The Breath of Life

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Sutherland stressed that the human system is ordered by a mysterious Presence that he called the Breath of Life. In the last ten years of his clinical practice he became especially attuned to its presence and action within the human system. This also coincided with a shift in his use of language from a predominantly biomechanical orientation to a more fully biodynamic one. He wrote of the Breath of Life and its unerring potency and shifted from analysis and mechanical technique to an orientation to the inherent forces that facilitate healing. He realized that it is the Breath of Life and the intelligent forces it generates that make the healing decisions and carry those decisions out.

My first clinical experience of the Breath of Life took me totally by surprise. I was in the early days of my clinical practice and was working in a London health center that had an excellent mix of practitioners from different healing traditions. We were all actually talking to each other about our perspective work and cross-referring clients.

An older woman was referred to me by a homeopath. When I first met her, she was an imposing figure, large and solid. She dressed eccentrically and had a will, a determination that gave out the message, “don’t mess with me”. I discovered that I was part of a long list of practitioners she had seen over the years. She had experienced almost every form of therapy and healing art imaginable.

At first I could not orient her to working on a treatment table. She needed me to hear her story and what a story it was! She sat in the chair opposite me and for five to six sessions I experienced an overwhelming wave of painful history. She had been a Jewish teenager during the Second World War and was trapped in the Warsaw ghetto with her family. She had many relatives and friends there. Just before the ghetto was closed down, her family made her leave. She packed a bag and in the middle of the war at the age of 15, literally walked across Europe. After a period of struggle and danger, she reached the French coast and talked a kindly and courageous French fisherman into sailing her across the English Channel to safety. She spent the rest of the war with relatives in London and was currently living in a modest woman’s club. She held a huge amount of guilt and shame for leaving her family in Warsaw, all of whom subsequently died in concentration camps.

When I finally was able to place her on the treatment table, I discovered the most defended system I had ever encountered. No expression of tidal potency was apparent and her system was rock-solid. I knew many ways to initiate change in a person’s system and, over many sessions, tried all of them to no avail. Her suffering had, like so many practitioners before, brought me to my knees. This went on for at least six months and although I sometimes wondered why she was still seeing me, I also knew that she found the work supportive and of benefit. Then in one very special session, something happened.

As in most sessions, she spent ten minutes or so recounting her week to me and we moved to the treatment table. As usual, I could not sense her resources and there was little evidence of tidal motion in fluids or tissues. I settled into my listening and for the first time was struck by the reality that there was little I could do to make any difference. Before then, I had hope that my intentions and skills could help, but now everything seemed futile.

I settled into this realization and, in a state of despair, literally let everything go. All that I knew went into a darkness, a literal cloud of unknowing. As I let myself settle into this darkness, my tension and fear subsided and I could maintain a still and receptive state. Over some time, we entered stillness together, a stillness much deeper than I had ever yet encountered in clinical practice. It was way beyond my experience of stillpoints or neutrals.

Gradually, we settled into a timeless, totally present-time state. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, yet present everywhere, a Presence came to the forefront. I sensed something moving through me and was as though my heart burst open with love and joy. There is simply no other way I can describe this. Both my client and myself were deeply moved. As the intensity subsided, I sensed a radiance permeating the client’s system and it was as though multiple issues were safely attended to all at once. Soon after, the fluid tide surged, the tissue field reorganized and the session came to a close. This process marked a dramatic change in both our session work and her life. I have never forgotten this experience and it also marked a major change in my understanding of the work I do, the nature of healing and, indeed, life itself.

Over time, I have come to understand that the Breath of Life is a divine presence only appreciated in a state of stillness and unknowing. It appears everywhere all at once and is sensed as a Presence that is numinous, non-linear and radiant. It arises out of a profound Stillness that lies at the heart of all form and is the fulcrum from which all form arises. Unlike the Tide it generates, it has no rhythm, yet is at the heart of all rhythms. It cannot be manipulated or used by the practitioner in any way. One can only humbly witness its creative action within and between human systems. Clinical work in its presence is about stillness, resonance and co-operation. This is a humbling and joyful process to witness.

The direct experience of the Breath of Life is, however, difficult to describe. As Lao Tzu maintained, words fail in its presence. However, I can say that as the Breath of Life emerges from a depth of Stillness, one experiences heart-opening radiance and compassion, a sense of great spaciousness and peace, a depth of love and interconnection, and a perception of a Presence that seems to enfold, uphold and maintain life.

For me, this can only arise when I am in a state of emptiness, open to the present moment in all humility. Even then, I can have no expectations of its presence. The direct presence of the Breath of Life is not an everyday clinical experience. It emerges as a state of grace and this cannot be controlled or manipulated in any way.