The rest of this course will focus on how we can use bodywork to help a person’s personal, social and spiritual development. This seems to me to be the most important help we can give someone that empowers them to take charge of their life.
The residential in July will explore all the bodywork techniques and experiential anatomy of Movement Shiatsu
The September, October and November workshops will deal with how to work with the three dimensions of self described in the following article …
Three Dimensions of Being Human
The trouble with being human is that we are an uncomfortable community of archetypal spirits and the one of the hardest challenges in life is to learn to integrate all of these disparate sides into a coherent whole. Many philosophers have explored this dilemma and it lies at the root of all of the world’s religions.
The concept of archetypes was particularly developed by Carl Jung to describe the spectrum of different ways of being human which our species has evolved. He thought of them as being developed by the collective unconscious of the human race, but other thinkers have identified them as similar to the behavioural instincts with which most animals are born. From this viewpoint, the archetypes have evolved as useful modes of being and their behaviours are hard-wired into our nervous system by the process of evolution.
Diagram 1: Jung’s 12 basic archetypes
The gods of Ancient Greece and Rome are another description of these archetypes; they represent the essential qualities which when mixed together in different ways form our personality and character. An ancient Greek who fell in love would describe it as being pierced by one of Cupid’s arrows. Jung might say that he was expressing the archetype of the Lover. An evolutionary biologist might say that he was activating an instinct which survived by bonding the couple to stay together long enough to care for the children. I would say that all these descriptions are equivalent.
However , there is another, way of viewing the human dilemma. Since the time of Darwin scientists have debated whether the main factor determining character and personality is our genes or the conditioning of society. Behaviourists like B.F.Skinner believed that everything could be conditioned and that babies start with a ‘Blank Slate’ that is filled in by their upbringing and environment. In this ‘empiricist’ viewpoint, identical twins separated at birth would have no reason to have similar tastes or behaviour. On the other end of the spectrum, ‘nativists’ such as Hans Eysenck and Arthur Jensen believed that characteristics such as personality type, sexuality and intelligence are largely determined by genes.
Most psychologists and philosophers of mind such as Jerry Fodor, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Dennett have been convinced by numerous experiments that neither of these viewpoints is correct. The prevailing view is that there are some innate modules in the brain which determine the child’s strategy for learning. These are probably innate and many, such as the ability to learn language and movement seem to be quite consistent throughout our species.
Other innate modules vary considerably from person to person and together form core characteristics that develop into a style of personality and character specific to that individual. Maybe we could call this innate core of the self our ’soul’.
We are both individualists with unique souls and tribal creatures needing to conform to the rules of the group. That is the real dilemma. This deep conflict is the focus of what Joseph Campbell calls the ‘Desert religions’. These are Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Campbell points out that, in the stark environment of the desert, individualism was dangerous. In Campbell’s view, gods are a projection of the tribal culture, so a desert god made strong rules (the Ten Commandments) that controlled individual behaviour.
In Greek and Roman religion the gods did not particularly control individual behaviour, but were representations of human qualities like creativity, bravery, love and justice. Humans who particularly embodied one of these qualities could be declared a god and people who felt they needed a quality like courage would contact the appropriate god to help him.
In the desert religions, some of our instinctive urges are seen as ‘evil’. This means that that they had the capacity to break the integrity of the tribe : a fragile necessity in a hostile environment. Powerful urges such as sex, ownership, aggression and even creativity needed to be tamed to benefit the tribe rather than the individual.
Slightly oversimplifying one could say that the desert religions enforced morality and emphasised the tribe while the pantheistic religions emphasised the individual and saw the spirit world as a source of resources for the individual psyche.
The instinctive urges that the desert religions aim to control, emerge from our emotions and our bodies and these are not usually under conscious control. So in these cultures, the unconscious is seen as intrinsically dangerous and even evil. Maybe this is the origin of the concept of Original Sin.
Basically, these unconscious urges are what Freud called the ID. And the expectations from Society, with which we have been conditioned, he called the SUPEREGO. In his model the EGO is the aspect of the self that tries to balance these two forces. Unfortunately, since Freud was a product of the desert tribe culture, he couldn’t help giving the impression that the ID was a dangerous and even evil force and the SUPEREGO was part of the forces of good.
