The Mystery of Consciousness Is the Mystery of the Body

An Interview with Jeff Maitland
Pages: 36-39
Year: 2017
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 45 – Nº 3

Volume: 45

Anne Hoff: Let’s get some background first, Jeff. What brought you to Rolfing Structural Integration (SI)? How many years have you been doing it, and what made you become a Rolfer in the first place?

Jeffrey Maitland

Jeffrey Maitland: I was certified in 1979, so I’ve been here a long time. What got me into Rolfing SI was . . . I usually tell people it was low-back trouble, debilitating back trouble. But I was also into Zen, and was a professor of philosophy at Purdue University at the time, and the path of Zen led me to Rolfing SI I believe. I had a very interesting experience while  meditating at a Zen retreat. We meditated close to twenty hours a day for seven days – very intense. We were chanting Hakuin’s “The Song of Zazen” in English. The last two lines ended with, “This very place is the lotus land of purity, this very body is the body of the Buddha.” I had a very clear, unequivocal understanding of what it said – not an intellectual grasp, but a whole-being knowing/experience.

The felt knowing of the body of the Buddha showed me the path all these years. It was not until I looked back on this realization some seven or eight years later that I realized that that experience put me on this very important path of the body. I was looking for help with my low back, and found something wonderful as well as something that fixed my back.

When I got my first Rolfing session, I felt like I had meditated for three days in a row. I couldn’t believe that somebody could mess with my body in that way and in an hour session make me feel like I felt when I meditated. I came home from that experience thinking, “This is incredible”  … then I thought, “I wonder if I could do this work” … and then I thought, “Yeah,  I could this work” . . . and then I thought, “Yeah, I’m going to do this work.”

AH: You gave up being a tenured professor to do Rolfing SI, right? Did you have any doubt about leaving a job with such security and a clear path laid out before you? Did you have any doubt about leaving academia and going into this wild and crazy unknown field with an uncertain income?

JM: Yeah. My wife reminded me yesterday that I came home from that first session and  said,  “You  know,  I  can  help more people with this work than teaching them philosophy.” And later, I remember later driving to my Rolfing office one shiny September day, and I was thinking, “I don’t have to go back to Purdue anymore. Thank god, I can do something other than the academic thing.” I was so sick of the academic climate, I couldn’t wait to get out, and then Rolfing SI appeared – it was my ticket out. I was excited. I felt so much excitement and power in the decision to practice Rolfing SI that I didn’t look back or worry very much. But to be clear, what I gave up in leaving the university was the climate of the university: I did not give  up philosophy.

AH: What was your area of philosophy?

J MI went to Penn State as an undergraduate, which was primarily oriented to continental philosophy. I stupidly thought they were kind of wooly- headed at the time. My advisor asked me where I wanted to attend graduate school, and whether I was interested in continental or the analytic approach. I thought, “I don’t have a clue . . .” I didn’t know nothing from nothing. “Continental” didn’t sound rigorous enough, so I said “analytic,” but I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so ignorant. I went to the University of Minnesota, and studied the analytic approach. I was then offered a position    at Purdue where I returned to the study  of continental philosophy. I  specialized in aesthetics using both analytic and continental philosophy and taught a wide range of classes such as the philosophy of love and sex, the philosophy of the body, aesthetics, Nietzsche, etc.

AH: I don’t know much about philosophy, but the little bit I know it seems like  the phenomenology side has a close relationship to the body, to the body and to consciousness, because it’s the immediate experience.

JM: Yup. It is bizarre: for centuries, philosophers have been completely fascinated by the mind and have simply left the body out. Nobody talked about the body except to denigrate it until the pioneering work of phenomenology, especially Merleau-Ponty. The tradition never really understood its significance and ignored it. But this way of thinking is changing. Today we are seeing a convergence of interest in the nature of consciousness on the part of neuroscience, biology, phenomenology, and analytic philosophy. In my book Embodied Being, I argue that the mystery of consciousness is the mystery of the body.

AH: Also in the world of Buddhism, as     I understand it, there’s more orientation coming in towards the question of the body.

JM: Yeah, it’s always been a part of the Indo-Tibetan tradition. Now we’re looking forward to the interface of neuroscience, philosophy, phenomenology, and Buddhism.

AH: What can you say about your first Rolfer and his or her influence on you?

JM: My first Rolfer was Jan Sultan. I had three sessions with him, and it was his hands that turned me loose and allowed me to see that my calling was Rolfing SI. I only had three sessions, and I didn’t get to spend much time with him, but I really fully appreciated his approach – even though I had no idea what he did, how he did it, what he worked on. I knew nothing, but I was just as excited as I could be about it. He had an influence that way. Later on, when we talked together, and I was coming along and assisted him here and there, we got to know each other better and hit it off. In terms of influence, I learned the most about how to teach Rolfing SI from working with Jan, the consummate teacher.

