Life’s Little Secrets
The processes of life itself are about constant change. If our body could not go through radical internal changes to meet different temperatures we would die very quickly. It is a force of change that never stops. It is the power that has constantly moved you through babyhood, childhood, adolescence into adulthood, and will continue to push you through old age and death into life again.
We can all see that, but there are fundamental things about this that I have never heard anyone say they were taught at school. Yet these little secrets are life sustaining, and enable us to survive awful knocks and immense changes.
In 1885 the Belgian physiologist Leon Fredericq described it this way, “The living being is an agency of such sort that each disturbing influence induces by itself the calling forth of compensatory activity to neutralise or repair the disturbance. The higher in the scale of living beings, the more numerous, the more perfect and the more complicated do these regulatory activities become. They tend to free the organism completely from the unfavourable influences and changes occurring in the environment.”
That last sentence is an incredible statement. It says that innate in all of us is a process that automatically deals with the challenges our environment, our life, confronts us with.
A little later, in 1900, Charles Richet a French physiologist went further by saying, “The living being is stable. It must be so in order not to be destroyed, dissolved or disintegrated by the colossal forces, often adverse, which surround it. Everything in our universe strives to reach a state of Homeostasis or equilibrium. This principle applies to single individual entities to massive complex systems either metabolically, physically, socially or psychologically, even spiritually. By an apparent contradiction it maintains its stability only if it is excitable and capable of modifying itself according to external stimuli and adjusting its responses to the stimulation. In a sense it is stable because it is modifiable – the slight instability is the necessary condition for the true stability of the organism.”
It took me a long time of searching to find, in my own way of life, the wisdom in those two statements. It took me even longer to learn how to apply that in my life. When I did an extraordinary process revealed itself.
I have written elsewhere about suffering depression and terrible exhaustion in my twenties and how I found my way out of it. And it was through dreams and life’s little secrets stated above that it was done.
In searching for relief from misery I tried many different things, relaxation, yoga, meditation , fasting, and diet among them. They promised to be helpful but something was missing that I only began to uncover when I started teaching relaxation/surrender. Some of those classes I taught were huge back in the sixties and seventies. To help people I would wander around the class and lift an arm or leg of some of those lying quietly relaxed. I moved the limb to let the person have an enhanced awareness of their relaxed condition. What amazed me was that often the arm or leg was so rigid with tension it was hard to move. If I let go the limb would remain suspended. On asking the person how they felt they would say, ‘Fine. Really relaxed.’ They didn’t know they were carrying enormous tensions.
Are you relaxing or suppressing?
It took me a while to realise what that indicated. You could relax surface muscles and feelings, but a mass of tensions were unconscious. Later I learned that such tensions had often arisen from difficult or traumatic past experiences, still locked in the body and emotions. By using relaxation techniques such as dropping the tension of the voluntary muscles or meditating on positive things those inner tensions were being pushed back into the unconscious – undealt with. When left at that point, relaxation and meditation were a method of suppression and control, not of healing.
With shock I realised this was true of many things that were supposed to be helpful, such as meditation and positive thinking. What they often did was to calm surface feelings by controlling thoughts and body. They did not deal with the real difficulties that had been pushed into the unconscious. Their purpose was to quieten the conscious mind and the voluntary movements of the body, not release unconscious tensions.
I went on an almost fanatical search for what could be done to change that – to release the unconscious problems. The clue was, as Richet says, that ‘the slight instability is the necessary condition for the true stability of the organism.’ I gradually realised that to really adjust to the many knocks and changes we meet in life, our body and mind need to be capable of a type of ‘instability’. It needs to be able to move, to express freely, and to respond automatically or spontaneously. Yet all our cultural training and habits are about control and suppression. Governments also sometimes give huge threats to the people if they do not conform. All in all, we have in many ways been trained to be sick – as I was myself. And, amazingly, my doctor, to deal with depression and physical but undiagnosble pains, was telling me to take a drug, a tranquiliser, to maintain the status quo.
To deal with it is something we need to experience, not something we are taught. The simplest way of describing it is to say it is a process of allowing parts of ourselves to express that in everyday life may never have had opportunity to declare themselves. It is about surrendering our egoistic control, and trusting that our Life Process knows how to bring us to wholeness once we yield to It.
In most social settings we usually restrain everything except what may be acceptable to others, expedient in the situation, or judged as correct. This means that we may not give ourselves the freedom elsewhere to allow our own creative imagination – our body, ou9r real self to discharge tension through movement – experience our intuitive process – and our full range of feeling responses. In this way we gradually diminish ourselves, blocking out much of ourselves that is not of immediate use in everyday affairs. We may in fact diminish our relationship with Life itself.
