I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
Table of Contents
Visionary Somatics is an extraordinary synthesis of anatomical neuroscience, mindful clinical touch, trauma resolution, somatic psychology, ancestry work, ritual arts, embodied philosophical inquiry, mental imagery guidance, and expressive arts for catalyzing the human capacity to thrive in complexity. It is a living map and modality akin to a botanical rhizome insofar as it has the capacity to grow in nonlinear directions to establish a network of connections. Visionary Somatics thought and practice thus intends to express a vibrant mosaic of many maps and modalities found in our current atmosphere of the healing arts and sciences to actuate individual and cultural systems change. Students and clients drawn to Visionary Somatics tend to have a foundation of experience in a plethora of therapeutic modalities and periodically feel dissatisfied with the lack of connection or coherence between theory and practice platforms. Such a being intuitively understands what embodied philosophy is and knows that the intellect and symbolic imagination are nourished by the matter of the body which is the mother of all things– the concrete substrate for relating with the real objects of the world. These folks also discern that too much focus on the concrete and pragmatic can tend to stymie the imagination, truncate empathy, feed hubris, and can lead to traits of objectivity that distance us from the visionary cultural collaboration needed for innovation in our complex times.
Albert Einstein was an example of a visionary who was grounded in the concrete understandings of physis and yet he was also an embodied philosopher, exemplified by his wonderful phrase “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Einstein deeply respected the spiritual instincts of philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and at the level of complexity that Einstein and Spinoza were operating at intellectually, the word “religion” tends to get uprooted from its associations with parochialism, returning to its etymological meaning: “to re-link and bind fast.” If religion means to re-link and bind fast, then what is being re-linked and bound? Such a penetrating and open-ended question is often left to philosophers; yet so many philosophers lose the ground of their being through excessive abstraction.
Einstein and Spinoza are examples of an intellectual, visionary freedom grounded in the concrete and pragmatic dimensions of being. For Einstein it was the real world of physics and for Spinoza it was an enduring interest in substance. When considering the process of learning Visionary Somatics, contemplate the metaphor of Spinoza working in his lens-grinding shop. Exiled from his importing business, and literally cursed for his avant-garde thinking by the Jewish Orthodoxy, Spinoza took up residence in the back of a surgeon-chemist’s home around 1661 to pursue the art and science of crafting telescopes, microscopes, and spectacles. He used his hands and, most likely, a foot-powered spring-pole lathe resembling a combination pottery wheel and a loom to attend to his fabrications. The lens lathe was an oscillating tension grid with a warp of tensile strength connecting Spinoza vertically to a spring pole on the ceiling, and a weft of tension connecting him to a horizontal, rhythmic tugging of a circular, spinning wheel.
Spinoza stood or sat for endless hours at the whirring wheel, deeply in register with the room he inhabited, via the tension grid he was stewarding. As he rhythmically pressed the foot pedal to power his craft, was he put into reflective trances as he applied finer and finer abrasions to the glass he was polishing? Mathematics calculated divergent and convergent light rays towards focal points then operationalized into glass. Meanwhile his philosophical thought must have been converging, diverging, focusing, as he worked his rhythms of clarification.
As a craftsman Spinoza ground and polished lenses for clear sight, and as a philosopher he metaphorically ground and polished idea-lenses for intellectually clear sight. His re-linking and binding together was between the concrete craft of lens making and the abstract craft of philosophy; the love of wisdom. In the character of Spinoza we meet the embodied philosopher who is grounded in the substance of being while also being capable of crafting innovative ideas, narratives, and metaphors.
So, what do these two figures and embodied philosophy in general have to do with therapy? Therapy has a lot to do with intersubjectivity: the meeting of two or more beings in a complex entanglement of meaning making, personal/family history, conditioning, cultural factors, cognition, heuristics, emotion, and modes of experiencing reality. The two main categories of lenses that inspect this complex encounter between therapist and client, doctor and patient, facilitator and facilitated are the lenses of the sciences and the humanities. Let us oversimplify things for a moment and say that the sciences are concerned with concrete, objective reality and the humanities with the subjective realities of narrative, intellect, discourse, and semiotics (meaning making). Einstein and Spinoza express the visionary capacity— in their respective domains of science and the humanities— to see the interface between the subject and object through exquisitely polished lenses, to inhabit the borderlands between the concrete and abstract, and to express complexity in innovative ways.
