The repetition compulsion refers to the way that the past has been appropriated and incorporated into the patient’s generalized, embodied way of being (or, in other words, their character style). In analytic psychotherapy, the best access to this realm of being, to uncover the forces that empower the patient’s embodiment, is to attend to the manner with which the patient’s material is presented. The mode of communication, particularly the nonverbal reactions and style of speaking, and their effects on the therapist, offers an important inroad into the patient’s early life history (or, as I would prefer to say, to the tacit background horizon) particularly primitive affective states, internal object relations and preverbal trauma. This is enacted within the transference/countertransference (i.e. intersubjective) field. I will attempt to demonstrate the importance of focused observation and interpretation of embodied enactments, especially acts of speech. With careful observation, we can notice “breaks” in the compulsive repetitions, within which the horizon opens up, and affects as well as bodily reactions associated with early life trauma and infant danger situations emerge.
Are you at the edge of a next step, yet one that feels hard to take? Are you aware of a chronic pattern, one that seems hard to break? Today we are going to embark on a journey, an embodied journey from intention through blockage to expression. I have been experimenting over a number of years with integrating elements from embodied improvisation and drama work in my practice of Wholebody Focusing. It has opened new avenues in my own growth and development as well as presenting exciting and expanded possibilities for deepened engagement with clients and students. Since Focusing is all about facilitating direct experiencing and bodily knowing, why have we restricted the practice to mostly verbal symbolization and the connection of head to torso? Why do we practice mostly with eyes closed and in a sitting position, when this can be very restrictive, limiting and disconnected from the visual field with another? Are not the eyes our gateway to the soul? Do we not body forth our patterns and life-stances in interaction? We all experience internal theater of inner dramas and characters that “inhabit” our personal world. The dynamics of WBF oriented drama-work is to allow our internal theater to be “played out” in an interactive space with others.
For many years, I have been interested in the situation of life-impasse. It is an often baffling, mysterious condition where life seems to come to a standstill. It is not just a situational blockage or specific conflict but rather is a stalemate or stagnation of life-energy, a prolonged interruption of the ongoing flow of living, affecting one’s whole existence. An impasse is like being in limbo, in an existential void, a state of suspended animation, yet a pressurized system. At the edge of impasse, there is often a painful awareness of being at a loss, not knowing how one got here or what to say or do to get out of this situation. This is the experiential edge of impasse–a feeling of doubt, disorientation, perplexity, and ultimately, deep despair. Yet I have found that if we can stay at this edge of “not-knowing,” and give attention to our body, then something can arise from within that can show us: 1. how we are stuck and 2. offer solutions to move through the impasse.
The philosopher David Michael Levin has said that “[The] living body of the spirit…is… the only authentic ‘body of knowledge,’… the body in its ontological wholeness.” Most of us, however, live in a rather narrow and limited embodiment, one that has already been conditioned to restrict or forget the original connectedness, wisdom, beauty and aliveness of the natural body of spirit. When we become disconnected from our original body, we have lost touch with the primal field of energies, vibrancies, openness and aliveness. Instead we. embody various forms of condition patterns and repetitive reactions.
Yet, our living body knows how to retrieve and recover its spirit, the innate life energy, inherent power, force and vitality, that pre-existed trauma and is still implicitly functioning regardless of severity of traumatic events or repetitive patterns. When allowed to do so, through Focusing with our whole body, the living body has the capacity to call us back, a movement toward retrieving, recovering and restoring its natural spirit, the felt sense of our natural body. WBF is thus the process of revitalizing the body, i.e. reawakening it vital energy, life-force in order to give new life to our whole embodied being in the world.
Beneath, within, and beyond our conditioned and unconscious patterns lies an inner wellspring of wisdom and vitality that knows how to unwind our stress and traumas, as well as how to restore the connection with our natural body and natal spirit. The very symptoms of stress and trauma—and the embodied patterns that keep us from living the fullness of our being—contain the precise information and life energy to move toward their own healing. We refer to this vital force as our living body or our spirit- body. The living body includes our physical body, but it is more than physical. It also includes a deep wisdom, a knowingness that we call body intelligence.
