The Vulnerability of the Body and Awareness

Jack Wiener, LP, CDMT

What I am sharing with you is a discovery. I did not intend it. I did not imagine it. It sprang forth in front of me in response to my instruction, “Try to sense the continuity of motion from the floor moving through your whole body.”

Myrna, in the far left corner of the studio was doing it. I could feel the emotion in every movement, like watching the slow motion blooming of a flower, petal after petal opening to reveal a core. I was stunned.

None of the other five adults in the class came close to Myrna’s organic, evocative development of gestures, of changing forms.

Fifty-six years of teaching creative movement, a modality of dance education that explores the basic elements of line, form, qualities, space and time through improvisation, had brought me to the irrefutable understanding –– all physical actions happen through muscles.

I can compare this to our analytic understanding that all defenses are behaviors that cover up feelings. Any discontinuity of feelings is dissociative: a denial, avoidance, and displacement. Our analysis makes us aware of the sensate experience of feelings. The sensate experience of motion moving through muscles that I call The Interplay of Muscles makes us equally aware of fully embodied feelings or their discontinuities.

These embodied discontinuities reveal primal characterologic ways of covering up the flow of the unconscious. They reveal how the existential experience of aloneness, of separateness, is handled. Transference and counter-transference issues are immediately sensed and discerned.

What I discovered evolved out of practicality.

Miriam, a fifty-plus-year-old social worker had flattened feet, and fallen arches. No bone deformation, just bad habits that became progressively worse over a lifetime. The non-existent arches persistently betrayed the longing for freedom of her spirit.

She asked for private sessions. We sat across from each other as I showed her how by aligning the placement of her feet over the 4th toe line, a line on the sole that runs from the heel to the 4th toe, the arch automatically lifts. Her feet were so flat that it took repeated incremental adjustments for her to even begin to differentiate the sensation of an arch (through the forty muscles and twenty-seven bones of each foot).

This grounding effort encouraged Miriam’s awareness that her feet and legs are connected to her pelvis and torso; it helped to offset lifting her rib cage, shoulders and head to express her excitement dancing. Her wish for flight was strong, but persistently frustrated by her muscular misalignments, discontinuities of motion.

Miriam’s wish, excitement, was motorized by a lengthy analysis. Her aggressive drive was freed, but her body couldn’t support it. These unconsciously embodied misalignments express a sabotaging, pejorative super-ego.

All of us discover this freedom when we learned to stand, walk and run. The freedom is inherent in our development. Only later does the body become vulnerable because of relationships, in which we stand with or against, walk towards or away, or run to or from.

These spatial and locomotive sensibilities are the raw material of theater, film directors, and cinematographers. They subliminally convey intentions and emotional reactions.

Margaret Mahler (1975) [1] named this stage of development the practicing sub-phase,” beginning between 6 to 10 months and continuing up to 18 months . Walking and running are implicitly acts of separation, individuating expressions of choice, accompanied by fantasies of omniscience and omnipotence. Once locomotive activity ensues, the kinesthetic-feeling chameleon world of infancy becomes overshadowed by the kinetic pride of skill, and the increasing capacity for physical repression –– stiffen into silence, or walk away.

Repressed feelings surface perversely via sensate displacements in hysterical conversions, in psychosomatic symptomology, in unconsciously internalized identifications, usually rationalized as genetic, in aesthetic preferences:The room is too small, or intimate,”  “the colors too (?) alive, or brash,”  “I love rhythms, or it gives me a headache,” and in prized sublimated rhythmic contractions and explosive transformations, such as expressed inThe Firebird Suite, by Igor Stravinsky.

The power of the psyche to use the musculature prompted Wilhelm Reich’s “Armored Body,” and my recollection of Sigmund Freud’s implied, muscular apparatus  are the executors of the death wish.

          These are historical testaments of how the body becomes vulnerable to the objectifying, symbol making mind.

The heel to 4th toe alignment discovery led the work with Miriam to explore how the contact with the earth travels through the musculature of ankles, calves, thighs, pelvis, torso, into the fingertips and neck. This mapping seemed obvious. We visually image this internal routing of motion through the body.

Traditional dance techniques continually strive to shape this mental body image, thereby reinforcing the polar splitting of mind over body, ironically perpetuating the classic polemic of “technique versus freedom of expression.”

What dissolves this splitting controversy is tactile motion.

          The tactile contrasts the speed of the visual and auditory by the incrementally sensed motion through muscles.

The incremental varies perceptually for each person making us experience a more sensate, private body.

          As I explored the tactile, self-imaging judgments abounded, “I am too stiff,’ ‘I am too flabby,’ ‘I am…too this,’ ‘too that.” Issues so many of us develop and contend with.

Developing the kinesthetic consciousness is the phoenix rising from the glowing ashes of the unconscious. The ashes to which the kinesthetic is cast, shifts our experience of muscles, to the polar generalizations of flexibility and strength. We think of muscles for fulfilling intentions, honing skills, celebrated daily on televised football, baseball, tennis, soccer, golf –– the coliseum of the Olympics. It encourages admiration, idealization, jealousy, and envy. These sentiments were woven into the fabric of my professional theater life, my informed and studied criticality –– I thought of as… smart! They were in retrospect desperate displaced narcissistic passions that covered-up an uneasy sense of inadequacy.

