The Feeling Pairs — from Aneesha's book "Tantric Pulsation"

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From Aneesha's book "Tantric Pulsation"

If you break down the word ‘emotion’ into its component parts – ‘e’ and ‘motion’ – you can see that it was originally formed from Latin roots to indicate a movement outwards.

This definition suits the Reichian understanding of human emotions. Fundamentally, emotions are seen as nothing but a movement of plasma, a wave of energy that passes through the liquid contents of the body, seeking expression and release.

Such a detached view may not mean much to us, when we are weeping over a lost lover, or getting angry about some offensive remark, but it certainly helps the Reichian therapist to understand the mechanics of restoring a healthy pulsation in the body of a client and opening the doors to happiness, greater vitality and a sense of well-being.

Reich himself took emotion back to its most primitive and basic form, using the example of a single cell organism, the amoeba. Observing through a microscope, he saw that the plasma inside the cell of an amoeba pushes out towards pleasure and retracts in anxiety from pain.

It is a two-way movement, or, as he liked to call it, a two- way ‘emotion of the protoplasm.’

The impulse towards pleasure creates a movement from the core of the cell towards the periphery, while the impulse to avoid pain creates a movement in the opposite direction, a shrinking back from the periphery towards the core.

This, he declared, is the basic, two-stroke pulsation of all living organisms and the origin of human expression: we all want to feel pleasure; we all want to avoid pain.

Reich also pointed out that expressive movement is a n inherent characteristic of living organisms, distinguishing them from the rest of nature. To be alive is to move, to move is to express.

It all looks very obvious, but the implication is significant: like it or not, we are, all of us, emotional beings. Feelings are part of the package called ‘life’ and the emotional expression of those feelings is a natural and essential movement of our energy.

If we stifle them, suppress them, we are stifling the life force itself.

From this perspective, it is not difficult to see the basic conflict that has arisen between human nature and our so-called civilized attitudes. In ‘advanced’ societies, the less emotion one shows, the more civilized one is deemed to be.

It reminds me of the famous ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude, prevalent in the days of the British Empire, in which not to show emotion in times of extreme stress was considered to be the height of good manners and civilized behavior.

I can’t remember the exact quote, but I recall reading a diary entry by a British lady, made during the Indian Mutiny in 1857, while enduring a long siege in Lucknow, that “Major so-and-so was decapitated by a cannon ball this morning whilst shaving.” Her diary was like that: a meticulous record of the horrors of a siege with emotions rigidly suppressed.

We Americans are not quite so good at concealing emotion, but the general attitude remains the same. For example, I remember joking with my sisters that we all belong to the ‘Fine Family’ – ‘Fine’ was our real name, not Dillon – because every time we asked each other “How are you?” the answer was always “Fine!”

That’s the American way: look good, keep smiling and be sure to have a nice day. And if any unwanted, negative emotions start creeping in behind the ‘I’m okay’ façade, there’s always the latest derivative of prozac or valium available to neutralize them. Of course, those clever little pills will destroy your capacity for happiness as well as misery, but that’s a price most people are prepared to pay in order to keep things nice and normal.

It’s not just Caucasians who have this attitude. Sophisticated cultures at any point in history, including Japan, China, Egypt and India, have required strict formality in social interaction that usually prohibits the expression of feelings. 

Reich’s message to the world is that this civilizing process has gone way too far in the direction of emotional control. The cost is too high, in terms of creating neurotic human beings who cannot really enjoy life. 

This is particularly true today. Human ingenuity has, through the development of science, succeeded in creating a comfortable world filled with all kinds of technological marvels that make work easy and offer all kinds of leisure activities, but the parallel crushing of the life force has made us almost incapable of enjoying our own achievements.

We have to reclaim our emotions in order to restore our love of life.

With this aim in mind, Charles Kelley took Reich’s basic ‘pleasure-anxiety’ pulsation and developed a more sophisticated model for working with his clients.

Instead of just one pair of feelings, he discovered that it is more accurate, and more helpful, to view emotions in terms of three ‘feeling pairs.’

The three ‘feeling pairs’ are:


The three negative emotions – anger, fear and pain – are each related to a different aspect of pulsation. Anger is associated with the outward movement from core to periphery. Fear is related to the inward movement, from periphery to core. Pain is related to the convulsive quality of energy discharge, the rapid contraction and expansion of muscles that we experience in events like laughing, sobbing and orgasm. 