Freud’s view was that if we could understand the Id through hypnosis and dream analysis then, although we would not be able to be directly conscious of our urges we could accommodate them and discipline them. The conscious ego could delay their gratification or negotiate with them rather than repressing them.
However, the implicit messages flowing through Freud’s thought are that the unconscious is dangerous and needs to be tamed and I think this leads to bad therapy in the same way that the doctrine of original sin is bad for the spirit of humanity. The result is that people become ashamed of their natural being, control themselves, need approval, inhibit creative expression and enter into polite rather than passionate relationships.
The model that I would like to explore in this article is that the self consists of three primary dimensions:
1) The Primal Self, source of our primary impulses – for instance, hunger, sex, creativity and aggression. These drives come from the self and are not really concerned with other people or the environment. But they are not bad in themselves, they are all necessary for human life. They often contain real wisdom about what we need to do to realise our potential and live a full life.
2) The Social Self that develops from society’s conditioning and which is also embodied in some of our instinctive archetypes such as the Mother, the Caregiver, the Lover and the Everyman.
3) The Authentic Self, which takes in the expectations and the demands of the outer world and digests them, assimilating those that are compatible with our personality and character and rejecting those that would inhibit something essential to our soul.
In a way, the process of maturation is the development of the Authentic Self.
Diagram 2: The families of meridians and their associated aspects of the self.
The above diagram shows how these aspects of the self are related to the Oriental view of our energy/capacities and also to forms of movement-relationship described by the Three Planes. I find this relationship one of the most fruitful and useful connections because it makes a direct link to the body. Thus, if a person is not using all three dimensions of the self then they can work with that by activating and developing aspects of their body. It also gives me as a therapist a clear place to start working physically that supports the client’s personal development.
The Three Planes
The three planes are the sagittal, vertical and horizontal planes, describing the divisions anatomists make in the body. For instance, the sagittal plane divides left and right.
For our purposes, it is more useful to see the planes as types of movement. This viewpoint was developed by Rudolf Laban who described three primary types of movement, not only in their physical direction but also in what they communicated and expressed.
The three planes of movement are:
1. SAGITTAL PLANE (Laban’s Wheel Plane)
The Sagittal Plane is called that because Sagitta is the Latin for an arrow. It is the FORWARD MOVING PLANE, which is why Laban called it the Wheel Plane. It is the energy of Action. Going for something. Doing rather than Being. The focus is forward, seeing where you are going and following your vision. I like to call it the IMPULSE PLANE.
2. VERTICAL PLANE (Laban’s Door Plane)
For me, the most important aspect of the VERTICAL plane is that it is OPEN, I am opening myself to you (that is Laban’s focus), but I am also open TO you. I like to call it the CONTACT PLANE.
3. HORIZONTAL PLANE (Laban’s Table Plane)
The movements in this plane are circular and spiral, turning round an axis. If you try moving in this plane you will quickly find your attention being drawn inwards and downwards. It seems to me strongly connected with the earth, growing up from the earth, spiraling back down. Reaching inwards to our inner self. Inward focus, recharging, digesting the input from the outer world and finding your own truth. I like to call it the ASSIMILATION PLANE
It should be clear from these descriptions that the three dimensions of the self naturally match up with the three planes of movement.
1. The Primal Self is expressed in the Impulse or Sagittal Plane. Movement in this plane feels self-directed, one pointed, target focused, slightly aggressive in that it doesn’t take other people into account. The movement is forging forward.
2. The Social Self is expressed in the Contact or Vertical Plane. Movement in this plane opens the body to contact with the outer world and is in some way the opposite of the Impulse Plane movements.
3. The Authentic Self is expressed in the Assimilation or Horizontal Plane. Movement in this plane brings one back to the core axis and creates a space for digestion of the messages from the outer world. It acts as an arbitrator between the upper body (relating to others) and the lower body (primal drives and impulse for movement).
The Three Burners
Each movement plane is naturally and obviously related to various aspects of the body. This is practically useful because one can develop aspects of the self that are unexpressed by focusing on the aspects of the body related to the associated plane.
For instance, the Primal Self by itself is quite autistic and selfish. It takes no account of others but is highly motivated and focused. It needs input from the Social Self, so if this dimension of being is under-developed then working with the Vertical Plane is a way of opening up this part of the self and one needs to activate and pay attention to unused aspects of the body in order to open up this plane.
