“Cranio sacral therapy is in essence a palpatory skill, meaning it’s something you do with your hands. The something you do in cranio sacral work is feel the subtle pulses and rhythms the body makes when it is trying to fix itself. When you can feel these movements you can support where the process is getting stuck, and once the body is over the hump so to speak, it can continue with what it was trying to do and make a full recovery.
To do it well you have to develop a high level of sensitivity, and that requires a lot of internal emptying.
Cranio sacral practice became the crucible my insights were distilled in. It stretched and pummeled me. I worked in the mystery to produce results in the physical. It was never easy.
I treated people who had been abused, physically, mentally and spiritually. People who were in cults, raped, beaten, tortured as children. People who weren’t wanted as babies. People possessed. People who had done terrible things, or who had terrible things done to them. People driven crazy with pain. Sick people, dying people. People with brain injuries, survivors of car accidents, grieving, self harming, suicidal, anorexic, autistic, schizophrenic, bipolar, manically depressed, people.
A bludgeoning torrent of human suffering, and I was up to my elbows in it. Wading through it with them. Helping it release and find peace.
Heavy shit to say the least. The stakes were always high.
There is nothing detached about cranio sacral work. It’s full immersion from the word go. When I put my hands on someone, their body would download whatever trauma they had into me. I was back in time with them, witnessing the trauma as it happened. Feeling their pain in my body.
It’s not that I was especially empathic; it was just the way cranio sacral worked. Our systems connected deeply. It wouldn’t have worked if they didn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to feel what their system was trying to do otherwise.
In order to get that kind of connection, I had to be very still on the inside. This required meditation, which was nothing new to me, I had dabbled in a few different forms of mediation. Then, when I came across Barry Long, I adopted his stripped down bare knuckle kind of mediation. I got quite addicted to it. Every two hours my alarm would sound and I’d run to my room to meditate for half an hour. Then in another two hours I’d do it again. This would go on all day.
When I discovered that mediation was part of my cranio sacral training I was glad. It was a break from the anatomy and physiology, it was something I knew about.
I was wrong. Nothing prepared me for the kind of meditation I needed for cranio sacral work. I had to be able to mediate deeply, quickly, and for long periods of time. I had to be able to hold a conversation with someone with my eyes open while maintaining a deeply meditative state.
I love the idea of meditation, particularly at the beginning. I imagine I will look very serene and calm, and a bit like Master Po.
In practice it’s really boring. After ten minutes with my eyes closed and my ass going slightly numb, the novelty has worn off and the struggle to keep my mind still becomes great. Imagine hour after hour after month after year of it and you can see how boring being a cranio sacral therapist can be.
But boring or not, it’s necessary. Meditation is the difference between a good cranio sacral therapist and a technician. Cranio sacral work is involved. There are lots of techniques to learn. Lots of anatomy to understand. Lots of fluid dynamics to get a feel for. All of which takes a couple of years to get the hang of. Without meditation it’s like owning a sports car with no engine.
Without being still on the inside I ‘work out’ what is causing the person’s symptoms. My thinking gets in the way of my intuition.
Thinking is like being in a packed bar on a Saturday night. Three-hundred people all talking at the same time, all familiar to me, some from my past, some from the present, many who look just like me, all vying for my attention.
In the far corner is my intuition and it is whispering. I can’t hear it unless everyone shuts up. That is what meditation is, getting all the voices, conversations, comments and internal dialogues to keep quiet.
It’s boring because, well, who wants to be in a silent pub, where everyone is standing around restlessly, twitching and scratching while they force themselves not to give in to their natural inclination to talk, argue, laugh, play games and generally have a good time.
It wouldn’t be worth it except for one thing. My intuition is usually right, better informed, more accurate and knows things that no else in the pub knows. Things about the person I am treating, things about myself, my life and what is beyond it. Making space to hear my intuition allowed me to not only hear it, but to follow it out the back door of the pub into the vast space beyond.
Out of the boredom remarkable things happened. I’d be sitting there in my silent pub, patiently waiting. From across the room my intuition would whisper, ‘I’m so sad.’ A wave of sadness would wash through me and as I opened my eyes I’d see a small tear trickling from the eye of the burly builder lying on the table. The one who had been sent by his wife, and who had spent the previous four sessions telling me how cranio sacral therapy was rubbish.