Einstein and Spinoza can orient us to a deeper symbiosis between the sciences and the humanities and are examples of visionaries who creatively dance with complex convergences and divergences between ways of thinking, ways of focusing, and ways of understanding. Such visionary symbioses are desperately needed in the age of the megavirus we inhabit as symbiotic organisms with each-other and the ecosystems of the planet. Spinoza carried within his lungs the White Plague, M. Tuberculosis, while he toiled at his craft and he provides an interesting example of the well-known association between the White Plague and human creativity. There are theories that Tuberculosis is not just simply a pernicious bacteria, but a symbiotic element in a complex relationship with its host. only about 5-10 percent of human hosts– those who are immune compromised– get sick. In the remaining 90-95 percent of humans the Tuberculosis takes residence in the macrophage phagosomes with little to no pernicious effects. In fact, there are theories suggesting that Tuberculosis is a brain-enhancing endosymbiont with the human organism, meaning that it can symbiotically produce differences within the human microbiome that initiate creative ecologies in the brain. So established was the correlation between Tuberculosis and creativity that critics even suggest that the decline of tuberculosis in modernity is associated with a decline in creativity.
Science in symbiosis with the humanities affords a weaving of narrative meanings with scientific theories. Similar to Spinoza at his lathe who used calculated weavings of rhythm and abrasion to create foci, we can adjust our lens to look at the Bat Plague– Coranvirus– with an eye focused toward visionary possibilities. Armed with a bit of science and narrative about Tuberculosis, we can weave a tale that the Bat Plague is potentially an endosymbiotic nexus to elicit creative evolution in our species.
Imagine a deep symbiosis with bats, who share ecosystems with us humans. If we fabricate a lens and mobilize a language of meaning consonant with the humanities, we can consider what a virus spawned in the bat endosymbiont might be telling us. The following is a passage about the symbolic meaning of the bat, taken from Anthony Stevens’ encyclopedia of human symbols:
Bat: A creature rich in symbolism on account of its biological peculiarities. Because it lives in caves- passages to the underworld- it is associated with death and immortality. Since it is both bird and mouse it carries with it the implications associated with monsters or fabulous beasts- as a winged dragon or devilish hermaphrodite. its wings are worn by the denizens of Hell.
Because it can navigate accurately in the dark, it represents second sight, the capacity to “see” with the “third eye”. As it likes to hang upside down, it takes an inverted view of the world, and is thus a symbol of sedition and willful opposition to the status quo. it’s enormous ears symbolize acuity of hearing and since it is the only flying creature to suckle its young it is a symbol of busy and diligent motherhood. It’s rapid and unpredictable flight path makes it the embodiment of the uncertainty principle.
We are living in an age of uncertainty and unprecedented complexity. The bat, having gestated a virus that is entering the human biont with alacrity, affords us an opportunity to invert the logic of the status quo. In partnership with its incubated viral endosymbiont, we can see with new lenses in the underworld of our hellish times. Hermaphroditically we fly into visionary ways of engendering meaning and gestating creative, seditious encounters as we busily and diligently mother new possibilities for living. A creative lens, being fabricated presently by visionary craftspeople, may allow a seeing consonant with the eyes of our terrible, sacred, wonderful mammalian partner, the bat.
The capacity to clearly see the hidden abstraction in the apparent concrete and the hidden concrete inside the apparent abstraction is the hallmark of the visionary embodied philosopher. It’s where the love of wisdom, intellect, invention, and mind are married to the soma— the living matter of the body. This is the complex task of the Visionary Somatics community: to collectively give birth to the embodied philosopher who is at once healer and social scientist, researcher and mystic, therapist and clown, dreamer and pragmatist. To see clearly the extraordinary complexities in a therapeutic environment of whatever size (individual, family, group, culture, civilization), the change agent must polish both the lenses of science and the humanities and must also cultivate a therapeutic language that can cut across binaries by grinding and crafting new lenses and languages.
The sciences proclaim that reality is classifiable, measurable, mechanical, statistical, and verifiable. Of course, Quantum Physics is the outlier and can challenge science itself to be re-envisioned, but it is also radically complicated and too easily misappropriated and simplified. One of the reasons why Quantum Physics can be so squirrelly is because as it focuses on an orientation to entanglement, what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”, it begins to express dynamics that are also mapped in the humanities whereby the observer and its perceptions are entangled with— influenced by and influencing— vast nonlinear networks of objective relations. The more that Physics orients objectively to quantum entanglement, observer influences, and measurement effects on data gathering, the more it reveals complex networks of relations, in ways very similar to how the subject in constructivist humanities is constructed by its being embedded in empirical networks of relations. Thus, science can begin to loosen its steadfast grasp on unitary objects as entanglement and chaos theory come to the foreground and gradually it becomes more and more bridgeable with the network-embedded humanitarian subject.
