The Binding Spell
There is so much to be seen when one reaches the point of being able to see.
Because I often do my work in groups, my trainees get to watch me work with lots of people. They see I‘m not working solely with a person’s body. They see that, at heart, I am not a body worker. They see a person who works with people’s beings through their bodies. They want me to teach them how to do that.
Teaching my trainees about their bodies and about how to move well is fairly straightforward. Teaching my trainees how to use their hands effectively is more challenging, but doable. Teaching my trainees how to see people has been surprisingly difficult. But it is getting easier. At last I’m figuring it out.
When I was nine years old my friend asked me, “Why do you stare at people?” I said, “I don’t stare at people; I look at them.” He didn’t agree. There was no way to know I would become a person who made my living staring at people. I prefer to think of it as beholding people, holding people’s beings in my eyes and heart. That’s a big part of my job. How does one behold a person? Here’s what I do and, more importantly, what I don’t do.
Just as some psychiatrists have devised terminology for different psychic forces, i.e. Freud’s ego, id, and superego, or Berne’s parent, adult, and child, or Perl’s, top dog, underdog, my observations tell me there are also physical forces worthy of their own names. Once you know the names for these physical forces, I refer to them as “bodies’, you can begin to see these different “bodies” at work within a person’s physical body. Eckhart Tolle’s “pain body” is a good example. Once you can see these bodies within the body, you begin to understand why people hold themselves the way they do, why they move the way they do, and sometimes why they feel and behave the way they do. Suddenly you are no longer only seeing a person’s physical body. You are seeing a person.
Many somatic oriented educators first see what I call “the postural body.” When looking at the postural body we look for the relationships between parts of the body, one to the other: the relationship between the head and the neck, the ribs and the arm structure, the spine and the pelvis, etc. We look for hypertension and hypotension, we look for asymmetries, curvatures, twists and torcs. We look for how people are pulling themselves down, lifting themselves up, pressing themselves in, pushing themselves out, holding themselves back.
All well and good, but this is not where the act of beholding begins. Beholding is not observing; it’s not that objective. Beholding is personal, felt, empathetic, intuitive, and profoundly subjective. And very much so, esthetic.
I begin esthetically. It may sound odd, but initially I look at people as if they were living sculpture, frozen in time, under a binding spell. I behold their sculptural body. When we look at sculptures of humans we don’t look at their posture. We see expression. Expression means the visible manifestation of thoughts and feelings. To express literally means to “press out”; thoughts and feelings are somehow pressed out from within, onto the physical body. We sculpt ourselves from the inside out.
Let’s practice seeing the sculptural body right now. Here are photos I took of human sculpture. I love human sculptures because human sculptures let me stare at them for as long as I want. When you look at these photos immediately you will see the sculptural body: thoughts and feelings pressing out into the body, the body frozen in time, under a spell. And immediately you will know the difference between seeing the postural body and seeing the sculptural body. As you look at these photos with your eyes, allow yourself to kinesthetically empathize with what you are seeing. Take the image into your body.
Photos Of The Sculptural Body
Seeing the sculptural body is easy. It comes naturally to us. Unconsciously, we do it all the time. It’s only a matter of learning to do it consciously.
When I introduce the Alexander Technique to people I will often work with a student in front of the other students. This makes most people a little nervous. Most people do not like people staring at them. They feel people are criticizing them, finding fault, judging them. They may feel people don’t like them, or reject them. That’s why, as a teacher my first task, before I begin using my hands, is to create a space that feels profoundly safe. I do that by teaching everyone how to see sculpturally.
My job is to transport my students out of the world of right and wrong. As Rumi so beautifully said, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there.” But how do we bring a person into a field beyond right and wrong? How do we bring ourselves into that field? To what field is Rumi referring?
The sculptural body lives within the realm of art. There is no right and wrong art. It’s a thoroughly subjective world. I get my students to see, right away, that people, no matter what they are doing, no matter what they look like, sculpturally, are esthetically beautiful. There is composition, proportion, perspective, contrast, balance, color, light, shadow, line, texture, structure, ground, space, shape, depth. I haven’t seen a person who wasn’t beautiful in thirty-five years. And the more distressed, often the more beautiful. It’s a matter of learning how to see esthetically.
Esthetics means to appreciate. It also means to feel. That means esthetics is really another word for beholding. Once my students have entered this world of beauty, this field, the feeling in the entire room shifts. You can almost hear it…safety all around. Carl Rodgers, originator of client-centered therapy, knew what it meant to behold someone. Rodgers lived in the field beyond right and wrong.
“One of the most satisfying experiences I know is just fully to appreciate an individual in the same way I appreciate a sunset. When I look at a sunset…I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple in the cloud color”…I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch it with awe as it unfolds. It is this receptive, open attitude which is necessary to truly perceive something as it is.”
Look for sculptural bodies in parks, on subways, at airports, in cafes. They are everywhere. If you are a somatic educator the sculptural body is a good place to begin. The postural body lies within the sculptural body, but now it can be seen in context, as a physical manifestation of something much more significant, and much more beautiful.
As a person changes under my hands, the sculptural body changes, and the student’s see it. They see it clearly. They feel it. Often they are emotionally moved. They are no longer seeing people’s bodies. They are seeing people, people they suddenly feel they know, because they are beginning to know them, because the person they are beholding is emerging, as if through a fog. A binding spell, cast long ago, lifts, fades, and is no more.