On a dark night, the sky is aglow with stars – the longer we look, the more we see. The patterns we call constellations are relationships formed by our imagination. Some of the stars in the Big Dipper are more than a hundred light years from each other but we connect them as a community in our mind. In a similar way, we organize the tissues of our organism, shaping them into an expression of our experience of life.
Perhaps our most common experience of a tissue pattern being constellated is when we experience a simple increase of charge in our body. We go out for a long hike or ride a horse for the first time in years. The next day we mysteriously feel not just aches and pains but an increase of tensions that restrict our movement. Our energized body awakens the patterns that control “too much.” If we continue to explore that energized state over time, the pattern of control adjusts to match the new limits of our identity. However, when a charge control pattern is so engrained in our body that it has distorted the soft tissue and joints of our frame we might, for example in a yoga class, experience a recontraction or injury as a reflection of this struggle at the threshold of change.
Basic charge control patterns tend to constellate in two areas: around metabolic control, particularly muscles of breathing in the diaphragm and rib cage; and around charge movement, primarily in the muscles of the spine, pelvis and legs. These muscles tense against an increase of charge and attempt to control its movement through the body. In a moment I’ll explore how these responses can be related to more sophisticated expression but let’s start with with the idea that they are fundamentally a response to “too much”.
There seem to be two essential ways in which charge can constellate as a pattern of stopped expression. The first is more defensive; embedded in our tissue, shaping our posture in characteristic forms. Hands-on somatic practitioners know these well. They produce structure (and when challenged, resistance) and layer our tissue into a static organization of our internal identity, and our outer boundaries.
Described as character armour by early somatic psychologists such as Reich and Lowen, they are identifiable as thickenings, lines of strain, and occasionally, a lack of tone that is expressive of dissociative states. An increase of charge in the body can stir the reactiveness of static patterns as their grip on the body is challenged. It makes me think of Bootstrap Bill Turner, embedded in the walls of the Flying Dutchman in the film, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. He can be awakened from his slumber but pulled to return as part of the structure of the ship.
(If you’re not familiar with this arcane example, here’s a link to the scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWRyi1ccC6I)
Stopped expression can also lie like wisps of memories in the tissues, only wakened by a resonance to the conditions in which they were first learned. You might be told, “you looked just like your mother when you made that retort”. Like structural patterns, they are an artifact, an “orphan” movement that is the fragmented remains of an interrupted response. But in contrast, they live in the depths and haven’t been called forth enough to become the barnacle encrusted structures of a defensive manifestation. They may appear suddenly when a collapsed body, depleted of tone, awakens to its repressed strength with a sudden pushing away through the arm. For another, a tick around the eye may awaken into a glare and the feeling of rage.
Here’s a last and essential manifestation: the constellation of our emerging creative response to life. This expression is described by Jungian analyst, Marie Louise Von Franz as, “That future personality which we are to be in a year’s time … already there, only it is still in the shadow.” Perhaps it’s an emerging strength, or a maturity of response that challenges the way we’ve repressed the potential of our being. In whatever form it manifests, it is the germinating seed, pressuring and cracking its husk.
How do we meet with this awakening of our potential? Many body-centred practices have evolved a way of engagement often described as the “listening hand.” Essentially, with touch, we listen for the stirrings of the future personality, working to soften and unwind the structures and the reactions that have distorted our commitment to partnering with life. These patterns are subversive. When we meet with them, they flow like water, pooling and reorganizing at the place of blockage until they find the place of softness, the place where the stopped story feels met and begins once again to join in the dance.