by Jean Campbell
What I have noticed in the past few years, since my re-connection with ASD in 1996, is the significant lack of programs relating dream work with body work.
I can think of a number of reasons for that. One might say that there is little interest among dream workers in the body connection, but this is an hypothesis I doubt.
A more likely answer may be the confusing thicket of practices which have grown up around the words body work. An enormous number of practitioners, from massage therapists to Rolfers to Yoga instructors name themselves, quite correctly, body workers--since they all work on or with the body. Yet how are we to tell which type of body work we might be getting, let alone make the connection between body work and dreams? My feeling is that people who might genuinely want to learn about working with dreams through working with the body become too confused to attain their goal.
My own particular brand of body work, in which I often work with people's dreams, might more accurately be called body psychotherapy--though, in fact, I am not a psychotherapist, and don't believe it is necessary to be one in order to do body work with dreams. Body psychotherapy is simply a term many therapists have begun to use in order to distinguish body work which takes a psychotherapeutic approach from say massage, for example, which has no component of attention to the psyche.
Where did all this confusion come from? If we take a little look into the history of holistic health in the United States, it is easy enough to see. And because I would very much like to see more dream workers dealing with dreams through the body, I am going to risk boring you with a little history.
Back in the 1950s, in the period just following World War II, the United States reaped a significant benefit from Hitler's persecution of Jews, and concurrently his persecution of non-Jewish intellectuals. This country became a home for some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century: from Einstein to Eric Fromm, from Bertolt Brecht to Fritz Perls. People came, drawn to the United States as a refuge, but left a legacy of world-changing views in our universities and industries.
One of these famous immigrants was a man by the name of Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian-born psychoanalyst who had worked with Freud. Reich could legitimately be called the father of body psychotherapy. His book, Character Analysis, written in 1933, continued to be used as a psychology text on both sides of the Atlantic both during and after the war. But in the 1950s, a tragedy happened which served to initiate confusion about body work.
As Anthony Heilbut points out in his classic historical work Exiled From Paradise, many of those who immigrated from central Europe to the United States migrated toward the sunny climate and Bohemian lifestyle of California. Psychiatrists were no exception. By the early 1960s, Reich's analysand, Fritz Perls had moved to the star of Big Sur, Esalen. But Wilhelm Reich had gone to jail.
His unorthodox work with Orgone to cure the cancer biopathy had brought Reich to the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Reich's books were burned by them, literally, in a bonfire, and Reich himself died in Federal Penitentiary in 1957.
It is difficult for us now to imagine the repressive atmosphere of the McCarthy era, or the fear that it spawned, particularly in those who had recently escaped a totalitarian state. But the result of Reich's tragedy was an enormous and speedy distancing from him and his work, even among those who had been closest.
In his book, In and Out of the Garbage Pail, Perls brushes Reich aside with a snide reference to the "pathology" model. Perls drew on Reich's work, as did William Shutz, Ida Rolf, and many of the others who created the variety of breath work and body work methods, leading to certain obvious similarities between those approaches with Riech's work and with each other, though little mention was made of the source.
My own training in body work came through eight years of study with psychotherapist Hector Kuri of Guadalajara, Mexico, one of the people who himself had learned body work with a well-known student of Reich's, Alexander Lowen, M.D. Lowen, who worked with Reich for many years at his retreat in Maine named Orgonon, created a type of body psychotherapy which he called Bioenergetics. This therapy utilized Reich's ideas of specific character types based on the way each individual responds to trauma, and Reich's concept of armoring, which is what he called chronic muscular tension. Lowen's primary addition to the work was a series of physical exercises, which also drew on Eastern body techniques such as Hatha Yoga and were specific to dealing with character armor. He also developed the language of body psychotherapy, drawing attention to the self-knowledge inherent in such words as understanding--to have our feet under us, to be grounded in ourselves--or a common phrase like, "That person's a pain in the neck."
The component that my own teacher, Hector, added to this mix was a serious study of the body work practiced in the variety of world religions. During the late 1960s, he had a scholarship to study with Lowen in New York. At the time, he was suffering from a severe heart problem. He told the story of how once, flying to New York for his Bioenergetic training, he just stayed on the plane and went on to India, where he spent several months traveling from ashram to ashram, studying various meditative practices. Hector began studying yoga when he was seventeen, and by the time I met him when he was in his forties, he had mastered Tai Chi, which he practiced every day, as well as Sufi practices and others from the Middle East, where his family originated. This study, of course, lent a depth and spiritual orientation to his own brand of body psychotherapy, which he called Energetic Metatherapy.
Not to worry. We are coming to the part about dreams, but the conjunction of dream work with body work is pretty complex, as you can see.
