Working together for a better world...
Today we finished a weekend of bodywork, exploring the use of bodyawareness in griefwork. It was the final weekend of the spring psychotherapy course block and the culmination of a good week of events.
Awareness of the body sense has always provided a foundation for my relationship with psychotherapy ever since I joined a bodywork group back in the mid 1980s run by a Buddhist woman. I have always seen the importance of working from the felt sense and of offering a grounded presence to the client. Since I have been working on my own more, I have increasingly come to use grounding and bodywork quite explicitly.
Reflecting on the use of the body, one can see many reasons why a Buddhist approach does well to take into account this physical dimension. First of all, there is substantial evidence that embodied presence and awareness is therapeutic. Mindfulness based therapies are effective where the therapist themself has a meditation or mindfulness practice - and this is basically a body focused thing. Being focused in body experience and able to watch the breath and feel the physicality of one's contact with objects and the ground creates a calm presence which communicates to the client. It also enhances awareness of bodily reactions which may indicate unconscious processes in the therapy session. Having a felt sense of things is an important factor in therapeutic healing (Gendlin).
In my own work I include grounding exercises, which bring awareness to the earth connection. This is basically a body form of refuge - can we trust the ground or the chair to support us or do we hold back with tensions and reisitences? Such trust in our physical underpinnings mirrors the spiritual act of taking refuge, as opposed to the ego-building act of clinging (mirrored in body tension). Thus grounding can be equated to a physical manifestation of the faith based therapeutic foundation which we see proposed in Gisho Saiko's work.
I also work with breath, and the space of air around us as this awareness mirrors the sphere of receptivity. When we counsel someone we invite their experience of the world, their life story, into our awareness and we hold a body sense of what they are describing, allowing ourselves to resonate with it and so feel its qualities. So too, the breath flows into our bodies, often illuminating our emotional ambiance - when we are tense our breath is tight, when we relax it flows deeply. When we fear, our breathing becomes laboured. When we are excited it becomes rapid. With our breath we feel our sadness and touch our emotional tone.
Body awareness is also valuable because in Buddhism mind and body are not separate, but, rather, the mentality, chitta is the heart-mind. It is the feeling, live part of our beingness which longs and aches and reaches out towards life.
Mind and body are conditioned. Our mental processes are action traces and as such are physical. Think of standing, and you will feel your leg muscles tighten, imagine your lover and you will feel your body soften. Think of a person who makes you angry and your back and brow will straighten. Imagine a warm fire or a tropical beach and you will relax. Thus when we work with the body, just as with the mind, we find habitual patterns of rigidity and holding on or comfort and softness. Our bodies cling to old postures and tensions. We breathe, walk and sit in habitual ways. Bringing the light of attention to these phenomena, we gently change them, changing our relationship to the world as we do so.
So work with the body can be releasing. It can help us to recognise the ways in which we armour ourselves against dukkha It can help us to learn to stand more solidly on the ground so that we do not need the level of dulling which our body armouring offers. We trust the earth and relax our hold on ourselves, loosening a little and allowing our experience of dukkha to flow more openly.
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