I have returned recently from a journey into the wild deep time of Donegal, in the North West of Ireland. A part of this beautiful island I have only recently discovered and fallen in love with. I have spent precious days there on a couple of occasions in the past year that felt like dives beneath 'normal', every day time: into fathomless geological depths unperturbed by the bridling of civilisation, of commerce, of squaring and framing.
Like the innate, inherent wisdom, or Intelligence of our earth bodies.
Untamed and raw, this wild context allowed for reverence and awe to colour each and every experience, every witnessing. Many times have I knelt down and placed my hands on the soil, on the land as I would on a body to listen, to feel and receive the ages, the presences of so much that could not be named, to which I could only give in, cede, surrender.
It is a place out of time and yet it is profoundly, intimately shaped and eroded, sculpted, conditioned by its patina. It is host to countless fascinating myths and stories that often mirror the colossal nature of its rugged majesty and/or the infinite sensuality of its heavenliness.
It is enchanted and enchanting. I sit and I pray so easily there. I sit and I hear the waves of yesterday mingling with present and future ones. I am moved to tears by what feels like sanctuary: the solid certainty offered by these giants inviting me to fold and unfold into their mystery.
The spacious holding of the land deeply affects and informs my holding of bodies. I too am sculpted and weathered by its multiple influences. These regular immersions have steeped me within the 'deep slow' that is required of us biodynamic craniosacral practitioners, when we humbly sit by and make gentle contact with the holy land of another living organism to listen, witness, and facilitate change.
It is probably no accident that on my return from Donegal a week ago, I found that I had received a copy of Fulcrum, the magazine of my professional association- The Craniosacral Therapy Association (CSTA, https://www.craniosacral.co.uk/) —in which was published an article I had submitted some months before about the time factor in biodynamic craniosacral sessions.
With kind permission from Helena Swahn, the Editor of Fulcrum, I have reproduced it below (with added photos I took in Donegal and Wicklow) and hope you will find it useful.
I was gazing at the ocean earlier today. I breathed with waves as they majestically heaved and rolled, slowly unfurled. I felt their levity before they crashed on the shore, merging into stillness at the top of their exhale for a few seconds, before inhaling again.
I thought of William Garner Sutherland contemplating the sea and wondered what he felt when he named the rhythm breathing our fluid bodies ‘the Tide’.
I am grateful for Dr Sutherland’s pioneering vision which gifted future practitioners with a non-linear, non-dualistic window through which we can perceive away from a medical paradigm centred on ‘doing’ and steeped in linear time and space.
Which is why I have often wondered how do we fit into time and space the felt experience of a clinical session that is clearly boundless? The spatial boundary is not constraining as we are trained to widen our perceptive field as far as the Moon and back, so there is no limitation there.
But what about the time construct?
I was taught that a treatment session should last 45 minutes to an hour long. This was applied at our students’ clinics and during our practice sessions. On entering professional practice with the same framework, I invariably found that treatments felt forced and rushed, especially as the ‘after chat’ – as essential to my practice as the initial check-in – was cut short. I found that my sessions would invariably last an extra 15 to 20 minutes sometimes even 30 but I was still charging for a standard one-hour session.
I began to feel dissatisfied with this framework. We are not “fix it” people. We are not ‘completing’ a process. We are beholders witnessing and supporting an incredibly powerful unfolding, a kind of homecoming, as Dr Rollin Becker would say with his expression: “The boss has come home (1).
In my experience, a spacious and easeful before, during and after is key for the relational field to be continuous, and allowing of the free expression of this higher Intelligence of the body-mind complex. I have had many a client new to CST return to their ‘before’ chair with enthused and awed facial expressions wondering “what was that?”. Needing time to feel into their refreshed or brand new embodied presence in a sitting and standing position to enable a safe bridging process.
It is true that words fall short when speaking to what is fundamentally quite mysterious and ineffable. I find that even sitting in silence for a few minutes, hearing some words around how they feel, offering some suggestions to continue to resource and help them find support within their body, can help a client to meet the world again from a place where ‘integration’ into the every day is much more likely to complete itself with ease.
Some clients also need their experience to be ‘translated’ into some sort of physiological terminology they can relate to and this can also take time.
I have also found that these clearly differentiated parts of a session are instrumental to creating boundaries between therapist and client – clear separations that need time to be felt.
I liken a treatment session — this reconnecting to one’s original blueprint, to the primordial embryological forces of creation itself — to a sacred ceremony that calls for an opening and closing.
To honour this, about two years ago I decided to offer longer one hour thirty minutes sessions at a different price to some of my clients whose conditioning life history requested more time to feel safe enough to surrender to the process.
