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Beginner's Mind [The Secular Spirit] [trauma treatment] [Xllibris] [Trauma Research] [Epitaph For Marxism] [Body Mind Community] Below are 10 entries, after skipping 10 most recent ones in the "michaeldee" journal:

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May 21st, 2009
01:36 am
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OUT-OF-BODY THINKING
Traumatized social Theory


In The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social, Patricia Clough continues the tradition of out-of-body thinking that reached its high-water mark in the post-war thinkers of Paris, France such as Derrida and Deleuze. Today in America we don’t find much of it in sociology proper. Its home is more in literary criticism and cultural studies. Clough is very candid about her disembodiment. She wants us to “disprivilege the organic body”.

Her idea of affect is "pre-individual bodily forces, linked to autonomic responses, which augment or diminish a body’s capacity to act or engage with others." This definition in turn is part an intellectual trend that "seeks an engagement with information" and departs from "a privileging of the organic body to an exploration of non-organic life; and from the presumption of equilibrium-seeking closed systems to an engagement with the complexity of open systems under far-from-equilibrium conditions." And it takes the position that such a movement and departure "is necessary to theorizing the social."

I, on the other hand, forthrightly privilege the organic body and take the position that not to do so is insane. Here I mean "insane" in its etymological sense, i.e., unhealthy, and therefore doomed to a fantasmatic dreaminess in addressing social reality.

Regarding "affect":

1. What is "pre-individual"? What does that mean? Does it mean pre-existing the actual individual psyche, with its individual ideas and dispositions? If that is so, then the body itself is "pre-individual". All human beings have the same general equipment, organs, limbs, cells, etc. So, the "organic body" itself is pre-individual, and to label "affect" as that does not do anything to take it out of the realm of the organic body. Furthermore, all the forces of social interaction that socialize the self are "pre-individual". This is like, not news.

2. We are told that "affect" is composed of "bodily forces linked to autonomic processes". I heartily agree with this, but how is this not a privileging of the organic body? Rudimentary socialization theory teaches us that unless the collective dispositions of the social group are brought to reside in the organic body of a particular individual, the individual is not moved by them.

3. The term "non-organic life" is a confused projection. Just as there is no such thing as artificial intelligence (with its capacity for originality and creativity), but only extremely fast mechanical processes that mimic certain features of intelligence, so there is no such thing as non-organic life. This is why movies such as The Matrix, and TV shows such as The Sarah Connor Chronicles (which I love) are merely adolescent fantasies, not any kind of science. The term "life" implies an autonomous self-generating capacity, a trait that no non-organic substance possesses.

4. Privileging the organic body does not presume "an equilibrium-seeking closed system". Rather it presumes an equilibrium-seeking open system, which is indeed engaged with the whole material world in a far-from-equilibrium situation. This dynamic tension between equilibrium-seeking and the openness of our material condition has been of the essence of human experience since the dawn of consciousness. Hey! Human beings die. The inorganic has always had the capacity to massively affect the organic body. Consider the manifestly inorganic guillotine or electric chair (or fence, or therapeutic probe).

5. So "affect" is correctly understood as a completely individual set of predispositions to action and feeling, installed in the organic body by the familiar processes of social interaction.

So, it is insane not to privilege the organic body. And this is a very specific form of insanity. Clinically it is called "dissociation”.

Dissociation in Derrida

Clough is a devoted disciple of Jacques Derrida. She made this clear in her twice-published The Ends of Ethnography (indicating that the ranks of out-of-body thinkers are considerable).

I have discussed Derrida’s epistemology at length in my article "Dealing With Derrida", which you can find on the Radical Academy web site. http://radicalacademy.com/studentrefphilmhd1.htm. Those who want to wade through the whole transition from Husserl to Derrida might find it helpful. But for our purposes here the crux of the matter can be stated briefly.

The cornerstone of Derrida's whole philosophical system is his claim that iterability (repetition) is an a priori condition of knowing, and therefore it destroys the unity and purity of the primordial act of knowing. This claim anchors all of his early work. And if this is true, then his system holds. If it is not true, then his system falls apart completely.

So we must note that iterability is not an a priori condition of knowing, it is in fact an a posteriori result of knowing, and every embodied knower knows this. An original presence-to-being (insight) occurs in time. Consequently it is repeatable. So, iterability is not "inside" phenomenological presence, it is extrinsic to it. This mistake is made all the more easy since both relationships are necessary. Once you get this, then all of Derrida's objections to realist epistemology collapse, and his whole philosophical system is reduced to imaginary mumblings.

So, repetition and re-presentation are necessary attributes of the self-same simple act, due to the fact that it is performed in time by an embodied entity. Thus they are not "inside" presence; they are outside it. The only way they could possibly be construed to be "inside" presence is by looking at the idea of presence and the idea of repetition rather than re-enacting their actual occurrence. This is a classic map vs. territory error. The map is completely lacking in the sensory details of the territory. The map does not show the underbrush, the pot holes, the heat and dust and wind on the journey.

In order to include the materiality of phenomenological presence when studying it, one has to be in one's body. One has to have intimate access to all one's sensory apparatus. And, if one does not have that access, then one is dissociated. One retreats into one's head, and mistakes the map for the territory.

