But as time went by, I started to question this for several reasons. One was the whole concept of ‘re-traumatization’ that I first read about in Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger. There is quite a bit of evidence that some emotional recapitulations of trauma actually reinforce what I call the ‘scar wiring’ of PTSD. I’ve learned that sometimes an emotional release can happen within a context that results in the client being worse off than they were. I’ve also learned that sometimes these releases take place in a context that catalyzes a positive quantum jump in their healing journey. And I’ve learned that sometimes the release represents a temporary catharsis that, while appearing profound, actually seems to engender no lasting change; it is ephemeral and wanes over time.
The point is, there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about having a huge emotional reaction. As in so many things, it is the context that matters. I've had clients who themselves have measured a session's efficacy by how dramatic the ‘ride’ is. It’s almost as if the healing work we’re doing has an element of entertainment. I do not keep these clients - they either leave of their own accord, or in one or two cases where it was clear to me that we were treading water, I’ve asked to stop working with them.
A lot of deep healing takes place with no tears. I remember hours of standing Taoist ‘Clearing Down’ meditation, wherein I felt waves of regret, loss, rage, grief, terror, anxiety, arrogance, and self-righteousness pass through me. it was (and still is) remarkable to me that merely standing in a specific posture and working on a specific set of sensation/release instructions could let such long-held, heretofore repressed emotions rise to the surface, unleashed with often astounding ferocity. But I didn’t cry, or yell, or gesticulate, I practiced releasing the emotions as they arose, letting them go. And that is harder than one might expect, because I didn’t want to let them go. There was a real, palpable fear to letting them go.
Why, I asked my teacher, would I want to hold onto these things? Trauma is one of the ways we know ourselves to be who we are, he replied. The body collects and collates its emotional and physical scars as a survival mechanism: you learn from what harms but does not kill you, so it’s understandable that you don’t want to forget it. But as Levine and others have pointed out, we humans, with our time sense, our ability to stray from ‘being present’, derived from our well-developed pre-frontal cortex, can’t seem to discharge the emotional content of the lesson the way animals seem to (though, of course, we know that repeatedly abused animals also display PTSD behaviors, so even they can be ‘scar wired’ as I call it). We can’t let go of the emotions because our systems mistakenly link them to the experience as a unitary, indivisable whole. Therefore, we’re afraid of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In my teacher’s Taoist framework, every trauma is bound up into a knot of Qi (life force energy, pronounced “Chi”, also called Prana). This knot of Qi weakens the system and disrupts energy flow. By releasing the emotions woven into the trauma, we actually untie the knot and liberate this bound up Qi to be utilizable by our organism for health and vitality.
This is where various modalities, from the Clearing Down meditation to EMDR come in - through them, we can retain the experience and the memory, but let go of much of the limbic charge - we can alter that wiring and at the same time, liberate that bound-together Qi. And these processes can be very undramatic at times, yet quite efficacious.
But I would be the first to admit that I have also seen a long-term healing effect, one that transcends temporary catharsis, in some sessions where there was yelling, crying and screaming so loud that I was very, very glad that I give sessions on my own property now, and no longer in an office building. Here is one of them:
I had a client, whom I’ll call Mary. She’s in her 50’s, and has suffered several severely abusive relationships. She’s also experienced a lot of ‘idiopathic’ (doctor-speak for ‘We have no idea.’) respiratory problems, which have included collapsed lungs. her breathing has been an important concern to her for her entire life. When I first met her, my Guidance told me that she had been sexually abused at a young age. I didn’t mention what I saw to her because in general, I don’t like to ‘lead’ my clients, or, God(dess) forbid, ‘implant’ memories into them through suggestion. So, I kept it to myself. We worked together for quite a few months, and then one day, while I was primarily doing an AuraLuminance session with her, I found a gnarled, nasty ’tree’ of energy growing out of the side of her aura, just below and to the left of her heart, right out of her ribcage. It’s hard to describe how I ‘saw’ or ‘knew’ or ‘felt’ this, because there are some elements of all three of those verbs in what I was perceiving, but they are neither accurate nor adequate.
