The Temple of the Heart: Amanae Receiving Workshop, Brussels, June 3rd - 5th 2011
He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them.”— John 12:40
I begin with the quote from John’s Gospel because it very graphically describes my own state of being for many years.
I can only speak for myself, and must let others tell their own stories.
My heart was hardened over successive years because of the wounds it received. When we harden our hearts we do so out of love, because we cannot bear our own suffering. We harden our hearts in order to protect ourselves. It is an act of shielding which is an act of protection which is an act of love.
In other words: I do not blame myself.
The corollary of a hardening of the heart is when the heart melts, and my heart began to melt sometime last year, soon after I began receiving Amanae. It was little things at first. Literally little things. It was children. I would see a child playing on the beach, or skipping along hand-in-hand with its parents, or chattering gleefully about everything and nothing, and there would be a kind of ache in my heart, like an ache of longing: a longing for what has long passed for me.
I say, “an ache” but it is also a kind of tingling, a kind of awakening, like the ache of tired muscles that have not been used for a while, like the ache in the body when you first awaken in the morning, which makes you want to stretch and yawn and give praise for the new day. A positive ache. The ache of love.
That seems like a good description of Amanae - “the ache of love” - as the therapy involves working in the deepest places in the body, in the muscle-tissue nearest the bone, at the point where all our deepest hurts are locked away and is, indeed, a kind of existential ache almost reaching to the soul.
The first time my body psychotherapist, Ruth Hoskins, used it on me, I nearly jumped out of my skin. I had never experienced anything like that before. It hurt, but in a strangely satisfying way. Over succeeding weeks on her massage table I learned to stay with the pain, to meet it, to embrace it even, to breathe into it. It was my own pain I was feeling. Maybe it was the pain of being alive.
Ruth had been training with Eric Lipin, Europe's premier Amanae practitioner, and had attended one of the five day workshops in Brussels.
Very soon things started to happen. For instance, one day Ruth touched a point on my shoulder and my body unfurled. It was as simple as that. I suddenly recognised an unconscious way I had of holding myself which permeated my whole body. There was a kind of tension in my body which came from my mind, and in that moment of recognition I decided to let it go. I let my mind wander over my body and gave each part of my body permission to let go. I let go and my whole body unfurled like a young fern in the undergrowth. I had a clear impression of a young fern unfurling in the dappled sunlight in a wood somewhere. First of all it was my fingers. My fingers unravelled one by one. They stretched out, loosened, relaxed and became free. Then it was my hands and my wrists and my elbows and my arms, until my arms had unfolded, thrown open in an arc of embrace as if I wanted to hold the whole world in my arms and embrace it. It was exquisite and graceful and surprising and free.
On another occasion Ruth was working on my throat and jaw, and the same thing happened. I was suddenly aware of the self-imposed tension in that space, as if I was permanently “swallowing my words”, keeping something in, repressing something, and I let go. Again, my jaw was released and my mouth fell open and I felt the tension lift from every notch and very fibre in that whole area, my throat opening up, as I let go of my unconscious control over that part of my body with a sigh of relief.
Then something very surprising happened.
Ruth had been working on my heart in the way that is familiar to all people who have experienced Amanae. She said, “I sense a great rage in you,” or words to that effect. She went down to my feet and put all her weight on my feet and told me to push against her weight. I was annoyed at this, irritated. I didn’t know what she was doing, and I did what I always do when I’m feeling under pressure: I retreated into a kind of amused insouciance - a learned response - attempting to shrug off the feeling of annoyance. And then it happened. Something suddenly erupted from me, from some place I had never been before, or had forgotten about, and the next thing I knew I was gone. I was gone and then it was as if I was returning from a great distance, from what might have been half a universe away, and I didn’t know who I was or where I was or if I had even existed before that moment. It was like I was being born for the first time. I was coming from a place of great intensity and light but I had no idea where I had been or for how long. I was also aware that someone was screaming and with a sudden sense of recognition “the penny dropped” and I realised it was me.
I have since realised that that was the first time that my heart had opened.
And I can tell you now, that every time it happens it is just as surprising, just as intense, just as new. Every time your heart opens it’s as if you are being born again for the first time, like you have travelled half a universe to get here, though no time has passed at all, like you have crossed the threshold into another universe and come back unscathed, like you have been plugged in to the Universal Grid and all of your senses have become electrified.
I’m going to give up on the superlatives for now, but I’m sure more will be needed later.
Anyway, all of that is a background to my experience of the Amanae receiving workshop in Brussels earlier this year.
