The following is an excerpt from Andy Pike’s manual for his post-graduate biodynamic training entitled “Use of Intention and Non-Doing.” The original version is heavily annotated. Footnotes have been removed for ease of readability in a blog format.
Ramifications of Intent
Take a moment to observe yourself.
Are you moving, conceptualising, memorising, remembering, fidgeting, facilitating, procrastinating, manipulating, behaving, not behaving, ruminating, acting…?
If so you are ‘doing’. Most of us don’t even realise that this is a habituated intention.This is because we identify ourselves with the feeling, outcome and content of these habits. Actually, numerous studies demonstrate that we would prefer to be with these habitual intentions rather than face doing nothing. This includes habits which cause pain!
All intention is a movement away from the current experiencing moment and will therefore obfuscate our present felt-sense. Whereas, if you are aware of merely sensing, feeling, perceiving, experiencing and being, then you are embodied in a field of non-doing (free from intention.)
Short Experiential Awareness Exercise:
• Bearing this in mind, ask the following question:
• Is it possible to invite a field of nondoing?
• Now try it by observing the changing nature of your bodily sensations…any sensations, gross or subtle.
At first this short awareness exercise can seem quite a challenge, because even the act of trying is doing. However, by persevering with awareness, gently attentive of the changing nature of our arising sensations, the quality of perception alters … from being influenced by past impressions and future projections, to being fed by presence, free from intent.
Presence of this nature doesn’t just involve awareness of sensory input and the arising of its corresponding sensation. It includes insight of the sensation passing away. The insight of sensation passing away is radical because it automatically results in the arising of a fresh and less conditioned sensation, freed somewhat from the conditioning of tendencies, impressions, memory and experience (T.I.M.E.).
In other words the felt-sense awareness of a sensation passing away does not mean that the sensation ceases per se. It means conditioned sensations dissipate to allow space for a subtler sensations and insight to arise.
The felt-sense of these subtle sensations arising are, therefore, dependent upon the felt-sense of sensation passing away. When we are aware of this the content of thought (T.I.M.E) becomes less influential and distracting. Such awareness casts a very different perspective on what we generally call sensations, as their arising and passing are not separated by tendencies, impressions, memories or experience. We call the feltsense of this “potency.” In other words, being aware of the passing phase of any sensation creates the opportunity for the body-mind to refresh and express health and for non-duality to gradually show itself.
It is, therefore, very worthwhile for a BCST practitioner to effortlessly enquire into the passing nature of sensations. Insight from such enquiry will help us to realise that non-doing is not the opposite of doing, just as non-duality is not opposite to duality. Actually, we might discover that the very ‘act’ (non-doing awareness of sensations passing) is an act free of intention, which a clients system really appreciates.
Intention prevents stillness:
We gain clarity to the importance of orienting to our clients in this way, compared to other ways, by investigating the multifarious fields of body and psychotherapy. Within these fields of therapy there is no paucity of literature conveying the need for us to help clients find stillness within themselves in order to feel healthy. Moreover, a deluge of books and courses declare the importance of the need for a practitioner to engender stillness in themselves so as to promote stillness in another. From there they go on to advocate various methods, techniques, intentions and meditations, which, when looked into, are actually all forms of ‘doing’.
Please forgive this repetition but it is good to emphasize that the premise of this seminar proposes that it is this very doing which prevents the awareness of stillness, in the true biodynamic sense of that word. When we explore the nature of stillness with awareness, free from doing, it will become apparent that it has a dynamic quality to it and this quality is arising and passing free from T.I.M.E, i.e. it is potency itself!
Awareness free from intention, therefore, enables insight into the changing non-dual quality of subtle sensations. Put into biodynamic terms; familiarity with non-doing helps us become sensitively aware of potency and the expression of health.
This awareness can be felt as both calm and intense at the same time. When perceived free from interpretation it is insight, but, when it is interpreted by thought it becomes a conceptual paradox and vulnerable to the seeming contradictory distortions of duality i.e. T.I.M.E.
To fully understand the felt-sense of calm intensity it is better to first explain what it is not. So, we will begin by exploring different types of intention before attempting to deepen our perceptual and conceptual understanding of non-doing.
