A New Foundation for Somatic Psychotherapy
Recently I had occasion to read a case report written by a trainee in psychotherapy. The individual in question seemed to have a sound and indeed healthy understanding of the basic principles of this form of somatic psychotherapy. Strange, then, that in reading his case report I received an impression familiar to me from several others – an impression of spiritual openness combined with disembodied anonymity. Linguistically, this was reflected in a lack of “I” language. At no point in the case report did the therapist describe his own organismic perceptions of, or response to, the client – perceptions that might have been introduced with first-person phrases such as “My impression was..” “I sensed..” “I felt..” “I was touched by..” etc. Instead a third person language dominated throughout, with the therapist ventriloquising their own experience of the therapeutic relationship via the reported feelings of the client (“Tony was aware of…”). The role of the therapist and the nature of the therapist-patient interaction were almost completely disguised by bland “we” phrases such “we worked on X..” or “these feelings were explored.” Aside from direct physical interventions in the form of massage, the therapist came over as an anonymous and disembodied verbal facilitator of the client’s ‘process’, which in all cases thoroughly confirmed the basic biodynamic model. Now it is somewhat of a truism that case reports tend to confirm and flesh out the psychotherapist’s models, whether psychodynamic or biodynamic, Kleinian or Reichian. It is somewhat of a contradiction, however, that case reports of body-oriented psychotherapy should contain so little reference to the therapist’s own body.
In contrast, an article in Energy and Character (29.2) by Mark Ludwig stresses the importance of the relational dimension of somatic psychotherapy, the need to focus more attention in training on the ‘resonant communications’ that pass between therapist and patient within the ‘bipersonal’ field, and the importance of the therapist’s own body in grounding the therapeutic relationship, providing the patient with ‘holding’ and helping the latter to ground themselves in their own body. In this article I attempt to define more closely the nature of the ‘resonant’ contact and communication between therapist and patient, suggesting that its basis is a therapist’s capacity for a type of direct organismic receptivity and responsiveness to the patient, rather than a receptivity and responsiveness mediated by talk or physical touch.
As an example, let us say we observe a look in the patient’s eyes that we sense is of great significance, revealing a particular self-state or “I” that is central to their whole way of looking out on and relating to the world. There is a world of difference between (a) drawing the patient’s attention to this look verbally or suggesting that the client try to sense its basic feeling tone themselves, and (b) identifying with this look ourselves, getting a feel of it with our own organism, and then mirroring it back to the client through one’s own eyes. The root of the word ‘relate’ is the Latin re-latere: to ‘bear back a message’. I suggest that it is only when the therapist is able to respond to the client and ‘bear back a message’ in the same medium as the therapist first receives that message or impression from them (for example, responding to a look in their eyes with a look in our own eyes) that so-called ‘resonant’ communication can be established, and the ‘relational field’ comes to life.
In the same issue of Energy and Character as Ludwig’s article, David Boadella himself writes about the theories and practices of Anton Mesmer and his followers, which stressed the importance of the resonant or ‘harmonic’ rapport between healer and patient, and the central role that eye-contact played in mesmeric or ‘magnetic’ healing. What I call organismic healing finds expression in a newly developed form of mesmerism and mesmeric healing, making intensive use of eye-contact as a medium of direct organismic contact and communication with the patient. At its heart is a revolutionary new understanding of the nature of the human organism and of organismic awareness, distinguishing these from the physical body and ‘body awareness’, and distinguishing too, between organismic contact and the therapeutic use of physical contact and touch
The human organism and the human body are not the same thing. The human body is the outwardly perceived form of the human organism. The human organism, on the other hand, is the pre-physical embodiment of the inner human being. Through it we give form to who we are – we body our being. This understanding of the human organism is derived from the profound reflections of the German thinker, Martin Heidegger, on what constitutes the essential nature of bodyhood. Heidegger took advantage of the German language to distinguish between the body as Körper – a bounded and measurable thing – and as Leib. It is Heidegger’s understanding of the body as Leib and of the latter as a living activity of leiben (‘bodying’) that informs my use of the term ‘organism’ in distinction to body. The body as organism is not to be understood as another, second body (for example as a so-called ‘astral’ or ‘etheric’ body) – but as the inner essence of our bodyhood.
