Book Review: Origins
Published by Authenticity Books
reviewed by Martina Breen
“Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.”
Van Kaam, A. (cited in Kull, 2008: 133)
After responding to a request from Joan Davis to review her book Origins, for some unfathomable reason I had a picture in my mind of a small book. Imagine the surprise I got when a hardbacked 700-page book arrived by post. I thought ‘what have I let myself in for!?’ However, after merely a few minutes of scanning the pages of this beautiful book, I realised that this book had chosen me rather than the other way around. Over the past three months, I have meandered through the pages of Origins; learning, exploring and experiencing some of the teachings and insights that this book offers.
Origins is the documented material from a three and a half year training of the same name, designed by Joan Davis. The initial training led 32 participants on a personal experiential journey for three and a half years (with an extra year for those going for accreditation from The International Somatic Movement Education Therapy Association). The training blended the wisdom of Craniosacral Therapy, the roundedness of Body Mind Centering, the beauty of Authentic Movement and the witnessing of Family Constellation work.
From the outset, Joan encourages the reader to approach this book with a spirit of playfulness and warm-hearted curiosity. We are called to the art of exploration and expansion. The pages are filled with poetry, art, encouragement to explore our own journeys, factual information and a revelation of the amazing sacredness and intelligence of our bodies. You cannot read this book without getting in touch with an irresistible curiosity to listen to (and possibly explore) your own body and development. The teaching expresses the universality of our humanity and our interconnectedness. The writing style is creative and evocative and is beautifully interspersed with Spiral drawings. The symbol of the Spiral is central to the teachings and Joan tells us that the Spiral appears in the sacred architecture and art of many civilisations.
The Origins course is laid out as an experiential journey through nine Spirals, representing the nine months of gestation. Nature is full of Spirals; from galaxies, weather patterns and the horns on various animals and this powerful symbol is offered as nine Spiral teachings in this book, but it is not a linear journey; there is constant interweaving, demonstrating that human growth and development is a non-linear process.
One of Origins’ primary teaching principles is that all the information we need to know about ourselves is right there in every cell of our bodies. Because as human beings, most of our behaviour is the same as cellular behaviour, Joan encourages explorations that take us into our tissue to find out where we are right now in ourselves. The body is not an idea, but a very concrete reality in this here and now. It offers us endless information through the combined language of sensation and texture about how we are in this moment. Joan’s belief is that, at our core, our goodness is never lost. It is just at times deeply obscured, especially in stressful situations and is resting in the present moment underneath whatever is going on.
Below is an outline of the Spiral teachings:
Spirals 1-4 – focus on the womb experience
Spiral 5 – focuses on the transition to birth
Spirals 6-8 – are linked to post birth and early years of development
Spiral 9 – focuses on the practice of Authentic Movement.
Spiral One – Earliest beginnings
Perception of touch and vibration. Experiencing the developmental and evolutionary tasks of ‘sponging’ and ‘pulsation’.
Spiral Two – Attachment
Exploring how blood is formed and how it relates to the umbilical cord. Opening our understanding to how we have bonded to significant others.
Spiral Three – Nourishment
Exploring the developmental tasks of mouthing, sucking and swallowing. Understanding the primary act of receiving as an act of love.
Spiral Four – Preparation for entry into the world
Exploring how the limbs and bones are formed in utero. Experiencing spinal reflexes and core beliefs.
Spiral Five – Birth
Making a birth plan and revisiting the process of birthing. Re-experience and re-pattern birthing imprints.
Spiral Six – Onto land
Exploring the beginnings of self-formation. Begin to explore the more conscious exploration of transitions.
Spiral Seven – Perception
Exploring the development of the nervous system. Deepen the understanding of attachment, magic and transitional objects.
Spiral Eight – The flow of life
Embody fluid systems. Exploring the developmental process of crawling, the impact of projection and learn about the fear paralysis reflex.
Spiral Nine – Authentic movement as embodied spiritual practice
Exploring the practice of authentic movement.
The teaching style throughout the book is ‘invitational’. The directions are minimal and the instruction is always to invite the body to speak first… and then go to anatomy pictures and other informational sources. At the end of each Spiral, there is a set of questions to help you process what you have read and explored. Throughout the book, there are references to art materials being used to give shape to the felt experiences of each Spiral. In each chapter, we have ‘acts of enquiry’ which are invitations to real-time embodied experiments or explorations. We are encouraged to use clay, paint, wool, glitter, paper clips and natural objects to give shape to the felt body experiences of each Spiral.
The most condensed text in each chapter is at the beginning of each Spiral. Sections labelled as Principal Pauses and Information Interludes offer the factual information and the basic principles that underlie the Origins teachings. Meditative Enquiry invites the reader to reflect, with Processing Pointers that help to link the reader’s process throughout the journey.
I, the reader, am encouraged to take my time, to absorb the material mindfully, to allow myself to be surprised… to allow my body speak. In chapter one, I was invited in Spiral One to explore how I taste the world, how I sensate my experience, how I make sense of my environment. For each Spiral of development, I am given experiments to acquaint/ reacquaint myself with how I have come into existence, how I tasted the world the first time round and how I might develop a more mature and informed assimilation of my world today.
I started reviewing this book for the winter 2019 issue of Inside Out and thought ‘yes, I’ll give a week to reading and reviewing’. Three months later, whilst I have read and explored all of the text of the book, experientially, I am still on Spiral One. This is a book to go-at-your- own-pace with; to allow each page to inhabit you and find its own expression through you. Slower is better, and playful curiosity yields more harvest than academically reading the text. My sense is that I could rewrite this review in a year’s time with more personal reference to the material covered and explored, but for now; I am grateful to have been offered the opportunity to be exposed to this sacred work.
Regardless of your gender or profession, this book will speak to you. From the moment of conception to our birthing, exploring our own birthing journey, exploring how we breathe the world; in all of these experiences, Origins invites you into the world of the experiential, the somatic world of experiencing. The skill of deeply connecting with our body, our cells, tissues, organs is a lifetime’s work, but this book can be a powerful tool and aide to help you on the journey.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”
(Howard Thurman, cited in Bailie, 1996: xv)
Joan Davis is a Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, has studied Authentic Movement with Janet Adler, and Voice Work with Chloe Goodchild and Rajeswar Bhattacharya. She is a Hakomi Sensorimotor Trauma Psychotherapist. Joan offers ongoing one to one somatic therapy sessions as well as her group work and solo retreats. www.gorsehill.net
Martina Breen is a psychotherapist and supervisor based in Athlone. She also works as an integrated health specialist with the VHI. She completed her M.A. in Applied Spirituality. Since 2011, she has studied and is now teaching with The Sacred Art of Living Centre which focuses on diagnosing and addressing spiritual pain from a variety of cultural and psycho-spiritual perspectives.
Bailie, G. (1996). Violence unveiled. Chestnut Ridge, NY: Crossroad Publishing.
Kull, F.R. (2008). Solitude: Seeking wisdom in extremes. Novato, CA: New World Library.