For the scientists and skeptics out there, if you are still tracking this text then you may be labeling Visionary Somatics as just another “quantum mysticism.” Indeed, whenever a non-physicist cherry-picks terms and then carries them over to another specialized field, there is the risk of losing much in the translation. In fact, one could even say that the sciences and the humanities are entirely different languages. Here we come to a crossroads where lens becomes language and language becomes lens. The scientific egregore, or field of collective perception, is a lens that uses language to compile observations regarding the concrete objects in reality. The boundary zone where science can bind and re-link with the humanities is met within the complexity of entanglement, where objects dissolve their concreteness and it becomes clear they are immersed in a vast ocean of influences. Subjective factors exist in this ocean of influence, such as the very real influences of confirmation bias and measurement affects. Data does not interpret itself; people do. Travis Norsen, the physicist, talks about the limits of scientific realism, bringing us to the borderlands of the humanities:
“The reason I am against the word ‘realism’ is twofold: first, it is almost never clear what exactly a given user means by the term, i.e., which of several possible (and very different) senses of ‘realism’ is being referred to; and second, … none of these senses of ‘realism’ turn out to have the kind of relevance that the users seem to think they have.”
What Norsen is referring to is lenses and languages; the process of how the human observes, measures, interprets, and describes the data that reality presents to us. The reason it brings us into the humanities is that the humanities know about constructivism; they know the power of narrative meaning making and how human development is always situated in a context that uniquely constructs individual subjectivity. The story a person tells is constructed biopsychosocially, historically, complexly, iteratively. The subjectivity of an individual is like a living mosaic of past influences, ideas, beliefs, habits, emotional propensities, intergenerational patterns, cultural factors, and inborn tendencies. This bric-a-brac list of influences goes on and on until it starts to sound like subjectivity is also entangled within vastly complex influences, just like the objects we see described in physis.
Philosophy, religion, literature, and the arts give us narratives and language/expressive forms to help explicate our powerful yearning for meaningful experience. The language of the humanities is meaning, expressed through a different language than the object-language of the sciences. The subject of the humanities expresses a language of meaning, whereas the object in science utilizes language to describe the causes and effects of contents. This distinction between expression and content is intellectually incisive. It elucidates the subject/object entanglement in the humanities and sciences, reveals that object analysis cannot entirely avoid subjective (expressive) factors of meaning making, and shows that subjective meaning necessarily concerns the real contents of the world.
The humanities need real objects to talk about, otherwise the subject has no home and it can ponderously lead to the path of pure abstraction, spirituality without a body, thought without embodiment. This is why the sciences often get brought into the humanities— to provide gravity and weight to subjectivity. For example, contemporary psychology contains within its complex mosaic of theories the cognitive sciences, neurobiology, behavioral biology, ethology, and evidence-based modalities, to name just a few. In fact, present day Psychology uses object language to describe causes and effects so much that people are still fighting over whether it is a science or a humanity.
Philosophy is the tradition that is often considered the mother of all knowledge; a parent to the two fighting children of the sciences and the humanities. It is through philosophy that structural contradictions and opposites can be transcended or integrated in a wider embrace of truth. Like the nurturing mother, philosophy holds the possibility of nurturing both meaning and objectivity as beloved offspring. Hidden within any paradigm of understanding the world is a kernel of philosophy, similar to how the human body contains actual cells from the mother in it from maternal cell trafficking during fetal development. After all, why would we pursue knowledge of any kind if it wasn’t fundamentally meaningful to us?
Visionary Somatics is a living philosophy, an embodied epistemological school that is rooted in the principle that the community is the curriculum. The sheer number of maps and models afforded us in the healing arts and sciences is staggering and it is not the intention of Visionary Somatics to simply establish another map or model that people can replicate and duplicate. On the contrary, the principle of community as the curriculum offers an environment where bits and pieces of maps and models can be re-combined in register with the living mosaic of emergent themes, experiences, and bodies in a group. Learning structures in the curriculum provide points of departure for the collective mind and body to generate innovations through embodied experimentation and group interpretation.
Visionary Somatics grinds and polishes a philosophical lens capable of clarifying the direct bodily consequences of meaning-making lenses. It offers a medium to express the vitality of meaning making without imposing a language that reduces our experiences to categories, terms, or principles. Belief is embedded in the body and has real consequences. The habits housed in our flesh often have a meaning making core— a linguistic component— meaning that there is a hidden (often) negative belief about oneself or the world anchored in the tissue beds of our soma (expressed as a neural pattern, for example). This negative belief is regularly discovered to be a phrase such as “the world is not safe” and— like a linguistic fulcrum— leverages influences on body, brain, and perception by serving as an (dis)organizing center. The negative belief begins to shape and organize the lenses we use to perceive the world and the languages we use to describe it, impacting how we experience phenomena and how our nervous system and other tissues respond to the subjects and objects of the world. The way we perceive becomes a habituated hallucination that expresses a confirmation of the past in the entanglements of the present. The habits in the mind and body do not want to change due to Newton’s first law of classical physics regarding inertial frames of reference, i.e. objects at rest want to stay at rest and objects in a pattern of motion want to stay in that pattern. Spinoza thought that it was the nature of substance itself to resist change. Cognitive neuroscience operationalizes these patterns of perception and experience via the classic Hebbian phrase “neurons that fire together wire together.”
