Those of us who love Dr. Rolf’s work but never had the chance of knowing her are left only with writings, photos, tapes, and reports of those who delighted-in and endured her. As a new Rolfer, one of the issues which puzzles me most about her is metaphysics. From what she expressed, it seems clear there was a certain dialectical tension in her thought. She was fond of saying things like, “There is no metaphysics, only physics” or “There is no psychology, only physiology”, as well as repeatedly observing that “Directional axes are not mystical entities” 1.
While these statements make her appear to have been a tough scientist, she elsewhere pronounced quite happily on her metaphysical turns of mind. We find her commenting on Gurdijeff and Ousspensky, quoting from the Buddha, and consulting psychics. In other words, sometimes, she sounds like a no-non-sense researcher; other times, like a wooly metaphysician.
This dialectical tension in her thought has proved to be a divisive issue for her followers. I believe the integrit ous way of dealing with the horn of this dilemma is by remaining open to what may have been only embryonic in her thought. The easy way out is to imitate what new-age types have been doing since the mid-19th century, i.e. to circumvent the omissions and paradoxical statements of their dead gurus by claiming that in secret or in private, the dead guru believed thus-and-so 2. Such strategies have been used repeatedly to support various dogmatic teachings once the “guru” is conveniently fossilized by hagiography.
The point of my exploration hem will be that Dr. Rolf was no guru, but a hard-working, creative genius and that instead of taking sides for science or metaphysics, we might notice that in the dialectical tension of her thought, she may have been hinting at, adumbrating, glimpsing a very different sense involving the unprecedented recognition of a force which human cultures have been frantic to ignore for their bodies: Gravity.
This might seem like a obvious point to make, for after all, Dr. Rolf was very clear that “Gravity is the therapist”. Yet, I want to suggest there is a more profound recognition of Gravity which we lose when we put on our metaphysical thinking caps. Such recognition may help us understand her frustration when she made statements such as, “I keep going back and hammering on this, because I know that when you leave here, you’ll be talking about the wonders you’ve seen and not about gravity.3
At the heart of this, I believe we can see that Dr. Rolf was pointing towards a type of mystical materialism which reccognizes the relentless pull of Gravity as anon-metaphysical fact which is paradoxically the ground for all our metaphysical flowerings. What this means is that Rolfing is basically about the nuts-and-bolts physics and mechanics of bodies in the field of Gravity. But, this mechanical real-ism is not the naive sort which serves only sterile, scientific purposes. Rather, Rolfing creates a competent structural context in which the personal, metaphysical con-tent can be happy and grow in maturity.4
The important implication here is that it goes in that order: first deal with the mechanics thoroughly and with some rigor and then the spirit can fly. However, what makes Rolfing different from various clinical therapies is that if you only think of mechanics and anatomy, you cannot Rolf anybody. The reason is not because intuition and appreciation of mystery are everything though, they are a lot! but because there is an almost infinite number of relationships, structural, psychological and spiritual, which configure the body presented to you for Rolfing. The Rolfers I admire most seem to be across between exacting car mechanics and Taoist mystics.
If we reverse the order and start with spirituality and psychology and glass over the exact mechanics, we will fall into an ancient trap set for us by millennia of human culture. There has never been a religion or philosophy which has really taken Gravity seriously. At this stage inhuman evolution, we are heirs to an almost instant, reflexive denial of Gravity in our psyches. Somehow we are adept at not thinking of bodies as relentlessly yanked-downward. Religious history shows that humans have always been interested in thinking of themselves ascending up ward. Jung’s dream analysis reveals that the dream of flying is an archetypal desire of freedom from limitations. After all this, it is sheer hubris for Rolfers to think we are so sufficiently radicalized in Gravity that we can now dance-without-danger with metaphysics. The attempt to psychologize Rolfing or give it a metaphysical philosophy is just the same gravitational denial entering through the back door. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with psychology or metaphysics, only that we need to hold them in delicate tension as Dr. Rolf did and not define the work with simplicities.
The truly revolutionary quality of Rolfing is because Dr. Rolf was somehow able to peel away the grand denial and see that Gravity really does determine a structure. No amount of religious will and virtue or psychological integrity is going to balance a structure in Gravity by itself. Rolfing works because It takes Gravity in deadly earnest, as no metaphysics ever has done. Or ever will do.5
No metaphysics will ever be able to authentically recognize Gravity, because in its sheer, relentless materialism, it remains at odds with anything that seeks to transcend it. Gravity is always “just there”, no matter what you believe in life. A recognition of this unique status of Gravity isa step in human evolution. Indeed, at the end of her life, Dr. Rolf wondered what kind of people could make this step in evolution brought on by Rolfing. My speculation is that Rolfed people will bet remendously individualistic, yet tolerant.