The Three Burners of traditional Oriental Medicine naturally relate the body to the movement planes:
1. The Lower Burner is an embodiment of the Sagittal Plane
The organs of the lower burner are the PUSHING ORGANS. The rectum, the bladder, the large intestine and the uterus all push down and out. This is the first act of pushing that babies perform and it underlies the ability to push with the muscles – especially with the muscles of the legs – which drive us forward and impel us into movement.
The kidneys are also traditionally included in the Lower Burner. In Chinese medicine the Kidneys are the home of our Zhi – which is the source of our primal impulses, our sex drive, our will and our creativity. Physically, the adrenal glands sit on top of the kidney which activates the Sympathetic Nervous system and prepares us for action and movement.
The Lower Burner Organs from the side.
Finally, all the organs of the lower burner support the sacrum and lumbar spine and help transmit force from the legs into the vertebral column so that the impulse from the legs flows through the whole body.
So working with all these organs and activating the muscles of the legs is a good way of developing the energy of the Sagittal Plane and thus getting in touch with the Primal Self.
2. The Upper Burner is an embodiment of the Vertical Plane
The organs of the Upper Burner are the Lungs and the Heart. The lungs expand and open the chest. The heart pumps fluid into the limbs and thus continues the energy of expansion and opening.
The chest is also the place where we feel emotions of love, loss and benevolence connecting us to others and expanding into the world.
These organs are particularly related to the arms and the head. When the lungs expand and the blood is circulating well, the head is supported , the shoulders open and the arms spread. If the breathing is shallow and the heart is not strong, the posture collapses and the head falls forward, cutting us off from the world.
The Upper Burner is the part of the body which expresses our inner feelings to the outside world but is also the place where these feelings and impulses can be inhibited and repressed.
So working with these organs, the neck, the shoulder muscles and the hands is a good way of supporting the energy of the Vertical Plane and thus getting in touch with the Social Self.
3. The Middle Burner is an embodiment of the Horizontal Plane
The organs of the Middle Burner are the Liver, Stomach, Gall Bladder, Small Intestine and Pancreas. They are the digestive organs, receiving energy from the outer world and transforming it into a form that can be assimilated.
Digestion also happens emotionally. The expectations, rules, demands and needs of other people are an emotional energy input and we need to digest it. Some of their expectations may fit with our soul and so can be assimilated without compromising our core self. Other demands may be so foreign to us that we should have the option of saying no. if those alien expectations drive us for too long, we need to cut off from our core self and repress our own energy to cope.
So the Middle Burner digestion process is an arbiter between the energy of the outer world and our core soul. Without it, we may be swept along by the expectations of others and lose track of our Authentic Self.
Activating the energy of these organs helps us to relax into ourselves, to feel self-supported and self-confident. They also support the upper body from underneath so are the physical foundation of a relaxed and open posture.
Thus working with these organs is a good way of developing a sense of the Authentic Self and a healthy Ego which can be open to the outer world but can also listen and stick up for the needs and impulses of the Primal Self.
The universal dilemma of being human is how to balance the demands of the outside world with our sense of individuality. This is achieved through developing a healthy Ego, which we are calling the Authentic Self, that balances the Primal Self with the Social Self.
The different energies of the three aspects of the self are expressed in the movements of the three planes which in turn are supported and embodied in the organs of the three burners and the aspects of the body that relate to them.
This gives a practical and useful way of using bodywork to support personal development.
Diagram 2 shows the relationship of the three families of meridians to the Planes and the Burners and you may notice that the forms of Qi represented by the meridians do not match up with the internal organs traditionally associated with the Three Burners. This is an unfortunate aspect of the translation of Medieval Chinese thought into English. Taoist philosophy required that each form of energy had a physical ‘home’. Thus the internal organs were associated with the forms of Qi but their physical function and physiology may not relate well with the Qi named after the organ. However, the three Burners are more physical and the organs in each burner are related to each other in their function and anatomy. So the ORGANS assigned to each burner in this article are the traditional ones but the meridians in the families associated with each burner don’t match the physical organs. It would be less confusing if we used the chinese words for the forms of Qi and reserved the english names for the physical organs themselves.