Right in Their Hands: How Gestures Imply the Body’s Next Steps

A man comes to see me to overcome social anxiety, especially with public speaking and with women. In the midst of describing his fears, he states, “I don’t know what to do to eliminate these anxious feelings… It’s not clear…” While he is stating this, I observe his hands making this distinct movement: both hands are facing each other, fingers curled, making a sphere-like shape, with hands rotating back and forth in opposite directions around this sphere. I point out the movement and invite him to observe and sense the feel of the gesture, what it might be conveying to him. He first observes the gestural motion, then closes his eyes. “What it feels like is something in me crawling into a shell, closing off from the world… It feels safe in there, like I’m protected and sheltered.” He says his whole body feels calmer, and that something about the gestural motion feels right to him. He describes how his hands are showing a spherical shape, something that could comfort a scared, insecure part of him by holding it safely inside this shell. “Yeah [sigh], if I could protect that part of me in this shell, it feels more comfortable, and my anxiety goes down. I feel much more relaxed.” What a great illustration of something Eugene Gendlin writes: “More powerful than letting words come from a felt sense may be letting body movement come.”

I call these phenomena gestural leads, as these gestures are a way that our organism discloses something unformulated that could carry forward our experiential process toward solutions and further living. Our hands seem to convey wisdom of their own, providing a bridge, a visual, moving space that helps us to transition from what is known to what is emerging, but not yet known.

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