Reviewed by Nancy Eichhorn
There’s a feeling I get when words, infused with a deeper more intimate knowing, seep into my skin, course through my veins, sink into the rich darkness that is the marrow of my bodily being. The essence of feeling me flirting with different combinations of me, juxtaposed with the traditional sense of being me fills my heart with intense desire. I crave sustenance and words brought forth from the vastness of our own internalized intuitive world feed me, fill me.
I opened Speaking of Bodies: Embodied Therapeutic Dialogues, (Karnac, 2016) edited by Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar, Liron Lipkies, and Noa Oster anticipating a good read. I know Asaf’s work as a writer and an editor. I’ve read/reviewed several of his books for this magazine as well as contributed a chapter to his recently released, When Hurt Remains: Relational Perspectives on Therapeutic failure (co-edited with Rachel Shalit, also Karnac, 2016) so I have felt the blessings of writing with an artist.
The introduction begins with a story. The tale of Pinocchio’s quest after Geppetto (the woodcarver who created him) wished on a star his puppet to become a real boy. With Jiminy Cricket anointed as his conscience by the Blue Fairy (who grants Geppetto’s wish), Pinocchio begins his journey into the realm of humanness.
Yet, the editors’ question his faith in the human form. Why, they ask, would he (or anyone) give up eternity to have a body, to suffer illness and death, to be dependent on decaying organic matter? (no romantic ideology here). The answer they propose is that we are born into our bodies, our arrival into this world is “a highly bodily experience” just as our departure—when we cease to exist in what they reference as “a spirited way”. It appears that “every encounter, every meeting, every relationship, is saturated with us-as-bodies, with sensations, movements, gestures, and perceptions that stem from the body and move through the body. It is part of our developmental task to consciously claim ourselves as bodies” (pg. xvii). One underlying foundation of this book, then, is the notion that two aspects of embodiment accompany us throughout our lives—the given body and the acquired body.
The editors’ note that they initiated this book based on shared feelings of “passion and excitement about bodies and relationships, within therapy and outside of it” (p. xviii). Psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic encounters, they say, engender deep and meaningful dialogues, foster growth and curiosity, and support change and healing. From this position they pondered: “Can we bring the body closer to therapy and therapy closer to the body?” (p. xix) They offer this book as a tribute to the Blue Fairy as “it celebrates, mourns, blesses, and sponsors our embodied being and our embodied relating” (p. xix).
The book is divided into seven parts touching on different themes of embodiment: the rhythmic body; the living body; the sensual body; the body of pain; the beautiful body; the divine body; and the psychotherapist’s body. Each part has three chapters. First readers explore different bodily experiences via vignettes written by “leading figures in psychoanalysis and body psychotherapy” (p. xx). Second, counter contributions that address the same concepts presented in each vignette are offered, written by “experts in their respective fields relating to those subjects from their own unique perspective” (p. xx). Third, dialogues between the contributors (therapists and non-therapists) and the editors mine the material for gems. The vignettes are considered the appetizer while the back and forth conversations represent the main course—they constitute the centerpiece of the book offering “a place of meeting-of-bodyminds, a place for agreements and arguments, sameness and differentness, and a birthplace of thirdness” (p. xx).
And though, admittingly, I’m not a fan of the ‘he said, she said’ interview format of these conversations, I was determined to set my bias aside and simply read the book, let the words fall where they may and experience the impact rather than prejudge and or try to control the outcome.
I read the book in a few days and in a different way. Instead of sitting at a desk, pen in hand, taking notes from each chapter, I relaxed on a lounger by the pool, propped myself on a blanket down by the lake, I nestled into a grassy spot alongside the river and immersed myself in their words (yes there’s a water theme and it is summer so perhaps they go hand in hand with emotion and intuition and sultry sunny days spent decadently reading with no intended outcome). Thus, my review is different. There’s no point by point recitation of what I read and who wrote what. There’s simply an overall feeling. You see, when I set the book down, I felt sated; yet, at some deeper level, I sensed meaning take hold, form a more holistic, more relational sense of writer, reader, editor, story, scene, moment. I ended with a reflective stance of experiencing the body in new ways, no longer simply accepting the stance of my past. When a book changes me, I say it’s potent. Yet, the book is merely the vehicle, a tool that talented writers and therapists employ to both establish a relationship—me to thee—but also to nurture a relationship between me and the other me (or other ‘mes’ as the case may be).
Overall the vignettes drew me in; the writing, at times fast and fragrant, slowed, expanded, allowed a ripening, a deepening of experience, an immersion into bodies and relationships. The writings poise the reader on an edge—stay safe in your patterned knowing or step into the vastness of curiosity where exploration and playfulness, where presence, deeper listening and truer seeing can nurture attuned relationships to foster change, growth, healing. And, yes, the conversations truly did “awaken and enliven the body in psychotherapy and everyday life” (p. xx). Each voice—the contributors’ and the editors’—added to the co-creation of meaning from an extremely experiential moment. I felt as if the therapists took us into scenes steeped with sensations—we see, hear, taste, touch, intuit—then they mined the interactions for reflective meaning. The relationships that developed throughout the dialogues were fascinating. There were some tense moments, some shared understandings and interpretations nuanced from different perspectives that ended on a “happy” note—agreement, respect, acceptance.
Picture of Pinocchio and Geppetto retrieved from http://movieweb.com/pinocchio-live-action-movie-disney/
Stock photo of woman sitting by river retrieved online.