Studying physical reality has long been recognized as essential in understanding the nature of human existence. And so it should be. Everything is made out of the same basic stuff, is ultimately born of the same source, and so is part of a fundamental unity. Understanding certain aspects of reality are particularly important in comprehending ourselves. One of these is gravity. Another that is perhaps not as clearly perceived by Rolfers is the concept of space. This letter is a discussion about space, first in theory, and then in the practice of Rolfing.
The physical universe is filled with and permeated by vast empty space. This is true in terms of the cosmos-at-large, as well as sub atomically. Space is everywhere; between stars, within cells, in our bodies, in our minds, and in our very beingness itself. All matter can be seen as floating in and connected by an infinite ocean of spaciousness. Though the world may appear to be dense and full, our nervous systems have become adept at solidifying what in reality is not nearly so substantial.
Space is a very basic element of existence that has many dimensions and many meanings for us as human beings. It has relevance for us physically, mentally and spiritually. But is it so basic and simple that, like gravity, its significance is easily overlooked.
Space, Structure and the Mind
Understanding different kinds of space can provide insight for us as Rolfers into the human body and mind. In regards to the mind, for example, the Tibetan Lama, Chogyam Trungpa writes:
“Fundamentally there is just open space, the basic ground, what we really are. Our most fundamental state of mind, before creation of ego, is such that there is basic openness, basic freedom, a spacious quality; and we have now and have always had this openness…Confused mind is inclined to view itself as a solid, on going thing, but it is only a collection of tendencies, events.”
This view of the basic nature of the mind is commonly held by several spiritual traditions, but is also substantiated by many modern day Ego Psychologists, who describe the mind of the newborn infant as an open “undifferentiated matrix” that gradually becomes bounded and structuralized as it develops during the first few years of life. The final outcome of this process is the adult psychic structure, the “ego”, with its self-image, and sense of identity and boundaries. So the personality is seen as a structure that gradually evolves and solidifies out of an open, undifferentiated field of consciousness.
As Trungpa points out, nothing happens to the basic spacious nature of the mind. It is always present, but becomes covered as we begin identifying more with the structure and contents of our mind rather than the pure, boundless space within which our personality developed.
Because Rolfers are interested in personal freedom, it is useful for us to see how the “mind-structure” of the personality consists of a web of self-concepts that ultimately determines and restricts one’s perceptions, thoughts and feelings. It gives us a stable sense of ourselves and our world, but it also binds us in a particular way. If we really let go and relax for awhile, it’s possible to again experience the freedom and spaciousness of our original state of mind.
Space and Body Structure
The idea of space is also pertinent for viewing the human body. Although the personality is a construct of the mind, it is reflected concretely in the flesh, and so a parallel process of solidification can be seen to occur during the growth and development of the physical body. That is, the relatively “open space” of the infant’s body slowly becomes more and more structuralized as patterns of experience, movement and behavior become repetitive and engrained. Gradually, the flesh hardens, and the space of the body, like the space of the mind, becomes bounded and filled by a particular pattern of physical tension mirroring the personality and experience of the individual. The end result is that myofascial fixation replaces expansion and freedom as the person’s inner space is impinged upon.
Of course, we Rolfers deal directly with the idea of space every day. We are concerned with a body’s organization in three-dimensional space, and we learn to see how spatial relationships determine structural patterns. Balancing the body often means creating more space, length and expansion where they are needed. But the perspective of space can also be taken much further. Though the space we deal with in the physical body is by nature three-dimensional, it is also closely connected to other levels of our lives.
Space and Expansion
The expansion of psychological space, for instance, is not only experienced as one’s self feeling bigger, roomier, or more extended spatially, it can also open in other “directions”. As one’s inner boundaries become more porous, space can lead into many realms of expansion; e.g. expansion in terms of one’s depth, consciousness, being, richness, identity and refinement, to name but a few. These are all openings that could happen as more space is created in the body and mind.
Though we are often creating more 3-D space in the client’s body, we are also expanding these other horizons. Since we’re working with a whole psycho-physical structure that has had the effect of binding and limiting the person’s identity and range of experience in all kinds of ways, as their self-boundaries are challenged and released it will naturally feel to them that their body and mind are less dense and cluttered, and more expanded, ventilated and airy. They might experience their self-expansion in many dimensions. It could affect their sense of who they really are, their place in the world, their limitations and potential for growth. Because we’re helping them create a new structure for themselves that is less thick and rigid and more open and permeable, we could say that they’re getting closer to their original spacious nature.
Emphasizing our basic spaciousness does not mean negating the value of structure. It’s not that space is good and structure is bad. Our minds and bodies need some kind of structure for us to function as human beings, but we also need to maintain our connection to space.
When our structuralization becomes so dense and ossified that it is impervious to the spaciousness of our existence, we cannot help but suffer. We’re disconnecting ourselves from a very basic part of our nature. The more we can let go and allow ourselves to become light, permeable,, transparent and open, the more there is space within which to grow and transform.
