My previous blog article explored the concept of doing while not doing in Continuum. As follow up, I would like to now discuss how this phenomenon applies in my other passion, Craniosacral Biodynamics.
Biodynamics has evolved from the later work of William Sutherland, grandfather of cranial osteopathy. As an early osteopath, Sutherland’s training involved assessing boney and structural alignment. He explored osteopathy in the cranial field from this perspective, evaluating if and how the cranial bones moved and using subtle manipulative techniques derived from osteopathic practice to enhance their alignment.
Towards the end of his 40 years of studying and facilitating the subtle movements of the bones, tissues, and fluids of the body, Sutherland had a direct experience of a mysterious essence he termed “the Breath of Life.” His work in the last decade of his life was characterized by less active doing, and more attention to deeper forces. He advised his students to “Rely upon the Tide.” He wrote:
“Visualize a potency, an intelligent potency, that is more intelligent than your own human mentality … You will have observed its potency and also its Intelligence, spelled with a capital I. It is something you can depend upon to do the work for you. In other words, don’t try to drive the mechanism through any external force. Rely upon the Tide”
The meaning of this advice has taken some time for cranial practitioners to integrate. As it is interpreted by some of us in the field of Biodynamics today, relying upon the Tide is a highly foreign approach for modern, western people. It involves a major paradigm shift. In a sense, this paradigm shift is the topic of this article.
Many forms of cranial practice are derived more directly from Sutherland’s earlier, more manipulative work. While the manipulations and listening are relatively subtle, compared to everyday activity, they can be extremely active and even invasive from a Biodynamic perspective. As we enter into Biodynamic perceptual states, the practice of Wu Wei Wu, doing-not doing becomes increasingly relevant.
In Biodynamics, we work with multiple levels of perception relating to our emergence as physical beings within an energetic suspensory system of overlapping energetic fields within fields. Widening our perception to include more and more of the wholeness of being involves slowing ourselves down. The more we try to do, the more active we are, the less chance we have of perceiving the more subtle fields supporting our being.
Here is the ironic twist of this paradigm shift. In our modern western culture (and quite possibly in many more traditional cultures), we actively engage with life. Particularly in the 21st century, we shift from one activity to another quickly, checking off our to-do list, answering phone calls, reading and replying to emails, texts, Facebook pokes etc., driving and watching television in between. Rest is poorly understood and rarely practiced. How do we not do? Even more challenging, how do we not do while doing? What does that mean?
Franklyn Sills, who began developing the first curriculum in Biodynamics for non-osteopaths in 1987, has struggled with how to teach this approach for many years. Initially, he believed it was important to provide the kinds of skills and techniques he had learned in osteopathic college. By 1992, he and his teaching team realized they were teaching skills they weren’t actually practicing, that were not actually relevant to a Biodynamic practice. Here began a long exploration of how to train practitioners to perceive and practice in more subtle, energetic realms. More active manipulative techniques were replaced in the curriculum by practicing shifts in attention and intention. When I began learning Biodynamics in 1999, I was taught to have conversations with the tissues, rather than testing them to see which way they preferred to move. Instead of nudging them physically in one direction or another to assess the direction of ease, we would ask them in our thoughts questions like, do you prefer to move this way? Would you like to have more space here?
There was an understanding that the fluid body we were interacting with was highly sensitive to external influences. Our tissues are made up mostly of water. We know that water is a highly resonant element. For example, Masaru Emoto has illustrated how water responds to words, both written and spoken, and to music. While his research has been questioned due to challenges of other researchers to replicate his results, the research of William Tiller clearly demonstrates that the pH of water responds to human intention, even over many miles.
As Biodynamics developed further, it became clearer that even posing a question to fluid tissues affected it in a way that may not be aligned with the inherent intention of the client’s system. The understanding and teaching of Biodynamics continues to evolve, further reducing the level of active engagement by the practitioner. At this point, the primary skills used more often in treatment are about providing a supportive, relational presence. We support the client in settling and quieting in a way that their trauma history becomes less predominant and more inherent Biodynamic forces of health can come to the fore. With sufficient settling, the client’s system is increasingly able to access the resources it needs to enhance and reorient to deeper levels of health. Most of the time, this is all that is needed.
Sutherland’s student, Roland Becker, coined the term rhythmic balanced interchange. He noted that the goal of the practitioner was to support the tissues in communicating with the Breath of Life. Once this interchange was apparent, the practitioner’s job was done. In rare situations where the system or tissues are too locked up for this interchange to occur, some form of intervention may be helpful. This seems to apply only about 5% of the time when we know how to meet and hold the system in a truly supportive way. I find this percentage interesting, as I have encountered the same numbers in relation to the realistic necessity for intervention by birth assistants! When a birthing family is held and met with settled, respectful, supportive presence, interventions are rarely needed. Just as understanding and skill in supporting birth in less active, intervening ways has been returning in the west, so, too, has Biodynamics been continuing to clarify in this direction of non-doing.
Skills of Augmentation
More recently, Sills has shifted his language from skills of conversation to skills of augmentation. As Sills points out in his book, Foundations in Craniosacral Biodynamics, Volume 1, wu wei wu is very relevant to the practice of augmentation skills.
Augmentation basically refers to how practitioner attention can be utilized to enhance an already naturally occurring phenomenon. For example, in the inhalation phase of the subtle breath we call primary respiration in Biodynamics, there is a natural expression of space within and between the tissues. When tissues are highly compressed or contracted and unable to move with this primary breath, practitioners might “augment space” by orienting to this natural increase in expression of space and the potency within it during inhalation. We aren’t exactly doing anything here. We are slightly altering our orientation. On a possibly more active level, we may allow our hands to breathe slightly more with inhalation as they float on the tissues, suspended in the breathing fluid body. Personally, I find I don’t need to think about allowing my hands to breathe more; they do this naturally as I orient to inhalation.
Another way to augment space, which we tend to do all the time as Biodynamic practitioners, is in orienting more widely than the tissues themselves. We perceive the tissues as suspended within a larger fluid field (the fluid body), suspended within a still larger energetic field (the tidal body of the long tide). All of this is suspended within a ground of dynamic stillness. When we work with tissues in a particular area of the body, we do not narrow our attention in on this area. We maintain a wide field of perception, accessing the space, as well as deeper formative forces of the surrounding fields. Our orientation in itself serves to augment the relationship to space and the resource of these forces for the tissues. The area in question then has more ability to access these larger resources.
Shifting orientation, where I put my attention and what I think about, remind me of meditation. How much is this a doing? To what extent is this a non-doing? Wu wei wu. If I try to practice these skills of augmentation as a doing, the fluid body is likely to object, sensing an external force. If I am able to practice this subtle doing as a non-doing, more of a being with, the client’s system can settle, relax and receive the support of a friendly assistant.
Being with, as a doing not doing, wu wei wu, reminds me of love. Can I be present with my client in a state of loving appreciation and acceptance for what is, for how their system has organized itself to compensate for any conditions in their history? Can I rest in trusting the intelligence of the Tide to do its work? Can I truly allow the inherent treatment plan to unfold without needing to bring in my opinion of how I think things should be, what I believe needs to be worked with next, or what my ego feels I must do in order to be important, appreciated, needed, good enough, etc?
Like any meditation practice, Biodynamics is an opportunity to witness my tendencies, practice being with what is, and deepen further into love.