Parts of the psychoanalytic community are beginning to wake up to the importance of the analyst’s capacity to register and respond to impressions of the client received on a ‘sub-symbolic’, bodily level – organismic impressions. What I call organismic sensibility is our ability to fully receive the organismic impress or imprint of another human being. This organismic sensibility is in turn based on our own organismic sensitivity or ‘awareness’. The latter, however, is not to be confused with ‘body awareness’ in the bioenergetic or biodynamic sense – for example the awareness of bodily sensations and energetic ‘streamings’. Bodily sensations that are experienced in a purely somatic way – that have no organically comprehended significance or sense – are, I believe a relatively unintegrated form of organismic sensitivity. The latter is not felt sensation but felt sense – patterns of significance that are directly sensed and comprehended on a wordless organismic level – in much the same way that music is – without needing to ‘make sense’ of them on a verbal level. The word ‘organism’ itself derives from the Greek verb organizein – ‘to play on a musical instrument’. The human organism, as I understand it, is the musical instrument or organon with which we modulate inner tones of feeling; and through which we resonate with the feeling tones of others. A prime example of organismic sensitivity and sensibility – or the lack of it – can be found in the activity of listening to classical music. Audiences at a classical music concert are faced with something of an organismic dilemma. They are asked to fully receive the music organismically – to allow the feeling tones it communicates to exert a resonant effect on their own organism – without responding to the music in a bodily way; for example through dance, spontaneous movements or speech. From a purely bioenergetic or biodynamic point of view this would seem to place a quite unnatural demand on the listener – requiring them either to block the build up of emotional charge or to block its motoric discharge. And indeed, in the body language of many less-than-willing classical concertgoers, we see evidence of genuine muscular and mental discomfort – fidgeting and coughing, a wandering mind, or a perceptual fixation on external visual stimuli rather than the music. This being the case, however, why and how is it that some people can appreciate a powerful and emotionally stirring symphony without getting mentally or muscularly tensed up to the extent of completely ‘armouring’ themselves against the music? The question, I believe, is partly a false one, based on fundamental theoretical confusion between the physical body and its emotions, on the one hand, and the human organism and its feeling tones on the other.
The term ‘e-motion’ refers to outward movement of expressions. Emotions are not feeling tones but ‘e-motions’ – pre-physical or ‘virtual motions’ of the physical body which prefigure the outward expression of inner organismic motions or ‘in-motions’. The human organism is itself a motile organism, cable of moving with ‘emotions’ rather than expressing or enacting them physically. When we speak of being ‘moved’, ‘uplifted’, or ‘transported’ by music, we are not referring to physical movements, nor are we merely using somatic and bodily metaphors to describe some form of disembodied psychic or subjective states. We are describing in-motions of the human organism, whose motility is not dependent on outward motoric expression or e-motion. If the human organism is an independently motile body, it is also a mimetic and metamorphic body, tending to shape itself in the likeness of the forms it perceives. When we perceive a smile of joy or a frown of anger on someone’s face, for example, our organism not only resonates with the feeling tone manifested in the form of the smile or frown. It is also immediately begins to take on a form, which if expressed, would produce a smile or a frown on our face. Organismic perception is a type of “morphic resonance” (Sheldrake), based on an intrinsic relation between outer shape or form (morphe) and feeling tone. The organismically receptive music listener is not passive but highly active. This activity consists neither in expressing nor in repressing emotions evoked by the music. Why? Because their organism is capable of ‘in-moting’: moving inwardly in resonance with the music, and letting its own tone and timbre be transformed by the music. The listener does not merely hear the music – they actively allow their organism to be played upon by the music, letting themselves be inwardly moved and transported by it.
What David Boadella has called ‘vegetative identification’ with the client is a type of active organismic receptivity of this sort – making use of the innate mimetic motility of the human organism – its capacity to be played upon by the music of the other and to reshape itself in resonance with this music. But the openness and impressionability of the therapist’s organism, their capacity to fully receive the resonant imprint of the client’s speech and body language, can at any time be overlaid by their motoric and mental reactions to the client – even where these take the form of therapeutic ‘interventions’. The therapist’s outward reactions to the client – however deeply rooted they may be in emotional awareness and empathy – can prevent the therapist from fully receiving and responding to the client on an organismic level. To do so the therapist must be able to experience emotional resonances on an organismic level – as subtle mimetic motions of their own organism in resonance with the song they hear sung by the client. If they do so they will transform their own organism into a sense organ – capable of fully receiving the resonant imprint of the patients speech and body language by shaping itself to it. The subtle organismic impressions of the client that then arise are not clouded by the therapist’s own intellectual or emotional responses to the client. Their basis is instead an intimate organismic identification with the client, one that comes about by letting the client’s music play on and transform our own organism.