The therapeutic environment championed by Visionary Somatics is a social field of learning cognizant of nonlinear, complex, adaptive systems. Those drawn to this experimental culture celebrate qualities like individuation, resilience in the face of complexity, co-sovereignty, difference, playfulness, imagination, and courage. The meaning of the word therapy derives from the Greek therapeuein, “To attend, do service, take care of.” Therapy is thus a process of attending to. But what is it that we are attending to? This is what different therapeutic modalities and philosophies have argued about and will continue to argue about for millennia. Some say we are attending to neurobiology, some to behavior, some to cognition or to past lives or to energy patterns or trauma or internalized oppression or creativity or the archetypes or religious phenomena or even perception itself. Some platforms focus too much on science and dissatisfy the powerful pressures in us towards living a meaningful life. Other paths seem to focus too much on meaning making and unintentionally lean towards the hubris associated with cult phenomena.
In a social field that understands life as an open and evolving, nonlinear, complex, adaptive system, it would make sense to attend to complexity as a primary therapeutic endeavor. This is why Visionary Somatics has a primary interest in what is called somatic semiotics. Semiotics is the study of how meaning is produced, replicated, deconstructed, and policed by cultures. Somatic refers to the experiential domain of our individual body, the primary datum of our life. Thus, somatic semiotics refers to the complex process of how meaning writes itself into our flesh using the “hand” of cultures and how our body secretes molecules of meaning that are shaped and canalized by repetition, beliefs, and the semiotic field of culture. One might think that defining somatic semiotics in this way limits us to exploring subjectivity and its abstract entanglements with culture, and yet it is just a starting point. The subject and its entanglements with social fields can also constitute an empirical space where the subject can be seen as an object impacting— and impacted by— other objects.
No specialized training is required to be a part of Visionary Somatics, however entry into the community is selective. Because of the probing nature of the intellectual and somatic inquiry, students must show robustness, willingness, and courage to think and act outside of the box. Dissent and skepticism are qualities that are actively encouraged, as are the qualities of imagination, creativity, and critical thinking skills. It can be helpful for students to have past experience with therapy, somatic inquiry, philosophy, etc, but most Visionary Somatics students also appreciate how this can be a detriment too. What is centrally important is that the student has resilience, inner and outer resources for managing the various intensities arising from individual and collective inquiry, and a strong orientation towards collaborativity, play, safety, and generativity. Safety is essential, however the Visionary Somatics student also intuits that too much safety can be unsafe too, as it can undercut creative transgressions and imaginative risk taking- capacities that are actively cultivated in the community.
General systems theory is a lens utilized by the Visionary Somatics practitioner to observe how complex adaptive systems exhibit deep structural and functional similarities to other complex adaptive systems. For example, the complex system of meaning making expressed by the evolution and expression of a language, exhibits general systems characteristics that can also be observed in the nonlinear dynamic system of cytokine populations (immune signaling molecules) distributing themselves throughout a body. Nonlinear network intelligence is the primary intelligence driving us in our information age and thus a scientific attitude toward therapeutic process in our current predicament suggests cultivating a network lens that views one system (for example the nervous system) as being complexly entangled with other nonlinear networks such as semiotic, sociological, cytokine and musculoskeletal networks.
Two examples of complex nonlinear networks are the internet and the enormous mycorrhizal (mushroom and plant rhizome) network in Oregon that is affectionately called the humongous fungus. Statistics project that the human datasphere will grow to 175 zettabytes (175 sextillion bytes of information) processed by over 75 billion connected devices by 2025. The humongous fungus is a network organism spanning 2,400 acres with each cubic inch constituting about 8 miles of connected cells, which computes to more than 1.23 trillion miles of connected cells. The human nervous system is also a network structure of staggering magnitude, containing sextillions of neural connections that fire and wire together to create our unique perceptual reality and our ability to move through it. What all these complex systems have in common is a network grid structure that we could describe with the term rhizomatic, indicating the subterranean botanical network of root growth in plants that continually grow new offshoots in both nonlinear and quasilinear directions. Rhizomatic networks are ubiquitous in the universe, they express a web-like nonlinear fractal grid that astronomers suggest can be observed as a scaffolding for both dark matter and observable matter at the very foundation of the universe itself.
In turn, the rhizome is the guiding image at the foundation of Visionary Somatics. The content and expression domains of the curriculum are informed by what is called rhizomatic learning, a type of learning that orients to emergent complexity. To be sure, this is not the type of learning we would want to use in the process of acquiring the skills to build a standard aircraft, but it is the type of learning required to build an innovative aircraft. Rhizomes have internal structure to them, yet the structure is complex, imbricated, iterative, and nonlinear in the sense that emerging probes of new growth cannot be predicted or reliably classified within an already existing framework. The community is the curriculum insofar as it provides the weblike structure of events and contents that constitute the learning process itself.