At any rate, I proceeded to ‘pull out’ this ’tree’ from her. It took all of my physical strength, working in her aura, and as I pulled it away, I could feel the energetic ‘roots’ sliding out of her body. Finally, at the precise second that the last ‘root’ popped out of her and I pulled this gnarled, energetically crooked, bound thing away, she started screaming at the top of her lungs. Screaming, swaying, weeping, sobbing, gasping for breath, and then screaming some more. I let this go on for while, and then the pattern started ramping up - I could see that a sort of feedback loop was instantiating. The release of a long-suppressed trauma was cycling back into the trauma experience and back out again in a closed loop. I went to her feet and grounded her, pulled the energy out, through her feet, through me, and into Mother Earth (she recycles everything!). Gradually, Mary calmed, and the physical manifestations of her trauma response, from rigidity to gasping, eased, and she was left limp on the table.
But what had been accomplished? Mary told me that in the very second I’d pulled that tree out, the very second she’d screamed, she’d gotten back memories of being held down and sexually assaulted as a toddler by a family employee. We had never spoken a word of this, or even of the chance of childhood sexual abuse. Rather, this ‘knot’ of Qi, once liberated, unbound the memory tied up inside it, and it could now be consciously ascertained, and, with some more work, processed.
The most interesting aspect of this case came a day or two later, when we spoke by phone. I asked how she was doing, and she remarked that she was breathing better than she had in years. Quite unexpectedly, it was my turn to cry, as my guidance told me that her life-long lung problems had stemmed from the stifled screams of a terrified toddler that had been waiting for decades to find a way out into the Light to be healed.
I think it’s fair to say that this experience has changed Mary, and for the better. She continues to become more resilient, more trusting of herself, more connected to Spirit.
Other times, clients and I have quite successfully revealed and released traumas without any tears. But either way, we’ve often created a new relationship of the client to self that is replete with genuine empathy and acceptance.
In a way, a ‘need’ for a kind of drama that some clients (and some practitioners) have is akin to the ‘need’ some have for deep tissue work; they truly feel that only the most painful therapies can yield release and transformation. I know: I used to be one of those people. I was numb from my spinal cord damage, and I fervently believed that I had to feel pain to release pain. This belief probably owes a lot to our “No Pain, No Gain” Calvinist roots. Although there are myriad examples in nature of gain without pain, we humans seem to believe that there’s a zero-sum game being played out there, and within, and that you always must suffer to succeed.
This is why Ortho-Bionomy is often such a counter-intuitive revelation to people, as it most often painless, almost never, ever truly painful, and yet it can engender such radical and deep change. After having experienced the typical physical therapy Psoas muscle release on many occasions, which is quite exquisitely painful, the totally painless but equally effective Psoas releases achieved through Ortho-Bionomy were hard to for me to accept. Some part of me wanted the pain because it believed that it was necessary. What a relief that I’ve gotten over that!
This process also applies to Ortho-Bionomy self-care. But more to the point, I am speaking to the fundamentals of what it means to be human: as I age, my “push through it all no matter what the pain” philosophy has been tempered by the realization that I must be more gentle with myself at times. I must be aware of my limitations, and, yes, push the envelope at times, but at other times I must discern when it’s time to step back and nurture myself with gentle care. A lot of my practice involves working with clients to engender this same love of self, empathy for self, which, it appears, is one of those things we find hardest to accomplish. We look to others for love, and we often find it much easier to nurture and comfort others, rather than ourselves (except for ‘negative comforts’ - self-numbing strategies from sex to food to drugs, which masquerade as nurturance but are really its opposite).
So, whether you or your practitioner, or you or your client cry and have a huge dramatic release or not is not the question. The question is, always is: at this moment, what techniques, modalities, insights, energetic, physical and spiritual adjustments, and releases and behavioral alterations, can we use to engender evolution towards being more loving, more lovable, more sanguine, more contented, more creative, more generous, more moral and ethical, more magnanimous, more unreflexive and non-defensive human beings?
This process never ends, for you, for me - for that is what it means to be human, in the best sense of the word.