Core Strokes™ : a holistic and transformative practice for self-development

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Core Strokes & Contact

Who am I really?

According to the Pathwork (Eva Pierrakos), our divine CORE (sometimes called, “the Center of Right Energy”) is the repository of endless joy, intuition and creativity. It contains wisdom, happiness and the answer to all questions about our growth and development. This CORE part of us would seem to be all we would ever want to be and express. It is also the part of us that knows no fear, understands and sends “units of recognition and transformation” (positive Strokes) into the world and welcomes our very life task.

The Divine Qualities of our CORE (or Higher Self or real self) are Love, Power, Serenity and Wisdom. But these divine expressions become easily obscured by other layers in our personality (our Lower self and our Masks) which interpose themselves between our CORE and the world.

Our Lower Self is basically the selfish attitude about ourselves, our willful ignorance, our desire to destroy life and isolate the self. Here we have evil/demonic qualities (Self-Will, Submission, Fear).

The mask we wear

Our Mask Self is the person we think we ought to be for the world. It is our personal image according to our childhood experiences and our karmic splits we brought into this incarnation, but the basic image behind ALL masks is: ‘I’m not lovable, and not acceptable the way I am.’ We keep Mask Selves because we know we will not be accepted if our hate or selfishness is plain for all to see. We also as a consequence mask our Higher Self because we are somehow ashamed of our beauty and spiritual power as well.

In other words, in our Mask Self, we deny both the worst and the best in our selves. We create, with our Mask Self a safe, conventional but ultimately unfulfilling pseudo-truth about ourselves. We also try to live up to an ‘Idealized Self-Image’, which is always about perfection. The deeper truth about ourselves remains hidden until we go on the journey of self-discovery. The frontispiece of the Temple of Delphi says “know thyselves” in imperative form and indicates that man must stand and live according to his nature.

Man has to look at himself

But this is something difficult. As children we were made to feel ashamed of our (especially “lower”) selves. We feared that being honest about our negative feelings would cause us to be rejected by our parents.

So we covered our Lower Self feelings with a mask that we hoped would insure our lovability… As a child we were placed in a dilemma of having to give up an impulse or a certain resource in order to maintain the mutual contact. We needed to “behave properly”, because any badness as it is represented in the Lower Self was not permitted. Or we had to give up the contact all together in order to keep our impulse…On a vibratory level neither of these pseudo-solutions feels good.

We have now created what Wilhelm Reich – the “Grandfather of Body Psychotherapy – called a protective or defensive “armor”. With armor in place, the conscious control no longer has to actively defend against certain impulses or desires. We now have a relatively unconscious and unwanted inner prison of suppressed impulses like distrust, fear, hate, cruelty, separateness and negativity.

The price we pay for this imprisonment of impulses, feelings and desires is off course that it also keeps us from pleasure and being in our “greatness”. All this in now part of what is called a character structure, which is the organization of the psychic structure of a person, the stereotypical way of acting and reacting. Implicitly all character structures come about through breaks in mutual connection… or when parts of our selves are not welcomed or even considered….

Every time there is a break in mutual connection there is a break in development (= Developmental trauma). Character armor as a result leads furthermore to emotional rigidity, poor contact with others (the walls we build around us), and a feeling of “deadness.”

Examples of character defenses as shown in our MASK are submission and dependency as pseudo-solutions for Love, aggression and control as distortions of Power, or detachment and withdrawal as substitutes and caricatures for Serenity. Underneath the withdrawal then, we find confusion and chaos, loneliness, pain. Underneath control and aggression is collapse, helplessness, pain. Underneath submission is aggression, fear and frustration, pain. Most often all these patterns of fear, withdrawal and avoidance lead to a sensation of inadequacy and unnaturalness and off course…pain as a consequence of the distortion of the divine qualities, which exists in our CORE.

Armoring is living memory.

Wilhelm Reich demonstrated that at the level of the body, all defense mechanisms show as chronic holding, energetic under- or overcharged areas and “energy blocks”. Energy blocks, John C. Pierrakos, MD (a student of Reich and founder of Core Energetics) said, are stagnated pools of vital substance that accumulate in the defensive perimeter and “armor” it in dysfunctional patterns or character structures.

When we become armored, our pulsation, an intrinsic aspect of life which reflects the dynamic cycle of expansion and contraction (or of so-called “in-strokes” and “out-strokes” (Kelley/Davis)  in all life processes, is interrupted and the movement restricted. The energy flow throughout our body is impeded and inevitably impacts our health, vitality and sexuality.

Reich showed that the body is «living memory» and carries in it the signs and traces of our personal life experience as well as our familial heritage. All kinds of traumatic experiences and learned fears, «impregnate» our character and influence our posture. We may experience this in our lives as a hypervulnerability, a lack of sensation, aliveness, a stiffness or tension.

Armoring is demonstrable and therefore we can work with it.

Muscular Armor – a part of our emotional defense system – can be palpated as muscle hypertension or hypotension. It can also be observed as impairment in movement. Patterns of armoring do not strictly follow the pathways of voluntary motor nerves but rather show up as bands or segments. That is because armoring is more a result of autonomic nervous system activity and so follows involuntary patterns more than voluntary motor patterns.

The chronic perpetuation of the defense may have the consequence of hardening (= rigid, hyper-response) and consolidation or of weakening (hypo-response) of the muscular aspect, which then holds the particular defense pattern, including the mental-emotional aspects, indefinitely in place.

