Anne Hoff: You do a lot of writing, both for the journal and books?
Jeffrey Maitland: Yeah.
AH: Have you always been a writer? Did this come out of your academic background? As the Editor-in-Chief of the journal, I am able to tell you unequivocally most Rolfers are not writers.
JM: I’ve noticed that.
AH: You’re one of the people in the Rolfing community, and one of the people on the faculty, who really seems to have an ease with writing, and a willingness to do engage in the discipline of it.
JM: You know the experience you have if you hike to the top of a mountain, versus take a tram? When you get to the top of the mountain by means of a tram, it doesn’t look or feel as good as when you hiked to the top. The magnificence of your experience can be stunning. Everything looks and feels way different from the experience you get from a tram. You can touch into this sort of experience in all kinds of activities like running, playing music, dancing . . . they are inspired moments. Writing is like hiking to the top of a mountain. The world gets brighter, more expansive, easier, and I often make discoveries, it’s just wonderful. I feel like I have grown because I’ve learned something new about it and myself that can be helpful to others.
I had two experiences relevant to your question. As a graduate student, I was an assistant in an honors philosophy course, in which I was supposed to help teach Immanuel Kant the next day. Trouble was, at the time I didn’t know beans about Kant. To top it off, there was a very difficult article written on Kant by a famous Kant scholar that I was supposed to discuss. I didn’t know beans about what he was talking about either. So I stayed up all night reading this article over and over again, trying to figure it out. The next day I felt my mind/ body expand and awaken. Suddenly I was flooded with insight, expansiveness, and a wonderful clarity. It was like my mind turned on and my body woke up.
A similar thing happened when I started teaching at Purdue. My first year of teaching was filled with a lot of stress and strain and I started meditating. Not long after I started meditating, my mind threw off its constraints and awake again at a much deeper more expansive level. It never regressed or stopped producing original ideas. The experience was never one of a whirling, run-away mind that Zen calls a monkey mind. Writing keeps forming me, and giving me insight that’s useful. I climb this mountain almost every day. I had no idea whether I could write or not when I was an undergraduate. I wanted to party and study philosophy. Today I value writing as a meditative discipline.
AH: It sounds like there’s a discipline to it, the act of climbing the mountain, but also an organic unfolding and flow of the creativity of the mind that sort of demands that you write.
JM: Yeah, that’s true. I discovered a long time ago – it sounds ridiculous, but I found that I wasn’t happy unless I was confused, because if I’m confused, then I’m working on what other people are confused about, and trying to make sense out of it. Without confusion, I wouldn’t have anything to do.
AH: I think you know I’m a student and a teacher of the Diamond Approach®, a path of consciousness work.
JM: Oh yeah – a very interesting approach.
AH: One thing that has always harnessed me to that path in the way that the founder (A.H. Almaas) isn’t complacent with any one answer. There’s this ongoing inquiry. Where other people or traditions have sometimes determined a goal or end point, such as enlightenment, Almaas seems to have a questing mind that asks, “What else is there?”, and then whole new lines of experience and inquiry open up. I thought about this quality he has when you mentioned the confusion that drives you. You recognize that if you’re not confused, then there’s something too pat or too simple in where you’re at, and you’re waiting for the next piece to unfold.
JM: That sounds right as long as the idea of confusion is not seen as ordinary confusion that misleads one to think that the practice is about throwing a monkey wrench into thinking. And yes, there is no stopping point. Every discipline has its points of confusion. Even Buddhism, which is the most phenomenological of all approaches to the spiritual path, gets confused about philosophical issues. It’s really amazing to read Buddhist philosophy and contemporary phenomenology and neuroscience and see that they’re all worried about many of the same things, trying to illuminate these deep issues that are the conditions for there being anything at all. You will also see some of the same mistaken answers. It’s just incredible to catch a glimpse of this fundamental quest that lies at the heart of existence.
AH: What led you to Buddhism, and within Buddhism to Zen in particular?
