Georgia posted a new writing on the websites for Hakomi students called Loving Presence and the Hakomi Principles.
“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.”
– Ron Kurtz
She knows me as a teacher, so it’s easy to satisfy her with a general response, “I travel and teach Hakomi.” That seems to settle her curiosity for a while. The last time she asked, I gave her a little more detail and she expressed interest in coming to a group to see me teach, but when I gave her a few more details, she backed away from the telephone with “Oooh, that might scare me.”
For a woman of her generation whose childhood was in rural Saskatchewan during the depression, inner work was not an option. Survival was more the requirement. My grandmother, Sophia, who offered work and food to starving men riding the rails in those deprived times, was someone who used epithets to contain the suffering and offer guidance to life’s little miseries, miseries which probably seemed vastly immaterial to the suffering she had witnessed in the dirty thirties.
It’s difficult for my mother to comprehend what I do. She’s happier in her northern garden, coaxing her spring flowers through the snow.
And to explain it to my grandmother, I might just say that I teach people how to be a little happier with their circumstances.
I first experienced the power of Hakomi thirteen years ago at a supervision in Ashland, Oregon with the Hakomi pioneer Ron Kurtz. I had volunteered to be a client of one of Ron’s students and I had entered a deep childlike state. Ron, who would not hesitate to take over a session if he thought it needed mastery, stepped in.
At once the atmosphere dropped into a realm I can only refer to as wisdom. For the first time in my life I felt enclosed and protected by a whole circle of wise men. My concern about death and dying was real because my partner had been diagnosed with cancer. I had just found him, the love of my life, and I thought I was going to lose him. Ron acknowledged the reality of death. Then he made a simple statement—what I later learned in Hakomi training is called a verbal experiment—a brief statement which may or may not elicit emotion, but one that that has the potential to be nourishing. This simple statement, made almost under Ron’s breath, has reverberated in my psyche for over a decade: “You don’t have to worry about that right now.”
The deep relief and acceptance that flooded me then still informs my work with clients who are facing death and dying. While I ponder death, and meditate upon it, I have stopped grieving about it before it happens. This simple idea has comforted me and stabilized me, has given me the courage to stay in the present and not predict the future. I am thirteen years beyond that moment and it still reminds me to be in the beauty of the moment even though death is now closer for my husband.
It was like a mythological golden arrow, piercing the heart.
As I spent time at the Hakomi supervision in Ashland, I began to see and experience the power of Hakomi. One afternoon, while the students were on a break, milling around and talking, Ron was sitting at the front of the room, observing. Suddenly he called, very softly, to one of his German students: “Hilde, you’re good enough.” As I watched Hilde, I saw, to my amazement, that her whole face and body collapsed. She began to weep. I knew I had witnessed something very powerful and very subtle. It was like a mythological golden arrow, piercing the heart.
In that moment I knew that I wanted to learn Hakomi, a method I have continued to learn at deeper and deeper levels over the past decade. As I tell my students, I believe that not only is there genius in the method itself, but also there is great genius in developing a method that is teachable. I could see the brilliance of my teacher, but I wanted to learn a method that could be accessed by most people—the main requirements being the willingness and ability to be mindful and the courage to be an authentic and compassionate human being.
I’m writing this reflection in memory of Hakomi at sea. Seabear, our beloved 37 ft motor vessel served as home for me and my husband three to four months every summer for the past dozen years. Many of you reading this have met my husband Jeff and some of you have traveled with us in those wild places, exploring your inside worlds and the outside world, learning to love both. Jeff is currently struggling with terminal cancer and as we go through this journey together, we are both grateful for the memories of our travels at sea and our Hakomi journeys aboard Seabear.
Every summer we would travel to the Inside Passage of British Columbia to lose ourselves, to locate ourselves and each other again, to enter the deep quiet of the ocean in a way that would feed us throughout the coming year. One morning we came into dock at Lagoon Cove, a little bay in the Broughton Archipelago. After we had tied the lines, I looked up to see a woman with a warm glint of recognition in her eyes coming toward the boat. After she said hello, she reminded us that we had met five years earlier in another remote spot.
I remembered then how we had spent hours together, talking on the dock about her young son with Downs Syndrome. I had attended to her story in the spirit of loving presence that I have cultivated in my Hakomi practice, appreciating this mother’s courage in facing a tough situation. Since that time, she had been looking for us, noting every time Seabear was hailed on the VHF.
Without working at it, or even thinking about it, and certainly without doing any therapeutic interventions, I had connected to this woman on a deeply human level. Hakomi, which can be understood as assisted self-study with the potential for therapeutic healing, is not just a job for me, something that begins and ends at an appointed time. It is my path, my mission, and my life’s calling. It affects all my relationships, however fleeting. Most of all, it affects my relationship with myself.
Hakomi helps us make sense of our experience, helps us make meaning and wholeness of our lives.
