Alan A Mooney
Stopping the World
Carlos Castenada, in his work Journey to Ixtlan talks about “stopping the world”. By this his teacher Don Juan means, having an experience of connectedness and freedom throughout every aspect of one’s being, body, mind and spirit. This experience stops the world in the sense that the ordinary boundaries of things are suspended and become unimportant. There is no question about what is appropriate nor is there any discussion about what might be real and what might be unreal.
I had this experience very powerfully, for the first time about six years ago: I was on a mountain in the heart of Wicklow with a five year old boy and a seven year old girl – friends.
We were exploring the trees and paying a lot of attention to the little things, like the sound of the leaves in the wind and the insects on the ground busily building their world. Suddenly, everything changed. It was not a disturbing change. It was imperceptible, yet it happened and I found I had dropped or ascended into a whole new awareness of what was happening. The world we were in had become an adventure. The woods were peopled by new and strange creatures, dimly seen and vividly imagined. There was magic and ultimate possibility in everything.
The three of us became united in a strange and very mystical way. It was almost as if we were seeing the same things and feeling the same excitement and apprehension. It seemed like we played and explored for hours.
Then the world dissolved. The light changed and the sounds became more distant. The air lost its perfume. We were back to “reality”. And later at the memory, I wept. During that brief time I had recaptured something long lost and forgotten. The unconscious perfection and mystery of the world of the child had been mine. My mind, my spirit, my body – all were one. I could hear with my toes. I could see with my fingers. I could taste the air on my skin. And I wept because I knew the child in me could live again. There was joy in my tears and sadness for having to wait thirty years to make the discovery.
Coming back to the cold light of day was inevitable; however, I had brought a new insight with me.
Both sexes have learned to “armour” themselves, to protect their soft core. The body is something “on” which or “in” which we live, rather than being associated with the essence of our being.
The complexity of the energies of our bodies is not understood. We do have some knowledge at a very immediate level. We know we need food and sleep etc., we are not tuned in to the finer energy processes in our bodies. Life energy is more than food energy. It ’may include food energy but it is more than that. One may be well fed but depressed with no energy for anything. Why?
Lowen holds that the relation of energy to personality is paramount and that where the natural energies of our bodies are suppressed or interrupted we cannot be fully alive. (1) All therapy is a voyage of self-discovery; with all the attendant anxieties associated with breaking new ground.(2)
Bioenergetic therapy is initially a voyage of self-rediscovery, especially of the body, its power, its strength and its contribution to our wholeness. Going into bioenergetic therapy is like “stopping the world”. It is about discovering the mystery of the rhythm of breathing, of discovering the person behind the “armour”.
For a knight of old to remove his armour meant that he had to feel safe. Equally, for us to begin to break down our physical armour, we need to feel we will not be overwhelmed by an enemy who will destroy us. For the ancient knights this was easy: the enemy was outside the armour. It is not so for us men and women, most often the greatest enemy we need to confront is the one we most fear. It is the enemy within us.
The greatest block to working on our physical armour is that when we begin to remove it there will be no substance inside to hold us up and we will collapse, unable to hold ourselves together. It could be said of many of us that we do not have the heart for the effort necessary. I am afraid I will not like myself.
Without love for one’s self, for one’s fellowmen, for nature and for the universe, a person is cold; detached and inhuman. From our hearts flows the warmth uniting us to the world we live in. The goal of therapy is to help a person to increase his capacity to give and receive Love to expand his heart, not just his mind.(3)
It is not easy to connect with my body since it is so strongly protected by the training and conditioning it has learned.
My first therapeutic experience of beginning to listen to my body was a dismal and disappointing one. There was real excitement in me, learning there was a connection between feelings and body structure.
I had become aware of how I hold tension in my jaw, my back and my shoulders. The thought that this might be connected with my feelings and my learned way of containing them was liberation for me.
I had found the answer, which would free me and enable me to live in the world authentically. That is to say, I would know who I was and that the messages I communicate to others would be clear and unambiguous. If I were to say I’m happy, it would be true, sad, it would be true, attracted to you, it would be true.
It did not work out quite like that. In my own therapy I found I had great resistance to giving my body any freedom whatsoever. My head wanted to let go but the lessons of holding were so deeply ingrained into the very fibre of my muscles that I found it impossible to give the commands and have them obeyed. My body was in revolt. It would not let go.
My therapist asked me to lie down and let myself relax, She might as well have asked me to fly; I could not do it. When she asked me to let myself breathe I found myself becoming even more vigilant about “how” I was breathing. I did not want to “give anything away”. I was becoming wary of her. In some sense it became a contest initiated by me. Who would win? Why me, of course. I was not going to let her break my resolve. She would have to work harder than that to get behind my armour.
Even as I write this I am aware how ridiculous it may appear to the reader that I, who went looking for the therapy, then proceeded to sabotage it. Yet that is what happened and it illustrates just how powerful my defence to intrusion is.
My intention had been magnificent: To open all the channels of energy and emotional freedom I could possibly be capable of and to live in the world as the freest possible human being, totally unencumbered with the neuroses of the world. Alas, I was left confused and angry with myself. What was going on? Where was the resistance coming from? Why did my therapist not have a way to break the deadlock? Why was it all up to me?
