Theater of the Living Body: Expressive Improvisation in Focusing-Oriented Therapy

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.

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