When I first began studying with Hector, I had been doing dream work for almost twenty years. I had done research, had a book published, conducted innumerable classes and workshops in dreams. The first time I saw a dream worked via body work, it was as if some missing piece of a puzzle clunked into place. "This is it," I told myself as I watched open mouthed. "This is the piece I've been missing."
Now, not everyone will do the type of thing I am going to describe, but I want to use this as an example of what's possible.
Because Hector lived in Guadalajara, he only came to Virginia four times a year to conduct workshops, to do training, and see individual cleints. Very early in my training, I began dreaming with him.
Well, for me it was a natural, since I had originated group dreaming research in 1979, and Hector seemed to accept shared dreaming quite easily. I would have a dream. For example, in one early dream, Hector was working to straighten what looked like a thick, black electrical cord inside the left side of my back, next to the spine.
On his next trip to Virginia, I told him the dream and, as we interpreted it, we proceeded to do body work which alleviated lower back pain I had suffered from for years.
The pleasure of combining dream work with body work is that it has the ability to bypass the talking defense, and go straight to the source of the problem.
When I began writing this paper, I was having a lot of trouble getting words together to describe what I wanted to say. Body work often happens on an emotional and physical level, rather than a verbal one. I told a friend that I felt like just saying. "This stuff works. Try it. It's deep." But I knew that you would want more words than that.
So let's finally take a look at the three body work approaches to dreams which are probably best known, and may be known to you. I have some difficulties with each of these approaches, which I will mention, but hopefully you will learn at least enough from this presentation to determine whether you feel a body work approach to dreams might be useful to you--either personally, or in your practice.
Eugene Gendlin of the University of Chicago wrote in 1986 what is probably the best known book on the subject of combining dream work with body work. It is called Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams.
With this book, Gendlin introduced to the general public the concept that we actually feel our dreams in our bodies, not just picture them in memory. He called this body perception a "felt sense" of the dream, and offered the following definition:
A felt sense is not just an emotion. Fear, anger, joy, sadness--these are emotions. A
felt sense is different. It is global and fuzzy. It includes more than the emotion--many
things, most of them not clearly known. It is a bodily quality, like heavy, sticky, jumpy,
fluttery, tight. At first it has no fitting label. It is the way the middle of your body
Another important thing which Gendlin presented in this book was the uniqueness of each individual's dreams. "What other people's dreams mean is their property," he states. "No one else should mess with it.
"You can become an expert on dreams. But no one is an expert on another person's life" (35).
There is much about what Gendlin says that is of great value and importance. My difficulty with his theory is that I don't feel he goes far enough in laying a groundwork for just why this felt sense might work. It is possible to gain more insight into Gendlin's ideas from the book through which he is best known, Focusing, but because Gendlin is primarily a linguist (although he is also a psychotherapist), the importance of psychotherapy to this work receives relatively little attention.
Arnold Mindell, the second person I would like to mention however, might be called a therapist's therapist. First trained as a Jungian analyst under the tutelage of Marie-Louise von Franz, Mindell took Jung's concept of the Dreambody to a new and exciting level.
To develop his own work on this subject, which was first published in his book Dreambody in 1982, Mindell looked not only at Jung but also at a wide variety of body techniques including Reich, Lowen, Feldenkrais, Alexander, and Rolf. He was certainly one of the most educated proponents of bodywork in the 1980s, and remains so today.
My difficulty with Mindell (and though you may see it as a small one, to me it seems to lead to unnecessary confusion) lies in his definition of the Dreambody which, as Marie von Franz states in her introduction to the first edition is a "reformulation of the age-old idea of a 'subtle body"' (32).
Although Mindell's definition of the Dreambody has changed somewhat over the years since this first publication, it is still probably best understood as he defines it in his 1985 book, Working With the Dreaming Body. "The dreambody," he says there, "is a term for the total, multi-channeled personality" (39). Later, he expands on this definition to say, "...the dreambody is symmetrical; it is like a many-faceted jewel...since all its sides (i.e. each of its channels, the world, dream and body) reflect the same information in different ways" (45).
This definition is undoubtedly poetic and evocative, but when it comes to helping us distinguish clearly between dreams and other states of consciousness, there is enough left unsaid to confuse the ordinary reader.
One thing which Mindell does say in Dreambody though, which anyone who has combined dream work with body work can verify, is that: "Psychologists with sufficient training and flexibility to follow individual dreambody processes will discover that terms such as therapy, analysis, psychotherapy, and body work must expand to the point where psychology allows the human being to touch upon every known theory and practice" (41).
