The Great Chain of Being: A Map
for Human Development
The pre-personal world = Baby and mother are one
The egoic world = The experience of self as separate
The transpersonal world = Self and Spirit are one
Awareness of these stages supports personal, professional
and Spiritual growth
Deepening the Healing
Relationship, Part 2
The World of the Individual
By Deborah Allen, Scott Bader,
Dan Buffo and Timothy Marshall
His client Sarah is almost always quiet during their
bodywork sessions. When Sarah had been receiving massage
for over two years, she suddenly said, "I need
another blanket." This small comment, familiar
and welcome to any massage therapist, is a huge step
for Sarah. It let the therapist know that Sarah is becoming
more of an adult self during her time on the table.
For Sarah, whose early childhood was especially traumatic,
the experience of being held and touched on the massage
table has primarily taken her to very early developmental
stages. In the infant (pre-egoic) realm, she never considered
asking for anything because her baby-self still had
no voice. This small statement of self-assertion is
the beginning of a new phase of their work together.
In our last article (Deepening
the Healing Relationship: Integrating human developmental
issues into the massage practice), we described a powerful
map of human development referred to as The Great Chain
of Being, as set out in depth by visionary philosopher
Ken Wilber. This map, central to the perennial philosophies,
describes three major stages that we ascend and descend
throughout our lifetimes. The first, the pre-personal
(or pre-egoic), is the early experiential world present
before language, the infant world and its early nervous
system, merging with mother, the constant flow of emotional
integration and disintegration. The next stage, the
personal (or egoic), includes the development of a conceptual
and symbolic world, language, conscious relationship,
the ability to act on our own behalf, to navigate in
the adult world, and the formation and development of
a "self". The third stage, the transpersonal
(or trans-egoic), brings us into contact with our deepest
In this second of three articles, we looking at the
middle stage of the Great Chain of Being: the egoic,
or personal, world. The egoic world begins when the
child notices that there is an autonomous self outside
of the Mother/child dyad. This new "me" is
created by "good enough" interactions with
caregivers in the first months of life. With enough
positive "mirroring" from the caregiver, the
child absorbs a sense of safety and curiosity. In "good
enough" development, the child slowly discovers
that he can practice moving outside the primary couple
(Mother/child) without jeopardizing love or care.
The toddler begins to walk, to explore. Throughout
this period, the child is also always checking back
in, "Is Mommy still there?" and then off she
goes exploring again. As she grows, she is able to point
at what she wants (a Cookie). Once she learns the words
for what she wants (Me Want Cookie), another whole universe
The construction of the ego creates a separate self
that resists being overwhelmed by the powerful world
of forces and feelings. It is an extraordinary human
achievement to develop a personal self, an "I"
or ego, that gives us a sense of clarity and continuity.
Having a "self" away from Mommy makes living
a normal daily life possible. Words become symbols for
things. Communication with others, using words as symbols,
becomes our normal way of operating. We begin to understand
other sets of symbols, like mathematics and metaphor.
We build useful structures, materially and symbolically.
We organize. We make alliances. We can take care of
ourselves. We begin to have enough sense to ask for
help when we need it. We use our egos to be creative
and productive in the world.
In the egoic state, we have what we call "agency."
We can choose to act in the world. It is the egoic part
of self that gets us up in the morning, books sessions,
makes a living. The egoic, adult self can make choices.
We can choose to relax and receive, and help our clients
choose the same. It is this choosing part of the egoic
self that aligns with healing and growing.
Unfortunately, the ego can also experience itself as
separate. The experience of having an "I"
comes at a great price. This separate self is also responsible
for our experiences of separation, loneliness and alienation;
ultimately it is the source of our suffering. Most individuals
spend much of their lives in the egoic world. From this
place, we experience ourselves as small, personal, and
limited. Beneath our anger, sadness, and fear, lies
the longing for connection: a desire to regain the profound
infant sense of oneness with other that was provided
by our earliest caregivers.
The experience of painful separation happens often
in adult life. We notice it when the adult ego (I, alone
in the world) experiences a threat that triggers survival
reactions learned in childhood. The situation seems
dangerous. The world suddenly narrows. The ego is no
longer the eyes and ears of our longing for wholeness
and healing. The under-developed childhood ego wants
to stop the onset of overwhelming emotions. It wants
to try and control the situation quickly. It may try
to soothe itself with caffeine and sugar. It may need
to blame others for its predicaments. And, often, it
wants someone else to take care of all the adult questions
and decisions that the present crisis demands.
Sarah seems relaxed on the massage table. The therapist
works on a particularly difficult knot in her neck and
Sarah suddenly says, "I wish my husband cared about
me the way you do," and bursts into tears. This
is the first time she has shared anything about her
life at home. She says she is furious at her husband,
who made fun of her choice of a new car, which was a
monumental decision for her.