Dissociation and the body.

Dissociation refers to the coordination of mind and body in consciousness. The clinical literature identifies three "states of arousal" of mind-body:

1. Being awake (the social engagement state)
2. Hyper-arousal (emergency response state)
3. Hypo-arousal (shut-down)

[See Trauma and the Body, by Pat Ogden et al. (W.W.Norton, 2006), pp. 26-40.)]

A common expression to indicate dissociation is the phrase, “out-of-body experience” or “leaving the body". Such phrases refer to leaving the social engagement state and going into either emergency response or shut-down.

Ogden cites this description of the social engagement state:

The social engagement system has a control component in the cortex (i.e., upper motor neurons) that regulates brainstem nuclei (i.e., lower motor neurons) to control eyelid opening (e.g., looking), facial muscles (e.g., emotional expression), middle ear muscles (e.g., extracting human voice from background noise), muscle of mastication (e.g., ingestion), laryngeal and pharyngeal muscles (e.g., prosody) and head tilting and turning muscles (e.g., social gesture and orientation). (Porges, 2003b, p. 35)
And then adds, “Collectively, these components of the social engagement system enable rapid engagement and disengagement with the environment and in social relationships by regulating heart rate without mobilizing the sympathetic nervous system.” (p. 30)

This is the key point. Only in this state do we have access to all our tools. We go into hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal either voluntarily or involuntarily to process special stimuli, and one criterion of emotional health is how much control we have over our shifts of arousal state. Hyper-arousal is governed by the sympathetic nervous system and in terms of biology is referred to as “fight-flight”, and in more common parlance is often referred to as “losing it”. Hypo-arousal is a relative decrease in heart rate and respiration and a decrease in exterior sensory awareness. A daydreaming poet is out of her body, i.e., voluntarily in hypo-arousal, and a completely freaked-out survivor of an automobile accident can also be out of their body, involuntarily, in dangerously deep hypo-arousal.

The Problem with Out-of-body Thinking.

The problem with out-of-body thinking is that it cannot engage the material world realistically. Ideas rule. Bodies do not matter. Out-of-body thinking invariably loses all material reference points, and proceeds to handle the real (i.e., material) world without regard for material implications or consequences. Where out-of-body thinking is the work of pathological angry activists, it leads to the atrocities of the Nazis and Pol Pot. Where it is the work of the victimized and powerless, it leads to self-destructive and irrelevant behavior. When it turns to analytical endeavors, it falls into somatic illiteracy: the complete ignorance of the mechanisms by which our bodies function as a vehicle of communication and a platform for emotions, and tends to become dreamspeak: metaphorical, mysterious, spooky.

A key example from The Affective Turn will illustrate this. In her introduction Clough notes that “Grace M. Cho’s essay, “Voices from the Teum: Synesthetic Trauma and the Ghosts of Korean Diaspora” is a performed movement from a psychoanalytic understanding of trauma to Deleuze’s notion of ‘machinic assemblage.’ Cho’s essay focuses on the traumatic history of Korean women from Japanese colonization to the U.S. diaspora. She treats the diasporic body as an effect of a transgenerational haunting and as a composed machinic assemblage. Diasporic bodies, she proposes, carry a vision, a machinic vision, of what they did not see and what an earlier generation saw but could not say they saw. Cho shows the diasporic body as it acts out being haunted, repetitively and melancholically, in a constant movement toward the traumatic experience of an earlier generation, her mother’s.”

In other words, now that the collective amnesia about the Korean War has been lifted, the diasporic body manifests all the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. This manifestation is a possible beginning of healing, but it is far from the completion of healing. That only happens when the self recovers its access to the social engagement state of arousal, and has control of hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal.

The implicit presumption that “saying” is the only method of intergenerational communication is an example of “somatic illiteracy”. The earlier generation cannot perhaps “say” what they saw, but they can communicate the effects of what they saw by pervasive parent-child communications signals. If you have disprivileged the body, you do not notice this.

There is another view of trauma that distinctly privileges the organic body, and studies the somatic foundations of trauma transmission and healing. It is shared by several schools of clinical trauma treatment, such as Gendlin’s Focusing, Levine’s Somatic Experiencing and Kurtz and Ogden’s Hakomi. One practitioner who is working with tsunami survivors in India, makes this observation: “It doesn’t matter what the treatment is as long as people are paying attention to the body and working with the nervous system directly to help bring back self-regulation. And the most self-regulating of all systems are the lower brain structures that govern life in the body.” [Raja Selvam, Santa Barbara Graduate Institute]

So, for the organic body privilegers, trauma is a biological event, namely, an overwhelm of certain information-processing channels in the organic body. This is true for intergenerational trauma as well as the other forms. These clinicians access trauma imprints by a sensory process called “inner body sensing”. When healing occurs, the self-regulation of the social engagement state of consciousness is restored.

Compare this with Clough’s identification of trauma as “ghosted bodily matter”. This is “bodily matter” that is actually disconnected from all bodily matter. Out-of-body thinkers’ frequent use of expressions such as “ghost” and “haunt” is simply a tribute to their somatic illiteracy. Since they cannot detect the actual source of the symptoms they observe, they declare them to be a big mystery.

