Carl Jung once said that all life processes are purposeful. Nobel Prize winner Szent-Gyorgi said that there is a “drive in living matter to perfect itself.” Chinese philosophy/ physiology, summed of in the symbol called Tai Chi by the Chinese and commonly known elsewhere as the yin/yang symbol, describes a natural process (a drive) by which opposites come together and harmonize.
The engine that drives the psyche is the interaction of opposites. The engine that drives life in the Taoist view is the interaction of yin and yang. An operational definition of these engines is that two opposing forces or qualities are continually attempting, as it were, to come together to make a third, a unity that is then an opposite of something else, and then the process continues as another opposite shows up and attempts to harmonize with the newly formed third.
If this movement towards unity or wholeness is the way of all life, and if it is “acted out” by the opposites, then we would expect to see this in the psychology and physiology of human beings as well as in the “natural world.” Interestingly, modern physics says that light behaves both as a particle and a wave, and depth psychology describes a psychological process (alchemy) by which human beings are driven to become whole or to produce higher consciousness, which involves the harmonizing of the opposites (that is to say, human beings are driven towards the experience of being both opposites). I propose that it is possible to pay attention to and work with this purposeful dance of opposites in a Rolfing session and that, indeed, when the somatic profession speaks of “following the body,” what is being referred to – through a glass, darkly – is the same thing New Age psychology calls “following your inner wisdom.” Both refer to following the “acting out” of this purposeful dance of opposites.
It is instructive, in exploring the above view, to look into Taoism more deeply. I am not a Chinese scholar, so these are my interpretations of Chinese thinking. To begin this exploration, we must look at life from the Taoist perspective, and to do this we muss understand the difference between Wu Chi and Tai Chi.
“In the beginning” was Wu Chi (or Tai Yi), or the “state” that existed before all that we know existed. Lao Tzu called this the Tao. It cannot be named. It is beyond concepts and conception. There is a relationship between the Tao and the “ten thousand things” or the world we agree upon, and the I Ching was used to divine how to gel into “alignment” with the Tao, the essence “behind” the ten thousand things.
Tai Chi, symbolized by the popularly known yin / yang symbol, is different- from the Tao. The yin/yang symbol refers to Tai Chi, a “wholistic process-state” in which yin and yang are in harmonious interaction and are not differentiated into opposite “things.” Tai Chi. is not the Tao: we can conceive of Tai Chi but not the Tao. Tai Chi can be talked about, but “the Tao that can be told is not the Tao.” Conflicts do not exist in Tai Chi, because yin and yang are there but not separate. In this unity or “wholistic process state,” there are no things.
The consensual world is made up of the “ten thousand things.” Here, yin and yang have arisen as separate entities. When “reality” is built up of separate, distinct, differentiated things, there is the potential for conflicts, which may or may not resolve. If yin and yang are allowed to come together and interact harmoniously – as they do in the wholistic process-state symbolized by Tai Chi – conflicts will arise and conflicts will be resolved in a never-ending stream. Life then becomes an ongoing stream of conflict-resolution events.
When yin and yang come together, as in the Tai Chi symbol, they produce a third thing, a harmonized unity and there is no longer any conflict. Then something else comes along, and the “third” and the “new” thing are in conflict until they unite in the way of the Tai Chi symbol. This tension between opposites, and the release of this tension as the opposites harmonize, can be experienced, and, indeed, we continually have opportunities to do so. For example, this happens every time Rolfer and client become “Rolfer client,” a third thing created in the lived wordless world of touch-mediated experience. When this harmonizing of the opposites, in this case the harmonizing of me and not-me, or of Rolfer and client, happens, we have an experience of “being in the flow” and we have entered the realm symbolized by Tai Chi (the yin/yang symbol).
Unfortunately (or not), like an adolescent “acting out” anger instead of experiencing it as a part of himself, we humans tend to “act out” this dance of opposites rather than experience ourselves as undergoing this process in which opposites are attempting to harmonize. The “problem” or the “issue” then seems to occur outside of our experience of ourselves. “I’m just a Rolfer working on a client’s relationship with gravity,” we might say.
