I was asked to write this blog in response to the current events in summer of 2020. I wrote it to a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist (BCST) audience. Let the unfamiliar terms wash over you as you read. These days, we often skim articles, but I ask that you read this article fully.
PART 1: A SYSTEM WALKS IN THE DOOR
When a person, a system, walks in the door as a BCST client, we aim to provide a wide, supportive, healing space. We cannot see everything, but we work with the conditions we see and keep in mind the unknown. As an exercise, I would like to present a brief concept of two different clients walking through the door:
1) Through verbal check-ins and the work on the table, we begin to notice a disruption in self-regulating and social function. There is a pattern of dissociation when difficult topics arise; that dissociation might look like changing course in conversation, or Potency beginning the “seeking” phase and then dissipating or redirecting as the inertial fulcrum comes to the forefront. There is a sort of shutting-down or freeze; defensiveness or a deflection to blame another. There is some depression; sometimes a desire to act but an inability to follow through. As sessions continue, we uncover a pattern of dissociation in the family, maybe even going back generations. We may notice shame and guilt coming up around their own actions, as well as where and who they come from. There may have been a will or desire to address these difficulties, but a lack of support from family or community. So what do we do as practitioners? We hold space, helping this client come into the present, bit by bit. We show them it’s safe to touch and process these painful topics. We meet them at their own pace, validating and motivating them to continue their healing.
2) Another client comes in with layers of ancestral and lived trauma. They have varying levels of awareness of their different traumas, as many have been invalidated most of their life. There are many unmet needs, silenced cries for help, and a wider sense of being failed by their society. Maybe they have had a life wherein their identity was confusing because they felt they needed to present themselves differently in different environments. There is also empowerment, resilience, and anger. So what do we do as practitioners? We know that anger is protective, a setting of boundaries, a way to bring attention to the problem at hand. We begin with compassion. After all, compassion is knowing that we all have suffering, and that the root desire of all people is to be free of suffering. We empathize and guide them into polyvagal regulation. We validate their pain, suffering and trauma; we listen and deepen to hear their ancestors speaking through them. Connecting to Primal Midline will help their sense of “I am here and I deserve to be.” Connecting to Long Tide and the health of all living things, universal phenomena, Mother Earth, will be supportive. We orient to the health and from there give attention to the wounding.
PART 2: HOW WE HOLD OURSELVES
One of the great privileges of being a BCST practitioner is that we have the ability to be with a person in a heart-centered relational field, holding a wide field of awareness. We have the ability to see small bits of progress and change, and hold discomfort in the larger context of health and healing. We cultivate skills to recognize our edges, deepen into them, and learn from them. If we believe that we are not racist or biased, we will not recognize the edges around judgment and bias that so subtly and (sometimes) unconsciously arise during session work and in our lives. Let us use our skills to sit with ourselves. You have many more skills to meet arising conditions than what I have written on the page. Let us sit with these painful fulcrums around injustice within our own bodies. Let us sit with our own deflection of responsibility; let us sit with our shame and guilt; our inherent biases; our freeze states; our rage, frustration and impatience; let us sit with our dissociation. And when we cannot sit with something alone, let us call on our relations, our trusted colleagues and friends, who can support us. We are inherently relational beings. We believe in Long Tide, Dynamic Stillness, the Breath of Life, and all that binds us together with every other living thing in our universe. If we believe in this, then we must believe in our part of the systemic brutality and oppression of our fellow living beings. If we believe in the living matrix, Potency, and Inherent Treatment Plan, then we must see this moment as the difficult and uncomfortable moment of Seeking in our nation and around the globe. Never would you, practitioner, see the body seeking the source of its disorganization and look away. No – you may have to orient to a resource or widen and deepen into your midline and your connection to wider powers. But you would do it all with the intention of moving through the trauma to understand and heal. Little by little. Let us do that as a country. Let us do that within ourselves.
Each individual is a microcosm of the macrocosm; each individual is a manifestation of their lineage and of the environment from which they came. Let us look at where we have come from, who we are, and where we need to go. Let us look at the demographics of our client base. Let us look at the ethnic, racial, sexual, and gender make-up of our friends, teachers, leaders, media hosts, and loved ones.