The key word in this sentence is "follow." The therapist must learn to follow or, as my own teacher used to say "dance with" the client, and this can lead in a variety of complex directions. "The Western therapist," says Mindell, "in the face of the body work spectrum, needs to understand and accept forms of psyche and physical behavior that would be completely normal for a yogi, shaman, or acupuncture specialist" (42). And with that statement we are able to see why many dream workers may simply not want to address the challenge of this difficult work. I agree with Mindell that anyone wishing to do the deepest work with dreams must be adequately prepared to face what comes up in working with the body. And what comes up is often the dreamer's deepest issues. Unfortunatley, people trained in a variety of body work techniques often have no training in how to cope with the depth of feeling these techniques evoke.
The third person I would like to mention was one of the invited speakers at ASD's 1996 conference in Berkeley. Dr. Stanley Keleman was one of the psychiatrists who early joined Lowen in the practice of Bioenergetics, which was originally taught only to licensed therapists, mostly medical doctors.
One difficulty with Keleman is that, although he has written numerous books on the subject of somatic therapy, he has written very little which deals specifically with dreams. This makes his work with dreams hard to access.
The best article I found was actually published online, but written for a rather obscure Brazilian publication called Artes de Cura. In that article, Keleman presents what I find to be my real difficulty with his approach to dreams.
If Mindell presents the dreambody as somewhat diaphanous, Keleman does exactly the opposite. "The dream," he says, "is somatic activity, speaking about itself as it prepares for the awake world" (2). Keleman sees the dream as primarily a rehearsal for waking life. And although this is true in many cases, a purely somatic definition of dreaming tends to exclude a wide variety of dream experiences such as transformational dreams, dreams which Abraham Maslow labeled peak experiences, lucid dreaming, and the type of dream which has been my focus for over twenty years, mutual or shared dreaming.
So there you have, in broad spectrum, the variety of approaches to dream work through working with the body. There are others I have not mentioned, such as Gabrielle Roth's wonderful idea of dancing our dreams, but I have said enough to indicate the scope and potential of interpreting dreams through the medium of the body.
This work goes deep, quickly reaching levels of the psyche which in more traditional methods can take months or years, if they are attained at all. Personally, I believe that body therapists of all persuasions should have the level of training which at least acknowledges that such intensity can happen when one begins to work through body memory rather than just the mind, and I believe that as dream workers, if we do not train ourselves to work with the body, we are simply ignoring a most viable access to the psyche. I hope I might convince you of that.
Let me, in closing, present you with an illustration, synchronistically given to me a few weeks ago, as I was writing this paper.
A client came in for her regular session, saying she had a dream she wanted to work. In the dream, she'd been looking for her purse.
"That's about sexuality, of course," she told me confidently. "Everyone knows that. Freud said so, right?"
I declined to comment, but led her through an hour of work with becoming the major figures in the dream, feeling how they felt, becoming them by assuming their physical attitudes.
Finally, at the end of the session, I asked her to become the purse. She sat, folded over her bent knees. "I'm so heavy," she moaned as the purse. Then her head jerked up. "This is my depression," she said with certainty. By then she was paying attention to her body and the information it was giving her, not just to her mind.
And why, was the obvious question, was she looking for her lost depression? Why was it so valuable to her? These are the types of questions we must be prepared to address with DreamWork/BodyWork.
All approaches to dreaming which include rather than ignore the information of the body are valuable. To ignore the body is to return to the days of St. Thomas Aquinas, who referred to his body as the faithful ass on which he rode--and many of us treat our bodies this way today.
It is true that not enough exploration has been done, not enough has been written, to present a clear picture of the value of the body to understanding dreams. Hopefully, you and I will change that.
© Jean Campbell, all rights reserved
Jean Campbell-is the former director of Poseidia Institute. Her book Dreams Beyond Dreaming is a dream work classic. She recently completed the manuscript of a second dream book, Group Dreaming: Dreams to the Tenth Power. As a member of the Association for the Study of Dreams, she hosts their online Bulletin Board at http://www.asdreams.org/
Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring: Esalen and the American Awakening. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1983.
Gendlin, Eugene T., Ph.D. Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams. Wilmett, IL: Chiron, 1986.
Heilbut, Anthony. Exiled in Paradise. Berkeley: U of California P, 1983.
Keleman, Stanley. "Dreams and the Body," Artes de Cura. Rio de Janeiro: Bapera Editoria, 1996
Lowen, Alexander, M.D. Bioenergetics. New York: Penguin, 1973.
Mindell, Arnold. Dreambody: The Body's Role in Revealing Self. Portland, OR: Lao Tse Press,
_____________. Working With the Dreaming Body. New York: Penguin, 1985.
Reich, Wilhelm. Character Analysis (Third edition). New York: Noonday/Farrar, Straus, 1990.
Roth, Gabrielle. Sweat Your Prayers: Movement as Spiritual Practice. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1997.