[I wrote this paper some years back (2015 maybe). I coined the term and discovered it was already in use to describe a revolutionary way of doing architecture (realize that architecture is physiologic, it is a phase of the body). I was thinking of the hypercube, the tesseract, a way to depict a 4-dimension object in 2-d. Thinking about how we think about the body as a 3-d 'object' and how we are not able to 'see' the manifold. I was recently able to retrieve a copy from the cloud. When I need a mindless task this is a good one: copy/paste from there to here. My son just arrived so I leave off with just a bit of it transferred. I will no doubt be editing and revising it as I go.]
The line consists of an infinite number of points; the plane, of an infinite
number of lines; the volume, of an infinite number of planes; the hypervolume,
of an infinite number of volumes . . . ––JORGE LUIS BORGES
Adventures in the Hyperbody
A Reinterpretation of the Body as a Plurality
The following is a collection of short stories about the body, offering different ways to think about the body and different ways to be with the body you think of as yours: that body. These stories come from scientific research (and thinking about possible implications of that research), extensive literature of philosophy of the body, and my own experience in engaging with bodies in that ludic space called Ortho-Bionomy for the past 50 years. One dream I had is that these stories, as they grow, may become the basis of an alternative Anatomy and Physiology course that hopefully will be more relevant to the reality of the body that we encounter. The course will have an extensive bibliography and lots of footnotes but for now, you will have to take much on faith, as we take most of the world.
I call these stories because, as near as I can tell, all is story. The very act of perceiving the world around us (and it is not around us, really) is a story. I will have to struggle sometime in the future with that thorny word fact.
A huge irony of studying the body, from a scientific point of view, is that most of the research does not support the view of the body that is traditionally taught. This is a criticism of science in general. For the most part, science does not recognize the subjective in the world. The body is a hinge between the subjective and objective. The subject body observes itself as an object. It is both the subject and the object of its own gaze. In looking ‘out’ at the world what is being seen really is an inward modeling of that world. Looking out is in fact looking in. The body is analogous to a Mobius strip. This is what the cognitive scientist and philosopher Douglas Hofstadter calls a “strange loop.” It is this strangeness that makes this work so much fun, the word ‘work’ feels wrong.
One of the things learned from studying philosophy of the body is that the boundaries of the body are completely arbitrary and mostly socially determined. The view of the body that we have in our culture is so deeply set by several hundred years of wrong thinking that it is difficult to see it any other way. The way I am thinking of the body (and coming to see the body) is as in a continuous field. And here we are betrayed by language, It is not ‘in’ the field because that implies it is somehow separate and it is not. To say it is embedded or nested comes perhaps closer to the feeling. The whole notion of ‘part’ is merely a construct that has some usefulness. Constructs are not real but they soon get taken for real because of their usefulness. We make something up, use it for a while, and pretty soon we become convinced of the reality of it, and forget we made it up to begin with.
The body is a leaky vessel. This phrase was first used in the 17th century to refer to the female body. It has become a modern metaphor for the body in general. It is a multidimensional leakage that it does. The leakage actually refers to the fact that it is in a continuous state of flux and flow with the field.
Sensing the possible extent of the body led to my coming up with the word hyperbody. The prefix hyper- in this case is used in the mathematical sense, referring to solids in 4 or more dimensions. It suggests there are more dimensions to the body than what we constrain ourselves to sensing. I have also considered the term metabody as this has some relevance to my project as well. The metabody would refer to the body’s own sensing, perceiving and imaging of itself. Hyperbody seems to be both more inclusive and more adventuresome, as in traveling through hyperspace.
There are a lot of things I make claims neither for nor against. I want a view of the body that leaves many possibilities open. This also recognizes that the very nature of the body imposes a strong limitation on what can be known. I will also avoid taking a stance on certain arguments going on in the worlds of science and philosophy, such as the claim that the universe is at core nothing but information. There will always be mystery.
Seven Functions of the Body
These characteristics of the body are what I consider to be basic to a healing practice. They are what allow us access to one another. The body has of course many other functions, all of those covered in a typical physiology course.
