The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.


JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Our topic today is "Spirit and Soma," and my guest, Stanley Keleman, is one of the fathers of the contemporary psychotherapeutic movement which involves the human body. Stanley is the Director of the Center for Bioenergetic Studies in Berkeley, California, and the author of numerous books, including most recently Emotional Anatomy; also Living Your Dying; In Defense of Heterosexuality; and The Ground of Being. Stanley, welcome.


MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here.

KELEMAN: You remembered all those titles pretty good.

MISHLOVE: I hope I got them all right.

KELEMAN: It's Human Ground rather than The Ground of Being, but that's close enough. It's a good title.

MISHLOVE: Stanley, you are well known as a person who works with the human body, and I remember back in the early years when I first got to know you, some fifteen years ago, you were very well known as being a kind of person who didn't like to deal with spiritual nonsense. You felt that people who talked in those terms were out of touch with their body experiences. I think your viewpoint has changed somewhat over the years.

KELEMAN: I think my viewpoint -- fundamentally, I still think I'm the same rascal. For instance, we just did a workshop in which we dealt with the nature of the spirit. And what I said there was, "When I hear the word spirit, there's still the old red flag that goes up and the bull starts to charge. But rather than just saying, 'Well, be a charging bull,' let's take a look at this thing from the perspective of what I mean by soma." And I thought in this workshop and some of my writings, to redefine what you mean by spirit, from the point of view of your ability to experience what they're talking about, rather than what the so-called concept is.

MISHLOVE: In other words, it's the language of spirit and spiritism and spiritual things that bothers you.

KELEMAN: That's the first thing that offends me, because when you get into what the experience may be, or what experience people are having, you enter into a ball game in which you're dealing with the very basis of life. That is, you're dealing with life experience of a particular kind. And in my opinion, the basis of all experience is what we call the body, or what I call the soma. So in this workshop I decided that I'll make clear, as I have in my books and in my other workshops and lectures, that by body or by soma we do not mean the object of consciousness. We don't mean an object in the world. We don't mean this body walking around out there, sort of divorced from all other aspects.

MISHLOVE: The skin-encapsulated ego.

KELEMAN: Right. What we mean is a living process that in some way organizes itself around a set of nouns called I. I, Stanley, go by the name Stanley, but I'm really a living process, and I have certain experiences. I have experiences of love, of appetite, of being distant from others and close to others. And out of that ground of experience -- that is, as a somatic process, as a living process -- I have certain experiences which people want to call spiritual or soulful.
Experiences like feeling that life itself is without end; feeling that the question of death doesn't end a life process, although it might end my particular configuration around my life; that there is meaning in the experience of myself without necessarily having to allude to a high deity that may or may not fit my particular way of looking at the world. It may relate to an experience of feeling a livingness that seems to transcend all living creatures, in the sense that it encompasses us. So in that sense the word spirit then becomes a living phrase, and the wild bull, like myself, just settles down and doesn't charge.

MISHLOVE: Let's talk about this word soma. You use it so often. Do you mean by soma something equivalent to body?

KELEMAN: They're actually similar words, and the derivation is almost the same. It means a vehicle, or that which holds the life energies. I use the word soma in a way to jar you to think about: what do you mean by soma? And then you can enter the modern world, and say that the body is not sort of material objects clumped together like clay, but is a very living molecular process, with particles in a series of living events that concretizes itself at certain places.

MISHLOVE: Norman Cousins refers to it as spiritual tissue.

KELEMAN: If he means by spirit the very basis and essence of vitality and aliveness. I mean, all animate creatures are involved in the process of generating life -- excitation, aliveness, reproductiveness, appetite. The very basis of metabolism is the basis of life, just like the sun is, just like every other animate process. I mean, what could be more of a spiritual process than life itself, and the feeling of life that transcends all our concepts of it? So if Norman Cousins means spiritual tissue in the sense of alive, pulsating, arousal tissue, we are in total agreement.

MISHLOVE: What you also seem to be saying, then, is that to really be in touch with life, to have deep spiritual experiences, means to be in touch with the vibrancy, with the pulsing body that we live in.

KELEMAN: I like your language. I would just reverse that, and say, well, it isn't that we have to be in touch with. It's quite the other way. We have to be touched by our living process, and not mistake our self-reflecting brains -- that is, the brain that we have that looks back on its own process that created it -- and think that it's the creator. That is, our self-reflecting structure, which is created by our own living process, is in fact seeing itself and thinking that it is the honcho. It's not.

