"There is a moment in the story when the wound—of both the [Fisher] king and his environment—could be healed, not by medicine or technology but by insight. When the young knight Perceval arrives, he has the opportunity (which he misses) to pose the right question to the king. The healing question, the timely question, is this: whom does the Grail serve? The Grail is the cup of the Last Supper, a precious, magical food provider, and Perceval’s question is as mysterious as the wounded king’s moral failure."  --Jay Griffiths, The Fisher King


In a previous piece I explored the key insights of St. Augustine of Hippo (4th/5th centuries CE) on the nature of the self as a coiling or curving-in on itself self, aka the self-contraction. For Augustine this realization of the self as the activity of self-contracting was a source of initial horror. He realized that it threw into question all his previous spiritual searchings—Manichean, agnostic, Neoplatonic—for they had not revealed to him this dimension of his experience. Augustine came to realize that even traditional Christian orthodox mystical theology had not shown him this dimension of experience.

Augustine went on to develop a wholly new set of notions within Christian theology as a result of his experience, including most (in)famously the doctrines of original sin and predestination. Augustine’s contemplation eventually led to the separation of the Eastern and Western Christian churches, for the Greek Fathers never accepted Augustine’s Latin theological turn. Even when the Western Church would split 1,000 years later during the Reformation, both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches cited Augustine as their main teacher.

That part of the story, while interesting, is not the thread we’re going to follow here. My previous piece explored the curved-in-self activity as a response to trauma: the trauma of existence. Augustine did not have this trauma lens and therefore did not have a therapeutic response to what he experienced but rather sought a remedy elsewhere in dogmatic theology. I argued instead for bringing a trauma-sensitive set of practices to the self-contraction. In so doing I suggested that the self-contraction might not ultimately be a self-contraction but rather appears to be as such due to it being a trauma response. But if given the right supportive conditions, perhaps the self-contraction could transform.

In this piece I want to pick that thread back up and deepen it:

What does the self-contraction look like if nervous system regulation practices are brought to bear upon it? What might the self-contraction become?

First I need to review of some of the basic somatic/nervous system regulation practices in order to understand practically how to approach the self-contraction in a life-giving way.

The first practice in somatic regulation work is known as Resourcing (aka wholeness). In resourcing, one connects first with a state or energy that is calm, at ease, full of life and rested yet alert. In connection to the topic of the self-contraction, this resourced condition would be what The Tibetan Buddhist tradition calls The Natural State of Great Perfection. Emphasis is on this state being natural. It is not the ultimate state. It’s rather the “State of all states”. It’s the Substrate of any, each, and all states. It is the natural state. It’s the openness within which all states occur. It’s that sense the natural (non)state state, as it were.

Augustine himself actually began to experience this utterly resourced space of conscious energy through deep study of the teachings of the great Neoplatonist Plotinus. (For more on Plotinus and the Neoplatonic tradition see my earlier piece on the subject). As Augustine detailed in his Confessions, he (Augustine) was actually beginning to experience precisely what Plotinus called The One (To Hen) but Augustine became overwhelmed and “fell” from that state. He was never able to fully embody and assimilate that state of consciousness.

The One in Plotinus’ rendering is The Natural State of Great Perfection. These traditions of enlightenment are known as nonduality: see my earlier piece on the subject for more on that assertion. I’ll come back to the nondual traditions in a moment but for now I want to continue our sweep of somatic regulation practices brought into connection with spiritual teachings.

The second somatic regulation practice is known as pendulation. To pendulate is to “swing” one’s attention back and forth between states of resource and states of under-resource. Under-resourced is a kinder way of saying traumatized or dysregulated states of being.

In this case the swing would be between The Great State of Natural Perfection (Resourced) and the self-contraction (under-resourced). In pendulation, one gently brings attention from an area of strength towards the area of challenge. And then takes times to move attention back to the area of strength. Like kids playing a game of tag. There’s a home base (Resourced state) which one can always go to as one is safe there. But eventually that gets boring so one has the courage to venture off home base and run around. And then can run back to home base for safety (pendulation).

The third and last somatic regulation practice to cover here is titration. Titration is a process of slowly, bit by bit, layer by layer, assimilating the under-resourced state by bringing the resourced wholeness into touch with the under-resourced state for short brief periods and then moving back away from the under-resourced state into a space of more resource (i.e. pendulation). With titration think metaphors of digestion. If one is going to digest an 8 course meal, they do so over multiple hours—they titrate or pace themselves—otherwise they will get a terrible stomachache.

With dysregulated or traumatic energies it works the same way. One must go very very slowly, biting off “only as much as one can chew” of such energy at any one time, digesting it, and then taking a break. Titration is the biting off only a small amount at each moment. Pendulation is then taking the break after digesting it. Resourcing is the digestive enzyme.

So as it relates to enlightenment spiritual teachings, we have a series of broken half-puzzle pieces lying around at this point. On the one hand we have traditions of nondual realization that emphasize the Resourcing state of Great Perfection but tend to use it as a very subtle bypass. Those traditions often contend that simply BEING that state all the time is the solution.

The Advaita strain of Vedanta Hinduism would be a classic example. Admonitions from that tradition often include statements like, “Be the Screen of Consciousness upon which plays the fleeting images of the movie of Life.”

In that metaphor, while the images on the screen are not separate from the screen, they are nevertheless held at a certain safe distance. The images on the screen represent material existence: day to day life, emotional states, mental moods, physical sensation, sexual energies, relationships, money, hopes, sorrows, tragedies, beauty, traumas, the stuff of life.