Yes, that “reality” is true. What is also true is that when we let ourselves be and trust in our experience (that is, when we follow the Tao), each new opposite that comes to us and is harmonized into the pre-existing unity produces a larger unity. We “get bigger.” Our consciousness enlarges – our experience of who we are gets larger. We are moved along a path towards experiences of ourselves as ever-greater harmonized unity encountering “other.” Every opposite, every other, is allowed. Can we accept that the “reality” of being a Rolfer working on a client and the reality of Tai Chi are occurring simultaneously?
When we don’t “follow the Tao” it is a different story. In the Western conception and experience of the world, yin and yang are separate and held apart, and yin is better than yang or yang is better than yin. Only one of the two opposites is tolerable, and the other must be done away with or kept in its place. (Keeping an opposite in its place is the same thing as destroying it, as it is not allowed a life of its own.) When we don’t “follow the Tao” internally, we can see Freud’s defense mechanisms in action (for example, getting rid of the experience of the offending opposite by repressing it). When one of the pair of opposites is intolerable on the outside, we go to war and either destroy it or die trying.
When we don’t follow the Tao, we believe the world to be and we experience the world as being made up of separate and distinct “things” (unless we believe that light is a particle and a wave rather than either a particle or a wave). Conflicts arise, but cannot be resolved as long as opposites are not allowed to interact freely. Here there is no potential for harmony as the “ten thousand things” can not follow the Tao.
America is good: Iraq and North Korea are bad. Mind is mind: body is body. Psychotherapy is psychotherapy: Rolfing is Rolfing. Shamanism is shamanism: medicine is medicine. Some thoughts are good: some thoughts are bad. Some feelings are good: some feelings are bad. Some bodies or postures are good: other bodies or postures are bad. Life becomes a never-ending war of thing against thing or quality against quality, and the war goes on until “one side” wins by destroying the other. And then the next war begins.
The thing is, whether we follow the Tao or not, the Tao exists and there is a “pushing” – we are “driven” towards unity or wholeness. In depth psychology, the purposeful process of conflicts arising and being resolved “inside” or “outside” a person (that is to say, the Tao acting through us) has been described through the lens of alchemy. Western alchemy began long ago in Europe as a way of transforming metals. What was also going on was that the alchemists were, without realizing it, projecting the psychological process of their own transformation out onto matter.
By looking at the process of transforming matter – alchemy – as metaphor for the process of human transformation, we can know the way of psychological transformation. It is the way of two opposites coming together and producing a third – higher consciousness. The words “higher consciousness,” very simply put, are here meant to point to a person’s increased ability to experience the opposites within and without. “I am good and bad;” “I am mind and body,” and so on, are words describing the experience of “increased wholeness” or higher consciousness, which arises when opposites come together and harmonize into a third.
It is important to understand that in this transformative movement towards higher consciousness the opposites referred to may seem to be inside or outside of ourselves. One of the main ways that we can come to know aspects of ourselves that we don’t know to be ourselves is to experience them first as a “not me” outside of my experience of myself. After a long (enough) period of suffering one can arrive at a lived experience of-“it’s all me.” From this “perspective,” great intimacy and compassion are possible, as one looks out on the world and sees and accepts oneself.
When a mediator is faced with a conflict between two parties, he must find the opposing points of view within him before the conflict can resolve. Otherwise, one party will be right and the other wrong and the opposites will not harmonize into a third, the resolution. There will be a winner and a loser. A Rolfer is constantly faced with this winner and loser reality. A client says,” but I paid you to fix me, to heal me, to care about me,” and the Rolfer says,” you’re resisting, you are in bad shape and need more work, it’s not my problem it’s yours.”
When a Rolfer encounters a new problem to solve (and what problem is ever not a new one?) he must experience the “other” within himself before understanding the way of this particular conflict’s resolution. This is very important. Without finding the conflict in the client within me, the Rolfer, all I can do is use techniques to solve a technical problem “out there.” Technological fixes abound, but one has to keep at it, as the conflict is never resolved.
