The Way of the Elbow

The Way of the Elbow, in its seventh year of business. With gratefulness to all of my clients in the Anchorage community and happily anticipating seven years to come.

A brief philosophical note about Rolfing® Structural and Movement Integration: we are seeking to establish a more harmonious relationship to everything we ordinarily think is “not us,” but which in a larger sense, constitutes the more comprehensive whole in which we eternally take part. This includes things like gravity and physics, expression, communication, and actualisation of human potential.

Adaptability: “The Word Becomes Flesh”

“Rolfing…what’s that?”

To find oneself at the gunpoint of such a question is no unfamiliar experience. As tempting as it would be to have a pat answer that I could whip out of my back pocket like a bullet-proof cue-card, a response of this sort would fail to embody at least one of the five pillars of Rolfing® Structural Integration (i.e. the “Five Principles of Rolfing® SI are: Adaptability, Holism, Palintonicity, Support, & Closure). Indeed, in this case, as in so many others, the how of the answer is no less-crucial than the what. For this reason, in an attempt to embody the principle of Adaptability and not merely to talk about it, I have challenged myself to resist the temptation to respond with a ready-made formulation. I flatter myself that what I forfeit in convenience, I compensate with connection. Without a prefabricated answer to a question like “What is Rolfing,” I encourage myself to discover the interests and background of my inquisitor. Then together we can rëapproach the question on his or her own familiar terms. On a good day, an answer therefore really belongs to both of us, and Adaptability has emerged as a living experience even before any work on the table.

“What is Rolfing?” Without a ready-made response, this question is a pluripotent prompt. Like a living being, such a question bears infinite possibilities and could unfold in innumerable directions. Indeed, in the most fundamental analogy, a human being represents just such an open question. Every human being is a walking incarnation of the beloved Principle of Adaptability. In Rolfing work, one recognises in the most striking terms that the Rolfer’s highest responsibility is not to fix patients. Neither is his office to impart knowledge to, nor impose beliefs upon, them. Instead it is the Rolfer’s sacramental task to learn from his patients; to sit at the feet of masters and allow their bodies to convey the ambition of their souls. Then one may offer oneself in service, and become a disciple of life.

There is but one temple in the Universe, and that is the body of man.


Novum Organum Medicum: Towards a More Perfect Model of Medicine

Despite its incontrovertible refutation by new discoveries over the last century, Scientific Materialism* maintains a general hegemony over our modern thinking as it has for centuries. The cultural inertia of this paradigm echoes that of other great institutions: the United States Government expressly resisted the practical conclusions of the very Enlightenment philosophy that Thomas Jefferson so eloquently espoused in its founding documents for the better part of an hundred years—until 1863 when President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ostensibly freed all former slaves. Nevertheless, more than a century later still, Martin Luther King Jr. lived & died in a righteous battle against the persistent vices of racism & inequality. King’s titanic struggle is a testament to his own greatness as well as to the might of the institutionalised beliefs that he opposed. Even today, insidious currents of racist thought still course through the inner narratives that some individuals tacitly entertain. The insurance of equal rights for homosexuals is perhaps an analogous struggle only an odd century belated: only recently have local governments among the several states begun to mobilise to counter this oppression from the Federal Government. Another great institution, the Roman Catholic Church, also remains obstinate in its opposition to gay rights today, further demonstrating the propensity of institutions to resist the progress of human evolution.

There is nothing mystical in that such resistance should be so common. Returning to the subject of our inquiry, we may discover that one of the greatest proponents of materialistic science to have walked the earth, hailed as “the father of the scientific method,” Sir Francis Bacon himself observes, in the selfsame treatise that he presented his method withal that:

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.

Writing in 1620, one can hardly ascribe the petrified character of institutionalised science today to Bacon. Indeed in the same work, Novum Organum Scientiarum, he even warns against such obstinate dogmatism in aphorism 70:

Demonstratio longe optima est experientia.
But the best demonstration by far is experience.