We can also refer to it as Wholebody transformative alchemy- in the sense that the living body contains (or becomes) the “philosopher’s stone,” i.e. has a spirit, a life force, an energy of its own capable of transforming our whole sense of being in the world. Alchemy was the ancient practice, considered both scientific and philosophical for transmuting base metals into gold. On the symbolic level, alchemy or alchemical processes refer to any power or process of changing one thing into another – i.e. transmuting a common substance into a substance of great value and light. What has struck me about the alchemy of WBF is its sense that some process happens both within the body as well as between bodies, and within a larger connection with nature and life – that does feel or seem magical, and often mysterious. This seemingly unexplainable, magical or sudden change or shift is actually a product of a much deeper unfolding that has been occurring underground within the body and the body’s life force. We can call this process being led (turning lead) into gold, in the sense that by inviting the body to come alive, the intelligence of its life force and spirit will show us the way toward healing wounds, transforming life patterns, and recovering its natal spirit.
Thus, what in alchemy is called the opus, or the philosopher stone, we sense as the body’s vital energy, life-force and vitality. As we will be exploring in this group, the core dynamic of Alchemical Transformation in WBF, i.e. the process of both grounding awareness in our whole body inviting, and waiting for the body’s life force, it’s vital energy and spirit to waken, come alive and flow. It the coming of this vital energy, what has been called the body’s inner directed energy and wisdom, something that moves the body and awareness of its own, from within its own natural impulses, that is the heart of the WBF process in FOT.
Most of us live with some degree of bound energy and bodily constriction. Often, this bound up quality can be observed and felt in our bodily postures as well as in embodied life stances (lived comportments toward the world). Once formed, especially as a consequence of early life traumas, our body carries these life stances such that they become fixated, resulting in repetitive patterns of responding. These patterns become the background context, forming our primary identity or felt sense of self . They often go unnoticed, remain invisible as the background or horizon of our living until or when either life situations call for a new way of responding or our inner spirit calls us toward a desire for a freer, more authentic way of living. It is at these points where we can reach an impasse, as the forces desiring or needing change, are met with an equal or sometimes more powerful pull toward stasis and familiarity. This is where we come upon the limen, i.e. the threshold, the edge of our bound and restricted bodily stances and living energy.
This paper presents a wholebody focusing process event called Threshold Events (TE ), specifically designed to facilitate transformations at this edge of blockage or impasse.
Wholebody Focusing (WBF) Oriented Therapy (WBFOT) (McEvenue and Fleisch, 2008; Whalen, 2009; Fleisch, 2009, 2010) is a recent development of Gendlin’s experiential process method of Focusing Oriented Therapy (1981, 1996). WBFOT is an integration of Gendlin’s seminal work on the centrality of accessing the wisdom of the living body through sustainedattention (Focusing) to a bodily felt sense, with the work of Kevin McEvenue on awakening the outward flow of bodily wisdom (felt sensing) through inner-directed movement. McEvenue discovered through his work as an Alexander Teacher and Focusing practitioner that physical and emotional habit-patterns can be transformed from within the body’s own intelligence by bringing a quality of conscious awareness to the whole body. Wholebody Focusing is a natural process of conscious awareness that connects to our living organism and environment in ways that activate an Inner Intelligence (body-wisdom). This inner wellspring of intelligence and vitality lies implicit beneath our conditioned and unconscious patterns of being, thinking, moving, and doing. Our Wholebody Intelligence remains intact in every human being regardless of severity of trauma. It knows how to unwind our stress and traumas and move forward our unfinished life situations.