By the time I got there I had filed away that experience of my heart opening into the cupboard marked “Imponderables” and had effectively forgotten all about it.
My memories of the first two days are a little blurred.
The first day began with a circle and a “sharing” in which we introduced ourselves and stated our intentions for the day.
I said my intention was to find out what my intention was, which was kind of clever, but also, as I realise now, a mind thing.
I was not speaking from the heart.
After that we were given our partners for the day, and I was relieved that it was a bloke, as I’m a little nervous around women.
He, however, said that he would have preferred it if he had been partnered by a woman.
“Partnering” means that you place your hand on the other’s body in the place that is going to be worked on. It helps the person on the table to bring their attention to that place. Also it acts as a kind of reassurance, creating a bond between the two people.
I was surprised at how quickly the emotions started to come up. My partner was on the table first, but very soon I was finding myself sobbing. I had my hand on my partner’s back but it was me that was crying. Wouter, a trainee practitioner, came up to me and put his hand on my heart. He said, “it is a very old pain,” or, perhaps, “it has been hurting for a very long time,” and I was suddenly in tears.
I was remembering a relationship that had ended many years ago but which I had recently realised was still very painful to me.
It was in connection with this relationship that I had come up with the expression about hardening of the heart and got a Christian friend of mine to look up quotes in the Bible for me, which is how I came across that quote from John’s Gospel above.
I was also aware, watching my partner’s back being worked on, and then putting my hand on the place that had been worked, that my own back was responding, as if, by working on one back the practitioner was also working on the other, or as if the two backs were psychically connected in some way.
Some observations about the process involved.
There are various nodal points on the body, known as “doorways”, to which pressure is applied and which connect by some mysterious route to the inner world. You breathe into the inner space, bringing your awareness in with your breath, and attempt to connect to the pressure being applied from the outside. You bring your breath into the inside to feel the hand of the other person on the outside.
In fact there are four distinct elements to the Amanae process. You drink lots of water, you breathe very deeply, you bring your awareness in with your breath in order to feel the sensations in your body. Thus the four elements are as follows: breath, water, awareness, and the body and bone-structure that contains all of these things. In fact, if you want to summarise what makes up a human being, then nothing could be more concise. A human being is a body made of flesh and bone and water into which breath and awareness are drawn. We are an amalgam of body, breath, water and awareness, though I’ll leave it up to you to decide which of those elements should come first. Maybe all are equally important.
If we wanted to take this analysis a little further, we might say that these are the four elements of classical thought - Earth (or body) Air (or breath) Fire (or awareness) and Water – which make up the whole of existence.
We were working on the back on the first afternoon. After the first session was over it was my turn. You lie on your front face-down on the massage table, with your head in a head-rest, with your face poking out. There is a bowl underneath your face, with a few tissues. You soon learn what these are for. You are encouraged not to swallow your phlegm and saliva, which starts to come out in large quantities. At least it does from me. Also there is a particular kind of Amanae breath. You breathe in very deeply through the mouth, but release the breath quickly in a sort of sigh. You don’t hold onto the breath or let it out slowly. You simply release it, and let it carry whatever emotion it is you find in your body. The breath becomes an expression of the emotion and very soon you are making primal noises. There is something animalistic about this. You start to growl and whine and shriek and curse and make all sorts of strange noises. Sometimes you chant or croak. Whatever. Being involved in an Amanae workshop is to be immersed in this sea of verbal emotion. It is like waves passing around the room, or like a kind of feedback loop. You pick up on the emotions and start to feel them yourself. You start to mimic the sounds coming from other parts of the room, harmonising with the chants, or echoing the croaks and groans. The sounds pass around the room, washing over you. After a while I was giggling at the absurdity of it. What must people outside have thought? It was like a madhouse in there. No, I thought, correcting myself: it was like an exorcism. It was like we were casting out the demons.
So, then, one of the practitioners was working on my back. There’s a kind of movement over the muscle near the spine which feels like a twanging of the muscle. It hurts quite a lot. You bring your awareness in with your breath to meet the pain. Sometimes there are memories locked up in the pain. As you approach it so the memories are released. And then I had a clear image of a person’s face. It was someone who had once bullied me. There was a sudden upsurge of rage: all the things I’d not said to this person at the time, all the ways he had humiliated me, made me feel small and worthless. “Humiliated”: that’s the word. It’s from the same root as humus, from the Latin, meaning the earth, the ground. When you are feeling humiliated you want the earth to open to swallow you up. So I shouted out in all my rage, “stop bullying me!” It was not just addressed to this person, but to every person who had ever bullied me. It was a moment of great clarity.
