Spiritual Psychotherapy (Subtle Self Work)
Sessions for Individuals and Couples with certified Realization Process practitioners.
Teacher Certification Trainings with Judith Blackstone.
The spiritual psychotherapy or "subtle self work" aspect of the Realization Process goes deeper than conventional forms of psychotherapy because it helps you attune to and release bound emotional pain from the body, energy system and causal level of consciousness. This heals the chronic fragmentations in your own being and between yourself and the environment, and helps remove the obstacles to nondual, spiritual realization.
By inhabiting the internal space of the body, you uncover the experience of subtle, unified consciousness pervading your body as a whole. This feels both more empty and more present at the same time. It increases your sense of self-possession and safety, and your capacity for understanding, self-expression, love, power, and sensual pleasure. Accessing and living in the subtle core of the body also develops greater perspective on the environment, and can help you maintain inward contact with yourself even in challenging situations. This reduces the tension of hypervigilance and hyper-reactivity.
The Realization Process teaches a unique method for releasing subtle holding patterns that were created in childhood. Working from the dimension of unified consciousness and the subtle core of the body, you can release these holding patterns from their roots in the causal level of consciousness.
The Realization Process is an effective method for helping people recover from trauma and from the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Realization Process exercises were taught to adult women survivors of childhood sexual abuse in two eight-week pilot studies at New York University Medical School, the Center for Child Study, in collaboration with Dr. Marylene Cloitre, director of the Center. The purpose of the exercises was to reduce symptoms of PTSD by increasing vitality, positive mood, self-possession, a felt sense of internal coherence, a sense of safety and empowerment, the ability to regulate emotion, and the ability to connect to the external environment and to other people without loss of internal self-contact. The studies showed that the Realization Process exercises reduce symptoms of PTSD and elevate mood.
Trauma has a shattering effect on the sense of self. This has been described as a rupture in the subjective sense of ongoing identity over time (Van der Kolk, McFarlane & Weisaeth, 1996), in which time is radically divided in one’s mind between before and after the traumatic event. According to neurobiologists, trauma causes a schism between the cognitive and affective functions of the brain (Le Doux, 1996), specifically between the amygdala/hippocampus loop that mediates emotion and the ventro-medial pre-frontal cortex that regulates emotional experience. Contemporary psychoanalytic and intersubjective theories of trauma (Ulman & Brothers, 1988; Stolorow & Atwood, 1992; Stolorow, Atwood & Orange, 2002) describe how trauma fragments the central organizing function of the sense of self.
The inability to accept or to fully encompass the traumatic experience produces dissociative patterns that obstruct our subjective sense of wholeness. Particularly when the trauma has been caused by human interactions, the capacity for connection with other people is also diminished. Stolorow, Atwood and Orange portray the most severe, annihilating trauma as “undermining one’s sense of existing and of being real in its most basic aspects, including the experience of oneself as an active agent and subject, as possessing an identity that is coherent and felt as authentically one’s own, as having a boundary delineating and delimiting I and not-I, and as being continuous in time and over history” (pp. 149-150).
Inhabiting One’s Body
The subjective sense of wholeness is not solely a mental phenomenon, but is based on actual contact with the whole internal space of one’s body. Ulman & Brothers (1988) view the “reexperiencing and numbing symptoms of PTSD as forms of depersonalization, derealization and disembodiment” (p. 22). The traumatized person can regain a sense of wholeness and of really existing by cultivating embodiment. In the Realization Process, this is accomplished through the practice of inhabiting the body.
Inhabiting the body is not just a matter of being aware of or scanning the body, but of actually living within it. Inhabiting the body develops a sense of self-possession, and a sense of there being “someone at home.” It may initially feel challenging to be present in one’s body, when it may have been safer in one’s childhood home to attempt to be invisible. But once a person is living within their body, they experience it as much safer than not being “at home.” Inhabiting the body also produces an internal sense of volume, of taking up space. This provides some weight or substance to the sense of self that can empower us, even in difficult situations with other people. The internal sense of volume also acts as a kind of buffer against abrasive stimuli. People report that they feel less like life is impinging directly on them; they feel less “thin-skinned,” less susceptible to the force of environmental stimuli. In this way, the experience of inner volume, and of having internal space in which to live, creates a felt delineation between I and not-I. This can lessen the hypervigilance and hyper-reactivity associated with PTSD.