PART 3: HOW WE ARE SEEN, HOW WE SEE
While my exercise is a not-so-subtle reference to two populations of this country, I would encourage you, reader, to step back and not see these as representative of two demographics. See for yourself what parts you identify with. As a mixed-race person, I have been presented with a “White” and “Black” racial conflict since I could conceptualize race as a small child, and I have not fit in. Instead, I have found the ways in which I can align and empathize with certain struggles or privileges, and the ways in which I can only look from the outside and offer my open and unassuming support. My work, as is all our work, is to continue to learn how to be more open to what I don’t and can never know, how to learn from people I can’t yet understand, how to sit in my privilege or trauma and understand it so I can better serve others.
If I have not looked at the privilege I hold, the way I speak, the information I have received, and the value systems that I was taught to use, then I cannot expect to reach very many people. How can someone establish a relational field with me who sees me as part of the silent and oblivious oppression? It is not enough to say that I stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as it is not enough to say I’m thinking and learning introspectively. I know, because I have sat as a client with a therapist and wondered if I could ever really open up, if there would be too much to explain, if I could trust that therapist to really understand me and my issues, or if they would be any help. Look at your client base – that will probably give you an indication of who trusts you and feels they can relate to you.
In my BCST education, there was a lack of acknowledgement of the different cultures and lineages right here in NYC, and how to communicate in a more culturally mindful and open way. I believe we must take it upon ourselves to get educated about language, communication, and how we personally present ourselves in the world. We all have a great start, as our BCST education has provided us with the ability to listen, recognize our edges, and meet our clients where they need to be met. The ongoing practice is to learn about ourselves and widen our perception to include those we may not feel can relate to us, or those we feel we cannot relate to.
PART 4: UNDERSTANDING OUR PART AND PLACE
Being able to turn a blind eye is a privilege, and often a white privilege. I wonder if you, reader, immediately notice the demographic makeup of a room you walk into. I wonder if you give thought to the cultural make-up of the communities you are a part of. Are you mindful about your purchases and the implications of where your money is spent? Is there socioeconomic, racial, sexual, and gender diversity in your client base? (Think in numbers and percentages.) Do you serve underprivileged populations? If you do, which communities do you serve, and are you mindful of your motivating factors? How do you hold power, build communities, and distribute that power? Do you consider the inherent power imbalances within your personal relationships? Who are your most influential teachers, leaders, and mentors that you have learned from? What is your value system, and where did it come from?
We cannot separate our healing practice from the need to live in a just world. Mindfulness in this way may be foreign. It is difficult. But for example, I try not to support unfair power structures; I have never had an Amazon account and have actively avoided Amazon owned companies. It is not difficult to boycott the empire that continually oppresses people and keeps privilege and power in the hands of a few. As we support healing a system on the table, we must treat and be aware of the entire system of oppressive power.
Whether this is difficult to accept or not, if you come from European lineage in this country (and definitely if you come from the middle or upper classes), you are part of and benefiting from this system of white supremacist power. I am a product and beneficiary of that same system of power.
Should you choose to begin a new education, I stand with you. From wherever your starting point is, no matter how long you may have turned a blind eye to your part in the oppression of black and brown people in this country, I support you. Yes, there is pain, shame, guilt and grief that we must accept and continue to process. You are equipped to handle it. Do not let these obstacles hinder your progress to deeper consciousness, compassion, empathy, and humility. Change can look like financial contributions, protests, calling senators, legislative changes, economic boycotts of oppressive powers, and all that is being called for in this moment. We are also being called to begin transformation within ourselves. We must increase awareness of our behavior, choices, and actions, and how this moment-to-moment mindfulness affects the lager field of human beings. If we falter within ourselves, then we as a collective will not progress.
I want to thank Tai, Dustin, Ashley, Autumn, and Christina for helping me with this article, calling me out, questioning, challenging and supporting me in life.
Isabel Umali is a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist and professional dancer, working to integrate the insights and learnings from these two fields. Isabel is committed to serving a diverse community including low-income peoples and artists.