Each negative emotion, when blocked, has a characteristic way of holding itself in the body in the form of muscular tensions. This enables an experienced therapist to ‘read’ the body of a client and detect the predominant blocked emotion.

To a certain degree we can classify people as anger types, fear types, or pain types, and this is helpful in deciding how to begin the process of releasing blocked emotions and restoring a healthy pulsation.

However, this doesn’t mean that anger types are the only people who get angry. We all have the full spectrum of emotions inside us. It is just an indication of the kind of habits that have been formed over the years, and which type of emotion is predominantly blocked.

The three positive emotions are also related to pulsation. Love flows out towards other people from core to periphery. Trust is a form of receptivity, allowing the outside world to penetrate inwards. Pleasure is a state of well-being involving the whole organism.

As we shall see, the fact that negative and positive emotions both relate to pulsation has profound implications, because misunderstandings about how to treat negat ive emotions directly impact our capacity to experience positive ones as well.

Anger – Love

Anger is an out-flowing energy. You can see this very easily in the way fights develop, especially among men. For example, two guys in a bar are talking about football. One says that the San Francisco 49ers are the best team in the world and the other snorts in disgust and replies, “These days, the Niners ain’t worth a damn.”

Immediately the first man feels personally insulted, gets angry and lets fly with a punch to the other man’s jaw. A classic ‘bar room brawl’ is under way.

Anger is a hard, explosive and aggressive expression of energy – a sudden rush from core to periphery – so in a fight the fist is really nothing but an extension of an energetic impulse, traveling outwards.

The same is true of guns. When, in an old-fashioned western movie, two cowboys get into a fight and ‘grab iron,’ the blazing guns are an extension of the same energy, and so are the bullets.

This, by the way, is why so many people die in the United States from gunshot wounds. It is the availability and proximity of weapons as a means of extending the energetic impulse of anger.

As civilized beings, however, we are instructed from childhood not to express anger and, generally speaking, we do our best to contain it. This effort, motivated by the best intentions, creates tension and hardening in the muscles.

The armoring of anger is located at the periphery of the body, because the energy is on its way out when it gets stopped. In a typical anger type, you will see strong hands and arms with rigid muscles, a lot of tension around the mouth and jaw, a barrel chest that sticks out as if challenging the world to attack it.

There is a sense of thinly contained emotion about such people, as if you need only to bump into them, or tread on their toes, or say the wrong thing, and they will immediately explode.
As I just mentioned, social education teaches us to block anger – except in specific situations such as war – but the difficulty with this attitude is that it also prevents love.

Love is a soft, tender, compassionate expression of the outward movement of our energy. Although they are very different, love and anger ride the same highway, moving in the same direction, from core to periphery.

If one aspect of outward expression is blocked, it tends also to block the other aspect as well. And love is a much softer, more delicate feeling. It will not be able to pass through the hard layer of chronic tension created by the habit of blocking anger.

Even if, at your core, you long to express your love, to reach out towards others in an expansive movement, you cannot. The highway is jammed, the traffic is blocked, nothing can move.

Here is the classic dilemma created by social morality. We are told not to be angry, but rather to be loving and compassionate – we are instructed to ‘love thy neighbor’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ – without any understanding of the energy dynamics involved.

It is just not possible to suppress anger and be loving. Yes, you can reduce love to an idea, to an intellectual concept, and pretend that you love others, that you love humanity, that you care for the poor and the downtrodden.

But real, warm, heartfelt love is a living energy that requires movement and expression, and if the avenue of expression is blocked by an armored body, it will never be able to reach the other person.

Anger needs to be released and expressed in order for love to flow.

Because of wrong education, people don’t know what to do with anger, but the solution is very simple: anger needs to be thrown out and that’s it -- that’s the only thing that will help. It is an outward moving wave of energy that needs to be expressed and discharged.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should all start screaming at each other, getting into fights and carrying guns. There are safe, intelligent ways to release anger that do not harm others: we can go into a room, by ourselves, pick up a pillow and smash it against the floor, or beat it with our fists; we can do a meditation technique like Dynamic that invites emotional expression; we can scream when alone in a car, with the windows rolled up – although this requires a degree of care and alertness in order to prevent accidents (it’s better to park first).
Once anger has been discharged and the internal highway is clear, there is a much greater possibility for love to also flow and find expression.

