Author Topic: Reichian Growth Work by Nick Totton  (Read 538 times)


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Re: Reichian Growth Work by Nick Totton
« Reply #30 on: April 15, 2015, 07:57:16 am »
How extraordinary! Or is it? Right along our lifeline we are the same human organism, livingin the same universe, and one of our basic human capacities is to make patterns and to holdthose patterns through and across time.Freud very rightly says that in the unconscious there is
no time
; no past, no future. It is anillusion to imagine that because one event is 'earlier' on an individual's lifeline, it thereforecauses events which happen 'later'. Our internal pattern-maker is constantly adjusting, re-evaluating, totalising, synthesising, condensing, so as to create a new whole.Someone who is crushed by adult authority over the issue of toilet training, say, will patternthis experience together with that of being squeezed intolerably in the birth canal. Someonewho swallows their anger at age four because they are afraid to rage at their parents willsynthesise this guilt with their feelings of hating - yet also helplessly loving - their mother'sbreast at six months, with a sense of being poisoned in the womb by toxins from theirmother's bloodstream, or a sense of being 'fed rubbish' by a dogmatic therapist whom,nonetheless, they dare not alienate by criticism.As human beings, we use all our experiences as metaphors or examples of each other, creatingwhat the therapist Stanislav Grof calls 'COEX Systems' (systems of COndensed EXperience).We can imagine great balls of clustered memories and feelings, brought together around themagnetism of a shared theme, a primal 'colour' - loss, for example, or helplessness, orexpansion, or security. These COEX systems exist not just in our minds, but in our bodies, inthe patterns of bodily expectation and defence which constitute our armouring.We can make these difficult ideas more concrete by taking up an example that arises regularlyin our work, the experience of
.Many therapists and growth workers have discovered that it is fairly easy to facilitate abodymind experience in most people which to everyone involved will seem like a 'birth'. Weuse quotation marks because we don't believe that people are necessarily re-experiencing abirth that they actually
. We think more in terms of what we call a 'birth-shapedexperience'; and it really
birth-shaped, as many mothers, midwives and obstetricians cantestify who have witnessed and experienced it.There are many effective ways to set up a birthing experience, some much more elaboratethan others. What we ourselves generally do is to lay someone on a mattress, curled up ontheir side, with a blanket over them. One helper puts both hands on the crown of the birthee'shead and gives a gentle rhythmic pressure, another helper does the same with the feet, whileone or two more people lie on or against the birthee's body to give a sense of enclosure and pressure.

Then we wait - for as long as it takes. It is crucial that the birthing should be initiated andshaped by the birthee; only then will it feel like an authentic event Sometimes there will be along wait; nothing apparently happens, at least from the outside viewpoint There are a fewsmall movements under the blanket,, once or twice the breathing will deepen and strengthen,only to fade away again.Inside the 'womb', however, a great deal may be going on. The birthee moves in and out of analtered state of consciousness; many strange and confusing feelings, images and memoriesflow through them. Eventually, there develops a genuine urge to
, which has a trulyinvoluntary and spontaneous quality, and is generally preceded by a build-up of powerfulcircular breathing (breathing with no pause between inhale and exhale).Once the birthee begins to push, it is for the helpers to follow and match the impetus whichthey experience from the birthee; to judge with their bodies more than with their minds theamount of pressure and resistance which is needed, how 'hard' or 'easy' the birth needs to be,whether a 'midwife' needs to go in and pull the birthee out The experience becomesextraordinarily real and vivid for those taking part and when the 'baby' is finally 'born'between the legs of the helper who has been holding their head, and lies floppy and dazed onsomeone's lap, perhaps sucking at their hand, it is a moving, heart-opening experience, and itcan be hard to keep in mind that this newborn creature is in fact an adult woman or man.Birthing creates a magic space, an altered state for everyone involved. Only afterwards dopeople wake up and realise how far they have travelled from everyday reality. Suchexperiences carry their own conviction, and often have profound effects on the lives of thosewho pass through them, as they gain a new level of energy and joy in their lives, a more vividsense of reality, a sense of being truly reborn.

