Somatic Self-Similarity: The Fractal Nature of Body & Mind (OI Tenet #2)
OI Tenet #2: The importance of somatic psychology for mapping the phases of the nervous system, providing a clinical approach unique to Organic Intelligence.
Somatic psychology claims a clinical and intellectual lineage from many sources, including the legacy of psychodynamics from Reich, Freud, etc. In fact, this young field has grown to the point of documenting its source materials, i.e. Heller (2012) and Marlock et al (2015). Organic Intelligence® (OI) brings to the somatic field a unique clinical protocol that is mindfulness-based, but which also draws deeply from sources in the field of complexity sciences. Drawing from this scientific basis has grounded the OI Clinical Protocol in a systems approach, and gives new understanding of clients’ somatic presentation. New light is shed on client symptoms and in particular, the way such somatic presentations actually point toward previously unrecognized organismic trends of self-organization.
In previous blog posts, we have laid the ‘fault’ of the ignorance of somatically presented trends of self-organization with enculturation and civilization: our species is currently a tribe of people looking for their tribe. (see “What’s Wrong and the OI Addiction Model”) The chaos in the collective nervous system due to this disruption cannot be overestimated. Essentially, most of our species is suffering the chronic effects of our accidental self-domestication. To this epically proportioned socio-cultural disruption is added the tip of the iceberg: the disorganizing effect of trauma in the modern world.
Mapping the Phases of the Nervous System
OI’s unique mapping of distinct and identifiable phases of nervous system organization provides specific guidance for somatic clinical intervention. In particular, Organic Intelligence provides guidance on the intervention tools and relational contexts which reliably recognize and support a system moving from I) Chaos, through II) Complexity, to III) Coherence. The three primary phases must be recognized by clinicians, as each phase necessitates specific treatment approaches, which are either irrelevant or disruptive if used ‘out of phase’. In particular, trained somatic and body therapists can learn this mindfulness- and complexity-based approach in the post-advanced intensive membership, OI Expert. In OI Expert, trained somatic therapists receive extensive coursework and live personal feedback in order to understand and intervene appropriately based in this 3-Phase map, using direct somatic observation skills and the OI Clinical Protocol. This map identifies observable, developmental nervous system organization and describes the prototypical possibilities of movement: Chaos-Complex-Coherence.
The importance for somatic psychology of this mapping is several:
1) Clinicians must learn to tailor interventions to the relational context, but also to the phasic context.
2) Dynamic movement between phases is the rule — interaction effects must be anticipated, and appropriate coaching and psych-education to clients must be provided.
3) Phase III work is reflected in systemic self-organization which produces reliable processes of increasing organismic coherence, defined as improved biological differentiation and synchrony.
Numbers 1 and 2 above address the OI Clinical Protocol, which is taught in the OI Human Empowerment And Resiliency Training, OI HEARTraining®, and the OI Expert intensive. It is number 3, Phase III work, which is the topic of the second half of OI Expert training program, and the topic we want to explore further in this blog post.
“But young as the psychology of unconscious processes may be, it has nevertheless succeeded in establishing certain facts which are gradually gaining general acceptance. One of these is the polaristic structure of the psyche, which it shares with all natural processes.”
— Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis
Jung’s Polaristic Structure of the Psyche
Since the time of his writing, what has seemed to become self-evident to Jung and those around him — the “polaristic structure of the psyche” — has in fact been almost completely lost. The reason for this loss surely involves a trend of disorganization, attachment disorder, disintegration and dissociation that has been accumulating, and creating further ecological, social and individual systems’ disorder. The order reflected in what Jung called the polaristic structure is what Organic Intelligence calls a Phase III phenomenon. However, systems are increasingly found oscillating between Phases I & II (chaos & complexity,see chart above) and the polaristic structure is thus rarely apparent to clinicians. The OI Clinical Protocol gives reliable methods to see and support the intrinsic structure of organismic unfolding, and showing clearly the essential fractal nature of body and mind, and thus illuminating the polaristic structure of the psyche.
Fractal nature and clinic relevance
The term “fractal” was coined in 1975 by Yale mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010). Mandelbrot founded the field of fractal geometry, in which fractals were seen as naturally occurring and self-similar patterns. There was implicit in this geometry a critique of the then dominant Euclidean geometry. Mandelbrot’s work suggests that to the degree that the Euclidean mindset overlays linearity onto nature, and is then misinterpreted to suggest that the form of nature is primarily linear. Instead, he examined variance and ‘roughness’ and found most commonly the elusive obvious: order & self-similar forms characterize nature. Included in this article are numerous photos of nature which show repeated irregular forms: fractals. In my classes we go on fractal safaris, and with our smartphones shoot fractals from nature (some of this post’s images have been taken on such fractal safaris). The fractal nature of nature has a peculiar quality for us. Mandelbrot basically described it as his personal super-power. He said, “I have this amazing ability. To show something to someone, something they have never ever seen before, only to hear them say, ‘Oh yes. Of course!’”
