Book Review: Beyond the Myth of Dominance – An Alternative to a Violent Society

by Edwin M. McMahon, Ph.D. Published by Sheed & Ward 1993 $16.95.

Edwin McMahon’s book begins by explaining in some detail, a process known as “Focusing” as developed by psychologist Eugene Gendlin and which has formed the foundation for McMahon’s subsequent work and writing. Focusing is a simple but powerful process of congruence, which enables people to consciously “feel their feelings” physiologically and helps them to symbolise them accurately. McMahon holds that once we learn how to treat whatever is real inside us, then we will know how to treat others and the planet we live on. This statement is then explained in everyday terms by using numerous stories.

McMahon then moves on to address the major issue of his book – that the myth of dominance pervades most of our relationships. He holds that dominance will destroy us if it is the basis for our relationship with ourselves, with one another and with the planet. He postulates the need for a new paradigm and suggests this will be found through the shared experience of discovering the bridge-building potential of our bodies into the community at every level. The process of Focusing is the key to this discovery, says McMahon. It is the key to the quality of the person’s future because it makes people aware of the way they carry the past in their bodies. It makes them more aware of the “grace in (their) bodies”.

The book then looks at experiences of childhood wonder and relates these to the Focusing process. There is a childlike quality to owning what is real in our bodies and sitting with difficult or even painful feelings in a caring way. In this way the quality of consciousness can change. It promotes a gentleness and patience with our own feelings and leads us towards a sense of unitary consciousness. This is vital, McMahon believes, because people who remain at conflict with part of themselves will inevitably spread conflict around them.

Included in the book are two contributions, one by Peter Campbell and the other by Marianne and Lance Thompson. The first considers the factors that hold the myth of dominance in place and are described as the systems of dominance inside ourselves. They use sophisticated ways of numbing and distracting as a strategem of “process skipping”. The second contribution looks at empowerment in mutual vulnerability and is written from the experience of partners regularly focusing together as “Focusing Companions”.

McMahon picks up this theme and expands it by describing how people can journey together in the focusing process. Referring to sexuality, he says there is a life long process of discovering, nurturing and living in the sexual “body-feel” of our own spirit.

The book then moves on suggesting that having focused within their own bodies, people are ready to look outside themselves to a global spirituality and community. McMahon holds that everyone wants the answer to the question “Who am I”?, that we want the body-feel of our story as it unfolds with the energy and wisdom of the Larger Body. He believes the organic feel of our body in a larger body process is imperative for our very survival.

Finally, Ch.14 provides an overview of the body dynamics of our inner journey. In it McMahon describes how a new Body is being born in and through our body’s struggle for wholeness (holiness). He lists three simple steps that are needed to acquire the knowledge of this new body in our bodies: Firstly, “own­ing” our bodies; secondly, always to begin with what is real and immediate in our bodies; and, thirdly, to help each other to own our true reality in mutual vulnerability.

He concludes by explaining that what is needed is a “bio-Spirituality”. If one wishes to relate this to christian belief, one could say that Jesus, the Revelation of God, proclaimed an alternative myth of dominance as the model for relationships.

This is a challenging book. I think it makes a useful contribution in encouraging people to touch into the body-feel of childhood wonder, in alerting them to the insidious and destructive nature of dominance in its multiple and varied forms and in introducing the benefits of using focusing with children as well as adults.

Although the stories used to illustrate the process of Focusing at the beginning were good and valuable, I found them too long and would have welcomed a simple summary of key points at the end of chapters. I recommend this as a book to be read slowly because its message is not to be found only in the words and ideas but in a “body-feel”.

Margot O Donovan