MISHLOVE: There are some writers who suggest that our nervous system, our brains, take the attitude that the whole rest of the body exists for its benefit.

KELEMAN: And what do you think of that?

MISHLOVE: Well, it sounds selfish, I suppose.

KELEMAN: So do I. The observer has become the creator. It's interesting, you know. People who come to see me, or people whose problems that I address, will say, "I'm dissatisfied with life. I feel depressed;" or, "I feel lost;" or, "I don't understand why I can't love. I certainly say I love somebody, but they say they love me, and I don't feel it. It's just words to me, Stanley." And if you look at someone, and how they use themselves, and how they stand -- are they stiff-necked, or rigid in the shoulders, or sunken in; is their tissue dense; do they guard themselves by contractions? And you point that out to them and say, "Well, maybe that misery of compacting yourself to ward off more injury is more the concern than whether you love or don't love." And when you begin, say, to ask people to tell you, how do they shrink their chest or stiffen their neck or harden themselves in the world, and they begin to explore how they do that: "Oh, I do that like that; I remember my mother hollering at me, or the teacher always hollering, 'Look here, look here, look here,' and holding my neck stiff so that I won't get bad marks for drifting." When they begin to explore how that tension rigidifies their aliveness, and soften it by a series of exercises which I help them learn, or which they find for themselves, then they are flooded not only with associations of the past, but also with the feelings of being alive. And you get phrases like, "I realize that I'm connected to everything that's living;" "I feel part of the world again;" "I feel like when I was a young boy or a young girl -- in contact empathetically, not cognitively, with that which is living. I feel sympathetic again. I'm not told anymore to be, you know, like when I said, 'Mommy, should I hurt that fly?' or 'That fly hurts when it has pain' -- I'm not told to not be silly." So then people begin to report back, when they feel or they permit themselves to, say, pulsate, or to be alive in themselves, that they are in touch with that which supports all life.

MISHLOVE: In other words, this connection with everything that's living -- someone might call it a mystical experience of oneness, I suppose -- you would regard as the natural state of a human being.

KELEMAN: Absolutely. It is the absolute natural state, before languaging begins to separate us from the very ground of our experiences.

MISHLOVE: Languaging.

KELEMAN: Languaging in our culture separates us from our experience. Say for example in our culture, we are taught to try to be objective, rational creatures, to separate ourselves from our senses, which are unreliable, and our feelings, which interfere with our objectivity. Therefore we have to do something to ourselves to keep in check our sensory and emotional life, so that we can be "clear-headed." In that sense we separate ourselves from the experience of life, in an attempt to carry out the paradigm to observe life, to be objective, to be fair, to be rational. While that is a satisfying attitude in scientific research and in certain critical life situations --

MISHLOVE: We become well socialized as proper adults.

KELEMAN: We become oversocialized, overdomesticated. And we cut ourselves off in that way from the ground of our unpredictable livingness. When we reestablish that connection, we find ourselves part of all life, which is, so far as we know, at least three or four billion years on this planet, right from the very beginning of our time.

MISHLOVE: You know, what you're saying has its parallel, I think, in my background in parapsychology, where we notice that young children do better on ESP tests, and as they get older -- They do very well at the age of four. By the age of eleven they seem to function at about the skill of normal adults, which is slightly above chance -- one or two percent above chance in statistical tests. What do you think -- as a body therapist, how do you deal with something like ESP, which has to do with consciousness, direct awareness of something that's removed from normal sensory mechanisms?

KELEMAN: Well, first, it's interesting. The two words -- one is direct contact, and the other is removed from normal sensory. If you just look at it developmentally, a child in the womb is directly connected to its mother or the source of its nourishment. And there is communication going on in the pulsatory waves that organize the fetus into an infant, and the mother's environment into the matrix that feeds and supports that. And they are talking back and forth with their blood chemistry systems, with body to body, through all these liquids.

MISHLOVE: Heartbeat.

KELEMAN: The heartbeat is synchronized. When the child is born, it's on the mother's skin and temperature is brought in, and the voice is brought in. And slow-motion and frame-by-frame films -- say, by William Condon at the Western Psychiatric Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about languaging and the body movements of children, and how the mother talks rhythmically to the child, sets up a pattern of communication -- nonverbal, direct contact, and yet at a distance, because there are two bodies there.

