As a follow-up to the recent series entitled “Je Ne Sais Quoi”, here are excerpts from The art of somatic coaching: Embodying skillful action, wisdom, and compassion, by Richard Strozzi-Heckler, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley California 2014.
Richard Strozzi-Heckler has a PhD in psychology and a sixth degree black belt in aikido. He has worked with hundreds of thousands of people over the last 40 years, including corporate executives, social and environmental justice leaders, Olympic and professional athletes, managers, political and military leaders, and inner-city gangs. He is been noted for developing a groundbreaking leadership program for the United States Marine Corps. He was named one of the top 50 executive coaches in The Art and Practice of Leadership Coaching and in Profiles in Coaching. He is a pioneer in applying somatics to education, healthcare, leadership, team development, technology, and international piecework.
In the introduction that runs from page 1 through page 7, Dr. Heckler says:
“Many years ago I passed through a significant crossroads in my professional life. As a body-oriented psychotherapist, I had a full private practice of 20-25 people a week, I lead or co-lead two therapy groups a week, and I co-taught a week-long training seminar once a month. What became apparent over time was that the psychological diagnoses I needed to submit to insurance companies for my clients’ therapy didn’t apply to who they were. Although I had worked in residential psychiatric wards and served clients who suffer from serious psychological conditions, the vast majority of my clients were fully functional, fully contributing human beings. Their issues revolved around purpose, meaning, authenticity, living a rich emotional life, turning insight into action, transitioning from one stage to life to another, and navigating relationships…..
I sought a context in which my purpose is grounded in the spirituality that was inseparable from skillful action in the world….. I learned to collect my energy, to intensify, to cool it down, to break contact without breaking commitments, to trust the images formulated from my tissues, to release the muscular contractions adopted from society, to honor the language of the heart, to let love penetrate the surface, to be with the animating life source that makes us who we are…..
From this perspective the psychological symptoms that my clients presented were soon eclipsed by a vision of wholeness in which their actions, emotions, thinking, and energetic state were inextricably linked. The unexamined social patterns that they had inherited I now saw were integrated into their muscular, organ, and nervous systems. It became clear that it would be impossible to unpack their various issues without working directly through the body. Layers of complexity were revealed that paradoxically condensed into simple inquiries:
- “What yearns to come to life?”
- “What is complete?”
- “What wants expression?”
- “How do I enliven, or numb, myself?”
The center of gravity of the work was transformation, embodiment, and practices, not of unraveling symptoms. I saw that indulging their basic human dignity increased their capacity to be self educated, self-healing, and self generating.…
Everything in these pages has application to those who are interested in personal and societal evolution. As we face a time of unprecedented environmental disaster, a plague of violence, and an immoral legacy of poverty and disenfranchisement, it’s necessary that we wake up and respond with skillful, wise, and compassionate action. This book is a call for a radically different way to form our lives and our communities.…”
In the first chapter, Dr. Heckler builds on a ine from James Joyce about a certain Mr. Duffy who “lived a short distance from his body.” Heckler goes on to say:
“From a somatic point of view living any distance from our bodies is dodgy and the consequences harmful, even grave. Now we can scientifically ground, through technological advances in the emerging field of neuroscience, that distancing ourselves from our body places not only our physical health at risk, but our emotional health as well. Furthermore, being out of touch with our body limits our capacity to learn and evolve, and it dramatically reduces the possibility of meaningful relationships, as well as an authentic spiritual presence– surely all foundations for a fulfilled, satisfying life.”[Pages 9-10]
Heckler goes on to add:
“The institutionalized, rationalistic view that compartmentalizes our bodies, minds, emotions, spirits, and nature has arguably been a cause for the increase of violence, stress, isolation, and physical, emotional, and sexual trauma. If we do not live in our bodies we do not have to feel the pain of internal and external oppression…..
