Although Mike Boxhall is well into his eighties, elderly is the last word that comes to mind to describe him. He spends about three weeks a month travelling the world and teaching an extraordinary variety of people, among them doctors, monks and lawyers.
Talking beside a log fire in his Sussex flint cottage, we found we shared one common line of thought: a belief in the existence and power of the Spirit, but a long-lasting inability to define it, simply because it is indefinable. In fact he rejects the title of teacher, if by teacher we mean someone who passes on a coherent body of knowledge and may regarded by many as a guru. The most he would claim is that he can create the kind of safe environment where people can surrender themselves to the Spirit and so enter into true wisdom.
Though not a therapist these days, he is clear in his advocacy of a cranial work that is beyond pathology. Craniosacral therapists of this persuasion are not primarily healers of illnesses and conditions of the mind and body, but mediators of an opening of self to the Spirit. He has two replies to the obvious fact that many come to us for healing of mind and body. One is that in many cases what lies behind the frozen shoulder or anxiety attack is a yearning or longing for something indefinable in what otherwise seems a good and satisfying life. He also suspects that as the practitioner grows in age and wisdom he or she will have fewer clients with aches and pains and more with longings of the soul.
But before any of this, there is the early life of a young ex-army officer, which was how he began his career.
The young Mike Boxhall was called up for National Service after leaving Harrow and subsequently attended the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
In his own words, ‘I then went and found a war.’ He went out to Malaya, initially to be a rubber planter, but the Communists began an insurgency against British rule. ‘I thought it might be safer to get into uniform again and joined the police force there. I commanded what were then known as native troops in the jungle. There were ten officers and 285 troops. A lot of the time it was boring. We might sit in a swamp for ten days waiting for something to happen.’ In contrast to fighting the insurgency, he spent half his time in a gold-brocaded uniform as ADC to the Police Commissioner in Singapore.
After coming back to the UK Mike joined the Rank Organisation in overseas film distribution and later joined a consortium of American companies headed by 20th Century Fox. This work took him first back to Malaya and then to East Africa. ‘The best part of my job was looking after – all on expenses – good-looking film stars who had decided to go on a vacation in East Africa. They might be flying over Lake Victoria, watching a quarter of a million flamingos taking off.’
Then in his late thirties and early forties came a complete change. Work became less satisfying. ‘I went into a sort of mid-life crisis which lasted on and off for about ten years. In the course of that mid-life crisis I discovered various therapies, initially to fill my own need. Then I thought to myself: This may not be such a bad way of life. I trained as an acupuncturist, I suppose partly because I had that association with South East Asia and the East and loosely with some Eastern philosophies.’
He also trained as a counsellor.
Then he came across craniosacral work. ‘This came about because I was quite sensory. Psychotherapy in those days seemed a very hands-off thing and there seemed something incomplete about it. Acupuncture was a painful kind of touch, at least, the way I did it. When I came across craniosacral I felt I had come home. It seemed to supply what I wanted from a therapy.’
He joined one of Franklyn’s courses at Dartington. There were nine students and two assistants.
Mike Boxhall was now a man already middle-aged who had found cranial work and felt he had come home. Being a therapist was not new to him. In the ten years leading up to doing Franklyn’s course, he created a successful practice seeing about ten patients a day on five days a week
‘Gradually I weaned my patients off acupuncture which they found was becoming less painful as I did more cranial work. It was not as difficult in one sense to get my cranial practice off the ground, as it is for therapists starting from nothing.’
It was not long before Mike began teaching. His first course was for 14 of his patients. His thinking developed. ‘I became more and more fixated on six words of Sutherland: You can rely upon the Tide. I spent 15 or 20 years studying those words and their possible implication. I realised that there was a level that was not being addressed by cranial work. This was originally an offshoot of osteopathy with much influence on Franklyn of polarity. It was a mind-body formula. It had to be if it were to be taught The Spirit was there but not overtly.
‘So I set myself to make that my focus – to expand the contribution cranial work can make by adding another dimension – overtly as opposed to possibly accidentally. I realised that you cannot teach the Spirit because if you are teaching you have to have a thing you are going to teach. The Spirit is not subject to the intellect. It is more a revelation of something that is always there unrecognised until there is sufficient letting-go of what keeps us from the Absolute so that it can reveal itself.
‘As I said, you cannot teach spirituality. I do think you can create safe conditions in which it may reveal. It is not something you acquire. It is there. It is a level of being that exists in everybody, literally everybody. Its revelation must depend on a certain amount of surrender of what keeps us from that, which is of course the ego.
‘I don’t want to get rid of the ego, but I want to get out from under some of its disempowerment.
‘Many practitioners work on a very deep level in themselves and have the intentionality to ameliorate a condition that is presented to them by the client. I am suggesting a work that does not do that. It makes connection with the client at a level where there is no pathology. CST at its tenderest is a journey taken by two or more people to a level of being where there is no pathology.
‘There is pathology in each and every one of us and there is a level of being in anyone and everyone where that pathology has not yet taken form. The pathology is a form that has been built up and acquired over the years. I call it undigested life experience. There still exists the territory where the pathologies have not formed in all of us, as indeed the beginning of time exists in all of us at a deep level.
