This article was originally presented as a keynote address to the first international convention of the Institute for Postural Integration in Seattle, Washington on October 14, 2005.
I strongly relate to this conference’s theme of working together in bodywork’s big tent, because that was the kind of venue in which I began my training and career in bodywork. It all started for me at Esalen Institute in the 70’s, when there was too much going on there to herd together under any sort of conceptual tent at all, other than the usefully vague phrase “human potential” (a term coined there, by the way). And the thing about human potential that I learned straightaway was that every single human has one. A valid one. An important one. How to bring this potential forward for every individual was the focus of Esalen’s “Ed Sullivan Show” of new and experimental ways of helping people to understand themselves and to empower their in their lives. The only ideology that interested Richard Price, Esalen’s co-founder and leader, was that there not be one.
I am sure that when the organizer of this conference thought of my name when considering who to keynote this big tent theme one of the factors was that your and my training experiences and modalities of work are in some respects about as far apart as you can get in this profession. Ida Rolf was fond of saying, “Just give me the connective tissue and you can have the rest.” On the other hand my primary teacher, Milton Trager, was just as fond of saying “It’s all in the mind. Create a shift of feeling in the unconscious and all the changes in tissue will follow.” Several of my Postural Integration buddies and I have been at it over this difference in approach for years.
Now this is the sort of philosophical loggerhead that can threaten marriages, let alone professional acquaintances. But over the years we have learned to come to it with more and more humor, actually keeping the debate up just for the fun of it rather than expecting some final resolution one way or the other. It became obvious that the argument itself was a non-starter, about as ridiculous as the shop-worn one about “nature versus nurture.” It served us, however, as an important part of our education and development. It drove home one of the fundamental issue underlying the holistic revolution in alternative forms of health care: There is nothing holistic about separating and prioritizing tissues to establish hierarchies of modalities.
In other words, one does not have to dig too deeply into physiology to realize that the various structural and energetic activities of connective tissue has a great deal to do with the unfolding of our experiences that we call “mind,” and that the reactive and self-directive activities of the mind and continually spinning a molding the structures and energetics of fascia. And I daresay you could frame this sort of debate between virtually any modalities that have obvious differences in approaches and stated intentions. What on earth could chiropractic have to do with Feldenkrais, or yoga to do with reflexology?
There is this theory and that theory, this approach and that approach. Then there is the way the critter actually works. And this is what unites us, after all–the critter. And the critter is us. And each one of us is human. And each has a potential. A valid one. An important one.
We must remember where all of our differing modalities came from: A particular individual, with a particular talent and world view, was faced with a personal problem, or with a particular population of patients, and worked out an innovative method of bringing relief and restored function. For Feldenkrais, his Judo-damaged knees led him to develop a rehabilitation based upon highly specific series of movements. For MiltonTrager it centered around open ended, never-quite-the-same exploratory movements. For Ida Rolf, connective tissue was the thing. Craniosacral, reflexology, and on and on–they all focus on a particular issue or tissue, a particular part of the body, or a particular theory about how the critter works.
And guess what? The critter is sufficiently complex and suffers from enough conditions that there is ample room for all of them to be true. Or if “true” is not an accurate word for our fragmentary insights into the working of the critter, the let us say there is plenty of room for them all to be effective. Which they are. And we all know that hierarchies of effectiveness in this business has far less to do with touted modalities than it has to do with the depth, the quality of presence and the experience of the therapist. It will never be this or that modality that emerges as superior. It will always be the human who has learned to tap the potential.
This is an exciting time of growth and diversity for biology and for bodywork. the vast “we” that have sustained interest in these things have made great strides toward a fuller understanding of how the critter works, and have all contributed a great deal towards helping it to work better. Science has helped us bodyworkers to understand what it is we do, and we have opened the eyes of any researcher or clinician that could receive and observe with an open mind the possibilities that we have to offer, both practically in the processes of healing, and theoretically with regard to new ideas about how the critter works.
“Burgeoning” is the only word for what is going on in bodywork’s big tent. The alternative therapies are the fastest-growing sector of the health professions. A report recently published by the Center for Disease Study and Prevention estimated that more money–thirty four billion dollars–was being paid out-of-pocket for alternative forms of health care than for conventional ones. Why? Because they often work when conventional treatments have failed.
And some third-party-payment plans are beginning to honor payments to a wide variety of alternatives. Why? Because these companies are cautiously discovering that alternatives can be very–sometimes extremely–cost effective.
