The Relational Field and Empathy

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All healing work is essentially relational in nature. This is an expression of a deep truth: all of life is relational. We exist in interdependence. We seek relationship from the earliest moments of life and our lives unfold and take shape relative to the nature of the relationships we encounter and create.

From our earliest pre- and perinatal experiences, we are relationally dependent upon empathetic others to meet our most basic human needs and our sense of being and wellbeing is dependent upon these needs being met throughout life. In the field of psychotherapy and psychodynamics it is understood that a child’s developing sense of being emerges within the context of a good-enough holding environment. The term holding environment comes from the psychoanalytical work of Donald Winnicott and points to the nature and quality of the maternal/paternal relational field present in early childhood. (Winnicott, 1965)

In this concept, primary caregivers ideally offer an empathetic, attuned, resonant and appropriately responsive field within which the little one can learn about itself and others, and can rest in an open and undefended being-state without having to enlist defensive processes too early in their development. Winnicott was careful to stress that this field must be held in a good enough way. Life is basically polarized; sometimes we get our needs met, sometimes not. It is the nature of the intention held in the field that is of paramount importance. The holding field protects the little one from impingements, anything that takes him or her away from simply being. This allows, over time, a deeper sense of coherency and continuity of being to arise as the hub of the developing self-system. In a more ongoing fashion, we all seek this kind of field in intimate relationships, and in life in general.

Craniosacral biodynamics is an eminently relational form of work within which we hold the whole of a person in our perceptual field. This includes their mind-body processes, emotional states, early wounding and the potential for healing at the deepest levels of self and ego. In this endeavor, we learn to establish an attuned and receptive relational field as the starting point for all of the work we do. In particular, the biodynamic practitioner naturally generates such a holding field as she establishes a still, oriented and heart-centered receptive listening field. Indeed, as we negotiate our contact with a client, and settle into a true being-to-being state, this archetypal space naturally arises and is the first step to the generation of sacred space. We call this kind of holding environment a relational field.

The relational field is a pivotal concept in craniosacral biodynamics. It is a conjoined field of interaction whose heart is the receptive state of the practitioner. In this intentionally created holistic listening field, the client’s system is met with respect and spaciousness in a negotiated manner. Nothing can occur until this field settles. Generating a clear relational field in a biodynamic context is the first step in orienting the client to the Health that is always centering their personal suffering. This relationship is a gateway to the deeper forces and intentions that center the human experience as a whole. It is about a space that invokes a relationship to something deeper than personal suffering, something that may be called the divine.

In craniosacral biodynamics, we learn to generate a holding field rooted in presence and being. From this ground, we hold the client in a wide and soft perceptual field oriented to inherent Health via an awareness of primary respiration within both our own system and the client’s. This then deepens into an appreciation of the Stillness from which being emerges and the universal Source that supports all life. As this clarifies, genuine interconnection is sensed that is not an expression of either the practitioner or client’s conditioned experience. Empathy is a function of this connection. It is a natural outflow of compassion in the presence of suffering, being-to-being. It is this that allows the practitioner to appropriately respond to the actual state of the client and to unconditionally accept their presence. The first step in any healing process is the settling of the relational field into a state of basic trust. This is directly sensed as a mind-body settling within and between both practitioner and client.