from The Bulletin of the Charlotte Selver Foundation - Fall 1976
Sensory Awareness: An Approach to Healing
Leon Siegel, M.D.
My eleven years as a traditional general practitioner (which came to an end four years ago) were marked by a nagging sense of futility. There was caring in it, and deeply human meetings - but also an endless weight of pain I could only numb, suffering I could only, deep down, turn away from. What was it that was wrong, among the pills, the authoritative instructions, the weary laughter in operating rooms, the long corridor of beds with persons given over to sedation and multiple tubes? It wasn’t clear. I knew only that I wanted out.
It’s more than clear to me today - after seeing the growing evidence that changes in consciousness can be a healing force, after the scientific acceptance of acupuncture, and increasingly, of psychic healing; seeing the growing list of “psychosomatic diseases” to the point where a list may no longer be needed, as nothing is excluded; seeing the development of psychotherapies based on awareness, and of R.D. Laing’s dealing with “madness” as a natural process; seeing the thriving of nutrition, herbalism, massage, polarity therapy, Indian medicine-man rituals, all the varieties of natural healing we once smugly dismissed as “quackery”. After (to speak personally) my years of studying sensory awareness with Charlotte Selver and Charles Brooks and my experience in leading this work in groups and with individuals.
What’s becoming clear is that we were all, doctors and patients, plugged into a set of concepts which, when we clutched it to the end, limited and hurt us. “The body” as a machine, to be acted on by drugs or knives. “Body” and “mind” as separate. “Sickness” as malfunctioning in the machines, to be eliminated. “Doctors” and “patients” in an unequal, manipulative relationship.
What I care about today is not “medicine” (external remedies) or “therapy” (one person treating another) but healing. The word that is related to “whole”; the well-being of the whole person in his/her field of relationships. From the point of view of healing, it’s of no use to make ultimate distinctions between psychic and physical disease, or between the various “disease entities” within these categories. There are seen not to be “entities” at all, not solid realities dumped on us by whatever agent serves as the “cause” in our current theories. They are seen merely as different styles of fragmentation, different modes of chosen suffering. The emphasis is not on diseases, but on health, on wholeness.
And the basic assumption is that health is our nature - if we allow it. For healing to have its way there is nothing to achieve, no ego-building to be done, no body-building through drugs or surgery. The healing process does not operate with the intention of improving anything, but simply by accepting what is - and then change can happen. No matter what desperation or longing brings us to the place of seeking healing - at the moment, the recurring moments, of merging in the healing flow there’s only the celebration of life as it is. Only the process of becoming more aware, as whole persons, in the continuing present - of allowing the largeness of what’s real to relieve us from the suffering of constriction and escape.
The healing encounter is not a “healer-patient” relationship but an encounter between persons, opening to themselves, to the other, to the reality of what is happening.
Drugs, surgery, and ego-building have their place as expedient measures. At this stage in the world’s development and my own, I would generally favor the use of penicillin in the doctor-patient-societal crisis known as “lobar pneumonia” or surgery in “appendicitis” or ego-supportive therapy in “severe depression”. But these are desperate situations. In speaking of healing we’re largely in the realm of “preventive medicine” - or, to put it positively, of right living. Staying always with, not hindering, the flow that is life, that is health - that doesn’t exclude sickness and old age and death, but takes away their demonic power.
Sensory awareness is possibly the quietest of the ways of healing. It’s like water, or air, which gently penetrates everywhere, doing its work slowly, lastingly. It is work that demands, not effort exactly, but constancy. A meditation, a discipline of attention to what’s real, moment by moment - breath, movement, light, sound - to the reality of experience beneath these names, beneath all words. A way of release from fixed concepts - not to “stop the mind,” but to free us from the absolute power of imposed and compulsively reiterated thought, so that thinking can become creative and healing. A way of relating - to the tissues within us, the ground under us, the world of persons and things and events. A way of discovery, through experiencing the constrictions and flaccidities in our tissue, of what we have buried there of pain or fear or grief - the beginnings of sickness - allowing the delicate natural changes that can finally transform us. A rediscovery of the natural child in us who lives in a boundless ever changing world of clear-seeing, energy and peace.