Later, I found in the writings of Carl Jung and J. A. Hadfield information about how this self-regulatory action also works in the psyche. Jung stated that the psyche is self regulatory. He said that if internal tensions can be allowed to be conscious, then something will happen internally to resolve the conflict.
Hadfield, writes in his book Dreams and Nightmares, ‘If a branch of a tree is cut, new shoots spring out; if you injure your hand, all the forces of the blood are mobilised until that wound is healed and you are made whole. It is a law of nature.’
He later enlarges this by saying, ‘There is in the psyche an automatic movement toward readjustment, towards an equilibrium, toward a restoration of the balance of our personality. This automatic adaptation of the organism is one of the main functions of the dream as indeed it is of bodily functions and of the personality as a whole. This idea need not cause us much concern for this automatic self-regulating process is a well known phenomenon in Physics and Physiology. The function of compensation which Jung has emphasised appears to be one of the means by which this automatic adaptation takes place, for the expression of repressed tendencies has the effect of getting rid of conflict in the personality. For the time being, it is true, the release may make the conflict more acute as the repressed emotions emerge, and we have violent dreams from which we wake with a start. But by this means, the balance of our personality is restored.’
As for how we can enable this to happen, Jung’s student Marie von Franz says that we ‘must get rid of purposive and wishful aims. The ego must be able to listen.’ Jung also encouraged his clients to allow spontaneous movement. Quoting from my book Mind and Movement Jung says, “In most cases the results of these efforts are not very encouraging at first. Moreover, the way of getting at the fantasies is individually different… oftentimes the hands alone can fantasy; they model or draw figures that are quite foreign to the conscious.
“These exercises must be continued until the cramp in the conscious is released, or, in other words, until one can let things happen; which was the immediate goal of the exercise.” See Letting things Happen
A shaking experience
I gradually found away through dreams. I had been dreaming for some weeks that I was marching with troops to the battlefront. Then one day I dreamt of being in the trenches and going over the top as the bullets were flying – something I had been scared of previously. And a couple of days later, having realised all that I got together with three friends – Mike Tanner, Sheila Johns and Chris Stevens at the Kingston Club/Ashram in Combe Martin, Devon – to experiment with how to allow this process of self-regulation to express. How did you give your being freedom to express spontaneously so it could rid itself of what it held unconsciously? How did you allow it to re-balance itself when it has been knocked out of balance? (Ashram in Combe Martin is now called The Wild Pear Centre – EX34 0AG).
We started our experiments with yoga postures and movements. But instead of pushing our body into a particular given position, we tried to listen to see what our body wanted to do; what posture or movement our own internal feelings led us to. Then sitting with my friends one day in our experimental group I started to shiver. I thought I must be cold so restrained the shaking. But at our next meeting it started again, and this time I was wearing a warm jersey, and in no way felt nervous, so pulled slightly apart from my friends and let myself really shake.
|What happened was incredible. My body and my emotions discharged the whole experience of having my tonsils out as a six year old. My head pulled back, my mouth clamped open and my arms were in the position of being strapped to my side. Perhaps I had not been fully anaesthetised – I don’t know. What I do know is that I had carried that enormous tension and shock inside me from six until I was thirty five.|
Up until that day I had experienced a powerful neck tension that I had tried again and again to ‘relax’ away. My being didn’t need to relax, it needed to discharge in powerful tension, physical struggles and emotion. After this ’shaking’ experience there was never again a tension in my neck, a tension that had been caused by trying to pull away from the surgeon cutting my throat. However, it was not simply a physical tension it released. Powerful emotions were also discharged, ones that had created difficult responses to everyday life.
That was an amazing experience, and from there on I could allow the process to continue its work on me. Gradually it ‘discharged’ the other things from childhood, and another medical operation, that had thrown my body and mind out of balance. But it didn’t stop at clearing out difficult past experiences, its process went on to expansion of awareness and growth – it moved toward making me more than I had been. All of that came about by allowing my being to express spontaneously without my conscious intervention, by allowing spontaneous movement and sounds, by surrendering or offering my body, sexual self, me emotions and mind to the life that had brought me forth; to the unknown of myself and trusting it.
Example: “At first I found it difficult to let go enough for my body to freely express. When I did learn to do this my movements were very strong. At the time I was lying on my bed because my movements had started from quietness and stillness. They became so strong I fell off the bed at one point. My impression was that without realising it I had been holding back enormous amounts of my own energy. It was when I let the full current of my energy be expressed that I could achieve a new experience of myself. It is like having a dimmer switch on a light in an internal room, and all the time you have it just glimmering, and the room looks dark and dismal. Then one day you turn the power up and the whole room is transformed. All the colours glow, and features not seen before stand out.”
Life’s simple secrets are that your being knows how to deal with the things you carry in you that have harmed you, creating despair, emotional darkness and even physical pain. The process of life in you is also part of the life on this planet. It can read the signs of change and will ready you if you let it.