I realised later, much later, that I had been looking for permission from my therapist. A permission to just wipe away years of conditioning and structuring; and I wanted to do it without pain or real effort. I wanted it to simply happen.
I knew I could begin to live in my body but I would need to do a lot of renovation work on it first…
One significant thing I noticed about myself at the end of the session was that I had no voice. It was barely a whisper. There was no strength, no energy, and no hope in it. I could not speak for myself, explain myself or even express myself.
All the feelings I have had in my life about being shut down and controlled I could associate with having “no voice” in the world. I could not make my body and my feelings come together because I had learned not to and I had no voice to speak of that, I had no appropriate way to express it. My armour had become part of me and I was trapped.
I remember seeing a suit of armour once in a restaurant: it was an empty suit. I felt like that: imposing but dead.
My sense was that I had no standing in the world. I did not matter; and because I did not matter there was no point in prolonging the agony of trying to understand why I was lonely, frightened and alone. It was not a new experience to feel I was not able to stand my ground with people. If they once found out what I was really like they would walk out of my life. It’s no wonder I held my breath.
While my initial experience of trying to gain access to the hidden wisdom of my body was so disappointing there was, nevertheless, the sense that something was happening.
Shining Knights Without Armour
It can sometimes seem as if therapy (whatever Style) is associated only with strong feelings like anger. This however is not true. While it is certain that people have difficulty in expressing such feeling, it is also certain that individuals are often handicapped in the expression of “softer” feelings. Notice how people hold their breath when they hug. Such a gesture could be a really gentle and comforting one but it is often marred by tension in the embrace.
It can be so easy to misinterpret a gesture of affection or indeed, to be misinterpreted oneself.
People not only protect themselves from hurt but from love, with equal strength. Because we are not at ease with ourselves there is a constant vigilance which has isoltion as its product. This intimate anomie leads as quickly to depression as does being attacked.
Gentle bodywork can be as effective in helping the individual to begin to “love their body” as stronger work can bring about the release and clearance of darker feelings. Most people it seems do not actively look at their bodies. They do not notice their posture. They do not appreciate the proportions and the different textures of their bodies. They look after it but do not notice it.
One of the most basic and paradoxically difficult exercises to ask a person to undertake is to simply go home and look at themselves in a way which is not “fault finding”.
Ask them to explore and enjoy the textures of their bodies and they will report how strange and uncomfortable it made them feel.
All this is the result of the culture we live in which, as we maintained earlier, separates us from our corporeal reality.
One form of bodywork which makes the statement “Enjoy and appreciate your body”, is Massage: In their book “In our own hands”, Ernst and Goodison say; “Massage can be a wonderful medium for making contact with your own body…it can be used to re-educate into their body someone who is cut off from it. It can restore energy and circulation to neglected body parts. It can open a person to emotions, to pleasure and sensuality or to deep relaxation and peace….”
Rediscovering the power of positive touch is worthwhile. Learning to accept touch is a way to re-discover the more human side of the person. Touch can also help to release feelings like sadness because when one relaxes and begins to accept that they deserve to enjoy, the thoughtful touch of another one also begins to realise how much of the time one chooses to resist and close off from physical contact.
I have written the above in the third person deliberately. It is of course an autobiographical statement, not only to me but also to most of you who will read these words. When giving massage it is important to remember that people respond differently to touch. It is possible that the person receiving the massage will find it a totally relaxing experience or in letting go into a relaxed state emotions which have been held may surface.
If the purpose of the massage is to simply “ease out” the person it might be appropriate to move away from the area which is instrumental in bringing up the feeling.
Or it may seem appropriate to continue to facilitate the emergence of the feelings. It is the decision of the person receiving the massage, which course to take. The ultimate intention of this statement I am making is to say; that everyone, you and I included, have the right to live in our bodies as wholesome and human – When we make the somatic connection with our feeling and appreciate the wonder of our Minds, our Spirits AND our Bodies; then we can say we are on the road to being integrated persons in the manner which is the Divine will and plan for us. We are capable of becoming Knights, or more appropriately, Warriors who shine without armour.
I conclude by paraphrasing Lowen when he says we are creative thinkers and we are feeling animals and we are men and women. We are rational minds and non-rational bodies and we are just living organisms. We must live on all levels at once, and that is no easy task.
To be an integrated individual, we must be identified with our body and with our word . We say someone is as good as his or her word. To achieve this integration, one must start with being the body. You are your body. But it does not stop there: One must end with being the word – you are your word. But the word must come from the heart.
MY BODY I live on a mountain Majestic and alone. In grand isolation. I call it my home. What shapes the course of its rivers? Or gives it its charms? DEEP in its centre Is gold like the sun And diamonds – like stars CONNECT ME With all that’s begun. I am the mountain…. Alan A.Mooney, March 1990.
1. Lowen, Alexander Bioenergetics Penguin (Pub. 1976), p..47
2. Lowen, p. 105.
3. Lowen, p. 85