Intention is the conditioned basis upon which an individual is motivationally responsive and/or reactive to sensory input, including the content of thought. Conditioning of this nature will be regarded either as intention, intent, or ’doing’ for the duration of this seminar. It is, nevertheless, useful to acknowledge that intention is needed as a means of being present and attentive to the general courtesies of interaction and to consciously navigate our body, for example, moving our hand placement to a region of initial therapeutic relevance.
Furthermore, it would be hard to argue against the benefits obtained by upholding the intention to remain awake and to not overtly react to a client’s emotional expressions (especially those which we might deem shocking). Conscious intention is, therefore, useful when incorporated initially as a balanced platform of attention to make relevant initial contact and to provide conducive help to encourage the client to feel safe.
Q: Does conscious intention hold value beyond this?
Many contemporary self help authors promote the use of positive intention to act as an ignition to help create a proactive outcome in alignment with individual goals. In other words the intention is focused and acted upon, based upon a desired outcome. A trajectory of intention is, therefore, promoting the need to achieve a specific result. Reliance upon intention in this way, i.e. projecting a desired result and following a set path to achieve it, rather than being open to perceiving and trusting the body’s inherent expressions, regardless of whether they seem ‘good’ or ‘bad’, collapses the potential possibilities of health expressing itself. Considering this, it can be deduced that clinicians who hold intention in their mind and/or body will not only restrict the expression of health, they will also, ineluctably, prevent insight.
Q: Does this mean we should suppress intention apart from the initial intention of setting up, meeting and helping to orient the client?
Unfortunately by suppressing intention the nature of it will continue, in another form, under the radar of consciousness and the tension of intention will remain part of the therapeutic interaction, thus limiting the expression of health. It is, therefore, important to be aware of our explicit and implicit intentions rather than suppressing them.
Experience and Impressions are psychological antecedents to the tendency of subconsciously reacting with like or dislike. These reactive evaluations results in a subsequent ‘charge of desire’ set forth to change or sustain the impression of the perceived object, person, relationship, activity etc, thus fueling intention.
Types of intent:
There are a gamut of different types of intention which could be described. Moreover, the complexity of the human mind would ensure we continue to discover more. Nevertheless, in the context of touch based therapy, intent can be broken down into seven main types: Held, Beguiling, Directing, Grey-zone, Facilitating, Ground-intent and Access-attention:
An example of held intent is when tension is held in the hands after being used repeatedly in actions such as lifting, manipulating or facilitating objects (e.g. using spanners to undo bolts etc). If we clench our fist an effort is required, but after some time of holding our hand in that state the clenched fist will seem to be the natural condition of our hand and we will no longer be aware of the effort required to maintain it. If we were to now open our hand it would initially seem that we needed to make an effort to do so. Such tension, therefore, results from subconscious intention and becomes stored as a body based habit following the sustained input of wilful intention.
An example of beguiling intent is when one’s mind scans either the body of oneself, the client, or both, in order to discover and isolate rhythms. Over time this intent becomes a habit and sets up a trajectory of ‘blind intent’ and a consequential form of imagination. With this kind of intent the impression of a rhythm or flow can emerge. Yet, this movement is nothing other than the formulated reflection of the movement of the therapists own mind. In other words it is the habituated translation of subtle sensations via the minds tendency to project an adopted rhythm. Yet, the impression of natural un-facilitated movement may seem very real….as real as the clothes on the metaphoric naked emperor!
This presents a problem for the therapist, in as far as the intention has not only developed beyond the purpose of a biodynamic platform, it is born from the charge of desire formed by one’s own reactive tendencies. Such desire will, by nature, extinguish open curiosity and therefore prevent the insight of change and so cannot be used as a platform for enquiry. That being said, if the sense of a tide arises, free from such intent, then this calm/deepening movement of the mind enhances the potential for insightful stillness to reveal itself, which is useful for encouraging the expression of health (an understatement if ever there was one!).
Mechanical interventions are incorporated into bodywork therapies due to our understanding of machinery (working parts of something) with which we provide a force to effect the position of the parts. However, a presumption is made when we translate the mechanistic impressions and understanding into the world of body therapy. This is because the understanding formed by mechanical impressions tells us we are merely machines and are nothing but inert matter subject to the mechanical effects conducted by applied force.