Another thing that came up that first day (or it might have been the second day, I forget now) was that I heard a resounding voice which passed through my whole being like a shiver. “So shy,” it said, and I knew that that was me. The voice held no blame. It did not accuse or condemn. It was not judging me. It was not measuring me or making comparisons. It was simply stating what was, and I realised that my shyness is innate, fundamental, not learned, not taught, but a part of my nature, like my brown eyes or my olive skin, my own personal burden in life, or my own secret virtue.
Most of my life has been spent trying to hide my shyness from people, as if I’m ashamed of it, but from that moment on the table I felt that it truly explained me as a person, and I was able to talk about it. It became one of the themes of my weekend.
So that was it: the first day and the second day combined, since whatever was happening on the first day was continued and magnified on the second.
Actually the second day started a little differently as we began with a meditation session. I must admit I was dreading this. “Meditation”: the very word has an uncomfortable ring for me as, try as I might, I have never been able to meditate. I just can’t sit still. Everything about me wants to fidget. My body wants to fidget, my mind wants to fidget, my heart wants to fidget. Even my nose wants to fidget. I’m a sort of flibbertigibbet of a person, flighty and superficial, with a constantly chattering mind. Meditation, to me, means forcing my mind to be quiet. But, of course, it is my mind telling my mind to be quiet, and, given that I like conversation, especially with myself, so any attempt to talk to myself ends up in a long-winded internal conversation before I even realise the absurdity of the situation. “Be quiet. No you be quiet. I am being quiet. No you’re not, I just heard you, you be quiet. Ok I’ll be quiet if you are quiet. Ok you be quiet first. Ok, now we’re quiet. No we’re not, I just heard you,” etc etc ad nauseum.
In fact, Amanae meditation is the exact opposite of this. We were encouraged to make noises, encouraged to move. The session was lead by Judy, an experienced practitioner from the United States. First of all she told us to bring our breath into our body, and to release it in the usual way. Then she told us to move and to stretch. So people were sighing and groaning and moving, and stretching and breathing very heavily. Then Judy broke into a very unusual sounding nasal chant. It had a particular note, like the sounding of a bell. Some people kind of half joined in, but there weren’t any rules about this. Other people - Wouter particularly - continued to groan and to sigh and to yawn and to stretch and move about. I found my jaw slackening and the breath coming very deeply into my chest. And then - the strangest of things - I was suddenly still. All those years of trying to sit still in meditation, and then, by not trying, I found myself inexplicably stilled.
By the way, for all of you less familiar with the English language, “flibbertigibbet” is a Middle English word of unknown origin still in use in parts of Northern England. It means a chattering or flighty person. It is also, coincidentally, the name of a demon mentioned in Shakespeare, which brings something else to mind. In my description of yesterday’s proceedings I used the word “exorcism”, but this isn’t correct. We weren’t exorcising our demons, we were embracing them. We were giving them expression, inviting them into the fold, allowing them to speak in whatever voice they chose, and by doing this, incorporating them back into our whole being, because, as Khalil Gibran said, “what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?” In this particular case it was my Flibbertigibbet – my chattering noisiness – which I had banished and which had then plagued me in meditation. By giving it voice, in fact, it was satisfied, and became quiet of its own accord.
And we see something more of the Amanae working method here: a kind of spiritual anarchy, in which everything is given voice, everything is permitted (short of actual physical violence, that is) and every movement of the heart is invited into the circle, to be embraced, to be celebrated, to be engaged in play: not an exorcism, in fact, more a kind of joyous possession.
So now we have a new concept to play around with: the idea of Shamanic possession, which, if you stop and think about it, is the opposite of exorcism. In exorcism the demons are considered evil and are “cast out” into the wilderness. But, of course, by casting them out we give them power. They work on us from the shade, from the unconscious, from the hidden places in the dark, exerting their influence over us, controlling us without our knowing. But in Shamanism the opposite is true. Instead of being exorcised the “gods” are invited in to the body to take possession, and from there used to heal. In Amanae we invite the demons in from the shadows, and into our consciousness, and from there the demons lose their power and integrate into the light of who we are.
In fact the word “demon” – an evil spirit in Christian thought – is derived from the Greek word “daemon”, which is a kind of demigod or intermediary in the spiritual world, like the ghost of a dead hero. Benevolent not evil, something to be embraced and called upon, not something to be banished, to be possessed by your daemon is to be inspired from a higher source. It is to locate and communicate with your genius, the source of your being.