The inward coming of life forward energy and movement is contained within the symptom of trauma itself, and knows its way back to membership within the Functioning Whole. Gendlin (1996, p.149) describes it beautifully as “It is a healing that comes from underneath. With this kind of relational and inward attention the whole intricate mesh reorganizes itself… We do very little.” Yet we will show that the little we do, bringing conscious awareness to the living body of feeling/experiencing makes all the difference in allowing trauma patterns to unwind from within.
One can make an analogy between the living body and theater, as both are “sites” of dramatic events and experiences. In fact, the original meaning of theater is “A place for viewing or seeing; a place that is the setting for dramatic events, where significant actions or events take place.” Based on Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit (implicit understanding/ bodily knowing), the process of Focusing in general, and Wholebody Focusing in particular involves the coming alive and spontaneous unfolding of bodily lived events. They are forms of improvisation in the sense that what comes is not pre-scripted or predicted, but emerges in its own way and time, from the wellspring of the living body’s attunement to the right feel and next steps of its development.
Over the past few years, I have noticed how a wholebody focusing process, as an individual session or over a course of therapy, has the flavor of a journey and can be thought of as enacting a story or drama from the living body. This can be in the form of a gesture, movement or posture that carries a bodily knowing or implying of something that needs attention, next step of living (I have elsewhere called these implicit leads, Fleisch, 2008). The dramatic aspect can be played out between two distinct gestures or movements that can interact with each other. This can also be explored via a bodily sensation, energy or connection between some part of the client and myself as we both Co-Presence the felt sense of what is emerging. When allowed to move outward into expression, movement, interaction, enactment etc., the bodily coming that arises has a more full-bodied way of being experienced, expressed and carried forward. I will show how this process functions both in my therapy practice and in another paper, in retreat/workshop settings, where the whole group serves as a container for the process of each person “on stage.”
In this article, I will present some ways that I have observed and developed this process I have termed the theater of the living body. The main purpose here is descriptive of instances and examples, as these form the foundation of then stepping back and attempting to explicate what makes this type of process “work.” Thus, the theoretical implications are still in process and will be presented in a future paper.
A pantomime is a form of theatre and performance in which the actors play parts or express certain characteristics or feelings through nonverbal means. Thus, something done in pantomime would occur via gestures, facial expression, physical movements, often in a farcical or exaggerated manner. As I have been integrating a more Wholebody perspective (as originated by Kevin McEvenue) into Focusing and Focusing-oriented Therapy, I have observed how frequently important aspects of experiencing are expressed through movements, gestures, posture, musculature, etc. The bodily expressiveness can be different from the verbal content of speech or can amplify and extend the implicit felt meaning of what is being verbalized. Pantomiming is a more explicit invitation for clients to further play out or enact how their body is carrying or expressing some aspect of themselves to which they are referring. It is especially helpful and freeing for clients who tend to suppress or curtail aspects of their experiencing and/or are aware of certain ingrained or repetitive patterns or parts of themselves.
Disconnected process refers to a structure-bound state of blockage in which at least one or more aspects of oneself are kept out of awareness. Most often, there is a pronounced difficulty in recognizing and relating with the felt quality of experiencing, at times manifest as a distancing from immediate feelings and bodily sensations.
In one sense, most everyone manifests some level of disconnection, even when we say “Fine,” to the question of “How are you doing today?” when there is clearly more happening inwardly that is either not experienced or not verbalized.
At more severe levels, there can be a chronic lack of awareness of what one is experiencing or feeling, to the point of not recognizing emotional or physical reactions. Sometimes, certain parts of experiencing are kept out of awareness as when there is an unconscious, automatic pattern of blocking out aggressive, sexual or anxious feelings.
When extreme, people may not be aware of any feeling or sensory experiencing, and when their consciousness can detach from bodily reactions so that there is a reporting of being “numb” or “blank” or “feeling nothing”, or, at its most extreme, “deadness.” The basic pattern involves some type of splitting of awareness: between the person and the body, or parts of the body, or some aspects of experiencing, or between “parts‟ of the personality.