Just make the nuclear waste go away (bury it) and if it shows up again we’ll figure out what to do. Just hold your chest up and you can limit your experience of being alive to what is tolerable and when the intolerable shows up again just find another way to get a little smaller (reduce your experience of who you are). This process of getting smaller and not experiencing some aspect of myself as myself gets played out “in our bodies” and can go on and on until we seek help for our “symptoms.”
If a Rolfer doesn’t understand the way of human transformation, that is, the process symbolized by alchemy and Tai Chi, then he is limited to working on “bodies” only. He is also limited in his understanding of his own nature. Nothing wrong with this it’s just that “the Meaning of Life” and the meaning of one’s own life become lost in the process of excluding some aspect of ourselves. In this case the experience of the drive in living matter “trying to” perfect itself is excluded, and we experience ourselves as a thing or an event only. Light is no longer a particle and a wave, and we are no longer an event and a transformative process.
The alchemical description of the way of human transformation is more explicitly complex than the way symbolized by Tai Chi or the yin / yang symbol. However, alchemy and Tai Chi describe the same “wholistic process-state.” One difference in the Western alchemical description from the Chinese Tai Chi description is that the former is explicit that the “wholistic process-state” is a purposeful movement towards wholeness or higher consciousness.
As stated, alchemical transformation (the union of the opposites) leads to a “more whole person,” a mysterium coniunctionis. This process of transformation has many stages, and great suffering may be involved as one comes to terms with some intolerable aspect of oneself. The movement of harmonized opposites symbolized by the Tai Chi circle is not (as far as my knowledge of modern or traditional Chinese medicine goes) held to be an evolutionary movement. This is not to say that in the earlier Taoist times life was not held as purposeful, as “moving towards,” and that longevity and quality of life were not the desired goals of life as they are now. Rather, longevity and quality of life may have been seen as byproducts of following the Tao and not as goals in themselves.
Life is a “movement towards” (all life processes are purposeful), and we are life, so we must be a “movement towards” also, whether we recognize this or not. What happens when this irresistible force of life meets the immovable object of our belief structures? The same thing that happens when yin and yang are not free to join and interact harmoniously or when an irresistible force meets an immovable object: the immeasurable heat of conflict.
We can see this heated clashing in all of us, even in the most enlightened of human beings. There is a “movement towards” (we might say that the “body knows”), and there is an aspect of the person that is frozen, solid, unchangeable (we might say that the autonomic nervous system is not cycling through charge and discharge cycles); the result is that the person is not “following” the Tao. The person is not able to change because the interaction of opposites (that is, change itself) is not “allowed.” The person is in irresolvable conflict, and has “symptoms.”
People must be changeable in order to receive the structural work of Rolfing, or for their evolution to higher levels of order and consciousness to proceed. Tai Chi and alchemy offer two maps for the resolution of conflict, for keeping people from being consumed in the immeasurable heat of irresolvable; conflict. This resolving of irresolvable conflict is central to spiritual life. It is the beginning of every Rolfing session, in that a person must first be changeable in order to change.
There are many ways to describe the state of “no changeability,” and there are many experiences of this state in which yin and yang are separate entities. As noted above, we might say that the autonomic nervous system is not cycling through charge and discharge. Or, we might say the person is possessed by an evil spirit, or “in a complex,” or resisting, or out of resources, or at the limit of his ability to adapt. Conversely, we might say that something is trying to happen, but that the impulse to change has not “gone all of the way through.”
Experiences of this state of “no changeability” are as varied as the interpretations. Some folks say they are blocked, frustrated, at a loss, depressed, and so on. A few people will stay with their experience rather than their description of it. Experience is movement; the interpretation is a static “thing.” When people do stay with their experience, they are in the realm of the Tai Chi symbol and not in the “static” realm of yin and yang as separate conflicting entities.
What makes people changeable? Why do some people change quickly and some agonizingly slowly (or so it seems)? Does each person have his own, unique, rate of change (Tai Chi is as Tai Chi does)? Or is it that the rate of change we perceive has to do not with Tai Chi itself, but with a person’s lived experience of relationship, as it were, to the process symbolized by Tai Chi? This is my belief: that the movement of a person’s lived experience of relationship to Tao is what we want to “push on,” as it were, when Rolfing.
