Presence in Stillness with Mike Boxhall September 6-9 2013 Cowdray Hall. UK.
I thought this might be useful. It is a transcript taken from a recording made by Nicola Shields at a course in England last September. Whilst it is not exactly verbatim, it is a very good summary of what was said and seems to me to express, very well, the teachings as they are now appearing. Do feel free to submit any comments or suggestions via the Response portal at the end of the article.
Levels Whatever the work, there are several potential levels. It is where we do the work from that is important – our head or our heart. People come without any mechanical problems to fix, just with a general sense that something is missing; the element of spirituality is not being touched.
There is a level of being which cannot be defined, because to define it is to limit it. Intellectual speculation is necessarily limited by our own life experience.
Spirit (what might this mean?) has an absolute element to it, whereas any product of thinking has a limit to it.
Spirit Spirit is the spark that brings emptiness into form; emptiness is not ‘nothing’; it is the potential of everything as yet unexpressed. Spirit can trigger the coming into form – universe; me. Eventually all form subdivides back into emptiness. We might reach a boundary, the edge of a cliff, with only emptiness in front of us. We are in fact facing the unexpressed potential of everything. To touch that place, wherever it is, and to come back into our day-to-day habituations is a form of rebirth: here, now, in this moment, is the only place to experience it.
Cranio-sacral work gives a safe way of accessing the body of another person in a totally socially acceptable manner. This is important, as what is outside, is inside; and what is inside is outside. The body is a repository of incredible amounts of wisdom. Mostly we regard it as a nuisance that needs tending to, but our whole histories are in our bodies. Macrocosm/microcosm. The whole history of the universe is present in our bodies. We are not separate – we are what is out there. Light from stars still reaches us after 1300 light years, we are all part of those photons. We are made of light that has been around that long. We are not just our physical bodies; we are as ancient as history.
In embryology, the first thing there in the egg/sperm is sensation – if you drop acid on one cell it will curl up; it is sensate – the second thing is some sense of feeling, followed thirdly by thinking; and fourthly (often disregarded) by intuition. Most of us have training in life skills that focus through the brain on sensation and feeling – psychotherapy, osteopathy – the mechanical workings of the body, but this leaves something missing. What is there beyond this thinking and conceptualisation that humans are so good at? All shape and form has limitations. This is how the world is, we learn it and imitate it. But the world also goes beyond this. But there is no methodology for realising the spirit. We cannot realise the spirit with the conceptualising brain. Spirit is always there in everyone all the time – our only way of contacting it is with surrender of formularisation – that concept of me in an ego sense: I am separate from all else. The Me that hangs on fighting so powerfully. It is hard for the ego to surrender its separateness, or difference. The realisation of spirit comes from re-entering a natural place within, in me, but interior to the Me.
So how do we do that? The more we try with the intellect, the less likely we are to find it. We are always going to limit it – that’s what the intellect does, defines and limits – especially through language. So the brilliant answer is Nothing
Some aspects of life need limits, to operate safely. But that is at level of common sense. But at the level of spirit….the cliff edge…..how and what are we going to surrender?
There is the masculine and feminine principle; there is the enabling to restoration of its rightful place of the feminine principle, which has been squashed and devalued in favour of the masculine…
Masculine: thinking, yang, upwards, ambitious, the intellect, inventions, explorations, examinations, analysis, interpretation, act of separating, a going from, pyramid of infinite potential height, up to a peak.
Feminine: conservation, receiving without judgment, receptiveness, depth, the dark, hidden and mysterious, the fertile, potential, softness, yielding.
Intuition, the direct realisation of something is also feminine, but the use of this information may be masculine.
How can we awaken, create the conditions in which we (or whoever we are with) can safely explore what lies underneath, the deeper unanalysed, the undigested life experience we all carry around, and are reactive to in all our actions? Most of what we do or say arises out of what we bring to what is going on – not exactly what is going on per se. We are reactive to something that is no longer present; we are not present to it here and now. It is always about something to do with our life experiences. We are reactive to our undigested life experiences. Our task is to come into the present, as it is the only place we can be pro-active.
Buddha = I am awake
It is inherently who we all are, but are we awake to that fact? Are we present? Are we present to who we really are? Can we come fully into now, to who we really are, and surrender the power that the ego has over us? We don’t want to give it up – otherwise there is no point in being human. But we do need to recognise the power it has over us.