Thought, especially western thought, has continued to reinforce the mechanical mind set and as a result our rationale for how body based therapies work are mostly dependent on it. Consequentially, the therapist is conditioned to implement directional force to alter that which is perceived as needing to change. This perspective then seeps into our motivation (motor based intention) to direct a clients body. Unfortunately, this will engender a ‘doing’ tension in the therapist’s system and despite this therapy asking a therapist to not ‘do’ anything the directing habit is hard to come out of. To illustrate, a massage therapist who intentionally contracts and relaxes the muscles in their hands, in order to mould and shape various tissues of the clients body, repeats similar movements many times. In so doing the willful intention will likely become instinctively reactive and/ or automated, to preserve the energy expenditure of the therapist having to consciously think about each individual movement.
From an evolutionary perspective this kind of intention would likely have an adaptational advantage, in certain environments, due to the repetitious intention becoming less conscious thus requiring less cerebral energy to maintain the intention. For example a monkey subconsciously gripping their hand or foot, in order to hang from a tree branch for extended periods of time, would free up more conscious attention to notice environmental opportunities such as potential food or danger. However, just because much of a therapists intention is subconscious does not mean that intention has any less impact on the tissues of the client. Such subconscious intention fragments perception due to its nature of maintaining motor output and overriding sensory input. This results in decreased skin and subcutaneous awareness. Furthermore, intention of this kind has a desensitizing effect on the wholistic felt-sense of the therapist and promotes habituated reactivity to stimulus, rather than relational sensitivity. It is pertinent, therefore, that we become conscious of our own subconscious intentions prior to and during a treatment session (along with equanimity and insight.)
In BCST training sessions we are reminded again and again that the body knows what to do when the appropriate relational contact is made. Nevertheless, intention held in the therapists body, due to the repeated use of directed intervention, is often so deeply ingrained that it can take a great many practice sessions and/or self awareness exercises before the habit of mechanical intention dissipates fully. Still, with perseverance and patience it does happen.
It becomes more problematic when a therapist translates mechanical concepts into ‘energetic’ intent (‘grey-zone’ intent). Directing and/or channeling energy is a very difficult intention to let go of. This is because such intent is both subtle and beguilingly attractive, especially for people who already realize the limitations of mechanical intent but unknowingly wish to remain in control.
This grey area intention can, therefore, have a bit of a witch or wizard ‘healing’ the client feel to it. Not only is this a really tricky intentional base to let go of it can also be hard to ascertain the reason why one should let go of it at all! This is because the lead up to this kind of intention involves the presence of a certain amount of potency based awareness, which is useful for encouraging the expression of health. But equanimity, understanding, and insight, are not present, which means true relational touch is not present and an optimal expression of health is, thereby, not possible.
Awareness and equanimity of potency are like two wings enabling the bird to fly (metaphor for insight.) If one wing is operational but the other isn’t then the bird will never ascend to the air. The moment one perceives arising and passing as the essential reality of potency then T.I.M.E and intention cease to exist. If this is not realized then the translation of potency will remain a perspective of duality (observer separate from the observed.) This is obviously a hinderance to the feltsense understanding of non-duality and will consequently inhibit the ‘knowing’ of dynamic stillness.
Without a felt-sense understanding of non duality any equanimity will be transient and, therefore, stop short of providing beneficial insight pertaining to change and the expression of health. It is very common for therapists who have developed a subtle(ish) awareness of potency to become involved with it. This is ill-fated as such involvement is based on perpetuated intention and will inevitably prevent the expression of health from presenting itself fully. This is a grey area as it is obvious that there is only one ‘wing’ in operation.
Fortunately therapists trained in the field of BCST often come to realize this and release the intent held around projecting and being mesmerised by subtler expressions, such as pseudo-tides and pseudo-midlines This approach of realizing the habit of inherent intention and releasing it powerfully effects our awareness and equanimity and deeply acknowledges the inherent intelligence within the body.
Q1: Can we, as BCST practitioners, really be non-intentional when we are aware of this subtlety (fluids, potency, tides, midlines)?
Q2: Or, do we overlay concepts onto the expressions and delude ourselves into believing we are non-doing?