When we “push on the movement” we are not just “doing psychotherapy” in the analytic sense of finding meaning in the interpretation of one’s experience. Neither are we just “doing somatic therapy” in the sense of correcting one’s alignment or removing impediments to self-expression.
Although I am using words and concepts here, I am using them to point at an experience of pushing on the drive towards wholeness. This movement of being driven towards wholeness happens right under our hands! This experience is, of course, generated by the interaction of a pair of opposites – that is, the experiences of the Rolfer and the client held within the boundaries of the Rolfing session. These “hands on” experiences I am referring to teach us, if we know enough ways to relate to them, about our “alignment” with Tai Chi and Tao. The ancient Chinese used the I Ching to understand how to get in alignment. Psychotherapy uses dreams. A Shaman uses experiences of altered states. A Rolfer can use a Rolfing session. We might ask here: is the Rolfer getting into alignment with the Tao, or is the client, or are both?
What makes the alignment with the Tao “want to happen” is that there is a “spiritual instinct.” By this I mean that human beings are instinctually driven to orient themselves towards the Tao or the transcendent. Why this is so is an ongoing mystery, the investigation of which is the subject of each person’s experience now that our culture is adrift without myths. I believe that much of what we call the placebo effect is really a side effect of this alignment issue. That is, healing is a byproduct of alignment with the Tao and is not an achievable goal in itself. This issue will be covered in more detail later.
There are many ways to know that this “spiritual instinct” has been activated. We can track the activation of this (or any) instinct in a Rolfing session, and thereby know that there may be an opportunity for change approaching and be able to “push on the movement” of this opportunity. If we try to change a person before they are changeable, we have conflict. If we are not in alignment with this movement, if we try to speed it up or slow it down because we want to get the session done before the next person arrives, we are in conflict.
I believe it is the birthright of all human beings to be aware of this instinctual drive to be in alignment with the Tao (or transcendent, or God, or self, or the universe, or the infinite; whatever name you would like). This is spirituality. The formalization and concretization of this movement is religion. If we jump into this River of Life, if we align ourselves with this movement (if we swim with the current), we may, besides becoming ourselves, have the side benefit of healing and of increased quality of life. A Rolfing session that tracks and aligns its movement with this movement of orientation towards the Tao may be wholistic rather than somatic.
We can follow the autonomic nervous system, the energetic field, the client’s shape, or our own shifting inner states as ways to track our own and the client’s ongoing alignment with the Tao. Using an endless variety of modalities, we can “push on” this relationship in ways that “grease the wheels” where grease is needed and nudge where nudge is needed.
It is important to understand that the tracking of and the experience of the movement of Tai Chi I am referring to in this description is a hands-on Rolfing session event, and that in our modern times this type of work is especially important. The first statement is hopefully self-evident, but the second bears some talking about.
In these times, when opposites are held apart and forced to war with each other (only what is deemed good is tolerable and only what is tolerable is deemed good) and where our technologies have given us almost unbelievable powers of life and death, we are in danger of apocalypse. Of course, this is what threatens when this engine of opposites gets “revved up” so high by keeping the opposites apart – they must come together in a huge release of energy/ explosion. As this apocalypse nears, the generative impulse, the opposite of the destructive one, gets “called up” (you can’t have yin without yang). We see this in the proliferation of therapies of the New Age. Their premises and applications are murky and unclear, but they are the natural result of our “misalignment” with Tai Chi and the Tao. When one leans too far into yang, yin arises, albeit in a “primitive” form.
One hope (and sometimes it seems to be the only hope) for humankind is for enough people to do their alchemical work (increase their ability to tolerate the existence of all of the opposites) and “get in alignment” with the Tao, thereby shifting world consciousness. Psychotherapy won’t necessarily do it, and neither will removing somatic impediments to self-expression necessarily increase an individual’s consciousness. Are increase in consciousness comes when one is able to relate to the opposites not in the way of the modern world, but in the way of Tai Chi. This means experiencing the world and, indeed, all of life, in ourselves This means experiencing, within ourselves the harmonizing of the opposites.
