The night before I began training in Rolfing in the summer of 1971, I had a dream in which I was presented with a large leather covered folio entitled The Design of the Temple. The first pages were opened to reveal line drawings of a Mayan like temple. The following page consisted of my being transported to what I perceived to be the Yucatan peninsula and being placed in front of what seemed to be two temples, one in front of the other. The closer was like the classic Mayan temples: many stairs leading to a flat top. The rear one was pyramidal. All of a sudden, an immense gray-haired woman arose from behind the second temple and moved it so now it appeared that there was only one temple, a pyramid.
My relation to the body is probably somewhat unique. I came to it only in my mid-thirties. It was an apocalyptic meeting. My views of the body and of Rolfing are colored with an apocalyptic hue.
Dr. Ida Rolf, now in her eighties, received her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1920. She was a research biochemist at the Rockefeller Institute for about twenty years. She was also a practitioner of hatha yoga. Over years of working with herself and her family, who had ills buried in an obscure past, she developed the method of body therapy called “structural integration,” popularly known as “Rolfing.” Although she occasionally gave workshops for chiropractors and osteopaths, it was not until the mid-sixties, after Fritz Perls invited her to Esalen Institute, that she developed an organized method for communicating her knowledge to an ever-increasing number of professional disciples.
I was an only child raised in a home where there was almost no touching. I never saw my parents naked, with the rare exception of my father the few times we swam at the Elks’ Club. My sex life was limited to kissing and light caressing since, as a Roman Catholic, I believed anything more would lead to eternal damnation (or at least an unwanted baby). At age twenty-two I entered the Jesuits, who had a rule that “Jesuits shall not touch one another, not even in jest, but only to greet one another as custom may allow.” And, by God, during my twenties and early thirties, I didn’t touch others, nor myself. I didn’t even look at my naked body. There was another rule that there needn’t be any rules about chastity except that “our chastity should be like that of the angels.”
Rolfing is a method of restructuring the body so that one can float downstream in the upright posture.
Paul Hilsdale was a child prodigy. Even after taking some years off to travel, he graduated from Georgetown University at age nineteen. He then entered the Jesuits, where he devoted his efforts to social activism. He had a very large head sitting on a tiny body with a sunken chest and locked pelvis. At age forty five he was invited by Ed Maupin, then director of the Esalen resident program, to participate in the 19671968 program at Ed’s expense. After a lifetime of celibacy, Paul entered the sexual center of the new age. The first months were hard for him. He was under constant pressure to hop into bed and end it all. As he became more discouraged about his body’s strength in keeping him a prisoner of his past, Alexander Lowen came and gave Paul some bioenergetic hope of breaking the walls of the prison. Shortly thereafter, Paul, worn out by the battles with himself, contracted hepatitis. Ida Rolf appeared at Esalen in the winter. Paul came for a visit to Alma College in Los Gatos, where I was studying theology. After two sessions with Ida the hepatitis was gone. His drooping head had emerged dramatically from his body and his chest had opened wide. In the course of the next few weeks he was metamorphosed from an effete intellectual snob into a powerful sexual man. From that time until I began being Rolfed by Ed Maupin three years later, I knew that Rolfing would somehow be a path for me.
Norman O. Brown writes that the awakening of the new man, the resurrection of the body, is an apocalyptic event brought about by warfare: not the surrogate warfare men have mistakenly pursued throughout history, but the struggle to break down the barriers of the body which encase us. Love’s body is not just a reality we grow into. The blockades are too ancient and strong. They must be blown apart.
I read Life Against Death in the spring of 1967, weeks before I first took LSD. Brown’s reduction of the illusions of language and history to the bathroom and the bedroom and his solution to the absurdities of history by a return to the body seemed insane to me. But in my first trip, as I plunged into my absolute isolation, clutching out (in a friend’s bathroom) for some feeling of contact but finding only plastic and metal surfaces, I discovered Brown’s genius. That experience began to bring me into touch with the sweat and dirt and smells I had successfully avoided all my life. I reveled in my stinking body.