One suspects that Bacon himself, if he were alive today, would be the first to decry the materialistic mechanisation of our worldview that so often prevails. Perhaps nowhere is this projected mechanisation so eminently evident as in the field of medicine. In my work as a Rolfer®, it has been my continual challenge to recognise & vanquish this insidious sentiment, which expresses itself in an individual’s belief that her body is a mere assemblage of parts. John Donne famously declared that “no man is an island;” neither is a scapula, a liver, or a neurotransmitter. Nevertheless, The Way of the Elbow finds itself in a perennial crusade to counter this subconscious philosophical enemy; a surreptitious reductionism that manifests in our own self-deprecating materialistical proclivity to diminish ourselves in to discrete mechanical constituents. This analytic tendency is perhaps appropriate for a mineral, or a Soviet tractor, but not a human being. Surgery & a reliance on pharmaceuticals are two instances of this general tendency. One misunderstands the argument of this piece if one supposes it rejects the utility of conventional western medicine; we are supremely grateful for the latter in any cases of acute or traumatic injury because it’s not helpful if your aura is pretty if you just had your arm chopped off. Instead, I mean to suggest that such treatment addresses only one aspect of the human being and, as Walt Whitman famously declared:

I am large; I contain multitudes.

Any individual who visits a physician with the hope that the latter will “fix” him is committing a subtle oppression against his own person by treating himself like dirt, though even this is not accurate since we know that a single ounce of real soil contains whole intertwining galaxies of mycorrhizal fungi & micro-organisms. My aspiration as a Rolfer has always been, therefore, to empower my clients in body, soul, & spirit so that they may discover within themselves the life to overcome their challenges. This is to patch the gaping hole in the Virginia Queen instead of merely bailing it out with a cutting-edge titanium & carbon-fibre bucket, or rushing ashore & burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich.

What does it mean, therefore, to broaden our conception of the human being so that our perception recognises the causal processes behind their multitudinous effects? The great Prussian polymath Wolfgang von Goethe suggests the essence of our project when he writes:

If we want to behold nature in a living way, we must follow her example and become [in our thinking] as mobile and malleable as nature herself.

Goethe’s “delicate empiricism” reveals subtler dimensions to the human being that escape coarser sensibility. Our refined perception apprehends not merely mechanism, but also organism; not only mineral, but vital as well. Aristotle called this aspect the “vegetal soul” & ascribed to it the power of nutrition while Western alchemical tradition has called this aspect the “etheric body” & identified a correspondence to the esoteric element of Water. This presents a contrast to the “physical body” which partakes of the nature of Earth & which Aristotle took to be totally devoid of an animating principle. Conventional medicine recognises only the “Earth body” because it knows only Earth consciousness, which represents discrete facts without relationship, like scree or gravel-pellets. For this reason, we could say that typical Western medicine is soulless; that it cannot treat the soul because it assumes as its departure point that we do not have one. Rather, the former can only treat a patient mechanistically, identifying broken components & replacing them with synthetic ones, as one might replace worn-out brake-pads in a Volkswagen, for example. Medicine in Earth-consciousness gathers facts such as vital statistics & orthopaedic diagnostics and then proceeds with an intervention to rectify any anomalous values. Naturally, such a model is useful, but incomplete. Only Water-consciousness provides context for these data because it perceives process & relationship. Earth is rigid, Water labile: this is the reason for Goethe’s admonishment. To evaluate the human being in the Goethean method is to appreciate the emergent synergic dynamism of life that is more that the sum of its mineral parts.

Nevertheless, even a fluid & living observation fails to capture the whole human being; otherwise the latter would be categorically no different than a vegetable. Earth-consciousness can apprehend the mineral, Water the plant, but the life of the animal consists in more than mere vegetative proliferation: the experience of animals includes an affective aspect—emotions that compel them to activity. Aristotle identified this as the “animal soul” & linked it to the activity of sensation. Western esoteric tradition has called this dimension the “astral body” & associated it with the element of Air. In general terms, we might say that conventional Western medicine treats ailments in physical body, while conventional Eastern medicine addresses imbalances in the etheric body. Acupuncture provides a prime example of this approach, as well as most modalities of energy medicine. Prana, chi, elan vital, & animal magnetism are some traditional terms for the substance of the etheric body. This energy is indomitable: consider that if you starve a stone, it won’t notice; a rubber-plant, however, will start to wilt after seven days without sunbeams & water. But a cocker-spaniel needs something further still than physical nourishment; some sort of emotional sustenance if it is to achieve its potential. It is inhumane to keep a creature in solitary confinement; for the animal the question is moral while for the plant it is ecological. The physical body being literally the most tangible, it is easiest to conceive of a medical model to care for it. Fortunately, tradition, especially in the East, bestows upon us a wealth of insight into therapy for the etheric body. The astral body is fickle & nebulous and therefore more difficult to apprehend for therapeutic purposes. How might one support health in the astral body? Ultimately any intervention that promotes affective & emotional balance directly addresses the astral body, though treatment of the etheric body will invariably demonstrate a positive effect on the astral body as well. Likewise physical health will generally promote both physical & emotional well-being—we have all felt this: when you feel good, you feel good.

