Articles By Judith

A HEART JOURNEY WITH A DIFFERENCE.

Mindful Touch and Massage 

Judith Ashton.

 Massage and touch are essential skills, which everyone should be taught from an early age, as is the way in some eastern cultures. Touch is a fundamental aspect of communication between beings which tragically has become wrought with anxiety and fear for many people because it has been abused .Although I was not abused, I was not brought up to be easy around touch, that was my English heritage.

 When I was in my twenties, living in London and searching for deeper meaning in my life…  I had the great good fortune to meet an inspiring woman, Gerda Boyesen. I can’t remember the exact date but it was in 1977 (she would have been in her late 50’s) and that day changed my life and opened me up to seeing the world and myself in a completely new and exciting way ….or rather affirming and reconnecting to some way of being that I seemed to have long forgotten but that was my right and heritage. A way of openness and deep personal and spiritual conection.

Gerda Boyesen was Norwegian and had trained and worked in hospitals as a physiotherapist, she was deeply interested in psychology and the study of the mind-body connection. She met and subsequently trained with one of Dr.Wilhelm Reich’s students. Reich, a psychiatrist, had been a colleague of Freud, and he was one of the earliest pioneers of mind –body awareness and his observations on sexuality made him very controversial for decades and his muscle armour theories were radical at the time. To Reich, healthy function meant a natural healthy, free flowing connection to sexuality and a healthy, functioning body should ideally be relaxed and flexible. His observations however showed that this is not generally the case. Reich’s view was that trauma and conditioning are held within the physical body, impeding natural breathing flow and stiffening the muscles (armouring) and skeleton. The purpose of his approach was therefore to release both the psychological and physical inhibitions. Not only did he encourage emotional expression in his patients but he also created physical massage techniques to loosen up the ‘muscle armour’ thus freeing up the patient’s “ character armour “ (defences) to loosen the vital energy and  allow freer flowing healthy function.

 As a physiotherapist, Gerda Boyesen was fascinated by Reich’s muscle armour theories as she realised that many of her patients were presenting with physical tensions which in her opinion were masking deeper emotional issues. She went a step further with her own innovative approaches to massage especially with her discovery of ‘psycho-peristalsis.’ She maintained that peristalsis in the digestive tract is noiseless, and the sounds that she heard whilst massaging clients are ‘energetic sounds’ corresponding to emotional release and rebalancing inner homeostasis.  She heard these sounds when there was release of residues of repressed emotion held in the particular muscles she was working on. The massage was freeing vital locked energy allowing emotional tensions to be released and traumas to be resolved at the somatic level. Being massaged in a particular way, which she called ‘ Energy Distribution’, enables the body to self regulate and literally  digest emotional residues that were stuck in the tissues. (“Issues being in tissues” is actually a fact!) This is why massage can be an emotional experience for many people and why they may experience a range of effects eg: crying, shaking, trembling ,breath release.   Emotional release is a natural energy regulator and balancing mechanism.

 According to Boyesen, these psycho- peristalsic sounds are elicited by emotional expression, movements and catharsis.  She also taught that they can also be  deliberately elicited by massage, working either on the skin level or in the auric field depending where the blockage registers. I learned, in those years, working closely with Gerda that massage is a far more mysterious therapy than simply placing and moving ones hands and fingers on someone’s body! I learned that the essence of touch is as much emotional and spiritual as physical , perhaps even more so.

 For the first 10 years that I worked with massage, I listened not only with my hands and eyes but also I listened very attentively with my ears. As I moved or rested my hands I listened to these mysterious peristaltic sounds with a stethoscope in my ears and the membrane resting on my client’s abdomen. I listened very attentively and learned to interpret the colourful vocabulary of not only the sounds but also the silences, sounds such as,’ the creaking door ‘, the ‘zone of firing’ and the ‘sunny brook’ … these are the sounds one hears when the energy is  sluggish, over stimulated or simply in harmonious flow.  I also listened attentively to the silences. Silence alerts one to the areas of the body where the energy movement is blocked by trauma or negative thoughts or memories. It is fascinating how the position of the hands on the body can track the energetic / emotional blockages of the client. The aim of such massage is to free up the sounds and thus release whatever is preventing the natural distribution of energy flow and to regulate, balance and harmonise the client’s energy. When this release and natural flow is re-established the client experiences a wonderful feeling of ‘ present independent well being ‘ and often a deep connection to all that “Is”. This process can never be forced. When the client is ready what is needed “impinges from within “. It’s a beautiful event to witness. The massage therapist simply provides the space for Grace to be present.

 Massaging in this way requires great attention and focus, not only concentrating on the sounds but listening to the body with one’s hands, watching the breath with one’s open eyes and being present with one’s heart. Massaging in this way is a deeply mindful experience.

