Existence-tissue? What’s that? You may be wondering… Me too, always. But, for now, it’s a term that David Hinton (translator of Chinese classics and poet) uses in his most excellent and impossible to describe book called, Existence. Throughout the book he evolves the concept of existence-tissue. He uses the term cosmologically and yet, each time it sounds like he’s talking about the fascial continuum, it’s just so beautiful. That he chose the word tissueamong all others to describe a non-local phenomena that is also inclusive of the physical is just so cool!
Early in the book Hinton says:
That clarity is a beginning place, almost as soon as this empty gaze into the nature of things reveals existence vast and deep, it reveals something else no less wondrous and unimaginable: there is no distinction between empty awareness and the expansive presence of existence. They are a whole, a single existential tissue, which is to say that existence tissue is our most fundamental self… Here in the beginning, there is this existence-tissue open to itself, miraculously and inextricably aware of itself… (Hinton, pp 8-9)
One quality I have observed form studying the fascial research over the last 15 years is that fascial properties form a beautiful metaphor for contemplating the body as a whole and medicine as a genuine holistic practice. Meaning, the fascial continuum is so adaptable and varied, microscopic and macroscopic that it is a powerful metaphor for holism, interdependence and interconnectedness. And, as we study it – whether in practice or research or theory - we can’t help but to be drawn towards open-hearted wholeness.
My colleague, Clair Hamilton-Araujo, N.D., L.Ac, recently shared an article, Does fascia hold memories? The article surveys research that points to possible ways in which the fascial continuum contains aspects of our felt experience – in a sense we could consider that our feelings are as much physical as they are non-physical, located within our form as sensation that becomes experienced as feelings.
As I read the article I was struck by a specific phrasing in the section on Tensegrity, vibration and tissue memory (Tozzi, p. 262). The author is discussing the interplay of polarity, piezoelectricity and oscillating rhythm in forming a body-wide communication system. The author states “…the totality of such vibratory messages throughout the matrix may constitute a body consciousness functionally interconnected with the brain consciousness of the nervous system, via the crystalline liquid medium of the ground substance (Tozzi, p. 263).
The integrative nature of fascia and fascial studies is wondrous. What is coming clear is that there is a profound and deeply inter-woven reality of body-consciousness and brain-consciousness. We are seeing some amazing research and subsequent theory and clinical models emerging from the neurosciences (in particular, the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology– and what they are finding is that the brain is constantly receiving information, meaningful information about feeling-states form the body – and often due to properties within the existence-tissue.
If we stick with a major MMI theme – how does the body experience itself – then we simply stay curious and observant about this existence-tissue, and include within this curiosity a wide range of experiential phenomena that occurs in treatment and, we are on solid ground saying that what moves within the body stirs within the brain – and what stirs there further moves the body. The two systems constantly curious about and responding to one another.
The linking of the findings in neuroscience by researchers such as Stephen Porges with the properties and potentialities within the fascial continuum truly point to an integrated understanding of at least a portion of our experience of our felt-sense. This has everything to do with our work as bodyworkers and healers. We are working in the body consciousness and it is interdependent with our neural system or brain consciousness. Bonnie Badenoch uses the term body-brain when exploring the relationship between felt sense (or interocpetion) and emotions.
Badenoch, in her book Being a Brain-Wise Therapist; a practical guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology, uses the term visceral familiarity discussing the witnessing of sensate experience, a tensing of the tissues, tightness in chest, heart-rate increasing as a cue to arising mental-emotional states and potentials for either danger or distorting current experience in some way that emphasizes threats that may not exist or that we have tools in the present to manage (Badenoch, p. 51). Cultivating the ability to witness and stay with these arising visceral states opens a window of curiosity into experience – and with help and practice we can learn to respond skillfully in the present. Often, this takes a lot of work if we experienced challenging and/or traumatic experiences. Integrating body awareness with mind awareness is one way to achieve a physical-neural integration that can allow for more freedom and fulfilling relationships in the present.
Why I think this is exciting is that the more we understand the role of the body consciousness in this relationship the more we can help ourselves and our patients. Candace Pert was exploring this link between body and feeling in the 90’s and the fascial research has evolved her findings to the point where “The body might therefore be conceived as a single organ with full sensing capabilities, where any tissue may store emotional memories based on the specific receptors the possess, and the nature of the chemical messages they receive” (Tozzi, p. 262).
In my experience, one of the crucial principles that allow us to skillfully assist in mediating this body-brain consciousness, is the use of the indirect technique in either myofascial release work or cranialsacral therapy. Tozzi, in the section on Neuro-fascial memory discusses the specific capacity of indirect techniques to unload tissues and thus change the pattern of sensory input into the spinal cord. I think there is much more happening than just this – however, it points to the elegance of simply unloading the tissue through gentle indirect contact and it confirms what we have been exploring in the classroom and the clinic – the indirect approach is powerful and bodies really want it (Tozzi, p. 259). It is a unique form of establishing presence within our touch and in our work. Indirect work seems to create space and slow time down. Bonnie Badenoch discusses how important it is to establish time and space within the neural circuits that are related to our responses to stimulation – it seems a relevant extension to use touch work that allows for sensations to be explored safely and with greater ease and thus have a greater chance for further integration – which research shows often leads to positive change.
Badenoch, Bonnie (2008): Being a Brain-Wise Therapist; A Practical Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. New York. Norton.
Hinton, David (2016): Existence: A Story. Shambala. Boulder, CO.
Tozzi, Paolo (2013): Does fascia hold memories.Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2014) 18, 259-265.