Everything you know…

Rebecca Haseltine  03/28/16

To continue with the embodiment question (see two previous posts) I’ll tell another story from the early days of my practice. It was in the mid-90’s and I was referred to a new client, M., by a friend of mine, a physical therapist. I entered into this relationship with the mistaken idea that I should in some way approximate what a physical therapist would do. The family had been disappointed, to say the least, with the physical therapists that had worked with M. so far. I brought all my tools from Body-Mind Centering® and dove in with a strong sense of purpose. I would succeed where all the PT’s had failed.

M.’s neurological injuries were profound, and I was overwhelmed. I came three times a week to roll her on big balls, to move her arms and legs, and to help her change positions. Frequently a phrase would clang through my head: ‘Everything You Know is Wrong.’ This was the title of a comedy album in the 70’s from a group called Firesign Theater. I couldn’t remember anything about the album, but the title was plastered inside my skull for the first two years I worked with M. We would gamely work our way through our sessions, but we would both end up exhausted. After an embarrassingly long time, I began to realize that to be a successful somatic practitioner, I didn’t need knowledge, I needed presence. I didn’t need to know exactly what to do – I needed to share a perspective that made sense to me and was grounded in my own experience. I realized that my body had this tilt to it – as if I were leaning forward all the time. My shoulders were tense, my voice was tense, my arms were tense. Slowly I taught myself to just sit on the floor without leaning forward, and this changed my attitude. Once I realized that all I could offer was something much humbler and less self-assured than I expected, then the work began to take off, and a conversation began to blossom. I learned to ask questions, and she was ready to respond.


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So the question of embodiment can be tricky, because sometimes it means so much less than we think. For me it meant accepting whatever it was that was already living within me not only from the 4 years of training but from all my life to that point. And I needed to let go of the ideas that didn’t make sense in my own body. The range of possibilities became narrower, and the work began to go deeper.

Some of M.’s favorite times were when I was confused, or I stumbled, or I forgot something. Maybe the best thing I offered her was someone to laugh at. We played music and this gave us our common ground. I tried to show her with my hands how to relax her muscles from being like wood to being more like pudding. I could only communicate this by making that shift in my own body. I still rolled her on the balls, but we did this much more slowly. Gradually she began to learn how to soften and find more ways to move – in very subtle ways, but ways that she could really feel. She began to have moments of ease.

So what does this mean to invite someone into their body? It’s so simple and basic, but what exactly is it? It’s a little like playing with a bowl of water. Tip it one way and watch the ripples, tip it another way and watch the ripples. Ask the person what they feel. But in some ways it was even more basic than that – I hung out with her. We laughed together. I think she could tell that I was attempting to change myself, and she responded to that. We learned about embodiment together.