The Power of Surrender by Alice Whieldon
I first experienced katsugen many years ago, when I met Kishi Akinobu and attended his Sei-ki workshops. After preparatory exercises, experienced students would move and jerk, sometimes rolling round the room, burping and making other curious sounds. After some time, in which the room resounded to thumps and shrieks, it would wind down to a palpable calm and the practice would end.
Over the years since then, I have met people who told me they were put off working with Kishi after experiencing this apparent chaos. Some newcomers found it unnerving, others were unimpressed by what they saw as ‘acting out’ and many could not see the relevance of katsugen to the hands-on experience of Sei-ki. There was not much explanation.
I also suspect there were those who felt excluded by an in-crowd of students who looked forward to ‘letting it all hang out’ as a key part of their Sei-ki experience. The atmosphere of license that sometimes seemed to accompany Kishi on his tours, until a few years before his death in 2012, perhaps found its clearest expression in the howls and flailing of this group practice. Little wonder that some never returned for more!
Coming from a background in the Human Potential Movement of the 1980s, I was not put off; I had seen much stranger things. For me, the quality of Kishi’s work far outweighed the scenes of bedlam that sometimes accompanied workshops. I joined in, tentatively at first and, over time, began to grasp the point and value of what I now prefer to call, surrenderwork.
The world has moved on from the atmosphere of those times. What was strange then is less so now. The touch and embodiment movement, if I can call it that, is more open to spontaneous expression than it was, whether in laughter yoga and breath work, spontaneous chi gong, trauma release, contact improvisation or the many other ways people are (re)discovering connectivity and releasing trauma.
People coming on Sei-ki workshops seem more prepared for the surrenderwork we do and more sensitive to their own movement. Its value is largely taken as self-evident. I like to think Kishi’s influence, which was and is huge in European Shiatsu, has permeated the Shiatsu world in this way as it has in others, without it being attributed to him.
Katsugen, so named, comes out of the Seitai of Noguchi Haruchika and has connections with the shaking practice of Shinto. But you do not have to be Japanese to know about it. We find it in the surrender meditation or yoga of Bhakti in Indian culture, in the ecstatic dance of Sufism, the Holy Ghost of Christianity and many more. In these contexts it is a surrender to Reality with a big ‘R’; to the Divine, however named or understood. Surrender is a desire for union and a letting go of individual will and duality. We surrender to the Will of the Divine or Reality, Truth, whatever that might bring. It is framed differently in each of these traditions and, as a result, there is a different flavour to each. So they are not identical to one another yet there is a commonality. Some characteristics of wisdom tradition surrender may include:
- The context and explanations of a spiritual path.
- An understanding of the person having a ‘soul’ that is fundamentally separate from mind and body. Thus we can surrender the mind and body without losing our
- That it connects us to a divine life force or actual divinity.
- That there will likely be visible signs of this connection, such as spontaneous movement, speaking in tongues, shaking…
- That healing is often a side effect
In surrender you open yourself to reality and give up control. It sits within a broader picture and non-medical understanding of what we are and what health is. If you continue to surrender in this context, you will hit discomfort sooner or later. The deeper detritus of your minds and body will start to surface and you might experience flashbacks, pain from injuries long ‘healed’, fear, panic etc. It is a case of Thy will be done, not mine. The divine does not care if you need to get up tomorrow to go to work; the picture is much bigger. In a spiritual context, especially with an experienced teacher, this has a place and can be weathered.
Although challenges will likely arise, and while surrender in the wisdom traditions is not done for health, it often brings health, vigour, clarity of thought and vision alongside, or as aspects of, spiritual development. So it is no wonder that the evocation of spontaneous movement has been harnessed specifically for health purposes over the years; the results can be nothing short of miraculous. It is also no surprise that it is invoked for the development of personal, worldly, power and wealth.
The shift from one kind of surrender to another can be inadvertent and the assumption made that they are the same thing. When it is employed specifically for health (or power), the practice is changed, particularly in modern society which tends to see people primarily as complex machines. I do not know if that really matters, but I do think it is good to know the difference.
When we surrender to spontaneous movement for a purpose, we have an agenda; we specifically want this thing and frame the practice in this way. It can be highly effective medicine or power boost.
In the context of improving health, there may be a limit to what we will experience in terms of movements, expressions and discomfort because we are not actually open to anything at all, we are open to improving our health. We have limited the field and, consequently, I speculate about whether this is really surrender. In any case, if we surrender in order to feel better, but instead feel worse, the practice may be dismissed as damaging, though the understanding that there is often pain on the healing journey is fairly well understood.
The same questions can be asked about mindfulness when it is used by medics for mental health. Yes, it can help with depression, but if you continue to practice meditation, then the full force of Reality is only a breath away and no physician in the world can shut the door on Grace. Yet perhaps, like with health, if it is framed for a particular purpose, this also puts a brake on what will be experienced. I can only speculate.
In any case, spontaneous movement for health has a different feel from katsugen and surrenderwork. Where the boundary is between them I do not know; it sits in a blur between medicine and religion which is as old as the hills. Yet, as I say, the different intentions distinctly affect tone and practice. In Sei-ki, we are surrendering in the broader sense.
Why I am discussing this is to note that surrender is the door to another kind of knowing from that of our daily lives; a much bigger knowing; silent knowledge. Most people do not surrender enough to experience many of the deeper effects, but I find it interesting that this doorway is being discovered by a somewhat wider audience. We need this move from prioritizing intellect. We need to allow in another kind of knowing and enter again the stream of life, consciously.
In Surrenderwork, and specifically in our Surrender Project 8 week online course, we note the health values of surrender; these are real and attractive. But we also look at surrender as an approach to life that challenges our most basic assumptions. Even on a small scale, what happens if, at least for some part of your day, you send your willpower on holiday and allow yourself to experience a few moments of agenda-less, meaningless time? This is far from easy, but once achieved (which is the wrong word for it, since it is the complete opposite of doing anything), something else may come to you…insights, peace, grief…. It is not just a practice you make space for in the day, it connects you to the space that was always there but were too busy to notice. In that space, the meaning structures of ordinary life shrink in relation to its vastness.
This doorway to space is why we practice surrender in Sei-ki.
We practise surrender in Sei-ki to clean ourselves of the mind-stuff that stands between me and you, and gets in the way of me seeing you as you really are. I surrender my mind and body and cleaning takes place. My sight and touch clarify. We surrender the rational mind and rational knowing and invite silent knowing. This creates space in us, in our touch, in the way we are. We bring this space to others, beyond technique. The patient’s body recognises this space and uses it to unfold into. Thus, I do not make you well. I offer a space that is conducive to you finding your health or maybe health finding you. This is the path of the skilled physician; knowing how not to know and not to do.
Sei-ki is a threshold practice, and feeling better is the gateway to a another kind of knowledge.