Sensing: All we know of the world is a change in our own state. Most sensing is accomplished through a process called allosteric transform. In simple language this means that certain proteins in cell membranes change their shape in response to outside energy. A tiny part of you changes its state, this sends a current that lands on some target. If you are going to be consciously aware of something in the environment then the target is in your cerebral cortex.
I am a part of what makes my environment, the world. The only way I have to know of the world is through a change in my own state. When my state changes part of the world changes. Therefore the only way I can know the world is through changing part of that world.
Physicists tell us that only 97% of the suspected universe is available to our senses (and to our instruments, extensions of our senses). Most of what is is beyond our ken and many questions unanswerable.
Locating: Where am I? Each body is situated in a specific place. This is something so simple and obvious it seems it could go without saying. But the way in which the body knows where it is (mediated by the hippocampus and has a lot to do with memory) is extremely complicated and poorly understood.
Before a body can move it must know where in the world it is and it must know where its parts are in relation to one another. As it turns out the bod is often in a different place than where it believes itself to be.
“According to neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran, there are as many as thirty visual areas in the brain devoted to everything from identifying what something is, to where it is in the environment, its relationship to other objects, as well as relationships between features of the object itself. Other associated areas provide a name for the object as well as all the facts and memories associated with it (in other words, creating its meaning), while the amygdala assesses its emotional significance. [Wallace, Nicholas]”
Moving: After it knows the ‘from’ it then must know the ‘to.’ Movement involves measurement and projection and bracing. Much happens before any movement is made.
An ignored ‘part' of the body is what I call the intentional body. Other terms referring to this are body image, body schema, imaginary body. Usually, when we talk of the body we are referring to those parts we can touch, what is left behind when a person dies. Movement cannot happen without this intentional body.
The intentional body of another can be sensed within your own body. The intentional body is interpersonal. This is part of how the social body is constructed. Our ability to move is what also enables us to connect with one another and, as healers, influence one another.
Work on self is vitally important in learning how to properly use the intentional body as a healer.
Connecting: Our relations with one another influence and shape the body. The Body is plural. The biological health of the body subunits (“my” body, “your” body) is deeply dependent on connection and engagement with other subunits of the larger Body, the social Body. Damasio called this social homeostasis and it is evolved from biological homeostasis.
Emergent traits, such as mind, are of the larger Body. A true thought is dependent on connection to others; it is not a thought until it is expressed, communicated. Each body can ‘feel’ the intentions of other bodies in proximity. Some of the mechanisms of this connection are yet to be discovered, in part because they have not been looked for. Mirror neurons were discovered entirely by accident.
Holding: An active process, requiring energy. Mostly we are interested in how the body holds a position as a response to injury or trauma. We must also look at how the body is interwoven with the environment and if it is held it also holds on to a place. With Posttraumatic Stress Injury the body is in two places; the flesh is in one place and the attentional body is elsewhere.
Releasing (Letting Go): After holding there needs to be releasing—but often there is not, or it is incomplete. I think of letting go as an anti-skill, the opposite of doing. The practice of releasing is often neglected. “Just let go,” people will say. “What a great idea, why didn’t I think of that?” is the typical response, said with sarcasm.
Holding an attitude is a physical holding, by the body. Thoughts, feelings, attitudes are all based in the body, the body doing something. The neglect of the role of the body’s role in these processes has been the rule for about 300 years. Even to write body/mind puts a slash between the two.
The best way to help another person to “let go” is to practice letting go for yourself.
Doing Nothing: Is this different from holding or are there two ways of holding? This seems to be different from holding, it is a deep stillness. Watch the crocodile do stillness. There is no sense of efforting involved. The body of the crocodile seems to store up stillness like a battery then when he moves through the water he moves through an envelope of stillness. Is the stillness of the crocodile the same as the stillness of the koala?
Beyond learning any technique just being with another person in stillness elicits healing.
Silence speaks, the contemplatives say. But really, I think, silence sorts. An ordering instinct sends people into the hush
where the voice can be heard. This is the sorting intelligence of poetry, marked by the unbroken certainty of rhythm, perfect
pitch, the placing of things in right order as in metrical form. Not rigid categories, but the recognition of a shape always
there but ordinarily obscured by—what? By noise, which is ourselves trying to do the sorting in an order that may be a heroic
effort but is bound to be a fantasy.
