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blog - Andrea Jivan

Growing Embodied Awareness, Finding Imagination: A Conversation with Russell Delman - Part Two

Read part two of my conversation with Russell Delman, in which we explore the concepts of psychological and somatic freedom, Feldenkrais work, and the power of imagination.

Andrea Jivan: I’m thinking now of individuation, something Jungian psychologists focus on a lot. This idea that you're kind of swinging between polarities until you are able to integrate each of their benefits, integrate their shadow, and then you are capable of individuating and becoming whole, and capable of hearing archetypical experience. So when you talk about this experience that nothing is an enemy—that implies openness, and a sense of a deeper level of awareness. Then what is that freedom we mentioned earlier? Is it bliss, or is it the freedom to always question life, or is it related to experience as you mentioned at the beginning, the experience of being present to the four aspects of being (thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and relationships)?

Russell Delman: Very Important idea. Beautiful. The freedom that I look to is responsiveness to life. It has to do with the distinction between reactivity, responsiveness, and how I get triggered by certain situations, certain people, certain moments with certain people, information from the environment, certain feelings in myself, certain feelings in my body, how I get triggered into old patterns that have either no or very limited possibility of different response. That I call reactivity, and then responsiveness means being able to notice the reactions but not feel wedded to them, to have choices in terms of how I actually respond in life giving ways to this situation, that’s what we think of as a path of freedom. It's not about being blissful, it's not about being happy. It's not about understanding everything. What it is, is: I'm in this moment, I’m in this situation and I noticed (we will all notice even if we haven’t had any enlightenment experiences) specific reaction patterns. The Dalai Lama has reaction patterns, he talks about them –and I think we have to get over this kind of childish image of enlightenment and realize that it's a living relationship that we are cultivating. Can I grow my capacity when my wife gives me that look, do I have to have this feeling or can I recognize it? Or when that person says that to me, and I know either maybe I get to anger easily or maybe I get to fear easily or maybe I get to withdraw. Can I know the reaction pattern? Can I know it with care and with curiosity? And that takes presence! And boy, if you’re in your body it sure makes it more possible to be present! It sure makes it more possible to be more patient. If you're not in your body, you will take off in some direction. Either you will be talking in a voice you wish you weren't or you'll be leading in a way that you wish you weren’t, in a literal way or mentally. So being in your body keeps you present, possibly. And that's really what I'm looking at in terms of freedom. It's not to worship our bodies, it's that it's a doorway to stay more present so I can be more responsive and less reactive.

Cultivating greater presence can help us become less reactive and respond to life with more compassion.

AJ: It sounds to me like that's where you really get to be creative.

RD: Yes. You get creative, you feel more whole. You don't necessarily feel happy. You feel authentic, you feel connected. You might feel: I am here and this is a challenging moment and I can show up for it and there's a part of me that wants to run away and I can see that part of me and… let me take a breath. So it's very creative, very engaged, very alive. It's really the interface of body, psychology, spirituality, and being a social being.

AJ: Would you say that being in that space allows you to receive the other person more clearly as well?

RD: Oh yes, that’s another word you used before, openness. It helps one to be open to what's living in the other because you're not driven by fear and self protection, which is the first primary principle your brain will always revert to—am I safe, am I enough? So when we can have enough breath, enough ground, enough sense of individuation, enough sense of self, we can let the other in. It's fascinating and sounds paradoxical: the more individual we are the more we can be permeable. Or the more individuated we are the more interconnected we can be, so in my opinion, true individuation leads to the ability to let go of self and become part of a larger system. And then know your way back to your individuated self, and then becoming interconnected again, and there's a kind of dance that we get to live.

Greater individuation leads to an increased capacity to be interconnected with others.

AJ: I had wondered whether or not the sense of self is something that you're seeking to individuate through entering The Embodied Life work or whether it's more of a letting go of self. I mean, often in Buddhist conception there isn't a self. So I was wondering how your work integrated this.