The discourse of others can be compared to a song sung by the other before our eyes. In looking and listening we are aware of three things – the lyric of the other person’s discourse, its content and language; the lilt of their discourse, its basic tone and melodies; and the looks that accompany it – their facial expressions and the tone of their eyes. Receptivity to these subtle organismic cues provided by these three dimensions of discourse can be deepened by specific techniques of organismic mimesis. One of these I calls ‘internalising the after-image’. It requires only a brief glance at a person to take a visual ‘snapshot’ of their facial expression and the look in their eyes. When we then look away we can, even without closing our eyes, hold and behold a visual after-image of their look in our mind’s eye. It is important not to close our eyes in recollecting this after-image. For only then can we use our own facial and ocular proprioception to engage in a subtle organismic mimesis of the look we behold – subtly miming it with our own face and eyes, and thereby attuning our organism to the feeling tone it manifests. In this way we begin to sense within our own organism what it feels like to look out at the world or into oneself in the manner revealed by the other person’s look. Organismic identification begins with this subtle activity of organismic mimesis, which turns into something, which can only be described, paradoxically, as a type of organismic proprioception – not of one’s own organism but of the organism of the other.
What I call ‘internalising the resonant echo’ is the aural equivalent to beholding a visual after-image of the patient’s look. Here the therapist is able to use their inner voice and inner ear to silently repeat and reproduce phrases spoken by the other – echoing their words internally exactly as they were spoken and reproducing the lilt as well as the lyric. Doing so allows the listener to fully heed the subtle resonances of both lyric and lilt, letting the resonances of the spoken word literally ‘get under their skin’ and sink into their organism. Paradoxically, holding the resonant echo of a particular utterance does not, as might be expected, hinder us from continuing to listen, but on the contrary, deepens our listening attunement to what the person goes on to say or has yet to say.
Authentic communications is about fully receiving others and being fully received by them. Most communication problems arise from people acting or reacting to others without first fully receiving and perceiving the other. The same is true of the communication of healer and patient. We think of healing as something ‘given’ to another person. But the greatest gift the healer can give is their capacity to fully receive the patient on a deep organismic level. Only then can their organism become a ‘sixth sense’ – an organ of perception. Only then can an authentic inner response to the patient begin to germinate from the healing core of their organism – their inner being. The fundamental premise of organismic ontology is that the effectiveness of healing depends on the patient being fully seen and heard, held and nourished as a human being – and not just as a body or mind, or a bundle of psychosomatic processes. The organism is the body with which we can receive and perceive others as beings and not just as bodies or minds. In Heidegger’s terms, it is body with which we see and hear – rather than merely interpreting information from our eyes and ears. Listening and seeing organismically means becoming ‘all ear’ and ‘all eye’. Through their organismic receptivity and perceptivity, the practitioner of organismic healing can quite literally absorb an organismic ‘phantom’ of the patient, bearing it within the womb of their own organism and then bearing it back to the patient in a transformed way.
From a scientific as well as psychoanalytic point of view, the human organism can be likened to a mother body – a womb or matrix of organising informational patterns or ‘morphic fields’ which literally in-forms our own physical bodies and minds, our motoric and metabolic activity, our emotional and mental activity. In other words, it is from within the fields or ‘womb’ of our organism that we constantly gestate and give birth to our own physical form or ‘materialised body image’. The continuous in-formative activity of this mother organism, this ‘formative’ or ‘morphic’ body, is I believe, the essence of what we call energy. Biosynthesis seeks to integrate the long-established “energy” paradigm of somatic psychotherapy and the “energetic work” that follows from it with “formative work” aimed at changing the inner patterns or structures that ‘channel’ energy. In fact this integration is already implicit in the root meaning of the word ‘energy’, deriving as it does from the Greek verb energein. This did not refer to the working (ergon) of some biological or cosmic force but to the working or formative activity of a being, a craftsman for example. The physical body can be understood as a material manifestation of the informational patterns or morphic fields of the human organism. These in turn, however, are expressions of the formative activity of the human being. This activity exerts a resonant effect on other beings – in the same way that the formative activity of the musician has a resonant effect on the listener.