For medicine to treat the whole human being, therefore it must progress from conceiving of the human being as mechanism to organism, and further still to the human animal. Even this, however, is not ultimately sufficient if our aspiration is to promote true flourishing, what Aristotle called “eudaemonia” & ascribed to an actualisation of the “rational soul,” whose activity is the intellect. What does this mean? That one can ask this question is not insignificant. Unlike all other creatures that we know of on the Earth, true health in the human being does not emerge of necessity with the fulfilment of her physical, vital, & emotional needs. This hints at the fourth member to the human constitution beyond what we called the physical, etheric, & astral bodies. A great twentieth century thinker, Rudolf Steiner, called this aspect the “I.” Mineral substance composes the physical body, fluid process constitute the etheric, drafts of passion & aversion produce the astral body—represented by the elements of Earth, Water, & Wind, respectively. What then is the nature of this final aspect of the human being, that differentiates her from all other animals, vegetables, & minerals? The notorious Friedrich Nietzsche gives us the answer to this, and so many other questions when he writes in Thus Spake Zarathustra:

It was man who put value upon things…he was the first to create the meaning of things, a human meaning. That is why he calls himself “man,” that is, the Evaluator.
As plants need sunbeams & koala-bears Eucalyptus leaves, the human being needs meaning to realise her full potential…

Who has a why can bear almost any how

Nietzsche also observes. What Steiner calls the “I” is of the nature of Fire and consists in pure spirit & self-consciousness. Karma & spiritual biography suddenly unfold their splendor and significance when we achieve this perspective.

Having finally identified a fourfold nature of the human being, we are now in an advantaged position to reconsider the impact of scientific materialism on human health. The former can only comprehend the physical aspect of the human being. For this reason, all therapy that drives from this conception will fall short in the final measure. Only consider that conventional medicine treats depression with pharmaceuticals. In fact a study from the Center for Disease Control revealed that 1 in 9 Americans is currently taking antidepressants and that this number had increased over 400% in only twenty years. The mechanism of efficacy for such drugs is often to temporarily affect levels of key neurotransmitters, particularly by inhibiting the metabolism of serotonin so that it lingers in the bloodstream. This approach, however, is only palliative & not curative because it fails to address the problem; neurotransmitters are only the physical correlates of subjective conditions. Just as we do not claim that the hands of a clock dictate the time of day but rather reflect it, serotonin, dopamine, & oxytocin are indicators of internal states. Only a raving bedlamite would fix a “check engine” light on his dashboard by covering it up with duct tape. If this approach is inadequate for a Toyota, how utterly futile a response it is for a human being! No feasible amount of materialistic medicine will cure an ailment that is existential; the best it can do is temporarily suppress the symptoms while their spiritual cause lies festering like carbuncles in the soul. To forcibly retain this suffering only generates an inner pressure, which pain we then discharge as violence onto others & the Earth herself. Perhaps never in history has the Delphic injunction resounded with such urgency; “Man, know thyself” is the mandate of our time. Only when our self-apprehension evolves from mechanism to organism to sentient being to Self can we claim to have a model of medicine for the true human being.

*Scientific Materialism, or materialistic Scientism as we might also call it, is the belief that matter is ontologically fundamental & that everything can ultimately be reduced to its material components in the final analysis. No one has successfully proved that this is true. Nevertheless, mainstream scientific inquiry adopts a materialist paradigm as a presupposition; a sort of dreamt-up Archimedean fulcrum as a departure point to master the cosmos. For this reason, Scientific Materialism is at most an hypothesis & belongs in discussions of metaphysics rather than physics. Please see such pieces as The Deification of Abstractions & Its Discontents, Beyond Baconianism, & the Beyond Cartesianism series at The Lizard-press for further examination of this question. This post was originally published at The Lizard-press on January 2016.