Forgetfulness of Gravity seems to be built into every metaphysical view point ever conceived. Dr. Rolf, on the other hand, was pointing us toward a recognition that would give us peace with the non metaphysical physics of Gravity.
A related issue is that if we say Rolfing is about touching another person’s being, we will make a point that is so true as to be trivial something on the order of “The sky is blue” or “The Pope is Catholic”. Saying that Rolfing is about touching another’s being is a metaphysical statement so generic that it tells us nothing of interest. Of course, our beings are changed by Rolfing, but this happens because, on the nitty-gritty level of myo fascial plasticity, the mechanics of our bodies are at peace with the force of Gravity. Our metaphysical selves can only happily fly if we’ve given Gravity its due. “All this metaphysics is fine, but be mighty sure you’ve got physics under the metaphysics.6
Dr. Rolf’s thorough insight needs to be recognized for the unprecedented qualities it possesses. By taking Gravity seriously she created something new, an unexpected step in human evolution. Rolfing is not just a synthesis of different influences into a “new compound 7”,rather it is an entirely new viewpoint which neither osteopath nor metaphysician could have foreseen. If like Dr. Rolf we do a delicate dance with our own metaphysics 8, we can keep light on earthly Gravity. For just as in Black Holes there’s infinite gravitation which excludes even light, so the infinite mysteries and realities of metaphysics strangely leave us in the dark about such a finite thing as earthly Gravity. Rolfers should be the friends of finitude.
1 Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D., Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structures(New York Harper and Row,1977), 207.
These days, Dr. Rolf’s common-sense assertion that directional axes are not mystical would be up-for-grabs. If we are to believe the authors of The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters, modern physics seems to prove the long held tenets of Eastern metaphysics and mysticism. Thus, in this sense, Dr. Rolf’s directional axes might be mystical indeed. However, many modern physicists flatly reject the mystical conclusions of these two books which appear to be based on the philosophical concepts of Zen and Taoism.
My metaphor of the “Black Hole of Meta-physics ? is grounded in the current milieu of expanded mysticism; for indeed, Black Holes are infinitely gravitational, yet like the infinities of metaphysics, they draw us away from mundane, meager earthly Gravity and its effect on our bodies. Several centuries of infatuation with outer space since Copernicus have made us forget that only the Earth we walk on really matters. We turn away from religions like Christianity which seem to separate the Present from the Infinite and grow toward faiths like Buddhism which appear to remove the bifurcation. Yet the other untried alternative is to forget infinity and make this finite world of Gravity and grace a better place. This last alternative is described in Hans Blumenberg’s ferociously learned The Genesis of the Copernican World, 1987.
2 A vivid example of this strategy is found in an article entitled “What Is Structural Integration?” published by the Guild for Structural Integration”. In it, the author claims that even though Dr. Rolf was reticent to pronounce categorically on metaphysical matters in public, she really had no questions about it in her private life.
3 Ibid, 87.
4 The ideas of context and content are from Tom Myers.
5 My questioning of metaphysics is, of course, a bit different with the anti-metaphysical meta-physics of Zen. The radical Zen viewpoint (if it can even be called that) would seem to be quite open to the concept of Gravity, as it is to every thing else. However, since Gravity is the ground of our standing up as individuals, Rolfing appears to require an honestly individualistic ethos which Zen does not contain. Some how, in Zen’s paradoxes, the singularity of the actual body self is subsumed in the experience of Nothingness.
6 Rosemary Feitis, Ed., Ida Rolf Talks About Rolfing and Physical Reality(New York: Harper and Row, 1978), 206.
7 Alan Demmerle, “Presidents Address, “ROLF LINES, Sept/Oct 1990, 21.
8 By concentrating on Dr. Rolf’s personal meta-physics, we risk missing what was startlingly original about her. Her great genius lay in perfecting the work which bears her name, not in her originality as a metaphysician. In reading histories of alternative American religions, it becomes evident that Dr. Rolf was not innovative in her metaphysical speculations; her talk of esoteric energy fields and monism has all been said more interestingly by others (see Robert S. Ellwood, Jr.’s Alternative Altars: Un-conventional and Eastern Spirituality in America and Martin Gardener’s The New Age).The Pull of Gravity and the Black Hole of Metaphysics