There is really no thing new about Ida Rolf’s method. Almost every thing that goes on in Rolfing can be found elsewhere: in Bess Mensendyck, Andrew Still, Wilhelm Reich, Emanuel Swendenborg, F. Matthias Alexander, the cranial osteopaths, hatha yoga. Her genius like that of my philosophical mentors, Aristotle and Aquinas, is in putting it all together-putting the body together.
The principles of her synthesis are two: the plasticity of the body and the relation of the body to gravity. In her experimental work with bodies over the years, Ida discovered that the structure of the body can be altered far beyond what is ordinarily expected. The alteration occurs primarily by working with the myofascial system-by stretching it, unsticking it, repositioning it.
The manipulation of the body is aimed at changing its relation to gravity. If one visualizes the body as an aggregate of large segments head, torso, pelvis, upper and lower legs, feet-it is easy to see that the displacement of one of these segments from a vertical midline through the body will cause stress and a compensating displacement of other segments. The common forward tilt of the head and backward tilt of the pelvis, for example, require deep tensions to keep these segments united to the body. Over the years, these tensions become part of one’s being-in-the-world. They are manifested in one’s bodily, emotional, and spiritual behavior. Rolfing attempts to align head, torso, pelvis, legs, and feet so that the movement of the body through life involves the minimum amount of effort and blocking. It is a system for maximizing the energy available to any person.
Catholic sacramental theology prepared me to meet my body as an old but neglected friend. The meaning of God’s becoming man in Jesus is, according to this ancient tradition, the divinization of matter. In the early centuries of the church there were violent disputes about this doctrine. It was especially hard for intellectuals in the Platonic tradition to accept that matter, especially the human body, could be divine. But those who defended the conjoined humanity and divinity of Jesus, and thereby the cosmos, won out. The ritual of the Church, its sacraments, are merely extensions of this theology. Matter bread, wine, incense, water, kneeling, singing-is not just matter; it is the revelation of the divine. The central image in the Pauline epistles which explains the meaning of Christianity is the Body of Christ, the reality in which we all share.
In spite of the intellectualism of my life, there was always an undercurrent, arising from my participation in Christian ritual, that the body is more than just a body.
Rolfing is an evolutionary therapy in its adjusting the human body to a fully upright posture. In the early weeks of childhood, the baby’s looking up from a crawling position to explore its world is the beginning of the cervical curve which physiologically (and psychologically) separates the head from the rest of the body. During its first year of crawling, the soft tissue in the lower belly, particularly the psoas muscle, is not lengthened in proportion to the rest of its body. By the time the baby begins to walk, it has already developed the characteristics of the human form at this stage of its evolution: the head slightly forward of the shoulders and the tilted pelvis. Since the child is in a world of adults whose movement patterns cater to these stress points instead of modifying them, it too grows up with gravity continually accentuating these blocks. A major task of the Rolf work is to lengthen and restructure the soft tissue so that the head moves directly on top of the lower body, and the pelvis is turned underneath, the pelvic floor thus forming a solid base for what is above.
I always conceived of myself as incapable of doing anything skillful with my body. I never had much interest in sports. Acute asthma during my first eighteen years kept me from doing much that required intense exertion. I always felt clumsy and angry when attempting to do anything that required fine and patient work, like building model airplanes. My father, his father and grandfather, and my mother’s father were all excellent craftsmen. I’ve often thought that my self-imposed incompetence during those early years was in part rebellion against them. The asthma, added to other illnesses and my moderate body structure, conspired to make me think of myself as physically weak.
The same was true of my concept of my artistic abilities. My artistic career was over by the time I was six. In a preschool art class I was put in the corner several times for making snakes out of clay, much to the embarrassment of my mother, who finally withdrew me from the class. I had great envy for kids who were drawing trees and elephants, but all I could make were clay snakes. After similar experiences with dance, violin, and piano classes, I entered grammar school where my inability to draw or make real looking objects literally made me sick. I often had to be sent home when we had art class. It wasn’t until thirty years later, when I took LSD, that I recovered my artistic sense.
