After focusing on my own “inner” journey of self-transformation (the word is in quotation marks, because all inner journeys are also about relationships with others), I decided to make my path more concrete by offering workshops and courses. All the workshops are experiential, in the sense of being based on my own experience and on practices and insights that came to me in meditations and vision quests through inner guidance, although I have deepened these insights by studying those corresponding theories and models that resonated with me the most. Many of my external frameworks explained to me, through a theoretical language, what I was already practicing intuitively. These frameworks include:
• Jungian psychoanalysis, particularly practices of inner dialogue and working with shadows,
• Reichian bioenergetics and its many parallels to Taoist energy work,
• Gurdjieff’s practices of self-observation and self-remembering,
• European mystery schools, especially older hermeticism (Franz Bardon, Golden Dawn), and more contemporary forms of heart-based alchemy (Drunvalo Melchizedek, Almine),
• Indigenous shamanic traditions, from Toltec wisdom to trance journeying and working with medicine plants.
Below is a list of the workshops and courses I am currently teaching:
1. SOCIAL BIO-ENERGETICS
Besides his theories about the libido and orgasm, Wilhelm Reich is most well-known for reversing the main axiom of psychoanalysis – neuroses are not in the mind; they are first of all expressed in the body. By learning to repress emotions in childhood, we simultaneously hold in the breath, suck the belly, paralyze the diaphragm and hunch the shoulders, creating a muscular armor that blocks openness, spontaneity and pleasure. This workshop is an introduction to Reichian breathwork and bodywork techniques that are focused on releasing chronic tensions in the face, shoulders, arms, chest, abdomen and pelvis. It includes dancing routines to activate the first three chakras and group games and exercises.
The workshop is also informed by Roberto’s Freire’s Somatherapy, which is a fusion of Reichian anti-psychology and bodywork and anarchist politics. Somatherapy is based on several principles:
(1) Neuroses are inherently connected to bioenergetic imbalances that are most often the result of dysfunctional social relationships, so the very idea of “psychology” as a separate field of treating the individual psyche apart from the body, the environment and social relations is false and dangerous;
(2) The hierarchical function of the therapist should be abolished because it robs people of their own power and autonomy and perpetuates the current social system of domination. The therapist is a collaborator in a group process and can only lead by example;
(3) Therapy should not be harsh and serious but focused on pleasure and spontaneity, in order to reawaken a childlike sense of joy and playfulness that we have lost.
2. SHAMANIC SELF-THERAPY
(Workshop handout with background text, exercises and guided meditations:)
Many of us live like zombies, sleepwalking through life, defined by automatic behaviors and unconscious conditioning. Our biggest illusion is that we’re a consistent self, singular personality, or unique “I.” Different philosophical, esoteric and psychological traditions have diagnosed the many I’s, fragmented parts, multiple selves or subpersonalities that we harbor, which pull us in contradictory directions from one day to the next. Coming face to face with these subpersonalities is key to attaining profound self-knowledge, greater self-compassion (seeing the “darker parts” of ourselves as lost children instead of enemies out to sabotage our best intentions), and a real sense of freedom, of being able to choose and act without falling sway to automatic behaviors and emotional triggers that we don’t understand.
This workshop fuses shamanic techniques for trance journeys and psychological approaches to working with subpersonalities. The original Siberian word “šamán” means one who is exalted or lifted up in ecstatic trance and acquires the gift of gnosis (direct, intuitive knowing). The essence of shamanism is dreaming – as a way of waking up to what Castaneda calls “nonordinary reality.” Different techniques including dancing, drumming, breathwork and the use of medicinal plants have been used to attain the ecstatic trance of journeying. What is common to all of them is tapping into a hypnogogic semi-waking-dream state, which is measurable as theta brainwave frequency. Many theories consider this brainwave to be a gateway both to the personal subconscious and to higher forms of collective consciousness.
The workshop also uses the following Jungian inspired psychoanalytic approaches for understanding and working with subpersonalities: (1) Hal and Sidra Stone’s voice dialogue technique and its emphasis on the primary selves that make up the operating system of the ego – like the controller, pusher, perfectionist, pleaser and inner critic; (2) Richard Schwarz’s Internal Family System and its focus on exiles or congealed energetic residues of pain and fear that have split off from the personality during past traumas and are usually hidden from our conscious awareness. The aim of the psychological work is to understand how many of our subpersonalities have developed as defenses against pain, and had an initial protective or coping function. But since they were formed in childhood, when we lacked logical processes of reasoning, they exhibit flawed modes of understanding the world, and they operate in our adult lives as weird, exaggerated, self-sabotaging behaviors. Repeated encounters and direct communion with these subpersonalities leads to a reprocessing of the original pain or trauma, and to altering the beliefs and behaviors associated with it. Or to a magical-symbolic act of “unburdening.”