We hear a lot these days about ‘mindfulness’ practices, the intention of being present in one’s life and to oneself, how to watch the wanderings of the mind and how to catch oneself drifting from the present moment. In this way one cultivates the ability to witness the emotional vagaries and distractions of the mind and in so doing one frees oneself from habitual responses and makes the choice moment to moment to either contract into oneself and embrace fears and inner neurotic dialogue or to expand from the heart and fully embrace what is the present reality. This is a constantly evolving, conscious act of remembering.

 Massaging with intense awareness and focus enables one to stay mindfully present and thus the act of massaging becomes a mindful practice in itself, a meditative experience for both practitioner and client.

Clients respond very positively to this mindful approach to massage because they feel that the treatment is one of undivided attention and intention from the therapist. This way of working is deeply connected , one  works with the energy and literally flows with

what is the present emotional reality of the client. Nothing is ever forced but all is mindfully witnessed and accepted in a non- judgemental way.

 This is my lineage and heritage. In my work with massage these days, I still work with my stethoscope from time to time but not always. What I do work with though is awareness. My days of listening to the peristaltic sounds finely tuned my consciousness and heightened my awareness to body responses. I am acutely aware of the way a body responds to touch, can read the slightest quiver of a muscle or the change of a breathing rhythm.

 To conclude, for more than half of my life I have been working with massage… little did I know when I met Gerda Boyesen and then trained in Bio dynamic psychology that massage would become such a big part of my life. Since then, I have massaged and taught countless people with the intention of passing on the wisdom and gifts that I have received. When I teach massage I endeavour to pass on what I was taught by Gerda and my meditation teachers.  That is to stay present in the presence of simply what is and to trust that this will bring balance and independent well being to students and clients alike and that we are all blessed in the flow of love. That is ultimately what it is about.

Judith Ashton was many times president of The Irish Massage Therapist Association and was creator of The Blue Room Healing & Meditation Centre Bennetsbridge Co. Kilkenny for 15 years.  She lives in Co. Kilkenny, is presently writing a book, loves her garden, sees clients and works on her mosaics.

For details of Judith’s annual 7 day residential course: A Heart journey with a difference: .Massage with meditation and  mindfulness”. 2nd -8th August 2014

  Tel: 0567724007 / 0876976395.  Or e mail : judithashton1@gmail.com

Working with Psycho – Peristalsis and Listening to the Inner Flow of the Body and Mind

by Judith Ashton

Massage and touch are essential skills, which everyone should be taught at an early age, as they do in some eastern cultures. Touch is a fundamental aspect of communication between beings and has become a fear filled and insecure sense for many people. I was not brought up to be easy around touch, that was my heritage.

I was in my twenties, living in London and somewhat disillusioned with life… when I had the great good fortune to meet the late Gerda Boyesen. I can’t remember the exact date but it was in 1977 (she would have been in her late 50’s) and that day changed my life and opened me up to seeing the world and myself in a completely new and exciting way ….or rather affirming and reconnecting to some way of being that I seemed to have long forgotten but that was my right and heritage. A way of openness and deep personal and spiritual conection.

Gerda Boyesen was Norwegian and had trained and worked in hospitals as a physiotherapist, she was deeply interested in psychology and the study of the mind-body connection. She met and subsequently trained with one of Dr.Wilhelm Reich’s students. Reich, a psychiatrist, had been a colleague of Freud, and he was one of the earliest pioneers of mind –body awareness with his observations on sexuality and his muscle armour theories. To Reich, healthy function meant a natural connection to sexuality and the body ideally should be relaxed and flexible. His observations however showed that this is not generally the case. Reich’s view was that trauma and conditioning are held within the physical body, impeding natural breathing flow and stiffening the muscles (armouring) and skeleton. The purpose of therapy therefore is to release both the psychological and physical inhibitions. Not only did he encourage emotional expression in his patients but he also created massage techniques to loosen up the ‘muscle armour’ thus freeing up the patient’s vital energy and allowing healthier function.

As a physiotherapist, Gerda Boyesen was fascinated by Reich’s muscle armour theories as she realised that many of her patients were presenting with physical tensions which in her opinion were masking deeper emotional issues. She went a step further with her own innovative approaches to massage especially with her discovery of ‘psycho-peristalsis.’ She maintained that peristalsis in the digestive tract is noiseless, and the sounds that she heard whilst massaging clients are ‘energetic sounds’ corresponding to emotional release and rebalancing inner homeostasis. She heard these sounds when there was release of residues of repressed emotion held in the particular muscles she was working on. The massage was freeing vital locked energy allowing emotional tensions to be released and traumas to be resolved at the somatic level. Being massaged in a particular way, which she called ‘ Energy Distribution’, enabled the body to self regulate and literally digest emotional residues that were stuck in the tissues. (“Issues being in tissues” is actually a fact!) This is why massage can be an emotional experience for many people and why they may experience a range of effects eg: crying, shaking, trembling ,breath release. Emotional release is a natural energy regulator and balancing mechanism.

