One of the things I was taught in both massage school and my Structural Integration training was that when emotions come up for people during bodywork, the best thing that you can do for them is just to be with them, without judgment. This sounds so simple, but for the longest time I just had no idea what they were talking about. I wanted to make things better for people, not just “be” with them while they felt bad. I could see, when watching my teachers (Neal Powers, Peter Melchior) in S.I. training, that there was something going on beyond where they put their hands and how hard they pushed, and I got that it was their Presence that really helped move things for their models, but how to cultivate that presence? It seemed so elusive, and I was so distracted and restless.
Turns out, I needed to have a lot more of that kind of presence offered to ME first; I needed to experience the grace of someone just holding the energy of the room so that I could touch the edges of my own sensations without feeling like I was going to blow up the world with what I felt. Once I got comfortable with some of my own discomfort, this sense of Presence started to feel a lot more available to me.
In Brazil, Lael Keen really pushed that sense of Presence to the forefront of the Rolf Movement training– greatly assisted, I think, by her training in and experience with Somatic Experiencing. Perhaps it was just that I was ready, after all of my own personal work, to see how she did it, but I watched with fascination as she showed us how to use our own nervous systems to settle the clients’, how to drop in at a level where people can feel you there at a comfortable distance, one that allows for a sense of being gently held without any expectation or need. It was revelatory.
My Somatic Experiencing training adds depth to this notion of Presence by acknowledging subconscious nervous system activation. In S.E. we parse out the sensations of the body from their associated emotions, and beliefs so that one has the opportunity to experience them all as discrete strings instead of giant knots of overwhelm. The role of the practitioner in this process is, more than anything else, to be Present with the client and to hold the space for them so that they don’t feel overwhelmed again– it is incredibly helpful to feel the edges of a container when you are testing your own sense of what IS, and to have that container be a compassionate, resonant human is a real gift.
I have a long way to go to master this fine art, but I am grateful to have been shown at last where I can start, and grateful for the odd opportunities (such as appendicitis) to experience my own need for another person’s Presence.