Not long ago, Joe and Noël did a workshop at one of the INARS conferences with a bunch of Synergists. Joe asked them what they felt was the most important thing they could bring to their clients, or some such question, and he was surprised that many people said, “I need to be completely open.” This was often accompanied by a gesture that Joe mimicked for our benefit in the training: arms spread wide, hands well back, chest forward. It was an unbalanced position, and one that instinctively made many of us flinch: is it really a good idea to be that open? It looks like the kind of thing that could make you fall over backwards – not a position of balance, either literally or metaphorically.
Openness is the third of the letters in the GROUND acronym, and it is, obviously, a key quality, a foundational quality, for this work. But it is important to talk about what exactly is meant by “openness.”
When I hear the word “open,” a lot of different expressions come to mind. One can be open for business, meaning that a person may enter and make exchanges with you. One can be open to attack, meaning vulnerable and undefended. A runner on a football field or basketball court might shout, “I’m open!” meaning, I’m ready to receive the ball without interference. We’re sometimes open to new experiences, or new emotions. A door might be open, so that someone may walk through. Or a window might be open, to let stale air out and fresh air in.
Notice that in most of these examples, the quality of openness is about a passage: openness provides a place for someone to pass from one circumstance or experience into another. Generally, it does not describe an undelimited, undifferentiated state: even an “open field” has boundaries, or else we’d call it a plain. For a Synergist, being open is not about being a giant, undifferentiating receptor, taking in everything that comes at it like an omnidirectional microphone. The position Joe demonstrated reminded me of nothing quite so much as a sphere: a great sticky ball, ready to take in anything thrown at it. If a Synergist literally bends over backwards to receive everything a client is bringing, it is likely that the client will bowl her over.
The healthier way for a Synergist to approach is to use the other major thing we learned in that first week: BOMA, or Balance of Mechanical Advantage. This posture looks a bit like a monkey stance (Ilana called it that, back in the day): dropped down into the hips and knees, feet solidly underneath you, shoulders down and relaxed, hands scooping forward to receive. It has something of a balletic plié (especially when Noël does it), something of reaching to lift a heavy tray off of a table. The idea is to use the whole body, but especially the strength and support of the lower body, to approach, make contact with, and invite movement in the body of another in a way that puts as little strain on your own body as possible. When in the proper posture, I also notice my voice shifting to a gentler tone, my hands getting more sensitive to information, and my ears and mind more open to intuition, less likely to get stuck in my head.
In this position, a Synergist is in a strong stance to hear what is really being said, to feel what the client is feeling without taking it on, and to be fully receptive without over-identifying. Openness, then, becomes not about the client tramping about, throwing emotions and stories around while the Synergist tries to juggle them. It becomes a passage, a transaction, a relationship. The client passes her stories and emotions to the Synergist for him to hold for a moment, consider, understand. (There is a reason we call it “understanding”: in the right position, we can truly “stand under” something and help hold it up, so the client can see it better. But that’s for the next entry.) Openness, then, is about passing through a door into a space where the light is better, the perspective is slightly different, and a client can share the things that are important without fear of judgment or overwhelm.