According to Boyesen, these psycho- peristalsic sounds will be elicited by emotional expression, movements and catharsis. She also taught that they can also be deliberately elicited by massage, working either on the skin level or in the auric field depending where the blockage registers. I learned, in those years, working closely with Gerda that massage is a far more mysterious therapy than simply placing and moving ones hands and fingers on someone’s body! I learned that the essence of touch is as much emotional as physical in nature.

For the first 10 years that I worked with massage, I listened not only with my hands but also I listened very attentively with my ears. As I moved or rested my hands I listened to these mysterious peristaltic sounds with a stethoscope in my ears and the membrane resting on my client’s abdomen. I listened very attentively and learned to interpret the colourful vocabulary of not only the sounds but also the silences, sounds such as,’ the creaking door ‘, the ‘zone of firing’ and the ‘sunny brook’ … these are the sounds one hears when the energy is sluggish, over stimulated or simply in harmonious flow. I also listened attentively to the silences. Silence alerts one to the areas of the body where the energy movement is blocked by trauma or negative thoughts or memories. It is fascinating how the position of the hands on the body can track the energetic / emotional blockages of the client. The aim of such massage is to free up the sounds and thus release whatever is preventing the natural distribution of energy flow and to regulate, balance and harmonise the client’s energy. When this release and natural flow is re-established the client experiences a wonderful feeling of ‘ present independent well being ‘. This process can never be forced.

Massaging in this way requires great attention and focus, not only concentrating on the sounds but listening to the body with one’s hands, watching the breath with one’s open eyes and being present with one’s heart. Massaging in this way is a deeply mindful experience.
We hear a lot these days about ‘mindfulness’ practices, the intention of being present in one’s life and to oneself, how to watch the wanderings of the mind and how to catch oneself drifting from the present moment. In this way one cultivates the ability to witness the emotional vagaries and distractions of the mind and in so doing one frees oneself from habitual responses and makes the choice moment to moment to either contract into oneself and embrace fears and inner neurotic dialogue or to expand from the heart and fully embrace what is the present reality. This is a conscious act of rememberance.

Massaging with intense awareness and focus enables one to stay mindfully present and thus the act of massaging becomes a mindful practice in itself, a meditative experience for both practitioner and client.
Clients respond very positively to this mindful approach to massage because they feel that the treatment is one of undivided attention and intention from the therapist. This way of working is deeply connected, one is works with the energy and literally flows with what is the present emotional reality of the client. Nothing is ever forced but all is mindfully witnessed.

In my work with massage these days, I still work with my stethoscope from time to time but not always. What I do work with though is awareness. My days of listening to the peristaltic sounds finely tuned my consciousness and heightened my awareness of body responses. I am acutely aware of the way a body responds to touch, can read the slightest quiver of a muscle or the change of a breathing rhythm.

To conclude, for more than half of my life I have been working with massage… little did I know when I met Gerda Boyesen and then trained in Bio dynamic psychology that massage would become such a big part of my life. Since then, I have massaged and taught countless people with the intention of passing on the wisdom and gifts that I have received. When I teach massage I endeavour to pass on what I was taught by Gerda and my meditation teachers. That is to stay present in the presence of simply what is and to trust that this will bring balance and independent well being to students and clients alike.

LOVE…The Secret of Effortless Learning

by Judith Ashton

This summer I taught a week long residential workshop for twenty wonderful women. The youngest was in her mid twenties and the oldest mid sixties. They were from all parts of the country and from all walks of life. They were drawn together in their desire to learn more about the healing art of massage. A small number of them had some prior knowledge of massage but for the most part they were all novices. In  an article  for Network ( 60 )  ‘A Massage journey with A Difference,‘  I  claimed that I would guarantee that by the end of 7 days all participants would be able to give  beautiful proficient and meditative massages. I have been teaching in this way for over twenty years and know that my methods work.

One of the group, a massage therapist in fact, who had done a three year training said that she would never have believed that such a disparate group could have attained such a proficient level after only 7 days if she had not witnessed it herself. Another group member, a teacher by profession said, ” I am still wondering how you managed to include so much in our course with what appeared to be a very unstructured and flexible timetable with such a relaxed approach…”
 
I need to say at this point that we did NO massage for the first two days..So all was  accomplished in 5 days , and in fact the last day was a culmination.. .so actually all massage components of the course were accomplished in four days.!!

The fact that I taught the group for 7 days though  was a vital  and integral part of the student’s process of being open and trusting the abilities of the teacher to transmit the necessary energy for the task in question. In this case , Massage.