Rolfing has an important contribution to make in this process of letting go. Because the more there is disharmony and disorganization in a body, the more there tends to be holding, tension, tightness and an inability to relax. The person that is more balanced and integrated will have a more resilient structure with more permeable boundaries, and will hence find it easier to experience space; the less their structure will act as a prison and the more it will feel like comfortable clothing.
The perspective of space can give us insight into the nature of what we call “the line”. Too often the line is thought of as abstract and even imaginary. Seeing the line as the space along the front of the spine from the soles of our feet through the tops of our heads begins to give it a realness and dimensionality. In fact, the line is often experienced as a spacious core, or airy central channel that seems to open as the body is balanced around it. We know that compensatory patterns of alignment have the effect of squeezing off the core. One could liken this to the impingment of the body’s inner space.
It seems to me that the experience of the line is present when space opens in a channel-like way along the body’s vertical axis. Rolfers know how to create the appropriate somatic relationships that allow this to happen. When the body is aligned in an easy, balanced way one’s tension can naturally let go and the deeper spacious nature of our being is revealed.
The “line” can also expand in all directions and dimensions. It’s aperture can dilate so that there is expansion outward in all directions, and it can also lead us to deeper and richer experiences of ourselves.
Space Allows Beingness
Just as all of creation can be seen as having emerged out of a mysterious, spacious void, so too many aspects of human nature seem to manifest from space created in the body or mind. Space is the void that allows the fullness and richness of being to manifest. We really have to be empty before we can be full. For instance, the initial experience could be of a pure, completely empty and immaculate voidness. But after a time a period of seconds, minutes, or even hours some other quality or qualities might seem to infuse and fill the empty spaciousness. Whatever quality comes will depend on the needs of the individual and the situation. Love, joy, clarity, will, strength, compassion and peacefulness are but a few of the parts of our nature that might manifest themselves within the potential space.
Space itself is a quality of our existence that the person may need. In that case, perhaps the experience of space could deepen until the person’s whole being is felt as an immense openness; clear, spotless, and infinitely deep. The person might then experiencially discover that their habitual identification with their ego structure is clearly a case of mistaken identity. They might see that at their depth they are something much bigger, much lighter, much emptier, and yet also much richer. In terms of our Rolfing practices, space can expand both our view of human structure and our intention in working with it.
Space and the Practice of Rolfing
I use space as an additional criteria with which to view my clients. Keeping in mind that the “normal” in this case is an open, spacious field, I begin looking and feeling just how and in what way the person’s inner space has been filled up and solidified.
I keep in mind that I’m dealing with a structure that has developed in response to personal and environmental needs. I try to see and sense the general feeling and perspective of their particular somatic pattern what kind of person, self-image and identity have developed from the original spaciousness and how is their structure expressing and maintaining that pattern? What and who are they taking themselves to be? Is there a primary physical key to the pattern with which they are identified? My way of working with them could vary according to these circumstances.
I ask myself what parts of the person’s structure are particularly dense and solid; what areas are more open and permeable? Is there a general theme apparent in terms of how they are filling their space? I look to see what I can do to encourage their structure to become more resilient and ventilated. Where are their boundaries particularly thick and defended? Where are they more porous and able to breathe? How and where is their inner space being encrusted, obstructed, muddied, squeezed off, or otherwise made unconscious or inaccessible to them? What can I do to help soften the boundaries that have gradually been established and now block the persons potential expansion and growth? Instead of specifically looking at anatomy or even relationships between distinct anatomical parts, I often will look at what is “in between” the parts; the space that surrounds and infuses even the densest physical structures. I also ask myself where is their inner channel (the line) being impinged upon? What can I do to encourage that core channel to open; to encourage them to become more aware of that vast potential space? I look especially to the parts of their body that are particularly too rigid, thick or solid. I also look at what are sometimes called the “Three Gates”, loosely speaking: 1) the head, 2) the LDH, 3) the sacrum/perineal areas. These seem to be places that the line, the spacious channel, gets cut off or blocked in some way. Very often I also look to the legs to find a way to support an opening and letting go in the upper body.
I sometimes use space to help make the eighth hour upper/lower decision. Which half has the most space available to it? Which appears to be denser or more solidified? Working at which end is going to help open the least spacious girdle/spinal area?
Space experienced during Rolfing
I find that many clients experience space regularly during the course of their Rolfing. Many times their experience of lightness and openness is the beginning of a full experience of space. Sometimes some part of their body becomes so light and airy that it feels to them that it is completely transparent, insubstantial or disappeared. We have probably all seen such phenomena or felt it for ourselves. I see this as a chronically solid body’s opening to its original spacious nature. It is a dissolving of self-boundaries which I usually encourage to happen. I might ask them to see what happens if they let the openness or “disappeared” feeling expand and spread throughout their body. Space will usually want to expand and affect other areas of their structure. It could expand up and down, inside and out. They might feel that the air outside their body is one in the same with the “air” inside their body. Their normal sense of themselves could eventually feel completely disappeared or erased.
The opening could spread only so far, say up towards the head, but then stop. This is an indication to work on the remaining fixation in the head/neck area.
