In recent years, the writings of Arnold Mindell (such as The Leader as Martial Artist, The Shaman’s Body, Sitting in the Fire, etc.) have generated considerable interest in fields as diverse as organizational development and shamanism. Mindell’s original work was with body symptoms and dreaming, as detailed in books such as Working with the Dreaming Body and Coma: A Key to Awakening. In this, the second part of an interview conducted on January 3, 1999, Julie Diamond (a senior teacher of Arnold Mindell’s Process Work) talks about several topics that might be interesting to us as Rolfers:
Can we really trust the natural self-correcting power of the body? What about addictions – aren’t they evidence that the body’s self-regulation can’t always be trusted? Julie’s response is that the yearning behind an addiction might be pointing toward something that is actually needed. Working on an addictive behavior might mean getting to the root of that need and addressing it, rather than just trying to get rid of the addictive behavior. An interesting way to apply this to our structural work would be to see structural imbalances in the same way – perhaps they are “symbols” for something that the system is actually needing for balance, or inefficient attempts to get something that is needed. For instance, guiding a client farther into a collapsed pattern might reveal a need for more rest or inwardness. Could trying to balance the structure without investigating the processes behind it be like simply trying to get rid of an addictive behavior? That is, such interventions are often useful, even necessary, in acute cases, but they don’t always address the hidden wisdom of the imbalance.
The second topic we discussed here is the relationship between individual and collective change. How does the influence of culture and society affect what we are able to accomplish as practitioners working on the individual level? And, how do we enable our clients to take their changes out into their everyday lives?
The first part of this interview was published in the Spring 1999 edition of Rolf Lines. It is also available at www.tilluchau.net.
Julie Diamond: Process Work is fundamentally Taoist, in the sense that the Way (with a big W) is the way (little w). In other words, the flow of nature is a self-correcting system; if you just align yourself to nature, things will heal themselves.
Til Luchau: Now that’s a big discussion. Some people would say, “Well, what about addictions?” Aren’t addictions a time when naturE seems to be going “wrong”?
Julie: Funny that you should talk about addictions because that is my favorite topic these days. Process Work has worked a lot with addictions, especially in the last ten years or so. One of the ideas about an addiction that is often overlooked in our culture is that we forget that an addiction is a tinkering with a mood.
Til: A tinkering with a mood?
Julie: It is a tinkering with a mood – it is an altering of a state of conscious ness. And typically, psychological thinking about addictions is colored by moral and religious systems that are really difficult. The whole thing about addictions being a sign of a personal failing or a weakness is still very much in modern psychotherapeutic approaches for addictions. So when you think about addictions, you think someone is doing all these terrible, bad things, and they are getting away from things, that they are hiding and fleeing and all that stuff. That can be true, I’m not saying it is not, but what they are also doing is they are changing their state of consciousness. So that the teleologica approach, that purposive direction that Process Work would take, woulc be to ask as well, not just what you’d fleeing, but what are you going to. What is the state of consciousness that the addiction helps you connect with? And why do you need it in your life – it is again a symbol that is trying to correct something. So if you are doing something to alter your state of consciousness, it is your normal state of consciousness that may need correcting. So one way to look at it would be that the addiction is an attempt at healing your normal state of consciousness.
Til: So maybe the addiction is trying to go towards something that could be helpful?
Til: For example, what could someone in addictive process be trying to go toward that might be helpful?
Julie: Well, for example, our American culture is such a work ethic culture, and there are all kinds of addictions that run counter to the American spirit, you know, like heroin, alcoholism, where people can’t work, don’t work, and they’re relaxing into a state of stupor. That could be correcting an incredibly onesided approach to work. It is also very individual, you would have to ask people themselves about what they are doing. But smoking, for example, is a really big one. If you amplify the altered state that smoking produces, very often you get people in a more dreamy, drifty, state. But also it tinkers with your breathing, so you get people to amplify their experience of smoking, not by smoking incidentally, but by asking them to mimic smoking and then feel what they feel. A lot of times people will start to breathe more deeply, an( then that produces an altered state o drifting out of focus, not being so related. This is really a very disavowed state in a culture that puts such a premium on relatedness and verbal interaction, and being ready t work, and go, and be “on.” That is ar example I see a lot working with people around smoking.
Til: How about the cultural aspect? In Process Work, how are body symptoms seen as connected to cultural issues?
Julie: We were talking about this in regard to addictions, and everything is also related to culture. In our normal way of being (what we call it Process Work our “primary process”; we get identified with certain activities and definitions of who we are: “I am this, I am that.” Very often, many symptoms run counter to this definition; they are trying to complete us, make us more whole. The role of culture in this is very powerful – culture tends to support our primary definitions of who we are.
Til: For example?
Julie: For example, let’s take the person we were talking about with the postural problem. Her culture – which I am here using to mean her subculture, her family of origin culture, the country that she is coming from, the job area that she is working in – in her culture, all that is supported is her hunched posture, in the sense that it supports her to strain and to struggle and to work hard. So shifting that is a revolutionary act because you have to go against culture and she then becomes the “relaxing one.” But this “relaxing one” and her psychology are like a marginalized minority position – they don’t have any support. They need an advocate, and often the therapist has to advocate for these more marginalized positions until the person’s whole personality can then pick that up and support it. She is not going to find much support in the culture because she has lived and grown up in a particular culture that supports working hard and straining, struggling. And everything in her and around her is against relaxing.
Til: We see that all the time as Rolfers, by the way. You do a beautiful session and your client is standing or moving in a more balanced way, and then they have to go right out into their lives and into the chaotic world again.
Julie: Right, so actually working with the symptom is the quick part, that’s not the part that’s hard, it’s integrating the change that’s harder.