Much learning happens when people were not even aware of it!! A  big part of my method of teaching involves  meditation… centering in the heart…going into  silence and stillness within, clearing out the incessant chatter of the busy mind and creating a space inside for the percolation of your own wisdom and truth. We all did a lot of chanting every morning, really activating the voice.. in order to clear the energy both within  oneself and within the group and  also to create a blending and harmony between us all.  I also use a lot of movement, exercise and dance….this loosens rigidity in the muscular  structures and creates openness at the physical level and  flexibility in the body which in turn creates flexibility in the mind ..this year we did a lot of grounding work using amongst other things, Native American dance music and sounds… lots of movement and sounds to deeply release locked up energies..   with all these different approaches …something starts to deeply relax in both mind and body….people start to open and share deeply.  Effortless learning is starting to seep into the pores ! Innate wisdom starts to percolate..

Trust, openness and communication have a profound effect on the heart and when the heart starts to open then the energy starts to flow. The energy of the heart can never be a selfish energy..it has to flow OUT towards others . When this process is underway the heart and the mind can begin to blend  and balance in expression.. learning becomes BEINGNESS.. Being-ness is the state of presence  one feels when the heart energy is activated…. In this instance the massage, meditation and bodywork  helped to catalyze the activation. The body naturally balances and relaxes.

Many things happen in this process of learning… insights about oneself and others emerge, you begin to be open to yourself without prejudice…… pains and old patterns are revisited, emotions are expressed and all is seen for what it truly is…. A cover up of the heart….  The heart’s protective response to the pain of the perception of being unloved…The reality though is that when the armoring of the heart begin to loosen and gradually fall away…what remains is love…nothing but love….this moves you from judging, comparing etc into compassion and acceptance…two prerequisites for working with other people. Realizations start to dawn…. NOBODY actually is any different from yourself… we just need to experience that as a reality.

When love is present in a group, its fire burns out that which covers the real.

 

It is always a very humbling and moving experience for me as the teacher to witness this love in action . When people  really open up  to whatever area they may be involved with …they fall into awareness mode, ( anxiety and fears drop away. concerns about ”doing ” are replaced by awareness and “being”, )  as opposed to concentration mode ….whilst massaging it is the heart that takes over and the mind is relegated to its serving position…all the mental baggage drops away… one simply  “does”, one allows the heart to flow and the hands follow in its wake. The atmosphere and feeling around people becomes one of   heart-openness and effortless action effortlessly follows…. time goes in to another dimension and  the creative flow of the open heart takes over..   everyone starts to glow!! Its mysterious and wondrous to experience..

When love is involved with what you do, it is easy to do it…you want to do it, you are motivated because it makes you feel good and when you feel good that is reflected in the atmosphere you create around you. You owe it to yourself to do what you enjoy doing. (We are all subjected to the allotted time constraints of human existence!!)  As spiritual beings we have a deep need  and longing for happiness and joy since they reflect our true state. These two feelings sustain and nourish us at the deepest of levels. In order for our lives to progress, and not stay stuck, we need to move beyond the fear  structures that hold us back from being  truly ourselves . Learning  or doing something new takes you into unknown territory…this can bring fear..The only antidote to fear is love. Anything…anyone ….  any method, way or teaching that opens the heart in the truest sense of the word will lead you forward on your human/spiritual journey. Always look for love in all that you do. In fact you need to embody this love in all your actions and movements. You need to  “be” love. When love is present, everything becomes effortless…That is The Secret…..

(Freud , in his wisdom knew this when he wrote,  ” One doesn’t need long trainings, but ‘inherent insights’ into the human soul, first of all into the unconscious layers of one’s own soul…then…practical hands on training!”)

Anybody interested in a16 day training or open weekends ( see ad ) will have the opportunity to experience this way of osmotic effortless Heart learning for themselves. Trust me..it works!

The Use of Touch for Healing Deep Old Wounds

by Judith Ashton

This body is my very presence in the world, if it is the body alone that enables me to enter into relations with other presence’s, if without these eyes, this voice or these hands I would be unable to see, to taste and to touch things…or to be touched by them…if without this body…. there would be no possibility of experience… then the body itself is THE true subject of experience.” Abram.

These days, many people talk about ‘ being on a spiritual journey’…. we ARE spirits, we have become form and dense matter,  have taken birth in this realm by assuming  physical bodies as part of the soul’s experience in this  human reality . We are all on ‘a human journey, a body journey!’ For your time on earth, it is the body that is the house of your soul, the body that is the crucible of your emotions and the body that is the vehicle for all you wish to be and express. It is the body that is the mysterious expression of the unknown and the unknowable, for as the Bible says  ‘God made man in his own image’. It is the body that is the instrument of the Divine presence here on Earth.