This explains why, in some long term relationships, men and women develop a habit of quarreling before making love – ‘fucking and fighting’ as it is sometimes called. Without knowing it, they are trying to clear away the blocked energy so they can feel the love waiting behind it.

In the past, it has not been easy for women to express anger directly. In Victorian times, for example, tight corsets and restrictive clothing mirrored a parallel state of strict emotional confinement.

The underlying belief was that, no matter how justified a woman’s anger may be, the man will always be stronger and keep her down, forcing her to choke back her rage.

More often than not, a woman’s anger was released through a kind of hysterical fit – a form of helpless anger. Hysteria was one of the most common psychological problems encountered by the Freudians as they began to investigate the female psyche, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today, it is not much of an issue, which is a tribute to the liberation of women and their right to express emotion directly.

The other traditional female method of dealing with this energy is nagging, which, though successful in reducing men to the status of henpecked husbands, is really a perverted form of anger. As with hysteria, it developed from an inability to express the emotion directly.

Fear - Trust

Fear makes people shrink. It is a contractive, inward pulling of energy, because really your basic survival instinct is saying “Run away!” It is the urge to take yourself out of a situation that is perceived as dangerous. Adrenaline is released into the body to promote action and the animal inside you wants to run, to flee.

In some situations, flight is a practical and possible option. We have all seen video footage and photographs from 9/11/2001, showing hundreds of people fleeing through the streets of Manhattan to escape from the collapsing twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Suddenly, civilized behavior usually associated with suits, ties, briefcases and the business lifestyle was forgotten as the animal instinct took over and made people run for their lives.
With the upbringing of young children, however, it is a different story. They find themselves in scary family situations from which they are unable to flee. They are helpless, dependent on the very people – most commonly mom and dad – who are making them afraid. They cannot get away and so, instead of making them flee, fear makes children shrink.

Essentially, this shrinking is an energetic retreat to the core, an inward movement, an attempt to escape from the periphery where the danger lies. It can be triggered by a thousand and one incidents, but basica lly it reflects an unsafe domestic environment in which the child has to be alert to protect itself.

Unpredictability is a key element in the fear equation. It’s not that dad, or mom, is angry all the time, but the tendency of one or both parents to suddenly explode creates an atmosphere of continuous anxiety, a constant wondering about ‘when is it going to happen?’

It may be because father is an alcoholic who becomes physically abusive when drunk. It may be because mother is nervous and cannot handle stress beyond a certain point, whereupon she suddenly ‘loses it’ and starts slapping the kids around.

In my experience, based on working with many clients, some fear types are actually created in the womb, because here, especially, it’s impossible to run away.

For instance, in the case of a mother who would have preferred not to be pregnant, her unspoken wish to abort the child creates a climate of fear to which the fetus responds. Similarly, if the mother is in a continuous state of stress, or feeling fear and anxiety during the pregnancy, this communicates to the fetus and brings about a fearful questioning: “Is it safe to be here? Do I have a right to be here?”

These kinds of responses are not at a thinking level – the fetus has no knowledge of language -- but are experienced at a primitive, instinctive organismic level, creating the tendency to shrink energetically.

Fear types can also be created shortly after birth, within the first year-and-a-half of life, during the so-called ‘oral stage,’ when the infant is in its most helpless condition, dependent on the mother for 24-hour care.

If this close relationship with the mother is disturbed, if the feeding and caring routine is significantly disrupted by any kind of abandonment, rejection, anger – or maybe just irritation from changing too many diapers – the same tendency to shrink will occur.

It’s not that the mother needs to have any bad intention. Maybe there is a screaming three year-old at her feet, demanding attention, while she’s trying to change the new baby’s nappies, and because her attention is distracted she accidentally jabs a pin in the baby’s thigh.

This kind of thing, if it happens often enough, will create the impression of an unsafe environment which in turn creates fear.

Fear is an interesting phenomenon, because not only do you want to get away from the source of danger, or pain, you also want to get away from the feeling of fear itself.
Being afraid is an uncomfortable experience. It’s a sensation of shrinking, the logical conclusion of which is that if you shrink too much you will disappear altogether and die. So the fear-oriented child also armors itself against this feeling.