Awareness we can’t surrender something if we don’t know what we are surrendering. We might become aware of our habituations – I keep on doing that, I keep on reacting like that…why do I keep on doing that? Habits. We become a victim of fate if we always react to habits. Increasing awareness brings a choice of response – normally at an intellectual level, as our complex system responds in a different way at different levels. When we begin to let go of habituations, life can seem easier somehow with those around us.
How do we find out what our habits are, and begin to disempower them? The route to this is to listen more deeply to ourselves, and to others. The Chinese ideogram for “listen” has five components:
Ears eyes you full attention from the heart
This is surely feminine : no analysis, no judgment, you, simply receiving, of the other person, from the heart. We need to learn to do this to ourselves, and to the other. To be heard is to be healed. To be deeply heard is to be deeply healed. In order to get some balance back (masculine/ feminine balance) in therapy, in world affairs, we must learn how to listen more deeply. As the story gets told, the healing gets done. In that is the healing. Below the level of the intellect, the diagnosis, the treatment plan and so on….it is at the feminine level, the ocean itself, the model below all models…let go of all the models we bring with us, and let go into sensation, and feeling this work.
Trust in being and doing nothing
Do we listen??? We think we know what we’ve heard, and then spoil it by matching it, giving a response etc. when actually we just need to receive and listen; we don’t have to try to fix, just listen from the heart.
People don’t need responses, or responses to built-in questions.
Just feel the response: feeling heard is vital.
In this way, we can work with anybody, from a baby, to a person with Alzheimers. People who have lost their intellects at some level can still feel at some primary level – look back at the embryology levels. It’s not what you say to them; it’s what they feel below the level of conceptualisation, the world of not knowing, the iceberg below the surface, the unconscious, the unbrought into the light.
The vast part of us is unrevealed. We may not know if we are helping others or not; certainly may not be able to describe it. But a door can open, like a mini rebirth, and a different person may emerge. The subject changes, not the object. Sometimes people only want the emotion to be heard, whether it is anger or frustration, or whatever… Coming into awareness of how others perceive you can make you realise stuff about yourself.
Most people won’t be able to receive emotional attachment to something without wanting to fix it. But we don’t have to fix anything. Just be present to what it is doing, and accept it. And be present with it without any judgment. We don’t have to set up paradigms to change – just receive what is. Let things change from acknowledgement, from only being received. It’s not a matter of ‘I’ll do this, and I’ll get that…’: it’s about transformation without action, establishing the conditions in which some sense of trust develops to allow ourselves to maybe be heard a bit deeper. Whatever will happen, will happen, and we may never know what it is because that will already have brought limitations – because intellect will have become involved.
What happens when someone is angry with us? Why do we get angry back or react in some way? It’s because our ego is under attack. Actually you can’t make somebody angry: they react with anger.
If you can see this, and don’t get angry back, you can do something useful with their anger. The reactions emerge from their undigested life experience. If it is fully digested, there is no reaction – except to exactly what is going on now.
In every bit of our being we are demonstrating our life experiences, which can all be read by someone who is very still and awake: it’s all there.
So, when we work, we open from the heart, and expand to receive – but then have no idea what we are receiving, for that is a limitation. Be an antenna, not a probe nor a leading connection. Only hear whatever may be pulsing towards…don’t do anything with it. The sense of being received will be in the other person, and they will allow themselves to go deeper into where they’re coming from. The client will feel being received, as they are receiving themselves, allowing themselves to feel what they feel because they feel safe. They may plumb dark depths they didn’t dare look at before. We hear ourselves more and more profoundly to the depth of being where there is no pathology. Peace/ love. This awakens through the deepening process of being heard, and amounts to hearing oneself. Our limited knowing can impede any processes that the Intelligence may choose to do: just be there and be present, it is enough. We are working at a level where there is no pathology.