RD: It's really in some archetypical sense a masculine feminine dance, that we are able to have our separate self, even if it's ultimately an illusion—that we have a sense of: I am here and I have responsibility for my actions and I sense myself distinct from others. Then we have the capacity to let go of the solidity of that self and let it be integrated with others, and other situations, and then there are many levels of permeability. So it really is a dance.

AJ: Returning to what we were talking about earlier, this piece of cultural reality and people who have legitimately experienced trauma, people with a lot of adverse childhood experiences. They're finding as they study, that our culture has had a lot of secrets and we're acknowledging really difficult stuff in people's childhoods. So as we're talking about this, I’m aware that that can be a very scary place to go, into the body and into a permeable self. Now touching, which you mentioned doing in your work, can be incredibly healing, and I think positive touch is something we're missing culturally. But I'm wondering where you experience this in your practice with people. I'm wondering if you would speak a little bit about how this comes up through The Embodied Life work.

RD: First, one of the great gifts of the Feldenkrais lessons, the movement lessons that we do, not the one on one work where you’re touching, but actually the movement lessons where someone is leading and people are on the floor and usually lying down, sometimes sitting and standing and being led through these gentle movements. What happens is you're helping at a neurological level this reconnecting of one’s sensations, one’s ability to be present with one’s sensations, and feelings come, but there's a very strong emphasis, especially in Embodied Life teaching, on first cultivating a connection to the ground, literally feeling the surface underneath us as a safe place to return to. So that before how am I? there is I am here. I sense myself and I feel the ground underneath me and I feel my feet on the floor. And I sense in this moment, my bottom in this seat, and the  electrical field of my body and the electromagnetic gravitational field of the Earth work together as a grounding influence. If you do that enough, this is the first step in my opinion, for most people and especially people with traumatic experience, to be able to get the support or—what I call the greater body of the Earth—to support this smaller and vulnerable body. To ground ourselves, often I'll introduce self touch so people get used to the lessons where they stroke themselves or they feel that they can be both a caring toucher and a receiver of the touch, and to feel both sides of that is enlightening for many people. In the programs we do not do a lot of touch, it's not a touch based program, but we'll do some touching to let in the touch of another and with that kind of preparation of grounding, of self touch, often people are available for a touch on the back, and a presence, and a listening hand, and then to feel their breath through another person’s touch, and so it's in steps that the de-traumatizing of the body can occur.

Connecting with the earth can provide grounding and assist in healing trauma.

AJ: That's lovely. I like that you described a very incremental process.

RD: It's really a retraining of the nervous system. It takes place for some people in longer times, some in shorter, but I'm so grateful for these brilliant Feldenkrais lessons. They help people not only to sense their bodies more—I mean there are many, as you now, wonderful systems, whether it's yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, many wonderful bodily systems that work with awareness. One unique aspect of Feldenkrais work is that he really had an understanding of how the brain creates patterns, and how it can create new patterns. He envisioned the whole plasticity of the nervous system back in the thirties when nobody was talking about the fact that we have that incredible wisdom within us, and we can grow new patterns. What happens is there’s a loosening, you could say, of the rigidity of some of our fixed older patterns—they’re still there, we don’t get rid of them, but they're less compulsive, less fixed. Then that creates an opening in the nervous system for new learning.

AJ: Beautiful, yes, I did have some Feldenkrais training a long time ago, and I remember I was extremely impacted by the challenge of being willing to listen to my own restriction patterns as I was moving so slowly. I mean, in our culture we're just pushing for constant stimulation, this flow, this power, even in our yoga. We're always trying to get to the next level.