Carl Jung used the term “shadow” to describe the energy patterns and parts of the personality that we have disowned or repressed because we internalized parental and social messages that they were bad or shameful. It’s important to note that Jung also talked about golden shadows, like creativity, imagination, playfulness – which can also be disparaged and driven underground as we grow up if our parents favor more rational, pragmatic behavior. But this has the effect of making “shadows” a vague synonym for whatever is unconscious, which renders it too broad to be useful. I choose to understand shadows and shadow-work in a much more concrete way than simply an easy short-hand for describing our “darker” or more unconscious energies.
Shadows are, literally, indirect reflections; they don’t cast their own light. We don’t see them directly, which means we don’t recognize them in ourselves. They cast a kind of negative or inverted light when other people’s behavior triggers us into irrational fits of judgment and condemnations. Shadows are aspects we absolutely refuse to see about ourselves because they would destroy our self-image, hence we project the qualities onto others. And when we spot these qualities in other people, we go into a kind of righteous fury and indignation, condemning them and being appalled by their behavior.
Shadows are our blind spots. We cannot not see them when meditating or practicing simple awareness of the here and now. When noticing an extreme reaction of anger or revulsion to someone else’s behavior, we can go on endlessly “witnessing” what our thoughts and emotions are in the moment. But this doesn’t capture the real dynamic that is taking place behind the scene – the fact that the story isn’t really about what we feel towards the other person, but about what we’re suppressing in ourselves, about the disowned aspects of our own story. Instead of witnessing what is already present in our awareness, the point is to bring the latent, unconscious content to the light of awareness in the first place. And this requires a reversal of perspective.
I base the shadow-work that I do with myself and with others on several principles:
(1) Most often, what annoys the hell out of us about other people is a projection of our own disowned qualities. And if we pay attention to this dynamic, then we can discover what we are suppressing in ourselves and learn to integrate it, and also simultaneously transform our relationships with others;
(2) As long as we are projecting our “stuff” (our unresolved emotions and fears) onto other people we are living inauthentically – behind masks and false personas that hide who we are, and we are also living unconsciously – triggered into extreme emotional reactions and exaggerated judgments that we have no clear awareness of or control over;
(3) To live behind masks is to deny the 360 degree range of our personality and to fall out of balance with our full selves and modes of expression (or to remain un-integrated);
(4) Integrating our shadows means being able to recognize that behind the so-called “negative” qualities we condemn in others, and unconsciously deny in ourselves, there is a positive desire or a hidden gift that is trying to manifest itself in roundabout ways. For example, behind rage and anger is a desire to create safe boundaries; behind arrogance is an attempt to affirm and love the self. If we deny these desires we fall into the opposite extremes of having our boundaries constantly violated and utter self-denial and lack of self-worth. In this sense, even the most seemingly “negative” traits can be transmuted, alchemically, by tapping into the positive desires that they express.
When we engage in shadow-work we can acquire a deeper knowledge of ourselves and learn how to communicate more authentically with others – by stopping to dump our own stuff and unresolved issues onto them, and by becoming more compassionate to their vulnerabilities when we witness them since we can recognize that we also share those same vulnerabilities, mistakes and pains. Integrating the shadows that manifest themselves through our exaggerated judgments of others is a way of healing the fragmentation in our psychic life and of becoming more whole and more tolerant. But the process should not be idealized as some meditative high of tapping into a sense of overflowing bliss and joy. Shadow-work means being honest to our real experience (as it really is, and not as we think it should be to fit some idealized self-image); it means being open to discovering things about ourselves that might at first be very painful to see.
4. HEALING THE INNER CHILD (Soul Retrieval)
The “inner child” is not a single child, either a real entity that inhabits our psyche, or a memory of ourselves from the past that we can activate in the present. It is more like a whole chaotic cluster of contradictory energies and behaviors that were formed during the first 7 years of childhood but are still very much present in our life now. It includes the archetypal energies of the playful and magical child, which connects to a sense of freedom, creativity, innocence, awe and an enchanted perception of the world. It also includes our child-self at a particular age that formed into our dominant personality as the result of the dominant trauma in our lives – for example the child self at age 6 who was punished and disparaged and learned to fear failure, who then grew into a perfectionist adult that is always seeking recognition and admiration from others. The inner child also includes the more subterranean and darker energies that were judged unacceptable and disowned from conscious awareness (like extreme rage or self-hatred), and only come to the surface in explosive, extreme circumstances when we seem to “loose it” and feel like we’re literally “possessed” by some other being.
