Breath of Life 28th & 29th May 2005 UK
Books available to purchase
The Empty Chair and The Feminine Principle, (a little book of aphorisms) are still available to purchase from Barbara, Mike's wife directly. Contact Barbara
Audio version of The Empty Chair
The English audio version of his book 'The Empty Chair' can be ordered through Ryan Hallford's website
On the flyer for this conference it says, “The conference will explore the key factors that organise how we function, beyond just the physical form.”
I really want to look at that and see if we can’t even take it one stage further and ask “ How we function, beyond all form and examine whether that has a meaning and what that meaning might be, in therapeutic practice.”
Revelation - Intellect or Intelligence. Is the title I have given this piece;
Lets start by looking at what those words mean:
Revelation - from Chambers 20th Century dictionary- the act or experience of revealing: that which is revealed: a disclosure: an enlightening experience: divine or supernatural communication.
Intellect - the mind, in reference to its rational powers: endowed with the faculty of reason.
Intelligence – knowledge: information communicated.
As I play with these three words a little, it seems to me that we could say that Intelligence is what is there to be revealed, at many different levels, and we shall look at levels as we go along.
Intellect is a tool for the rationalisation of what is revealed.
Revelation is the act or experience of coming into awareness of what is.
Intelligence is that the planet is round. That is the case, it has always been the case and it has always been there to be revealed. The revelation that that is so comes to me, as a reasoned, or intellectual, deduction, as I have been flying due west for 36 hours, along the equator and have ended up where I started, just under Mount Kenya. I say to myself, after a short period of reflection on how it is that I have been travelling for so long in one direction and ended back where I started, “hey, the earth is round folks.” Nobel prize , or what!
If I get the intuition that it is spherical, as instead of being round and perhaps flat, I shall have to travel in a different direction, North this time, and experience what happens then and make a further intellectual deduction.
This model is, I think, more or less reasonable and acceptable. It simplistically outlines a process.
The main problem attached to it, as I see it is that what is there to be revealed, that is to say, the sum of all Intelligence, is expanding, like the universe at the speed of light, say 671 million miles per hour, compared to my flight in a plane at about 671miles per hour. And, all that has to be interpreted, rationalised, by a brain that was ever perhaps only 15% used and which in my case, is losing analytic powers very fast. That is called senescence.
In the Cartesian model where the Intellect is paramount, I am therefore doomed! So, presumably, are my clients and students, as I sink further and further into senility! An unsatisfactory prospect all round!
This indeed, is the suffering, the un-satisfactoriness that Buddhists talk about.
Happily it is not my nature to stay downcast for too long. Let’s have another look at the words in the title of this discourse and see if there is not some way, some route, to the relief of that suffering and contemplate what that might be and how to work with it.
- Revelation; the act or experience of revealing: that which is revealed: a disclosure: an enlightening experience: divine or supernatural communication.
Suppose then, acknowledging the limitation of my brain, the less than absolute nature of it, I just accepted the enlightening experience, that is to say, what comes into awareness, or revelation, without analysing it. Just accepted it as what it is, an experience, in the way that I experience blue without analysing that. Then perhaps, if my brain were empty enough to receive it, without the analysis that ties things into something else, I would receive the enlightening experience that the dictionary refers to. Enlightening in the sense of casting light on, revealing, what is actually there in this moment.
- Intelligence; knowledge: information communicated.
Suppose I just received the knowledge or information communicated, without analysing that. What is communicated is everything that exists, what is received depends, at least in part, on the uncluttered-ness of the receiving vessel, in this case, me; my presence, my awareness. My awareness will largely depend on the extent to which I have composted my life experience, not on how much data I have taken on board. Composting, I love this image, is what allows me to be in the present and open. If I am not in the present, I am all the time a victim of other times and other scenarios.
Where would this leave the intellect?
Out of it is the answer. Temporarily; right out of the equation. The revelation would be received in non-analytic, non-judgemental awareness. And the intellect, scared witless at its superfluity, might well snap out of its domineering, masculine, intolerant, superiority and get into a joint practice with the intuition, feeling and sensation quadrants of the psyche that Jung postulated as being the route to individuation. Roughly translated, we might become a whole human being; provided of course that the Intellect is included somehow. One of the most powerful things I am learning, is that there is no whole in exclusion.
I want to be clear and repeat that I am not under any circumstances advocating getting rid of the intellect. It is an enormously valuable tool. What I am saying is that it is not ultimately who I am. A danger in the post-Cartesian world is that I begin to think it is.
One result of being in this still uncluttered space, might be that the true self, as opposed to the rabbiting, defensive and judgemental ego, could as suggested in the Jungian model as being desirable, be in joint practice with the who I have come to think I am, the form that I have become, and a synergy could arise.
