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franciscan - January 1996

© The Society of Saint Francis, 1995

Freeing the body

by Sean Cathie

Iíve been putting off writing this piece for weeks; somehow the usual approaches donít feel right. It seems that I might be experiencing the discomfort that Andrew Samuels, the Jungian analyst, was referring to when he said that today men, who have previously studied everything else in the world, are now uncomfortably finding that they themselves are the object of study by others, and especially women.

They, or rather I should say we, have not had time to get used to this novel position. Perhaps this helps explain my discomfort and idleness. Iím not too keen to open myself up to such scrutiny.

As I walk over Hampstead Heath, the blue sky in the autumn afternoon sunshine, jet planes are leaving illegible signatures in the sky. Walking along, I find myself thinking about various things, including some ideas of what I might write. And Iím reminded (why do I always forget this?) that, along with the process of walking goes a freeing within me. Iíve found this before, that through the walking, problems that have felt quite intractable suddenly meet a solution, without any effort, except that of walking.

In this direct and simple way, Iím reminded of how interconnected mind and body are, and how freeing the body, finding a way of using it with ease or comfortably, effectively frees me up in other ways too. So, as I walk along in the autumn sunshine, a range of possibilities begin to present themselves. Perhaps I can now sit down and write something. My earliest conscious memory comes to mind. Iím lying in a pram outside, as the sun shines and high overhead comes the lazy hum of an aeroplane . . . Iím lying on my back, feeling happy. Thereís a good feeling in my tummy and the sunshine and lying here is deeply satisfying. Other memories linked with bodily feelings come. I remember running and running and running, down the hill to home, through the bracken being chased by the others, down the beach to the sea. Often the running is not for anything except for the sheer exhilaration and joy of it. On and on we ran, as hard as we could, until we could do it no more and collapsed exhausted and happy on the ground, enjoying the feeling of this too, as greedily as we had earlier enjoyed the running.

Then other memories come, less happy and less vivid, not clear at all, except somehow held in my body, in particular movements: playing some ball-games on a workshop, I realise that I stop breathing when Iím under Ďattackí. I can feel the involuntary gasp of fear as my stomach is somehow sucked in and is rigidly held, with a practised ease. This is familiar. Soberly, I realise how often I respond like this. I think of animals paralysed with fear and so unable to move, and feel that I know what that is like. Iím shocked at this connection.

I realise that this is uncomfortably like the stance I often adopted in childhood. It became a pattern of non-reaction, of being quiet and undemanding. The grown-ups called it Ďbeing goodí and seemed to approve of it. It was what they wanted children to be like, especially on special occasions, visiting elderly relatives. So, insidiously but surely the ideas was planted in my young mind that being good and therefore being approved of and accepted by the grown-ups, who mattered so much, was closely bound up with not doing things, and certainly not with doing those things that just suggested themselves, happily and spontaneously.

Such ideas of being good lead inevitably towards a sense that what is spontaneous and natural is forbidden. Being good becomes not-doing-things - which easily becomes not-living. What is needed, instead, is a way of relating, to our bodies, our children, to the earth and so on, that understands that there is a principle of order already at work. What we need are ways of co-operating with that - then the old repressive ways, based on fear and domination, will no longer be necessary. f

Sean Cathie is a priest attached to St Jamesí Piccadilly and a training therapist for the Westminster Pastoral Foundation, working in private practice.


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