You really can rely upon the tide!

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

My thesis, my conviction, not just belief, and my passion are contained in that short phrase. You can rely upon the tide. I have spent the last 15 years analysing, testing, working with and then teaching the truth of that statement.

Today, 120 years or so after Sutherland first voiced that statement; I am going to try to explain where I have been and what I came up with, so far. And I am going to ask you to experience a flavour of that over the course of the next few hours.

Let’s take this slowly and start at the beginning. I first heard this phrase when I was training in CST with Franklyn at Karuna.

You can rely upon the Tide. I began to think “what Tide, and what does “rely on” mean. The word rely was the big one. Does rely mean work with, manipulate in some way or direct at a lesion. Why did Sutherland choose that expression, “rely on”? I came to believe that if he said that he was independent enough to know what he meant and that he meant rely, literally. That means someone else or something else does it, whatever is to be done.

As to the Tide, I did not assume that Sutherland was trying to say that the Cranial Rhythmic Impulse, or CRI as we know it, was the source that we could rely on so devoutly, I did not think that even the Long Tide, which many of you will be familiar with, was being suggested as the motivational energy of all life, these are, after all objects of our awareness, not the underlying foundation of our awareness.

What I came to truly believe that he was talking about was the Hypothesis that there is an Intelligence that is not part of the individual and personal ego structure, not subject to the Intellect, which can be absolutely relied upon.

Shakespeare said, “there is a Tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Even that is not it but it is a shade closer. It implies an “other.”

This raises a big conflict: If there is an “other” that can be relied on, what place is there in there for me. How will I know what it is doing, how will I know what is happening to the patient. Supposing something goes wrong and I get sued-what a litigious country this is! You see what is happening here, the poor old personal ego is having a bad time already, getting really anxious. We could go on further, “we have to have boundaries, I can’t not know what I am doing. How do I explain what I am doing? It’s not scientific and best of all; I have got to be present, fully present at all times. I remember Mike saying that!! Mike Boxhall, I mean, not Michael Shea, he’s perfectly sane.

Oh, boy! Now nobody can be trusted, not even me!
It’s not that bad. What we need to do now is have a look at what being present means in this context.

What I mean by being present is to be mentally still, just noticing what arises without getting attached to it in any way. Without making any judgements about what something means. Just noticing that it is. If we don’t get attached to meaning, the phenomenon will pass and another will most likely take its place. Then another and another and they are all acknowledged and all let go of and sometimes, just for a while, nothing will arise and there is just empty awareness, empty of all objects, and from that emptiness a new object arises.

Movement arises out of stillness and nothing truly goes anywhere. It just is, in movement. There is a coming together in this moment of everything that ever was and this is its expression right now. The Spirit takes form and we as witness are in joint practice with that form.

Here then, is the dramatic unfolding of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy.


That’s the introduction, the prologue; now let’s unpick this a little and break it down into something a little more expansive.
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 impermanent, 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 impermanent, 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 impermanent. Sometimes, in fact, everything is perfectly satisfactory.

Suppose I just get out of the way and let the Spirit or the Intelligence, as opposed to my intellect, do the work. Get the pathology of the system back into a better adapted state. No longer suffering from what are, in effect, undigested life experiences. 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. As Aldous Huxley said, “In actuality, there is no life outside the life of experience.” Let us revere the experience, not just the theory or the concept.

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 and letting it do the work.

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.

No now.

A tide there is,

An ocean then.

Beneath the waves,

There is only still.

The Mother.

Pure awareness,

And I remember who I am.

The Ocean stirs.

There is only process.

There is a lovely pod of people that has grown around a course I am in the middle of teaching in North Carolina. We exchange a lot of questions and we exchange a lot of attempts at answers. It is very much a joint practice.

Some of what follows stemmed out of a recent question from one member to us all;-

“I want to try to address this as it brings up all the issues we have talked about and may help me to understand a little bit more just what it is I have been talking about.

Let’s focus for a moment on the disaster in the Gulf and see what arises directly out of that:-

As well as being a disaster, which it is, for 100s of thousands of good people; it is almost unbearable to think of the suffering of those who have lost everything; family, homes, possessions and worse, hope and trust; it is a global crisis. Focussed on New Orleans.

A crisis is a turning point. I am not just talking about the price of oil and the snowball effect that has, but a crisis of trust in what we come to believe in as being the natural order of things. Even so far as a trust in the truth of decency and compassion and neighbourliness when the chips are down, for some people.