Now where are we? Let’s see;
Certain questions have arisen:-
1. The intellect has got its come-uppance. So what am I going to do with revelations that may arise.
2. Is there indeed still an I, to do anything.
3. What will get done and by what agency?
4. How will I know/analyse what has been done.
5. Will it be good or bad and how will I know that?
These, among others are the points that I propose to address in the rest of this talk, either directly or by inference. At some point I may try to make this relevant to therapy/healing, and perhaps say what on earth the whole discussion has to do with Craniosacral Therapy, which I claim to teach and practice.
I shall create several spokes to a wheel, and try to refer them to one central hub, around which they all revolve, and that hub, I shall call the Spirit. Spirit has many names, some technical to a particular model or tradition: all of them are black marks on a piece of paper and merely intellectual concepts, if they are other than a felt experience.
Spirit. The first meaning of which, in the same dictionary is vital principle. That which is the source of life. The title of this conference “The Breath of Life”, talks to me of the Spirit. Let us talk of Spirit as that which underlies all form and from which all form derives, and in that understanding, let us realise that the body, mind, feelings, thoughts, desires, even birth, death, the concept and the reality of re-incarnation are all form. All arising out of Spirit.
When we talk about Spirit, we should be talking about that which is common to us all rather than that which makes us different from each other. Is it perhaps the case that failing to understand this is what leads us into so much of the trouble we see all around us? The focus has become on difference. My way of life, my ideas, my science, my understanding and my religion, even my compassion, is better than yours. This may or may not be the case at the level of thinking and feeling but how can that be the case at the level of Spirit itself, the unformed? Should we not be paying more attention to our communality than to our difference? Perhaps that would be more helpful.
Perhaps if we remembered more clearly our heritage, which is the fact that we come into being out of a set of conditions which in themselves are not fixed. And when the appropriate conditions are present form arises and when the appropriate conditions subside the form changes And that the who we really are under the layers and layers of life experience, undigested, that we have come to think represents who we are, is totally impermenant also, then we should be able to see more clearly and not be so reactive to our disempowerments. We respond to situations, do we not, from a built up set of habits. Not out of clear awareness of what is there but I usually do this because I did that. Night follows day as we say. According to my personality, that which makes me different, I respond in this or that manner.
If we think about this, that means I am never truly in the present. Sometimes I am reactive to my past, sometimes reactive to the future. Reactive to the future? Yes, indeed, have we not all at some time or another thought, oh, I shall be fine when, I get a better job, or any job, when I find a good man or woman, when I can afford my own house. Whatever. We are very seldom able to be truly in the present and yet that is where the Spirit is, in the everlasting now, imminent, not in some other place, not up some ladder, which we must climb.
We are getting to the crux. The Spirit is right here and now, in all of us. We are here because Spirit has incarnated. How are we to have and hold this awareness?
If Spirit is not subject to the Intellect, and, as I will explain, that makes no sense, then what remains is not the object, something I must go and find, but the Subject, I am it. It is my nature, which lies hidden under all those layers.
Spirit then is common to all. It is the great communality from which everything arises and to which everything returns -ad infinitum- there is nothing that is not Spirit, at one level and there is no thing that is Spirit at another level. It is what I am when I stop being other.
I need to take a deep breath now and talk about levels.
There are commonly three levels which we designate as Body, Mind and Spirit. Most people agree that there is some sort of hierarchy in the sense that, as physics informs us, the very dense may be penetrated by the less dense, so the body can be penetrated by the mind, think about it, and the Spirit may permeate the mind. No-one, I think suggests that the gross penetrates the fine. Put it more simply, the level of the body is that of solid matter, tissues, blood, bone etc. The level of the mind is thought, feeling, emotion etc. The level of the Spirit is harder to define as, essentially, we are doing the definition from the level of the mind but let us tentatively talk about direct awareness or intuition, unfiltered by judgement..
Ken Wilber, who has possibly done more than anyone to try to bring the Spirit into the orbit of the Intellect, lists four levels, Mind, Body, Soul and Spirit and then splits these across 4 quadrants.
However, and on this many authorities agree, in his and every other model, there is only one Spirit. Not my Spirit or your Spirit but the Spirit: that which expresses itself as all form.
Thinking, feeling, eating, drinking, the body, the mind, the emotions, babies, old people, well people and sick people, oozing pus and bunions are all, manifestations of Spirit. Where we can go so badly wrong is when we say that Spirit is contained in this or that document, or this or that Church or Temple. It cannot be contained; it is the absolute sub-strate.