The focus is where you come from when you are doing the work. The reality of the therapeutic engagement comes before anything else. The least disturbance comes to the client from going where you are drawn to go rather than resisting where you are drawn to go. Address comfort/worries if you need to – or, just trust that it will all be ok! If you can’t, it’s part of the process: verbalise worries/needs. This will be something to do with the reality of what the other person is doing AND the reality of what you can or cannot receive, due to life experiences. If this is what is reveling itself, it can be explored. Being very still in either situation can help with whatever is arising. Whose process is this might be the first question. Apply common sense and use your intuition to trust how to work in any given situation – can the client work wit this or not? Check in with yourself and allow yourself to feel and to differentiate. Don’t dissociate from the relationship, be authentic, whatever that means. Images are at a different level to thinking – so don’t analyse them, because that restricts them only to the meaning our life experience puts on them. Trust that the images themselves can do the work. Be fully present as a clean mirror in which the client can see himself: you don’t have to know what is going on exactly. Nothing has to happen in order for you to be free.
The space between the notes makes the music.
Levels of communality not difference outside and inside worlds…not what separates us but what communes with each other. Listen from the heart with full attention on you. One of the best ways of getting out from one’s own problems and neuroses is to be fully attentive to someone or something else. You can’t do this at the same time as being attentive to one’s own repetitive habituations.
The Buddha taught: work for the good of the other/humanity towards enlightenment, and when you have it, give it away and start all over again, until you are enlightened. Don’t hang on to anything; don’t become special or different. You work through stuff like anybody else; you work off your chains until you become free.
In this work we try to go to deeper levels from the heart, which opens, and is tender and vulnerable. And as it opens, we become freer, we become more vulnerable. We operate at plateaus, and can get smug as we become comfortable at certain stages. Then we may feel something happens to knock us back – but this is actually revealing what we are now capable of looking at having opened and become more vulnerable – that we weren’t capable of before. This is the path – not becoming more and more secure with a wall around us, but becoming aware that the real freedom is increasingly being able to be with our insecurities, which we all have, not in being able to get rid of them.
And we have to take freedom, we cannot be given it.
Freedom from bondage, from one’s habits and neuroses. If someone else could give you this freedom, you would be in their debt for eternity. So you can’t be given it – you have to take it through being progressively more and more aware of those links that bind you. Those things that are not actually happening in this moment, but are habituations brought along, and which we react to. (Except the things in life that are obviously done to us of course)…we are mostly responding to stuff we cannot digest. Behaviour patterns set up in the womb, or in the relationship between parents, how we were born, raised etc…We carry all this around, mostly unaware, being reactive to it. It’s the reactivity that we need to become aware of – to let go of. The body represents here what goes on everywhere. We ingest food, air, water, thoughts, feelings, emotions, flattery, etc etc happenings. The digestive process starts, and part of this is taking what’s useful and distributing it around the body. And so we become those things we have digested. We are nothing else than an accumulation of those things. And the rest is egested. And this is important – to let go on all levels, of that which we have not used. Becoming what we ingest also incurs loss: there is loss. We lose parents, friends, sometimes even children, favourite plants, animals….but in another way we cannot lose them – we will have assimilated them, and become them, so we need not grieve. We can let go of their outer shells because the essence of who we are now is thanks to them, because of them.
The more our heart opens, the more we are able to love, especially people. Because we are in relationship with significant others, we have digested them. We become who we are through all these significant relationships. Partly at least in a very real sense. They cannot leave me, nor I lose them. I have materially changed because of everybody I have ever known. The memory of their essence always remains. Their presence has made me different. And the more touched one has been, the more altered one has become.
Van der Post quoted: I am because you are,
And if I had not known you I would have been different.
As we begin to wake up…….so-called loved ones/parents may have hurt you in some way, but that is not happening now; the holding on to past negativity and identifying with it – that is the problem. And there is no need to look at these issues if we do not have a problem. Awareness may show us on the other hand that actually our problems are repeating in some way. “I’ve been here before”. This will impart something negative to us on a regular basis – why? That is the first stage of awareness. The stark truth, if we go deep enough into it, will be that it will be something undigested within us, like constipation, or something locked in us like a frozen shoulder, a lack of mobility, a cancer: symptoms. The problem is: “I am continuing to carry around this piece of undigested emotion/information’. This can lead to attachment to illness and suffering if it remains undigested. But we can become stronger, more tolerant – once we have found whatever nourishment there is to be found in these negative situations. And that may only be some form of compassion for those who have suffered in the same way, perhaps.
There is often a lack of trust in one’s own empowerment – who I really am is buried under all these things that have happened to me, and I have become lost under all this….
Is this the purpose of life maybe? To become the fully embodied human being who often lies underneath their disempowered struggling being. The full beauty of us is masked and hidden because eliminating our undigested life experience is full of fear. This is the journey. The path of the warrior to cut off the head of the minotaur: the place we are so reactive to all the time.