RD: It’s true. Look, this work, the work of awareness, is really not for most people. I tell my students, I never expect The Embodied Life work to be popular, because it's demanding—not many people have the privilege or the interest to really go deep inside, to really slow down, to really say hello to the difficult places, to learn how to be a caring presence for our own inner life. This is absolutely contrary to the history of Western culture and especially where we are now with technology and the speeding up everything. People don't realize that virtual reality refers to our own minds, we are living more and more in an imagined universe and we are losing our embodied connection to the living moment and to each other. It's a cultural crisis right now, and I see embodiment practices as a key part of reminding people that this body is not just here to carry the mind around, but in fact it connects us to nature directly, connects us to the planet directly, connects us to each other directly. Boy, that gets lost more and more. I'm so grateful for the technology that we're talking right now and I can see you, I’m not anti-technology at all. It's just realizing if this becomes the essence of someone's relationship to and their way of reading and meeting the world is online there is something lost, and now we have a whole generation that is not so sure about that.

Slowing down and creating space for one's inner world provides embodied connection to the living moment and to others.

AJ: We’re talking about ways that we can experience connection and embodiment, and I liked how you brought in nature, I agree that's a really important part of what we're losing track of. But, you know, you used the word imagination. I'm fascinated by that because when we talk about these small incremental moments when we can come back to our bodies and we can come back to our relationships, I had wondered, how does imagination inform this kind of present awareness? It strikes me as something that we don't talk a lot about in psychology or bodywork, but it's so much a part of who we are and how we can problem solve.

RD: It’s true, I’m glad you’re bringing that because when I emphasize presence so much, presence in the moment, it sounds like, well, what about the imagination? Can we effectively use our images of the future, our images of possibility? And I think yes, yes, yes. And in fact, as you become more whole, more present, one can use that imagination much more effectively. Human beings have this incredible gift whether you think of it being from evolution, or from God, or from whatever, of being able to picture something that isn't yet.

Moshe Feldenkrais with Magic Johnson.

AJ: I’m thinking of Feldenkrais and his movement series.

RD: Right! So one of the great things that he developed was how when we're doing a movement our brain forms an image of the movement, and we can learn from that. Let's say we do the movement on one side of the body, then we might imagine it on the other and let the brain create these neural patterns that it hasn't actually done in movement yet on that side, but that it knows from the other side—and we can begin to actually grow these new neural patterns on the side where we’re imagining movement. This is so effective that the majority of the further reaches of professional athletes and musicians are using these kinds of visualization methodologies, and it's using imagination to grow usable patterns in life. And when artists create, when we have a picture, a life-giving picture of something for our relationship or something for where we're moving toward, we can learn a new pattern, especially if we're also learning to be present. We can learn to have that imagination of something that’s pulling us toward a future, guiding us toward a life-giving something. But if we're not present and not embodied, often it becomes just wishful thinking. So there are always dangers and traps here, but our imagination is what makes the unfolding of our life together and keeps it changing, keeps it growing. We can even say now, people might argue with this and it's maybe not politically correct, but I would suggest in ancient times people used their imagination less than we can use it now. More people were locked into certain tribal agreements, such as gender roles or specific activities that were a restriction of the individual thinking of new possibilities. One of the gifts of Western consciousness, I mean there's a lot of suffering we’re creating on the planet too, but certainly not everything since what we called the Enlightenment has been negative. One of the great gifts of Western culture has been much more individuation, and because Western culture has been much more about the individualization process, we experience much more imagination and a sense that possibilities that never existed before might be attainable. Now that is liberation in human beings, and that experience is amazing.

AJ: I think that's a great place to stop because it connects us back to culture and how working with ourselves through Somatic Psychology and embodiment practices can widen our perception. Thank you so much for talking with Jung Society of Utah. We look forward to meeting you in May.

RD: Well it's been delightful talking to you, I appreciate you all.

Don't miss an enlightening evening with Russell Delman!

Date: Friday, May 11th
Time: 7:00-8:30pm (doors open at 6:15pm with mingling before and after)
Location: Library downtown 210 E 400 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Cost: Free (please become a member)
Includes 1 free CE

Russell is also offering an Embodied Life Seminar on May 12 & 13th in Salt Lake City. For more information, including pricing, visit www.russelldelman.com and click on "Retreats & Seminars."

Andrea Jivan, L.M.T., M.A.
Depth Psychotherapist Intern
Blog Team Member
Jung Society of Utah

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