Brief Tidings from The Way of the Elbow

Hello! I am a certified Rolfer® who has recently recently moved to the Bay Area to begin a master’s program in Philosophy, Cosmology, & Consciousness at The California Institute of Integral Studies. For my readers,unfamiliar with Rolfing® Structural Integration, it is a hands-on therapy designed to help clients overcome long-term chronic tension, strains, & injuries, to achieve optimal balance in the body.
I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska as a competitive cross-country ski racer. After finishing my career & graduating from university, I studied at the Rolf Institutes in Boulder, CO & São Paulo, Brazil to earn my Rolfing certification. Since 2013 I have been working in my private practice in downtown Anchorage. I am supremely grateful for the opportunity as a Rolfer to help my clients resolve long-standing stress to discover the natural ease & joyful experience that is the core of embodied living. I am continually seeking to deepen my understanding of the human being in body, soul, & spirit so that I can serve people more effectively. This investigation into the microcosm that is the human being has naturally awakened a deep curiosity about the macrocosm of which we are all expressions. In this way I believe that my masters’ studies & my Rolfing practice will mutually enrich one another and allow me to serve my clients with better skill. I hope to meet more great folks in beautiful Marin County or wherever our paths should lead us!

All the best,



The Way of the Elbow: Sausalito Branch!

After three years of business serving the Rolfing® needs of the Anchorage community, The Way of the Elbow has relocated its headquarters to Sausalito, California to accommodate its quixotic owner’s chimerical quests for higher knowledge (in this instance, to undertake a master’s program in Philosophy, Cosmology, & Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco). The latitude may have changed but the dependable service abides; The Way of the Elbow upholds its dedication to helping clients discover joyful & pain free living! Embodiment can be graceful! Movement should be easy! Embark on a quest for the Holy Grail of Integration! Take a ferry-ride across the San Francisco Bay to Sausalito & enjoy a Rolfing session from The Way of the Elbow! Our new location is

Yoga of Sausalito
110 Caledonia Street
Sausalito, CA 94965

I hope to see you there!
Schedule a session today:




Anchorage Referrals

The Travelling Rolfer has relocated to the Bay Area to start a 3-year Master’s program in Philosophy, Cosmology, & Consciousness studies at the California Insitute of Integral Studies. The impossible commute that this relocation creates renders it impossible for The Way of the Elbow serve the Anchorage community as it deserves. I am pleased, however, to be able to recommend my fellow Rolfer Marnie DeFord to anyone who seeks the everyday ecstasy of a well-balanced body. She has kindly offered to write a small note, which I am posting with her permission. May the new year smile upon all sentient beings so the good shall be rewarded & the wicked drowned in compassion so that they repent their wicked ways. Thank you to all whom I have had the pleasure to work with. Now…MARNIE!

  My name is Marnie DeFord, I have a private Rolfing practice in Anchorage. 

I work Tuesday’s – Friday’s & my office is downtown. 

I have enjoyed taking several continuing education courses expanding my knowledge of the body which has allowed me to help my clients to a greater extent.

I look forward to meeting you & helping you feel more comfortable in your body.  

Contact Details:

Phone: (907) 229-4422



Man: The Wobbling Biped, Part II: A Remedy for the Wobble!

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

—William Blake

Phenomenology (that branch of philosophy which studies the nature of experience itself rather than abstractions & concepts about it) delineates two modes of mental processing: reflective & pre-reflective. In relation to the first installment on this topic, we might conceive of a correspondence between reflective processing & the neomammilian complex in the triune brain schema. Pre-reflective processing, then, reflects the reptilian complex, while paleomammilian complex bridges the gap between them.

I wish to recount a recent event in order to limn the difference between reflective & pre-reflective modes of experiencing: in the Sonoran Desert, hiking with my grandfather near the border of Mexico, aside from the occasional cactus, the Sun, the sand, & the sky were our only company.

Then suddenly a percussive warning pierced the desert soundscape—instinctively we stopped with a start. Like a maraca, but sinister, a hiss & rattle sounded from beneath a nearby Yucca. There, coiled like the First Serpent was a Sidewinder Rattlesnake.