Clough does us the service of cataloguing the whole roster of out-of-body thinkers. They are all there in her footnotes. So, there it is. Out-body-thinking inhabits academia. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that all of this out-of-body thinking is a symptom of the authors’ post traumatic stress disorder. I say ‘reluctantly” because the conclusion, on the face of it, might seem a bit far-fetched. Can there be so much PTSD in the world?

Upon reflection, the conclusion gains credibility. Think of the wars and turmoil throughout Europe from the sixteenth century on, culminating in the two world wars of the twentieth century and the Nazi regime and the holocaust. My three primary movers of traumatized philosophy – Deleuze, Derrida and Lacan – were all inheritors of that experience. As for the traumatized social theorists of the twentieth century in the USA – Clough’s referents in The Ends of Ethnography – verification is certainly needed, but the quest for such verification is prompted by the observation: how can one lose one’s body? The one sure method we know of is the dissociation caused by the somatic storage of trauma imprints.

My own, “realist” epistemology has its roots back in Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, which I learned through my exposure to the work of the Canadian Jesuit, Bernard J. F. Lonergan. Lonergan appears to have a scattered but durable following, and the University of Toronto currently makes all his works available. I also seem to find that in The Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty agrees with Aquinas and Lonergan. Lastly, there is very little epistemology in contemporary social science, so this talk about traumatized social theorizing is bound to come as something of a surprise.

But, I respectfully suggest, there it is.

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May 20th, 2009
03:29 pm
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The Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma
Somatic Illiteracy?


Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War by Grace M. Cho vividly raises the question of whether the author’s approach to trauma transmission is marked by a somatic illiteracy that (a) masks the organic bodily processes by which trauma imprints are transmitted across generations, and (b) blinds her to the existence of powerful new methods of healing trauma imprints invented in the past twenty-five years. “Somatic illiteracy” can be defined as an almost complete ignorance of the mechanisms by which our bodies function as a vehicle of communication and a platform for emotions. In social research, this ignorance is based on a systematic disinterest in such functions fostered by the out-of-body thinking that is the foundation of one’s epistemology. The accounts of bodily processes which are used are marked by a the primacy of imagined elements over organic processes, the complete reversal of the relationship in the “realist” view.

There is in fact a voluminous literature on the organic bodily processes of intergenerational transmission of information. Cho does not refer to this literature, and the literature she does refer to is also completely ignorant of any organic mechanisms of transmission. So, this is a conscious choice. The literature is neglected because the role of the body is discounted a priori, as a feature of the author’s worldview.

In her extensive discussion of transgenerational transmission of trauma, she refers to it as “unconscious”, “ghosted” and “phantomatic”. She and the authors she refers to ignore the fact that even psychoanalytic researchers routinely identify “unconscious communication” as “communication through bodily expression”. [1998. Transgenerational Transmission and Chosen Traumas, by Vamik. D. Volkan, M.D.] She notes that Korean women of the diaspora carry a vision of what they did not see and what an earlier generation saw but could not say they saw, as if this not being able to say is the same as not being able to communicate what they saw (experienced). Such a view of the human communication process—omitting the manifold signals used by the organic body, and which are pervasive and intimate in the mother-child relationship -- is a perfect example of somatic illiteracy.

Once we restore the primacy of the organic over the imaginary, the whole account of intergenerational transmission of trauma is transformed entirely, giving us valuable details of the process, and valuable details of the healing process.

According to Cho’s out-of-body thinking, healing is to occur by employing exercises of language: “new writing/methods for grasping the materialities and temporalities of bodies, “auto-ethnographies”. This claim is a stunning and dangerous half-truth. Techniques such as experimental writing bring the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder into consciousness. This is a possible beginning of healing, but it is far from its completion. The traumatized individual still experiences the symptoms described at length by authors such as Judith Herman in Trauma and Recovery.

These symptoms are, generally, the loss of control over the occurrence of hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal of one’s emotional repertoire. Hyper-arousal is the kicking in of the sympathetic nervous system – exaggerated startle reflexes, breaks in consciousness, sharp mood swings, chronic fear. Hypo-arousal is “shut-down” -- a relative decrease in heart rate and respiration and a decrease in exterior sensory awareness, sometimes described as a dreamlike state of consciousness.

This also raises the question of what do we mean by “healing”, what do we mean by “health”? When we recognize the validity of our somatic existence, “healing” is the ability to return voluntarily to the social engagement state of consciousness from the states of hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal that characterize our response to overwhelming stimuli. “Health” is comfortable access to this “social engagement state”. In everyday language we refer to this as “being in our body”. [See Trauma and the Body, by Pat Ogden et al. (W.W.Norton, 2006), pp. 26-40.)]

We can give a biological description of the social engagement state:
The social engagement system has a control component in the cortex (i.e., upper motor neurons) that regulates brainstem nuclei (i.e., lower motor neurons) to control eyelid opening (e.g., looking), facial muscles (e.g., emotional expression), middle ear muscles (e.g., extracting human voice from background noise), muscle of mastication (e.g., ingestion), laryngeal and pharyngeal muscles (e.g., prosody) and head tilting and turning muscles (e.g., social gesture and orientation). (Porges, 2003b, p. 35)
Ogden then adds, “Collectively, these components of the social engagement system enable rapid engagement and disengagement with the environment and in social relationships by regulating heart rate without mobilizing the sympathetic nervous system.” (p. 30)

Out-of-body thinkers are fully aware that experimental writings bring the symptoms of PTSD to the surface of consciousness, but they do not recognize them as such. They are aware that the symptoms are traumatizing.