—PATRICIA HAMPL, Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life
Simply being with another person, unencumbered, open to the world is the healing technique beyond technique. This is the most difficult thing to teach and you are your only judge.
How Movement Happens and Why Less is More
I do what many dream of, all their lives,
—Dream? strive to do, and agonize to do,
And fail in doing. I could count twenty such
On twice your fingers, and not leave this town,
Who strive—you don’t know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,—
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter)—so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.
There burns a truer light of God in them,
In their vexed beating stuffed and stopped-up brain,
Heart, or whate’er else, than goes on to prompt
This low-pulsed forthright craftsman’s hand of mine.
Their works drop groundward, but themselves, I know,
Reach many a time a heaven that’s shut to me,
—Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto
Psychokinesis—the ability to move an object with the mind alone—is something that has always fascinated people. Yet it is something we do constantly without ever marveling about the fact that we do it. I pick up a cup of coffee in the morning and not only am I lifting the cup of coffee but my entire massive arm as well. We want to see the coffee mug float off the counter right up to our mouth without the added effort of moving the arm.
No one really quite knows how this trick is done yet the ability to move our bodies through space—and lift things as well—is almost definitive of being alive and thus feels completely mundane. What do we know about how we move, what are the steps involved in this remarkable ability? I will leave out all of the fascinating details of muscle contraction and take a broad view of the process of movement and some of the ramifications for those of us who engage in healing work as a profession.
Much of somatic therapy involves finding ways to get a body (person) to let go of dysfunctional ways of holding their body; to let go of tension patterns that cause pain and discomfort. This is much of the concern of Ortho-Bionomy. What does the body have to do in order to move? The first step is that it must know where it is; it has a sense of ubiety.
What is the hyperbody? The prefix hyper- is used here in a sense similar to its use in mathematics to refer to a shape in more than three dimensions. This takes into account body concepts such as body schema and body image. The term metabody could also be appropriate, in that it refers at least in part to how the body represents itself to itself.
To move in an intentional way the body must first know where in space it is. Each body has ubiety, a word that means it is located in a particular place. The body has a sort of GPS system that tells it where it is. A part of the brain called the hippocampus has been identified as the primary organ of location. The hippocampus is also very much involved with short-term memory. It makes sense that memory and location are closely associated. Look at an object within reach. Then close your eyes and reach out and touch or grasp that object. Usually, you will be right on target. Much can be said about memory and space but that will be discussed elsewhere.
After the body determines its location in relation to other objects it then makes computations, projections, and predictions. It could be that the very act of moving is where it notion of a future begins; before it can move the body first imaginatively projects itself to be elsewhere.
Next, it stabilizes. Most of this happens without awareness unless you are bracing yourself to move a heavy load or if there is some significant impairment to movement. As you are seated look at something within reach to your side. Think about picking it up and notice the subtle shift in pressure where your bottom is in contact with the chair seat. Most people will notice a slight pressure change. The kind of computation that goes on tells us that there are neural networks involved; networks do computation and learning.
The next step is closely related to the projecting but involves actual lighting up of the muscles that will be used. The body models the path will be taken. A technical term for this action is motor emulation. I have often referred to this as the ‘as if’ body. The neurologist Antonio Damasio also calls this the ‘as if’ body. Before the flesh moves the ‘as if’ body has to move first. Some people think of this as the spirit body or energy body of a person. Such notions have a physiological substrate. These are all different ways to create models to describe how a thing happens.
Exactly how a motivation to move becomes a movement of physical matter is not known. From a scientific physiological way of telling the story, there are still gaps in the knowledge. The details from here on, the actual contraction of the muscles, is known and described in very fine granularity at the cellular and molecular level. Muscles contract and shorten and through a moderately complex system of levers and counterbalances, movement occurs.
Some of the research that has been done at the interface of thought and action leads to some interesting philosophical puzzles. An electroencephalogram will show a spike in brain activity, an action potential, as the movement happens. This is believed to reflect the activity of the motor cortex. All of those activities of the body preparing to move also show up on the EEG and this smaller spike has been fittingly named the readiness potential. The question has been asked: Where does the thought occur along this continuum? The surprising answer is that it happens after the readiness potential. This finding fits very well with my contention that a thought is simply the body’s awareness of its own state or changes in that state.