Organismic feeling tones are the basic ‘musical’ medium of resonant contact and communication between beings – the wavelengths of attunement linking them. At the same time, feeling tones are carrier waves of ‘information’, allowing the informational patterns or morphic fields of our own organism to interact with those of others and create a joint, inter-organismic field. The morphic ‘fields’ in question however, have no ‘energetic’ or ‘material’ reality independently of the beings whose ‘feelds’ they are. Feelds are an expression of feeling, and feeling is an organismic activity that transcends the physical boundaries of the human body. The morphic fields of the human organism are not merely ‘inner’ fields bounded by the human body. Nor are they merely an ‘aura’ extending some way beyond these boundaries. Instead the outer field of the human organism permeates the entire perceptual environment of the human body – and embraces all the other bodies within it. That is what Heidegger already intimated when he said “The body (Leib) is always my body.” Organismic proprioception of other bodies belongs to the larger feeld of our own organismic awareness. As a body of awareness, the human organism ultimately has no measurable, physical boundaries at all. Its only boundaries are the field-boundaries of our organismic awareness.
I describe the theoretic rubric of organismic healing as ‘organismic ontology’. This is a synthesis of Reichian ‘orgonomy’, with its focus on the ‘bioenergetics’ of the human body, and Heideggerian ontology, centred on the formative and feeling activity of the inner human being. The physical body is a material body bounded in space and time, through which we relate to other bodies in our physical environment. The human organism, on the other hand is the body with which we relate directly to other beings. When we speak of ‘feeling close’ to someone even though we may be miles away, or of ‘holding’ a patient without physical contact, we are not speaking ‘metaphorically’ but describing our organismic relationship to another being. Even sensory functions such as seeing and hearing, touching and feeling, are not essentially functions of the human body but of the human being. The fact that I look at your eyes or hear your voice does not mean that I see or hear you. But unless I see or hear you I do not truly ‘see’ or ‘hear’ at all, and even my sensory seeing and hearing carry no organismic meaning or sense. We not see and hear because we have eyes and ears. We have eyes and ears because we are seeing and hearing beings.
At a time when neo-Darwinism is set to become the medical-scientific religion of the new millennium, with the human genome as its biochemical god, I believe it is all the more important to resist the reduction of the human being to the human body and its genes – to understand that it is not bodies and brains that see and hear, think and feel, but beings. If, however, as somatic psychotherapists, we ourselves identify the human being with a set of bioenergetic or biodynamic processes or cycles, we fall prey to our own form of scientific reductionism. In doing so, we also fail to understand the essence of the human body itself as a living biological expression of the human organism – the ‘communicative body’ with which we see and hear, feel and touch, resonate and relate with other beings. Together with this understanding of the human organism goes a new relational understanding of somatic psychotherapy as an organismic communication between two human beings.
I believe that behind all effective healing lies a communicative healing cycle with three main stages: mimesis, modulation and messaging. I call the first stage ‘mimesis’ rather than ‘mirroring’, not only because it involves an aural as well as a visual dimension (identifying with how the patient sounds as well as the silent tone of their look) but also because mimesis is essentially an organismic activity rather than a physical one. The mimetic activity of the healer’s organism may only be reflected in a very delicate and subtle way in visible facial ‘mirroring’ or audible vocal ‘echoing’ of the client. The second stage of the communicative healing cycle can be understood through analogy with music therapy. Let us say that patient and healer are both equipped with the same musical instrument. The patient is the first to sound a tone. All the healer does at this stage is to tune their instrument in such a way as to echo this tone. But if it is through mimesis that the healer’s instrument begins to receive and resonate with the patient’s organismic feeling tone, then it is through the subtle modulation of the healer’s own organismic tone that the latter can then respond to the patient and bear back a healing message. Following the analogy with musical communication, it is as if the healer, whilst continuing to echo the tone struck by the patient, begins, at the same time, to subtly modulate this tone and to introduce a counter-tone. The latter is essentially a grounding tone, comparable to a deeper and more fundamental harmonic of the patient’s organismic tone. It is this modulated and grounded tone that is then borne back to the patient through the healer’s own organism as a message from the core of their being.
The human organism is a ‘morphic’ or formative body – the instrument or organon with which we give form to inner feeling tones, embodying them in muscle and nerve tone, expressing them in the tone of our voice and in the resonance of our words. The human organism is also the embodied self – the instrument with which we personify our inner being, letting it ‘sound through’ (per-sonare) our facial mask or persona. Just as a letter is the silent face of a sound, so is the human face a silent manifestation of inner sounds – organismic feeling tones. The physical body as a whole is the outer face of the human organism. But what is manifest in the face and body of the other is revealed directly through their eyes. Every tone and coloration of our gaze corresponds to a distinct mode of organismic self-experience: a distinct self-state or “I” revealed through our eyes, a distinct way of looking out at the world or into oneself, and a distinct inner bearing or comportment towards our own being and other beings; one that may or may not be visible in our physical posture and movements.
