Working with the Space Between Spaces: Explorations in Wholeness Class Review
One of the keystones of my growth as a Rolfer so far has been getting a sense of more tissues in addition to fascia and working with how they relate to each other. As I’ve grown more competent and comfortable with the variety in the body, I find my sense of the space between them growing deeper and more refined. So when I saw the listing for Thomas Walker and Gale Loveitt’s Explorations in Wholeness class it read like a class totally up my alley and a great way to deepen my use of those “spaces between the spaces”.
I did my Unit 2 basic Rolfing training with Thomas and he was a strong influence in developing the lighter side of my Rolfing touch and listening skills. The basic training in Rolfing was an excellent grounding in finding what this class might call “the hard stuff” muscles, bones and the like. Explorations in Wholeness added a depth for me of finding and feeling into “the soft stuff”, helping me find a way to contact softer parts of the tissue or anatomy more prone to hiding and finding ways to influence the body to connect more or to rediscover connections that past experience had disrupted in some fashion.
The essence of this class lay in working with various craniosacral rhythms. It’s not an area I particularly understand well nor am I sure the technical details would be helpful for everyone so I’ll relate it to my image of choice for the class which was ocean tides and waves. There are individual waves in the ocean breaking nearly every second on the shore, there is the cycle of high and low tide twice daily and in between these there is that middle cycle where the individual waves are washing higher or lower than the previous waves upon the beach every minute or two.
The work is… challenging to describe and honestly, my initial reaction was to resist naming it or calling it anything particular lest I narrow the potential of the work into some set box. That said, I also like to be able to communicate thing with more than just shrugging and saying “it seems to work” so I’ve tried to break out some ideas of how I describe this work to clients and how I might describe it to other practitioners.
Every so often, as I grow as a practitioner, I encounter the idea that the ultimate goal is not for me to fix anyone, but for them to help engage their own healing mechanisms. Those are the kind of results I generally saw and felt with this work. Clients who I had worked with for several years seemed to notice me suddenly finding things at a deeper level, I honed in faster on where to put my hands with newer clients, and for my first week or two back almost everyone drifted to sleep at some point during their session.
I’ve also tried this work a few times with some very long-term clients and found it helps them access a level of strength and organization that they weren’t able to previously. I recently felt drawn to try a full session of this work with a client who I felt didn’t believe in her own inherent wholeness. The result was a deeply challenging session that stirred a lot of old feelings and hurts but several days later her whole sense of being had softened, she seemed more settled in her body, and some of her more kinetic energies had found a way to chill out.
From the client side, I think this work helps tap into a depth of calm in the nervous system that’s often hard to achieve in today’s world without going deep into the woods or far out to sea. It’s essentially providing a safe and supportive space for the brain to cool down and get out of the way and a sort of deep relaxation to come into play and help reorganize patterns of movement which in turn can build into lasting changes in how we hold and present ourselves and how we relate to our own stress.
As I listened to the stories of Rolfers in this class I would say I found a theme of searching for something. A number of the newer Rolfers in the group talked about struggling to know what to do with clients where a number of those trained further back talked about looking for something softer, less “hammer and tongs” in our work. How to be effective when “mashing fascia” isn’t your bag or what to do when you don’t know what to do.
My impression going into the class was that this work would be a way to help bridge between layers, to work on the spaces between the spaces. And to be sure, there is a great deal of that in the work and it’s helped me find some ways into things, both structural stuckness and functional inhibitions that I didn’t have a tool for before when I was thinking of more specific tissues. In a fairly exacting sense, the work is about contacting fluid more than tissue, allowing not just for working into specific areas but also working with the uninterrupted wholeness of the body. It also involves a sort of stillness and patience that I find greatly aids in asking questions of the tissue and letting the body lead me into helping rather than feeling like I have to go in knowing where things need to move.
In a sense the work remains mysterious to me, albeit effective. I’ve struggled for several months to find an elegant way to say what I think I’m doing with this work currently but I finally hit on it in my first Advanced Training Module. I found myself wanting to do a full session of this work on a model client and since neither of the instructors were familiar with the work I was scrambling a little to describe just what in the hell I was after. The lead instructor, Lael Keen, had made several statements earlier in classes about working with ligamentous beds as “speaking to the dinosaur intelligence of the body”. Standing in front of the class trying to give an idea of the session I intended to do I finally came up with “I want to speak to the fish that existed long before the dinosaur”.
And Space to Grow…
Where many of the classes I have taken in my career have been fairly easy to describe, this work continues to almost defy my desire to describe it. It seems that I almost feel more effective in the work when I allow it to remain mysterious and exploratory rather than fixing a description or expectation to it. The essence of it seems to be in attention and allowing, skills that are at once inherent in all of us and yet can also be honed to greater depths or wider scopes. Thomas made mention several times of how after 20 years it still amazes him how a shift in himself can result in a deep change in a client.
While I do like to be able to understand what I am doing when I put hands on a client and why it works, I sometimes find myself eschewing understanding and paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke: Any sufficiently advanced technique is indistinguishable from magic. I don’t think this work is magic per se, but my short experience with it is that allowing it to seem magical made it more effective. The mystery allows space, the space allows exploration, and the exploration allow growth of skill to occur.
And in much the same way that the class focused on ease and allowing, the growth and integration into my work seemed to happen similarly. I’ve made pretty minimal effort to directly practice the work in the past few months but the last time I worked on one of my office-mates her immediate response was “You’re doing something really different. Your approach to the body has changed, like you’ve gotten out of your own way.” I suspect there is a great deal deeper I can go with this work but one of the things I really value about it is how it seems to blend across lines of different techniques and both deepen my current practice while also offering new avenues to explore and tools to continue exploring.