JM: I don’t know how to answer that clearly, but as a kid I was always on a kind of quest. My mother turned me on to reading science fiction, and I just loved the stuff. I was eight years old when I read my first science-fiction story. I couldn’t get enough of it. I think the reason was because it flirts with quasi-philosophical issues: the paradoxes of time travel, can the mind exist apart from your body, is it possible to instaniate your mind into your neighbor’s body, can a machine be self-aware, why is there something rather than nothing, and so forth. I was a [university] freshman when I learned about philosophy from my girlfriend. She told me that I talked like I had had too many philosophy classes (it wasn’t a compliment!). She was a couple of years older than I, so I had to respect her. The next day I went to the philosophy department and changed my major to philosophy – and discovered my niche. I could barely contain myself. I loved going to class.
Then I learned about Zen when I was in graduate school. I had no idea what these Zen guys were talking about. What was a Zen master the master of, anyway? I couldn’t understand any of it, but I loved it. Do you know what a koan is? For example, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “What is your original face before your parents were born?” Even though I had no idea what they were asking about, something about it just caught me. I loved reading about it and desperately wanted to go experience it. My first teacher showed up and I started meditating.
AH: Is what I’m hearing in this love of the koans something similar to the recognition of the value of the confusion?
JM: Somewhat, yes.
AH: You’re talking about ordinary mind versus . . .
JM: . . . The way.
AH: Yeah. I don’t really want to call it ‘enlightened mind’, but a sort of a direct knowing. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to the ordinary mind, but is understood in the bones, in your being. It seems like confusion points to something, it suggests that there is another knowing possible.
JM: Yeah. It’s confusing because the ordinary mind refuses to become a participant and steadfastly takes the stance of the onlooker or bystander and insists upon its way of knowing. The way it is cannot be captured in that ordinary way of thinking. So some other way has to be found. I call this other way of knowing ‘feeling nature’. We have to realize that our feeling nature can disclose aspects of reality just as accurately as our intellect can. And then if you learn how to live out of the allowing mind, or the feeling mind, then you’ll see that the koans make great sense – as long as you drop your onlooker stance and don’t give into an onlooker’s answer. Zen teaches by indirection. You might say that Zen doesn’t offer an alternative explanation, but offers rather an alternative to explanation.
AH: How does this come into your Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) practice, and also into working with students when you are teaching Rolfing SI?
JM: A huge part of Rolfing SI is about perception. After years of struggling to teach seeing, I finally created a three-step self-teaching exercise on how to see. This three-step process is in my book Embodied Being.
I cultivate wu wei (at least I think I do). It comes from the practice of Taoism, and is often translated as ‘not doing’. It can also be translated as ‘allowing’. This is a really difficult thing to articulate properly. It is the practice of letting ‘what is’ unfold as it needs to unfold. The presence of the practitioner is necessary to hold the space for the healing to occur, but the practitioner does not get down into the trenches and perform the ‘healing’ itself. If you can hold that space, then you create the possibility of change for an individual or a group. You open a space within which possibilities abound.
AH: Were you able to do that in a classroom? There is a lot of angst in being a Rolfing student, particularly in the Basic Training, a feeling of “I have to get this, I have to leave here and go out in the world and be able to do this for people.” So the ego is present with its agenda, but you, the instructor, are trying to create this wu wei field to transmit or embody something.
JM: The first and last thing to learn is to manifest clear-minded imperturbability and use your hands like a Rolfer. For most students, trying to learn energy and subtle techniquesatthesametimeasbasic Rolfing SI is a huge mistake, often leaving them confused as to how to deliver the work. So part of the answer is to carefully stage sequencing the work, and make sure they don’t learn energy work until the very last days of the Advanced Training. Agood way to handle those worries is to put them to work with clear instructions on how to do this job and recognize success.
AH: How do those meet, and how does that field become a field where the allowing can happen?