They will also often have learnt specific lessons from the birthing about their basic lifepatterns. They may now understand in a new way their tendency to push blindly throughdifficulties, or their constant urge to give up, or the feeling that 'no one's there for me', or thesense that something always goes wrong at the last minute.All these traits and many others can be illuminated by seeing them as generalisations whichwe have built up from our experience of being born. There are indeed times, as we haveexperienced when we have been dealing with a series of birthings in the course of our work,when
about life seems to reflect our birth! We become acutely sensitive to phraseslike 'a tight spot', cutting our ties', 'no way out', 'light at the end of the tunnel'.There are often quite specific details of the birthing which relate to obstetrical events: the cordround the neck, the breech presentation, the high forceps, the delayed breathing, the caesareansection - all these emergencies can be reproduced in a birthing. Sometimes they match wellwith the biographical facts - even when the birthee only consciously discovers the detailslater.At other times, though, the events of the birthing will be quite different from what actuallyhappened, and when we go through a second, or third, or subsequent birthing, it is often thecase that the whole shape of the experience will be quite different from the first time. It seemsthat each of us is 'programmed' with a whole series of births, from the most beautiful and joyful to the most horrifically life-threatening, and with a need to experience and release allthese births at different times.So what is going on here? No one really knows, but it appears that the crucial experience of being born - perhaps the first great crisis of life (though there are those who emphasiseconception and implantation) - remains as a kind of
for the child and adult, avocabulary of fundamental feeling-shapes through which we express the later events of life.Each subsequent crisis will summon up for our pattern-maker a particular aspect of birth:magnify it, altering the biographical reality, even develop a largely imaginary birth which willthen function in our bodymind as if it had really happened.This is speculation, but what we do know is that the 'birth-shaped experience' quite oftenhappens
in therapy, with no need for any setting up on the therapist's part. Wehave learnt in practice to spot the signs that a client is moving into such an experience: a needto push with their head and neck, statements like 'I feel there's something I have to getthrough' or 'something big is going on but I don't understand it': most of all a specificatmosphere, equivalent to the so-called epileptic aura, which is hard to describe but highlyrecognisable - a dreamlike, sleepy premonition which seems to fill the room. In suchsituations we simply offer our experience and our bodies as resources for the client to shapetheir own birthing, and save the analysis for afterwards.And, of course, these birth-shaped experiences happen in
. Most human cultures apart fromours have a formal place for 'rites of passage' to mark crucial transitions - puberty, marriage,death, initiation - and these are modelled on birth. The central figure goes down into a dark enclosed place and comes back up into life; is immersed in water; undergoes an ordeal. Evenwithout this ritual enactment we all experience crisis and transition as a death and rebirth,passing through a strait and narrow place.

Another set of images which come up both in and out of therapy are clustered around theumbilical cord and its cutting: ideas of being
to someone or something - fed bythem or helplessly poisoned with bad stuff, ideas of being cut off, abandoned, irretrievablydamaged. 'Cord-shaped experiences' recur in a variety of situations, and seem to set off reactions which are outside our conscious control.Again, such themes are anchored in our
. Massaging around the navel can bring up verypowerful feelings, especially of rage and grief, and also fear of falling - our basic sense of grounding seems to be anchored in the umbilical connection, only later being transferred tothe legs and the earth. After someone has been birthed and is lying peacefully in a helper'sarms, there is often a moment of sudden shock, pain and disorientation which seems torepresent the cutting of the cord - often done brutally soon, before it has naturally stoppedpulsing as the breath takes over. Almost everyone who goes through the birthing experienceemerges as a convert to natural childbirth and as an opponent of high-tech obstetrics.Another very striking feature of the birth-shaped experience is that, time and again, itspontaneously throws up 'past life memories'. Once more, the quotation marks are to indicatethat we are not assuming these indicate a 'real' previous incarnation, simply that after birthingmany people emerge with clear and strong images of being someone else in another time andplace. These images very often parallel the birthing experience itself - for example, someonemay envision a death by strangling during a birthing where breathing is difficultThis sort of experience can be very startling - even annoying to a person who is scepticalabout reincarnation! But like birthing itself, past life imagery can be useful in helping peopleto make sense of and resolve present issues, helping them create a coherent 'story of themselves'. It is also possible to become addicted to past life material as a way of avoidingbodywork, for example, or emotional work on what is going on in the here-and-now.We have taken up birthing as an example of a much more general reality: the way in whichour bodymind holds the memory of every crisis and transition in our lives, and constantlyreinterprets each event in terms of every other event, creating dumps or clusters of imagery onthe mental level which exist physically as organisations of tension in the muscles of the body.Accompanying these tension patterns are vivid and elaborate body-fantasies, which oftenemerge in the course of therapy.For example, someone may experience themselves as being eaten up to the neck by a greatsnake-worm-monster - which is the body itself threatening to consume the ego-observer. Orthey may experience their limbs as paralysed or amputated; they may sense a **** in theirthroat or rectum; they may feel as though they have a baby inside their womb or their chest,their head might balloon out to a vast size, or their whole body become minute; they may floatoff the ground or sink through it. Again, there may be vivid 'past life' experiences of torture orviolent death. All of these are real examples from our clients or ourselves; all, howeverbizarre they may seem, are perfectly normal and healthy. This is the 'language' in which ourbodymind unconscious 'thinks' and 'speaks'; often it needs to be explored in order to heal ourwounds.We want to close this rather brief survey with a very different form of 'primal pattern'. Wehave seen how the seed-form of a person's characteristic attitudes can be sought further andfurther back in their personal history - in birth, conception, and even previous lives (and wehave questioned whether 'earlier' in this context means 'more basic'). But there is another form

