It's a typical Bioenergetic healing session. My client in his late 20s (we'll call him Dave here) shares how a female colleague, Sarah, is constantly begging and bothering him to complete her tasks for her. I ask Dave to sink into his feelings each time this situation arises and share what actions he would like to take based on his own emotions. A sense of anger and resentment immediately charge the space between us and, strangely, I end up whispering to myself, "Please say you want to hit her, say you want to hit her." As awful as it might sound (especially given its violent nature), from several years of therapeutic spiritual practice, I have come to recognize this powerful psychological shadow material is exactly what needs to be acknowledged and expressed for real healing to occur, and to avoid future unconscious aggression.
Knowing Dave, I'm fairly sure that, like most of my clients, he is too polite and "kind" to express such unsavory thoughts, but then Dave's eyes widen brightly, his shoulders relax, and his chest opens proudly as if suddenly relieved and empowered by an unseen force. "Oh, my God," he smiles, shaking his head in disbelief, "I totally want to punch her!"
Now that Dave has courageously uncovered (and connected with) the 800-pound emotional gorilla in the office cubicle, we can help guide the gorilla out of the corner so that he can move and transform. Examining the scene closer, Dave suddenly realizes that he can never look Sarah in the eyes when she annoys him.
We have now successfully tracked down gorilla No. 2: the shame Dave experiences from holding anger toward Sarah. As I had initially suspected, potent emotional force impregnates this seemingly small office interaction. Dave is suffering from what we in Bioenergetics call a "double bind." While Dave is incapable of exhibiting his anger toward Sarah because he, and society at large, view that emotion as shameful or unworthy (and also potentially dangerous), he also can't free himself from those guilty feelings without first expressing them.
Rather than either/or solutions, the healing response usually offers unexpected both/and possibilities, where a "miraculous" third way emerges, one that egoic thinking and societal conditioning normally miss. In this alternative scenario, Dave grants himself permission to experience 100 percent of his anger, free of guilt, while still holding love for himself and, ultimately, for Sarah. This third path heals and unifies rather than divides and punishes.
Through some brief exercises, I share with Dave how to allow the charged energy to circulate safely up and down his spine, flowing forcefully and naturally, without him ever projecting it back on Sarah or internalizing it into his own body as guilt. By letting his anger move, instead of pushing it down, Dave is able to temporarily feel the power of his anger while simultaneously holding a space of love for both of them. Given this freedom, he soon lands at a place of personal empowerment where he can even thank Sarah for teaching him an important lesson about his own wounding and its emotional healing.
The main purpose of this kind of Bioenergetic process work (my spiritual and healing practice) is to unblock stuck or crossed energies in the human energy field, much like the holistic practices of yoga, acupuncture, thai chi or qi gong. At its finest, Bioenergetics is staggeringly improper, unwaveringly un-PC, wonderfully iconoclastic and warriorfully liberating. It asks clients to leap into emotional terrain they falsely believe to be off-limits, to move beyond their fear threshold ("the death layer" as Bioenergetic pracitioners call it), to connect with, and own, their own emotions as unredeemably dark as they might appear to be; thus, enabling them to reclaim unintegrated aspects of their lost self.
Often this process requires voicing the one thing you can't admit to anyone, most of all yourself. In my Bioenergetics training, I first came across this when realizing something so awful, I found myself spouting out loud in class, "Oh my, God!"
"What is it?" my teacher asked, but I refused to share such a terrifying thought with a class of 12 other people. It was too awful, too shameful, gut-dropping embarrassing.
"I can't do it," I told my teacher.
"This is where the healing is," he coaxed. "Illuminate that energy. It's stuck and needs your help."
I gave a movie-worthy extended air swallow and then started crying as soon as I let out those impossible, never-before-spoken words: "I think my mother had sexual energy toward me." I stood there in front of the class, sobbing for a few minutes, releasing paralyzing shame and terror that had burdened me since childhood.
For the first time in my life, I was voicing the unvoicable, something that society would view as unforgivable: sexual energy between parent and child. With my teacher's guidance, I could finally face the 800-pound, self-inflicted gorilla that I'd been carrying. An immense wave of forgiveness and compassion for my mother's own situation and her unique suffering (especially regarding her own mixed relationships with her parents and how they carried on to my family) almost instantly settled over me. In that moment, I could finally see my relationship with her from the perspective of an empowered, understanding adult rather than a victimized child. I was finally bigger than this dark monster.
Giving voice to this unsaid didn't just help me, but the majority of my classmates. Once I had brought this forward, they suddenly recognized and could speak about certain "inappropriate" sexual energy they (or one of their siblings) received from a parent, something I have now found to be quite commonplace with my clients.
And to me, this is the magic of Bioenergetics. When we invite the shadow out of the musty corners and into our hearts with warrior-like firmness and love, we reclaim the nearly unbelievable power of emotional honesty. Acting as one's authentic self, instead of being governed by the conditioning of the dominant culture, we begin to add entire new dimensions to our being and find the necessary strength to overcome our worst fears.
But to do this, we must break out of the various patterning of our Puritanical history, thousands of years of societal programming, and the array of "spiritual bypass" advice professed by so many New Age trends today.
As with my clients, I invite readers here to go on a journey of getting to know their own shadow, to shed light where they are most afraid to look -- whether it be anger at a loved one, an abusive childhood, body issues and eating disorders, addictions, sexual violence, a marital affair or general lack of self love -- whatever that experience is for you. We also need to shed more light on our wider cultural shadows -- the entrenched racism, rampant materialism, gender inequity, gun violence, environmental degradation and other maladies plaguing us as an interconnected society and species.
It is only by expressing and even honoring the unspeakable, as un-PC as it may be, in the spirit of love and transformation, that we can liberate ourselves from deep-seeded wounds and energetic blocks, establishing forgiveness for one another while forging more joyful and compassionate relationships with ourselves and the world around us. It's a hero's quest for sure, one that will bring us to the very edge of our capacities, but it's one I believe we all eventually must take.
This article orginally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Image: "scream" by mRio on Flicker courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.
Talat Jonathan Phillips is the author of "The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic." He has a Bioenergetic healing practice in NYC and does Skype sessions. www.TalatHealing.com