JM: Your question brings us to the second part of the answer – there is no field that becomes a field and there is nothing you need to do. Or the field is already here. We need to get rid of our willful will and just do it! And without a will, the field is already here . . . just recognize it and just do it! Hang out with those people who just do it and learn to feel and manifest it. One of the things I used to do with my students during [body] analysis was to have the student sit between me and the other teacher – because being in the presence of somebody who can manifest cleanly the spirit of Rolfing SI automatically entrains the people around him or her. By putting the student between the two teachers, we were doing our best to entrain them in how to perceive – to see.
The first, most important, fundamental step in any kind of healing or manual therapy is the step that allows you to be open to whatever happens. You let yourself be shaped and touched by what you’re perceiving. You must let what is show itself as it shows itself from itself. The first step is fundamental. You have to learn that step. It is the first step of meditation. It is the first step of Rolfing SI, the first step of phenomenology, and the first step of creating art. It is of fundamental importance that you let what is show itself to you. If you can truly let what is show itself, if you can do that, then you are on your way.
Getting to the place of a diminished ego requires the transformation of the practitioner. The practitioner must get rid of his own conflicts and fixations so he can be there for the process. To be a little more precise, the ego is not really the problem. The problem is the belief in a continuous self-subsistent self. The self like all things appears and disappears continuously. You don’t have to drop the self. It is already dropping itself continuously. Our committed belief in a self-subsistent self as the essence and core of what we are is the issue.
AH: Yeah, and that’s actually maybe a value to the pressure-cooker way that the trainings have historically been conducted, in that at some point the student does have to sort of surrender.
JM: The positive meaning of surrender is allowing.
AH: Allow that you’re not going to intellectually get it all, that you have to just imbibe what you can.
JM: I like to say freedom is the creative appropriation of limitation. Everything that exists is limited. If you let it limit you by following in the footsteps of others, you are not going to produce creative work. If you attempt to free yourself from all limitation and successfully get rid of limitation, you just cease to be. Limitation is a condition of being. When you make it your own and it is appropriate to what is unfolding, then you’ve found freedom. The difference between a master of the tradition and a follower of the tradition is that the master bends, or appropriates, the tradition for the sake of art while the novice rigidly follows the tradition and kills art. The creative appropriation of limitation is where it’s at. I think it was Robert Frost who said you have to become easy in your harness. All disciplines are like that, you have to learn to become easy in the harness, then you’ve found your freedom.
AH: Talk a little bit, Jeff, about how you work with people.
JM: I am by instinct and training a Rolfer. I work across all the taxonomies as needed by the client. A session might be mostly biomechanical or non-local or a mix – whatever is required to achieve the goals of Rolfing SI. . . . By the way, I demonstrate working within the psychobiological taxonomy in my latest book, Embodied Being.
The energy work I employ is still very much Rolfing SI. Bit by bit by bit, over quite a number of years, I had a number of experiences with energy that left me puzzled. I would leave a session thinking, “What was that?!” As a result, I took different classes and trainings in energy work just to see what was available and how they did it. Over time I experienced more and more clarity and I noticed that energy was becoming obvious to me.
I remember once I had an 8 AM appointment with my hairdresser. She’d been out partying all night in Las Vegas, got home late, and had a headache and was miserable. I thought, “God, I can’t turn her loose on my hair.” So I said, “How about if I work on your headache while you’re cutting my hair?”, and she said, “Okay.” So I did some non-local stuff, and her headache went away, and she felt much better. She said, “Wow, did you do that?” I said, “Well, I think so.” After a number of experiences like that, I knew I was onto something.
And then I realized, after years of not realizing what I should’ve realized much sooner, that I could work with energy. I realized again the importance of holding a sensitive open space. It is essential to the first step. That insight really started influencing my work. Sometimes I would do half a session of Rolfing SI and half a session of energy. Sometimes I would mix them. Alot of times the energy work looked like Rolfing work as energy work, and it just got clearer and clearer. Eventually you must learn to distinguish, in experience, the difference between energy and the ‘physical’ body.
AH: You say it looks like Rolfing work, explain that a little bit.