of pre-history which helps to shape our lives: the history of our family, and the characteristicthemes and questions handed down and restated from generation to generation.We cannot be sure of the mechanism by which we inherit our family themes. There is theobvious effect of childhood experiences, but there often seems to be something morefundamental, more mysterious, at work - 'inherited memory' inscribed in the cells themselves?Certainly it is not uncommon for someone to have a recurring issue or image in their lifewhich relates directly to an experience, not of their own, but of a parent. In a very generalsense we have inherited the unresolved issues of our parents' lives, issues which they maywell have inherited from their parents, and so on back.Through their upbringing, children will tend either to reproduce their parents' armouring - aswhen oppressive toilet training in her childhood leads a mother to be equally rigid with herchildren because she has internalised the need for rules; or else they will tend to react
 the parental pattern - as when a father's thrusting character sets up a panicked crisis reaction inhis child.The parents' own patterns are a reproduction of or reaction to their own parents; with eachgeneration a new synthesis is created from the new couple - who, of course, are attracted toeach other partly by their corresponding character armour.Yet couples are also attracted to each other by the intuitively sensed possibility of helpingeach other towards
. However horrific the 'family theme', there is always thepossibility of resolving it, of bringing it to an end, of bringing out its creative side. Theextreme case is the family which abuses its children down through the generations, each childgrowing up to reproduce blindly its own agony. Even here it is as if the children are sent forthon their parents' behalf to try to do better; as if the parents are silently saying 'You do what wecouldn't do; you bring this family process to a close.'The same is true in the more ordinary and less horrific family situations, where there might bean inherited theme of guilt or of struggling to 'better oneself, or of separation, or of siblingstruggle. Every family is a problem looking for a solution; every family member is an elementin both the problem
the solution, elected to that role and usually unable to resign from itAnd until the process is completed the issue will re-seed and reproduce itself - because that isthe only way to avoid definitive failure. The very continuation of the family theme is a questfor its resolution, and this is the basis for hope in the family pattern which may otherwiseseem utterly helpless, the individual bound hand and foot into a 'family curse'.The set of patterns within which we as individuals live are rather like a hologram: each partcontains within itself the whole, as the pattern-maker constantly re-synthesises our life storyout of each new development.Reichian work chooses to focus on the developmental phases of the first six or eight yearsknowing that this is not the whole story, that by the time we pass through these stages a greatdeal has already happened in our personal history and pre-history. We bring a lot of experience with us as we face these developmental thresholds, and this affects how we dealwith them. Watching our own baby daughter, for instance, we have seen her manifest thewhole sequence of phases within her first eighteen months.

What seems most important is the
- that wavelike streaming of energy down fromthe head to tail which repeats itself many times from conception to death just as it recursconstantly in the therapeutic process. It is relatively easy for a child to pass through a wholesequence in infancy, as our own daughter has, or even within the womb, without significantarmouring.What seems virtually impossible within our culture is for a child to pass the threshold of socialisation and gender, the 'Crisis' stage, without being wounded. The nature of the child'sresponse to this crisis, the style of armouring which she or he develops, will be decided bytheir
history so far, by all the crises and challenges they have already faced.Unless we meet with definite mishap, we may emerge from infancy with only minor scars toface the issues of gender identity and socialisation. It is how we deal with
issues, withthe unnatural demands which society imposes on our 'original nature', that sets the seal on ourapproach to creativity, contact, openness, surrender.

We are all struggling; none of us has gone far. Let your arrogance go, and look around inside.The blue sky opens out farther and farther,the daily sense of failure goes away,the damage I have done myself fades,the million suns come forward with light when 1 sit firmly in that world. I hear bells ringing that no one has shaken,inside 'love' there is more than we know of,rain pours down, although the sky is clear of clouds,there are whole rivers of light.The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love. How hard it is to feel that joy in all our four bodies!
 Robert Bly, The Kabir Book The work we have described opens people up to a whole range of new experiences, new andmore intense emotions, new bodily sensations, new thoughts and understandings. It alsoopens us up, in many cases, to experiences which are generally referred to as 'psychic','spiritual' and 'supernatural'. Discovering these experiences through therapy helps us realisethat such things are in fact profoundly
, a part of our birthright walled off from us bythe barrier of our armouring, sealed away in the distant, magical world of rememberedchildhood.