Bioenergetics

I just finished reading Alexander Lowen’s autobiography. Certainly a remarkable man, who has understood Reich as few others have and taken his insights to a new level. It is a curious book nonetheless, disarmingly personal, honest about his failures, long on anecdote with no seeming purpose, extraordinarily understated prose that scarcely conveys what the adventure of his life must have felt like.

In relating the Reichian orgasm reflex to bodily vibrations and rigidities and in devising exercises which attempt to release those rigidities and anchor psychotherapy in the body, he is undoubtedly right.

What strikes me about the book though (perhaps I would see it differently if I read some of his others) is the lack of a theory of the emotions and of transference and countertransference; of the interpersonal dimension of human experience and of what this can bring to the transformation of character structure.

Lowen seems to see Bioenergetics as essentially palliative – he does not believe in its ability to change the character structure, and presumably has therefore never experienced this in his practice with patients, or recognized it in himself. Perhaps this is partly semantic. However, I certainly believe the character structure can not only be loosened, but really changed.

When I was in London last weekend at the tantra festival, it was educational to observe people’s bodies during the belly-dancing session that was organized. The essential identity of body and psyche and the different character types were very clearly on display.

Yet at the same event there was at least one person whose body – and presence – clearly expressed a grace of character that she cannot have had in childhood. There was no mistaking this. This was Sarita, and it made a big impression on me. I am certainly not a big fan of all the New Age stuff she proposes (www.schoolofawakening.com). But this is not important; all I want to observe is, that when you are a vehicle of grace, you are transformed organically.

So what is Lowen missing? I believe this starts in the psychotherapeutic paradigm and in his adherence to the Reichian model of charge and discharge, which I have discussed elsewhere. In rehabilitating the body, Lowen has displaced the primacy of the intellectual in therapy, but he has not realized that this is still only a partial vision. Thought has been complemented, supplanted, or subordinated by feeling; but emotion remains, in his worldview, poorly understood, maladaptive, merely a mechanism which imprints the mind’s neuroses on the body; and therapy consists of releasing emotions, as if they were only to be abandoned, overcome, transcended. And Lowen’s book indeed is disarmingly emotionless, though he himself was obviously an emotional man.

Lowen’s exercises have become very popular in tantric circles, though he himself shows no signs whatsoever of having encouraged this or even known about it. In this context, however, their therapeutic consequences are, I believe, completely transformed. By embracing love, acceptance, and sexual transcendence in the moment, complementary mechanisms of healing come into play which genuinely loosen and can ultimately resolve the pattern of neurosis embedded in thought, feeling and emotion. This resolution restores the whole woman or man. It is what we mean by satori, enlightenment; not a mystic concept but the very real end of therapy as in the Freudian tradition it can only be understood – not merely as a palliative treatment for distinct, severe mental disturbances, but as the individual resolution of socioculturally endemic patterns of neurosis and the recovery of healthy human life.

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