The Line is often presented as the highest value to which our work can aspire, and yet it is the most neglected aspect of our teaching. We have largely ignored making any attempts at developing a systematic approach to exploring or embodying the Line. We have also largely ignored any systematic exploration of what, for lack of a better word, could be called the “spiritual” ramifications of Rolfing®. Instead we have focused almost exclusively on the refinement of our skills of manipulation and on the improvement in physiotherapeutic function brought about through Rolfing. I would like to suggest that our decision not to explore the experiential implications of the Line in any kind of depth and detail nor to pursue the very real spiritual implications of Rolfing are directly related.
The reason that I say this is that the embodiment of the Line creates a mudra (a bodily gesture or posture) of transformation capable of generating a radical and profound shift in embodied consciousness. This shift has nothing whatsoever to do with an increase in our ability to function more effectively in the world. That increase is properly the goal of the physiotherapeutic focus of Rolfing, but is not in any way dependent on (and may even be inhibited by) the willingness to fully explore the embodiment of the Line. The shift in consciousness that I am referring to here takes one from an exclusive and isolated awareness of egoic self that experiences itself as separate from everything it perceives to exist outside of the body to an inclusive and palpable awareness of self that is profoundly embedded in, and deeply connected to, what has traditionally been referred to as the “ground of being.” All the spiritual traditions speak of this dimension of experience. The pre-Buddhist Dzogchen teachings speak of rigpa (the “natural state”). The Mahayana Buddhist teachings speak of sunyata (“open dimension of being”). The Theravadin Buddhist teachings speal of bhanga (“complete dissolving”). Acknowledgment of this dimension of experience can also be plainly found within the esoteric teachings o the Judaeo-Christian traditions as well. None of these above-mentioned states are mythical or imaginary conditions. They are, rather, actual concrete experiences available to the person who, I would suggest, has learned how to come to balance.
I will readily admit that there has been an abundance of problems with the way in which we have conceived of the Line. In the first place, it has proved largely impossible for the anatomical theoreticians within the Institute to agree on what the specific structural coordinates of the Line actually are. The problem with this approach to defining the Line, however, has been the viewing of the Line as a static goal or set of structural relationships that we are attempting to attain, rather than as a “guideline” for the simple, but very profound, action of playing with balance. Our understanding and images of the Line should not bind us to a conception of a kind of imagined perfection; rather they should point us in the direction of a participatory spiritual practice capable of bringing about the shift in embodied consciousness that I referred to in the last paragraph. In our attempts to define the Line, it is ultimately much more helpful to let go of conceiving of the Line as a noun or event and experience it instead as a verb or process (what might be called the “practice of Lining”). Understand that the structural coordinates of the Line are not ultimately important. The experiential coordinates of the Line, however, are. These coordinates only make themselves known through participating in the process of unfolding that playing with balance can so profoundly initiate. Shying away from exploring the Line because we cannot agree on its specific structural coordinates is a bit like declining to cook a vegetarian meal because we cannot find any fresh fish in the market.
The other very real problem with our attempts at embodying and exploring the Line can be traced to the history of our teaching. Dr. Rolf knew that Rolfing could potentially bring about a transformation of consciousness, and she believed that an embodiment of the Line was the means to this end. In her original formulation, however, she believed that the embodiment of the Line could be attained through attending solely to the structural alignment of the body. The problem with this (as many of us who explored this at the time can attest) was that it didn’t work all that well. Exploring the Line through paying attention solely to alignment left our bodies feeling stiff and rigid, our minds and emotions churning. This was hardly the holy grail of consciousness that we thought we would find and instead seemed like a kind of militaristic antithesis to what had been promised. Superimposing an idealized template onto the structure of the body and then attempting to conform our posture to the coordinates of that template simply created further tension, and ultimately we had to admit that chains of gold kept us every bit as imprisoned as chains of iron.
I now know, for example, that the transformation of consciousness that the Line can lead us to cannot be found, as Dr. Rolf perhaps originally believed, at the end of the rainbow of alignment alone. The bringing of relaxation (the literal dropping of the weight of the body to the pull of gravity) and resilience (the allowance of constant movement, both apparent and subtle) into my explorations to embody the Line and to experience its transformational potential is every bit as critical as attending to the structural alignment of my body. I would also like to state plainly that I am not wanting to make Dr. Rolf and her original conception of the Line wrong in any way nor to hold her guilty for the omissions that I now perceive. Without alignment there can be no relaxation or resilience. It was up to us to take her initial insights and to refine them, and I would suggest that we have not yet really done that.
We would do well to remember that twenty-five years ago our hands-on skills at doing the actual work of Rolfing were nowhere nearly so sophisticated as they are today. Acknowledging this limitation, we have focused quite successfully over the years on the importance of refining our manipulative abilities. I feel, however, that we pretty much gave up on and abandoned our exploration of the embodiment of the Line. Instead of refining our understanding of how this could occur, we concluded that the Line was not worth exploring and that something about the whole concept was intrinsically unworkable.
As we then turned our attention increasingly to the physiotherapeutic benefits of Rolfing, interest in the Line withered even further. In fact, not only did our interest wane, but we had to actively ignore the Line because, remember, what it is in truth is a mudra of transformation. If all you want is your current awareness of discomfort to be relieved, but your sense of self not altered in any significant way, you would do well indeed to stay far away from exploring the embodiment of the Line. Indeed, the practice of embodying the Line may open extraordinarily powerful energies within the body that can be extremely challenging to embrace. As these energies continue to move freely through the conduit of the body, a great deal of physical and emotional pain may be experienced before the organic movement itself, on its own terms and at its own pace, can bring the intensified physical and emotional sensations to resolution.
In some circles within our membership talk of the Line is accompanied by a hushed tone of reverence. In others, however, there is an open antagonism to the Line and the professed belief that all mention of it should be jettisoned from our teaching. I believe that such an action would be tragic, the equivalent of cutting the heart and soul out of our work. The problem is not with the Line nor with the path of exploration that it can direct us toward; the problem is with our inherent fears and insecurities in surrendering to our ultimate birthright and the conditions of consciousness that beckon us (whether we want to be beckoned or not). The reclamation of that birthright requires that we relinquish the limitations of our conventional sense of egoic self. It can be a scary process, yes, but to the degree that I have tasted it I can report that the voluntary embrace of fear is well worth the price of admission.
Like many of us within the wider world of Rolfing, I too have been fortunate to have experienced several profound openings in my adult life that, once again, the inadequate word “spiritual” is what we use to describe. I would like to state categorically that I have never experienced an opening of this nature that has not also been simultaneously and spontaneously accompanied by a profound appearance of the Line through my body. A condition of profound balance and consequent comfort is available to all of us. We have to, however, be willing to accept and undergo the dramatic shift in consciousness, the radical alteration to our perceived sense of self, that allows this balance and comfort to manifest.
We sell ourselves very short indeed if we attempt to deny that there is any place for radically and profoundly transformational experiences within the broader teachings of Rolfing. Let us let a personal exploration of the Line continue to be our guide as we navigate that terrain.