If I follow my earlier argument correctly, then Spirit, which manifests as form in all and every thing, cannot be an object. It is the subject. It manifests and remains itself. It is not an object that has ceased to be itself. It just manifests in myriad forms.
As St Augustine said, Therefore matter was formless until it received its form. I put in that quote, partly because I agree with it and partly to tease some of my friends who may be waiting for me to come out with a Buddhist quote!
And if Spirit is the subject, how can I contact it without making it an object, which it isn’t? The answer is quite simple, well sort of simple. I cannot contact it, I can however, become it. Be aware of who I really am, at my core, within my personal and seperated contractions, which I have come to regard as I.
We can now go back to the piece above where I talked about levels. The Spirit is. I am. I being denser, do not penetrate and know the Spirit. The Spirit being finer penetrates or rather, comes into form, among other revelations, as what my limiting life experience tells me is me! Me trying to be the subject, creating objects, right up to the point where I try to create the formless, and run into a semantic brick wall.
All objects come and go, don’t they? Some take longer to go than others. Everest, the planet, my hard rock playing neighbour, but sooner or later they all go and that is what all things, and thoughts and feelings, have in common. They all go! I shall go, I don’t know when, perhaps I have outlived my sell-by date, but I shall go. And this is the most important bit, whatever came in to form as me, will come into form as something else, sooner or later. When the conditions support another form, another form will be there. No beginning, no end. No cause, just revelation.
I can’t help laughing at myself for trying to be logical. It is not what I do best, I think that in Jung’s model I am probably an intuitive, at least that is my intuition, but try I must if I am not to remain lop-sided.
My logic is that the more I can objectivise everything, including myself, the closer I am to the unexpressed, the non-dual, that out of which all objects arise,. The subject.
Where I am leading to is that if everything is, in a sense, not concrete and is impermenant, including myself, then so is, impairment, illness, suffering and dis-ease. If this is the case, then what tool am I going to use to effect ease?
Patently my intellect, not only impermenant, but also limited, can only hold a partial answer. That is, of course, unless I claim to be omniscient and know everything. The best I can do in this form, is to take my limited knowledge and apply it to my limited assessment, call it diagnosis, and hope for a limited beneficial result.
Further rambling around this thought leads me to realise that so often even the client does not actually know the cause of what is wrong with her. That compounds the problem
That’s what we work with the whole time, though, isn’t it?
We are conditioned, I think, to think that that is the only way to go.
Nowadays, I have a slightly different point of view, not as an absolute, but I offer it as an invitation to consider that there is possibly a different perspective to examine.
In the model of Groucho Marx, who once famously said “I would not join any club that would have me as a member,” I am very careful about who tinkers with my suffering. My sense of unsatisfactoriness. Which I also observe to be impermenant. Sometimes, in fact, everything is perfectly satisfactory.
Suppose I just got out of the way: I as an individual, changing object, and let the Spirit or the Intelligence, as opposed to my intellect, reform, adjust restructure, the way it meant to be and was becoming until my various undigested life experiences got in the way. It would be super-intelligent to let Intelligence do the work instead of relying just on my intellect and partial knowledge.
That would, in my view, open the possibility of rebirth, right now, in the present into a form no longer modified by my undigested life. It is my belief and to some extent, experience, that rebirth is not just about what happens when I fall off my twig, but rather more, combined with awareness, what is happening right now, in the present.
Let me break off to read a little poem, then I will get back to how I set about getting out of the way of Intelligence.
Who I Really Am
No beginning, only Process.
The Spirit reincarnates.
Birth and Life
The meeting of the unfolding and the experience.
Layer upon layer of delusion.
I have become I and forgotten.
Yesterday was and tomorrow will be-or so it seems.
A tide there is,
An ocean then.
Beneath the waves,
There is only still.
And I remember who I am.
The Ocean stirs.
There is only process.
Fifteen years ago, already 20 years into being a therapist of one kind or another, I discovered Craniosacral therapy and realised I had come home to a model that allowed me to express my particular and peculiar self, without throwing away anything else.
CST, for short, stemmed out of Osteopathy 130 years ago through the work of two of the great founders of Osteopathy, Sutherland and Still, and their extraordinary observations of Rhythms, tides, in the body that could not be accounted for by mechanical science. They invented the title, “the breath of life” for what they had discovered. Nothing less than an autonomous expression of life, not subject to variation on, for example, exertion. These pioneers were far ahead of their time and would probably have been subject to ridicule if they had made public all the conclusions they had come to. They lived in an almost exclusively mechanical era. The fact that modern physics, especially in the field of quantum physics, is largely in agreement with those discoveries, was then irrelevant. Much of Sutherland’s discovery stemmed from building Heath Robinson-like devices to test the expansions and contractions of his own skull. I did not have to do that as he had already done it for me.
