Mindfulness is the starting point and the beginning—and that means an attentiveness to the body and what it might be trying to tell you, if only you would listen.
In her astonishingly insightful poem First Prayer, Margaret Atwood wrote of our bodies:
“…they walk upright for us
when we ourselves are crippled
they touch each other, performing love in our place
and for our sake, who are numbed and disabled.”
Take yourself seriously. Listen to your body. Open your field of perception. You might notice, sometimes with reluctance, what was always there within; permit yourself, in a new, serious way, to be interested in yourself; observe with the serious attention of a of a scientist looking through a microscope, or an astronomer gazing upon distant worlds. The world within, for many people, can seem as distant. The self is a distant star.
Mindfulness and Movement
Then we must pay attention to the sometimes subtle changes in our experience, to the shifting impressions, sensations and feelings, some of which can be nuanced and fragmentary, yet somehow, in their repeated surfacing, asking for our attention.
In a Radix session you might breathe, or are asked to breathe, more deeply into your belly. It's possible that as you do that you feel an expanding joy. After a few moments you might realize that as your joy expands, the muscles tighten in your shoulders, your neck and your jaw. You are asked to keep paying attention to that tightness as it meets and clamps down on your joy—and then, moments later, to pay attention to your joy as it rises and meets that tension, which increasingly feels cruel, even vicious, toward your joy. You might become aware that you want to destroy it, wipe it out, obliterate it. You are asked to allow that destructive feeling, and you feel your jaw clench, tighten, a sound of angry frustration moving out involuntarily into the room. You are asked to tighten your jaw and neck even more—and when you do, suddenly, inexplicably, you are sobbing, and after a moment, as in a landscape illuminated by a flash of lightning, you know that all your life you have fought your own joy, because to be joyful is to be expressive, and sometimes loud; and you remember being four, or five, or six, and when you were happy, ecstatic even, your father, who was on shift work, would come out of his bedroom with a belt in his hand and look as if he might kill you. In those moments you learned to dull your joy—for a lifetime.
Atwood’s poem about our bodies continues:
“they are discreet, they keep our secret,
with their good help we will rise from the dead.”
From mindfulness to movement: To conclude this story, which is an amalgam of two client’s sessions, the ongoing Radix work became one of energetic expansion as the client owned, and grew more comfortable with, the joy which is his birthright as a human being.
At root this story from a Radix viewpoint is not about catharsis and the release of transitory feelings, but about the toleration of life- energy, the toleration of energy moving— which, indeed, as in Atwood’s poem, will allow you to “rise from the dead”.
Radix Work: Origins
It was Dr. Charles Kelley, a research scientist, who started Radix Institute. Influenced by Wilhelm Reich, he was one of the first to publish a journal (The Creative Process) exploring Reich’s work. Reich had started as a psychoanalyst and associate of Freud’s, but his distance from Freud grew as he explored, in an historically resonating phrase, “the functional identity” of mind and body. That phrase resonates because all the modern neuro-psychological work, from Alan Schore to Bessel Van der Kolk and Stephen Porges, confirms his basic premise. In a vast ongoing project, Reich delineated his theory of life energy, describing the manifestations of that energy in the human organism, on earth, and in the cosmos.
In his therapeutic practice, Reich saw his function not as psychoanalytic interpretation but as liberating the energy frozen in what he termed “muscular armour”, to liberate the body’s “expressive language of the living”, the pre-verbal and the unarticulated. His aim, as he conceived it, was to restore natural functioning in the human animal.
Kelley took Reich’s distance from psychoanalysis and psychotherapy as a starting point. He described Radix work as a form of deep body education. “Education in Feeling and Purpose” became the standard and goal of the Radix Institute, which he founded in the early 1970’s. RI has trained people worldwide, and there are now RI graduates in England, Australia, Europe and Canada. While the Institute has drawn increasing interest from mental health professionals who became interested in the body, Kelley was firm in his belief in Radix as an educational process. Though he died in 2005, the Institute he founded continues, and he was honored posthumously in 2012 by the United States Association of Body Psychotherapy (USABP)—an organization in fact started by several of his former trainees—in recognition of his accomplishment, joining other luminaries such as Peter Levine, John Pierakos and Ilanna Rubenfeld.
The Energetic Concept
Think of someone sensitive and shy. You might describe them as “pulled in”. Then again, think of someone extroverted or somewhat pushy. You might describe them as “out there”.
In fact, you are already thinking energetically even if it is not a conscious concept. Everyone has some impression of the energy of another.
Both people can be described energetically as follows: the first pulls into the body core, can be deeply connected to self and feeling, but has trouble moving out into the world. The second has a kind of restless, aggressive energy, and lives on the body periphery, and even the energy in his eyes focuses outward on the world, never inward on the self. The first person has trouble moving out into the unfamiliar world, and the second moving deeper into an unfamiliar self.
So the goal from a Radix viewpoint, becomes to restore energetic pulsation and balance, to restore the ability to move deeper into the self or out into the world, whether the origins of each individual’s constrained pulsation lies in their own “frozen history” or even their genetics.
In their Radix work and their lives, everyone has a different frozeness or sticking point, and a different confrontation with and illumination of feelings and self as they attend to their experience. Each has a different process of discovery, of breathing or not breathing, and, eventually, a discovery of energy and life. This is not about working with presented problems in a linear and analytic way, but about setting in motion an organic process of metabolizing experience and outgrowing limitations, in an environment of safety and respect for the individuals’s own rhythm and pace.
Radix work is about recalling the life that lies beyond the mechanical, the frozen, the traumatic. It is about the sometimes painful process of becoming more deeply alive, more deeply in contact with oneself and others. Without, as Kelley said, guaranteeing you a success in life which is impossible to guarantee, it will enable you to release held energy, interrupted energy, and engage with life more simply and deeply.
A Personal Note:
I would like to thank psychologist Nathaniel Branden, who first pointed out to me the value of Radix work. Without his understanding, particularly in his book The Disowned Self, I would not have taken the path I continue on today.
I have worked for over thirty years in the Vancouver lower mainland as a Certified and Registered Radix practitioner, and am on the Radix Institute’s Circle of Management.
(The Radix Institute is a humanistic, somatically-oriented training organization.
The word "radix" is a latin word meaning 'root' or 'source', and is used by a
variety of people, institutions, and companies in engineering, mathematics, music,etc.
The Radix Institute uses the word to refer to the fundamental energy that unites body,
mind and spirit, and has copyrighted its use in the United States, Canada and Australia
in a personal growth context. The theories, practices and publications of The Radix
Institute have nothing in common with, and are, in fact, antithetically opposed to, the
racist, anti-semitic and bigoted viewpoints and publications of some people who,
unfortunately, have appropriated and currently use the term "radix").
(The photograph on the home page is by Christopher Hughes)