Being accompanied by others is one way of softening this experience. We find all kinds of wells of help. The human being is born into/out of relationship, so being on the journey with like-minded people is very important. We don’t need to all know the exact journey – the ocean of un-knowing is what we are all facing. In hearing yourself say what it is that is bothering you, you are opening the door to unpacking your baggage. The constraints and constrictions due to the intellect lead to a separate me. There is the possibility of opening through the heart. Grounding makes it all possible. The work is the un-knowing, the joint practice of what is there right now. Things can open up everywhere, and nowhere. The heart can only open out if it is in joint practice with all the other organs – digestion especially – so that this can go where it is useful. And all this can be done in the ‘not-knowing’.
Not-Knowing….. the essence of the way we practice here. It is difficult for us in our culture to let go into not-knowing. We are all raised with the notion that we have to know what we are doing, and who we are…and we, the ego persona, get a bit terrified when we find 0urselves in the unknown. We usually then quickly grab hold of reference points, something we do know, something with which we are already comfortable. Like a suit of protective armour which represents self-identification. How we organise our self, so whenever we enter any insecurity, we grab hold of and identify with any part of this suit of armour. We may be working with a client, and see something going on, and immediately we want to identify with that, with whatever is going on there. We try to name it. Inevitably, that is a limitation – all knowledge is a limitation, as is all definition, and all knowing. All are dependent on our life experience – which is not absolute. Knowing is to limit. We need to rest in the un-knowing and just keep saying And? And? And? And is to rest in the infinite. So, when working, acknowledge something is there, sure, but if we then put some form of identification on whatever is there, this will be seen in terms of our life experience and from the point of view of our methodology (cranio, osteo etc.). It is cruel but true to say that every time we know what we are doing for a client, we are limiting that client.
If we find ourselves in a situation where we feel disempowered, where we feel a bit vulnerable, we will have lost a bit of the armour. And the first thing we want to do is to move out of that vulnerability and unknowing, to bring out something we will have brought with us from some kind of familiar ground again – because the ego’s task is to firmly maintain its presence and shape. However, if we’re talking about work where we’re trying to open ourselves to an expanded relationship with spirit, then the doorway to that is insecurity. Hence why I call my courses the Blessing of Insecurity. Only in moments of insecurity does the possibility of expansion arise. Otherwise we are going around and around in circles of our usual comfortable experience.
Blessed are the insecure for they shall grow mightedly. This is the main difference in this work – the resting in insecurity, the being more naked and open. It would be useful if more teachers could become more vulnerable/naked.
However, the habit of insecurity can also represent more of our armour. This is obviously different to resting in insecurity, to true vulnerability. When there is safety in habits, this is not vulnerability: it is just another way of being. To some extent we know ourselves through our habitual sufferings: part of my self-knowledge, part of how we identify ourselves. Habit = identification with. Can I be the witness of some of my habits because I hang on to them and identify with them?
For example: ‘ I am arthritic’, a bit of a cripple =identifying with it.
‘I am ok, but I am arthritic’ = opening up to it;
= how am I right NOW?
So, insecurities can limit who we become too. It makes no room for new possibilities. Armour can bring rigidity.
Acknowledging what is does not mean you have to completely identify with that all the time: this is too limiting. Life is moment to moment. We don’t have to identify with any particular moment: attachment. And, and, and or yes, yes, yes = the opposite of resistance. Be with what is right there, even when disturbances arise. This stops us retreating into habits and that which we know – although we generally still feel more comfortable if we reiterate our habitual position!
Vulnerability is the edge, the in-between place, a place to grow (OR a place to reinforce old armour/habits). Awareness is the first step: we might feel we need to back off into safe territory when we need to just trust and see what happens. We need to resist limiting and tightening up around it.
We are in a state of more or less unconscious reactivity. For many it takes some sort of crisis to come so that the realisation that can emerge that we have somehow been there before – so is there a purpose to this? Is it part of some Intelligence – or really only a reaction of our intellect? Crisis can represent a fever point, a turning point – or we can often merely use it as a chance to reinforce our armour.
What if?……opens up possibilities.
Backing off is always a possible choice. However, it is very different making an active decision to back off rather than just reacting and doing it, because then we are doing that out of an awareness.