The primary difference of living in our bodies or at a distance from our bodies lies in the heart’s intent, i.e., what we pay attention to, how we pay attention, and in the very purpose of our attending. Most of us live out lives that we’ve unconsciously inherited, and we’re mimicking patterns of living that have been passed on to us by family, school, religion, government, economic institutions, and the media. We have lost touch with the rich, subjective life of being in the human body, upon which our entire experiences based…..
The contemporary interpretation of the body that has led us to the marginalization of feeling has its roots in the work of the French philosopher René Descartes. Writing in the 17th century, a time of interminable war, religious persecution, and a social order based on superstition, police and magic, Descartes was convinced that it was possible to alleviate this chaos by providing certainty through rational means.… His philosophy of rationalism, which is also conversationally referred to as Cartesian thinking, was an effort to free people from theological domino dogma and medieval witchcraft through an objective, impersonal map of the universe….. This transformation of knowledge effectively move the reins of power from the hands of the priests in church to the scientists and their emerging technology…..
Freely applied to humans, culture, nature and social policies,[this] emphasis on rationalistic thinking has stunted our emotional and spiritual literacy…. We employ reason and logic to determine our relationship with nature, with those we love, to teams, and within organizations. We’re so firmly entrenched in this way of seeing that we have become blind to it…..
In the rationalistic tradition, the body is viewed as a collection of anatomical parts that are organized, guarded and kept in check by a central command called the mind, which is separate from the body. In the separation of mind and body, energy, desire, feeling, emotion, sensation, and spirit are marginal, inconsequential phenomena. The body is used primarily for its capacity to serve the mind’s ability for rationalistic thought. The body carries the mind around in order that it may do the important work. Aside from feeding, cleaning, and having it appear respectable, there’s little need to attend to the body. When Descartes declared,”I think therefore I am,” he removed the body from Western philosophy in one clean cut. This position implies that there’s no legitimacy to sensing, feeling, moods, or emotions. It also validates that one can deny responsibility for any and all feelings, unless we can rationally come up with a good reason to have them. In this separation of mind and body, we have also separated ourselves from God, nature, as well as other human beings. Spiritual fulfillment can be found only outside the realm of the body; consciousness is something apart from the body. This two-worldview, which is a fundamental aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition, stresses actions in this life that will reserve us a place in the afterlife.
The body, in this view, is seen is a hindrance to one’s spiritual development. Sensual feelings and sexual desire are one’s moral downfall; intuition is illogical and therefore useless. It’s mandatory, therefore, to immediately crush any feelings that arise in the body in order not to be distracted from our heaven-bound intentions. This marked the beginning of a concern for respectability and righteousness they gained influence over the next 250 years. This shows up now in our denial of life the body. We live in anxiety and fear of our feelings, moods, desires, and emotions. In other words we are culturally taught to fear life.
The combination of extinguishing the voice of an embodied living spirit in humans with our unexamined devotion to materialism has placed us in a position analogous to the one Descartes faced over 300 years ago. His antidote of rationalism, and the subsequent splitting of mind and body, apply to a crisis of certainty has now become the breakdown. People are again living in a time of uncertainty, confusion and fear. To rely on our rational nature is no longer sufficient. To live the life society assigns us is no longer fulfilling. Material wealth does not guarantee a good life. By separating ourselves from nature we are poisoning our water, air, soil and bodies. Somatic coaching reinterprets what it means to live a fulfilled and successful life and challenges the dogma of rationalism. It offers a possibility in which human beings can creatively transform themselves and the world.”
In Chapters Two and Three of his book The Art of Somatic Coaching: Embodying Skillful Action, Wisdom, and Compassion. North Atlantic Books (2014) ISBN 978-1-58394-673-2
[see as well
• Aikido and the New Warrior. North Atlantic Books (1993) ISBN 978-0-938190-51-6
• In Search of the Warrior Spirit. North Atlantic Books (1997) ISBN 978-1-58394-202-4
• The Anatomy of Change. North Atlantic Books (1997) ISBN 978-1-55643-147-0
• Holding the Center. Frog Books (1997) ISBN 978-1-883319-54-0
• Being Human At Work: Bringing Somatic Intelligence Into Your Professional Life. North Atlantic Books (2003) ISBN 978-1-55643-447-1
• The Leadership Dojo. Frog Books (2007) ISBN 978-1-58394-201-7]:
Heckler describes the differences and commonalities among teaching, coaching, the art of the martial arts sensei, and the development of humanistic psychology and the self-help movement.