So I passed the first thirty-five years of my life thinking of myself as incapable of bodily things and competent only in the field of thought.
The encounter group movement, particularly as inspired by Carl Rogers, was warmly received among progressive Catholics. I participated in such groups throughout the 1960’s In 1967 the entire Alma College community (108 persons ranging in age from twenty-five to eighty-five) engaged in a three-day marathon conducted by Carl Rogers and his staff. I began to realize that my verbal skills made it easy for me to protect the really deep walls of my ego from the assaults of these groups and from the power of individual psychotherapy. Something else was needed.
From the early part of the Christian era until around 1400, the Southwest was inhabited by the Anasazi culture, the precursors of the Hopi and the Pueblo Indians of today. The Anasazi religion was focused in the kiva, a circular structure dug underground. In the kiva is the sipapu, a hole into the earth. The structure of the kiva and sipapu represent the Anasazi belief that the gods dwell in the earth from which we all emerge. Ritual involves establishing a link with this source.
The high point of Anasazi Culture occurred in the thirteenth century, the same time as the high point of medieval culture. On a visit to Chaco Canyon, one of the Anasazi centers, I realized how my life had traversed what is represented by the two poles of the best of these cultures. Thirteenth-century Europe manifested its genius in the refinement of Gothic architecture and scholastic philosophy. It was the age of reaching up to God in the heavens by way of the Platonic dialectic of intellect. That was the path of my life until my early thirties. My fantasies of the direction of my life were grandiose and high soaring: childhood fantasies of being a king transforming into college dreams of being a captain of industry changing into fantasies of being a great preacher converting thousands and finally into being a latter-day Aquinas whose synthesis of all knowledge would transform a disintegrated culture into a new community.
I now feel more at home in the kiva than in the cathedral. The downward movement into the kiva and the sipapu are outward forms more consonant with my feelings about myself and my work.
“Since it seems demonstrable that man’s outer world is a projection of that which is within, is it not possible that some of the problems of our times might be resolved by examining the man himself, his physical being, his body. Could it be logical to suppose that if a way were found to organize better the actual physical structures of men, their other confusions, mental and cultural, might lessen?”1
Every day I hear manifestations in ordinary language and thought of the Platonic-Cartesian heritage: “Since you work only with the body, you really don’t deal with the emotional and spiritual levels of life.” Is stretching a complex of tendons and fascia that for years have bound one’s chest in a vice less psychologically significant than talking with an analyst about parental conflicts? The thought forms of contemporary physics and philosophy have transcended the old dualisms between mind and body, but ordinary language and behavior lag.
One sunset, during my Rolfing training at Pigeon Key in Florida in the fall of 1971, I walked out onto the pier. Ida had just finished working on the backs of my knees and my sacrum. As I stood watching the pink thunderheads massing over the gulf, all sense of identity vanished. There was just a vast intricate web of energy with no boundaries between myself the ocean the air the sounds of the gulls the dock the island. Though like ego loss experiences on LSD, it was more rooted in this body, this air, this water. It was less an experience of the mind. It was not a particularly blissful experience since I had no feeling for who I was, no feelings which were familiar, which were like past feelings. This experience has remained with me. I have very little body memory of my past-of how I used to feel, of how I used to react.
The ego is embedded in the flesh. It isn’t some atomic thing, lurking behind a bodily facade. When the hands of the Rolfer (or elbow or knuckle) release the hang ups in the flesh, the ego is partially broken. The mechanical responses to life which constitute the ego are gradually worn away until there remains a fully living and responsive organism.
Rolfing is a political activity-or metapolitical. It destroys the roots of the forces of death in our society: the tight ass, the constricted chest, the drooping head, the twisted spine. These are blocks in the body which keep it from perceiving that there is only one body.
Logos seeks unification; and the fact it faces is Division
Alienation, in the old Marxist vocabulary
the rents, the splits, in the newer Freudian vocabulary
the schisms, the schizophrenia.