So the second day we continued to work on the back. This time I was partnered by a young woman. When we were asked what our first thoughts of our partner were, my partner said she thought I was a sensitive man, which I felt very flattered by.
The day was very long. The woman was on the table first and the session seemed to go on and on. My back began to ache and I had to sit down. Then, after lunch it was my turn. I don’t remember anything particular about this. It was all the usual stuff: lots of breathing, lots of groaning, lots of aching, lots of shouting, lots of phlegm, lots of saliva, lots of water. At one point Wouter was working on my legs and I was screaming in pain. This seemed to hurt more than usual. Also, when he was working on my lower spine approaching the sacrum, he said, “it’s like a fortress in there. No one is permitted entry.”
By now I had taken to spitting into the bowl rather than having dribs of phlegm leaking out of my nose all the time, and it was at a certain point later in the afternoon, after I’d let out one particularly large gob, that my partner suddenly left. She said, “I have a problem with disgust,” and she went and sat on the platform at the end of the room.
This was devastating for me. You develop a particular intimacy with your partner, and, in my insecurity, I interpreted that phrase “I have a problem with disgust” to mean “I find you disgusting.” After this I couldn’t let go of that thought. I’m disgusting. That’s why women always leave me. It was like a repetitive loop going round and round in my head. I’m disgusting, I’m disgusting, I’m disgusting. I could hear my partner up on the platform sobbing to herself. I was still linked in with her, but in my head she had rejected me. We had become separated, and I took this as a kind of insult. She came back for the last few minutes, but by now something very dark had got into me. I couldn’t stop the resentful thoughts.
I looked around and there were all the other partners embracing each other. I could do with something like that, I thought. My brain was churning over and over. Why wasn’t I being embraced? Was I so horrible, so disgusting? I wanted to leave. I started to make plans to leave. I thought, “I can stay here tonight and then leave in the morning.” My train was leaving the following afternoon, so I could just hang around in Brussels for the day.
In the sharing circle everyone was talking about their positive experience, but I actively decided not to talk. I sat in surly silence while everyone else went on about the beautiful things that had happened to them on the table that afternoon. My partner decided not to share either, which I interpreted to mean she was being surly too. I kept one thing in mind, however. I thought, “I will talk to my partner.” I meant, before I packed up my things to leave.
There were a few minutes before dinner and I spoke to my partner and asked if she would mind talking to me, and she agreed. We went into the garden and I told her that I had felt deserted by her, abandoned, and that I had a problem with rejection, and that I hadn’t wanted to say anything in the circle but had decided to talk to her instead. And she said, “I think you’d better talk to Eric.”
So we approached Eric and Eric and I sat under a tree while I explained what had happened, and Eric assured me that this wasn’t my problem, and I felt relieved.
I decided to stay after all.
I can’t speak for my partner, of course. She will have to speak for herself. The only thing this does is to tell you about my own internal dialogue, about what was happening to me. This is as much as I know.
The image above is Temperance from the Rider-Waite tarot deck. After the sessions were over and I returned to the UK, I did a tarot reading, and this image was the one that came up. It corresponds very well to the impression I was left with of the being I encountered while on the massage table during the sessions.
So now we come to the third day, and to the revelations.
According to the Penguin Complete English Dictionary a revelation is:
1a the act or an instance of revealing something. b something revealed, especially a sudden and illuminating disclosure. 2 a truth believed to be revealed by God to man, or the communicating of it.
I have chosen this definition as it includes the word “illuminating” and the revelations given to me were indeed clothed in light.
On the third day we lay on our backs and the work was done on our chest.
I was partnered by an American woman.
I was on the table first.
Before we began we stated our intentions for the day. Earlier, Judy had talked about inviting our mind into our body, an idea I was taken by. I like my mind. I don’t like the idea of it being banished or lost. I want my mind to be a witness to all that I see and experience. I want it to keep up its commentary, its analysis, its level-headed thinking. So I stated my intention: “to invite my mind into my body to discover the wisdom that lies there.” And this was my first heart-felt statement of intent: an invitation to my mind to partake of the on-going proceedings of the day.
Lying on your back you feel much more vulnerable than when you lie of your front. You have your eyes open and you are looking around at the world. The face is naked and you are looking into the naked face of your partner. You are exposed. My partner was holding my hand and looking down at me from above. There is something archetypal in this. It is the position your mother might take before she tucks you up in bed at night, or the position a lover might take before she bends down to kiss you. Or maybe it is the position a nurse might take, before you are wheeled away into the operating chamber and the drugs are starting to take effect. I was looking into my partner’s eyes and seeing the eyes of all my past lovers in there. The eyes were sceptical but benign, defensive but compassionate, cautious but kind.