AH: Talk about the transition from being a Rolfer with your own practice to deciding to join the faculty. How did that come about? You had experience teaching, you’d been a philosophy professor, so there was something sort of natural about that trajectory.

JM: The flow from professor to Rolfer to Rolfing Instructor felt perfectly natural. I thought, as I was learning to be a Rolfer, that it would be useful to teach Rolfing SI, because when you teach something, you really learn it. But I hadn’t really put much thought to the idea, except to note, “Well here I am starting all over again, learning Rolfing SI from the ground up. It’s going to take me awhile to get to a point where I really understand it.” I was thinking I have years to go here, and I better wait until I feel really comfortable with the idea.

After I became an Advanced Rolfer, I was invited to become a teacher. Well, that surprised me, and I said, “Let me think about it.” I thought about it for about it  for about a year. Finally I decided that it would be a good idea. I think if I hadn’t been invited to teach, I wouldn’t have taken it on. I recognized that this was difficult work and it was going to take years to learn how to really do it right.

AH: What could you transfer over from teaching philosophy to teaching Rolfing SI, and what did you have to develop that was different?

JM: Zen introduced me to the ocean of sentience that we are. Zen also taught me how to perceive it through our feeling nature. Rolfing SI was a gift that allowed me to explore how our feeling nature is a way of knowing.

I remember a faculty meeting  in  which we struggled, sweated, and pulled our hair out over a particular problem, made  a decision, went to lunch, and came back to discover that everyone was saying the same thing – that it didn’t feel right. Then we decided to go through the whole thing again, and we retracted what we had done. We changed our minds based on how it felt to us. My god, you almost cannot imagine that happening at the university.

Today, after having been involved with Rolfing SI for many years, I want to see more intellectual rigor and respect for logic, because the conceptual understanding of Rolfing SI is every bit as important and powerful as the felt understanding of it. Actually, I am looking for the integration of these two functions and seeing it more and more, thanks in part to this Journal. I am still reminded of de Tocquevilles’ comment: “There is not, I think, a single country in the civilized world where less attention is paid to philosophy than in the United States.”

AH: Definitely! Let’s talk about the Principles of Intervention – you and Jan developed that?

JM: We worked together on that during an Advanced Training in North Carolina.

AH: To me, the Principles of Intervention are an important bridge. In any tradition, there’s always the risk that when the founder is gone, and there’s no longer that direct transmission, the tradition can become stale  because  of  a  lack of understanding.

JM: Yup.

AH: The way I see the Principles of Intervention is that they kept future Rolfers from just doing the Ten Series over and over and over, and not really understanding what they were doing. They bridged to     a more holistic understanding of our work, deconstructing it into elemental principles that really showed the depth of understanding that Ida Rolf was coming from – whether she knew it or not – when she created the Ten Series. The Principles gave us the way out of being stuck with just the Ten Series and an incomplete understanding.

JM: Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly what it does. Once you see how to do Rolfing work without the ‘Recipe’, you have really arrived as an Advanced Rolfer you live the work and the work lives in you. You know what to do as if by If you 1) know the Principles, and the whole principle-centered decision-making process, 2) have a thorough grasp of the taxonomies of assessment, and 3) acquire highly developed perceptual skills, it’s disclosive of the practical and theoretical core of Rolfing SI. It’s not a bunch of theoretical ideas floating around in your head. It’s a clear unified experience of doing what needs to be done.

At this level of work, your body often knows what to do before your head does. When you reach this level of clear-minded imperturbability you are like a highly accomplished jazz musician. You now understand it in your bones and you hold it as through it were part of you. It comes to full presence by being lived and seen by you. When you work like this, you are inspired. As Nietzsche said, “The body is inspired. Let’s keep the soul out of it.”

In a very real sense, you don’t fully understand the formative principle of Rolfing SI if you’re following a recipe. You understand something, of course, but you really don’t fully understand the soul of the practice until you can do it without a recipe. (This does not mean that the work of basic Rolfing SI is inferior.)

AH: I would add that you don’t even really understand the Recipe, because you don’t understand the inherent order from which it’s working.

JM: Yeah, that is a good way to put it.

AH: I would argue that even if you knew the Principles but only did the Recipe (for whatever reason), it would come forth  in a different way because you would be understanding the inherent order by which it’s unfolding.

JM: The Recipe, to my mind, is one of the clearest and most profound examples of an organized, precise set of strategies and tactics for how to bring about order in the body. The Recipe is generated from the Principles of Intervention. Strategies and tactics are not principles.

AH: Did you have an opportunity to meet Ida Rolf, or had she already passed?

JM: She passed when I was between auditing and practitioning. I was really sad I never got to meet her. It also put me in an interesting position, because people would teach by telling Ida Rolf stories. Well, if that’s how to teach, and I don’t have any Ida Rolf stories to tell, I am in trouble. I decided, “Well, I can’t talk to Ida, but I’m going to take my training with the three or four people that were really close to Ida and the ones she first picked to teach her work.” People told me that was Jan, Peter Melchior, and Emmett Hutchins. So I picked them to work with, because I figured at least from the three of them, I’d be able to figure out what Ida was about.