As a result, armoring of a fear type lies deep inside, around the core of the body.

This represents two tendencies:
First, the retreat of energy from the periphery, where danger lies.
Second, the protection of the core against the shrinking movement.

In anger, as we have seen, armoring happens at the periphery, to prevent striking outwards. In fear, a kind of frozenness happens deep inside, so that that inward rush of energy from the periphery doesn’t completely overwhelm the core.

In appearance, fear types tend to look thin and fragile because energy is being held at the center. They tend to have weak muscles in the arms and legs, and the chest may be hollow, with a collapsed look. Often, energy is also withdrawn from the eyes, so that they can be near-sighted or myopic.

It is understandable that this type of person has difficulty trusting people or the surrounding environment, because trust requires openness and receptivity. Trust is a decision to allow energy from outside to penetrate you.

Like fear, trust rides on the inward pulsation, moving from periphery to core, so it follows that if a person is armored against fear this blocking will also prevent the soft, receiving, inflow of trust.

One of the first steps in dealing with fear is to help a client recognize and accept it, and this means sinking down into the core, where the fear lies. It’s a more delicate task than working with anger, because a fear type needs to feel safe – needs to already have a certain amount of trust – in order to allow a deeper inward movement of energy.

The discharge of fear is not as obvious as the release of anger. It usually comes through high screams, and the capacity to trust is regained slowly as the inner armoring begins to break up and tension is released.

At a psychological level, trust means you can relax with other people without having a chronic pattern of suspicion, such as “this person appears to be friendly but that’s only because he wants to get something from me...”

This doesn’t mean trust has to be unconditional or blind. If there are genuine grounds for suspicion, if a situation is becoming strange or dangerous, it’s healthy to be able to discriminate and take defensive measures.

But, basically, trust is an attitude that “the world is not out to get me. I can move through life in an open and relaxed way, letting things affect me, touch me, reach me.”

This is one of the important outcomes of Reichian work: it helps the client regain the capacity to open and close appropriately. When there’s reason to fear, defenses can be put up. When it’s okay to trust, they can be let down.

Pain – Pleasure

When a small child is really crying or laughing its whole body is in a state of healthy and natural pulsation. But when these feelings are suppressed and blocked, the pulsation is diminished, so that both the inward and outward movements are minimized in an effort to deaden unwanted or unacceptable feelings.

In the pain type, every effort is made not to feel, not to recognize what wants to be expressed. It’s a kind of holding, or suspension, of the pulsation.

This happens when a child’s feelings are hurt. For example, being called names and being pushed away by other children, or being ostracized by one’s own family for some offense and being made to stand alone in a corner while all the attention and love of the parents goes to other siblings.

I remember that, in my own childhood, I was very angry with my younger sister, who was born two years after me, because suddenly she was getting all the attention that had, until her arrival, been directed exclusively at me.

I hated her and often behaved in quite a horrible way towards her, so my parents, in an effort to protect her, would ostracize me. Then I would be left with my rage and my tears, which could not be expressed, and slowly, slowly I learned to numb myself against them.

Anger and fear both have a clear direction – anger outward, fear inward – but in the blocking of pain, both strokes of the pulsation are contracted in the effort to feel less, and slowly, slowly, the whole organism becomes insensitive.

As we have seen, anger types carry a strong charge of energy at the periphery, while fear types keep it at the core. Pain types carry a strong charge all the way through the body, from core to periphery.

As a result, these people can be tireless workers, with an incredible stamina to keep going – they can swim laps at the local pool long after everyone else has given up – but all this activity does not create a sense of vitality.

On the contrary, they have an air of stagnation about them and also tend to be overweight, because the accumulation of fat in areas of tension helps to deaden the feelings.

For a pain type, the first step out of this predicament is to deepen the energy pulsation, which happens most easily through deepening the breathing. Inevitably, this will bring the person in touch with painful feelings. If these hurt fee lings can be accepted and embraced, deep crying and convulsive sobbing are likely to follow, tension will be released, and the body will slowly become more alive again.

When this pain has been re-experienced and the body starts to pulsate normally, the pain type discovers an immense capacity for pleasure, sensuousness and joy. Very often, the dulling quality of blocked pain makes it difficult or impossible to allow the intense pleasure of orgasm. Freeing the pain opens the capacity for orgasmic pleasure.