I got used to that kind of skepticism. It was understandable. Cranio sacral work is very subjective. It’s hard to measure. There’s no ruler for happiness. You can’t see wellbeing under a microscope. Pain is very subjective, so the scientific studies are thin on the ground. It goes against conditioning. It is contrary. In fact, you have to be a bit arrogant to practice it.
Conditioning tells us that what we think or feel about something is not to be trusted. If we want to know what is really real, let’s measure it. Let’s weigh it. Let’s put it under the microscope. Let’s ask an expert. Basically, let’s refer to something outside ourselves to tell us what is real, regardless of what we feel or don’t feel.
With cranio sacral there’s no one else to refer to. Just me and what I can feel. I might have my hands on someone’s feet and feel that one of the tiny bones in their head is putting pressure on their brain. Without reference to anything outside myself, I’ve got to have the arrogance to say, “What I feel is right.” and then proceed accordingly.
This is why people with low self esteem have trouble learning cranio sacral therapy. They’re not arrogant enough. Too much arrogance, on the other hand, is also a problem.
It’s very easy for therapists in general to become smug. It’s not hard to see how this happens if you spend your days listening to people tell you how screwed up they are. You have to make a conscious effort to remember that if you were telling them about your life, you would sound just as screwed up.
This smugness trap is intensified for cranio sacral therapists because you can tell extraordinary things about a person just by putting your hands on them. Everything from what is going on in their body, to what has happened to them in the past, to if they had sex the previous night.
It’s easy for that kind of knowledge to go to your head. I’ve seen some cranio sacral therapists enter a room with the swagger of a brain surgeon entering an operating theatre. “All hail, the hands have arrived!”
I aimed to hover somewhere between arrogance and humility. Not too crushed when I was wrong. Not too arrogant when I was right. It wasn’t always easy to find the balance and keep my ‘stuff’ out of the way.
That included my body, which was the only tool I had to work with. I had to be aware of where my tensions were. The less I had, the more effective I was. I became very good at finding all the nooks and crannies where I stashed my stress.
The work was tactile so I had to know what I was feeling, what I was picking up with my hands. I spent most of my working day with my eyes closed, plumbing the depths. Over time my perception of inner and outer space changed.
My inner space got bigger. I couldn’t see how my body could contain so much space on the inside. In the end, instead of little me standing on a big planet, it felt like the world was a sheet of light I approached from the even bigger space inside. I was drawn to this light and pressed up against the inside of my pupils, I looked through the light into the world.
Outer space changed too. Instead of standing on a spherical planet it felt like I was looking into a spherical reality. My body felt less three dimensional, and more like a glove I put on to interact with the outer world.
When I did cranio sacral work I went deep into my inner world. I connected with the person I was working with there. Except it didn’t feel like MY inner world, it felt communal. Like everyone existed in this place and extruded their bodies from the fabric of their reality, so they too could meet and interact in the outer world.
Trippy to say the least.
But rather than drift off into la la land, the person lying on the table kept me anchored in the outer world. I had to be practical and mystical at the same time. The people I treated were in pain. They wanted results. They were paying for them. I knew I was dealing with the mystery but they couldn’t have cared less. I had to report back to them what I was doing in a practical way that would be of help to them.
The crucible gave me continual feedback to keep me grounded. It burned away any fanciful ideas I came up with. If they weren’t getting better I was on the wrong track. Simple as that.
It wasn’t all slaps on the wrist. It also revealed amazing things I wouldn’t have thought possible. Elaborate procedures in the inner world, which I would have discounted as semi dreaming on my part, were confirmed by the people I worked with. At the end of their session they would tell me all their pain was gone.
Often I could feel releases beginning in their body minutes before anything registered for them. I could feel how their body was trying to repair itself, and where it was getting stuck. By following the cues, and supporting where necessary, I helped it to complete the repair. All this happened in the inner world, yet it had a direct impact in the outer world. The person would experience relief.
The subtle body movements that signaled disharmony and release were my stock in trade. My objective position gave me a window into the broader movement of a person’s life. Everything was a process within a process; each treatment session a fractal of the whole life.
I learned that wanting the people to get better got in the way. Mixed in with my compassion, I found a desire to turn away from their pain rather than be in it with them; a disrespect for their process, a righteousness.
When I began from the point of respecting their process, regardless of whether it made sense to me, the more of a connection I established with their system. If I offered my support, rather than impose my will, things usually worked out better than I expected. The less I did, the more that happened.”
Extract from Maya Noise by John Dalton