Looking out on the world and seeing your self can lead to intimacy with “all.” This “Bg OK” experience is “alignment” with the Tao. There is no warring of the opposites it this state. One is changeable because one i, change. From this intimate, changeabek state, the work of physical alignment or re moving impediments to self expression may proceed. When people are not “changeable” the structural work of Rolfing is a war without end.
Interestingly, when one works with (when one follows) a client’s drive to get into “alignment” with Tai Chi and the Tao, healing “arises.” This implies that healing is not an achievable goal but a byproduct of relationship with the Tao. As one acknowledge, and gives in to the existence of a spiritual instinct (i.e., as one follows the Tao), all of the “things” in the way of relationship with the Tao are “dealt with.” Wounds are healed. This means that the work of healing is really the work of following the Tao or of alchemy.
Interesting also that this drive to relate to the infinite is so strong in human beings, yet our society and medical system focus upon achieving healing and producing healers. Spirituality has degenerated into religion. Insurance companies take care of our bodies, minds, and spirits. Rolfers are forced to become competitive in the modem milieu, and can become technique and results driven. Soon there may even be insurance codes for billable “Rolfing moves.”
So how does one get into alignment with the Tao? How does one go about this in Rolfing session? Is it possible to predictably produce changeability in a person through a system of techniques, or do we have to play the music by ear? Just as the ancient Chinese used the I Ching as a method o1 divining the proper relationship with the Tao, so can a Rolfing session be a mode o1 divination. If the idea is to push on the instinctual drive to relate with the Tao (as ii is lived in the person’s experience), then we must be able to divine the “to what end” nature of the presenting symptoms – a: this is, in essence, the movement of the relationship to the Tao.
Can we do this without spiritual mumbo jumbo? Absolutely! However, we must take the experience of the client as the “teacher” (as opposed to the “wisdom of the body”. as that would lead us to organizing the body’s alignment rather than to alignment with the Tao). In the session we must divine and follow what is trying to happen instead of following our ideas of what i the right or good interpretation of the client’s experience.
Just as light seems to change from a particle to a wave depending upon how it is looked at, who we are changes depending upon how we look at ourselves. To understand ourselves, it is therefore important to observe from as many angles as possible by taking as many approaches as possible. Seeing people as driven to relate to the Tao I one way of looking. Seeing people as trying to cope and get back to work from are injury (that is, to get more functional) ie another. These are not mutually exclusive approaches to a Rolfing session. They car both happen at the same time, interacting with each other the way that yin and yang harmonize in Tai Chi.
It is the fate of every acorn to be driven to become an oak tree. It is the fate of every human being to be driven to become “whole.” This is another way of describing the purposeful ongoing stream of conflict resolution events symbolized by Tai Chi. This process uses, as it were, everything for its own ends. All is grist for the mill: even a Rolfing session. This is not to say that every Rolfing session must be a spiritual encounter. This process is happening, though, whether we call it transference and counter transference”, the drive in living matter to perfect itself,” personal growth, or mobilizing a fixed rib or even if we don’s acknowledge it at all. If we admit its existence, however, we have the possibility of dancing to its music.
Accepting “what is” is the starting point for trauma work and for all psychological work aimed at increasing consciousness (rather than improving function). Accepting that the process described by the medieval alchemists, and symbolized by Tai Chi, is are ongoing force shaping all bodies and lives gives many lessons for a Rolfer looking to do “wholistic work.” A person’s shape and function has as much to do with orientation towards the Tao as with gravity. Everything, including psyche and soma, are trying to follow the Tao. Each Rolfing session occurs within the context of the Tao.”
Love does not alter when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove,” wrote Shakespeare. One might also say, “Accept what is trying to happen and act accordingly.” Divining what is trying to happen when we are presented with the “symptoms” or when we live in the world of the “ten thousand things” is an ongoing event and, hopefully, the subject of another article. However, the divining comes when one believes in one’s experience of something trying to happen.