I hope we all do a lot of well-deserved celebrating in this conference about how far our mutual enterprise in the big tent of the growth of human potential has come and how much good it is doing in our own lives and in the world. But I do want to touch on some things that I believe, if addressed together, will make our celebration longer lived, ring truer, and make the brightness of our futures more truly reflect the strengths of our various legacies.
One of the fundamental and abiding problems with professional associations and institutes is that they are made up of people. These people are of course the source of any ideas and progress that are possible. They are, after all, the humans with potential. But they also have some worrying tendencies and potentials. To begin with, they–we–are to a large and inevitable degree the products of their–our–surrounding culture and time. We have imbibed the doing and assumptions of the mainstream, the system, all our lives–have been rewarded by its payoffs and punished for its taboos. What it has deemed real is what we have assumed is possible. We have been mightily wooed by the mantra that what serves the organizational collective is also what serves the individual. Our ersatz national ethos is “rugged individualism.” But it must be observed that much of our actual behavior reflects conformity and cravings for recognition and acceptance.
In times of conflict or crisis, or even simply in times of novel developments and confusion, we all have more of a tendency to fall back on these familiar values than we are able–let alone willing–to admit. Imitation, after all, has been our primary learning tool from infancy onward. This is one of the ways the critter works: We internalize what we witness, and we seek to emulate what has demonstrated success.
So when we hanker after well-established organizational models in order to become more prosperous and efficient, we would do well to remember that the largest selling book in the corporate world is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. And when we hanker to become more “mainstream,” more recognized, accepted and rewarded, we would do well to remember that the medical establishment is one of the most rigid hierarchies and spiritually exhausting workplaces that civilization has ever developed. And when you hanker for that lucrative third-party-payment trough, remember that they will tell you exactly what you can be paid for and what you will be paid for it, and that they generate enough red tape and paperwork to drive many physicians out of their practices.
“Integration” is the first word in our get-together’s title and the second word in your modality. Integrate what and why are important questions. And “integrating” and “being absorbed by” are important distinctions.
We must keep our focus vigilantly on two aspects of all our founding fathers and mothers of our alternative modalities–two driving forces that fueled them and kept them at it. These were, after all, the visions and intentions that most attracted us to them in the first place, that excited and inspired us the most, that caused us to change our lives and our livelihoods to learn from them and to further their work.
First of all, they saw that there is something fundamentally wrong with, and missing from, the mainstream models of healthcare, education, and emerging trends in our society. Make no mistake about it–these were revolutionary urges, tilted against powerful interests and ingrained beliefs. Changing things that are wrong are one sort of challenge: We have to somehow convince those interests that this or that needs to be fixed, in the face of their conviction that things are serving them rather well as is, thank you. But to get them to address what is missing is a challenge of an entirely different magnitude. We have to find a way to help them see that something new is even possible. These are tall and often thankless orders, but it was our teachers’ audacity to take them up that made us love them.
Secondly, they wanted to change the world. They all had secure jobs before they developed their innovations. They were not by their nature drawn toward organizational development and standards control, administrative concerns, marketing strategies, and the endless conflicts and negotiations that real institutional change always entails. But seeing what they saw and knowing what they knew compelled them to do whatever they could do to make a change. This is what led them to the path beyond their individual discoveries and isights
I want to dwell for a while on some common threads of development I have seen evolve in a number of these innovators and their followers with which I have been involved. I have long puzzled, beginning with observing my own father as he aged, over the dynamics that turn fresh ideas into institutions, young pioneers into old pols, radical intentions into desires for creature comforts, public esteem and rewards. It seems to me there are some definite phases organizations like ours go through, in a similar order and in similar ways. I would be surprised if you do not find them familiar.
Someone, working largely in isolation, hatches an idea and works it up into a novel approach to therapy. Let us call him or her the “master.” This phase is always grounded in practical problems suffered by the master, his patients, her family, what have you. This is the alchemical phase of the development of something new, and it is imbued with the master’s excitement, growing success and growing conviction. It is in this phase that the compelling idea of something wrong and something missing in the system is forged and tempered, and alternative to the mainstream available therapeutic practices is created. Because they are absorbed in their own discoveries, the masters often are unaware of other innovators in the field.
The master attempts to take the new discovery into the public domain. This is always met with various degrees of resistance, from incomprehension, to a shrug, to professional ostracism or legal threats. After recognizing what is missing from the mainstream models of healthcare, education and the social trends in which they are embedded, the master encounters the difficulties entailed in changing these worlds. This second phase requires a great deal of ego strength and determination on the part of the master. To the degree that recognition and acceptance is not successful, frustration, resentment, and bitterness are often congealed. After initial discovery, this can be a dormant phase.