This practice also attunes to the essential (unconstructed) qualities of being. All of the various parts of our body, and all of the functions of our being associated with these parts of our body, have a quality, a “feel.” We all know what love feels like, or sexual arousal, but even our intelligence has a feel to it, even our sense of personal power has a quality. To experience these various internal qualities facilitates a shift from an abstract idea of oneself to a qualitative or actual experience of oneself. This is particularly helpful for people who hold negative ideas about themselves based on traumatic childhood wounding, or on recent attacks such as rape. For example, sexually abused women have told me that they are “garbage” or “damaged goods.” To experience the actual feelings of one’s own aliveness can help people relinquish these negative beliefs. One survivor of childhood sexual abuse told me, after some practice of inhabiting her body, that she felt “sweet” inside. This sense of sweetness helped her develop a sense of her own value, and to finally break her pattern of attraction to abusive partners. It also helped her to have compassion for herself, and to see her self-destructive behaviors as the result of the damage that was done to her.
The body is the instrument of experience, not just of action but also of perception, thought, emotion and physical sensation. A symptom of dissociation, associated with trauma, is diminishment in these capacities. In order to lessen the impact of a traumatic experience, we tighten the parts of the body that are involved in the event. We cannot limit experience except by tightening the body. For example, we cannot stop ourselves from feeling sorrow except by tightening our chest. We cannot stop ourselves from feeling sexual sensation except by tightening our sexual anatomy. Over time, this tightening becomes chronic rigidity in the body and chronic body-mind fragmentation.
The connection between the physical anatomy and the qualitative/functional aspect of being is quite simple. The more we inhabit our chest (that is, the more inward contact we have with our chest), the more deeply we feel emotion. The more fully we inhabit our sexual organs, the more intense is our sexual feeling. To inhabit the whole body at once integrates the qualities and functions of our being. For example, if we inhabit our chest and head at the same time, we can feel and think at the same time. In this way, the practice of inhabiting the body can help heal the fragmentation between our cognitive and emotional functions.
Inhabiting the body is also practiced standing and walking. This cultivates a sense of groundedness, and of holding one’s ground. This is particularly important for people who have been traumatically over-powered. The walking exercises also help develop the ability to remain within one’s body, and in possession of oneself, while moving through one’s daily life.
The Subtle Core of the Body
Another practice taught in the Realization Process is attunement to the vertical core of the body, from the pelvic floor to the top of the head. This innermost core of the body feels like the center of our being. When we live in this core, we experience both a deeper connection with ourselves, and a deeper perspective on the environment. We also have a deeper perspective on our internal experience. From the center of our being, we can witness our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. This can help us evaluate the reality of our experience, and modulate our emotional responses. This practice also increases the ability to think, feel and sense at the same time.
The Relational Exercises
The Realization Process practices develop the ability to inhabit the internal space of one’s body while interacting with other people. The deeper the connection with ourselves, the more intimately we can connect with others without fear of annihilation.
The internal space of the body is the basis of contact with other people. When we inhabit our body, our responses are more fluid. We are more available to respond to others with understanding, emotion and sensation. To inhabit the body means to gradually let go of chronic rigidities. In this way, we become softer and more open to the world around us, without losing the felt delineation between self and other. The boundary produced by inhabiting one’s body is distinct and permeable at the same time.
Inhabiting the body also increases our contact with other people in more subtle ways. We can experience resonance between our own qualities of being and the other person’s. For example, the love within our own chest can resonate with the love inside someone else’s chest. The quality of our own intelligence resonates with the intelligence of other people. This resonance occurs without leaving our own body and without intruding on the other’s person’s body. Touch is also enhanced by inhabiting the body. If two people both inhabit their hands, for example, and touch each other’s hands, the contact of the touch will be richer.
The Realization Process also teaches how to connect to another person from the subtle, vertical core of one’s body. Again, this connection is experienced as a resonance with another person across the spatial distance between oneself and them. These relational exercises are particularly useful for people who have had traumatic childhood or recent relationships that have caused them either to close themselves off to human contact, or to surrender their boundaries and connection with themselves for the sake of intimacy. They can strengthen one’s own sense of reality and the ability to perceive others as real, without feeling threatened by them.
LeDoux, J. (1996). The emotional brain. New York: Touchstone.
Stolorow, R. D., Atwood, G. E. (1992). Contexts of being. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.
Stolorow, R. D., Atwood, G. E., Orange, D. M. (2002). Worlds of experience. New York:Basic Books.
Ulman, R. B., Brothers, D. (1988). The shattered self. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.
Van der Kolk, B. A., McFarlane, A. C., Weisaeth, L. (eds.) (1996). Traumatic stress.
New York: The Guilford Press.