They note that the experimental forms of writing that mean to capture trauma often present the subject in blanks or hesitations—a topographic formulation of forgetting, loss, uncertainty, disavowal and defensiveness. These writings can take a nonlinear, disconnected form, using multiple voices. They can fluctuate out of objective facts to subjective memory, weaving in and out of the cold facts of the forgotten war and engaging in dream sequences that both attract and hypnotize the reader.

They do not recognize that these nonlinear, disconnected forms, with blanks and hesitations, having multiple voices, fluctuating between objective facts and subjective memory and engaging in dream sequences are precisely the presentation of the symptoms of PTSD that, now that they are accessible to consciousness, can be treated by the various methods currently being developed by body-centered practitioners.

Purely language techniques are the products of mid-twentieth century French structuralists such as Lacan, Deleuze and Derrida, for whom identity was the result of language, whereas we now know as a settled scientific conclusion that individual identity begins long before the acquisition of language, before the awareness of sexual desire, in the pre-linguistic sensory experiences of an individual’s somatic boundary (the skin). The structuralists’ dissociated consciousness had no direct access to their own embodiment, and their time had almost no knowledge of the sensory components of human knowledge. They had to do all introspection through language.

But, in the last two decades of the twentieth century a body of work arose on the direct access mammals have to their own somatic processes and the consequent discovery of sub-cortical awareness. Schools of trauma treatment trauma such as Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing, Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing, and the Hakomi practices of Ron Kurtz and Pat Ogden share the observation that trauma is a biological event, namely, an overwhelm of certain information-processing channels in the organic body. The blockages created by these overwhelming experiences are physiological in nature and cannot be accessed directly by the functions of the neo-cortex.

Sensori-motor practice has learned is that these blockages can be readily accessed through sub-cortical awareness, inner body sensing. No language, no neo-cortical thinking. Just going inside and sensing. In this practice, “It doesn’t matter what the treatment is as long as people are paying attention to the body and working with the nervous system directly to help bring back self-regulation. And the most self-regulating of all systems are the lower brain structures that govern life in the body.” [Raja Selvam, Santa Barbara Graduate Institute]

[This lack of access to the sub-cortex is, by the way, the source of out-of-body thinkers’ tone of frustration and panic at the failures of “memory” (i.e., linguistic memory) and their fondness for the term “ghost” and “haunt” in accounting for the persistence of trauma imprints. Since they have no awareness of the organic source of symptoms, they are all completely mysterious, “ghostly”.]

Experimental writing is indeed an “unlearning not to speak”, an important social and cultural step in healing. But it does not occur to out-of-body thinking that the motivation to speak is actually generated by the presence in the organic body of blocked channels of information transmission. Any form of unlearning not to speak starts to bring traumatic imprints from their suppressed, forgotten, state. Sensori-motor theory notes that the core of trauma imprint is blockage. An organic bodily channel for processing information has been blocked, and for healing to occur, the information must move through the blockage. Becoming consciously aware of the blockage is a key step in releasing it.

However, sensori-motor practice also knows that an incautious recognition of the original imprint can cause, not healing, but re-enactment. The subject simply experiences the original overwhelm all over again, and the symptoms can be damaging.

This is true of intergenerational trauma as well as other forms. Although the second generation has not experienced the original events in their own bodies, they do carry in their own bodies the somatic imprints of those events , imprints that have been transmitted to them by the manifold bodily signals sent by their parental generation.

So, Cho successfully contributes to ending the collective amnesia that has long concealed the traumatization of her mother’s generation. And in doing so she brings to the surface of consciousness certain symptoms which can now be treated. However, the symptoms she so forcefully calls to our attention cannot be treated further within the confines of a somatic illiteracy that obscures both the mechanisms of intergenerational transmission and of healing trauma imprints.

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December 1st, 2008
04:57 pm
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sadness is the key

Sadness is the key to the release of free-floating anxiety.

Sadness is simply the body gathering energy around the point of earliest trauma imprint, the body mobilizing to release the blockage that is positioned there.

The problem here is that there is a HUGE cultural taboo against feeling sadness, against allowing it to run its course.

So, when we do inner body sensing we go against all the cultural prohibitions, and allow sadness to come up and run its course.

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November 9th, 2008
07:08 am
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DO NOTHING. . . .TRANSFORM.
Buddhists just sit and listen, sit and listen, until all the jumbled fears and deceptions stored in the unconscious come to the surface and dissipate. What is left then is the natural state of communion of the human spirit with its ultimate ground. Sometimes they call it "big mind". "When you realize that everything is just a flashing into the vast universe, then you become very strong and your existence becomes very meaningful."

I have never done much za zen. I do it from time to time, and it is quite refreshing. What I have done is a lot of "new age" psychotherapy. Some of it was pretty crazy, but I came out of it with a good sense of the boundary between the crazy and the sane.