In the practice of organismic healing, the stages of the communicative healing cycle are enacted in two modes; firstly through the medium of therapeutic listening and verbal dialogue, and secondly, through periods of silent, face-to-face eye-contact between healer and patient lasting anything from five or ten minutes to an hour or more. In the first, ‘dialogical’ mode of organismic healing, the healer makes use of the internalised after-image and resonant echo to attune their organism to that of the patient. A basic rule in this mode is that the listener’s verbal responses must never precede or replace their own direct organismic perceptions of, and responses to the patient. Nor should they merely relay or represent these perceptions and responses. Instead the therapist’s speech should ride on and intimate their own organismic response, conveying this through the inner resonances of their words and thus truly responding to the client dia-logically – ‘through the word’ rather than in words. In listening to the patient’s own words, the healer is particularly alert for what Anzieu terms ‘formal signifiers’. These are key words or phrases used by the patient that represent their own subjective experience of dis-ease using metaphors of static or dynamic form, whether two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Examples are “deflated”, “being in a whirl”, “can’t think straight”, “over-stretched”, “going round in circles”, “empty inside” etc. The listener understands these metaphors as literal descriptions of organismic states, and may ask the patient to stay with or recollect the state in question and show it in their eyes.
The second mode of organismic healing is one mediated by silent ‘mesmeric’ eye-contact. To begin with the healer may ask the patient – to whatever extent the latter feels able – to allow their eyes to show their inner dis-ease or dis-comfort, their mental concerns or troubling emotions. This is where key words used by the patient in describing their own dis-ease, particularly their own formal signifiers, can provide a significant starting point. If the patient has talked about “being in a whirl” for example, they may be asked to show the ‘whirly’ sensation in their eyes. The healer, who sits or stands face-to-face with the patient, then looks into the patient’s eyes, and engages in a process of organismic mimesis. By internalising the patient’s look and identifying with the organismic state it expresses, they make resonant contact with the aspect of the patient’s being that is embodied in this state – the particular “I” that looks out through their eyes.
The number of words that can be used to describe the characteristics of a person’s look is limitless, embracing not only the entire nomenclature of the emotions (an angry or sad look, warm or loving look etc.) but a whole range of terms which express the person’s relationship to themselves, to others and to the world (a pleading or flirtatious look, a withdrawn and distant look or intense and penetrating look etc). Certain emotion words, for example ‘loneliness’, ‘indignation’ or ‘gratitude’ are more explicit than others in indicating a relationship to external events, or alternatively to internal states and sensations – feeling ‘broken-hearted’ or ‘excited’ for example. The eyes, moreover, reveal incredibly subtle gradations of emotions and of the person’s inner bearing or comportment towards the world. We can distinguish a mournful look, for example from a resigned, desolate or despairing one. This subtlety of expression of the eyes usually far exceeds the person’s subtlety of language in describing their own emotional state, which might instead be reduced to flat general terms such as ‘depressed’ or ‘low’. It is the ‘light’ or ‘darkness’ of a person’s gaze that is the carrier of its emotional colorations. But fleeting movements of the eyes, as well as changes in a person’s look, are another way in which they reveal inner states – expressing insecurity, suspicion or mistrust, vulnerability or fear, curiosity or wonder, for example.
What the eyes reveal ultimately transcends language itself, for each person’s looks, however we might label them verbally, are imbued with an irreducibly individual character – revealing unique aspects of the individual human being. Once again it must be stressed looks do not just express emotional states but self-states – modes of self-experience. At the same time they reveal different ways of looking out on and perceiving other beings or looking into one’s own being. When we speak of a glazed or far-away look, an introverted or contemplative look, we are not describing emotions but the direction of their gaze, its different foci and loci. If, following Freud, we compare the individual’s consciousness to a searchlight, we should not assume, as he implied, that it is only the focus or direction of the beam that can be altered and that its locus is always a fixed ego or “I”. The inner aspects of the human being revealed through their eyes are indeed different foci of consciousness, but each of these foci also has its own locus or ‘centre’ – where the person is looking out from and how they experience themselves looking out from this place. They may look out with the eye and “I” of the ego, with that of a vulnerable or hidden child, or with the profoundly insightful and contactful eye of the person’s innermost spiritual core – the inner human being.
