An Immersion Course in The Language of Love

by | Apr 13, 2006

In my newsletter this week, I quote Charlie Badenhop of,

“If there is one thing the body really does understand, it is the language of love!”

I met Charlie when he was leading the Somatics module of the Newfield Network Graduate Coaching Program in 2001. I went on to study with him in a 7-month-long course in Embodied Intelligence, which commenced with a meeting in New York City in November that year, a brief two months after 9/11. In his field of expertise, Charlie is a wise, learned, and subtle man. I consider him one of my most valuable mentors, and I’m proud to say that he is my friend.
But what about the “immersion course”?
At least back in 2001, Charlie taught by example and by practice. Some people in my cohort of graduate coaching students found his reliance on awareness rather than speech almost mystifying. Being rather verbal myself (oh, had you noticed?), yet feeling a powerful magnetic pull towards Charlie’s work, I gradually came to regard Seishindo as an immersion course. The longer I live with this work, the more appropriate I think it is to call it an immersion course in the language of love.

[Sidebar: If you haven’t read A General Theory of Love, do.]

Anyway, I dredged up an email I wrote to Charlie and my fellow “grad students” on July 4, 2001, about my “aha” around immersion learning and the body. Here it is, for your reading enjoyment.

II’ve been learning Spanish lately using a set of tapes and a study
guide developed to teach folks in the foreign service. It is something
of an immersion system, at least as I understand that term, in that the
emphasis is on distinctions and patterns built up by listening and
repetition of the language being learned with minimal reference to the
speaker’s native language, in my case English.
So. It occurs to me that the core practices of Seishindo are a sort of
immersion learning of somatics. After three months of practicing, I am
beginning to notice some distinctions that were transparent to me
before. I am beginning to observe some patterns that before were so
entirely coherent with my usual ways of being that I could not observe
them as well as others that were so unfamiliar that I could not observe
them, at first, either.
One of the most elusive parts of the practice has been keeping a
journal of my observations. Why on earth should I make notes if there
is nothing to get right? Why leave a record of my obtuseness? It was as
if I could not imagine taking notes because I could not imagine what I
was to notice. In the past my strategy for noticing was to discover
what I was supposed to observe and then produce that, ideally with some
fresh distinctions of my own, but always anchored to an initial set of
observations that would satisfy the teacher.
While something in me resonated with Charlie’s invitation to “I don’t
know” in a big way, something else was preoccupied with knowing what to
That changed for me shortly after I began the Releasing into Awareness
Practice. For one thing, the explicit instruction to notice three
things I saw, three things I heard, three things I felt, etc. made me
crazy. Notice the first thing I saw? How could I tell if it was the
first thing? Notice something different each time? Why? Why not? Notice
what is most attractive? Most surprising? Most….????
Each time I practiced it got worse. Then Charlie used a variant of this
practice in a phone coaching call that I observed. I forget exactly how
he phrased it, but what i heard is “there’s no right answer” and
“notice anything of the many things.” (I really have no idea if Charlie
said either of those things.)
Something broke lose and my grip on the old strategy of noticing was
loosened. With that I became curious about what I might learn if I
simply noticed what I noticed (whatever that means) and noted it in a
journal. For the first time I could imagine using a function like
writing to record an observation sans interpretation.
It has taken a few weeks for me to achieve any regularity with taking
notes, but I am there now, for now. And with the note taking came the
notion that these practices are a way of learning by immersion. By “not
knowing” what the words mean but learning the grammar by means of
exploratory practice and observation, I am gradually developing
distinctions that did not exist before. Because these are not hooked to
interpretations (pain in left shoulder equals job stress; tick in right
eye equals worry about love) I am actually learning a LANGUAGE, that
is, a means of communication in which the parts can be combined to
create an infinite variety of meanings and to carry an infinite array
of information.
Does this make sense?
It occurs to me that this notion of “immersion learning” and “language”
can be an effective way to share these practices and processes with
clients. It “explains” why so much learning can take place that eludes
the usual and ordinary channels of the brain in the head. It validates
and supports practice that may not generate discernible results or even
discernible distinctions in the short term.
By the way, I have several clients who have expressed eagerness to
learn somatically. I’ve been very clear with them that I am a rank
beginner, and with that in mind (!), we’ve played with a couple of
somatic practices, primarily eye movements and breathing/awareness. I
am astounded at the shifts these folks are reporting. I wouldn’t be
astounded if Charlie were working with them, but honest, I’m coming up
with such random applications of my minimal knowledge that I have low
expectations of outcome (though high willingness for things to “work”)
An example: ten days ago in a call with a relatively new client she
requested ways to work on not taking things so personally so that she
could be more effective in delegating work and in coordinating work
with others in a high stress technical support position. I asked her to
look upward in one direction or another (I don’t even remember if it
was right or left) while talking about a specific situation in which
she had taken something personally and it had gotten in her way. I
don’t remember exactly how we progressed from there, though it included
her noticing her mood and attitude in that eye position and then
playing with perhaps two other eye positions. Then I had her roll her
eyes clockwise and counterclockwise while we nattered on for a moment
or two.
She reported that she felt differently about the situation so I
congratulated her for being such a brilliant learner (what else could I
say?!) and instructed her to play with eye movement whenever she got
stuck. There was some other stuff about stuckness and unstuckness and
Anyway, this week she opened the call by reporting that it had been an
unusually busy week. However, her concern was NOT that she had gotten
stressed out. In fact, it was the reverse. She reported that she was so
efficient and effective during this stressful time that she was
concerned that she might start cultivating high stress at work. She
said she had “forgotten” to use eye movement except for once, and that
when she “remembered” that time she realized that she had been
reflexively using it in tiny increments all week….