In order to be fully available to help others, I must first be at home in my own inner wilderness. As a Hakomi practitioner, I cannot help others unless I also study my own internal world, learning to befriend the many parts of myself—however contradictory they seem at times—and also learning, over time, to make sense of my own journey. In his work, The Neurobiology of We, Daniel Siegel reports a powerful finding: that the best predictor of a child’s integration is the ability of the parent to make sense of her own life. How do we make sense of the pain and the suffering in our lives? How do we make sense of suicide? How do we make sense of a decision to stay with an abusive partner? How do we make sense of the emotional barrenness of a birth family, of the deep mistrust and separation that exists in families? How do we make sense of deep loneliness we may have experienced in childhood, young adulthood, or in our long-time marriages? Hakomi helps us make sense of our experiences, helps us make meaning and wholeness of our lives.
This is a special thanks to those of you who have joined us on Seabear – for those who have flown in little planes to Bella Bella, who have taken inflatables to the southern islands of Haida Gwaii, who have bathed in the wild hotsprings of Dean Channel and fished for salmon in Queen’s Sound – thanks for sharing this wild and beautiful journey of Hakomi and life.
I teach Hakomi in Santiago, an old village in the Mexican mountains where the ancient ones trained shamans. The stone roads and adobe buildings carry voices, the ancient teachings. We are a group of students, not training as shamans but as humans with the instinct for healing. This group of students has studied with me for three years and we are entering more deeply into a practice of self study, of uncovering unknown layers of experience. Specifically, I’m teaching this group to track the messages of the body and to create experiments from those observations.
We study together under a palapa, sitting on the floor of our open sided room, palm leaves thatched overhead, breezes flowing through the room and a view of the mountains of Tepoztlan all around. Every morning as I arise, I step out onto the patio and look up at these ancient eroded structures. Sometimes I imagine that I can see the old ones, wise and enduring, facing east, welcoming the morning sun and I ask that their wisdom bring grace to this work. I feel humbled by these ancient mountains. And sometimes I can’t see these grand old faces, so I have to trust in Hakomi and in the human capacity to heal; like all living systems, we have the capacity to heal.
Mari is one of my students, Venezuelan born, who lived as a child through the dirty wars of South America in both Chile and Venezuela. Mari is paradox – fiery, volcanic, fierce and passionate, beautifully emotional and truthful. And she is quiet, subtle, undemanding, dormant. She carries a sense of justice and inclusion – no one is left out, no one is excluded. She carries antennae for any form of imposition or subjugation. Her volcanic wisdom erupts in the light behind her eyes and with an urgency in her voice. She is petite, a delicate female, close to the earth and close to her instincts. When she walks into our palapa, her presence is sure, firm and yet subdued. She does not demand attention, she draws me quietly to her.
The first thing you might notice about Mari is her voice – her lips pucker a little and then you hear it – a Spanish accent which sings of the music of the Americas…wooden harps and the twang of the four strings of the Cuatro, musical, rhythmic, energetic. Her eyes speak of European heritage, glacial green with midnight marks, eyes which say “I haven’t heard you yet but I’m already excited; I’ve crossed oceans for you to find me.” The creases around her eyes hold humor and seriousness as they peek out and up with innocence and experience.
She is a fine cranial sacral therapist, tuned to the delicate rhythms of the body, tuned to the bones and the fluids; she knows what parts of the body need attention, how to touch, how to wait patiently for the subtle messages which humans carry.
Our morning begins. I instruct my students to be mindful, a simple practice of being in the present moment with oneself, in undefended consciousness, to notice what is happening, and today, what is happening in the body. Mari notices some internal agitation, familiar, an old pattern, an anxiety. She describes her agitation – it is in her chest and she describes tachycardia and she reports anxiety in her abdomen and then I hear the voice, the signal that I will follow as this piece of work unfolds. It is a voice of judgment and it says, “That’s my hysteria, there I go again.” It has a tone of impatience and dismissal and I pay attention.
What makes me move into Hakomi with someone? I hear them calling to me, I hear sincerity in the request, I feel a physical pull and an emotional readiness. My senses are attuned to it, attuned to boiling water, to material that is ready to rise. And I need to know that the relationship has been built between us.
I know something about Mari that is not obvious – it is information about her patterns of behavior that she has shared with me through our years together. It informs me as I begin to invite her into self study. She doesn’t sleep well, especially between 2am and 6am. This is the time of terror and she does ritual every evening to keep the terror at bay. For two hours before going to bed, she lights candles, she meditates, she sets stones in circles of safety, she uses ritual to make herself safe, to create conditions for the body to sleep. Every night she is in full yogi posture, quiet and desperate, candles burning and a volcano wanting to erupt. Despite her rituals, her body holds the terror – it knows something terrible might happen.