The crisis that has gone around the world is, who can we rely on when we are in trouble.

9/11 was different; we created an enemy and took the view that we had to learn to defend ourselves better from the enemy, that object out there. We rallied around to do that. Rightly or wrongly.

Now it seems that we have been betrayed by ourselves. There is no enemy out there -though we shall look for one- just a massive indictment of a way of life lacking compassion.

I would not pretend that I would expect any different result from any other nation should a similar situation arise.
Certainly not my own which is inexorably cast in the same model, as are all European countries. Just before this hurricane, there were 600+ people trampled to death in Arabia, mostly women and children fleeing in panic from a perceived threat, to themselves. If I were an historian, the list would be endless.

Now we come to the Crisis, the turning point. The fulcrum for change.

That fulcrum lies in awareness. Not the awareness of who did what wrong and who needs firing or blaming, but the awareness that I am responsible.

Historically, we always blame someone else and go back to surrendering to the impulse of accepting what is best for me and MINE as though the rest of the world community were not also me and mine.

The status quo gets rocked. No wonder we are "experiencing some major shifts and upheavals in our lives."

Daniel Levy, a composer and pianist says, “The steps to attain patterns of a new civilisation are the same as those for the expansion of consciousness. When this expansion of consciousness occurs the whole past gradually and rhythmically diminishes to become part of a new whole. The centre changes and each of our atoms is infused with a different sort of energy. Our point of view assumes a growing perspective and our vision expands from seeing parts of the whole to an awareness of the reality of the greater whole.”

This is, succinctly, the experience of some clients. This is sometimes my experience. “Something happens”, as Rollin Becker would say.

“God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” St Bonaventure, a Franciscan Cardinal of the 13th century and the patron saint of bowel disorders.

Putting it another way, “the Buddha of the future is Maitreya. But Maitreya is not a person but the quality of friendship that is, in fact, an aspect of enlightened mind”. Deena Metzger.

This is where our work is so important. Not that we tell other people how they should be, or what they should do but in facilitating access to awareness of what is coming up in our own beings right now and bringing that into fuller awareness. And by removing the judgement. We do this in joint practice with another or others and we help them to come into presence with their pain, of whatever nature, by hearing fully their story from an empty place.

Only by and from this increase in awareness will the possibility for root change arise. All important change causes Insecurity. If we are not insecure we are skating round the same old rut and there may be an artificial and temporary sense of security in that, but look how fragile it is. So the insecurity is the place of change. Blessed are the insecure. The pain will change if we can watch it, not become it. Not let it become who we are. In that full hearing lies the healing. There is nothing to do. But, it is not easy to be fully present to deep anguish without judgement. We just have to remember that that judgement is our stuff and it is filling the bowl and if the bowl is not empty, the whole story does not get told.

Going back to blame for a moment, the question is not "what did I do wrong" but what comes up right now. What does, what I did or didn't do, feel like right now? Is it anger; is it fear, a mixture of both? That is what needs taking on board and working with. Out of that comes the possibility for change. Working with the fear, working with the anger and if I can do that then, just maybe, I will see the anger and/or the fear to be a common human condition and I will not have to defend myself against it in future. Or get rid of it.

It is basically fear, fear of change, which in turn means fear of being, and that makes us so pathological.

To have fear is part of the human experience; the problem is when we try to create conditions, barriers and defences which guard us against it. This is when we seize up.

Let’s work WITH the fear, if that is what is there. Then, we are in the present. From the present we can make sensible decisions. The present is always still, it is what we are observing that is changing. So, we are still, watching the arising and falling of phenomena. We are not the phenomena. We are, in that moment, the place where all phenomena arise.

That is what stillness means. It is not an inert state; it is the awareness of change, not the change itself. It leads to proactivity. Being caught up (attached) to the change, leads to reactivity.

I have tried to define Stillness and I have tried to define un-attachment. The combination of the two is enlightenment. Any fool, including this one, can define it-to practice it is the ballgame!!

Nietzsche said and he could have been speaking of attachment, or rather the lack of it, “I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things, then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful.”

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 bank statement 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 gets 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.

A dog loves the world through its nose.
A fish through its gills.
A bat through its deep sense of blindness.
An eagle through its glide.

And a human life
through its spirit. (Mark Nepo)

I have not proved anything, I did not set out to, I wanted to make an offering.

Mark Nepo, again, quotes the Buddha, “Act always as if the future of the Universe depends on what you do, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.”