Three Types of Breath

As a way of illustrating the feeling pairs and how they function, I sometimes lead group participants and trainees through an exercise involving three types of breathing, each one related to a specific feeling.

I begin with the in-breath, which mirrors the in-stroke pulsation of fear.

First, I ask everyone to stand in a circle, so we can not only experience what is happening inside ourselves but also watch others.

I instruct them to breathe out, all the way, and at the same time hollow the chest, hunching the shoulders forward and down. This imitates the collapsed, low energy condition of a fear type.

Then I invite them to breathe in with a sudden, sharp inhale through the mouth, drawing the air quickly into the throat and chest, making a gasping sound, while at the same time opening the eyes wide as if in fear.

I also suggest that people imagine the air is entering not only through the mouth but also through the eyes, because this makes it easier to feel the fear. In addition, the hands and arms pull back on the in-breath, so that the whole body seems to reel backwards in shock and surprise.

We do this together, breathing deeper and deeper on the in- breath, with longer and longer gasps, while relaxing on the out- breath so the air is exhaled in a more normal way.

In this introductory exercise, we don’t have time to penetrate to the deep-seated armoring of fear around the core, but the breathing quickly builds up a charge of energy and pretty soon people start to experience tension at the back of the neck, which is related to holding back fear.

Later on in the workshop, participants will become more familiar with this form of breathing.

Then I invite them to stop, shake out the tension, and move to the out-stroke of the breathing pulsation, which connects with anger.

I demonstrate what an ‘anger chest’ looks like by taking a deep in-breath and holding it, puffing out my rib cage and squaring my shoulders, rather like a cartoon caricature of an enraged army colonel.

I invite everyone to copy me and to stand for a few moments in this puffed-up position, holding the in-breath at maximum capacity and sticking out the chest.

What needs to happen now is to breathe out suddenly and forcefully, throwing the air out. It’s a sharp exhale, very fast and powerful, with the mouth wide open and the jaw thrust aggressively forward... “Huh!”

At the same time, I suggest that people scowl fiercely, knitting the eyebrows together, and looking as if they could shoot darts from their eyes across the room. As the air rushes out, we also shoot our arms forward, as if throwing the air and energy away from us.

Repeating this breathing pattern, I encourage everyone to make eye contact with a person across the circle and throw the energy out towards them, getting the feeling of a total exhale of the chest.

This starts to open the outward stroke of the pulsation. With anger, the energy is on its way out when it gets blocked, so the tension is right there at the periphery of the body, mostly in the face and hands.

Repeatedly throwing out the air -- “Huh! Huh! Huh!” – the armoring starts to loosen, and people have the chance to experience a direct expression of anger.

Finally, we work with the pain-pleasure type. Here, blocking happens on the periphery and also around the core, so the energy is contained within two walls of armoring.

On the in-stroke of the breathing pulsation, energy is not allowed to pass deeper than the diaphragm; on the out-stroke it cannot pass beyond the throat. A kind of rigid compacting happens that numbs the pain.

We need to get the body pulsating, using both the in-breath and out-breath, loosening up a strong habit of control, so I introduce a chaotic form of breathing that is reminiscent of the first stage of Dynamic Meditation.

It is breathing fast and jerkily, in short steps, through the mouth, so that the air pops into the throat, almost like a crazy animal that is panting, grunting and gasping. Sometimes the in- breath is full, sometimes short. Sometimes the out-breath is a full, sometimes just a gasp. The body is bouncing up and down, shaking with the chaotic breathing, and the arms go with it.

The general effect is to shake up the holding patterns around the throat and diaphragm.

Then I ask the participants to imagine what sobbing feels like – when you're really crying, as if your heart could break and you can’t hold back the sound, so your whole body convulses with sobbing.

A few people slip into real emotion when we do this, but that is not my purpose. I just want to give everyone a taste of the mechanism involved in breaking up the armoring of pain. Laughing does the same thing – it has the same convulsive quality as sobbing – so we end the exercise with laughter.

This concludes the first section of my book, in which I’ve outlined the main principles of the Reichian approach to restoring a natural state of health and well-being. In the next section, we’ll look at how these principles apply in practice.