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To do or not to do? That is the question

In the art of non-doing that is biodynamic craniosacral touch, I have sometimes danced to the tune of “should I stay or should I (let) go?”

Should I meet your organs and support my perception of their intention to change or should I simply, spaciously hold, observe, listen, witness without analytical judgement all the twists and turns and rearrangements take place.

Are you not tempted as a human being to try and fix something that you notice isn’t quite right? Painful even?

Here the heart wrenching destruction of the Amazon rainforest comes to mind as well as other ecological disasters on this planet.

When someone tells you that they have been suffering from anxiety for years, that they cannot sleep properly, that their gut is in complete disarray and fails to support their nourishment, would you not be naturally drawn towards making contact with their abdomen with a soothing intent?

As a client also, would you not expect the practitioner to give attention to your words and hold the symptomatic parts of you?

We learn to give space to the whole in craniosacral biodynamics and the particulars arise that require extra support, extra attention and recognition even. The very quality of our sensory receptacle as practitioners is a trigger for change.

But then touch itself is necessarily bias. Touch is doing. Touch is partial. How can we be neutral when we touch? When we choose to make contact?

Our touch is really doing without specific intent, so that our practice is at once conscious and non-intentional, gently inviting our client to join us in the openness and trust that whatever unfolds is inherently just right.

I wonder why this client with a long history of anxiety falls asleep soon after I make contact. I asked this question at a recent webinar with Stephen Porges (author of the famous Polyvagal Theory) and was told that this involuntary immobilisation of his nervous system may be provoked by touch. So it got me thinking.

The thing is this person has great trouble sleeping normally, as in falling asleep and his system does not ‘activate’ to touch, and it does not dissociate more either.

As a matter of fact, it is like a game of cat and mouse and the parts that were hiding before dare to express and engage in a more fluid way, whenever he dozes off.

The cat's away, now we can play.

Every practitioner has a different theory around clients falling asleep don’t they? Some argue against it and advise to wake the client up and make sure they are aware, that they are present.

But isn’t that doing? Provoking something, some reaction which might in fact be counterproductive, because clients sometimes simply cannot be present to what deeply distresses them.

To do or not to do? That is the question.

To continue with this case study, and in tune with the biodynamic paradigm, I decided not to do and let the client doze off. I trusted what I perceived were the changes, the letting go, the sudden amoeba-like respirations of the system that I recognise as signs of shifts towards safer engagement and revelation.

I do wake him up every now and again to ask him how he is and if he can perceive anything, notice any changes.

I do this usually after something has shifted and we’re in between tides, at a stillpoint when the risk of affecting the system by my spoken interference is minimised.

He tends to reply ‘no, nothing really’, which I know to accept but can of course be frustrating when my hands feel differently.

I have come to understand why sleeping is key for this client. As so many parts have ‘failed’ him for so many years, his anxiety is a manifestation of how unsafe he feels within his body.

To immobilise without fear and switch on the ventral vagal nerve as Porges argues is the end game, the homeostatic goal.

It seems that falling asleep is its nearest equivalent for this client. It is the only way he can let me hold him, the only way his body gives me permission and tentatively learns to trust. His parasympathetic autonomic nervous system switches on and he can unwind.

It is not just 'I' as a practitioner that needs non-doing, and this is why this therapy works so well. Our non-doing, non-provoking etc... allows our client to undo, slow down and let go.

We are mirrors to each other and to one another in life.

I have seen this client regularly for the past two months now and, during his last session his gut befriended my touch for the first time.

Before that I could sense the odd shy gurgles or some motions in parts of his abdomen, never its whole.

I was holding his ankles and feeling the fluidity and rhythms of his system when his abdomen suddenly heaved like a mountain surging from a calm sea and I held my ground, our ground.

He was asleep.

As this slow motion resumed and integrated the whole tidal expression to reach stillness, I asked him how he was and he replied, “I am sensing a brightness in my head, maybe it is brighter outside, I don’t know…things seem smoother now.”

I moved to contact this sensitive area, subtly: hand below the sacrum, hand above the intestine. I held lightly with spaciousness.

And just like a cat who takes his time to come slowly towards a held out hand, his abdomen gave itself fully to the touch and did not retract half way. Meanwhile the sides of his diaphragm lightly shuddered and his brainstem melted.

Later he added that he felt ‘deeply relaxed’.

The journey is by no means over but I see this session as a major milestone and I know my hands, my being have communicated it to his more satisfied, safer system.

It’s as if each time he wakes up brings him closer to being content within, to being safely contained; and the cat and the mouse are slowly becoming friends.

At the end, when he is back sitting in front of me, I ask him how safe he feels on a scale of 1 to 10 and 10 is ‘very safe’.

He says '7'.

A few weeks ago, it was ‘3’.

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