The tides are a potential grey zone for BCST practitioners as they can be an alluring sign indicating a client’s system is reorganising and our own awareness is deepening in the process. However, it is portentous not to be transfixed by this expression of health, which requires a fair amount of equanimity. This is because if a tide is not felt for what it is then the mind of the therapist will become enchanted by the tides current, and, whilst being pleasant and helpful for relaxing into a relational space (so potency can gather) it can also be the source of preventing deeper equanimity. If equanimity does not keep up with awareness then non-dual insight will not present itself. This is a problem well known by many established meditation traditions.
Let’s recap here; awareness of sensations passing, equanimity, ‘equi-present’ perceptual fields, and non-dual insight are all needed to be truly nondoing. If they are not all present we are most likely treating with an aspect of intention and are therefore … doing!
The following Cha’an allegory might help elucidate the situation we face in this grey zone:
Two monks were arguing about a flag.
One said: “The flag is moving.”
The other said: “The wind is moving.”
The abbot happened to be passing by and overheard them.
He told them:
“Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving”.
Commentaries on this story note that the mind is in and of itself a movement based on intention, whereas ‘no-mind’ is the paradox of both movement and stillness free of intention and, therefore, operating from non-doing.
The most difficult expressions for us to develop equanimity towards are the subtle pleasant ones. Not reacting to the gross unpleasant sensations, such as pressure, tightness, tension, pain, heaviness etc. is a piece of cake compared to not reacting to pleasant sensations. Check it out.
We are socially conditioned to want more of what is perceived as pleasant. This includes the expressions which appear as fluid and/or potent tides. The mind wants to get involved. If it were not to get involved then the essence of the ‘tides’ would provide insight of sensation passing more than arising. This is not dynamic stillness, it is the gateway to perceive dynamic stillness (the ground), i.e. that which is non-dual, and is an interface between dynamic stillness and the primary midline. Bearing this in mind it might be dawning on us that, despite treating in the way we have been taught, we might not be enabling the full depth and potential of what biodynamic craniosacral therapy has to offer. And the reason for this is our surreptitious intentions.
Another issue presents itself within this metaphoric grey zone and that is the issue of ‘preference’. If the therapist surreptitiously starts preferring a particular state over what the clients system is wishing to express, then the therapist’s subtle inclination to like and dislike will further prevent equanimity and, therefore, limit the insight of non-duality.
This is because when a thought based upon an object is liked or disliked the feeling and memory become one and stored in the body as a potential sensation and in the mind as an impression. It now resides as a roundabout, or, an un-merry-goround of reactive tendencies and goes towards forming and sustaining what we, as practitioners, call a pattern of experience. When one is aware of this pattern, and settles into it, it can be perceived as sensation which we either desire more or less of. However, if there is enough awareness of the tendency, and if the reactive pattern is given space to reintegrate into the natural expressions as a whole, it will enable the perception of the sensations to neither be liked or disliked. Many cultures and traditions provide words for such subtle neutral sensations. Yet, the very naming of this expression will separate it from the experiencer and therefore promote a dualistic perception (followed by the associated reactive tendencies). Nevertheless, we call ‘it’ potency.
The use of gentle guidance by a therapist’s hands has been a key principal incorporated in craniosacral therapy practice since Dr William Sutherland first introduced cranial osteopathy. The therapist listens to the body with openness and interest whilst incorporating manual facilitation to the bones, joints and adjoining structures thus encouraging rhythmic movements to structures which have become limited or stuck. This was a unique contribution to the world of body therapy as it was perhaps the first time, at least in the west, that listening to the body was prioritised over doing something in order to change the body. Still, the intent to change something follows soon after the listening, often by exaggerating the vector of ease and/or ‘inducing’ a still point in the clients body.
This approach became more popular and well known when Dr John Upledger verified its efficacy and added to the technical component of various hand holds and directions for applying intent. The technical precision and intention to facilitate a mechanical movement are distinctive features which are relinquished in biodynamic practice, as it becomes clear that reintegration of experiential patterns are due to the body’s inherent intelligence, not from intervention. Many therapists, utilising facilitatory intention, argue that some clients need to feel that something is being ‘done’ in order to relax and feel confident in the presence of the practitioner. However, a counter argument offered, usually by bcst practitioners, is that the only reason for a client needing an intervention based excuse in order to feel something is because of the client feeling a lack of connection and safety.