Til: Integrating the change?
Julie: Integrating the change into everyday life means nothing less than changing culture. I’ll throw a quote back at you. Amy [Mindell] said, “History happens in the body.” That’s actually an old idea, in terms of personal history, but the whole idea that historical struggles are in the body, not just personal history, but social struggles are deeply personal things that are found in everyday symptoms, like this person’s struggle with the work ethic versus relaxing. That is an age-old social problem, you could read history books and find that dynamic happening there too.
Til: This idea has touched me a lot. It has got me thinking that if I’m really interested in “wholism,” it means more than just working on the whole body. It means moving beyond the level of just my clients’ experience, too; my clients are embedded in a cultural context, and if I really want to support my clients’ changes, or make a difference in their lives, it means working on the culture as well.
Julie: That’s right. I can work alone on myself in my body, but then I have to go live that body change in my personal relationships, so then I’m doing relationship work. Then I go to work, and I have to do the same thing and struggle with that in the workplace and in the culture at large, and so working at all levels is really part of human change.
Til: Lots of people, including me in the past, have said to ourselves that by helping our clients change we are working on cultural change, that working on an individual level will affect the collective level.
Julie: I agree completely, but the person integrating that change is a collective process too. So the work changes their body, but can they maintain that change? Actually, the point isn’t to maintain the change; the point is the clash of culture. In that clash of culture process lives – that’s the point, you see, that’s democracy. Democracy is the dialogue between positions. It’s not that one position lives more than another position, it’s that incredible dialogue that happens between them.
Til: So that moment when I go out of my session so relaxed and open and connected to myself, dealing with the clash of coming back into, well…
Julie:… a tight culture. And the dialogue between uptight work ethic and your relaxed state of mind – that, for me, is the point. It is not making a change and making it stick, it’s unraveling the different spirits that live in these different positions or in the culture, the spirit of work versus the spirit of relaxing. It’s not even having a relaxed body that’s important, it’s actually the spirit of relaxedness, and what that is and what that means. This goes way beyond just having the body experience of it. What is it like to have a relaxed attitude of mind? Or a relaxed life, a relaxed way of relating to people? And that relaxed role interacting with the other role, meeting each other, learning about each other, having a dialogue and through that dialogue growing and challenging, developing and learning …I think that’s where Process Work goes.
Til: So, I’m asking myself: as a Rolfer, how might I help my clients deal with the culture, how do I help them in that dialogue?
Julie: Well, you know, every modality has its way of doing things. In Rolfing®, for example, I am thinking you have a client make a lot of changes in their body, in their posture. How about giving time to process what that means for them to have such a body experience? What would it be like to live like that, how would it change their lifestyle? How would they be political like that, for example? What would it be like to have an attitude of mind that follows this body experience? We could process the clash in a role play, and we’d come back to whatever brings that up-tight body state back, and what it would be like to integrate it.
Til: So, in this way of thinking, the work doesn’t end on the table or even in the practice room. Working this way, we help our clients find some bridge out into their life processes.
Julie: That’s important because they have to go back to work, and back to their life. That’s really where these processes and structures get reinforced.
Til: How does Process Work look at how the individual and collective levels connect, or especially, how to be effective on both levels? Or how personal change is just one facet of a continuum?
Julie: That’s a really big thing. I went through a little crisis in my practice, because as I became more politically active and Process Work was doing a lot more group work, I found myself thinking well what the [hell] am I doing, sitting alone one to one, talking about somebody’s mother. I thought, “I can’t do this.” I really got to a crisis point, and so I had a really big long think and I thought, what am I doing when I am working with an individual? Is it enough to work with them that they had a bad mother, or that they have trouble getting their needs met in their relationship, or whatever? I was thinking about it and I realized that actually I am not helping them with their problems. That’s not enough for, me, that won’t do it. What I am helping them with is this: I want to help make people more capable of democracy, and that to me is my goal.
Til: More capable of democracy?
Julie: Democracy is a lot more than voting, and I would say that we are not really yet capable of democracy.
Til: I imagine you are talking about things like how to include diversity…
Julie: Yeah, how to speak up, and speak out, and be open to what you yourself are thinking, and facilitate others, and be up to that immense dialogue that is democracy. Democracy for me is like the ultimate relationship work. It is divergent needs competing over world systems and scarce resources and ideological positions. It is a massive dialogue, and it requires a lot to be up to that big debate, not just shouting down your opponent, or using voting to silence one side, or being more right or wrong. It requires really being open, listening, talking, taking your position, helping the other part express its side, understanding where it’s coming from, that whole thing. I feel when I am working with people, that is what I am actually trying to do – help myself and others be capable of a democratic process.
Til: Even knowing how to be a relaxed person in this culture is an internal democratic process as well as an external democratic process.
Julie: It’s part of democracy, that’s exactly right, and it’s an external democratic process – we project that relaxed-ness onto minority groups – call them lazy, stupid, bad workers, that whole thing. It is totally disavowed and marginalized. It’s a huge political thing to talk about relax. If white professionals talk more about the value of relaxing I think that would do a lot for racism in America, we wouldn’t have to project it, we could start owning it as our problem, and not projecting it onto other nations and races and…
Til:…and welfare moms.
Julie: Exactly, that’s great! Til, that’s fantastic. You should do a new article: “Relaxing and Welfare Moms!”
Til: That’s what we’re working on when we do it inside.
Julie: That’s right, you’re working on welfare reform.
Til: OK, Julie, thank you for this conversation.
Julie: You’re welcome!
More information about Process Work can be found at www.ProcessWork.org. Julie Diamond can be contacted at [email protected] or via www.juliediamond.net. Til welcomes your comments and correspondence at [email protected] or via www.tilluchau.net.