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.”