“That’s the sound a rattlesnake makes when it’s about to eat you,” my grandpa observed.

If we consider this experience in phenomenological terms, we can clearly distinguish the immediacy of its pre-reflective component (i. e. the “hiss & rattle” & the instinctual start) from the contextualization of its reflective part (i. e. interpretation of the sensory experience, identification of the rattlesnake with its aural advertisement, and the literary allusion to Old Testament Scripture, etc…). Pre-reflection & its counterpart form a phenomenal warp & woof—our minds, the clever weavers, join these strands to craft the seamless weft of our experience. We live, then, both actually & abstractly at the same time. We perceive the world through our five sense, & then we also think about our perceptions of it. Here’s the difference again:

A Zen master holds kendo stick before his student—

“What is this?”

A clever pupil responds:

“It’s a kendo stick.”

“No, it’s this!” And instantly the master strikes him with it, “‘Stick‘ is a noise!”

“What is this?” the master asks again. A cleverer pupil responds:

“Let me see it.” The master hands it to him and at once he hits the master with it…& they all three have a good belly laugh and drink some saki.

The first student failed the koan, & suffered bruises therefore, precisely because he mistook the two modes of mental processing, mistaking the map for the territory, as it were. A “kendo stick” is not really a “kendo stick” since these are names, sounds, noises, or words. In this case, cause & effect of such an error were perfectly explicit—mistake a symbol for an object & your teacher buffets you about the sconce withal. In our lives, we confuse such matters to a far greater degree, mistaking thoughts about the world for the world itself. We fail to recognise the consequences of such confusion, however, because the latter are further removed—the causal correspondence is muddied in our cerebral echo-chambers. Bill Watterson, prophet of our time, expresses this fact:


25. August 1995

If you’re an iguana, this is nonsense—no matter how much you hate school, you don’t worry about it until they stuff you in cage & lug you in for show-and-tell. But Calvin’s response is so poignant precisely because we all recognise this tendency to mental proliferation in our own experience. Stanford Professor of Psychology Robert Sapolsky suggested that even mammals—stripéd ungulates in this case—don’t worry in the same way that human beings might, & they enjoy, therefore, a condition akin to the crisp bliss of reptilian affairs:


Suppose you’re a zebra & a tiger stalks up & tries to eat you: you flee. Either you make it or the tiger does. If you escape, you go back to eating and regurgitating grass and you don’t worry about the tyger again until next time; if you don’t make it, the tiger gets lunch and you still don’t worry about it. But if you’re a human and you’re “lucky” enough to escape a tiger-attack, it might be that you’re traumatized for the rest of your life, anxiously peering around every street-corner with the dread of pearly-whites & tiger-stripes like a burning lead ingot in the pit of your belly. Even the mere thought of a great cat will send us into cold sweats & sporadic fits of nervous trembling. No less the thought of Tax Day already on the Ides of March, or the fear that some pernicious rascal will filch your bicycle even thought it’s attached to a street-sign with a monstrous padlock & a great iron chain.

If we manage to trace this Ariadne’s Thread of an inquiry back far enough through this cerebral labyrinth we discover that all of this anxiety stems from our conflation of thoughts & reality, reflections with their referentsreflective with pre-reflective experience. There’s no utility in fretting over April 15th thirty days in advance, nor worrying oneself over an hypothetical bike-thief; these stresses serve no purpose & they divest us of resources. I might be so busy worrying about a conceptual crook that I don’t notice the actual one stealing my bicycle. Like good old young Hamlet remarked:

If it be, then tis not to come,
If it is not to come, then twill be now, if it be not now, then twill come;
The readiness is all…

Or as Saint Matthew puts it:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the trouble thereof. 6:34

Both Shakespeare & the Holy Book suggest a remedy for this all-too human affliction we call “anxiety” or “chronic stress”: we must learn to discriminate thought from reality & keep ourselves dedicated to the task at hand. It might be that task at hand is to fret about great cats (though it is difficult to conceive of a set of circumstances in which this this activity would serve any purpose & worrying ought therefore to be the exception rather than the standard). We must establish a beneficial relationship between the reflective & the reflexive, allowing each to operate according to its natural sphere of influence. Anyone who has ever tried to speak a foreign language will recognise this…the minute you start to think about it, you’re lost.*