JM: I often did the non-local energy work sitting in a chair, while the client would lie on the table. We would work on various energy phenomena. I noticed that a lot of the restrictions and their releases were what happened in the physical body. For example, I would sense the core opening up, or a restriction around the heart area, and then it would do a little movement this way, and a little movement that way, and then it would lengthen.
AH: So the phenomena happening in the client’s body were similar to the phenomena that would happen if you were doing hands-on Rolfing work?
AH: But you were sitting in a chair, and the client was lying on a table. Were you intending anything, or directing it, or were you just an open field of consciousness asking what needed to happen, or something else?
JM: That’s a good question. I answered it in my book Mind Body Zen. The last two chapters are about Taoism and a little bit about healing, and I talk about intentionality and intention. What has to shift – a lot of people say it’s intention, but it’s not intention. If you don’t take that first step that I was talking about, change the way you’re oriented toward reality, then no intention will be effective. The intentions for change become effective the minute you step into the openness.
AH: Then things would happen for the client in his body like happen in a Rolfing session?
JM: Yeah. I did most of my healing by simply learning how to open up – that first step is the first step of healing.
AH: Was this opening up grounded in your Zen practice?
JM: Same thing, I would be able to open up the space in meditation, and then open it powerfully with my clients.
AH: So you need to find this place in yourself, this certain state. What about the person on the table? Does he need to do anything, or be in a certain state? Is the energetic work you’re doing best when it’s met by a particular orientation in the client?
JM: I wouldn’t say you have to have a state. I would say that you have to come to where you can experience where you come from. For example, we notice that when we’re awake and looking at the world, that we have a world full of objects and people and things. But what makes it possible for all of this to be? A state is something that is part of the world that I know. What makes it possible for me to have a state is what we are really interested in when you’re opening that space.
Take the expression “the body is the temple of the soul.” Same point: the body is the condition of inhabiting objects, it is not an inhabitable object. Likewise, we’re not as interested in what appears as we are in what makes it possible to appear. What makes it possible for something to appear cannot appear to itself. It is like the eye that sees and cannot see itself. This condition of the possibility of a world is what you have to rest in. You see, that’s quite different than recognizing a state.
AH: It sounds like there is a ground of openness inherent to that. Would energy work have an effect on somebody whose attitude was skeptical and cynical?
JM: They can wreck it. They can ruin the session. A client once said to me, ‘Well, you know, every time you work on me, I open up.” I said, “Really? That’s great.” He said, “I don’t like it.” He would say, “Do you think as you’re working on me, if I’m thinking to myself ‘I don’t like this, this doesn’t work, it’s a bunch of crap’, that it’s going to affect what you’re doing?” I said, “Oh absolutely,” and it did, so I decided he had to go.
AH: Yeah, it’s interesting. There was some sort of openness that had him coming to you, but he didn’t want the openness, and he didn’t want to support the openness in being there, and even when he would feel the benefit or the effect, he was trying to close it down.
JM: Yeah, yeah.
AH: In my experience, Rolfing SI will have a varied affect on different clients.
AH: Do you think that has to do with the ground that they’re coming from, their orientation?
JM: Yeah, and what their conflicts and fixations are. Perception is so essential to Rolfing SI. You have to see where they’re coming from. In some people there’ll be a pushing out at some place in the body, and other places sinking, and you have to decide what those things are about. You discover that if you get rid of them in one person, he has a marvelous experience. In another person, he goes through a healing crisis. It changes from person to person, and you have to be able to meet reality with the power that reality comes to meet you.
AH: How do you perceive, Jeff? When you say this “pushing out,” this “sinking,” is that visual, is it felt, you feel it in the client’s body, you feel it in your own body?
JM: I used to wonder about that too. Now I think it’s your whole body and its energy field that is your sensorium. You can feel, perceive what’s going on, at any level – with your knee if you had to. You often feel what people are feeling by feeling it in yourself. I feel it in myself. I can feel a pressure where the person is complaining of something. Sometimes I see exactly what it is.