In other words, while it’s a non-separate or “non-dual” teaching, it’s often not as fully embodied as it could be. (The same could be said for Plotinus’ Neoplatonic nondual realization as well by the way.)

Then on the other hand we have Augustine recognizing the self as the act of contraction. Augustine didn’t bypass this contraction. He faced into it squarely. Arguably he was not able to properly assimilate it and he left that traumatic dissonance as an inheritance to the Western Christian church and thereby Western consciousness. But either way, he was courageous enough to face it and give voice to this expression. For Augustine however this realization of the self as curving-in-on-itself caused him to disconnect from the greater state of Resource. His teaching became therefore highly dualistic.

Might there be a way to reconcile these two strains into a post-dual, post-nondual synthesis—what provisionally might be called a trans-dual realization?

I believe there is. The key would be to unite the somatic regulation practices with the classic enlightenment teachings and bring them to bear directly on the self-as-curving-in-on-itself self.

The Natural State of Great Perfection is, in somatic regulation terms, the state of (Ultimate) Resource. It’s the state of Ultimate Wholeness.

Rather, however, than (mis)use that nondual realization as a spiritual bypass by treating it as the end goal, such realization becomes in this model, the true beginning point. Bringing the state of Great Perfection and Wholeness into contact with the self-contraction something very interesting begins to occur. The self-contraction begins to be soothed and slowly start to change/transform. The Great State of Natural Perfection begins to pervade, permeate, penetrate, and embrace the self-contraction. It does not bypass it. It doesn’t seek to manipulate or control it. It doesn’t become overwhelmed by or collapse into the self-contraction. It brings a resourced state to the self-contraction.

This process needs to include the praxis of titration and pendulation. In other words, contacting the self-contraction from the resourced Great State needs to be done very slowly, gradually, and patiently and done in very small, micro-amounts (titration). There needs to be plenty of time given for digestion of that experience as it is quite intense (titration). And then further time given to relaxing back into the state of Great Perfection, resting, playing, doing creative work, walking in nature, etc. (i.e. pendulating back to “home base” of resource) before eventually returning to another round (pendulation) of micro-sized process (titration).

In this manner, one is patiently growing “stronger muscles”, that is gaining capacity, to be able to stay present to and attentive with this experience for longer periods of time. This form of meditation is a very different one than most practitioners will ever encounter. I’ve written about aspects of this meditative practice previously from a slightly different vantage point here.

So to review the process involves:

First, a realization of and deep capacity to abide in and as The Natural State of Great Perfection as a state of ultimate resource. It is after all the natural state so it involves simply learning to connect to that ever-present state of Being.

Second the ability to feel and sense the self as the activity of contracting or curving-in-on-itself. This self-contraction is an activity registered in the body as a very specific frequency or felt sense of deep tension, constriction, and clenching.

Third, learning to bring the Natural State into contact with the self-contraction and in that precise order (not the other way around). The Natural State envelopes, embraces, permeates, pervades, and penetrates the self-contraction, not vice versa.

The way in which this contact is to take place is through “micro-doses”, small titrated amounts that grow very methodically over time little by little. After each such “micro-dose”, there is a time to rest, relax, and rejuvenate as one “pendulates” back to the state of greater Resource.

What then happens over time with this practice? Is the goal to eventually completely heal and eradicate the self-contraction?

Weirdly, I believe the answer is no. Rather over time, a more paradoxical wisdom comes forth. The self-contraction is inherent to the human body mind. It is not going away. What does happen however from this practice is that one learns the self-contraction is also, simultaneously, and strangely, a source of profound blessing.

There is however a deeper relaxation into life. The tenderness of the self-contraction itself remains. The suffering around it or that we place upon it lessens dramatically. The Fisher King was wounded by his own spear. Symbolically then he suffered a wound of his own activity, a self-contraction of a kind. The healing question–Whom does the Grail serve?–is an inquiry to bring the Grail (awakened loving consciousness) precisely to the site of the wound (the self-as-contraction).

Jay Griffiths says that the healing question Percival asks is as mysterious as the source of the Fisher King's wound. Just as mysteriously the wounded place becomes the place of healing via the question.

Spiritual teacher Saniel Bonder calls this enigmatic realization that the self-contraction will always remain a great relief. Bonder’s work on waking-down and the white heat constitute a profound reflection on this very theme of bringing Conscious Light into full contact with the self as the action of curving-in-on-itself and the strange blessing that comes from doing so.

Bonder calls it the core wellness/core wound paradox. Core wound is his term for the self as traumatized and defended/curled in on itself. In other words, the core wound remains and yet somehow mysteriously has become the locus of core wellness.

The deeper and deeper embrace of the self-contraction from the space of regulation and resource becomes not a means to another end but rather a process that is whole unto itself. It is its own end. It is its own good.

The tender, raw, visceral quality of the self-contraction does not reduce. If anything our sensitivity and attunement to it heightens. But what does decrease is the suffering self-imposed on top of the self-contraction. The core wellness/core wound paradox stays forever a core wellness/core wound paradox. The core wellness and the core wound are two inseparable qualities of the same thing (or rather same activity).

The great (and paradoxical) relief that comes from embracing the self-contraction from a place of Freedom/Resource is that we stop running from it. We stop being afraid of it. We stop trying to fix it or heal it or manage it or any other form of manipulation or methodical engineering. There’s no efforting, no attempting to corral or force this part of us in some direction or mold it into some prefabricated image of of our own deluded creation.

From the paradoxical realization of the self-contraction as a place of core wellness (and not only as core wounding/tenderness), comes a very different form of incarnational realization. As previously mentioned, Bonder terms these waking down and the white heat. It is to those that I’ll turn in my next piece.