The practitioners were coming over to work on my chest: on my heart area. I was doing what I had stated as my intent. I was inviting my mind into my body to find what wisdom lies there. So I was breathing into the ache in my heart. I found I could go deeper and deeper with this. I could bring my whole awareness into my body to meet the ache coming in from the outside. Judy worked on me, and Wouter and Eric. I don’t know how much time was passing. And then Wouter was working on me. He was leaning over me on my right, working on my heart: this small circular motion around my sternum. And….
And then I was gone.
There was no "me" any more, only light.
I can’t say any more about this, as I wasn’t there to witness it.
I only know that as I reappeared I felt that I was coming from very far away, from a great distance in time and space, and that I had been bathed in light. It was a place of great energy and power. There was a buzzing in my ears and a rush of energy all around me and as I opened my eyes I didn’t know who I was or where I was. It was like being born all over again. I was scared, because I didn’t know what had happened to me. I opened my eyes and slowly the world came into focus. Oh yes, I’m on a table. Oh yes, I’m in an Amanae workshop. Oh yes, there is Wouter, leaning over me, just as he had been before. No time had passed. I had stepped through a wormhole into another dimension a universe and a half away, and then returned, in less than a blink of an eye. I guess I was looking perplexed. Wouter said, “your heart has opened,” and there was a look of deep compassion in his eye and his voice was gentle and kind and I felt safe.
I had this experience three times on the table that morning, and by the second and the third time I had learned to say “thank you.”
The second time was with Judy, who did her strange nasal chant over me, and I disappeared into that. It was like the chant was a trigger for my soul to leap over the threshold into the other world. The third time it was with my partner, who said, “you want to be wholehearted don’t you?” and I knew that I did, that my heart had been broken and that I wanted it whole again, and I kind of leapt joyfully into my heart, into that place of light and wonder, to embrace the mysteries that lay there.
As I say, I cannot tell you about that place as each time I became immersed into it my earthly mind became lost. But I was left with certain impressions. Firstly, that it was a place of light, of pure light, of brilliance and intensity, so that it seemed as if I was being bathed in light. Secondly, I had the impression that there was a being there, a being of light. Maybe that was me. Maybe I was the being of light. Or maybe it was an angel. It seemed like an angel, or like my higher self waiting for my acknowledgement. It was powerful beyond measure, but compassionate. It cared about me and wanted to heal me. It thought with its heart not its head and it could communicate telepathically, direct from heart to heart. I also felt that there was a symbol on his chest: a triangle radiating lines like rays. Maybe there was an eye in the triangle, like the all-seeing Eye of Horus. I had that impression too: of a witnessing eye radiating eternal light.
So there is a place in the heart through which God looks out into the world. The heart is a temple, and the mind must enter it as a supplicant, full of reverence, full of praise, prepared to worship. The heart is the key, because the heart is the mediator. It mediates between God and man. It mediates between the sexual organs and the brain, between instinct and analysis, between sin and redemption, between a hope and a prayer. In the heart lies suffering, but also compassion. In the heart lies anger, but also the capacity to forgive. It is the heart that feels. That is why we want to lock it away. Sometimes it feels too much. It aches too much, with all the pain that we inflict in our lives, with all the pain we receive. But because it feels it can also heal. It is the place of the wound where all healing begins.
Judy told me to breathe in through my heart and I said, “it is the angelic breath.” My partner said, “what did he say?” and Judy said, “angelic breath.” And I said, “yes, because you breathe through the heart and the lungs are like wings and they are unfurling with every breath.”
Don’t ask me what I meant by that, but it all seemed to make sense at the time.
I could feel the breath like an arrow piercing my sternum and entering my heart. It was like a column of light going directly to my heart. I was brimming with light. All around me in the room I could hear the sounds of other people whose hearts were opening. There was like a shiver of ecstasy passing around the room. The room was stirring with ecstasy. Judy was working on my shoulder and my arms unfolded. My arms opened up so I was in the receiving position. Like Jesus on the cross, but not in suffering, in ecstasy, I lay on the table already receiving what the boundless universe had given.
Blessings to you all.
You never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.”— Thomas Traherne
More on Amanae by CJ Stone
- The Amanae Experience
I let go. And the next thing my whole body was unfurling like a young fern in springtime. The tension disappeared and my body opened up.
- Releasing Your Pain: How Amanae Works
A profoundly affecting bodywork treatment is gaining popularity around the world: CJ Stone went to find out how Amanae works