Beneficial Intention & Attention
Until now we have explored intent formed by the desire born in our mind. Now we’ll mention intention born from nature beyond the mind, which can sound pseudo-poetic or unscientific. This is because the way we generally perceive intention is to identify its source as either from me, her, him, them etc. However, nature’s intention cannot be isolated in this manner. Actually, the only way to identify its source is to surrender to the fact that we cannot isolate it and appreciate it as the ground of dynamic stillness which manifests as form. So, the ‘ground’ has an intention to manifest itself. We refer to this process of manifestation as the breath of life and it is from the ground of potential that health and body intelligence express themselves. If we conceptualise stillness as being separate to form it appears as if stillness is opposite to motion. Whereas insight reveals that stillness is in fact also dynamic, but not in the way that thought perceives stillness and motion.
So, the intention of the ground of potential is not the intention bought about by thought. Realizing this is one aspect enabling non-doing insight. Non-doing sounds easy for us to incorporate into a treatment session and it is not uncommon for many practitioners to think we just need to be still and quieten our minds and voila we are not doing anything. Yet, the reality of what is meant by non-doing requires a calm and dedicated enquiry into the felt-sense of intention (doing) before there can be a real appreciation of what nondoing really implies. Following this it may be realised that an engaged felt-sense enquiry into doing… is non-doing! In other words engaged nondoing (END) leads to the end of intention. Awareness of, and equanimity to, the sensations primed by intention eventually unveils a wholistic calm intensity which acts not only as a gateway to realising the ground but also into perceiving the changing nature of nature, i.e potency.
Attention is awareness reduced to form a distance between the subject and the object. As such, the subject-object relationship is the means by which all conventional knowledge and experience are known. Everything apart from awareness itself that is.
Willful access attention, in the context of craniosacral therapy, is conscious orientation to an area bought about by the initial desire to achieve the specific result of relinquishing the binding nature of intention, thereby providing enough space, safety and stillness for the body to feel able to express itself. In this way the desire forming attention is focused awareness (attender), on a specific area of the body, to help sensations (SASA) show themselves. This helps awareness to sense the passing of T.I.M.E, providing an opportunity to reveal and relinquish intention, including the initial desire incorporated by the applied attention.
In biodynamic practice we are aware that conscious mechanically directed intention, as an intervention, is too gross for the sensitivity of perceiving fluids and potency, so we discard this approach. This does not mean (as explained above) that we have relinquished intention entirely, at least not as an initial part of the treatment when it can act as a platform to help the clients appreciation for non-doing and enhance our own awareness.
For example, the intention used to set-up the environment to optimize the provision of safe touch is a hugely helpful initial intention which is not needed by the time a safe relational field is established. This is because attention replaces initial intention. For example listening to a client speak starts as a motor act by contracting certain intrinsic ear muscles. The act of listening, therefore, begins as a motor intention. As an interesting dialogue continues the attention becomes effortless and non-doing replaces the motor intention. So, the initial intention and attention promote orientation and insight, which then relinquishes the need for intention. An example of access attention, which can be very useful, is that of attuning our felt-sense to the philtrum of our upper lip and letting the natural non-doing touch of the breath unveil the sensations of our skin in that region. This can encourage the whole body to show itself, providing the relational field necessary for the clients system to show itself.
These access areas act as a platform for attentively letting go of the initial intention and glean feltsense insight from the natural expressions unfolding. Intentions beyond this are inevitably fuelled, and reacted upon, by a synthesis of knowledge, tendencies, impressions and memories which one has accumulated from past input and experience. In other words the make-up of what is deemed to be ‘me’, deciding what should or should not change, is an amalgamation of knowledge and a maze of reactive habits, the two being inseparable from one another. So, ‘my’ intention will always involve some form of projection based upon a desire fed by something other than the relational felt-sense of the present situation.
Willful biodynamic intention, therefore, is different from reactively fueled intention in that it can be used to gain access and orient to the body’s intelligence by acknowledging and adapting to the individual’s needs and potential for opening to change. This is done whilst remaining aware and not needing to achieve a particular result. Any form of willful intention, however, will overshadow the intelligence of the body if not relinquished soon after biodynamic expressions are felt. So, perceiving and acknowledging the ephemerality of intention is important.
Special thanks to Andy Pike for allowing me to publish this preview of his upcoming publication. – Ryan Hallford