This workshop is focused on understanding these dynamics at first in an analytical, logical way, and then having trance journeys or vision quests in which we can engage in inner dialogues with the different inner children that inhabit the landscape of the psyche. By becoming aware of these child selves in non-crises moments (in crises moments we are completely identified with them and have no sense of detachment or real awareness), by consciously initiating an internal dialogue with them, we can better understand how they were formed, and what their motivations and fears are. Through shamanic techniques of soul retrieval, we can rework traumatic experiences from the past in which parts of the soul were lost (moments in the past when our psyche became fragmented, and some energies were exiled from our conscious awareness because they were too painful). By reprocessing these traumatic memories in a controlled way, the energetic charge of the original pain is transformed and the exiled fragments can be re-integrated into the psyche.
5. HEART ALCHEMY
Alchemy is often associated with the secret knowledge of the middle ages of turning lead into gold, but this isn’t really what it’s about. Hermes Trismegistus divided the science of gnosis (or attaining oneness with everything) into alchemy, which perfected the microcosm of the human self, and theurgy, which focused on harmonizing the self with the macrocosm. In its original sense, alchemy is the practice of achieving psychological integration by learning how to balance the elements within the self.
Esoteric mystery schools and archaic shamanic traditions have considered the third eye and the heart (and the energetic connection between them) to be the guiding intelligence for achieving the integration of the microcosm or the personal self and also for connecting to the source of all that exists. Unfortunately, in our modern culture, much of this ancient wisdom has been lost, and it is the instrumental mind, with its calculating, discriminating, and judgmental forms of reasoning, that dominates the prism through which we experience the world.
One of the main reasons that we don’t feel a sense of wholeness or inner integration – due to the dominance of the instrumental mind – is that we are often in resistance to the flow of life, by judging aspects of ourselves that we don’t like (and dreaming of some future time when we’ll finally be rid of them), or because we’re judging other people or external circumstances as responsible for our negative experiences.
This workshop focuses on practices that shift our awareness from the mind to the heart, which allows us to understand how to let go of negative judgments. These practices include (1) energy work and breathwork for balancing the flow of the life-force (prana or chi) in the body and releasing blockages that have been caused by suppressed emotions, (2) analytic exercises to better understand the judgments we carry against ourselves and others and the reasons they were formed in the first place, (3) and trance journeys that connect the third eye and the heart-center, in order to be able to encounter those parts of ourselves and others that we resist from a higher perspective of love and inclusiveness – and thus to be able to let go of and transform our negative judgments and resistances.
6. SELF-KNOWLEDGE THROUGH DECONDITIONING (10 Week Course)
We like to believe that we’re free and can direct our lives, that our choices are entirely our own and that we’ve crafted our unique personalities consciously and creatively. But ever since the ancient Greeks proclaimed the imperative of life was to “know thyself,” cranks and revolutionaries have called upon us to wake up, by showing how we sleepwalk through life, mechanically responding, like Pavlov’s dogs, to conditioning inherited from families, schools and cultural ideologies. Genuine self-knowledge is a painful process of coming to recognize that much of what we have attributed to our sense of autonomy are, in fact, unconscious automatisms. These automatisms are reflected first of all in the body, but also in our beliefs, dominant moods and lifestyle preferences.
The focus of this 10 week course is to develop the power of self-observation by noticing (1) how we relate to our bodies, (2) our unconscious habits and behaviors, (3) how our dominant personality traits and ego identifications were formed as childhood defenses against pain, (4) what the dominant feeling states that we experience throughout the day are, and how they are mostly based on fears, and (5) how we relate to others, and especially why we are unconsciously triggered by them. This means learning to observe ourselves, without judgment or condemnation, and letting go of any compulsive desire to change what we don’t like seeing. Change is inevitable, but it’s important that the desire for change is not coming out of an internalized masochism of beating up on ourselves for all our perceived faults and failures. The point of the self-observation is to grow beyond the impatience and irritation we normally feel with ourselves, and to see that this is also an element of our conditioning.
The individual and group exercises for the first half of the course fuse self-observation practices inspired by Gurdjieff rather than the Buddhist tradition (because they’re more practical and focused on the body) with Reichian bodywork techniques, which complements the self-observation on a deeper level of not only noticing, but also clearing, energetic blockages in the body. The second part of the course uses shamanic journeying or vision quests to uncover and to change the conditioning patterns that were formed in childhood. Although detached self-observation is an important first step to break our false identifications, its limitations (and the limitations of mindfulness practices, more generally) are that it cannot create empathic connections. The second part of the course emphasizes cultivating a feeling of heart-resonance in order to connect empathically to our wounded inner children, especially the subpersonalities that are exiled from our conscious awareness, but are still very present behind the scenes and generating many of our automatisms and uncontrolled emotional reactions.
There is also a more politicized axiom that informs the entire 10 week course: throwing off the chains of our unconscious conditioning, coming into our own authentic power, and learning to relate to other people with a sense of generosity and cooperation and not out of a desire that they fulfill some lack in us … is the most profound meaning of anarchism.