This article comes from the chapter I wrote for the book “Walking in two worlds: The Relational Self in theory, practice, and community,” edited by Stephen Gilligan and Dvorah Simon
Let me begin by piecing together for you, how my work relates to Self-relations therapy. Some twenty five years ago I began to study psychology and Ericksonian hypnosis. The practice of hypnosis and self hypnosis began to open me up to the immense possibilities of the power of one’s thinking, and the effect that one’s thinking has on one’s physical and emotional well-being.
About three years into my study of hypnosis, a friend told me about what he was learning in regard to coordinating his body with his spirit or ki, as it was taught in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. Based on his description I was hooked before even taking my first class, and in a few years time found myself living in Japan and becoming a full time Aikido student.
One of the major differences between my beginning understanding of hypnosis and that of Aikido, was that I initially thought hynposis took place in the head, and that Aikido was about learning how to use your body differently. Later on, as I got a tiny bit more sophisticated in my thinking I surmised that hypnosis took place “in the mind residing in the head” while it seemed that my Aikido sensei was saying that during Aikido the mind was meant to reside in the lower abdomen. As my Aikido studies continued my sensei explained that indeed the mind was eminent throughout the entire body, and we were told to place the center of our mind in our lower abdomen and “think” and act from there.
It was at just this point in time that I started to hear about an hypnosis teacher in America by the name of Stephen Gilligan who was using what he had learned in Aikido and his other awareness training as an adjunct to his work in therapy and hypnosis. When I first went to Stephen’s classes it was a kind of homecoming for me. I was back in America, and was studying with an American sensei, and this sensei was teaching a form of therapy that matched many of the same things that I had learned in Japan. One of the first things I learned as I began to study with Stephen was hearing him tell his students to “Place your center in your lower abdomen and feel yourself and your experience from this tender place within yourself.” This was very exciting to me as it exactly matched the Aikido concept of placing the center of one’s mind in the lower abdomen.
Understanding from Aikido how to think without needing directions from the brain in my skull and receiving that same wisdom from Stephen was fascinating for me. One of my Seishindo students recently paid me a great compliment when he said to me “Sensei, I have never met anyone that can not think, better than you!” It is true, that after studying Aikido for a while you notice that your ability to act spontaneously and gracefully is actually aided by not using your rational mind as the main source of your intelligence. And in this regard the similarities between Aikido and Stephen’s work started to become much clearer, as I now understood from his training that the power of one’s intellect is not the main source of intelligence when one is in a trance.
In Aikido we learn to sense and react without needing to rationally consider what is taking place. We occasionally used to play a game when fooling around outside of the Aikido dojo. The game involved three students and three metal cups turned upside down and sitting on a table. While the students had their backs turned the teacher placed a small treat like a piece of chocolate under one of the cups. The students would be given a signal, and they would turn around and grab for the cup that they thought had the treat underneath. Invariably certain students had a high percentage of correct guesses, while other students rarely guessed correctly. I would like to say that I gained a lot of weight from playing this game and eating all of the candy, but this is not the case. Initially I guessed incorrectly just as much as most students. It was only after a period of trial and error that I began to understand how to switch off my rational mind and rely on my intution. Little by little I began to realize that the intelligence of the body (somatic intelligence) plays an important role in our ability to relax, improvise, and react gracefully in the face of challenge. Another important point that I noticed from my practice was that the feeling I got when doing certain Aikido relaxation exercises was very similar to the way I felt when doing self hypnosis. By shifting my attention to my body (my somatic self) in Aikido, I could relax in much the same way that I could when shifting the way that I related to the thought processes of my cognitive self in self hypnosis. Many times I have heard Stephen ask, “Where is your attention now?” “Where in your body are you feeling your problem?” Answering this line of questioning necessitates that we shift our main focus of attention away from the cognitive self and towards the somatic self.