The network of theories informing Visionary Somatics express a multiplicity of contents from diverse planes of thought such as neurobiology, expressive arts therapy, embryology, philosophy, science, and metaphysics, and the rhizome holding the multiplicity together is a type of general systems theory. Think of the different planes as ecologies influencing each other and constituting a complex adaptive system that combines and recombines lenses and languages in register with the emergent imperatives of the community. Imagine two funnels when considering the theories and practices afforded in the curriculum: one funnel facing downwards, representing a movement from the abstract, virtual, symbolic, or cognitive down toward the concrete and the other funnel facing upwards to meet the tip of the other funnel, representing a movement upward towards the virtual from the visceral, sensory, and concrete domains of somatic relations. Where the two movements meet is in the domain of the somatic semiotic— the intermezzo zone that is betwixt and between and within and beyond binaries. Carl Jung called this zone the psychoid dimension— the place where psyche and soma, subject and object, symbol and sense co-arise and interpenetrate. These funnels are rhythmic, dynamic open systems that express a living mosaic, a pulsatile rhizome sending out and receiving probe heads that generate and feed back vitality and information into the evolving system.
Metaphysics gets a bad rap where it is needed the most and gets overused by others at the expense of deeper pragmatism. It seems like the choices afforded us for metaphysics are profoundly bipartisan in ways analogous to the science/humanities binary: we can either have a metaphysics that is complicated, abstract, and potentially rootless, or a metaphysics that is mystical, oversimplified, or mistakenly concrete. The alternative is a complex metaphysics that is embodied and capable of being conversant with the discourses in our contemporary ecology of thought and practice. Our current ecology can be described as the ecology of the network, the rhizome, the radically multiple and complex.
The transcendental empiricism of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari is where the rhizome model of open systems comes from and it provides the broad metaphysical context for the Visionary Somatic practitioner. It is in Deleuze and Guattari that we find a profound meeting of the aforementioned funnels: where radically complex and abstract meet immanently pragmatic and embodied. These two philosophers polish and grind binaries, fabricate stunning ecologies of thought, dance rigorously with science, and merge expressive arts with philosophy in innovative ways. Science and the humanities converge and diverge from their mother of philosophy and metaphysics. Any metaphysics worth its muster needs to be able to be conversant with the science of its times, and transcendental empiricism does just this. It affords a deeper collaboration between silos of thinking/practice in science and the humanities by celebrating creativity, deconstructing rigidities, decoding the somatic semiotic, and propagating an embodied thought rhizome of unprecedented potency. Transcendental empiricism gives an ultracomplex map for our ultracomplex times and provides the Visionary Somatics practitioner a creative open system thought structure for surveying the interface between mind and body, individual and society, thought and expression, power and subjugation.
Theory is a structure. And it always informs practice in ways that correlate to the principle that data does not interpret itself. Any heuristic runs the risk of reducing complexity but is also required as a way into the depths, a way to structure our thinking and talking about things. In addition to transcendental empiricism, Biodynamic Embryology was chosen as one of the main structures of theory to inform the practice of Visionary Somatics because it provides another adequately complex framework for understanding the dynamic growth and adaptation of biological fields. The biological fields (tissues, fluids, functions) of the embryo and fetus express a coherent network of structural/functional tensions as a whole that are reciprocally related with each part (i.e. cell nuclei). Through the epigenetic principle of outside-in differentiation, the larger wholistic web of dynamic tensions on the outside of the cell ignite dynamic processes in the innermost part of each cell in the nucleus. Outside-in differentiation is a foundational principle informing the Visionary Somatic practitioner because the term wholistic no longer exists as a vague concept, it refers to an empirical interactive relationship between a whole network and its parts in a complex adaptive system. Via general systems theory, this principle can be generalized to other systems such as the network of tensions in the psyche, family, group, society, or even basic assemblages of matter. At its most basic level, complex adaptive systems express the wholistic biodynamic axiom–no growth without tension.
Biodynamic embryology, transcendental empiricism, and general systems theory provide lenses and languages to assess and express the physics and metaphysics that shape us as organisms entangled in ever-expanding fields of nonlinear relations. Via systems theory, we understand that the principles of no growth without tension and outside-in differentiation are expressed by complex adaptive systems other than the embryo. For example, consider the dynamic tension between nature and nurture when assessing the development of our neuropsychological adaptive systems. It is well known, for example, in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, that there are critical periods of brain development that are experience-dependent, and thus reliant on outside-in dynamics between the nurturing caregiver on the outside and the nature of the brain tissue and inborn proclivities on the inside of the child.