The inner human being can be more or less present in the eyes, or withdrawn from them – like a person who approaches a window to look out at the world or retreats from it into the furthest and darkest corner of the room in order to avoid being seen by the friend or stranger peering in. Inner lights may be turned on and off, curtains drawn or shutters or blinds pulled down, like a second, invisible set of eyelids. Blinking itself may be used as a defence against being seen by or seeing others, making eye-contact with others or communicating feelings through one’s eyes. The eyes can be used as defences against really meeting another person with one’s gaze – the eyes that jump out at one, no less than those that stare blankly, look away or dart around. Then again, the eyes can be used in the most direct way to impart a message to the other – the look of cold contempt or hatred, the imploring or impatient look, the loving or seductive look, the resentful or earnestly respectful look etc. These many dimensions that belong to the “language of the look” are very familiar to somatic psychotherapists, and Alexander Lowen has written specifically of the particular gaze modes corresponding to different character-types in the Reichian schema – for example the ‘far away look’ of the schizoid character. In Lifestreams, David Boadella quotes an account of Reich’s work with a patient who suddenly began “seeing the world with new eyes”, the fear and hate having gone out of them. The process began with Reich noticing a new gleam in the patient’s eyes, which….
“… together with the shifting of the eyes and head, had brought up a new expression out of the depths of his eyes and being. It was a flirtatious, come-hither look, a sort of wink, with a raising of the eyelids, eyebrows and forehead and a moving of the eyeballs to one side, accompanied by a suggestive tilting of the head in the same direction. As the therapist began to imitate this expression and the patient began to make better contact with it, the whole face participated in it, at first with a blushing shame-facedness, and then to the tune of a hearty laugh.”
Later a ‘miracle’ happens:
“Suddenly the patient was startled and opened his eyes wide with astonishment. While he was looking at the therapist the latter’s face had suddenly become soft, and glowed with light…He saw the world differently, as a good and pleasurable place to be in and as a future place of ‘heaven’ and not the ‘hell’ it had been before.”
Boadella comments that this breakthrough:
“… was the direct result of the exchange of looks between the two people in the room, a reaching out on the part of the therapist with his own aliveness to contact and excite into activity the aliveness buried in the person he was dealing with. Without this willingness to read the secret expression and to nurse it into life, any therapeutic encounter is gravely weakened.” “If a person can let his inner self be seen by another, he begins to become recognisable to himself and can then look within, not in the sense of any sterile introspection, but in the sense of learning to love and accept who he is, and so recognise himself.” In the practice of organismic mesmerism it is precisely the practitioner’s ability to ‘read the secret expression’ and ‘nurse it into life’ that is central. To do so the healer uses the motility of their own organism and expressiveness of their own eyes to do both.”
Reich’s focus, in the example quoted, was on mirroring a particular expression of vitality in the patient’s eyes. The organismic mesmerist focuses on whatever is there, using mimesis, modulation and messaging to respond to each or all of the aspects of the patient’s being that can be perceived in their look. The healer may for example, perceive a look of fear in the patient’s eyes, and amidst it something like a brief spark of anger. Through organismic mimesis the healer will first of all allow themselves to fully identity with the feeling tones of the patient’s looks – without even necessarily identifying these feeling tones with verbally labelled emotions such as ‘fear’ or ‘anger’. The healer then begins to modulate these feeling tones with their own organism in a way that may give them a quite different energetic and emotional coloration to that experienced by the patient. In responding to the looks of ‘fear’ and ‘anger’, for example the healer may draw on their own organismic experience of anger as an expression of positive vitality rather than as something to be feared. At the same time they might allow the organismic energy of the ‘fear’ they receive from the patient to enhance and intensify the aggressive vitality of this ‘anger’. Rather than just mirroring the patient’s ‘fear’ and ‘anger’ in their eyes they use their eyes to communicate a modulated feeling tone of ‘aggressive vitality’. In doing so they will quite consciously bear back a message to the patient: the message that “you too can allow yourself to feel your fear and anger as a natural aggressive vitality in your organism and show it in your eyes”. The message is transmitted wordlessly, riding on the silent, resonant communication between healer and patient in the same way that verbal messages ride on resonances of the spoken word.