There were differences between those three guys that sometimes resulted in some heated arguments. But when I looked at it,  I  did  not  see  any  real contradictions or incompatibilities. I was convinced that  I could weave their ideas together in a coherent whole. Had Emmett and Peter stayed with us, I would’ve done just that. Sadly, Emmett and Peter left [to form the Guild for Structural Integration], and I saw no reason to continue.

AH: What do you see as the philosophical side of ‘the split’ that led to Emmett and Peter leaving, or the philosophical elements of those three people who came down with their own transmission from Ida?

JM: They all have a profound – how can I put it – way of being that is Rolfing SI-imprinted. They were clearly ready, willing, and able to impart this mysterious and powerful thing we call Rolfing SI to their students. They lived it in their bones, and their clients responded to their way of working. When I look at Rolfers, I try to see whether they manifest the essence or way of being (god, it’s so hard to find the words for this) that is the living presence of Rolfing SI. People mistakenly refer to it as a blueprint. Goethe says it best: he calls it the ur-phenomenon (the inner formative power of a thing that makes it what it is).

Emmett was interested in what is generally known as occult metaphysics and the geometric taxonomy. Emmett gave many interesting lectures articulating the meaning of the Recipe via astrology and numerology, which was helpful and useful. He also worked out how to use the geometric taxonomy, teaching how to see the body  in terms of lines, blocks, cylinders, and more. Those things were all effective in his hands. The Recipe became a kind of sacred ritual that was not to be broken. I liked Jan’s down-to-earth nuts-and-bolts and attention-to-detail approach to Rolfing SI. There’s a lot more to him and his teaching than that, of course. And Peter Melchior was like your consummate intuitive jazz musician. He would tell stories and teach by indirection. I learned how to incorporate a lot from all three.

After I became an Advanced Rolfing Instructor, I had the privilege of teaching some Advanced Trainings with Michael Salveson (hence learning from him), and he added some refinements to the Principles. By the way, the ur-phenomenon of Rolfing SI lives in Michael too.

AH: From Rolfing faculty to Advanced faculty, was that just a natural progression for you?

JM: It was a fairly easy ride for me because I was thoroughly fascinated and excited to be there at this level exploring Rolfing SI with these teachers – and 150% ready to go. When I was thinking about all of this stuff, I used to play a little game. I would pretend that Ida Rolf, or some omniscient Rolfer, would come into my Rolfing room and say, “Stop what you’re doing and tell me exactly why you’re working there, and what you intend to effect.” What it taught me is that I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t answer those questions, so I was more than ready to begin this project of trying to create a non-formulistic approach.

AH: Did that come about when you were already Advanced faculty? Or did you teach the old Advanced Series for awhile?

JM: We hadn’t even begun doing the non-formulistic approach when I was training. Michael and Jan had initiated the investigation, opened the door and made some headway. But we had no way to sequence the work, to justify why you’re working where you’re working, to be able to answer the three questions of What do you do first? – What do you do next? – When are you done?

AH: Were those your questions?

JM: They came from me. What do you do first, what do you do next, when are you done?

AH: Did that arise out of your own practice of thinking about the work and trying to understand what you were doing?

JM: Yep. At the core of the principle- centered approach is a distinction between two kinds of rules: constitutive rules, or rules that define the game, and strategy rules, which are rules of thumb. Strategy rules are like suggestions for how to move your piece when you come up against recurring situations. If you break a strategy rule you are still playing the game, but if you break a constitutive rule, you’re outside of the game and no longer playing it. The distinction comes from a book in which the two rules were used to articulate utilitarian ethics.

When I remembered this distinction, I also saw how it applied to our struggle to free ourselves from formulistic Rolfing SI. With this distinction between two kinds  of rules in hand, we can answer the three questions. The Principles of Intervention are the constitutive rules that define the practice of manual therapy and guide us in sequencing our work. The birth of non-formulistic Rolfing SI turns on the distinction between the two rules. (You can read the full story about the Principles and how they are employed in Chapter Four of my latest book, Embodied Being.) Once we got that, we saw the rest of it. Jan and I set to work on it.

I was just remembering when we were  in the thick of figuring out the Principles, we got so excited that we’d talk after class for hours sometimes. I remember once I was trying to go to bed or watch TV or something, and Jan came bursting into my apartment, and he says, “Turn that off! I had a great idea.”

AH: Wow, it sounds like it was a very, very alive environment.

JM: Yeah. It was an exciting moment!

AH: Are faculty meetings and faculty interactions still so juicy these days?

JM: It’s typically only juicy when we discuss or demonstrate some aspect or discovery about the work.

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 and the Editor-in-Chief of this Journal. 

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