In particular I found a practice that I think considerably shortens the traditional zen path to "big mind". This is the practice of "inner body sensing". It is derived from recent research on treating emotional trauma.Trauma treatment is lot like za zen. It gets very quiet and stops running away from what is inside us. But it also has the advantage of knowing exactly what it is looking for. And that is an unfinished impulse to escape. This is rooted in a biological program of the body itself. For what trauma treatment theory has uncovered is that the core of trauma imprint is not that bad things happened to us, but that we were not able to escape from them. And that is an experience that remains stuck in the body. The body is programmed for escape, and so when it can't, that incompleteness becomes a permanent irritant.

So, the way I sit and listen is to inject two specific elements into my consciousness.

One is a meditation that goes like this: "Consider the fact that your body has registered every experience you have ever had from late in the first trimester of your life in the womb. Everything has left its mark there. And so, as life went on, certain experiences left an imprint of an unpleasantness you could not escape from. And this incomplete response remains stuck in you, only waiting for you to notice it in order to complete itself and release the energy flow that is stuck around it."

The other is an instruction that goes like this: "Notice that you can have awareness of thoughts and of sensations. In this process, thoughts are unimportant. They are in fact distractions. They are derived, secondary, after-the-fact experiences coming from the mind.

For healing and self-clarification, you want to pay attention only to sensations. These little aches or pains, areas of warmth, impulses to move, feelings of heaviness or lightness, and the like. And each one of them is a clue to where your body wants you to go in order to complete a stuck defensive response. So, please ignore your thoughts and notice what is going on in your body."

That is how I sit in my sitting room.

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October 3rd, 2008
09:03 am
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Inner Body Sensing
The Original Imprint

We started our workshops at the Center for Kinesthetic Education in October 2007, and through those workshops I came to recognize the central importance of “the original imprint”.

The theory behind the original imprint is merely the Alice Miller finding (that “normal” child-rearing practices can be routinely traumatizing) carried out to its logical conclusion: there has to be a first time that our survival mechanisms were overwhelmed. Once such an overwhelm first occurs, all subsequent overwhelms “nest” in the pattern of energy blockage that the original imprint creates. In later life, when therapy gets access to the whole complex of frozenness that has accumulated over the years, the body has an instinct to go for the foundation of it all: the original imprint. And, once the body unlocks the original imprint, the whole complex of frozenness built on it loses its foundation, weakens, and gradually dissipates with very little outside help.

However, getting to the original imprint requires certain specific skills that have to be learned by actually using them. The theory is not enough.

I had a theory, but I had not tested it in experience very much. So, there was a gap between mind and body. I noticed certain things happening, but I was very slow in reacting to them . I was not alert enough or quick enough to respond appropriately. Another way of putting it is that I was not relaxed enough. Still another way of putting it is that I violated one of the cardinal rules of the work, "Lord, save us from being in a hurry." Not being relaxed equals having a certain amount of tension. This “low-level” tension, not easily noticed in our ordinary state of awareness. Low-level tension amounts to a state of "mini-panic". A state of mini-panic causes one to respond to the surface stimulus, not get the whole picture. I recall this most vividly in conversing with Sue. When she mentioned something "behind the eyes", I gave a quick and clever verbal response, but I did not let her comment sink in, was not relaxed enough to read her condition with full somatic awareness, and so did not pick up the fact that "behind the eyes" is just the presenting symptom of a bodily state that had to include sensations throughout the body, tension in fact, and that calling attention to THAT is what is necessary. Missing the whole picture results in having moments of opportunity pass by.

So, theory is essential, but success in practice requires timing and experience. I'm working on it.

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September 30th, 2008
10:21 am
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the Heart of Darkness
ibs and the heart of darkness

What drives the narcissism of homo sapiens?

My work on inner body sensing is closely related to my concern for a post-Marx social analysis. Marxism always asked the question, "What is wrong here?" and always got the wrong answer. (See http://www.thesecularspirit.com/epitaph_2005.htm) .

But the question remains. I place the answer in the narcissism of elites. This is the heart of darkness that casts its shadow over history. The law of nature up to now has been that the most narcissistic, the most self-involved, the most insensitive to the needs of others are the ones that gain control over material resources. This law of nature goes back eons, and was survival mechanism when the numbers of homo sapiens were very small and their technology very primitive. But now that there are six billion of us on this planet, and our technology is incalculably powerful, this "law of nature" is also a law of self-destruction.

For thirty years I have been asking myself, "What drives this essential narcissism of homo sapiens?" Long ago it was clear that it had something to do with early childhood experiences. Then slowly over time, I gradually identified the essential nature of what I came to call "the DNA of culture". I locate it in "the original imprint", a wound on the human psyche provisionally identified by Alice Miller’s work on "poisonous pedagogy".

So, there is a deep primordial basis for self-doubt, insatiable greed and permanent paranoia in homo sapiens. Is there any "cure" for it? I think so. I think it’s in the inner body sensing work that I stole from Hakomi and The Focusing Institute.

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August 3rd, 2008
08:29 am
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Study Dissociation
Study Dissociation

So, the bottom line is, if you want to make a difference, study dissociation. First yours, then the world's.

That is, in what manner, exactly, are you not in your body?

This is what ibs is all about.