For the purposes of this paper though, what interests me is the readiness part of the movement process, the ‘as if’ body and its characteristics. An English neurologist, Sir Henry Head, first coined the term body schema in 1911 to refer to a postural scheme of neural organization. The term body schema is used across several disciplines, including psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, sports medicine, and robotics. Body image is a term introduced in 1935 by Paul Schilder, an Austrian psychiatrist trained as a neurologist. The term body image often takes on more psychological shades of meaning, referring to how an individual consciously thinks about or perceives the body.
Neuroscientists Patrick Haggard and Daniel Wolpert have identified seven fundamental properties of the body schema. It is spatially coded, modular, adaptable, supramodal, coherent, interpersonal, and updated with movement.
It is not relevant to my purposes to expand on each of these properties. There are two of them I wish to focus on and add an 8th property that I have observed: it is adaptable, it is interpersonal, and (my own) the body schema (as-if body) leads change. The body schema is highly plastic, much more so than the fleshy part of the body. The body schema adapts to all sorts of changes and even maps our tools as part of the body, thus the notion that much of our stuff is an extension of the body. The body schema is also so plastic that it not only maps one's own body but can also map the bodies of others, thus its very adaptability, its plasticity, makes it interpersonal. Neuroscientists are only beginning to appreciate, with the discovery of mirror neurons, how individual bodies are linked to one another. A plethora of research from sociology provides substantial evidence of this linkage. Finally, I have already discussed how movement is preceded by changes in the body schema. Metaphorically one could say that the movement first happens energetically then the body follows. This understanding of how movement happens is akin to Dr. Pauls’s oft-repeated remark, “the event has already occurred, you are only performing the ritual.”
The body schema is not wired into conscious awareness or only very minimally so. In the area of body schema bodies are porous, and permeable; boundaries are unclear. My body schema feels no different to me than your body schema. I propose that the holding of a tension pattern within the body, resulting in a particular arrangement of the joints that are enwrapped by the tension can yield and change in response to change in the schema.
People often say that much of Ortho-Bionomy is subtle. It is subtle to the conscious brain perhaps but it is not at all subtle to the body, it is a loud and clear message. If we work from the flesh in, moving and rearranging the flesh, the body feels itself being manipulated. If we stay in the realm of the body schema it is not resisted because the body does not make a distinction between I and Thou. It is not a paradox at all then that less is more.
Hyperbody on Hold: Traua and the Fragmented body
I could sit and watch a crocodile for hours, the deep and mysterious stillness of the beast. My senses cannot detect the slightest movement, cannot distinguish a living croc from a skillfully cast model on the shore next to it. I think of the crocodile as a generator and a battery of stillness. It stores stillness then when it moves through the water it radiates the stillness into the water, moving through a bubble of stillness. Not a ripple can be seen, no disturbance of the water until….
Holding and stillness in the crocodile are used for stealth, an aggressive tactic. Human hunters do this as well, but not nearly as well as the crocodile. Other animals use stillness for different reasons. What interests me here is the holding of the body's attention, either on an injured part or on a distressing scene. A woman recently came to me in severe pain in her posterior after having freshly fallen on her bottom. She was helped into the house and to the table and all her concentration was inward. After the session, the pain was nearly completely relieved and as she sat on the edge of the table and then stood she looked around her and was amazed at the setting and the objects she saw. When she stepped outside the forest scene caused further amazement. She had seen none of this coming in. All her body attention was on the injured spot, about the size of a quarter on the edge of her sacrum.
Let your attention, your inner gaze, wander down and find one of your little toes. Can you go right to it or did it take some searching to feel it on the outer edge of your body awareness? If you have ever stubbed, sprained, or broken a toe where do you find it? Is it even possible to not hold it in your attention? It seems to occupy a space at the center of your being. This is what the trauma response feels like. It is a capture and holding hostage of the body’s attentional system.
When tissues are damaged any number of mechanisms come into play to stabilize and splint that part of the body. Certain muscles become shortened and hold that way to hold in a particular posture. The amygdala, a little area of the brain associated with fear, comes into play. The body experiences fear if it starts to move out of the position. Fear precedes pain. It says, “Don’t move any more or there will be pain.” Fear reinforces the holding pattern. The immune system focuses attention, the circulatory system does likewise. All sorts of systems take on a posture toward the injury, depending upon the severity. Bodily injury grabs the attentional system and holds on to it.