Of clinical relevance: the fractal form of nervous system expression shows itself in the phase of self-organization which Organic Intelligence calls Phase III. Oscillations become periodic and regular, and predictable, which is clinically very relevant! Having reinforced the initial conditions of Orientation, and stabilized a more-or-less neutral attention to simple human pleasure, which balances the addiction to intensity (cf “What’s Wrong and the OI Addiction Model”), the ideal learning thresholds appear more and more naturally.
We find the ideal learning threshold at a level of emotional and somatic intensity that is typically much less than therapists are accustomed to seeing, and thus seems quite subtle early in the OI practice. In this instance, threshold simply means a phase transition that resets and grows the intensity range which can be readily processed in the biology. Organic Intelligence trains clinicians to identify the signs of a system spontaneously making these ideal phase transitions between the subtle polar experiences: expansion-contraction, happy-sad, active-resting, inhalation-exhalation, sleeping-waking, etc.
When encouraging these spontaneous phase transitions the rhythmicity of oscillation returns. The clinical presentation varies, but the oscillation — either side of threshold — forms two poles. This polaristic structure may show up in sensation (tight-loosening), in image (jagged-smooth), affect (irritated-soothed) or cognition (confused-clarity). And, due to that unpredictable diversity of manifestation — an emergent property — Organic Intelligence gives the poles simple names, as placeholders: Red and Blue (we could have used X and Y, but as the form is archetypal, these colors are apropos in reflecting an essential meaning).
For a fuller explication on these themes, included polaristic structure, Red & Blue, bifurcation and their application to the human nervous system, central to the work of Organic Intelligence, sign up for a free trial of OI Basics and see the online lecture “Red & Blue Means Coherent Complex Systems”.
OI Clinicians are trained to see very subtle signs of arousal well before explicit traumatic content is broached
To the contemporary psychotherapist, it seems hard to believe — nearly miraculous — that trauma is best metabolized through mindful awareness of the environment, plus the reflection on the spontaneously arising associations which appear as resources. The OI Clinical Protocol is unique in seeing that once the conditions for Phase III integration have been established, “trauma” is first processed through an “implicit exposure” process. The OI Clinical Protocol of implicit exposure is very safe, often comfortable, and readily empowering. OI Clinicians are trained to see very subtle signs of arousal well before explicit traumatic content emerges, e.g. the “story” is told. The ease, and even pleasure, of experiencing these subtle arousal de-arousal cycles reveal the most essential, and radical shift OI proposes for the trauma field: the shift of processing from a negative to positive reinforcement paradigm. (This shift will be discussed more completely in the Blog for Tenet #5 “Positive Psychology: Positive Reinforcement vs Negative Reinforcement”.) In this positive reinforcement framework, the arousal comes as pleasant stimulation, like curiosity, engagement, potency or excitement. Then, the relaxation from this pleasant state is likewise pleasant. Positively reinforcing!
For the trauma field,
OI proposes an immediate shift of processing from a negative to a positive reinforcement paradigm
While the OI Clinical Protocol is well developed, the above information only hints at its sophistication. And, it may be best to see it in a practical example. We posted a video session of the author working with 3-year old Jada, the morning after a choking and hospital traumatic event. In this session, you can see how Jada, whose system is well balanced and supported, goes through cycles of intensity, and processes the event almost entirely at the implicit level. And, most important, we can see in the session how the rhythmic cycles form the prototypical fractal pattern which gives the return to nervous system organization. This organization is in fact the return to greater biological synchrony, or coherence. The result is Jada’s return to orientation and engagement.
Sign up to take a look at this brief, 6-minute video, to see Jada’s return from freeze and dissociation, and how once the Phase III fractal pattern reestablishes, processing happens in a very “Blue” (positive psychological) way.
Click here for OI Tenet #3: What is Resilience?
And, if you’re intrigued, sign up for a free 30-day trial of OI Basics membership, or even our flagship HEARTraining. Once you become an OI Member, we can talk more in the monthly online ‘Family Room’ events, or discuss how to apply this work in your practice in the OI Forum.
Heller, M. (2012) Body Psychotherapy, New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Marlock, G., Weiss, H., Young, C., & Soth, M. (eds) (2015) The Handbook of Body Psychotherapy and Somatic Psychology. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Learn more about the Organic Intelligence clinical protocol, training and membership at organicintelligence.org
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