The next piece in the puzzle that relates my work to Self-relations is my study here in Japan of something known as Noguchi sei tai. In Japanese sei tai can be said to mean “correctly organized body” and “Noguchi” is the name of the teacher (sensei) that created this particular form of sei tai. Noguchi Sensei (1984)* had already passed away by the time I got to Japan, but his students taught me how to do special exercises that allowed me to use my body in a new way, and release my excess energy. Noguchi Sensei used to say that the body and a spinning top are similar: “If a top isn’t spinning, and if a body isn’t moving, you can’t realize what they are meant for and how to use them.” One of his main premises was that people tend to use unconsciously generated muscular tensing patterns to organize their body and hold onto excess energy in their system. He said that unconsciously tensing various parts of the body inhibits the body’s natural movements, and produces stress and excess tension in the system. It is this holding onto excess energy and the concurrent inhibition of movement that causes illness and less than full health in general. It was his premise that the more serious a person’s health condition, the more they were holding onto excess energy. When you release excess physical tension, you discover that your unconsciously generated body movements change, along with your thoughts and your emotional state. Noguchi sensei said that physical tension and emotional tension are realized as two sides of the same coin. This is something that Stephen also teaches in Self-relations.
A second premise of Noguchi sei tai, as I understand it, is that you need to find a way to encourage and allow the unconscious organization patterns of your body to release with a minimum of direction from your conscious mind. In almost all instances attempting to consciously and willfully change one’s posture and physical holding patterns rarely gets the results that one would desire. The simple reason for this being that conscious thought processes usually involve unconsciously tensing one’s body, such that we freeze rather than free up the nervous system and muscles, to act. In Self-relations terms we would say that the mind that creates a problem is not the mind to use when looking to change one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. The use of the conscious mind as one’s main source of intelligence is often not enough to get the desired results.
Noguchi sensei developed special exercises to help accomplish the unconsciously generated release of excess energy by entering into a state of spontaneous movement. When practicing these exercises I soon noticed that my experience was similar to what I achieved with my Aikido and self-hypnosis practice. By this point in time I was beginning to have a first hand experience of the two centers of control that each person has: One located in the head (the cognitive self) and the other located in the abdomen (the somatic self). It soon became apparent to me that influencing one’s behavior through mental strategies produced different yet complementary experiences from influencing one’s behavior through tuning into the unconsciously generated intelligence of the body.
For example, it is commonly known that well constructed affirmations/mantras can help people to perform more effectively in life. I often suggest to clients who want to be better public speakers that they develop a mantra to the effect of “Relaxed, Confident, and Appreciating the Audience.” Such a mantra can often be quite effective, but the effect will be limited if the client fails to realize that when he does public speaking, he tends to tense his shoulders, round his posture, and breathe in a shallow manner. Superior performance is thus best facilitated by concurrently giving one’s attention to both the communication of the cognitive self in the form of a mantra, and the communication emanating from the somatic self, in the form of posture, movement, and breath. Listening to both “selves” simultaneously gives us the highest quality results. Repeating one’s mantra while concurrently feeling into, relaxing, and expanding, one’s physiology.
In my work with individual clients I began to experiment with having them enter into a relaxed state of awareness by teaching them how to tune into their breathing, posture, and unconsciously generated body movements. I would have them sit on the front half of their chair, take several deep breaths, and then begin to softly and gently adjust their posture, by letting their body move in whatever way it wanted to. I would say something like the following: “Jim, I am talking to you now, and I would like to ask Jim to not move his body….. Instead, I would like to ask your body to move itself, in whatever way it would like to, whenever it is ready to do so, and without the well intentioned advice of Jim.” In the course of this work I soon began to see that when people become actively aware of their body without attempting to consciously change or direct what they are doing, that indeed the body will begin to shift itself, without the need of conscious intervention. The body knows what the body needs. This led me to understand that when wanting to enter into a state of altered consciousness, being sensitive to and subtly influencing the communication of the body was just as important as being sensitive to and subtly influencing the verbal communication that emanated from the brain in one’s skull.
Although my individual practice and my work with clients was progressing well, I still didn’t quite have a complete model for understanding how to coordinate and work with each person’s dual intelligence – somatic and cognitive. I was beginning to realize that the piece I was still missing was finding a way to facilitate better communication between the rational mind and the body. It is Stephen’s work in what is now called Self-relations therapy that helped me to finally synthesize a model of working with people that melds the intelligence of the cognitive self and the somatic self (our dual intelligence) into a single experience of what is called in SR “the relational self.” When we experience ourselves as the relationship between our cognitive self and our somatic self, and join this relationship to our interaction with the outside world, we are able to better generate a sense of health and well-being.
S e i s h i n d o
What follows, is an explanation of the principles of the discipline I have developed, called Seishindo. What I present can be an aid in further understanding SR, and can also perhaps give you some additional insight into how you think about and react to the world. Continue–>
* “Order, Spontaneity and The Body” by Haruchika Noguchi;
Zensei Publishing Company, Tokyo, Japan.