What we think of as traumatic stress injury works on the exact same principle of kidnapping the attention. There may or may not be obvious physical injury but traumatic stress is still an injury to the body. We might say it is an injury to the hyperbody. It can appear on the surface to be a fear of injury or a significant threat to one’s well-being. Survival in the situation requires a strong holding of attention. The greater the threat or the perceived threat the stronger the hold.
The injury heals, the danger passes and gradually the holding is followed by a letting go. Letting go is an interesting thing of itself. It is a non-action and often somehow harder to do because it is not a doing. Yet it happens in the great majority of people. But sometimes it does not happen; the attention, at least a part of it, is not released and the result is a fragmented body.
With an injury that is more clearly physical the fragmenting seems to be that the body’s proprioceptive system still feels that the limb, for instance, is still being held in the protective, splinted position. The eyes and other sensory evidence says the body is here yet at some level the body feels that it is there. This can create an inner tension in the body, the fragments competing and struggling. One part wants it to be here, the other part wants it to be there. In some cases this can also show up as a sort of clumsiness, tripping over one’s own feet, slightly missing objects being reached for.
With posttraumatic stress injury (I prefer the word injury to the word disorder for a number of reasons; the main one is that it suggests injury to the body rather than the mind and there is no mind) the same thing happens but on a larger scale. One significant site of injury to the body is an area of the brain called the hippocampus. This is the main component of the body’s GPS system. The proprioceptive system lets the body know where all its parts are in relation to each other, as seen from the inside. The hippocampus GPS spatial locator system tells the body where it is located in relation to the presumably outer objects.
The attentional system does the same thing. It locks to body to a place and time, a posture toward the world. I repeat, letting go happens in the large majority of cases, 80-90%. Typically, in 3 months time a person’s life is not being significantly impacted on by the traumatic event; it has become but a bad memory. There are many reasons why letting go does not happen in some cases. Usually it can learn to let go and there are many interventions that will facilitate the letting go.
It is a very curious experience to be with somebody who is in body with you and also in a very real sense some place perhaps thousands of miles away. Rather than sense that he or she is not there with me I feel like that other place is in this space time also. We are both in both places. When the letting go happens it feels like a distortion in the fabric of space has let go.
One more thing must be said about this process of holding. There really must be another layer of network, a somatic network, to pull the trick off. I say there must be a network because computation and learning are involved; computation of the level of threat and computation of resources. Multiple systems must be coordinated. The observed fact that traumatic stress injury is greater when there has been an element of human betrayal says that social perception and social resources are important (it is an injury to the social body, about which more in a subsequent story). There appears to be such a network, located conveniently just under the skin. This network is not described or reported on in any of the official version anatomy texts. In the area of Ortho-Bionomy we call it the Chapman’s Reflex Network. The Chapman’s points are likely just a subset of a larger array of points identified in Chinese Medicine.
With years of experience engaging with Chapman’s Reflex Points it is clear that this system plays an important role in setting and holding what I call contingent posture. When there is an injury to the body certain points associated with that local musculature are lit up. Release them and the posture changes. When a person has been subjected to severe stress a similar things is found.
Referred by another client who had recently had a significant experience with Ortho-Bionomy, a woman, I will call her Janet, came to see me for a session. Janet is in her seventies. She has had a very successful and prominent career as a theatrical designer. She is now retired from that pressured life and is enjoying great repute as an artist, a painter. As we followed together some of the rhythms in her body and how they flowed or didn’t in those places that were troubling her there issued from her a catalogue of medical encounters, of herself and loved ones not being seen, not being met. Though technically proficient and helpful the overall experiences she reported left her and her loved ones feeling dehumanized and devalued.
I was struck as I listened to Janet how many times I heard this same song sung, how many different voices have lamented so.