This option was taken by all the clients I offered it to and proved the right choice as their physiology responded expansively to this additional time, like the creation of permission for a new possibility to unfold. It was not just about safety, it also added to the caring quality of the slow pacing of the container itself.
Then, about a year ago, a client and BCST practitioner* visiting Ireland actually requested five two-hour sessions on consecutive days.
Part of me was delighted, and part of me was concerned about his ability to integrate from one day to the next. He reassured me affirming he had done this before and even had several three-hour sessions.
This journey proved quite incredible: I witnessed probably some of the deepest, most potent expressions of dynamic stillness and tidal reorganisation so far.
His story was rich with pre-natal, birth, life and ancestral trauma that had generated quite a few fulcra and holding patterns.
My notes speak of: “a deepening into a revelation of patterns. Amazing multiplicity of centres of evolution and life. So many dances!”, or of, “a slow layering of physiological and emotional unfoldings with phased ignitions of the brainstem, heart and umbilicus, “one after the other with distinct intensities.”
The more we delved, the more the field widened to encompass the objects and nature around us. I could perceive the resolution of the ‘pixellation’ of field particles gradually sharpen while the Intelligence within reorganised, and the Breath of Life pervaded the whole to settle into dynamic stillness.
He spoke of his joy at “having found stillness again after losing it five or six years ago.”
I felt a “moving in closer and closer”, a honing in on subtle details while also maintaining a wide perceptive field. This allowed for an “elasticity of space and time, of consciousness itself. A sense of objects themselves being animated with presence, with a sense of scintillating potency,” as Sutherland’s ‘Lighthouse Beam’ (2) lit up what was too dense to see clearly, highlighting all the “spaces in between”. My whole ‘planted’ being bowed at the potent levity expressed in this body.
On a few occasions I perceived what felt like a “fifth phase of water (3), between fluid and gas as air becomes more tangible and connects with the fluids through a skin that is at its most permeable when in dynamic stillness.”
At the end of the third session I wrote: “Longer is definitely so much better, because we’re edging ever closer to source, to the embryonic original blueprint, in a time that is not framed by the reductionist referential points of a dualist and linear paradigm”.
While extraordinarily rich, the sessions proved overwhelming at times. During the fourth session my client admitted to being “frightened about the new him, how to be in the world without the familiar patterns”. In response I oriented towards an even more spacious and more rooted hold, and the ‘buzz’ of overwhelm slowly dimmed and dissipated bringing us back into the “resourced effortlessness of the blue yonder.”
Would I do this again in hindsight?
Under the right circumstances, yes. Not sure this is needed as I am answering in paragraph below?
I found that it takes a tremendous amount of skill and resources for a client to witness and stay present with such depth and intensity of reorganising in such a concentrated timeframe. This client was a BCST practitioner well used to longer sessions and to exploring a variety of other alternative modalities. Yet I would ask for more time in between to allow for more integration. We are trained in the art of titration after all, which ensures as little overwhelm as possible.
Personally, these sessions could not have happened at a better time because my practice was gradually re-emerging from four months of lockdown which I experienced as an extraordinarily resourcing and spacious time thanks to regular immersive intimacy with nature and with creative expression. Therefore my grounded and ultra-resourced holding was deeply satisfied with this opportunity and was able to meet my client in each moment.
I experienced a complete disappearance of that time factor and with it a liberation of the body’s Intelligence and a much more fluid inherent treatment process.
Experiment with time
I know that longer session models do not fit every practitioner or clients’ financial and practical constraints, and it is also true that many sessions do indeed naturally ‘complete’ within a shorter timeframe. But I wonder would some clients choose to explore longer, less time-constrained sessions?
I like the flexibility of choice and continue to offer different time frames. I still run over time on a regular basis, content in allowing and exploring possibilities, not forcing anything.
This article is humbly throwing a ball to invite a ‘play’ with time to match our expansive space continuum. It is also an invitation to recent graduates in the field to experiment and freely settle into what feels best for them. If there is one thing this amazing modality teaches it is that there can never be one mould that fits all.
As my former tutors write in Cranial Intelligence: “We see biodynamic craniosacral therapy as an endless dance between you and your clients. It can be constantly refined and you will be constantly challenged to develop your skills to work with a wider range of people and their conditions. Just when you think you have got it, the next client who walks through the door will show you something new.”(4)
* Deep gratitude to this client for allowing me to quote my notes and write of this experience.
Notes and references:
(1)- The Stillness of Life, Dr Rollin Becker, 2000
(2)- Contributions of Thought, Dr William Garner Sutherland, 1998
(3)- Gerald Pollack discovered the Fourth Phase of Water, see book of the same name, 2013.
(4)- Cranial Intelligence, Steve Haines and Ged Sumner, 2010.