Because space seems to erase boundaries, it will feel quite expansive in many dimensions. If accepted and allowed, it can dissolve all the chronic areas that are too fixed and structuralized in the body and mind. A person’s structure, along with their boundaries, identity, self-image, etc., will certainly come back after the enlightening experience of space, but it will be altered in many positive ways depending on the kinds of expansion needed by the person.
The effects of space on people is quite varied depending on their situation and experience. Many people find it incredibly liberating and refreshing. Space makes them feel light, open, bouyant and renewed. It can be a real experience of freedom and rebirth as the chronic limitations of a particular structure dissolve and one feels united with a fundamental aspect of their existence. We are much more than we think we are!
Negative Reactions to Space
Although ultimately extremely freeing, most people will initially have negative reactions to the presence of space. Basically, these reactions occur because of certain misunderstandings and associations about space, and can come up immediately or anytime subsequent to the experience.
Over the years we become so strongly attached and identified with our ego structure (and its somatic pattern) that letting go of that part of ourselves for even a moment can be very difficult, painful and threatening. Sense the structure that has developed contains within it our whole sense of identity, self-image, boundaries, defenses, and past history, it is understandable that such a completely new and different perception and experience of ourselves can at first be very disconcerning.
The person’s reaction to spaciousness can sometimes be narrowed down to specific beliefs, misunderstandings, or attachments. For example, a person might resist space because they are afraid of letting go of their solidness and the sense of protection that it gives them. They may be concerned about losing their sense of identity, their sense of who they are. Very often space seems to enter the body by descending through the head, (especially with head/neck work), by spreading from the abdomen/solar plexus area (5th session), or by ascending up from the pelvic floor (4th and 6th session). They may be frightened of losing their thoughts, of losing their orientation, or even of losing their genitals.
Many people initially associate the voidness of space with some kind of empty deficiency that they will want to avoid at all costs. They could be threatened by the perceived loss of some specific self-image, or way that they are attached to being seen by themselves and others. They could be frightened of the sense of aloneness, stillness, and voidness. It could bring up fears of dying, of being completely dissolved or annihilated.
All of these reactions as well as others could happen as space approaches one’s consciousness, or begins to open one’s mind or body. The person could become anxious, feel numb, or hard as a rock or steel. Headaches, dizziness, or “spaced-out” feelings might occur. As I mentioned, they all stem from not completely understanding the nature of space and our relationship to it. I mention these reactions not that it is our job as Rolfers to deal with them, (although sometimes we must), but rather to give us an appreciation of all of the forces that exist and could manifest during any Rolfing session since we are constantly altering the persons structure in the course of Rolfing them. Many times such processes and reactions are going on without the knowledge of either the Rolfer or the client.
It’s not a simple thing to dramatically change a person’s structure. The more their boundaries and character are released or challenged, the more they will tend to have emotional reactions to the spacious openness that is created in place of their ?too, too solid flesh.? Knowing this gives me a certain kind of patience and compassion for my clients? position. I know that their growth has to happen at a pace they can tolerate and integrate; and I Know that sometimes, in some areas, they just can?t let go yet. Because I realize that in the process of transformation, there will be times when the person is faced with feelings, fears and issues, that are difficult and unpleasant, I tend to be less attached to always wanting my clients to feel wonderful. It might boost my ego to be praised for how ?high? the client feels after being Rolfed, but sometimes they need to really face, understand, and deal with their negative reactions. After all, this part of themselves, although unpleasant and usually avoided, contains real barriers in the road for that person. They need to confront this parts of themselves so that the ?high? they feel after a session is not just a nice experience, but a door into a whole new way of life.
Most of the time a person?s mental/emotional reactions to the process of opening and loosening wich accur during Rolfing, have a very definitive physical component. It?s as if the person rebounds back from the openness and unconsciously re solidifies their structure. This phenomena accurs quite often. For example, how many times have clients left a session feeling light, transformed, bouyant, and integrated, or whatever, and after a period of a few hours or days experience some kind of increased tension or reactivation of their armoring? I believe this is often a somatic reaction to increased spaciousness; i.e. for whatever reason, at some level the person feels the need to reconfirm their solidity, density, regidity, identity, etc. When I understood this process, I stopped blaming myself for ?doing something wrong? and began looking to see how and why the person was still unconsciously feeling the need to hold on; and began seeing what I could then do to facilitate a more acceptable letting go for them.
I hope that we are beginning to see that space is more than an idea, more than a concept, and more than a nothingness that exists between solid objects. Space is an ontological presence, a real aspect of existence, a living experience that springs from our very source and effects human consciousness and human bodies in expansive and transformational ways.
Like gravity, space is an allie for the Rolfer, helping to dissolve boundaries and limitations in our minds and flesh; and precipitating expansion, change and growth in many important areas of our lives. It can permeate and parts of our structure that we cannot get our fingers on loosening and transforming body armor, old self images, over thickened boundaries, chronic identifications, and fixations of all kinds. Its presence is subtle, but persuasive, persistent and potentially powerful.
I see real growth stemming from a freeing of the bonds of our structuralization and the resulting expansion toward a greater wholeness. One of the great powers of both space and Rolfing is in their ability to guide us in this evolutionary direction.
Best Regards to you and your clients,
Traverse City, MichiganToward the Further Reachings of Rolfing…