This particular meeting happened during a time I was engaged to work with a group of singers in a master class being led by Eva Bostrand. Ms. Bostrand is a much sought after and highly respected vocal teacher and choral conductor. In her regular studio she teaches all the techniques and mechanics of singing but for selected students she offers retreats where the singers explore their voice from an entirely different perspective. Perhaps the central theme of these weeklong retreats is connection. What is keeping you from connecting with yourself, with others and how is this embodied. It is not a psychoanalysis but simply, often, an opening to, a letting go.
Ortho-Bionomy nests beautifully in such an setting. Though we do learn techniques, pile on the skills in the training, at some point in the playing of the body all of this is let go and it is in the end about connecting. Working in this setting, helping to connect led me to thinking a lot about the relationship between doing and being, the difference between obtaining and holding on versus letting go, doing Nothing.
The Ortho-Bionomy Practitioner Training Program is a very busy program. I wonder if the very busyness of it keeps us from looking at what it is we are really wanting from it or will all this technique turn like a Mobius strip. Our bumper sticker reads, “Ortho-Bionomists do Nothing Better.” We give one another a little wink, one of our in-jokes. Where is the voice of Dr. Pauls in all of this busyness? “More play than work; sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t.” It’s not about getting it right? It’s no big deal if we do or don’t? “Nothing to find, nothing to learn, nothing to understand.” (Quotes from The History and Philosophy of Ortho-Bionomy) Do we truly belief this or is this just Arthur Pauls playing the mystic?
The push in the training program seems to be toward turning out people who are therapists and to become more and more like those practices that Ortho-Bionomy is a response to: busy fixing with less and less listening. In a documentary film of her show, The Artist is Present, Marina Abramovich can be heard saying, “People don’t understand that the hardest thing is to actually do something which is close to nothing. It is demanding all of you because there is no story any more to tell, there’s no objects to hide behind. There is nothing. There is just your pure presence; you have to rely on your own energy and nothing else.”
In his book Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz, of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, presents the difficult concept of work avoidance. It is difficult because the avoidance is obscured by what looks like a lot of hard work, a lot of being very busy. If you were to look closely at all of this work though you would see that all that is being done is of the least importance. The most important thing we have to learn is that we don’t have to do anything to be at base a healer. We are learning a lot of therapy but we are not leaning that the base of healing is simply our presence. The work is to discover that I am adequate without the trappings of the doing. And this is the hardest work; it is more of a letting go than a taking on and holding on.
Back in the 1970s Lewis Thomas wrote an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine titled How to Fix the Premedical Curriculum. This essay was republished in the collection Medusa and the Snail (the essay can also be found on line as well as a recent discussion of the article, How to Fix the Pre Medical Curriculum: Revisited). Lewis argues that the problem with premedical education is that is has been stripped of the humanities. It had become all about science and nothing about how people actually relate to one another, how we live our lives, how we find or create meaning, what makes life worth living. Life, from this point of view is all about quantity. Medicine becomes like the story from Annie Hall: two women in a restaurant, one complains about how bad the food is and the other agrees and adds that the portions are too small as well. This joke makes no sense in the medical setting.
An old friend who was in town to attend a conference on medical education recently came by to visit. My friend holds the title of Academic Coordinator in the Office of Medical Education at a prestigious medical school. Not having permission to quote him I will not name him nor the school. He commented though about how much has been learned about methods of education while lamenting that nothing has changed in medical education in the last 50 years. From my own experience in working in a large medical center and teaching hospital I would have to disagree: much has gotten worse.
Perhaps, in the teaching of Ortho-Bionomy, we do not want to be emulating a system that is undergoing an autoartectomy. By ‘artectomy’ I mean a systematic stripping away, a surgical removal of art from life. In medicine this is the removal of any human element from the system.
After teaching a class recently in Bellingham WA an image came to me. We spent the first day on principles, on redefining the body and our embodied relations to one another and to the world. The second day was spent teaching techniques. The image that came to me was that we spent the first day weaving the basket and the second day using the basket to contain (and give meaning) to the techniques.
The basket for healing is our humanity and I believe our humanity, our compassion for one another, our ability to understand, is informed by art more than by science. To be able to simply and authentically be with one another, to be held in the same basket, does more than all the techniques.
Besides learning doing, adding on, accreting, we must also learn letting go, doing Nothing. The practice of medicine has become like breathing with only the inhale part: eventually it becomes over bloated and bursts.