What I did latch on to was Sutherland’s observation that this fluid contained what he called the “breath of life” and his further statement that, “ you can rely upon the Tide” The tide that bears it, that is to say.
I then embarked on an Odyssey, which continues, to see if he really meant that and whether that could be my experience too.
I had to consider which Tide he meant, whether you could truly rely upon it or whether it was just a further tool to be used in one’s mechanical armoury of skills.
The revelation, to me was that you can rely upon it. That it is an Intelligence greater than my intellect can possibly imagine and that rely, means rely, an almost absolute term, and does not mean pay lip-service to.
For a few years now I have been sharing my observations with students, here in the USA and in Europe. They have been sharing their observations with me and the consensus is that, “you can rely upon the tide.” Not the mechanical, relatively surface tides, so much, they are a tool, a vehicle, but the Breath of Life, the Intelligence, that they carry and the Spirit, of which the Breath of Life is an early form.
A further consensus is that it is difficult to enter that state of surrender, where the poor old ego cannot circumscribe what is going on. It does want to have its say! The final consensus is that when the reliance, the trust, the surrender is in place – nothing less, it works!
The secret, for me, is in our state of presence. The Dalai Lama says "I think that our first responsibility as practitioners, is to watch ourselves."! I note the use of "first responsibility".
I have to do something a little more than just washing my hands between patients and leaving my overdraft on my desk, I need to meditate and come into a state of being which is relatively un-attached. If I cannot be unattached, then a simple observation of that fact, can disentangle me from being the attachment, to a point that I can just observe the state of my being without putting the energy of attention into the neurosis, or whatever there may be. I have plenty of those. This observation without judgement is compassion- Karuna- Whenever I can approach someone from this relatively uncluttered, relatively still, place, I am ready to receive what is offered.
I do not expect absolute emptiness. I think I may have had brief glimpses of something like it from time to time, but with an amount of practice, I can be relatively still.
From there and from there only, I can approach the client or the family group, if I am working with minors or babies, in the belief that I will contact that level in whoever is present, whether it comes into awareness or not!
We are then in joint practice, at that level and whatever arises, whatever is done, is the result of the synergy of that joint practice. There is no doer and no done to. There is only the joint practice. And I may not know what has taken place, at a structural level, and the client may not know, and both those are scary, and it is perfect and who is scared, not me, only my ego!!
There is, unfortunately, no half falling off a cliff. You either trust and let go, or you don’t.
I know some people are drawn to work like this. I know some people are repelled by the thought of working like this. They are both right. I just want to empower the former in any way I can.
This to me is the level of the Spirit. It is not a better level, it is what is, for some people.
I have not proved anything, I did not set out to, I wanted to make an offering.
In a moment I would like to make another small offering, but first can I just close this part by reading another poem which sort of sums up where I am.
An Empty Bowl
I have a metal bowl.
It was made by the latest in a lineage of such bowl makers.
It is empty, though the Ocean is in it.
If I strike it, it rings and that is useful.
I can put flowers in it, that is beautiful and that is useful but it wont ring.
My grand-son could pee in it and probably would
and that would be useful but it wouldn=t ring.
If I approach it from stillness and get into joint practice with it, it sings beautifully
And the sound goes all round the Universe
And that is very useful
And the bowl is empty.
I have a mind.
It was made in eternity.
And if thoughts are in it, that is useful.
And if lesions are in it and edges of resistance, that is useful.
And sometimes it is full of roses and sometimes full of piss
and I can work with that and that is useful.
But if it is empty and I can approach another in stillness,
There is room for the whole story and she remembers who she really is
and the universe remembers what it is
and that is really useful.
And the mind is empty.
With my usual and somewhat unremitting anxiety that, “this time it won’t work, this time I shall make a fool of myself,” - You see how my neurotic mind wavers between trusting and not letting go - I would like to finish with a small demonstration of what I mean by synergy and letting the work do the work. Some of us find that without the limitation of what should happen, the limitation of our relative knowledge, what can happen is unlimited.
I will just ask you all to sit in stillness again, for ten minutes, trying not to wonder what I am doing, I’m not, and just receive, absolutely just that, whatever comes into awareness out of the joint practice. We started with silence and the bowl and we finish with the bowl and silence.
This is my offering.
Note: during this second meditation, Mike deliberately expanded the field of his awareness to include the whole group. Several people commented afterwards that they had picked up on this as a sort of “tide” or “ocean” – quite different to their normal meditation.