Finally one day someone approaches the master and says “Teach me how to do that,” or the master decides that his or her discovery is ripe for sharing, and the development of a training is born. This is typically an incandescent phase. The master finally meets acceptance and acclaim in his or her students, and sees the avenue through which the discovery might find its footing in the world. The initial students–let us call them the “disciples”–are inspired by the novelty and power of the work, and share a sense of mission to learn it and bring it forward. The master is physically and energetically robust, authoritative in the best sense. Training is very hands-on, and the transference of the work is direct from the source. Numbers are small, spirits are high, there is a sense of uniqueness, vision, camaraderie. The work is relatively unknown, and the small group is still working in relative obscurity. There is both the delicious sense of a shared secret and the strong desire to make it public. The disciples share deeply the master’s desire to have the work seen, appreciated, understood, utilized.
In addition, the disciples have also to confront a pressing issue: How to transform the new development into a livelihood. This introduces a major new element into the process. But this period is also very free, with little outside scrutiny, no institutional standards imposed as yet, and a great deal of latitude for the master and the disciples as they explore an exhilarating and open-ended field.
Some of the disciples graduate into “instructors.” Successive waves of new students are trained and enter the marketplace. More agents of change are created in the world, and the original vision enters an expansion phase.
But an important shift occurs: All of the levels of the training are no longer taught exclusively by the master, and the additional forces of different instructor’s personalities begin to inform the students’ ideas about the work and how it is done. The need for standardization and training procedures arises, and the first crystallization of the master’s work occurs: The need to break it down into simplified pieces in order to teach it in a way that is systematically coherent when more than one teacher is doing it. The work begins to be “defined” in a whole new way, and this definition is what successive generations of students begin to imbibe more and more. For instance, Ida Rolf’s exploration of the fascia increasingly becomes the “ten session” model with specific protocols, or the open-ended exploratory movements of Milton Trager increasingly become moves in the classroom, with increasingly specific parameters.
A new modality, a new profession is on the threshold of being firmly established. And new needs suddenly present themselves. One of the most pressing is a wider market, both to support ongoing trainings and to support a growing base of practitioners.
Marketing begins in earnest. This is a naturally developing need; as any marketer will tell you, there are three ways for you business to fail: Don’t advertise, don’t advertise, and don’t advertise. But it does lead to a further crystallization and simplification of the definition of the work in order to get it across to a larger audience.
During these last two phases an very significant development has taken place. A bureaucracy is born, and an institutional phase is begun. Records need to be kept, more and more trainings need to be organized, standards need to be further defined and enforced, a cash flow to pay the necessary staff has to be created and maintained, business relationships need to be established. None of the necessary skills to accomplish this phase are usually possessed to any impressive degree by the master, the instructors or most of the students. They all wanted to get out of that world, but they discover that now they need it.
Now “bureaucracy” has an unpleasant ring to it, because we have seen so many dysfunctional variations. It is neither good nor bad itself, and it is absolutely necessary at a certain level of growth and organization. All the bureaucracy–and at some point this may include the formation of a training institute and a board of directors–requires to accomplish its work well is to be united with the master, the instructors and the students in a common purpose and a common will. The organizational ethos is still to change the world, right what is wrong and be a source of what is missing.
However, a distinct line is crossed at this point, one that holds potential hazards. From master to instructors to initial generations of students there has been a hands-on continuity in the work and the organization. Now for the first time there is a team serving a vital purpose but which typically is not as directly involved with “the work,” precisely because different skills are now needed. And it is often the case that the flexibility often required in the work out in the field can be at odds with enforcing standards and maintaining clear business practices. The office staff and board of directors tear their hair over the loose ends out in the field, and the ones in the field grow increasingly restless about more and more highly defined standards being imposed upon them.
There are seldom any villains here, just differing responsibilities, needs, and ideas about how to most effectively manage things. During this time often-troubling questions are very likely to arise: “Whose institute is this, anyway? Who runs the show? Who is the final arbiter?” If the legal authority of the board is not in line with the needs in the field, or vice versa, the question becomes more than merely troubling. For some institutes this can become a fracture line.
Things bubble along. The master ages and is less and less active, more withdrawn from the day-to-day teaching and operations. More and more responsibility–and authority–devolves to the board and office staff. Instructors and practitioners, according to their nature and their own human potentials develop increasingly idiosyncratic ways of working and teaching.