But, as you may have noticed, the observation that we must balance reflective & pre-reflective modes of thought hardly helps: it describes a result but conveniently leaves out the method thither. So I will briefly attempt to delineate a procedure for integration of our human & reptilian aspects; a rapprochement between the neo-cortex & the lizard brain. Before I begin, I must issue this admonition: don’t think about it, just do it. To begin to think about this exercise is fall into the infinite regress of self-refelction & divorce oneself from direct, pre-reflective experience thereby. Now follow the instructions, as promised:

⚕Select a topic that causes anxiety (e.g. a leaky faucet, a misogynist supervisor, putting on snow-tires, poverty in Third World countries, etc…)

⚕Observe your reaction & attempt to discriminate between the experience itself & the mushroom cloud of thoughts, judgments, & inferences abstracted from it.

⚕Then further notice that even “the experience itself” is just an abstraction of it that you have recalled in your memory.

⚕Contrast the abstraction to you actual condition in the moment

⚕Enjoy the spaciousness that such discernment between direct & abstract experience provides; it clarifies clouded cognition.

⚕Now simply squelch all future thoughts as they arise that do not serve your interests.

If you managed it the last bit for any length of time, you’re Patanjali. For the rest of us, Rolfing® SI represents a consummate method for establishing this connection to direct experience. Through Rolfing® SI, we learn re-inhabit our bodies. Embodiment anchors us to direct experience; it serves as a ballast amidst the chaotic seas of everyday life. Established in our bodies, we can accept our psychological failure to quell unhelpful thoughts because it is no longer necessary to do so. In precisely our recognition of our inability to mitigate anxiety, we discover that we no longer need to try. With the body as basis, we can cease to resist our resistance, we can cease to worry about our worries.

With Rolfing® SI we have cut the atavistic feedback loop concomitant with our phylogenic inheritance of a neocortex. No longer obscured by multiplying villainies of thought, in the insight of that instant, the world unfolds like a tulip in Spring. Thought-vortices may persist but we no longer allow them to swallow us. Likewise with instinctual or emotional impulses: when we see them for what they are, we have also risen above them. We come to master cortical, sub-conscious, & unconscious thought; we can employ each for its utility. We free ourselves from figments that erstwhile fettered us. Lizard brain, Limbic system, & Neocortex—with familiarity, we find we can allow each cerebral aspect to operate without interference from its counterparts & cognitive harmony ensues therefore. Thus liberated from the echo-chamber of anxiety, we cease to be creatures & step into our natural role as creators of our own experience.

*It’s no secret that foreign language-proficiency increases in direct proportion to drunkenness. Aside from some rather obvious confounding factors, the palliative potency of wine in this regard stems precisely from its effect on reflective consciousness—it strangles it. In this way, we tend toward a balance between the two general modes of thought.


Man: The Wobbling Biped, Part I: Un-, Sub-, & Self-Consciousness

“Should I stay or should I go?”

The question is not an unfamiliar one because we dawdle. Monkeys call Man “the wobbling biped” because his balance is questionable and because she constantly second-guesses herself. If you’re a monkey, you don’t worry about these things; you enjoy your tropical fruit. If you’re a cobra, the question doesn’t even make sense. That’s why cobras don’t listen to The Clash & why their strike is liquid lighting.

The said beasts are emissaries for a model of the brain that neuroscientist Paul MacLean called “the triune brain.” The man, the monkey, & the snake in their respective attitudes, represent the tripartite activity of the human cognitive organ.

The germ of the organ—the basal ganglia, cerebellum, & brainstem—consists of what MacLean called the “reptilian complex.” This directs the most basic and barbarous functions, organising vital forces into cohesive patterns to birth an organism from general chaos. From his pedestal atop the spinal cord, this blind conductor orchestrates all autonomic and instinctual activity—the pulse is her metronome & the breath her orchestra. Digestion is a leitmotif of his magnum oeuvre; the intricate sequencing & coordination of kinetic motion the crescendo of his ballet. When the cobra strikes, it represents the culmination of this instinctual genius. The execution is consummate…and entirely unconscious.