We are a culture trained to need experts and to pay them; such experts are greatly needed, but our greatest expert is our amazing and wonderful process of life. To let it heal us it needs to be released from its years of restraint, of suppression, and being pushed into unconsciousness.
The simple secret is that inasmuch as we can allow our being to do its own thing occasionally – to move, cry, shake, discharge, laugh and cry or sing spontaneously – to that degree life in us keeps us balanced and healthy. Most ancient cultures had situations in which this was allowed. Wasn’t this the great secret early Christianity found in the Pentecostal experience, where they let themselves be moved as if they were drunk? Controls such as relaxation, meditation, breath control, positive thinking, all have their place, but they do not deal with the dynamic and amazingly powerful process of LIFE and its need to discharge what is poisonous to its workings and positive in its growth.
Look around. Life on our planet is earthquakes as well as sunny calm. It is storms as well as gentle rain. It is lightning as well as cloudless days. That is how nature balances itself. To find our own balance we too need to let our being spontaneously earthquake sometimes – spontaneously let our body shake itself apart to let the tensions discharge. You can’t make that happen by willing it consciously. That is you trying to be in control again, just as our culture has tried to be in control and rape nature. You can only let it happen by letting go of your self control for a while.
What happens when I do?
Rita, a nurse who had been hospitalised with psychiatric problems, describes what happened to her when she let go of her ’self control’ in what at the time we called self-regulation, (SR), but now name LifeStream.
Example: In most every part of me I have felt energy stirring or moving since I started LifeStream. I look different now. When I look in the mirror I see I am a different shape. I am much stronger than I was. I think this is because I am not wasting energy now. I am also less afraid of my feelings. I was a very passionate person and would get into arguments about everything. Now I can be more detached. I never thought I would be like that. Somehow ones energy gets re-organised in self regulation. You get rid of the stuff which is potentially destructive, and you are left with what is really a force for growth. The process of LifeStream seems so sensible to me. Having had a fairly good medical training the idea of homeostasis and energy being blocked, even though it may not be charted in Gray’s Anatomy, is very straightforward. It seems no more puzzling, although it’s mystical. The process is trying to do its work, whether we open to it or not in our body. It is quicker and easier if you give it the right conditions. Most of the time, almost deliberately we give it adverse conditions. All we need to do is take the concrete off so it can grow. This force seems to be there all the time. Our society deals so much in second-hand experience. The immediacy of it really took my breath away. I am beginning to allow myself now a glimpse of what we often put down as so much religiosity. I am allowing myself now, having had almost an overdose of grieving and anguish, to open up to the other extreme which I have never experienced very much, which is the sheer joy of living.
The other day I found myself walking into the sea and shouting, ‘Hey sea, I love you’ and it really came up from my boots. We get stuck in the bad stuff and don’t let ourselves feel the good.
A couple of months back I went through, with M. the event of my son’s birth. It was thought he might not live and I had been super controlled from the nurses point of view. I hadn’t given way to anguish at the thought this child might not live. But when he was born healthy, what I wanted to do, much more than that, was to shriek with joy, and I hadn’t allowed that. We think so often, being a puritan society, it’s only the pain we have got to face, but it seems we have got to open those channels of joy too. It’s too easy to become hooked on the masochistic element. When I began to let myself experience joy in SR I even began to think I was no longer doing real self regulation because it was so pleasurable.
A simple way you might be able to learn the beginnings of this clearing out and movement toward joy is to do try using the moving sea approach. See People’s Experience of LifeStream
You will need about an hour to complete this session. The aim of ‘moving sea’ is to continue the development of allowing spontaneous movement. Once you have used the ‘water’ approach as suggested below, there is no need to go through the preparatory stages in future uses. For instance do not do the yawning and arm lifting . Go straight into exploring the water movements. These can be used over and over with enjoyment and gain.
2 - Remind yourself of the feeling of spontaneous movement by using the ‘arm against the wall’ exercise.
Stand about a foot away from a wall, side on, so your right hand is near to a clear space on the wall.
Lift your right arm sideways, keeping your arm straight, until the back of your hand is against the wall. Because you are near to the wall and your arm is straight you will only manage to lift your arm part of the way. So when the back of your hand touches the wall, press it hard against the wall as if trying to complete the movement of lifting the arm.
Do not press the hand against the wall by leaning, but by keeping the arm straight and trying to complete the lifting motion. Using a reasonable amount of effort stay with the hand pressing against the wall for about twenty seconds.
Now move so you face away from the wall, and with eyes closed relax and be aware of what happens.
Try the experiment before reading on, and use the left arm afterwards. In fact try it a couple of times with each arm before reading the next paragraph.
- Extend your awareness of how your body and feelings move spontaneously by simulating yawns and allowing them to develop into stretches or movements. Stand in the middle of your space and close your eyes. Lift your arms from your sides and take your hands high above your head. Do this a few times noticing the difference in feeling with hands high or low.
