To Palliate

To Palliate

Michael J Shea, PhD


To palliate: 1. to reduce in violence; to lessen or abate; to mitigate; to ease without curing; as, to palliate a disease.

  1. to moderate; to cloak; to shelter; to hide.

To mitigate: 1. To render to become mild or milder; to moderate, become less severe or painful; to soften, diminish or lessen.

If I say biodynamics is about embodiment, then that is only half of biodynamics. The other half is disembodiment. This means death. Inside each of us is a death instinct, a death metabolism and a mind of death. We all periodically have thoughts and contemplate our death or suicide or even killing others (I just wish so and so was dead!). This is natural to have a mind of death. It is the instinct of ending and dissolution. As sure as one thought, one emotion ends, another begins. Birth and death right here 24/7. These three are linked: the death instinct, our thoughts and their cessation.

We are constantly being primed for death in the simplicity of the Buddhist teaching of impermanence. Sitting meditation is a death meditation. We can sing the praises of mindfulness and compassion but really what guides us is the fear of death and we avoid it at all costs even if we support Hospice and shop in their resale stores. We are afraid of death because we accumulate so many things to make our life and our bodies seem solid, but they are not. Life is very fluid. It is a flow that goes on and merges with the ocean of death. Thus, the infallibility of impermanence. Nobody gets out alive.

Biodynamic practice must integrate a type of palliative care to reduce a person’s fear of death that is deeply instinctual. We simply help patients relax their mind and body as one thing. This is the gift of Primary Respiration and the stillness. It allows nature to take its course. They are self directing. So, we include the elements as described in Eastern traditions and the dharma practice of sitting meditation to make biodynamics a complete practice of embodiment and disembodiment. The yin and the yang. This is the way of the natural world and a source of healing – to acknowledge these realities inwardly and outwardly. Thus, embodiment includes disembodiment. It’s one thing. So, I am declaring that correct biodynamic practice is a death practice.

It’s fishy that biodynamic practice has focused so much on conception, pregnancy and birth. But that is not all of life. To hold our clients as if they are a newborn baby as Dr. Jealous suggests, begs to be balanced with equally holding each client as if they are dying or dead already. This is not some morbid zombie fantasy or romantic view but having a clear sense of gentleness, kindness and delicateness necessary to hold someone with our hands, our body and mind who is both a baby and a corpse at the same time. This is the image of the Pieta that Michelangelo carved when he was 21 years old. This is biodynamic wholeness. This is correct biodynamic practice. Your mind of wholeness is located in your heart and it beats 70 times a minute. This is the simplest practice to create balance in our biodynamic practice. Feel your heartbeat and center your attention there at death or do it now all the time. One of my favorite practices is to say a prayer non-verbally in the cadence of my heartbeat.

It is incomplete biodynamic practice if we only consider the client’s originality from a cosmological perspective or as an embryo or fetus or a newborn baby. Yes, traditional healing must touch one’s origins. Origin implies death. What starts as life will die. We birth in with our mother and birth out at death. Now however, the balance scales have tipped in this new era of metabolic body health and ill health (88% of Americans are metabolically unhealthy and 60% have at least one chronic disease). The emergence of a complete biodynamic practice integrates an attitude of end-of-life care, palliative care and compassionate care for the contemporary client. We are not limited to exploring this with only those with a terminal diagnosis but rather we synchronize with the priorities of Primary Respiration and stillness in the client’s totality – spiritually. When we hold both the beginning and end of life for ourselves and our clients, this is complete biodynamic practice.

In Buddhism it is understood that there is no self. This is called emptiness. It is not nothing which is a mistake to think of it this way. We meditate to achieve non-thought however briefly, in order to be fearless and watch the self dissolve, element by element, thought by thought and emotion by emotion. It is the dissolving of our attachments and solidity. Why not start now rather than waiting for death? We’ve all heard the stories of Yogis and Yogini’s sitting and meditating at the charnel grounds! Our mind is a charnel ground of compulsive thinking that blocks our deepest knowledge. No self simply means wholeness in its fullest sense. We all intellectually know that we are interconnected to all things or as Thich Nhat Hahn says: “We inter-are.” But do we feel this viscerally, elementally?

This means in biodynamic practice that we are merged with the client automatically in our hearts and brains. We know this from the research in interpersonal neurobiology that we are co-regulating each other metabolically and physiologically. We know this because this is the way it was during pregnancy and that capacity remains with all beings throughout life. But at the same time, we maintain a balanced contact with our metabolism of autonomy. We periodically move our attention to our own body-mind, our breath, our heartbeat. Therapeutic attunement involves a constantly repeating cycle of moving attention between self and other until we get tired of it and rest in the stillness beyond self and other.

Ultimately, we die alone, and death becomes our autonomy. Autonomy is a form of spaciousness like a good night’s sleep. Meditation is a celebration of autonomy. We must withdraw from the world to rest and repair, to practice self-care and to explore our perception of reality to reduce our collection of fears to zero. Thus, we self regulate socially and autonomously. It is a pendulum swinging 24/7.

This is correct attunement in biodynamic practice because each of us constructs a solid self differently and thus the deconstruction of compulsive connection must be gentle and palliative both for our own joyful discovery of aloneness rather than depressive loneliness. We facilitate the discovery of such for the client. Compassion means to be totally present for someone and at the same time non-attached to any outcome of the social/therapeutic connection.

So, in biodynamic practice we can focus on our own no-self which is a much deeper autonomy. We do this through sensing the transparency of our fluid body, calming our mind and letting Primary Respiration and stillness establish the priorities for the client and their own skillful rate of dissolving their self with non-fright. This is considered transcendental patience or simply waiting. Our autonomy becomes a simultaneous offering with connection to our client for them to self-regulate in whatever way is possible relationally or autonomously without imposing anything at all but kindness, tenderness and warmth.