Dynamic tension or opposition exists in every system, from the immense rhizome grid of the universe to the complex adaptive ecologies on earth, the tensile forces in the nervous system connectome, the cytoskeleton of living cells, and down to the tiniest corpuscles of matter and energy. The premise of Visionary Somatics is that these tensions can be perceived, mapped, felt, expressed, and utilized to maximize human potential. The tension grid is in the body inasmuch as it is in your beliefs, your identity, your relationships, your family, your society, and your group.
We are living in the age of trauma. Discourse about trauma is now a mainstay in healing modalities because it is a critical subject to explore for understanding how the past erupts into the present. The biological underpinnings and clinical treatment of trauma has come far over the last 30 years, and the Visionary Somatics practitioner is conversant with new developments in trauma science and treatment so that they can maintain a sophisticated skillset for addressing the downstream effects of trauma. Helping a person move out of the defense strategies projected from the past into the present is essential, and robust strategies are taught in the curriculum for managing the states of hyperarousal and hypoarousal that are characteristic of having a trauma history.
A common lens for understanding the process of integrating trauma is that the neural networks on the right side of the brain— the subcortical limbic regions and the somatosensory cortex— are the networks where traumatic memories are stored. When a person does not have adequate resources to process a traumatic event then the neural networks become primed and sensitized to defend against the possibility that another intrusion will happen. Over time, the right-sided networks so habituate themselves to unpleasant states of danger,that previously neutral stimuli from the environment now get translated as unsafe, mobilizing cascades of unpleasurable molecules that surge through the whole body. The repertoire of responses afforded the individual narrows toward the extreme position that every stimulus is unsafe.
Skillful, well-paced exposure to the sensations and memories associated with the trauma can desensitize the neural networks on the right side of the brain, and stimulate internetwork communication with the more pleasurable neural ecologies on the left side. Incidentally, the networks associated with an earned sense of safety and security after processing trauma, are the networks on the left side of the brain that have everything to do with language, narrative, and symbols. When a person can tell their life story with flexibility, emotional depth, and rich symbolic meanings, they are expressing freedom from the life-crushing experience of being subjugated by dangers in the past.
How a person embodies a narrative is of primary concern to the trauma-informed practitioner. By recalibrating the somatic semiotic to generative meaning making and the vitality of symbolic flows, the practitioner helps the traumatized individual establish the freedom to write their own story. Visionary Somatics establishes freedom from trauma in this way, and also offers a unique opportunity to engage in metasemiotics, the process of making meaning about making meaning. At first blush this may sound like a flight into abstraction, but on the contrary, it is a critical higher order movement toward understanding the real, personal and cultural power flows involved with creating a narrative. Narratives are situated in contexts, in various assemblages of societies, groups, families, and cultures. Often narratives that seem creatively written by an individual are actually underwritten by, and copied from, an established system of thought.
Trauma resolution frees one up to write new meanings and narratives about one’s life. It is a crucial step in gaining freedom from habits of perception and meaning-making born by a traumatic past (either individual or collective). However, any therapeutic practice like trauma resolution is grounded in theory, and thus meaning making narratives. Trauma approaches to therapy are metasemiotic- they tell a meaningful story about how to make meaning about a painful past by often mobilizing a scientific narrative about “neural integration” to implicitly suggest a sort of “happily ever after” ending post trauma resolution. The metanarrative says that freedom from the past is achieved by addressing traumatic memories and integrating them into your autobiographical narrative so that your brain can become more “integrated.” This narrative, like most narratives, can both serve and limit. One significant limitation about trauma discourse is that it can itself become traumatizing by collapsing meaningful therapeutic behavior into personal and cultural history. Another limitation is that trauma metasemiotics can potentially drive the production of false memories to accommodate for ontological anxiety (anxiety that comes with the territory of being and will not go away no matter how much trauma work is done).
The notion that trauma discourse itself has become traumatizing is an example (inspired by embodied philosopher Ruth Leys) of how a metasemiotic can become habitual, repetitive, mimetic, and self-defeating. Trauma resolution narratives are precisely this— narratives— and the danger with any narrative is that it can start to exhibit literalisms akin to dogma in such a way that it is no longer experienced as a narrative anymore. The age of trauma tends to channel narrative potency into meaning-making canals and the individual or culture enters this flow of story in order to articulate the pernicious effects of history with the goal of treating victims with care and safety. This meaningful and important narrative gets augmented by other tributaries of meaning making such as neurobiological science and critiques of oppression that lead to distinctive paradigms that attend to the downstream effects of trauma. A potential pitfall, however, is that when attending to personal and collective trauma histories over time, other flows of making meaning can start to recede into the background as trauma flows take center stage in the process of making meaning. When trauma is on center stage then it can tend to narrow the range of possibilities for new narratives, generate more trauma, become over-literalized, and contribute to a hermeneutics of suspicion. By focusing on history and genealogy, the identity can also get trapped in history, bound by an implicit assumption that identity is sequential and unitary, as opposed to nonlinear and multiple.