Developing an awareness of tactile motion means paying attention to what is actually working, the movement of motion between muscles, what I call The Interplay of Muscles.  This is the motion that connects muscles to muscles, actualizing actions, actualizing skills, and forms the prerequisite sensibility of mastery.

The tactile has to be sensed always anew, always in the NOW. It does not descend into the body through imagination, or disciplined practiced memory. It has to be established always in the present. The sensate tactile awareness is not a metaphoric fleeting sensory experience, or an isolated gut-sensed urge.

The tactile is process. The process is tactile.

During the middle ‘80s, I became adept at making physical corrections that addressed “normative” psychological resistances to tactile awareness. The common resistances are: the immediacy of a rhythmic relationship, a symbiotic merger, as inherent in most dancing. If the music is symbolically the “Other,” the music parallels the maternal matrix, testifying to the ubiquity of unconsciously embodied transferenceA more individuated resistance is surrender to the melodic line of the music, a submission to reverie, a fixated emotional association. Another resistance to tactile continuity is the oppositional character with explosive isolated gestures, and containments, motorized emotions. The most surprising of all resistances to tactile awareness, is the breath. The breath is a delusional substitution for tactile flow.

These commonplace “normal” resistances are embodied dissociations, splitting body from feelings. They are all somatic denials of tactile awareness, of the motion linking the musculature like musical notes. The Interplay of Muscles is the sensorial music of the unconscious.

Sustaining the Interplay of Muscles results in a very subtle organic, evocative progression of movement. We watch each other’s improvisations in class, and collectively experience the non-verbal transmission of feeling. The evocation is not predicated on skill, choreography, or timing. Something else is working –– a direct expression of the unconscious inherent in attention to the awareness of the continuous “loop” of motion through the musculature.

The unconscious travels through the musculature.

My discovery arrived incrementally through the practicality of addressing discontinuities by observing isolations and misalignments. I wanted to sense a feeling body.

Movement is, too often, a habituated expression of release. Imagine people simply loving to talk with no sense of feeling, no sense of what they are saying! As therapists, we are all trained to be attuned to these verbal disconnects. It is no different in movement. You can learn to see it!

It begins with the flat, the middle of the heels, 4th toe alignment to the ground, to mother earth, our support; then, incrementally sensing the resonance of that support through the musculature.

As you get used to functioning with this physical sensibility defenses surprisingly fall away, anxiety lifts. The inclusiveness of this sensibility enlivens thoughts with feelings, actions with feelings, and desire with feelings. The tactile “loop” emanates presence. It is awesomely simple!

Movement happens through muscles, not by muscles, but through muscles. What took me so long to recognize the obvious? Was it “Choice Uber Alles,” as in “Deutschland Uber Alles.”

It allowed fifty, sixty, seventy year olds to physically express without self-consciousness, what is silent in the body, in an organic, uncharted movement language––a dance of feelings. The liberating psychic experience has no words. The difference from the usual notion of dance is sensed. The experience however has no name. The Interplay of Muscles has no end.

I was stunned the very first time I saw it happening. I remain enthralled.

This last August, on vacation as I began exercising, my balance kept going off as though my feet had no connection to the floor. I’ve never, in my almost 82 years, felt so disconnected from my physical self. I wasn’t light-headed, dizzy, or weak. The experience felt totally psychogenic. I got a sudden glimpse of experiencing myself with no sense of the body, as if reality is mental apparitions. I was struck by how differently people live their psychic life! I had the surreal image of wandering souls!

Sensate memories of myself at two appeared like gifts. I felt the despair of abandonment, echoes of the long ago times when my mother left to go to work. I sensed the anger that got me spanked. Alone, I sensed the fear of attachment, the fear and longing of eroticism, the fear of the surreal sense of thought. Then, empty spaces in my mind disappeared as wholeness filled me!

Silences in the body can detonate as terror, as rupture, as madness, or end in death. My discovery is what keeps our splitting mind grounded, an infinity within.

It helped a fearful, arthritic 70 year old woman stiffening, terrified whenever she turned, transform into the floating dancer she had always wished to feel like. And, a 66 year old, when he began, with a limp, going back to childhood polio at six, and a lifetime of mishaps that shaped his intrepid spirit, glide, as if skating on ice, across the floor to celebrate with family and friends from around the country his 80th birthday, showing them that he was free at last from limping, and the terror of polio.

The awareness of this loop liberated me from the body, opened a flow as natural as blood circulating. It validated for me, Freud’s initial understanding of transference as pathology, and countertransference similarly obscuring the sensed interactions between us, of living.


Jack Wiener, LP, CDMT 165 West 66 St. NYC 10023  212-724-2044



Jack Wiener can be contacted at:

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