How important is this? Well, just consider the fact that the Taliban on the one hand and suicide bombers on the other are classic cases of dissociation. One absolutely has to be out of one's body to adopt the practices they use.

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July 12th, 2008
01:19 pm
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Out-of-Body
Out-of-Body

In doing inner body sensing, there is an out-of-body issue. The principle involved is that inner body sensations can trigger strong anxiety, and a standard way for us to relieve anxiety is to “leave the body”, that is, become dissociated.

For most people, trauma imprints are felt very strongly in the viscera, the hara of eastern systems. But if someone has the bi-polar condition, they may not be able to experience visceral tension. This is the reason for the mood swings; there is no visceral "flywheel" to stabilize emotional shifts. The condition also prompts an individual to not be able to dive into emotions, but to handle them in the head, by talking about them, etc.

The bi-polar condition appears to be related to attention deficit disorder. Both are characterized by a reduced inner body sensitivity. Sustained attention (e.g., to verbal presentations) involves tension, the ability to process energy through the viscera. (I really noticed this when I had a case of severe myopathy due to a Lipitor side-effect. My overall body energy was so low that I could not finish a crossword puzzle. After a certain amount of time, I just became exhausted.) So, again, if there is visceral numbness, attention breaks down.

Now, in interior pursuits throughout history and across cultures, the out-of-body ("trance") solution to deep anxiety is by far the most preferred technique. It is much more popular than inner body sensing. In fact, ibs has emerged as an identifiable technique only quite recently. (I think the Sufis know that one always has to "return to the body" in order to acquire stable spiritual awareness.) Trance is in fact a primary resource of religion (chanting, rhythmic singing and preaching, ritual, sacred architecture being prime examples). Check out those Sunday morning evangelicals on tv.

Ordinary language readily identifies some common dissociated states. Daydreaming. "Spacing out." Fireworks, huge explosions, massive theatrical productions are among them. Sometimes a somewhat naïve and sexually arousable young man will say, after a merely visual encounter with a particularly beautiful woman, “Wow! I just had a religious experience.” This alerts us to the fact that strong sexual arousal and orgasm on the one hand, and religious ritual on the other hand are selective sensory experiences. They are both “out-of-body”.

The Three States of Arousal

When we use the term “out-of-body experience” or “leaving the body” in everyday conversation, we are really referring to our common sense recognition of the three states of arousal the human body is capable of. (A top-notch description of these states can be found in Trauma and the Body, by Pat Ogden et al. (W.W.Norton, 2006), pp. 26-40.) These three states are:

1. Being awake (the social engagement state)
2. Hyper-arousal (emergency response state)
3. Hypo-arousal (shut-down)

The phrases “out-of-body experience” and “leaving the body” refer to leaving the social engagement state and going into either emergency response or shut-down.

Ogden cites this description of the social engagement state:

The social engagement system has a control component in the cortex (i.e., upper motor neurons) that regulates brainstem nuclei (i.e., lower motor neurons) to control eyelid opening (e.g., looking), facial muscles (e.g., emotional expresssion), middle ear muscles (e.g., extracting human voice from background noise), muscle of mastication (e.g., ingestion), laryngeal and pharyngeal muscles (e.g., prosody) and head tilting and turning muscles (e.g., social gesture and orientation). (Porges, 2003b, p. 35)
And then adds, “Collectively, these components of the social engagement system enable rapid engagement and disengagement with the environment and in social relationships by regulating heart rate without mobilizing the sympathetic nervous system.” (p. 30)

This is the key point. Only in this state do we have access to all our tools. We go into hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal either voluntarily or involuntarily to process special stimuli, and one criterion of emotional health is how much control we have over our shifts of arousal state. Hyper-arousal is governed by the sympathetic nervous system and in terms of biology is referred to as “fight-flight”, and in more common parlance is often referred to as “losing it”. Hypo-arousal is a relative decrease in heart rate and respiration and a decrease in exterior sensory awareness. A daydreaming poet is out of her body, i.e., voluntarily in hypo-arousal, and a completely freaked-out survivor of an automobile accident can also be out of their body, involuntarily, in dangerously deep hypo-arousal.

A clinical term for being out of the social engagement state is "dissociation". Someone who is dissociated cannot engage in rapid engagement and disengagement with the environment and in social relationships. Another term is “an altered state of consciousness”.

Some Commonplace Altered States

But there are a lot of different ways not to be awake, many different “altered states”. Here are just a few of them: incest, drugs and drumming.

Incest. Incest survivors regularly report “leaving their body” when approached by their attacker. “I just went into the wall.”, one might say, or “I just went right into the moon.” Here the sensory agenda is not to feel the sensations of touch in the sexual encounter. This is of course a primary attribute of trauma: the overwhelm of specific sensory channels and the resulting freezing of them. (But please note that the nature of the overwhelm in the case of incest is complex. It is not the sexual act itself that is traumatizing, but the emotional agenda, and the relationship status, of the caregiver that are the key to the trauma. The anger and the counter-nurture of the perpetrator are central. I parse incest as primarily radical theft: the theft of basic survival energy by a person who is in a powerfully established role that makes the subject defenseless and open, not in order to have energy taken, but to have energy given. One of the results of incest appears to be the numbing of the first chakra—the survival chakra (not the sex chakra)—located in the perineum. So I call it “the perineal block”.)