Furthermore, trauma narratives that imply sequential progression towards integration or emancipation can lend themselves towards developmentalism— a metanarrative where the task is to continually develop oneself by tending to the past and, therefore, achieve something in the future. The parameters for growth and the measurement of it are found in the semiotic structures of the guiding paradigm— the concepts and principles about what health and freedom are and are not— and unless critically evaluated, the paradigm runs the risk of becoming tautological (repetitively redundant). In other words, the paradigm can shape perception, meaning making, and even memories in such a way as the guiding narratives are no longer seen as narratives at all— they have become concrete truths, a closed system that is self-referential: like a snake in union with its tail. Developmentalism creates more developmental projects which recurringly look toward the past to make meaning of and treat the distress in the present so that one can live a life of freedom in the future. Repeat.
Visionary Somatics offers freedom from the pernicious effects of both trauma and the redundancies in its discourses, by orienting to the emergence of diversified narrative flows and the source from which they spring. Consider that in between stimulus and response, past and present, memory and thought, individual and group, subject and object, are images. The native territory of these images is an ontology of becoming, a virtual womb from which all actual assemblages of thought and matter emerge. Narrative flows that are sourced by this rhizome-womb of becoming express new assemblages of images, thoughts and concepts leading to innovation, creativity, depth, and playfulness. Enter the Deleuzian metacinema; the universe as a stage where matrices of light and sound and vibration assemble themselves in body, thought, and interaction. Having narratives sourced by an emergent, nonlinear, metaphysical system that produces new assemblages of images and new combinations of stories that actuate them affords a high-fidelity process of becoming. This process can be at once playful, healing, challenging, absurd, scary, and profound. By circumventing the habits of subjectivity, narrative, belief, and somatic experience, Visionary Somatics clears a space for an ebullient ethics of joy in a field of transformation. It offers a way out of trauma discourse by orienting to ways of becoming that spawn new connections, new narratives, new images.
Powerfully poised at the interface between the subject of the humanities and the object of the sciences is the archetypal image. Archetypes are images that recur cross-culturally as intense, affect-laden presences, interacting in mythic, ritual, literary, and religious narrative structures. The archetype is both subject and object, and neither subject nor object; it is an edge dweller— an inhabitant of the spaces in between individual and culture, function and structure, stimulus and response, virtual and actual. One example is the Hero. The Hero overcomes, they face adversity with courage and usually win against all odds. The Hero image is an operating system at play in curious places like science laboratories, laundry detergent commercials, mental hospitals, healing arts narratives, myths, literary productions, shamanic ritual, and the stories one hears children tell. Even the Anti-Hero has a Hero in it. The Hero keeps returning in new narrative dress. Some equate the Hero with the patriarchy, some as a beloved savior, some as a flight of fancy not worthy of being studied empirically. And yet the Hero is here to stay as a trope. Might as well look for where it dwells because it is there in the interstices of culture (cultures are built on a scaffolding of story). You might despise or worship or claim agnosticism or neutrality about the Hero, but it’s not going to go away (like a stubborn rhizome) and will continue to grow and express in dreams, stories, groups, and ideologies.
Carl Jung proposed the theory of the archetypes in the wake of a word-association test where a person would hear a stimulus word and then respond immediately with a word that they associated with the stimulus word. Jung was a semiotician insofar as he was interested in how language both expressed and hid meanings. What he found was that there was a hidden structure to associative rhizomes in language, that when people truly free-associated without trying to force an association or offer up an interpretation influenced by a belief, an archetypal image would express itself at the core of a network of word associations. Jung asserted that each archetypal image had an intense affect at its heart, and could be observed as a central node in semiotic systems such as language, myth, religion, and narratives.
In Visionary Somatics, archetypes are seen as reservoirs of psychobiological potency, narrative dynamisms that live within and between our software and hardware. On a conceptual level they are held as a useful heuristic for orienting to opposing forces in psyche, world, and universe. As image dynamisms and narrative forces, they are yoked to achieve states of becoming-extraordinary. Archetypes seem to have an indestructible dimension in that they keep emerging as themes in the human wellspring of narratives, films, dreams, and literature. Like open systems biology, they seem to form hybrids, mutations, creative riffs, and it is the championing of this dimension of creative production that distinguishes Visionary Somatics from Jungian paradigms. An archetype is seen as a Deleuzian assemblage, a milieu that expresses distinctive rhythmic intensities, converging and diverging, expanding and contracting, dissolving and coagulating. Importantly, the image-affect-assemblage of the archetype affords points of creative departure into unprecedented domains of being and becoming.
