Bird: a case study by Christine Isherwood

There are many ways of responding to images which appear, consciously or unconsciously.

I recall one student in a group session. In a moment and sound experience she found herself teetering on the edge of a precipice. Describe her picturing. She felt her mother’s abandonment and felt the fear of the child who felt she might fall into the chasm and die.
The fear was very real, her respiration was held, her face scored with fear, caught in a moment from the past which has imprinted itself upon her body and psyche. Her shoulders were hunched, her jaw jutting forward, chest extended, her arms in close by her side with the hands lifted away from the body and facing outwards. Tears streamed down her face as she spoke of her fear of falling and of there being no-one there to catch her, of there never being anyone to catch her. I encouraged her to gently take in breath, not to change the restoration pattern she was in but to encourage her, ever so gently, to allow a little more into the frozen system.

Once breath started to enter the body I suggested a small movement of the hands and lower arms so that they floated away from and back to the body in a continuous flowing movement. Once there was flow in her body, I encouraged the amplification of the moment of the lower arms and hands so that it began to move into the upper arms. Breath was flowing more freely, no longer stuck in stasis. I encouraged amplification of the movement into the face, which was no longer fixed in a rigid mask of terror. I encouraged the head to move slowly from side to side, getting a wider perspective, the mouth to gently open and shut. I encouraged her to feel the support of the breeze beneath her arms, to feel the buoyancy of the air, to feel that she might be able to lift off, to feel that she was safe in the environment in which she found herself and, if she felt like it, to begin to express in sound. Her body was in bird movement and indeed that had been the first image I had seen when I saw her perched, terrified, and in my view through my eyes, at the edge of the nest. The fear of falling, of not being supported. How to work with that image and uncover that which was also present but not available to her consciousness at that moment. By taking two aspects of the configuration of her soma, breathing air into it then change began to occur. I suggested that as her wings began to move through the air that she began to make sounds as though she were bird. She began to sing in bird sound, expressing her cries of fear, terror, and loneliness as her arms flapped and flew. She was not ready to leave the nest but her movements became wider, more confident as her calls echoed around the room.

Checking in, I asked how she felt. She said she no longer felt the terror of the unsupported landscape, she could look down now without fear of falling knowing that she could fly or glide down; she had what she needed to support her, she would not die in the fall.

I encouraged her to amplify the bird sounds, to sing all the songs her bird wanted to sing in that moment, songs of loneliness, abandonment, loss and then hope as her sounds ranged out and spread across the room. When the song quietened, and she looked up, flushed, exhilarated, changed, I asked how she was feeling. She felt much better but sad for the lonely little girl she had been. I asked if she would like to go and meet some friends. Yes, she would. I invited members of the group who would be willing to participate to remain standing and those not wanting to participate to sit.
She began to fly around the room, her voice emerging freely as her voice and movement carried her. She crested into communion as she alighted upon various group members and sang to them, to which they responded in sound and movement then, when she was ready, she would leave them for pastures new round the room to go and meet the next friend. She engaged deeply with the other birds, as they did with her. I noted that birds often fly together with friends and wondered aloud if she would like to fly with friends. She would! In bird song and dance, she invited two friends to travel and sing with her and they flew around the room, high and low, shrieking, warbling, swerving, laughing and singing in joyous free bird song. Eventually she issued the invitation for everyone who wanted to join her to do so and everyone joined, the whole group swooped and navigated around each other.

Once the bird singing and flying was over, we came back to words to reflect. She noted that she had been in such terror but that the bird image had given her the freedom to transmute that terror. By finding the bird, she found her power. I remarked that although I had given her the image of the bird it had been present in the stance in which she had become stuck and in the words that she had used to describe her feelings: she felt she were on a ledge about to fall with no-one to catch her, falling to certain death all alone. By amplifying the image that she presented, viewing her stance through an imaginistic perspective and utilizing the power therein she was able to access and embody the power and potency of the shadow of that which was keeping her stuck and become unstuck. One of the wonderful things about birds is that they always know their coordinates, they always know where they are in space, and so by enabling her to access the primal power of the internal bird she was able to fly free and not remain stuck in fear.

© Christine Isherwood