MISHLOVE: That's right.

KELEMAN: So I think that what's called ESP is not extraordinary perception, but should be ordinary perception that our civilizing process causes to be compartmentalized. The Bushmen are well famous for being able to have dream experiences separated from their tribe, and be called back, since they were brought up in the matrix of sharing their dreams, sharing that contact. So I think that ESP is a rather normal, healthy, biological phenomenon that in its uninterrupted state would be easily available to most people. It's in the civilizing process in which we have to control the irrational, that we find ourselves giving such extraordinary titles as extrasensory rather than normal sensory perception.

MISHLOVE: Would I be pushing you too far to suggest that maybe what these experiences, as well as some of the others we've talked about, imply, is that our body, our soma, is really in some sense the whole world around us?

KELEMAN: I think that that would not be pushing me too far. That would be my belief -- that the entire animate tissue, all animate creatures including us humans, form the matrix called the biosphere. If you watch embryological process, you see this magnificent ball beginning to proliferate, the ball of a fertilized ovum. And then you see this tissue begin to migrate along the surface, the outside moving inside, gastrulation. So you see one layer of life moving internally. And you see this whole live biosphere develop into an infant. Well, I think that the biosphere is all us bodies, so to speak, as part of a gigantic living matrix, and that we are this matrix, and that we are able to have differentiation like any cell.

MISHLOVE: In other words, the way a cell differentiates into nerves and tissues and organs, the planet has done likewise. And we are like the cells of the planetary body.

KELEMAN: Yes, I would think that. I think that would not be pushing it too far. And part of my work is to have people again experience that common cellular matrix that we share with every other human and every other animate creature, so that we don't experience ourselves as cut off or just sort of living in a separate vacuum of our tightened skins.

MISHLOVE: Would it be the case then -- if I can keep pushing you a little bit -- would it be pushing you too far to say that when a person comes to you for therapy, and they feel they have a drug problem or a relationship problem, the kind of problems that people come in with, that the underlying problem that they really have, is being disconnected from this larger biosphere, this ground that we were talking about earlier?

KELEMAN: I think that is an essential characteristic of most people -- that they feel themselves unconnected to a matrix of life. Or that they feel in some way connected to the feeling of life, and they don't know how to manage or live with it. It becomes too much of an experience. So on one side they're cut off, or they have a sort of atrophy of connection; on the other side there is a connection, but they have sort of a tissue immaturity that can't contain the life. So on one side you have people acting out; on one side you have people sort of depressed. But that matrix, then, and the connection to the matrix, is disturbed.

MISHLOVE: I suppose for some people, they may get in touch with life in a way that is frightening. It reminds me of Schopenhauer's notion that all of life is carnivorous; it's feeding upon itself. And if we really saw life for what it was, we wouldn't want any of it to exist.

KELEMAN: Well, Schopenhauer was a man who didn't ever walk in the forest. And I think that he had a vivid image of what the jungle was without ever having been there. I mean, there is life feeding on life; I think that is a true perception. But there is also life giving birth to life, and that life forming very intricate and magnificent colonies and societies, including us. So while life lives on life, life is altruistic. While life lives on life, there is also the care of the young and the empathy with our equals. So I think that while we live in a paradoxical world, in which life sustains itself on life, we also live in a world where life generates life. And that's one of the mysteries about being alive -- you are faced paradoxically with the images of death. And part of the work is if you feel your aliveness and identify with the process of aliveness, then what disappears? Just your specific form of bodied life, but not bodied life.

MISHLOVE: In other words, you would accept the notion that consciousness somehow lives on in the larger matrix.

KELEMAN: I would use the word life. You can use the word consciousness. This consciousness is another one of those words which I think have so many biased meanings that we have lost what we mean by the root of that word. I mean, is it to be conscious of what is going on, or to be identified with what is going on -- that is, the process of life? So should we just be conscious of the process of life, or be conscious that we are life? It's around that word.

MISHLOVE: There's a paradox in there somewhere. I don't quite have my finger on what disturbs you about it, though.

KELEMAN: Well, I think one of the ways that the human functions is the objectifying function. We identify with having the knowledge about something, rather than being that something. In my book Your Body Speaks Its Mind, I have a little diagram, which is shaped something like that [indicates straight line that loops back on itself, then proceeds again in the original direction], and I point out, in the line of life, living our life, the urge to live, moving in the trajectory of its wishes, if you are involved in living, pursuing your appetite or your goals or your development, you may not know who you are. You will just be who you are. In order to know who you are, you may have to interrupt the process of being involved in your action. Knowing who you are -- that is, reflecting on your actions
-- for me is the process of consciousness.