I never consciously sought to work in the helping professions ,I was happily  doing my thing  as a university  graduate in London in the 70’s when I stumbled across Reichian body work groups. I had been in therapy but found  something was lacking ,  I didn’t know what. I soon discovered what it was… it was the body. I was hooked… something real was happening to me and my life changed forever .I studied the approach , qualified, and  have been working with bodies as a neo-Reichian body-psychotherapist and massage practitioner for over 25 years.

From the moment I first entered this field of experience until today I have never ceased to be amazed and awe-struck by the innate intelligence of the body.  Awe struck! I am humbled when I work with people , I have deep respect for the body, and that respect increases with time. Manifest existence is nothing short of miraculous! The body always knows what it needs if it is listened to in the sacred way that it deserves. You only need to consciously ask the body to relinquish its secrets and an awesome process will begin. Your body will tell you ALL that you need to know if you learn to interpret its signs and signals, its aches and pains, its dreams and its longings.

Everything that you have ever thought, touched, seen, heard, smelt or tasted has been carefully and exactly filed away in the conscious and unconscious recesses of the body-mind. (The body-mind being the intelligence of the body itself.) Everything has made an imprint or an impact somewhere, and is readily accessible and available in this the present moment.

Marcel Proust, the great French writer, knew this when he wrote about the immediate sense recall experience he had of his grandmother’s kitchen when he smelt Madeleine cakes baking years later and how that smell took him into an emotional release in the present.

The languages that the body uses to communicate with us are the languages of touch, feeling and movement, and for the purposes of this article I will focus mainly on the area of touch, and the innate emotionality of touch. It either feels good or it feels bad. Simple!

Nearly a century ago, William Reich, taught that we all hold all mental and emotional stress physically, to inhibit the sensation of pain, real or imagined, we manipulate our bodies through tightening our posture and holding our breathing. Back then Reich was one of the first pioneers to take the body and the language of the body into consideration. His aim was to free pent up life energy by getting people to express their repressed emotions physically either through bashing a mattress, through vigorous massage, through connected communication.etc. His word ” vegetotherapy” means any way of expressing the emotions “through the body”.

The theories of unconscious psychological defence mechanisms were already widespread, but Reich took it further, not only do we defend emotionally, but also we defend bodily. He used terms such as “character armour” to describe unconscious psychological defences and radically he coined a new phrase ” muscle armour” to describe what happens unconsciously physically to protect the body from real or perceived pain. He radically said, “muscle armour and character armour are inseparable and indivisible.”  He also added ” The reality of the musculature is that it is the somatic side of the process of repression and the basis for its continued existence,” also that ‘Every muscular rigidity contains the history and meaning of its origins”

‘Character attitude may be resolved by dissolution of muscle armour and muscle armour by the dissolution of character peculiarities.” Until such times as both are dissolved free flowing life energy is inhibited and true relaxation is impossible.

Awareness of the intricate relationship between the physical body and the emotions enables us to see that the senses form a bridge between the two.  Emotions elicited through the senses ideally should express outwards from the body, through to resolution and certainly relaxation should then follow. This unfortunately is not always the case.

According to the Gospel of Thomas  “, That which needs to be expressed bring forth from yourselves.”  Or the old adage,  ” Better out than in!” If we don’t express emotions appropriately, that repressed energy transforms into symptoms, which disturb the energy balance both physical and emotional.

So, when the body can relax, tensions dissolve. Many bodies through fear and anxiety cannot relax. When someone has been abused physically, boundaries have been violated. Furthermore, if that abuse has happened during infancy and childhood, the impact of that boundary’s violation has imprinted deeply on body and psyche, both body and psyche have been hurt and invaded.

We all have boundaries to a lesser or greater degree, healthy boundaries are vital for healthy function.

We all have inner and outer boundaries. We have emotional boundaries and physical boundaries. Their function is to protect us from outside influences and to keep us safe. Boundaries need to be supported, honoured and maintained.

All traumas violate boundary structure. Where the body has been hurt, it is the body that needs to be healed! Simple! If you break your leg you need someone with skill to set it, if left unattended you will suffer long-term pain.  Similarly, if you have been sexually abused as a child that pain will be carried in the body until physical and emotional help releases you from the effects. Conventional counselling methods do not fully meet this need. Trauma is pain.Trauma is not a belief…. If you are raped in childhood, you don’t have a belief around that till later, (e.g. That happened because…) you have pain, cuts, hurt, bruises, bleeding, total confusion and lots of conflicting emotions and fears frozen in the body. The body needs to be thawed so that the life-energy may stream freely, all blockages dissolved.