Now-if I may make a Great Leap Forward – alienation is schizophrenia.
the outcome of the collision between Marx and Freud is their unification
the perception of the analogy between the two
the analogy between social and psychic society and soul body and body politic.
The disintegration of the boundary line between inner and outer self and other is the disintegration of the ego the disintegration of the ego of the ego psychologists in Marxist terms, the disintegration of the bourgeois ego of bourgeois individualism or, alienation overcome-2
The “psychological” and the “physical” are in continual interaction. An infant with a tilted pelvis begins to imitate the movement patterns of his father, who has an extremely tilted pelvis and moves according to patterns which make it comfortable for him to live with the tilt. His grandfather did the same. But a tilted pelvis cuts off sexual feeling. Like his father, the infant grows up with sexual fears. The fears and the pelvic structure constitute one problem.
The old structure has to be destroyed radically. But this is only half the story. The destruction of the old world is only the rite de passage to a new mode of seeing. The real genius of Ida Rolf consists of her ability to bring the body-person into a new structure, a new balance. Breaking up fascial buildups, separating muscle groups, cleaning attachments of tendons to bones – these are only the preparation. The crucial work of Rolfing consists in attaining a balance in the body between right and left sides, front and back, intrinsic and extrinsic muscles, above and below.
Norman O. Brown once said that his readers mistakenly think he advocates the end of structure and order. But what he advocates is the end of the structures based on ego, on the separation of body and soul, self and others. There is, however, a post apocalyptic order.
Ida Rolf is like Don Juan Matus. I went to her with the expectation that she would teach me how to do the work which I had experienced as so powerful in my own life. I discovered that to learn the method meant that I had to be stripped of my ego, my old work, and my ways of seeing. I would often find myself stripped bare by her piercing eyes, naked in front of my peers. She saw all those sides of me which I had seen but not dealt with and which others would always pass by. For example, I had often thought of myself as lazy. On bringing this complaint to various teachers and spiritual directors, I was always met with the obvious, “But look at how much you do.” This was the confusing truth: I did do a lot with my time, even though I felt lazy. Ida saw that there was much more energy locked up inside me that I (or my history) would not let emerge.
I found to my surprise that being a Rolfer is pursuing a way. It involves parting with past ways of seeing and being. In involves a discipline consonant with a new way of seeing. This is the first time in my life, in spite of external appearances, that I have pursued anything with diligence and care.
“The human body is not a thing or substance, given, but a continuous creation. The human body is an energy system, Schilder’s postural model, which is never a complete structure, never static, is in perpetual inner self-construction and self destruction; we destroy in order to make it new.”3
The human body is the living sipapu. We descend into it and find not just sinew and bone, but Everybody.
At Alma College, where I was completing my theological studies for the priesthood in the late sixties, several of us “progressives” gathered for a day of encounter to determine whether or not our chosen way of life was indeed viable for us. It was a day of heavy verbal interaction with much negativity. In the evening walking down to Alma from the mountain cabin where we met, I met a group of stoned hippies. They gathered round and hugged me. I was overwhelmed with new feeling, after some thirty years of not being touched, to be smothered with bodies. It contrasted with the harshness and distance of the day’s encounter experience.
Some weeks later, there was a meeting with three other Jesuit friends to discuss Stendahl’s The Red and the Black. The evening turned into a long attack on my game playing and hollowness by two of my friends. We were seated at four corners of a large room. I remember having the feeling of these distant people throwing rocks at me. The next day I went to see my friend Anita and made love for the first time.
There is a functional distinction in Rolfing between the extrinsic muscles of the body and the intrinsics. The extrinsics are those with which most people are familiar – the pectorals, the biceps, the recti, and so on. They are familiar because they are used most frequently; they are overused. In children they are used almost exclusively. Because of the patterns of movement in Western culture and the forms of exercise that are rooted in these patterns, these muscles, are developed at the expense of the intrinsics, a deeper set of muscles constituting an inner body which is beyond ordinary experience. These muscles run deep along the spine, through the pelvis, along the arms and legs.