In organismic healing sessions, sustained periods of silent eye-contact become a medium of direct organismic contact between healer and patient, automatically inducing a state of deep, open-eyed mesmeric trance. This is the resonant ‘harmonic rapport’ spoken of by the early mesmerists. The ‘resonant communications’ that pass between healer and patient are a rich and profound form of trance communication, based not just on the healer’s empathic receptivity and sympathetic organismic resonance with the patient but on what I call ‘magnetic resonance’. This is a wordless telepathic communication between one human being and another. Organismic feeling tones are not only ‘moods’ or ‘states’ of the human being. They are essentially wavelengths of attunement linking one being with another, and serving as telepathic carrier waves of information between the morphic fields of healer and patient. Through the subtle modulations of their own organismic feeling tones in response to the patient, the healer is able to transmit healing messages on the carrier waves of these tones. The visible communication through face and eyes gives bodily expression to this telepathic communication, but we would be quite wrong in supposing that the latter is merely an illusion generated by subtleties of facial and ocular body language. For as John Heron has explained in his article on the phenomenology of the gaze, we can only make genuine contact with another person through the eyes if it is not the person’s eyes or face we are looking at but the human being themselves. Similarly, we can ‘read’ the expression in another person’s eyes only by seeing the human being and not just their eyes. And we can bear a message to them through our own eyes only by intending that message to address and touch their being – not by merely signalling it with our eyes.
Organismic healing uses sustained, silent eye-contact as a medium of both diagnosis and healing. Diagnosis means ‘through knowing’ (dia-gnosis), but the type of knowing referred to by the Greek word gnosis was not knowledge ‘of’ or ‘about’ something. It was the sort of knowing we refer to when we speak of knowing someone – a direct, intimate knowing of another being, and not merely something we know about them. What I call messaging – the third phase of the communicative healing cycle – can perhaps be best understood by thinking of what is meant when we speak of giving someone a knowing look – a look that both understands and communicates, receives and responds. A look that is meant for and that means a particular human being and no other – a look that intends a being as well as a message, and that intends its message to this being and no other.
The human organism is the body with which we re-late to others as beings and not just as bodies in space and time. The more in touch we are with our own organism therefore, the closer we are to our own being – to the being whose human embodiment we are. Reich’s greatest theoretical and characterological weakness was, in my view, his inability to make any fundamental metaphysical distinction between the human body and the inner human being. The inner human being is not the human, personal self we know. Nor is it an ‘It’ of any form – a libidinal unconscious or ‘energetic core’. When, amidst very real and ruthless political persecution from the US government, Reich at the same time spoke of UFO’s as the vehicles of malign “CORE men” from outer space, I believe he was projecting his own understanding – and fear of – the inner human being or ‘core self’; recognising that this is indeed a being quite other than the ordinary, human self we know, and that its ‘vehicle’, the human organism, is not the bounded physical body, but essentially unbounded in space and time – embracing all bodies in its physical environment.
It was not in Reichian ‘orgonomics’ but in Heidegger’s ‘fundamental ontology’ that the human body first began to be understood as an expression of the inner human being. Winnicott, whom Ludwig urges be given a more central place in the theory and practice of somatic psychotherapy, himself placed primary emphasis on the infant’s sense of going on being and its capacity for psychosomatic ‘indwelling’. But it was Heidegger who first recognised that all encapsulated concepts such as ‘psyche’ and ‘soma’ merely deferred the question of what constituted the human being as a being – as an organic, in-divisible, and individual unity rather than as an assemblage of parts. And that despite all claims to ‘scientific’ knowledge about human body, human thinking had not yet gone as far as to question what bodyhood as such essentially is. In his discussions with doctors and psychiatrists Heidegger ventured a radical answer to this question – bodyhood as an activity of being (bodying or leiben) and not as a set of biomechanical, biochemical biodynamic or bioenergetic processes. The concept of organismic ontology and the communicative healing cycle on which organismic healing is based are reflections of a therapeutic praxis which seeks to fulfil Heidegger’s own deepest wish as a human being – that his work would “escape the confines of the philosopher’s study and become of benefit to wider circles, in particular to a large number of suffering human beings”. In doing so they can, I believe help turn somatic psychotherapy into what it could be – somatic psychotherapy. By this I mean the type of organismic medicine and healing of the sort that Reich himself wished for and anticipated with his research into the Cancer Biopathy, one not limited to the treatment of patients who present with psychological problems but equally relevant to those who present with somatic problems.