Ensconcing the primeval “lizard brain,” MacLean conceives of a second cerebral aspect. He calls this addition the “paleomammilian complex.” This complex includes such sundry structures as the septum, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampal complex, and cingulate cortex, together which constitute the notorious limbic system. From the interplay of these structures emerge desires, drives, & urges. Freud’s fascination was obviously in this aspect. The impulses of the paleomammilian complex constitute the dramatis personae of the five-act play inside our heads. In our inner (melo)drama, the former appear in character, masquerading as a myriad feelings, sentiments, & emotions that parade through our consciousness. When a monkey snatches up a banana, he also desires it.

Through this development we notice a sort of layering, analogous to a producer adding vocal tracks in a recording studio at 2 am. Each cerebral stratum contributes a new dimension; a new track to the song of our experience. The reptile acts with such sparse neurological signaling that it is not altogether clear that the creature even knows it’s acting. The monkey, however, experiences desires & aversions that consequently impel him to action. Emotion itself literally means “to move out of”—from the latin emotus, via Old French. Deed rides atop the steed of desire, action upon the cavalry of emotion…if you’re a lemur. Activity for the mammal sacrifices clarity for dimension, like singing in the bathtub instead of an interminable birch forest in eight inches of fresh snow, or in outer space. Through the contribution of the limbic system, resonance arises in mental processing. Reverb begets richness, but concomitantly kills the crispness of instinctual activity.

If we stipulate a monkey singing in a bathtub, his phylogenic cousin’s chanty reverberates through a veritable echo-chamber. In Man, this cognitive resonance reaches its extreme. The “neomammilian complex,” which achieves the pinnacle of its expression in whom we jovially called “the wobbling biped,” compounds the dimension of experience by an order of magnitude:

“Should I stay or should I go?”

The lizard already went. For the monkey, the choice is rather straightforward: if it’s tasty, soft, or sexy, the decision makes itself. But the former’s poor cousin….Man, endowed with that extraordinary capacity of conscious thought, inquiry, & deliberation, renders himself all to often impotent by it—he wobbles, he dawdles, he dithers. Anybody who has ever felt anxious will recognize this process. Agonizing over even a minute decision, one finds oneself swallowed by a cognitive vortex of one’s own conceit: Suppose I come to a decision: a red tie with blue stripes. Yet this is not final, for I can doubt it (“instead the blue tie with red stripes,” I say to myself). And I can doubt my doubts (“maybe I should go with the first one after all…”) & question these in turn (“maybe I should take the one with peacocks on it instead, or go casual…”), ad infinitum. Or to borrow Mick Jones’ phrase

If I stay here will be trouble
If I go there will be double

In this way, the executive ability of the neocortex creates for man the pernicious portal to an internal void of infinite regress; an echo-chamber so potent that one ceases to recognise the original chord altogether, lost as the latter is in the psychological cacophony.

It is not the wish of the editor at The Way of the Elbow to romanticize existence as a gecko or a baboon. Certainly even that the former has the option to consider decivilising is a noble testament to the neurological majesty that is the human cerebral cortex. Every lizard is a philosopher, but not by will—for the reptile dips into the primordial well of universal instinct for his sips of wisdom. Man, cast out from the Garden as he is (a reptile tricked him, incidentally, for “the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field” Genesis 2:1) must learn for himself—he must dig his wells from scratch thereby to quench his thirst for knowledge. In a way the human condition is tragically admirable therefore. Man was the first animal on the face of the Earth to suffer. It might be that a paramecium feels pain, but it never suffered; the former being a basic instinctual response to a harmful stimulus, the latter the agonizing bedlam babble that results when the initial stimulus is compounded ten-thousand times in our cerebral echo chamber. Twirl an ember in the dark and we see a solid circle; just so is affliction amplified in our experience—we are scorched circle of flame where the beast bears only the prick of a single point in phenomenal space. Pain is physical; suffering its manifold multiplication by the habits of human psychology.


To recapitulate, the reptile dwells deep in the primordial (un)consciousness of instinct. The mammal rises further into the semiconscious realm of impulse & emotion. Human consciousness achieves the most rarified stratum of them all by achieving self-consciousness. Each layer of awareness folds back on itself & those below it, like so many gyri & sulci on the surface of the brain itself. Unconscious, subconscious, & self-conscious: lizard, monkey, man, approximately! In a subsequent installment, we will examine the possibility of harmonious coexistence between the friendly beasts, & consider how Rolfing® SI can mediate!