A central aim of Rolfing is to bring the intrinsics to life, evoking a new form of bodily behavior which comes from a balanced use of both the inner and outer body. The overdevelopment of the extrinsics is what constitutes body armor: a hard, fast-moving shell, designed to protect the body from attack. If one presumes an evolution toward a more peaceful culture, this armored body becomes an anachronism which will die out because of its inability to adapt to change.
Rolfing is a growth therapy. It is one of the many factors leading to a fuller appropriation of the energy present in the world, in ourselves.
Encounter groups, LSD, Anita – these were major factors that broke down my old world, my old ways of seeing. I left California for Yale in 1968 to complete my Ph.D. in philosophy disoriented, trying to be a priest, a hippie, a lover, a philosopher, but not really making it at any of them. The fantasies I had during this period, particularly during my occasional psychedelic trips, were often of a world torn by war, bombed-out cities, atomic explosions. They were not experienced as bad but even as ecstatic. I was playing all kinds of games and none of them seemed to go together in me. I had blown my mind and fallen apart.
Ida Rolf often says in exasperation: “Many can take the body apart; hardly anyone can put it together again.”
While at Yale, I decided to try to put together some of the fragments of my newly emerging world by doing my dissertation on Norman 0. Brown, particularly on his thesis that changing a culture’s body image changes the structures of the culture itself. I went to visit Brown at Middletown. He was another refugee, unable to sleep since writing Life Against Death, afraid that psychedelic drugs or meditation would remove his little remaining ability to cope with his academic profession. I_ went away feeling deeper respect for him both as a person and for his work. He, more than anyone I knew, understood the true nature of radical change in culture. From his perspective I could articulate what I had experienced about the revolutionary aspect of the human potentials movement and the psychedelic movement. This I attempted in my dissertation. But I also came away realizing that Brown was no longer my teacher. He didn’t know any better than I how to move beyond the apocalypse to the new world.
Dan Berrigan was another side of my life. He symbolized why I remained in the Jesuits during those latter years. He was a poet, a mystic, a compassionate human being, an exciting revolutionary, and very much a Jesuit. My pre-Brown, preLSD direction was his way: religious, political, radical change. But I couldn’t give myself fully to this path: It sapped me of energy and seemed at times frantic and show manlike. Berrigan stayed at my apartment in New Haven shortly before he went underground. He put to me the decision whether or not finally to commit myself to his movement by organizing the burning of the New Haven draft files. I decided against it, not clearly knowing then what I was deciding in favor of.
What to do with madness
The political solution to the problem of madness is divide and conquer segregation and repression (like in asylums) perpetual conflict the political revolution is a temporary break-down followed by the reinstitution of repression a cycle of explosion and repression activity and passivity in eternal reoccurrence
Perpetual conflict is the rule of politics the reality principle the world as we know it Is there any alternative?4
Carlos Castaneda tells of taking Don Juan to a meeting of radicals at Earth Day in Tucson. Don Juan said of the speakers who were drooped over the table, smoking heavily: “They don’t even care about their own bodies.”
The change of one body or several bodies is irrelevant to a change in the culture. You and I may feel better and operate better in our semiprivate spheres. It is the change in Everybody that changes the culture. To change the way vast numbers of people experience their bodies, the way they exercise, what they eat, what they do with their bodies in their work, what they permit to happen to the bodies of their children (visualize what happens to the body of a seven-year old sitting at an aberrant desk for six hours a day, looking straight forward, straining to see and hear a boring teacher whose own body is effectively dead), to change the character of sport, the image of male and female beauty.
The way out of my adulthood crisis began to clarify with two events that happened the same week in the fall o 1969: I began seeing Elissa, whom I later married, and Ed Maupin did my first hour of Rolling. At that time I was chaplain of the graduate school at Yale and William Sloan Coffin’s assistant pastor of the university chapel. It was a last try at a meaningful priestly work. I invited Ed to do a workshop in body movement for graduate students. Elissa was a friend who, like myself, was in that nevernever-land drifting between worlds. A dancer and an artist, she had recently divorced her husband, a professor of psychiatry in the Yale Medical School.