Drugs. There is a wide variety of drugs. Hallucinogens (such as LSD and mescalin), tranquillizers (such as Valium), the antipsychotics and antidepressants, and alcohol all act on the brain, and modify the waking state, in order to avoid pain or have unuusal experiences.

There has been some research about hallucinogens, although the picture is still not clear. Consider this review report on indoles (e.g. LSD, psilocybin, DMT) and the phenethylamines (e.g. 2C-B, mescaline, DOI):

Many of the early questions raised about the action of hallucinogens seem to have been answered. Hallucinogens, working through 5-HT2 receptors, lead to increased excitation in the brain, especially in the frontal and temporal cortex. Although this is an explanation of the cellular events produced by hallucinogens, it does not come close to explaining the plethora of subjective effects that are the hallmark of hallucinogen intoxication. Some researchers put forward the hypothesis that hallucinogens produce their effect by limiting the filtering effect of the thalamus (so-called sensorimotor gating) and hence allow a flood of sensory information to overwhelm the cortex. Although this explanation sounds intuitive, not only do the dissociative anaesthetics (PCP, ketamine) produce the same deficient gating of sensory information but so do methamphetamine and even schizophrenia (Vollenweider and Geyer 2001). Granted, there are some similarities between the effects of these drugs and some symptoms of mental illness, but anyone who has taken mescaline and LSD knows there is a similarity between these two classes of drug that is not shared with ketamine or methamphetamine. Ultimately, only when science fully understands how the brain is capable of producing cognition will we be able to understand how not only the phenethylamine and indole hallucinogens, but also how other psychoactive drugs affect the mind.
The Neuropharmacology of Hallucinogens - a brief introduction. v1 Feb 2004 (first draft June 2003) edited & published by Erowid [http://www.erowid.org/ ]
The research on tranquillizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants and alcohol is of course voluminous, and we only need to note the “bottom line”. They all affect the brain, by many different pathways and with many different behavioral results, but they all have one characteristic in common: they cause the brain to depart from its normal functioning.

Drumming. Drumming is a popular emotional management technique is some “new age” practices, and it appears to be popular in dance therapies. There is a program called Shake Your Soul [http://www.shakeyoursoul.com ] in which drumming is a key feature. Drumming has numerous advocates who point out its healing properties. However, as they heap their praises on it, they solidly establish the fact that it is a selective sensory stimulus. It enables the brain to do things it does not normally do. It produces a dissociated state of consciousness.

Here are come comments from advocates of drumming:
Drumming induces natural altered states of consciousness.

Chronic pain has a progressively draining effect on the quality of life. Researchers suggest that drumming serves as a distraction from pain and grief. Moreover, drumming promotes the production of endorphins and endogenous opiates, the bodies own morphine-like painkillers, and can thereby help in the control of pain.

Rhythmic drumming induces altered states, which have a wide range of therapeutic applications. A recent study by Barry Quinn, Ph.D. demonstrates that even a brief drumming session can double alpha brain wave activity, dramatically reducing stress. The brain changes from Beta waves (focused concentration and activity) to Alpha waves (calm and relaxed), producing feelings of euphoria and well-being.

Shamanic drumming directly supports the introduction of spiritual factors found significant in the healing process. Drumming and Shamanic activities produce a sense of connectedness and community, integrating body, mind and spirit. According to a recent study, “Shamanic activities bring people efficiently and directly into immediate encounters with spiritual forces, focusing the client on the whole body and integrating healing at physical and spiritual levels. This process allows them to connect with the power of the universe, to externalize their own knowledge, and to internalize their answers; it also enhances their sense of empowerment and responsibility. These experiences are healing, bringing the restorative powers of nature to clinical settings.
[Federation of Drums and Percussion LLC - Barberton OH]

When we drum and enter into ceremonial space, or what Harner calls the Shamanic State of Consciousness (what I call opening the dreaming eye, what Ken Wilbur calls opening the eye of Spirit) we step into this other universe where the life force interpenetrates everything, where the distinction between one sound and another begins to blur, and where small “I” and immense “Thou” begin to merge. The healing that shamans and energy healers do comes from their ability to step into that flow and then learn how to absorb Life Force and channel it. That channeling of the life force can take so many forms, and really one of your main tasks is to become open to the signals of what form it wants to take in you.

Because this Life Force is far too immense for us to comprehend (no less contact directly), we find ways to grasp it (or as the poet Rilke says “we are grasped by what we cannot grasp” – god, how I love that line!). We use metaphor and symbol to describe it and explain it to each other, and anyone truly aligned with Spirit understands that, as the 14th Century Meister Eckhart says, “All language has taken a vow to be wrong about God.” So we grasp at it with words that seem large to us, but are only small human words. In the shamanic path, we also comprehend the Life Force through personal imagery, through visions, dreams (night dreams, or half-awake drumming dreams). We contact the Life Force through power animals and spirit guides. These images are condensed parcels of Life Force that we communicate with, merge with, and allow to work through us. And we channel Life Force through learning spirit songs or dances, ceremonies, healing acts large and small, and through choosing certain ways to live and respond to this world. This is why we drum and why we journey to the spirit world – to step into this other, valid universe where the rules of how the life force works are different from the universe we live in most of the time.
http://www.drummingthesoulawake.blogspot.com/
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So, drumming definitely numbs something. It produces an altered state. It avoids the side effects of chemical substances, and that is a very good thing. But it still modifies the waking state. It distorts the normal activity of the brain. This is a temporary arrangement from which one has to return in order to live daily life fully. This is what the Sufis – those masterful practitioners of trance -- meant when they said that we “always have to return to the body”.