If these incidents of sexual abuse are repeated many times, the entire energy structure is repeatedly disturbed . The body chronically contracts. Belief structures  form about the total lack of control  one has over ones own boundaries and ones own body. Attitudes, beliefs and postures then become the norm and one interacts with the world as if it is so!   The mind, in turmoil , attempts to deal with it as best it can by disassociation from the body. This is inevitably problematic and unrealistic! YOU ARE YOUR BODY!  In an attempt to deal with the fact that deep shocks have registered and imprinted on the body, the mind often says ‘Do what you like to me, I’m numbing myself and going out of my body into a place that you will never reach”. Disassociation  is often  the victims only defiant defence and protection  when little else could be done! I have heard this brave painful lament repeated so many times by so many survivors of sexual abuse. …

The body that didn’t protect you becomes the enemy, the battleground, the source of pain and betrayal,  the memory bank of all hurt and frustrations. Complications may start to emerge….   All manner of self harming and self abusing mechanisms, lack of self worth issues, emotional turmoil, trust and body image issues, relationship difficulties, sexual problems, depression etc. etc. not to mention physical symptoms…panic attacks, aches, pains etc. etc…..  When you live in a triggered body, every advance towards it can trigger neurotic responses. Your whole relationship to touch and therefore to people in your world has been profoundly distorted…touch is super -threatening….Inter personal relationships, especially physical ones are usually fraught with difficulties and if they ever get off the ground in the first place, quickly deteriorate. Such a painful and very viscous circle…

How one may ask can such deep wounds ever be healed ?  Conventional counselling, psychotherapy, emotional bodywork and so on,  may all have a part to play, but  I believe the deepest  healing will only take place when skilful and conscious intervention using physical boundary work and touch are integral components of the healing process .

In traditional psychotherapy, touch has long been a taboo. Touch more than any other interaction has been abused.  There is much fear around touch. There is much fear around the body. There is much fear around sexuality.  Sexuality and touch have become synonymous. There is much fear …. There is often much confusion in these areas for the therapist themselves. So, it becomes safer to avoid these areas altogether.

Touch does not just evoke sexual feelings! Although many are caught within that limitation. It is far more subtle than just that! It evokes a vaster range of emotions. Touch is an emotion as well as a sensation. There is much to be learned from non-sexual physical contact. As a language it’s poorly taught in the West. ….

Over the years, I have heard of many incidents where sexual abuse survivors seek out some kind of touch therapy such as massage, reiki, reflexology etc.because they think that it could be a useful part of their healing. …. Only to be disappointed…In many cases the simple act of lying down, let alone being touched is provocation enough. Lack of skill on the part of the practitioner can reinforce the disassociation from the body…The client themselves may not realise that they are once again simply letting someone else do something to them. Many have freaked out, had huge catharses on massage couches where neither they nor the therapist has had the means to understand what was going on… Once again confusion all round!

The skill, awareness and self-knowledge of the therapist are of utmost importance.

What do I do? How do I actually put this into practice?

Before any touch occurs the preliminary phase of re-establishing boundaries needs to take place. This may go reasonably quickly in a few sessions, or may take several weeks or even months depending on this severity of the abuse. In one extreme case it took nearly 3 years. We work with all the emotions as they arise

We need to experiment and  assertain what it means to feel safe.This varies enormously person to person. The room needs to feel safe.  The client may need to check that the door is locked or even put something in front of the door. ..Initially I work with  ‘safe distances between’. We work to establish ‘ safe body posture’. We work in many ways before I actually approach  and touch the client physically. It reminds me of the film The Horse Whisperer only I do it with people! What doesn’t feel safe and  what does feels safe?  The body knows these things innately even if  they can’t be intellectually articulated. I read and re read the body , picking up clues and piecing the bits together . What is safe? What is not?  This is my intoned mantra… Safe or not ? Safe or not?Sitting? Walking? Eyes shut? Eyes open?Facing the wall? Facing me? Always working with communication…You tell me… you lead the dance ..I will follow..I will not leave.. I am right there listening to your body. I am watching and listening. I am with you. You are safe.Everything needs to be made very safe.  A sense of safety is a key component of this work. Once accomplished, progress is inevitable.  As this work consciously progresses, and the client feels affirmed, is taking control,  is re-patterning  and reclaiming  their space, the idea of actually touching the client becomes more possible.

Then comes the actual touch phase.With mindful, consciously directed, intentional touch, smashed and violated boundaries can be repaired and restructured. Therapist and client work as a team. It takes patience, insight and compassion to get someone back in their body.Rebuilding trust  can be a slow painstaking process ..The most important aspect here is ‘permission to touch’, that may be implicit but it needs to be articulated somehow either by the client consciously taking my hand and placing it safely on their body or by actually saying such words as  ‘ I allow, or yes you can touch me’ whatever  the appropriate words are for them, we use. This can be a very pivotal moment in the work..If the ground work has been well established by this time there will be much trust  The client themselves takes control and figures out what is safe and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not .A new language of trust, being heard and  being listened to, needs to be learnt. (I deliberately don’t say ‘relearnt’ because in many cases it wasn’t there in the first place, especially if the client was very young during the abuse.)

