Fritz Perls' books, too Gestalt Therapy Verbatim and In and Out of the Garbage Pail. I really liked his notion of seeing yourself as a whole variety of sometimes disharmonious parts in relation to each other. And working with the separate parts to achieve a more integrated state.
What were the main ideas that the work at Esalen was based on?
I thought of them as realizations. One of the main ones was self-responsibility. I realized that I was responsible for myself to a much, much larger extent than I'd ever imagined. It soon became very clear that I was making choices in the way I breathed and the way I got sick and the way I perceived other people. I learned that I had many more alternatives than I had realized. I began to discover a much greater degree of freedom in my life than anyone had ever led me to believe.
Somehow, up to then, I'd picked up the belief that I wasn't really empowered in my own right. That I needed to depend on my parents and my teachers and other kinds of "experts." It was an amazing realization to discover that I was really at the root of my own life. It was pretty shattering, too, because I had to assume responsibility for a lot of situations I'd been blaming on other people and on institutions. On the other hand, I suddenly felt immensely powerful, almost godlike. I realized that if I chose to work on it, I could run a marathon, raise my IQ, learn to control my heartbeat—to do all kinds of things I'd never let myself believe I might be able to do.
What were some other realizations?
Another significant one was seeing the ways in which the mind and body were so intimately involved—like dancing partners. The mind really wasn't separate from the body. Thinking and feeling and perceiving didn't take place in some little box behind the eyes, as I'd always believed. My mind was present in every cell in my body. That was why the group leader in that early body work group had been able to read out my whole character. It was all there! I got so I could tell a great deal about a person by seeing them stand or sit or walk.
I learned that stress and emotional tension can become focused in a specific part of the body, and that if this happens over a long period of time it will permanently shape the person's posture so that every movement will express that pattern. And the parts of the body in which emotions are trapped will be the parts most likely to develop malfunctions. For example, if a person needs to cry, but won't let himself, he may stop the crying by clinching his jaw. If the jaw is held tightly, over a long period, chronic tension is likely to develop in the tempero-mandibular joint or grinding of the teeth or headaches. Or unexpressed anger, trapped in the abdomen, can lead to a wide variety of disorders.
So illness can come from unexpressed emotions.
Yes, and the opposite is also true. If a person in creative or unusually vital or energetic, it’s not just a matter of genetics or blind luck, it’s a result of choices—conscious or unconscious—that he or she is making every day.
So, the body isn't just a static object, but a constantly-changing, pliable organism.
Yes. We are constantly in process. Our bodies are constantly being shaped by the choices we do—or don't—make. We can passively let things go on as they are, or we can choose to make changes. I can notice that certain joints are tight and do yoga to loosen them up. If I'm feeling tense and scattered, I can meditate and actually change the kinds of brain waves I'm generating. If I'm having difficulty in personal relationships, I can get feedback from friends on my personal style of relating to people and try some new alternatives. I create myself with the choices I make every day.