In Rubenfeld Synergy Method, we like to say that the story of our bodies is the story of our lives. Like most storytellers, the body uses metaphors to tell that story. The way we language our experiences, the expressions we use in everyday life, bear this out. Our feet tell the story of our sense of groundedness: I don’t know where I stand. I can’t stand it anymore! She keeps me on my toes. He knocked me back on my heels. She swept me off my feet. Or even: I don’t understand. Our heads tend to have things to say about presence or temperament: His head’s always in the clouds. Keep a cool head. He’s a hothead. Keep your head in the game. Where was your head? Her head’s not screwed on right. I’m going out of my head. Or direction: where are you headed?
We talk of shouldering a burden, of people who get your back up, of getting a leg up, of arming ourselves. We talk to get something off our chests, because someone is a pain in the neck who makes us sick to our stomachs. Sometimes we stand tall; sometimes we’re on our knees. Our bodies tell us what direction we’re going in: when we’re feeling up, our spines are straight, our shoulders back, our heads high, and our step light. When we’re down, our heads drop, our shoulders hunch, and our feet feel like lead. We turn up, turn down, have a complete turnaround, and don’t know where to turn.
The metaphors of the body can give us tremendous information about what is going on right now: while the body holds our histories, it lives only in the present. You may not even realize you’re in a lousy mood until someone points it out to you: “You’re looking kind of down,” they might say, “Keep your chin up.”
And on the table, during a session, a client’s body can communicate a tremendous amount. Sometimes, a client’s feet will literally be pointing in two different directions – one straight up, for example, and one to the side, and you will discover together that he is struggling with two possible paths in his life. A client’s neck may be so stiff that she can’t turn it from side to side, and you find out that she’s forgotten how to say “no” in her life. One client told me that her feet are for running away. Another, that one of her feet felt stuck in mud, but the other wanted to dance.
These metaphors come directly from the body’s experience: far from mere figures of speech, they describe the physical experience of emotional states. The remarkable thing is that once we become aware of what our bodies are telling us, we can shift our experiences from the ground up. Most of us are used to thinking of changing our situations with our minds only, deciding to make a change and trusting that our bodies will follow. But often our bodies have another agenda for us, because while rationally we may “know” that we want to move on, to not feel an unpleasant emotion, to not react to triggers, our bodies are still responding according to old patterns. The place to begin to change this is in the body itself.
Ilana used to have groups throw their arms over the heads, their shoulders back and their heads high, then say to the world, “I’m so depressed!” It always got a laugh, because no matter how the people in question were feeling, they could feel right away how incongruous it was: it’s near-impossible to actually feel depressed in that position. In Synergy sessions, part of the work is trying out new possibilities for the body: sometimes a body has gotten so used to something that it doesn’t know anything else. What happens when someone gets to feel softer in her neck – and can get her “no” back? What becomes possible when the hips are free to move from side to side, and a person who felt stuck in the mud now has options to “turn” to? A person who can feel his feet under him suddenly has a place to stand. A supportive hand at the sacrum can make someone feel that you’ve got their back. Make a move, change a thought.
What kinds of body metaphors do you notice yourself using a lot?