The completion of my first ten hours of Rolfing with Ed took over a year and several thousand miles. I was a trustee of Loyola University in Los Angeles. I would fly to a meeting, drive rapidly up the coast to Ed’s home in big Sur for a session, and fly back to New Haven. It had the feeling of a warrior’s journey in search of a legendary city. During this time I was writing my dissertation, which carried me further in the direction of feeling that what I really wanted to do was devote myself to changes in the body. There seemed to be something mad about my mind trips, both philosophical and political. Being a Rolfer, however, never entered my mind since I never thought of myself as capable of skillful physical work.
Ida Rolf developed a system of working with the body which involved a basic therapy of ten sessions, each lasting about one hour. During the first seven hours the old structure of the body is taken apart, muscle groups are separated, fascial adhesions are broken up, attachment are clarified. During the final three hours a new structure too can be opened up again to leave room for a still more refined one. The body is infinitely complex and capable of unlimited refinement.
Coping with the notion of structure was an important part of my transition from philosophy-theology to Rolfing. That day at Chaco Canyon I recognized more clearly what had happened to my relation to structure in those years between 1965 and 1971 The structures blasted apart by LSD were the structures of the medieval synthesis. They were highly abstract, heaven bound, and unrelated to the body. I don’t believe that the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition is liable for all the caricatures heaped on it. It was based on the solid reality of perception. But given my family and churchly history, these systems fed a tendency in me to use concepts to protect myself from the hurly-burly of life and the horrors of intimacy. In my post-LSD period I identified the inhibiting structures of my past world with all structures. My thought was that no structure was desirable: neither educational, marital, vocational, nor moral.
What I came to realize, largely through my experience of being Rolfed and my training as a Rolfer by Ida, is that there is a structure inherent in things, us, the world, which maximizes energy. It’s not a structure imposed from without but one which emerges from within when the blocks are removed. (Aristotle knew this. It was the crux of his break with Plato.) Rolfing is highly structured, as was the Anasazi culture. But the structure comes from opening up the lines of energy in the body, just as the Anasazi structures came from the earth in harmony with the changes in the seasons and shifts in the stars.
When I was in grade school and high school, I used to spend hours lying on my bed, tossing in the air and catching a solid rubber version of one of the seven dwarfs, dreaming endless fantasies. Most everyone else my age was out playing or working.
As my time at Yale drew to a close, I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with the prospect of going just anywhere there happened to be a good job and, when there, teaching philosophy. The then far-out prospect of becoming a Rolfer occurred to me. I was able to meet with Ida in one of her few visits to New York and was accepted for preliminary training. About the only specific things she liked about my past were that I had spent my high school and college summers on construction jobs and that I had been a Jesuit and friend of Paul Hilsdale.
That was a stormy afternoon in January 1971. From then until the following November, when I completed my training, was a time of intense fear and uncertainty. All of my insecurity about using my body came to the fore. I was giving up all the intellectual skills I had accumulated over the past fifteen years to undertake an extremely strenuous work requiring great manual skill. At Pigeon Key in October I discovered, working for the first time under Ida’s watchful eye, not only that I was capable of doing physical work, but that I could do it well.
I dreamed that another Rolfer and I drove to see Ida who was living in an immense Victorian mansion. When we went in, she seated me, told me to let the top of my head go up while she placed her knuckle on one of my neck muscles. I went into a state of cosmic consciousness.
Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?”
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.5
I came to Ida after four years of working with the linguistic analysts, particularly with Ludwig Wittgenstein. This method of doing philosophy is a rigorous therapy whose aim is to remove from mankind the madness which comes from plaguing itself with false questions, with questions which admit of no answer or which are cast in such a way that they can’t be answered. I had spent a good deal of my life anguishing over cosmic why’s. Wittgenstein was a major step in drawing my awareness to the more specific and worldly. Meeting Ida continued this process. Her constant retort to the troubled brow asking questions about why is the right side of this body bigger than the left, why did the work on this person’s ankle release old rage, was, “I don’t know why, I just know that!” It was clear to her, as it was becoming clear to me, that the “causes” which have brought us to where we are now are so various and complex, some going back centuries, that being concerned about the specific cause of a specific phenomenon is to misdirect our energies.