Some get more work and more professional recognition than others. Feelings are hurt, jealousies develop, cliques are formed. Some wish to continue in the spirit of revelation and revolution; some wish to settle down in a comfortable niche, some want to become more mainstream. And necessary divisions of labor begin to generate divisions in purpose, in vision. Bureaucratic skills are different from teaching skills, which are different from practitioners’ skills, which are different from marketing skills, which are different from inspirational skills. Different populations with different needs and perceived self-interests emerge.
Differentiated jobs, skills and needs begin to create increasingly problematical interpersonal and interdepartmental strains. This is not very different from the tension between the separation of powers, the hankering after authority, and the need for a common purpose that is so palpable now in our national politics. And the organizational consequences are not very different either.
Again let me stress: In these evolving situations there are almost never any villains. None of the parties involved intend to do harm to others or to the organization. These are human responses to human conditions, perpetually arising conflicts around the desires and values within any such group of individuals. Achieving a mutually functional balance between the individual and the collective, self and society, subgroup and the organization are never easy, never finally settled. These issues are irrevocably human; and how we handle them has everything to do with our potential. And we must never forget the inherent difficulties in achieving mature, mutually functional collective arrangements; this is not to raise the specters of anger or despair, but to give us patience and forbearing in the process.
If these conflicts are allowed to develop to the point of procedural logjams and entrenched resentments, the organization arrives at a critical juncture, facing a potential future that will in the end serve no one’s purpose. And once the master ages and dies, there is no longer and implicit authority and standard to fall back on, and fragmentation is the easiest reaction to the difficulties. It is the nature of some types to duck their heads and just quietly get on with their own practices. It is in the nature of others to jockey for power and to manipulate the system. And it is in the nature of others to simply walk away from it, and we lose them.
All these parties are intelligent and well-meaning, with eloquent justifications for their opinions and demands. But in the meantime careers suffer, enthusiasms are squelched, constructive structural changes stymied and dysfunctional structures are allowed to creak along. Some of the best folks leave. Some of the most stubborn–as distinct from the most able–hang on.
Now this phase, the drift phase, can last a very long time, even though nobody is satisfied with it. This is one of the more peculiar features of a most peculiar critter. For many collectives there never arrives a phase seven, where mature cooperation establishes the staying power to continually deal with each new human situation that arises in the organization. Human beings have a genius for muddling along. It is one of our potentials.
The work can go on, dues continue to be paid, the bureaucracy carries on, classes fill and graduate, livings continue to be made. But the original alchemy and candescence is gone. Working within the collective becomes dispiriting, and isolation returns–this time without the consolation of exciting and novel discovery. Working alone can free us from much of the muddle, but it is lonely, and also has its limitations. Much of the juice, the potential, is lost. And more than that, something that could have–that surely would have–benefitted humanity is lost.
None of this necessarily constitutes a real crisis. Things can go on and on, or they can simply end. Nothing is written, and phase seven, if it is every attained, will have none of the predictable features of the first six. All failed organizations fail in similar ways; every successful one succeeds in its own unique fashion.
It actually makes one yearn for a crisis. I can understand apocalyptic thinking–the belief that after a time even God will not be able to stand the muddle and will decide to dynamite the whole damned thing, saving us the trouble.
So…what to do? Our relationships together and to the work are the only tangibles we truly have. Nothing can be more important than their integrity, their honesty, and their unflinching dedication to negotiation, the commitment to simply ride the constantly shifting balance between self and organization. What has to be acknowledged is that only we have created our muddle. Only we can deal with it. The first thing, perhaps, is to admit that we love our muddle. We love it in some fashion or we simply would not tolerate it. We love it because if it disappears so does our project. We love it because it is human. And because, in spite of all, it has potential.
If we can empower one another, and empower anyone else who might help us make changes, we can find our way back to that strength that forged our legacy: The desire to make a difference in our world, to address what is wrong and to discover what is missing. If we can focus on the ways we can empower ourselves and each other, and on the ways and means of working together to pass that empowerment along to our clients and our students, we will find that cohesive common purpose that was the juice, the human potential of earlier days. That is where our masters started, and it is what sustained them, and it is what they tried to give us: In the words of Milton Trager, “World peace, one body at a time.”
If you can decide what you have to do, and decide what you won’t do, all other decisions become substantially easier. All that the problem of the muddle requires is that we get collectively tired of it and collectively interested in our potential. This will not be heralded by the shouldering of a burden so much as it will be a resurgence of the joys of relationship and mutual discovery. Martha Graham expressed our potential in a memorable way: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
And that leads me to a final closing thought for those of us who are feeling mired in the muddle. This is from Winston Churchill: “When you are going through hell, keep going.”
Copyright October 14, 2005 by Deane Juhan