And here is the main point of this comment. When we use inner body sensing, we do not want to work in altered states of consciousness. We want to work entirely within the social engagement arousal state. Thus, when ibs has finished its work, one has, not an altered state of consciousness, but an integrated state of consciousness. The behavioral and “spiritual” implications of this difference are HUGE.

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May 6th, 2008
12:48 pm
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ISSSEEM Annual Conference
ISSSEEM Annual Conference

The International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine will hold its annual conference in Boulder CO June 20-27, 2008. I was a member of the ISSSEEM for a few years, but now I am just on their mailing list. I stopped being a member when I realized that even though their work and their interests are important and interesting, they are completely irrelevant to the central consciousness issues of our time, namely, mass violence and ecological suicide.

The persons involved in ISSSEEM are psychically sensitive and can do interesting little things, but they cannot modify the deep priorities of world elites. They operate somehow at the edges of consciousness, not at its center. In order for their talents to find full scope in the world, something has to happen to modify central priorites. My personal opinion of course is that the way to do that is to relieve the tension of the trauma imprints of harsh child rearing practices. This process is not nearly as exotic or flashy as what the subtle energy folks are doing.

I was happy to notice that an old friend of mine now turns up as a presenter at the conference. She is Rue Anne Hass, who I knew back in the seventies when she was Rue Wallace from Danville Illinois, teaching English at a community college in Chicago and dating Steve Stucky, who is now abbott of the San Francisco Zen Center. Those were the days of The Other Cheek commune. Rue went to Findhorn for the summer in those days, stayed for several years, married Mr. Hass, took up Neuro Linguistic Programming, and now has added EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to her repertoire and "Intuitive Mentor" to her job description.

I have no doubt that working with Rue can help people with fibromyalgia, and would be a startling and beneficial experience for a lot of people. I'm just wishing she could take on as clients Vladimir Putin, Osama bin Laden, Rupert Murdoch, Donald Rumsfeld, or any one else in that stratum of world society that makes the decisions that determine the fate of the whole human race.

Which is never going to happen. So, the question remains: what is the central issue of contemporary consciousness, and what, if any, is the process of healing it?

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May 1st, 2008
12:49 pm
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Beginner's Mind
Beginner's mind
It's time to start this blog up again.

I have already published three monumentally unsuccessful books, so let this be the start of the fourth.

I have a lot of thoughts about consciousness. The plan is to write a daily comment about some aspect of it, and fill those comments with searchable terms that anyone Googling topics related to spirituality and consciousness might search for. Hopefully this will slowly build up a network of intelligent compatriots: persons interested in, having questions about, observations about the pursuit and maintenance of dhyana, i.e., ultimate awareness. In the Roman version of Christianity--where I spent some time--they used to call this "ascetical and mystical theology", and they pursued it with extraordinary narowmindedness.

Recently I have been pursuing it through the practice of "trauma treatment", based on my observation that the principal obstacle to ultimate awareness is the set of trauma imprints inflicted on most human beings by normal child-rearing practices. I call this "the Alice Miller finding" and have written about it in several places on my web offerings. The method of trauma treatment I use is derived from Hakomi psychotherapy, but I don't treat it as psychotherapy; rather I agree with Gene Gendlin and his "Focusing" technique that the release of trauma imprints is a skill, not psychotherapy. In particular it is a skill that Gendlin calls "using the felt sense", and that I call--following Hakomi--"inner body sensing".

Once you clear out trauma imprints, the theory goes, ultimate awareness is just right there.

However, I also like the description by Donald Epstein of the stages consciousness goes through in clearing out these imprints http://lightworkers.org/node/8513 . [I was told about Epstein's work by Ellen Goldman, who did some work with me in a workshop on inner body sensing hosted by the Center for Kinesthetic Education here in NYC.] I like the way he starts with "suffering", i.e., the realization that there is something out-of-true about one's own inner reality. If you divide his 12 stages into 4 groups of 3, you find the same set of steps taken over and over again: (1) suffering (2) search (3) discovery. The first set of 3 steps ends with "trip": AHA! NOW I'VE GOT IT! THIS IS IT! THIS IS THE PATH!

A while back I read a story about some hippies who got picked up by Chogyam Trungpa one time when they were hitch hiking. The main thing they remember about their conversation with the great teacher was that he kept telling them, "Beware of trips, kids. Beware of trips."

Now, inevitably, trips will happen. I have done plenty of trips. What happens is that they produce more suffering and so the search goes on, and deeper awareness occurs. A lot of spiritual systems speak of "meditation" as the main tool for the search. I think that is a very trippy oversimplification. This is because "meditation" can mean (a) leaving the body as well as (b) going into the body. So, I say that the main tool for the search is this "inner body sensing".

I think that's enough for today.

Current Mood: crankycranky

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