MISHLOVE: Right. Rather than just being who you are.

KELEMAN: And it's important to be involved in the process of knowing who you are, but the object of that is to be who you are. And that is to be involved in life. So self knowledge should serve your ability to again live in a way in which you're not always self-conscious -- to be able to serve others, to be able to be connected to others, and to feel that you can trust the life in you. And that's why I sort of pull back a little bit and want to redefine consciousness again. We may be talking about the same thing, but we've just clarified it for me.

MISHLOVE: Let me shift gears a little bit, and try and get at this from a different angle. You seem to have a very elegant sensitivity, an elegant philosophy, about being grounded in the life process itself -- as you say, being touched by the body -- as being so basic. I find it very moving. And yet when we look out at the world around us, we see so much turmoil, so much discord, so much where people are out of touch. Is there any sense in which you feel that these bioenergetic insights that you have are applicable to some of the global problems we face?

KELEMAN: Well, in the sense that we should affirm that we are, all of us, a living matrix -- that the great gift of life to us is an embodied existence. And the perception of yourself, not as a mind that's capable of objectifying people, but of empathizing with people -- that we live in one world, and that we are all connected, and our problems are everybody's problems. So that is a felt perception that comes about through many of these exercises. It also makes us feel that we are a process seeking to deal with our life problems and share our solutions with others. People who work on themselves and feel themselves and overcome some of their own inhibited feeling about themselves, and find ways to express their life, are more in a position to love and to be involved with others, and to try to make the place that we live a more habitable place. I say in one of my books that that person who is capable and willing to be committed to their life feeling, I find it very hard to believe that that person can be a deliberate killer or a destroyer of life. I think that that doesn't happen -- that the sense of empathy with what is living is too strong of a message for them to be. And I think that's clear in, say, the old primitive tribes, in which they recognized that they had to eat other animals in order to live -- I mean, animals like themselves. They had elaborate rituals to greet the animal that they were going to slaughter, to make a ritual for them to pass from this life into the next life, and hoping that they could come back to this life.

MISHLOVE: Because they felt connected.

KELEMAN: They felt connected to the life. So that kind of perception, I think, is a loving perception, and I think does offer a hope based upon an emotional experience, rather than only a thinking experience.

MISHLOVE: We have just a couple minutes left, Stanley, but since you've referred several times to these exercises, I wonder, is there anything more you can share with our viewers about the exercises that you do?

KELEMAN: They're very simple exercises. I call it the organizing and disorganizing principle. I realize that a person who is contracted or angry sets himself up in a pattern of contraction which has an emotional expression -- to cling, to hold, to grab on. And if they can experience by intensifying the organization of that --

MISHLOVE: Tightening.

KELEMAN: -- tightening it more, they realize that they have organized more tightening, and then they can disorganize what they have created. So they can then disorganize the hand, and hopefully the reflex of extension will carry it a little bit past their original contraction, and they will begin to teach themselves how to disorganize their spasticities. If they can't help themselves on that level, then there are specific ways that you can touch them or get them to do more vigorous exercises to learn the process of contracting and decontracting.

MISHLOVE: But there's a lot of wisdom just in tightening the hand and then loosening. I can almost feel as the hand loosens a kind of relaxation moving all the way in to the body.

KELEMAN: And then you feed yourself. And you take your values for your life from that experience.

MISHLOVE: Sometimes when we're very tight, we don't know how tight we are until we make it tighter.

KELEMAN: That's right. And then when you disorganize it, as you said, the wave of relief is that feeling of pleasure that allows you to sense that life can be and is good. And other creatures feel this, and how can I live from that feeling, rather than from an idea?

MISHLOVE: Living from our feelings -- that seems to be sort of the basis of what you're saying, rather than from our thoughts.

KELEMAN: Right. Which is the same as living from the experience of love -- whether it's the love of the godhead which gives us life, or the remembrance of the love that we experienced as children, or with others.

MISHLOVE: Well, Stanley Keleman, I think that's a very eloquent note to end on.

KELEMAN: Thank you very much, Jeffrey. I appreciate that.

MISHLOVE: Thank you very much for being with me, Stanley.

KELEMAN: Thank you.


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