The answer can be in the body: what is the felt sense of all this?? The body can be a good messenger. The intellect may be saying one thing, but it is useful to stop in the moment and tune into the feeling of it, the felt sense of the situation. This is especially useful when encountering FEAR, for example. For example, fear of flying: instead of saying ‘I am afraid’ it is possible to pay attention to, and work through the sensations in the body. Sensation, feeling, thinking, intuition – they are all there at the same time. We can’t alter one without altering another.
We have a choice at which level we can work with. If you were to acknowledge feelings, say, without trying to translate them into thoughts, then miraculously you will stop thinking fearful thoughts. As soon as you acknowledge what is coming up it usually stops bugging you. Listening from the heart allows sensations: this is a way to change the process that may be emerging, a way to swap from the rabbiting intellect with all its thoughts and anxieties. Rabbiting means you will be paying attention to the client, say, so acknowledge that, and then settle in your heart – refocus. Be in relationship again in a different way (to the mind chatter). Don’t get caught up in wanting to know, needing to know – this is insecurity. Come back to full attention to the other person, because in that same moment you cannot be focusing on the self.
Staying firmly with what you know can do more harm to the client than retreating from fear into heartfelt gentle compassion for client. We need to trust that there is Intelligence that has far greater wisdom than my intellect. To let go completely, not just with some sort of safety net, is difficult. There is no such thing as half trust!
Non-judgment is also vital – of the self and the other.
Undigested life patterns can interfere in dealing with feelings – sensations. Work from the truth of what is there now rather than from any structure we may bring with us. Come from a place of truth and honesty – not an intellectual paradigm. Must be authentic and fully present – not a package of the therapy.
The practitioner’s acceptance gives me room to test how I am and what my boundaries are – it allows the uncovering of deeper areas of the self, all received without judgment. I can delve into layers of myself that I haven’t previously allowed myself to know. All this can happen when we are met at the deepest level of non-knowing and receptivity. Joint practice. When you reach a deep enough level, there is no transmission of one and the other; there is just oneness; rebirth into a place that is more whole than the constructs you have put around it. The language in all this is very difficult – and can lead to different points of view.
Peacefully notice restlessness.
It is perfectly possible to work with anxiety but not to come from it. You don’t have to be perfect to still be able to be present for the client. The joy of not knowing is the infinite potential that becomes available. There are two worlds: what lies beneath, and the manifest world of form. To be complete we have to have the one which helps us to be able to digest the other: to have the one that helps us to digest the suffering: attitude to suffering changes so we can digest it. Need both.
Being present in the moment: at certain points, joint practice of life experiences meet. Can be remarkable. What is meeting together at this level is always the two life stories coming into this present moment in time, and it can be mighty. We can afford to think big if we allow the not-knowing.
Synergy: when two or more people are working together the work that they do is greater than the sum of the two individual parts. The group (whether 2 or 102) becomes very important; it is more than the individual parts. Can be experienced every time with this work; this way of working. Trust that. And let all neuroses go, having acknowledged them of course. It is still important to go through any anxieties and acknowledge them as it is a sign of being present.
We don’t lose energy, but we can lose contact with it, or awareness, or accessibility to it. Or we can be shut off to it emotionally, spiritually, physically (rigid muscles). Yet it is always there: you can’t get rid of energy as it is universal. Depleted energy indicates a more reduced connection somehow. Can feel depleted because have lost connection somehow; yet the flow is still there. Sluices and conduits can get opened and shut if energy is not flowing smoothly through us. Or if a process gets triggered in us (reacting with fear, or losing trust) and we shut down. It is the opposite of a projection: if a client is very needy for example, we can react and shut down. Or if we suppress our anger say, we can get drained. Energy can go into other purposes, organs, emotions….
We do not need to deny any side of ourselves.
If we actively go to see what is there in a client we will never see anything except what our intellect allows us to see – it will never be the whole picture. Don’t actively try to fix.
We never arrive.
If we have the notion we have arrived, we’ve lost it.
We all have attachments to old stuff: the task is to let go of them, and feel the body sense of that surrender, allowing, acceptance, digestion. There can be unconscious resistance that you can come up against, even with conscious intellectual acceptance. But things that were once huge can get smaller and smaller and even fade away: awareness is the key. The expansion of awareness has infinite possibility.