‘When I still had a clinical practice I found that people were increasingly, as I got older, coming to me and saying, “There is nothing particularly wrong with me. I am happily married, have children, a good job, friends, enough to live on. But something is missing.” This smacks to me of disconnection from the Spirit. There is longing, yearning.”’
Perhaps, says Mike, you have to be a certain age for people to come to you like that. ‘I found that people came with aches and pains, but fewer as time went on. Some will come with illnesses, only for it to be revealed that this is just what has brought them to the front door. I think that quite often the work goes in a totally different direction.’
Mike thinks that it may be easier for older practitioners to work in this way. ‘There are advantages in age and a little wisdom.’
‘There is no limit to the forms Spirit can take. That is why I say that working with the spirit cannot be an exercise of the intellect. That is further why I say the best we can do is to present safe conditions in which it may reveal.
‘What makes safe conditions is the rehabilitation of the feminine principle. My teaching is very much based on that. CST is a good model for making bodily contact via the augmentation of the feminine principle. The practitioner works from the deepest level he or she is currently capable of. He or she makes connection with the client and there is nothing to do but to open their arms wider to receive what is offered to them, at no time stopping to analyse or judge what they are offered – just receive.
‘The client is heard and, as the saying goes, to be heard is to be healed. To be heard deeply is to be healed deeply.’
Mike contrasted this with the masculine principle: ‘a mountain we climb, upward, inventive, moving forward, knowing, thinking, analysis, the intellect. The feminine is not knowing, receiving with longer and longer arms.’
Mike regards touch as symbolic – not for instance touching the liver or the parietals to balance them. Touch, he says, symbolises a connection, a synergy between practitioner and client.
‘We make this connection from a deep meditative place in ourselves, in the expectation that we may be touching that deep place in the client whether or not the client brings that up in their intellectual awareness. The synergy – the energy field – is what does the work.
‘Nothing in my present teaching has been planned. I have been drawn into, or my students have drawn me into, whatever form it may take next.’
He has been teaching this work for over 20 years and says he often asks himself why groups of people half way round the world invite him to come and work with them. Many of them, but not all, are in Latin countries from Italy and Spain to South America, where they may be trying to fill the void left by the removal of cultural trauma and repression. His, he says, is not a philosophy that can be read up in books, at least not the embodied application of it.
He talks about dealing with old traumas. ‘The aim is to expand awareness to the point where I can see how I am disempowering myself by continuing to be reactive to something that is no longer there. The person who caused the trauma is dead and I am still being reactive to an unfortunate period when I was a victim.
‘I am offering a very different psychotherapy – most psychotherapists use the body as a concept but do not engage body to body.’
Talking about the sessions he leads, he says he is not very interested when people say what a good teacher he is. He is not seeking a personal following, to be a guru.He is not seeking a ‘I am much more interested when they say they have had an experience right there in their own bodies, which has altered their lives; a sometimes painful awakening to responsibility.1
The groups he works with are many and varied. He taught a group of judges and senior lawyers in Ireland who were involved in mediation in the wake of child abuse scandals. He has taught in monasteries and, elsewhere, worked with businessmen, therapists, doctors and with Family Constellation Therapy groups.
When we talked, Mike was shortly going to Granada to facilitate a group of 50 doctors in a cancer unit who were interested in working with the dying. He is hoping to extend the work to help dementia patients. ‘The potential is enormous – you receive them at the level where they are instead of saying, “Why don’t you go and watch a little telly, dear?” ‘
He acknowledges his debt to many sources: Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism – the more esoteric rather than dogmatic aspects, perhaps, of all these.
Mike sums up: ‘I suggest practitioners work more naked, without the armour plate of their own ego identification. Just be who they are in that moment and receive their clients as they are, perhaps for the first time in their lives. It is very healing.‘
1 Comment on ‘a sometimes painful awakening to responsibility.’
The phrase used by Mike in explaining how people awake to the spiritual was so arresting that I asked him to explain it more fully. This is what he said:
‘This whole concept comes from my own experience as well as substantial experience in watching process develop in others.
‘We accumulate life experiences (both pleasant and unpleasant) and some we digest and some remain as contractions, which we fail to recognize or, more often, prefer not to recognize, and try, more or less successfully, to bury them. We become re-active to those experiences. We assume we have free will but, in fact, we are being reactive to the patterns of habituations that have set up in us.
‘These processes are, so far, unconscious.
‘There may come the time, when conditions are appropriate, when awareness of what is going on expands and we begin to realize that “I’ve been here before! Why do I keep reacting in this way?” At this moment awareness has expanded. The painful thing is the realization that the causes of my discomfort, trauma, neuroses, are no longer there but that it is we ourselves who, ten, twenty, thirty, seventy years later, are still if not enthusiastically, at least persistently carrying the baggage around and being reactive to it.
‘The great implication is that we are never in the present, at least never fully in the present. Our responses are in some way pre-conditioned and only by coming fully into the present can we truly be pro-active.
‘Ascribing blame, even desiring revenge, are not helpful; both are great consumers of energy and both are past dependent.
‘To be fully in to the present is to be free – only this is free – anything else is to be a victim.’
‘Waking up to the fact that whatever happened to me then, it is me that is doing it to me now is shocking. It is probably also enlightenment.’
© Craniosacral Therapy Association of the UK. Used with permission
First printed in The Fulcrum Issue 60 Autumn 2013