“… Self–improvement is accepted as a way to progress and get ahead in life.
Beginning in the late 60s, when George Leonard coined the term the “human potential movement,” our national predisposition towards self-development took a new turn.
Psychology, a discipline less than 100 years old, was revived by new humanism. Theorists and clinicians like Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Fritz Perls, and Carl Rogers placed the person that the center of the therapeutic process instead of their symptoms. Therapists began facing their patients instead of sitting behind them as they lay down. They also begin to pay more attention to how the patient actually appeared in the treatment room instead of classifying their neurosis, complexes, and disorders in a rational manner. Many of these early thinkers introduced or were influenced by bio-cybernetics, bodywork, group therapy, encounter groups, T-groups, eastern meditation practices, and psychedelic drugs. Soon thereafter the concept of treating the whole person spawned the terms “holism,” “holistic health,” and ”mind-body-spirit.”…..
This development in humanistic psychology has more recently been followed by psychiatry moving toward more biochemical interventions (read: medication) and traditional psychotherapy becoming more embedded in a cognitive position and less inclusive of the body in the treatment room. Currently a psychiatric resident receives minimal and sometimes no training in practical psychotherapy.
At the same time the growing field of coaching has continued to represent the Cartesian mind-body split. That is, coaching primarily address is what the client is doing, separate from how they are being, how the self is inextricably linked to the actions and behaviors in which they’re engaged. Tips and techniques are provided so that the person coach will be able to do their sport, job, health, relationships, career, etc. in an improved way, much like behavior modification. This type of coaching does not take into account the whole of the person, the how of learning, the role of cultivating the self that allows one to be self-generating, self-healing, and self-educating.”
“… Somatic Coaching is distinct from conversational coaching in that it includes the physical world of sensations, temperature, weight, movement, streamings, pulsation, and vibrations, as well as images, thoughts, attitudes, yearnings, dreams, and language. Somatic coaching is also distinct from mind-body-spirit coaching in that it doesn’t see these three domains as separate but the human form as a unified space in which humans act, perceive, think, feel, sense, express emotions and moods, and live their spiritual longing.”
“While the physical scientists of the 17th and 18th century asked, “Where are we?” in the universe; and the social scientists of the 19th century inquired,”Who are we?” in our relationship to nature and the unconscious; we’re now at a time of history when the question is “How are we?” in our interconnectedness and interdependence with life.
I propose that by asking how have we so effortlessly destroyed our soul, polluted the air we breathe, and poisoned the water we drink; and how is it that we allow conflict to so quickly escalate to violence instead of evolving to generative solutions; and how do we participate in the growing gap between those that have and those that don’t opens the possibility of finding new solutions to these problems. I would also claim that one of the reasons that most conflict ends in violence is our inability to feel and sense; and that one of the reasons that there’s a growing separation between those that have and those that don’t have is our inability to feel and sense. Furthermore I would claim that are dwindling spiritual and moral health is arguably our inability to feel and sense.
This is the intent of Somatic Coaching: to train individuals, communities, and organizations to organize themselves muscularly, emotionally, socially, and spiritually to embody the ethic of environmental sustainability, of social equity, and the generative interpretation of conflict. This will pursue the territory of personal and collective healing, transformation of antiquated conditioning, and learning new skills and ways of being. In realizing this destiny as human beings we must embody pragmatic wisdom, grounded compassion, and skillful action.”
For more, visit his website www.strozziinstitute.com, especially http://www.strozziinstitute.com/art%2Bof%2Bsomatic%2Bcoaching