This process is by definition unconscious and resists change. This is a problem, but it may be — slowly and with effort — reversed with body-centered psychotherapy.

Releasing muscular armoring through myofascial tissues massage.

Armoring in the myofascial tissues

Wilhelm Reich introduced the term “muscular armoring”, but today we know that psychological imprinting applies to other tissues in the body as well, importantly the connective tissue category of “(myo)fascia”. The fascia is a system of fibers that surround nearly all the soft tissues of the body (organs, muscles, etc.), serving to wrap, hold together, link up, and support these structures. We can clinically distinguish between fascia and muscle tissue even though they are intertwined. In Core Strokes, we hold a significant focus on the de-armoring, harmonization and regulation of the myofascial system.

From an anatomical-physiological point of view, the fascia is a more primitive, less differentiated structure than is voluntary musculature, and it functions more along with the reflex system than the voluntary system. Thus it is more dominant very early in life, before the voluntary has had a chance to take hold, and it is also more involved in shock trauma situations where again, the voluntary system is overwhelmed by the involuntary. Unresolved birth issues and other traumatic experiences can be felt in the fascial network.

Releasing the armor, developing the pilot and wrapping the soul with ego with Core Strokes and Postural Integration.

Jack Painter, PhD – founder of the famous Postural Integration® method – helped us understand that in order to aid the person in the process of release (de-armoring) at the level of the fascia we need a perspective of character style. Depending on the character pattern, myofascial armoring can be seen in the way the fascia is dispersed in clumps, collapses, has the quality of a liquid balloon, is dense, thick or thin, stringy, soft and malleable on the outside, fibrous or stringy deeper down or squishy with lack of tone and responsiveness, ….There exist many variants in other words.

Integrative therapy using deep tissue massage, with Dirk Marivoet.

In Core Strokes™ sessions the practitioner helps the client to let go of the holding patterns with targeted “strokes” (in our view these are “units of recognition”) and also to invite him/her to come out with a new part of themselves, or an old part of themselves that has been hiding in their body as symptoms. The presence of the therapist should give the client the courage to begin revealing (become conscious), purifying and transforming all that is coming to the surface from the inner depths. We like to call these inner depths the Dynamic Ground (in agreement with Michael Washburn) the seat of the deepest level of the unconscious, the inherited or collective unconscious.

Core Strokes: Keeping the balance between bodywork and ego processes

Core Strokes uses the information in the body as a way of acquiring information about the unconscious. In the therapy we always stay in contact with the ego processes of the client by use of a “witness figure” and the strengthening of what Albert Pesso – another pioneer of body psychotherapy- calls “the Pilot”. As a client or “worker”, you can thus discover whether your ego is rather collapsed, underdeveloped, weak or rather exaggerated, excessively aggressive, and/or controlling, but not really strong (overdeveloped). In Core Strokes we help the client in both cases with “Ego repair”. This is directly related to the inclusion of the body in this therapy. With what Al Pesso calls “Ego wrapping”, we apply consciousness, name, accept, and give a place to a portion of the soul/self when it makes its appearance. We also use “antidoting” with ideal symbolic figures, so that the client can experience in the “virtual body” what could have been in the past had there been fortunate circumstances, interactions and figures been available. This is the place in our minds where we can rehearse the future and claim our potential for fulfillment and happiness. The ego system becomes more healthy, is able to drop the mask(s) and character defense mechanisms and yields to the Higher Spiritual Self says John Pierrakos.

The result of an integrated myofascial system

It is very interesting to see how a healthy functioning ego is dependent on an integrated myofascial network. When the biological cells are not in a state of distortion (basically in rigidity or in chaos), but in balance and well integrated, it’s permeable (ego-)skin is able to regulate the balance between power and expressiveness on one side, and fragility and receptiveness on the other. The myofascial network helps thus to regulate the balance between receptivity and outgoing expressiveness. Such an ego abstains to be motivated and ruled by obstinacy, pride, fear and the wish to control. It perceives the flow of energy from the Core and towards the Core, and it regulates and balances this flow. It is able to act equally well within 5 dimensions of personality (the physical, the emotional, the mental, the will and the spiritual) and to harmonize them. Furthermore, the healthy ego is modest (neither exaggerates nor negates itself); reflects inner and outer reality accurately; (re)acts to inner and outer reality appropriately; is responsible (e.g., admits mistakes and realizes accomplishments); is truthful and seeks meaning for life. In arriving at such integration, the ego is harmoniously rooted in the Dynamic Ground and completely at home in a sacred world. The integrated person is home in the body – “temple of spirit” – and home in the world. 

Training opportunities

The basics of Core Strokes ™ can be learned in 4 separate one week long modules. For more information about introductory workshops, the training curriculum, application, places and conditions, you can find information elsewhere on this website.

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Individual therapy sessions

Dirk Marivoet psychotherapist in Belgium

Dirk Marivoet, MSc. is a European certified psychotherapist (ECP). He studied physiotherapy as well as psychomotor therapy at the University of Leuven. Next he worked in the clinics and taught for 11 years at this university. For over 30 years he has worked in a holistic way and is especially interested in the integration of body and mind in the service of individual, collective and global development.

Dirk Marivoet and his colleagues at the IBI (International Institute for Bodymind Integration) offer individual therapy sessions for those interested in this mind-body approach.

In Ghent (Belgium), Europe, the rest of the world and online.

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