeps me safe from new information or communication. My system now is in a highly compensatory state.
When working with someone I always ask for their lens of awareness to enlarge even slightly, to accept the pain as there, and to see what else is there. What else is happening no matter how faint? The atrophied awareness sometimes only registers what is within its immediate radius. Almost as if it has shrunk itself to a situation. We want awareness to be mobile, to be able to generalize, to be able to receive information that is both local and non local we want our awareness to be versatile. We want our sensation palette to be full and rich. Much like a painter with brilliant colors, we are informed by the pulsations of tones. Our capacity to know is not just cerebral. Our sense perceptions can become tentacular, spreading far and wide, allowing a new circumstance to take place within us.
As best I can, I explain this to Thomas. I tune in to him and to where he "lives". I adjust my language and my references to what would make sense to him.
I want to interest him in his own process. To help him to see how his habitual response locks his attention and narrows the possibilities for healing.
I can see that I have engaged his interest. A gleam is in his eye, he appears more animated. He is eager to see if his lens of awareness can go beyond his habit. We try again. The sounds that lateralize combine with sounds that are tubular, creating a kind of music. These sounds engage different parts of his throat and tongue.
We go into open attention, I watch him smile as he sits in front of me with closed eyes, apparently registering something more than his usual response. He is in open attention for several minutes, harvesting the movements and sensations that the sounds have stimulated. After some time his eyes open, there is a general softening of his system, more color to his skin, a quiet energy to his body. He is present.
He seems to materialize in front of me. He takes on more substance, as if he is being filled out from within. An awakening has occurred, the tone of his voice, the deepening of his coloring, the expansion of his field are evident.
He describes with wonder that he has been able to unlock his attention, and like someone snorkeling deep onto the ocean floor, he notices a new world existing within him. Sensations that would ordinarily be so muted as to be below the threshold of his awareness have been amplified by the soundings. The restrictiveness that he usually feels is melting, and he describes something that he tentatively calls pleasure.
I listen carefully, not just to his words. I am listening to the increased tones of his voice, and I am watching his body come alive in subtle ways. His entire expression has become more flowing, his movements more open. He is communicating with me far beyond language, I am with him, and he can feel this. Our rapport grows as our ability to communicate at the silent level increases.
I make some comments, and once again we return to the orchestration of textural sounds. After a bit he stops and goes into open attention. I can see that there is an increased softening. After a while he opens his eyes. He seems wetter to me, he has an "afterglow", as if he had just finished making love. His experience was much deeper the second time. He felt that, as the first round opened him up and slowed him down, his awareness was able to move more, things became more interesting.
He felt his second round had become even more delightful; surprisingly he was able to feel his system flow. Connections were being made internally that were bringing new life. He could feel an ancient intelligence being summoned. There was more to him as he spoke. Each round helped to materialize him further. It was as if he had been a ghost and now he was vivid. After talking for a few minutes we did another round of the same sequence.
I call this process of repeating a sequence "layering". This brings about a complexity of interactions in which sensation and movement are interpenetrating in new ways. I often refer to this as "creative flux". As complexity increases and interactions become more diverse, there is a fecundity present in which new life processes are possible.
The first round is a point of entry, the second brings an increase of exchanges, The third round is where "creative flux" moves into an elaborate heightening of the basic fluid interactions of our bodies. Complex wave motions area wvident as his structure becomes more mobile. Fecundity rises as form lessens, and once again we return to ourselves as movement.
When he finishes layering, we enter into a verbal exchange, I feel his whole system has become kindled with an incandescence that I take as "coming to life". Much has occurred that goes beyond what we can make sense of. We are witness to a larger event that has not as yet been named.
As we sit together our exchange becomes richer. We are in a resonant field.
In resonance or rapport we are communicating beyond verbal interaction. In a sense our words become the background, and the feeling tones or a field of meaning comes forward. Communication becomes a new activity. This is not unlike when we have made love in a truthful and satisfying way. We have merged in an exquisite contact that includes the physicality of the moment and yet goes far beyond it.
Defensiveness or excessive self description decreases resonance and limits our intelligence. We cannot grow healthy within a bounded self that is deadened to its own primary existence.
A defended or rigid body is not only hampered in communicating within its own system, but is removed from a depth of contact with others. Resonance is a deeply sensual way of existing. It allows wholeness to occur in which there is a mutuality of being, that again, is similar to making love. Resonance brings forth new qualities of contact, communication and certainly relationship.
We go back to the soundings. This time I show him movements that involve his jaw and throat. These movements are what I call "biomorphic", meaning that they are universal movements that are at the basis of all life forms.
I believe the human structure to be a species blend, a synthesis of primordial forms. The biped or human, as we know it, can recall its ancient past where form is mutable. Species boundary is softened. Recapitulating our oceanic origins, we become a kaleidoscope of forms that were here before we were. We are in the sea of fecundity from which all life has emerged.
As I watched Thomas I saw intrinsic protozoan-like elongations changing the contours of his throat and face. His throat had softened in form to such a degree that I felt I was watching an oceanic creature at the bottom of the sea. There is a liquidity to the movements that becomes obvious when we have invoked the ancient intelligence of the human system, that is represented in form but goes beyond it. "The thousand faces of Shiva", came to mind as I watched the movement spread to his torso. He was becoming more mutable. I saw an elegant dance of life taking place within him. Flickering of primordial domains appeared, moving in and out through his skin, It was like watching the history of species development.
I believe that this protozoan liquid world is our "dreamtime". We cannot become aborigines, it is too late for that. But we, in our techno-society, can discover, through our capacity to explore new terrain, the remarkable human.
We are astounding beings held hostage by our cultural values. Our organism is a spiritual biological legacy that invites us to enter the liquidity of a merged self with the encoding of a humanness that has not as yet arrived. I feel that the work that I have brought forward through all of these years points to our birthright. The human is an explicate of our planetary process. We are inexorably and umbilically connected to the origins of life. We are not bound by time space or condition. As yet, I believe that we have not even begun to tap the immensity of our heritage.