The more you do it, the more you become aware of the fact that you’ve always known these things, you just haven’t believed it, you haven’t had the words for it, or the experience to know what to do with it. I’ve always felt this way. But it’s the whole body, and the whole of what we are is capable of providing us with information about ourselves and other people in the world.
AH: I completely agree with you there. Some people who do energy work are very concerned about picking up other people’s energy, and they feel they have to cleanse themselves after they have been in tune with someone else’s energy. But we are always in tune with other people’s energy, and we are always picking up the whole field because we are the whole field. I’m curious what you have to say about that.
JM: It’s kind of interesting. The way you defend yourself against energy is very different than the way you defend yourself if somebody’s trying to punch you. If someone much stronger than you is about to punch you, you will probably curl up in order to avoid getting hurt – as much as you can. When you curl up you contract and become less. But if somebody is broadcasting or putting forth a lot of negativity at you, if you can stay open and expand to the horizon, so that you can include the negativity, the effect is minimal. I never could get white light around myself.
Now when someone tells me he has that problem [with someone’s energy], I just sit at his head and hold his head and have him expand and contract and feel what that feels like. And then I have him think of an odious situation, and he contracts automatically. And then I say, “Okay, now, we’re going to do that again,” and I have him expand again. Then I tell him to, this time, not contract around the place that he’s having the trouble with that person. Just let it be there. Just hold it, and give it a place to be, but don’t directly do anything to it. It just dissipates when you do that. It’s counter- intuitive, because instead of curling up and contracting to defend yourself, you’re expanding and opening up, and not giving it a place to live.
AH: Curling up and contracting is reinforcing the idea that I am a separate self that can be attacked, that can be contaminated, and the opening up is the recognition of a certain ground that we all are and participate in, and how can that be attacked? How can that be contaminated?
JM: Yeah, there’s a great quote from Nietzsche. He authored some of the greatest aphorisms. In part, this one bears on your question: “When a worm is stepped on, it curls up. In the language of morality, prudence.”
AH: You’re going to have to give me some commentary on that. It’s not landing immediately.
JM: All right. When a worm is stepped on, it defensively curls up to lessen the impact of any future being stepped on. The worm goes into a defensive posture of being contracted – in the language of morality, we call this ‘prudence’. He’s really scared to death. This insight predated, and seems to have anticipated, Reich’s ‘body armor’.
JM: Nietzsche also said “the body is inspired,” talking about his inspired writings: “The body is inspired. Let’s keep the soul out of it.”
AH: Thank you, Jeff, for your time today.
Hokaku Jeffrey Maitland, PhD, is internationally known as an author, instructor, innovator, and expert in soft-tissue manipulation. He has spent most of his adult life deeply investigating Zen practice, philosophy, and the nature of healing. He has practiced Zen over forty years and is a Zen monk. He is also a Certified Advanced Rolfer, an Advanced Rolfing Instructor, a former tenured professor of philosophy at Purdue University, and a philosophical counselor. In addition to teaching Rolfers, Maitland also teaches workshops and classes in myofascial manipulation to physical therapists, chiropractors, and other healthcare professionals, as well as workshops in perception and energy. Maitland has published and presented many papers on the theory of somatic manual therapy, Zen, philosophy, and Rolfing SI. His research, articles, and book reviews are published in numerous professional journals. He is the author of four books: Spacious Body: Explorations in Somatic Ontology; Spinal Manipulation Made Simple; Mind Body Zen (written at the request of his Zen teacher); and Embodied Being. He lives and practices in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Anne Hoff is a Certified Advanced Rolfer in Seattle, Washington, a teacher of the Diamond Approach® to inner work, and the Editor-in- Chief of this Journal.
Maitland, J. 2016. Embodied Being: The Philosophical Roots of Manual Therapy. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books.
Maitland, J. 2010. Mind Body Zen: Waking Up to Your Life. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books.
DIAMOND APPROACH is a registered trademark of The Ridhwan Foundation in the U.S., Europe, and various other countries.