Today I want to suggest that there is an entire realm of movement that is virtually ignored by the therapeutic community or, when noticed, is massively misinterpreted.
I realize that this might strike you as implausible, but bear with me for awhile before you decide to dismiss the idea. I think many of you will find in this essay an explanation for some common clinical phenomena and, perhaps, the solution to a variety of problems.
In “Nonconscious Movements” by Herman H. Spitz (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 1997), the author carefully traces the historical record of human movement that arises without willful intent or conscious control. Consider this: “In a lecture published in the Proceedings of the Royal Institution in 1852, Carpenter explicitly characterized ideo-motor action as a third law of reflex movement. Apparently the earlier practice has been to partition automatic (involuntary) reflex movements into only two kinds: excito-motor, such as breathing and swallowing, and sensori-motor, such as the startle reaction to a loud sound, or the eye blink response to a sudden light. In order to place certain other phenomena within the known operating principles of the nervous system, however, it was necessary to add a third law of reflex action, ideo-motor, in which ideas become the source of involuntary motor movements.” Pg. 103.
It is thought that the site of ideo-motor reflex action is the cerebrum where we find the formation of ideas, emotional excitement and the intellect. More importantly, ideo-motor activity is driven unconsciously and instinctively. Because of this, our culture commonly rejects, denies or misinterprets its manifestation. Consider the Ouija board and the Dowser’s rod. The movement of these inanimate objects is typically thought to be due to some mysterious force emanating from outside the person holding them. Of course, they go where the operator takes them, whether or not they are consciously aware of that.
For me, the most striking example of misinterpreted ideo-motor activity is found in the practice of “facilitated communication,” a technique of resting the hand of a “facilitator” on that of an autistic individual and (supposedly) following its movement along a keyboard. Although many believed this movement to be coming from the patient, it has been clearly demonstrated that it came from the facilitator. It was elaborate, meaningful and complex. It was also entirely ideo-motor (see Spitz’s text for details).
But I’m certain that this movement is not present to fool us, it is here to help us. It drives our cars and performs an infinite variety of daily activities involving precision and timing. Since it arises from the unconscious, what Carl Jung and T.S. Eliot called “the shadow,” our culture distrusts it, assigns its origins to something undesirable, and suppresses its full expression as often as possible.
I let these movements grow and find that they provide the one who moves relief, warmth, new range of motion and a consequent relaxation. Despite that, when they are performed by someone in any class I teach, I can see the disapproval in the face of my colleagues.
We’ve come to represent our culture’s deepest distrust of the “shadow,” the ways we normally are not, but could be. We police its expression with strategies to promote erectness and “proper” consciously controlled and disciplined movement.
In case you hadn’t noticed, this rarely relieves pain. We do this because we’ve forgotten about the presence of ideo-motor reflex.
Our fear of the shadow is the only explanation I have, and it’s time we overcame it.