Pause with hands by your sides. Now hold the idea of taking the hands up high again without consciously attempting the movement. Take your time, and be aware of how your hands and arms want to make the movement. This means watching to see if the sort of feelings that entered into your yawning and arm rising sideways exercises are in operation here. If this includes the rest of your body, or your arms go in another direction than above your head, that is fine.
Stand in your space with eyes closed. Drop unnecessary tensions as you listen to the music. Hold in mind for a moment the idea that you are giving your body space to explore the expression of the quality of water. There is no need to think up what to do. Let your body explore. Trust it to find its own way to expressive movements. Allow yourself about 30 minutes for this.
Let your experience of yawning and listening to how your arms wanted to move be used here. Take time to observe and allow the delicate motivations – magnetic pulls – directing your body to watery movement.
You will find you have resources of imagination you did not suspect. Aspects of water you hadn’t consciously set out to explore will be expressed in your movements. If you are expressing deep still waters, you will actually feel a deep quietness and power. Or if it is the power of rushing rivers, then a feeling of power will surge through your body as you touch your resources of strength and healing. The flowing feelings that arise are actually healing.
As you learn to trust this process and allow it to grow in expression, you will find unexpected themes will arise. Even though you are expressing water, your expression will have in it feelings that are particular to yourself.
While recently leading a group practising inner-directed movement, I was struck again by how creative we all are if given an environment in which we can allow our originality. One woman in the group, exhausted from the demands of her job, experienced deep relaxation out of which enthusiasm and pleasurable energy arose, leading her to dance and bathe in her own joy. A man explored his relationship with love, and saw that he needed to gather to himself the love he received from others to call out his own resources of affection. A woman who worked as a nurse met the painful emotions arising from observing the difficulties of a mentally retarded patient. Her creative movements led her to find a way of accepting the reality of life’s difficulties. The pain cleared and she felt was ready to give a more flowing response to others in difficulty.
As with the woman mentioned above who found new enthusiasm in the midst of tiredness, you will find your creative movements deal with and heal personal situations. I believe this is because the self regulating or problem solving process that underlies dreams surfaces during inner-directed movement.
what I call the ‘arm circling exercise’. But it may help to first learn how to yawn spontaneously. You can do this by acting out a few yawns till they come spontaneously. Let them come and let the rest of your body join in if an urge to stretch comes. This is to learn how to continue allowing your body and feelings to express spontaneously. When you can allow spontaneous yawns and stretches, then try the arm circling.
|You need sufficient floor space to move easily, or even lie full length if necessary. It also helps to have loose clothing. Then you stand in the middle of your space, giving yourself time to explore what you feel and experience.|
Start by circling your arms. Take the arms above the head, down the sides of the body with the arms fully extended, then upward crossing the front of the trunk. In the full movement the hands are then forming wide circles that cross the front of your body. Do this until the movement is easy and flowing.
Then, as you are circling your arms with eyes closed, bring your awareness to the shape your hands are making in space. As you become aware of the shapes the hands are carving in space, watch what feelings you have as to how you would like to move. Give your body permission to doodle, to make any sort of shapes your feelings or body incline you to. Allow any sort of posture or movement, as active or quiet as you like. Allow sounds to accompany the movements if there is an urge to, and allow whatever feelings accompany them.
What you are doing doesn’t have to make sense. Nor does it have to comply with what other people might expect of you. Realise that you are allowing another part of yourself, perhaps a non verbal part, or a facet unknown to the rational mind, to express. With a non critical watching attitude, relax and let your body and feeling sense direct what happens.
There is no need to fiercely concentrate in order to wipe the mind clear of other influences. But you may need to hold back the part of the mind that always needs to know beforehand what you are going to do.
This is not like creative dance, in which there may exist a need to produce something pleasing for others to watch. With this exercise you need an open attitude in which your inner being can make its own adjustments, and movements, and feelings have a chance to express outside of rational criticism and demands of everyday life. Give yourself at least fifteen to thirty minutes in which to explore what spontaneous movements and feelings emerge.
The skill needs to be learned
This ability to allow life to stream through us in its own way is not a skill we are taught in our western culture. We are taught how to control, how important it is to repress anger or even immense joy, but we are not taught the balance of this – how to let go of control. Therefore the arm circling exercise needs to be repeated until the ’stiffness’ of our control is loosened and you can flow with what emerges spontaneously. When that begins to happen you will see that it is leading you along in a direction that is full of meaning and explains itself as it emerges.
As that happens you will not need to start with arm circling, but will be able to simply stand in your space and allow the process to happen. Wherever possible use this process, that I now call LifeStream, with friends who want to share it with you. This group practice enormously increases the power of it.