One way of understanding the theory and practice of Visionary Somatics is that it is a field theory; a creative healing laboratory for researching and treating biological, psychological, and social fields. This is not a new attempt, as general systems theory and field theory have informed established paradigms such as family therapy, deep democracy, and family constellation work. The orientation towards open systems metasemiotics affords a unique grammar of the sacred for Visionary Somatics field process; providing a unique and imaginative canvas where meaning making forces and social intensities can be worked with and played with. Unlike family constellations, deep democracy, or family systems therapy, the lenses and languages used to perceive and express phenomena are actively and continuously refurbished, polished, displaced, and creatively replaced in ways that are akin to the disjunctive and conjunctive syntheses of open systems in biology and metaphysics. Mutations and anomalies are fundamental to progressive evolution, and the sensibility in Visionary Somatic work is that there is a deep and powerful opposition in biopsychosocial fields between symmetry and asymmetry, stability and mutation.
Non-linear complex open system fields are self-organizing milieus that express both actualities and virtualities: actual historical vectors emerging into the present, actual tensions between and within individuals and cultures, actual semiotic forces as well as virtual historical possibilities, virtual imaginal and archetypal affordances, virtual in-between becomings, and virtual semiotics unbound by stratified paradigmatic actualities (established theories and practices). This may sound complex and it is. Reality is a multilayered complexity, a rhythmic mosaic of forces that our paradigms fail to adequately chart. A special kind of courage is cultivated to approach complexity with vulnerability and strength; an intention to be honest and imaginative in the face of conflicts and tensions that many sweep under the rug or hold too tightly as a holy grail.
Recognizing the ubiquity and diversity of woundedness in psychological and social fields, Visionary Somatics intends to cultivate an ethics of generativity, ecstasy, and joy. Ecstasy takes a tremendous amount of courage because it means being willing to face the terrors that come with the death of the ego, the death of habit, the death of familiarity. Ecstasy is a process that lives in between becoming-terror, becoming-awesome, and becoming-beyond-identity. Ecstasy is becoming-more-than-one-self. In order to leave oneself it requires a knowing of oneself and in order to know oneself one must be able to leave oneself and return. This capacity is called mediumship, the ability to empty oneself out of oneself and inhabit an intermediate zone of becoming-beyond. The process of becoming is both repetitive and innovative. When committing to an ethics of joy and generativity, the difficult work is that of becoming-play, becoming-a-fierce-embodied-joyful-philosophy. Courage, joy, generativity, metasemiotics, embodied philosophy, transcendental empiricism; these are the primary elements that provide a birthing matrix for field work-play. Among other multiplicities potentially birthed, the process of becoming-semiotic-clown is championed in the field of Visionary Somatics therapy. This means that a space is carved out such that meaning can be played with in the hands of a loving clown who intimately knows tragedy, trauma, and comedy.
Doctor Brian teaches Somatic Psychology internationally and has been a group facilitator for decades in many different disciplines. He holds a PhD in Somatic Psychology and his experiential doctoral project on the psychology of sacrifice and spontaneity expresses how social learning catalyzes personal, familial, and global transformation.
The structured part of the curriculum requires 270 virtual classroom or zoom group hours over the course of two years and is shaped by the contents mentioned in the summary above. Themes will crystallize as the curriculum proceeds and interested folks are welcomed to visit the blog or the facebook group to share what they are passionate about in regard to learning content and experiences they would like to have. Student-colleagues must log on 100 Visionary Somatics sessions over the two years and both private sessions with practice clients and group facilitation count towards the 100 hours. Students are encouraged, but not required, to facilitate transformative Visionary Somatics groups appropriate to their emergent skillset. Private mentoring with Brian also counts toward the 270-hour requirement.
Four sessions with a Visionary Somatics Practitioner (not included in the tuition) are required over the two years, as well as ongoing reading that is emergent in the community as curriculum environment. Core reading materials will be required for common ground, but self-directed learning is strongly encouraged. Student-colleagues must demonstrate that they are committed to ongoing research in the subfield of Visionary Somatics that they are passionate about. A research paper must be written to complete certification and plenty of support will be given to accomplish the task.
Weekends are intensive experiences that may require an additional day for the student-colleague to integrate before they return to work. Nine weekends in person over the course of two years constitute the core curriculum, though students can opt to attend Zoom groups or mentoring sessions to accommodate their needs. Spontaneous training experiences are welcomed to arise during the curriculum in order to enact the community as curriculum spirit and will go towards the 270-hour requirement. Weekends are 9am-9pm Friday-Sunday with a break for lunch and dinner and there is one weekend about every quarter of the year. Students can explore alternative options for remote work, just email email@example.com to propose your plan.