But at this moment, I hear the voices of dismissal, an important signal to me as a Hakomi therapist. I’m listening underneath to the anxiety, to the terror and I want to hear what it needs, what the anxiety has to tell me. The rituals are only keeping this terror at bay; they are not resolving the situation, they are not pointing the way to freedom. I’m thinking about timing and readiness…I need permission from Mari, I need permission from her deeper consciousness. I ask her a question that my students are familiar with…Do you want to try a little experiment? And I get a nod, the body is speaking to me, it is a yes.
My eye catches the sign of a little twitch in the left shoulder, almost imperceptible but clear. What wants to happen here? Movement? I tell her what I’m thinking…a little verbal experiment…I’m going to say “It’s ok to run”…and I’m watching her body for a signal and I get a clear response…the movement is in both shoulders, a tremor which runs suddenly through the earth, a warning sign that we are on a path going somewhere and I follow. I know I have permission to move with her, to enter this dance, this pas de deux. I add another element to the experiment – her own voice which says “It’s just your hysteria, calm down” and I sense it is over her left shoulder. How do I know? Because she is turning to her left every time she mentions the thoughts that discount her experience, which try desperately to cover the panic. One of her fellow students has a close relationship with her and is sitting beside her at this moment – an important element in the work, one of those synchronistic details. I ask Sara to move behind her left shoulder to deliver that voice. So the experiment is clear – I deliver the idea that it is safe to run and she will hear the voice saying, “It’s only hysteria, stay calm.”
I lower my voice and invite Mari into a different state of mind, not the one where we have been talking about the experiment, not the one in which she was reporting her inability to sleep and the voices that have been trying to calm her. Instead, I invite a gentle turning inwards, a softer internal gaze where she can notice her own thoughts, her body, her emotional reactions as I deliver the experiment.
Again, her body shudders in the upper torso and her head is swung in a low arcing circle and she reports her sudden memories of being with her family in the Americas when no one knew if people were dead or alive, where anyone could be disappeared and your life could be taken away and no one could do anything except try to stay safe. I trust sudden memory and image; I know we are now deep in the psyche where we have the possibility of changing neural networks.
I change our experiment slightly. I ask Sara to place her hands on Mari’s shoulders lightly and be ready to accompany her body, not making anything happen but being ready to follow the body’s natural movements. And once again, I invite and induct her into this mindful state, this momentary and powerful state of awareness where we just witness our own experience.
And this time, when she is ready, eyes closed, head tilted slightly downwards, externally quiet, she nods her head that she is ready…I say to her softly, “Mari, it’s safe to run…” and the quiet explodes into movement…the body sheds control and not only the torso is moving, but the head is high, chin up, and the legs which are in lotus position begin to pound up and down like the pistons of a huge engine which has suddenly found the fuel it needs. Her arms are bent at the elbows, hands reaching forward and towards each other and her whole being is in motion. The movements are jerky at first, tremors which are intercepting one another, random and slightly chaotic but within moments Mari’s movements become coordinated and beautifully rhythmic. She is horselike, she is riding a horse, she is a horse, she is pure animal given up to its own internal direction, scenting freedom and we accompany this wild one. Sara is following from behind and I move another student in front of her to follow the legs, up and down, up and down, graceful resolve without interference from the brain. She is movement, her brain is coordinating the movement, this looks like freedom. And I say, “Run, Mari, run!” as she gallops in lotus position, snorting breaths, head tossing, and I make contact with her new reality…“Freedom Mari, this is freedom.”
I’m watching for the signs of pleasure and they are distinct – her face is on fire with delight, her movements show coordination, she responds to me when I ask if this feels good. Yes, it feels really good. And I know that the body will find its natural rhythm; it knows how to run and it knows how to rest if it is given the right conditions, and I quietly instruct her assistants to follow the body into its resting cycle is needed. Just accompany and follow, don’t force anything to happen. Within a minute, the body movements begin to subside, become slower, less dramatic and Mari enters a quiet state, a resting state. Again, I instruct her assistants to rest with her and be ready for another cycle of movements as she integrates this material. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, the rhythms of movement and rest find a natural pace until she enters a deep resting state. And her assistants stay with her through the harmonic cycles, gently and lovingly being with her. This is a quiet celebration as if a wild thing has been set free.
In the quiet of the moment, Mari has an insight…”I have been in very dangerous situations where I couldn’t run, where my rebellious spirit was suppressed under dogmatic regimes which made me bad and crazy. But now I can ride the horse.” Always we find wisdom in the wound.
That night, she didn’t do the rituals and tremendous energy began to flow at 2am. Her insight was that she wasn’t in danger, that it was just energy, her own vitality wasn’t dangerous. She needs to rest, she needs to sleep. The energy will come to its own stillness. She has some consciousness now about the rituals, and the imposition of stillness. The harsh judgment is eased. She was trying to confine this beautiful wild thing. She now knows that “I have a vitality, an aliveness that runs through me – unbridled vitality and this is the healing energy I feel in my work.”