Embodied Presence

Recently I watched an HBO documentary about an exhibit done by the well-known and controversial performance artist Marina Abramovic held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 2010. The exhibit was called “The Artist is Present” and consisted of  two chairs and a table with Abramovic (“The Artist”) sitting in one chair with the other chair available for anyone in the museum to come and sit across from her. As they sat, no words were exchanged, no signalling, just Abramovic being present with the person for as long as that person cared to sit there. It quickly became obvious that for many people  something significant happened as they met her gaze and became aware of her focused attention on them. Many people had profound experiences whilst just simply being there. And Abramovic was also transformed by the experience, not just from sitting with people at least 8 hours a day nearly every day for 3 months but from the “energy dialogue” as she calls it with over 1500 people.

The experience of watching that dynamic has been with me as I’ve been working with clients. I’ve been aware that a significant component of the work we do with clients is interwoven with our endeavour to be present with clients and model for them how to be present with themselves.

I’m struck by how the study of Ortho-Bionomy cultivates this embodied presence in ourselves and in the therapeutic dynamics with our clients. In fact, the very first principles and techniques that we learn are all about embodiment:

“Practitioner comfort is just as important as client comfort.”

It’s obvious that in order to help someone experience themselves in an embodied way we as practitioners need to model that for our clients. By starting with our comfort as practitioners we can more readily help our clients feel more comfortable. We’ve changed the focus from discomfort to what is easy and already functional. We’re starting from a place of wholeness – within ourselves and with the expectation of finding that within our client.  We’re receptive and relaxed and our task is to find what’s functional within our client and within us as well as.

“Non-attachment to outcome.”

We don’t set out to follow a specific agenda or protocol. Instead we engage in an on-going process which requires us to be even more observant to the responses to our interactions with our client. The advantage is that process allows for openness and curiosity in the course of our exploration of what is going on for our client. There is no requirement that there be a certain way in which a client responds but rather the onus is on us as practitioners to track how the client responds and then interact with those responses. Hence the quality of our attention becomes important.

“Creating space.”

This requires that as a practitioner I need to do more listening than talking or doing. When we create space we invite our client to become present, we support their responsiveness, and we value what the client brings and has to offer in their healing process. By quieting the environment the self-corrective impulses can be recognised and supported. We step back so that the client can step forward.

“Facilitating self-regulating processes.”

For me this is about trust: trust that the body is engaged in an on-going self-corrective process, that we can be present with our client without interfering, and that the “answers”, the functional solutions or healing processes, will emerge.  And because they emerge from our client’s direct experience there is a greater likelihood of being able to respond or act differently.

Engaging from a state of embodied presence we model the state from which change happens – spontaneously and generatively. And thereby allowing the change to be profound and deep.

And not only is our client transformed by embodied presence, so, too, are we.

For more information on Marina Abramovic the documentary on her performance installation check out their website: www.marinafilm.com


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