The inexperienced body worker might feel extremely
flattered. He is being held above the husband. The dangers
of the therapist's ego getting involved in this moment
include Sarah's loyalties switching quickly back to
the man she married or the therapist's comment will
undermine the marital relationship. For the body worker
to take a stand, one way or another, is to interfere
in the adult choices of his client's daily life. She
chose the car, and she chose her husband. The therapist's
best response in this moment is to address the emotions,
not the personal choices the client is making outside
the massage room. "I hear how upset you are,"
said with compassion and no judgment, addresses Sarah's
feelings without taking sides. If the massage therapist
blurts out "Your husband should treat you better,
" he aligns with Sarah's ego in defense.
The "ego in defense" appears when Sarah stops
aligning with her whole self, and becomes identified
with feeling separate, alone and under attack. From
Sarah's distressed point of view, her husband was purposefully
cruel to her. In her unconscious mind, the experience
lines up with the treatment she received as a child
living in an orphanage. The massage therapist is suddenly
her hope for the fantasy "good father," the
one who will only be kind.
And these dynamics are rarely a one-way street. Sometimes
a client's praise can feed the therapist's unmet emotional
needs. If he is having trouble with his own partner,
Sarah's comment may feel like a long-awaited recognition.
This client thinks he is doing well, in areas where
his own partner complains about him. Our personal needs
"load" our encounters with clients and add
emotional weight that may have nothing to do with the
session. We may find ourselves projecting our own unrecognized
needs and desires onto our clients, depending on the
emotional lacks in our personal lives.
In order to facilitate Sarah's return to a sense of
agency, the massage therapist might say something authentic
and supportive. "I trust that you and he will work
it out, because you are a good communicator. Let's see
if we can help the tension come out of the muscle."
With this response, the therapist supports Sarah's adult
ego to operate well in her world, while acknowledging
that the tension is real and present in her body. The
therapist might also make a personal commitment to talk
with his own partner about his needs, acknowledging
to himself that Sarah's comments have brought more consciousness
to his own relationship.
A massage therapy session usually carries a spoken
or unspoken agreement that it is not psychotherapy.
The body worker's job is to help the client release
or discharge the energy held in the body, allowing the
client to return to an adult sense of equilibrium. When
the adult ego is back on board, choices for self-care
can be made from a sense of personal well-being. It
may be that Sarah's husband does treat her poorly and
that leaving him would be the healthy decision of her
strong ego. Our job as body workers is to help Sarah
align with her own commitment to healing and growing
towards herself and others, rather than aligning with
her sense of separation.
In energy work we notice that old survival patterns
unconsciously divert energy from normal everyday life
into repeating patterns of stress and tension in the
body. There is an energetic charge held or blocked somewhere
in the system. It may be the energy of withheld emotions,
experienced as neck and shoulder tension, born of repressed
anger. The amount of held energy increases until it
is triggered by a current experience, or until the muscle,
organ, or organ system fails due to the stressful overload.
At this point we often notice the client react to something
out of proportion to the stimulus. The extra energy
in the reaction is supplied by the release of this emotional
charge or tension.
For healing, two things are necessary. First, the client
needs to release, or discharge the held energy in a
healthy manner. Massage is an excellent modality for
this. Exercise, nutrition, meditation and having a good
support system also contribute to releasing emotional
energy in a positive way. Second, the client must learn
to let the energy flow through the system on an every-day
basis, rather than blocking in a habitual pattern. Self-awareness
is the first step in this process. Experience and practice
allow us to become familiar with our own patterns.
In our role as massage therapists, we can help our
clients notice which choices feel good, and which ones
feed the old reactive pattern. With gentle coaching,
a massage therapist can help a client notice that they
can still choose relaxation over stress if they are
aware of the opportunity. For example, we might develop
a simple language to share this choice-making process
with our clients. Together we can notice what happens
inside a tense muscle and which suggestions help the
muscle relax. Even noting together the difference between
hot and cold, tight and loose, heavy and fluid, can
help educate the client's choice-making ability. We
can watch together which choices support their longing
for wholesome fulfillment, and which choices cause them
As we use our strokes to soothe the body, allowing
it to center and rest, many of us also offer encouragement,
through words or touch, to help align the client's intent,
with the body's relaxation. We might remind the client
to breathe. We can ask them if it is all right with
them if their low back rests without holding tension,
while they are on the table. We might try words like
"allow," "permit" and "notice"
instead of "do, " "try," or "make."
Even these simple vocabulary differences can return
a sense of choice and agency. Through our comments and
touch, we can help the client to recognize these same
choices later, whenever needed. Over time, clients can
learn to how to help them restore the adult to service
whenever they find themselves triggered.
Self awareness grounded in the earlier stages of the
great chain of being, the world of the infant and the
developing adult, sets the tone and creates the foundation
for the subsequent integration into the transpersonal
realms of our spiritual lives. Part #3, The World of
Spirit, will appear in MASSAGE Magazine's next issue.
Deborah Allen, Scott Bader, Dan Buffo, and Timothy
Marshall are energy work practitioners. They are the
founding members of The Healers' Forum, an organization
supporting healing and healership located in Santa Cruz,
Copyright 2002 by Deborah Allen, Scott
Bader, Dan Buffo, and Timothy Marshall
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