After my first training session at Esalen in the summer of 1971, Elissa, my three step-children, and I moved to a nine-acre place just outside of Santa Fe. We live in an old adobe house which grows right out of the ground. Elissa, some friends, and I built a bedroom for ourselves, also of mud. Our life here has been more in contact with the earth, the seasons, and bodily work. We don’t live the primitive life that many of our friends do. We have most of the modern conveniences. But things are simpler than before, more difficult in an immediate bodily way, and more in keeping with our work.
The first year here I oscillated between the joy of being good at a skill which was of immediate use to people and the pain of becoming a physical laborer after thirty-eight years of being a dreamer and an intellectual. My new-found enthusiasm about being a body which was a skillful instrument often outran my ability. For the first time in my life I felt like fixing my own car, repairing plumbing and electricity, working in the garden, building things; but it was often too much. I sometimes found myself in pain and discouragement.
Things have settled into a rhythm now. Work comes easily.
A man came for his first session of Rolfing. His body was very twisted, his right shoulder was several inches wider than his left, and his trunk was shifted drastically to the right. As he gave an account of his past history (he was in his forties), he said he had had only a couple of minor accidents.
He continued to describe the many specific miseries in his body. When I observed that he appeared to have undergone some serious mishap, he repeated that there had been none. We began working. Half-way through the session he remarked that he had had polio when he was eleven years old, “but it was completely cured.” I asked what he meant by “completely cured.” He replied, “I wasn’t left in a wheelchair.”
Something like this happens every day.
In class at Eslaen one day Ida exclaimed, “People around here have been saying that Ida Rolf says that all there is the body. Well, let it be known that Ida Rolf thinks there is more than the body, but the body is all we can get our hands on.”
One of the striking experiences during my first series of Rolfings was the realization of the density of my body: that is was not a hollow Pandora’s box set upon wooden stilts, but that it was body all the way through. A very large man in his late forties who had been an athlete most of his life often expressed his fear during my work with him that I could easily puncture his rib cage since it seemed to him like a thin shell covered with a fine layer of skin. When observing another man rotating his pelvis underneath himself by tensing his belly muscles (rectus abdominis), I asked him to move his pelvis from deep inside, relaxing his belly. He replied that the belly muscle is the only one we have to move the pelvis. Another young man remarked that he had always thought and felt that muscles were the outer shell protecting the body inside.
Rolfing is my path. It isn’t just a thing I do. I feel there is no limit within this path to what I can learn about the body and about myself and no limit to the changes I can effect.
Since I was a little kid I have felt alienated from those around me. Things seem different now. My life seems simple and straightforward. I am a craftsman like my father, his father, and his grandfather. I make my living in proportion to the amount of work I do. I feel at home with most everyone now; I no longer feel so apart. My father and the average American may think my work is weird, but that’s their problem. It’s clear to me at least that what I’m doing is directly related to what concerns them: making things easier, especially for those growing older, removing the tensions and conflict which make our world so difficult to live in. And I do it in a way anyone with interest can understand. There is (almost) nothing obscure about Rolfing.
This new feeling is not unrelated to the Rolfing itself. I have observed countless times the transition in my clients from feelings of strangeness and apartness to feelings of wholeness and centeredness which emerge as the work progresses. As we begin to travel into our inner body, experiencing more clearly and constantly the center of our being, we begin to sense that we are interconnected with the whole.
1. Ida Rolf, Structural Integration.
2. Norman O. Brown, “From Politics to Metapolitics,” in A Caterpillar Anthology, ed. Clayton Eshelman (New York: Anchor Books, 1971), pp. 8, 9.
3. Norman 0. Brown, Love’s Body (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), pg. 155.
4. From Brown, “Politics to Metapolitics,” pp. 11-12.
5. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Cat’s Cradle, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963), p. 124.