I  deliberately and gently intone new mantras.:  ‘ Where shall I touch you? How will I touch you? Does this feel ok? Does that feel ok? Which is better? This or that? What  feels right ?Do you want to stop? Is this getting too much? Say  ‘Stop ‘ or push my hand away if that’s what you need to do? You are the boss! Do you need a break? How is this feeling? The mantras go on and on. Repetition after repetition. The hands listen. The eyes read the body signals. The body and the breathing lead the dance. Together we move skilfully through the past hurts in time and space …leading,…following…wherever the now flowing energy dictates.

It takes patience like meditation always does! Patiently, together we heal what needs to be healed. Initially the work is done fully clothed . Massage comes later. The client’s body is honoured and eventually celebrated. There is no touching the genital area other than by the client themselves and then  it is always through clothes.

I may give homework exercises that can be done alone or if the client is in a relationship, done together.

We build up a  body-map of safe areas, often first drawn on paper, then  experienced through the  ever present body. I encourage dialogue with different body areas to learn what they need, and I trust the innate wisdom of the words that emerge  to guide us on our travels.  The body IS the map AND the  body is the guide. Both!  This  journey  is one of courage and trust for the client. It’s an astonishingly transformational journey. There is no going back!  THIS IS IT!.. Yes! Yes! We journey together. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes fast. It’s very exciting!

Where touch has been terror, touch can become tender. Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse simply have no words to describe “sensitive” touch. They don’t know it. For many, All they knew was pain and confusion.  So a new “feeling vocabulary” needs to be imprinted and a re- patterning of feeling and sensation e.g. soft, loving, gentle, soothing, comforting etc.  needs to be experienced in order to  replace the old sensations of ”rough, pain, hurt, sore harsh etc.”.

Where space and distance have not been honoured or respected, assertiveness needs to be learnt.  Where hands haven’t listened, hands can be directed. Where power was stripped away, power is taken back. With control comes self worth and old redundant  belief structures are jettisoned in favour of new more positive ones . A new sense of  self and direction  emerge. The hitherto bound and contracted survivor starts to stretch their wings. Flying becomes a distinct possibility…

In the past, trust was betrayed. In the present, trust can be lovingly rebuilt through the touch of hands truly rooted in an insightful and compassionate heart.

I have worked in this way with touch for a long time now.  I see bodies long wracked with pains, fears and anxieties drop burdens of tension and start to breathe again. Bodies start to move, sing, dance, express, create, laugh, cry, hug…embrace life, experience and express love.

The power of touch on the body is truly awesome. Negative touch destroys lives. Positive touch helps us live lovingly. Touch connects when words don’t.  Touch heals the past pains of the body.Touch is our nourishment , food for the soul. When the body relaxes the life-energy flows through all the levels of our being and we feel connected to The Divine within and without :

‘This very body… the Buddha !’

To conclude, over the years, touching others has been and still is a central part of my Path of the Heart. It is part of my spiritual discipline. I learn so much.  I learn the noble art of giving and the noble art of receiving; I learn how to serve The Divine in each body I meet. I learn how to accept and to be non- judgmental, how to be patient and to listen, how to stay open, how to be present, how to be compassionate. . I am grateful to the teachings of touch. For these things I thank all the bodies I have had the privilege of touching. May all bodies be happy. May all bodies be healed. May all bodies live in peace and love.

…. Some may ask “How can I learn how to consciously touch  a body and be touched by the experience?”

“Connections”

 

Connections” magazine asked contributors for their definition of healing in one short paragraph:

Personally, I believe we are complex multi-dimensional energy beings on a human journey of form and matter, evolving and waking up to our true nature as conscious beings created in love . We come here as physical, emotional, social, sexual and spiritual beings. Healing means “to make whole”  and  does not only mean “getting better” in the physical sense. We are all in a process of refinement and transformation of consciousness.   C.G.Jung said that he had never had a client “ who was not at root, suffering from a loss of soul .” He was right. I trust that when matters of soul are deeply addressed and a person is motivated to connect consciously to their Essential  Self that this is the deepest healing one can help someone move towards. The physical dies. We need to find a connection to that which never dies. This enables us to live fully and to die well.  When we try to understand the inexplicable ; the concepts of Grace and Miracles, we  realise that healing is  incomprehensible.  See the stories of Anita Moorjani and Eben Alexander and you will get a sense of what I mean. I believe we cannot define something that is so complex that it defies limitation.