What difference is there – apart from its special focus on the intensive use of mesmeric eye-contact – between training in organismic healing and training in existing forms of somatic psychotherapy? One answer is that organismic healing is not merely somatic psychotherapy, but also somatic psychotherapy – organismic medicine. Another answer lies in its basic therapeutic aims. If we compare the muscularly or viscerally armoured organism to a musical instrument that has become distorted and out-of-tune, then we can indeed say that freeing the human organism from armouring – repairing and retuning the instrument – does indeed enable the human being to express their ‘energy’ in a freer and more spontaneous way through it. But what if the individual has never learnt to play the instrument in the first place, or can only play it in such a way that the instrument becomes damaged and distorted. Freedom from energetic ‘blocks’ or ‘armouring’ will not in themselves ‘spontaneously’ allow a musician to play a Bach fugue or Mozart sonata. Nor do they guarantee that the individual can use the instrument of their own organism to embody and communicate the subtleties and richness of their inner being – their inner music. The organismic healer is not only someone whose own development and training has ensured that their organism is relatively free from armouring. The organismic healer is trained like a musician or singer, to play on the motile instrument of their own organism – using their own face and eyes, hands and body to modulate their own organismic feeling tones with great skill and flexibility. Just as mirroring different facial expressions and looks requires great motility in our own face and eyes, so does the healer’s capacity for organismic mimesis require great motility in using their body as a whole to modulate their organismic feeling tones, attune them to those of the patient and use them to engage in a ‘musical’ communication with the latter. The therapeutic purpose of this organismic communication is not merely to free the patient’s own organism from armouring, but to help them to play their own instrument in a new way – using their own bodies to embody new organismic tones and chords of feeling, and to reveal new aspects of their inner being through them. This is the deep significance of the quotation from Tardy de Montravel cited by David Boadella in his article on The Seven Legacies of Mesmerism:
“The nerves of the two human beings can be compared to chords of two musical instruments placed in the greatest possible harmony and union. When the chord is played on one instrument, a corresponding chord is created by resonance in the other instrument.”
The ‘instrument’ or organon is the human organism. Its player is the human being. The playing is a modulated resonance – a music rich with messages. Organismic ontology is ‘medicine beyond medicine’, based on a fundamental distinction between the human body and the human being, and understanding dis-ease itself as a natural part of the human health process – a process of becoming more whole as human beings. The health of a plant is maintained by a homeostatic process. Animals can offer us a model of “independent well-being”. But for human beings, health is a continuous process of organismic change or metamorphosis comparable to a symphony – one in which, through resonance with others, we learn to attune to and embody new aspects of our inner being. The organism is the embodied self. When we are ill, it is not only our minds and bodies that feel different. We do not quite ‘feel ourselves’. The metamorphic process can be understood as a process that begins with ‘not feeling ourselves’ and ends with ‘feeling ourselves’ again. In between, however, there may be manifestations of greater dis-ease: physical sensations, emotions or thoughts that we experience that we regard as ‘not-self’ or experience as a loss of self or ‘none-self’. The decisive healing phase of the metamorphic process however, consists in passing from not feeling ourselves, to feeling another self – allowing ourselves to identify organismically with a new and hitherto dormant aspect of our inner being. In this way we begin to ‘feel ourselves’ again – albeit a transformed self and one that has become more whole. It is this metamorphic phase of the health process that is the focus of mesmeric diagnosis and healing – helping the patient to quite literally look out on the world with new eyes and a new “I” – an organismically transformed sense of self.
Using ‘mesmeric’ eye-contact, the organismic healer becomes the midwife of the patient’s own organismic healing cycle – the metamorphic process – “nursing the secret expression” by bringing it to life in their own organism and mirroring with their own face and eyes. In doing so, they not only bring their own organism closer to that of the patient. They also bring the patient closer to their own organism and to the new sense of self that is pregnant within it. Whatever its discomforts, pregnancy is not a disease. But disease itself is always a state of organismic pregnancy – and the healer never more or less than a midwife capable of fully identifying with the birth pangs of a new self. Organismic healing is also ‘maieutic’ healing (from the Greek maieuesthai – ‘to act as a midwife’). The metamorphic process is also a process of re-birth, re-embodiment or ‘reincarnation’. By quite literally bearing with the patient, the healer acts as a midwife – helping the patient to bear what is pregnant within them, to embody and give birth to a new aspect of their being and a new inner bearing towards others.
© Peter Wilberg 2000