Spiritual Optimism and the Shambhala  Prophesies.

Sometime ago ,  ran a workshop as part of the Transition Towns initiative here in Kilkenny,  enabling 15 people to  voice to the deep despair that they felt about the current state of our world. It was a heartfelt and deeply moving experience. Suffering, powerlessness, rage, grief and fear were all expressed, heard and honoured. Parents expressed fears for the future of children. The fate of nature was mourned. Patriarchal values and the suppression of the feminine evoked tears, sadness and anger were strongly present. All felt the power of expression and the letting go of deep pain. The group then danced and rested in the present moment with the understanding that pain too can be transformed.

 

Trungpa, a Tibetan spiritual teacher said in the 60’s “The whole world is filling with suffering.”  The truth is that since then it seems to have gone from bad to worse.  Recession, climate change and so on… the list of current woes seems endless.

So what can we learn and how can we respond wisely to this sense of suffering, and current doom and gloom?

 

For the last twelve centuries the Tibetans have had knowledge of semi- secret prophesies attributed to Padmasambhava about the coming of the Kingdom of Shambhala.  I think it is worth reading carefully what Trungpa says about the core of this prophesy and how it can help us live in today’s troubled times:

 

“There comes a time when all life on earth is in danger. Barbarian powers have risen. Although they waste their wealth in preparations to annihilate each other, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable devastation and technologies that lay waste to the world. It is now, when the future of all beings hangs by the frailest of threads, that the kingdom of Shambhala emerges.

 

You cannot go there, for it is not a place. It exists in the hearts and minds of the Shambhala warriors. But you cannot recognize a Shambhala warrior by sight, for there is no uniform or insignia, there are no banners. And there are no barricades from which to threaten the enemy, for the Shambhala warriors have no land of their own. Always, they move in the lands of the barbarians themselves.

 

Now comes the time when great courage is required of the Shambhala warriors, moral and physical courage. For they must go into the very heart of the barbarian power and dismantle the weapons. To remove these weapons, in every sense of the word, they must go into the corridors of power where the decisions are made.

 

The Shambhala warriors know they can do this because the weapons are manomaya, mind made. This is important to remember. These weapons are made by the human mind. So they can be unmade by mind.  The Shambhala warriors know that the dangers that threaten life on Earth do not come from evil deities or extra terrestrials. They arise from our own choices and relationships. So, now the Shambhala warriors must go into training. They train in the use of two weapons. Compassion and Insight. Both are necessary. We need the first one because it provides the fuel, it moves us to act on behalf of other beings. But by itself it can burn us out. So we need the second as well, which is insight into the dependent co-arising of all things. It lets us see that the battle is not between good people and bad people, for the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. We realize that we are interconnected, as in a web, and that each act with pure motivation affects the entire web, bringing consequences that we cannot measure or even see.

 

Insight alone can seem too cool to keep us going. So we also need the heat of compassion, our openness to the world’s pain. Both weapons are necessary to the Shambhala warrior.” Trungpa.

 

We are currently witnessing massive global upheavals. The deaths of the great institutions that are crumbling politically, financially and philosophically can create great opportunities for positive re-evaluation of values and morals, equity and balance if viewed wisely. Lives will get more difficult before we see positive results, but I believe good will come.  I believe great good is being birthed and like many births, will be unbearably painful if resisted. Compassion and Insight will help us all with these difficult challenging times of transition.

 

If we wish to be of help at this time, we all have to make our own journeys and each of us must find the meaning of a loving and enlightened society and how it can be realized.

Shambhala warriors know that there is a basic human wisdom that can help solve the world’s problems. A human wisdom, nothing to do with education, religion or culture, and it is freely available to each of us. If we attune ourselves and listen with our hearts, spiritual guidance is available to us all. This, I believe, is now a matter of urgency!

 

Nelson Mandela stated, “ There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others will not feel uncomfortable around you! You were born to manifest the glory of Spirit, it is not just in some people it is in all of us!”

Each of us can make a difference. Two marks of warrior-ship are bravery and fearlessness. Do not be afraid of who you really are and let your unique light shine.

 

 

Shine! Step out of that which limits you! Know that all the huge changes that are happening in our world are part of a higher purpose and spiritual evolution. If each of us can bring balance to our own lives and work from a place of love, changes at an energetic vibrational level will occur. Every one of our thoughts, words and deeds can make a difference. So, can we change the world?  Barak Obama’s mantra is, “Yes we can!” That’s my mantra too and it’s why I am not buying into the media hype that the future looks bleak. The future is bright depending on the way you choose to view it!  I look forward 2014.

 

Judith Ashton teaches massage and spiritual awareness and will be running courses throughout 2014. Please call 0567724007 for details or email : judithashton1@gmail.com

 

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