Dialogues and Interviews

The Power of Acknowledgement

Mark Bloomberg interviewed by Mirjam Busch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch

Rudolf: Mark, you have been talking about the power of acknowledgment and you produced a discussion paper. Let’s talk about it.

Mark: My question is, how do I know or sense that this is truly me acting in the world?
Let’s talk about what is involved, what goes on when we fully identify with what we’re doing, and when we don’t. These questions may be doors we can use to access what happens when people are very uncomfortable, detached and not responsible for what they are doing.

Mirjam: How do we recognize that we are fully in ourselves?

Mark: How do we do it? For me it is an inner sense, there is a full warm sense, and I have a sense of inner conviction that I may not usually have. Also I know what to say, I do not have to choose my words, there is a sense of appropriateness in my words and actions.

Mirjam: So what supports you in being present and what blocks you from being present?

Mark: This is where both the NLP and the Gestalt people have a good way of looking at it, rather than saying what is it that blocks me or supports me, they say how do I block myself, or how do I interrupt myself. That is an important question.
Like the example I gave you about the inner conversation, the way we talk to ourselves. My experience is that this involves a subtle tension and movement of the tongue, which after all is the organ of speech. In my yoga classes, if I want people to stop chattering to themselves and go quiet, I suggest they relax their tongues and keep their awareness in the base of their tongues. If they do this, they may have no sense of wanting to talk, no sense of words forming.
So if I drift off into some kind of mind-chatter, some kind of self-accusation, part of that process that I can easily become aware of is the way I tense my tongue. If I can be aware of this physical process, I can access a mental process as well.
And this comes through to my question – what is acknowledgment? I think acknowledgment is a true perception of what I am doing. If I am behaving in some repetitive way that is undesirable, even if I am consciously aware of that behaviour, or even if it is pointed out to me, that doesn’t mean that I fully acknowledge what I am doing. I can be aware of my mind conversation without having a physical sense of how I talk to my self – by tensing my tongue and making small muscular movements of the tongue. And that conversation will not be under my control until I acknowledge the totality of what I do, both physical and mental.
This comes back to the idea common to many disciplines, that the parts of me that are not responsive are the parts where I do not have perception.
In my yoga classes, I can often get my pupils to relax and let tight areas in their back soften simply by getting a partner to place their hand on that area, and getting the pupil to direct their breath into their partner’s hand. This is an alternative to physically trying to stretch the affected area.
A common thread to many of the Eastern disciplines is the way that one’s breath is synonymous with a life force, which is also synonymous with awareness. Like in yoga, and the Chinese martial arts. This life force, ch’i, or prana, can be directed to areas of unawareness. It is quite beautiful to see people who are quite rigid in their back, progressively softening in this way.

Rudolf: So what you are doing is that you acknowledge the body non-verbally. Placing the hand is a non-verbal acknowledgment.

Mark: I think there is a point beyond which verbal techniques of therapy can’t go. They can support and help, then there is a point where acknowledgment needs to be expressed in terms of touch or sound-like vibration to direct awareness to certain parts of your being. Touch, smell, sound …

Rudolf: The breath …

Mark: Yeah, the breath. How I block my self, it’s the habit of not being aware of certain areas. Fritz Perls pointed out that this blocking of awareness is conservative. We can’t be aware of everything, we have to direct awareness, and if we have a movement that is well integrated there is no need to be aware of it any more, in the context of our lives it is fine. But when we have an action that we have learned, that was our best shot at the time and no longer is appropriate – if we can’t reconcile this action with our environment – the question is, how do we change it? This is a familiar idea to therapists. Like if you try to thread a needle with your eyes closed. Without the perception to guide you, you can’t adjust the action.

Rudolf: Gestalt people use the term disowned parts.

Mirjam: I notice you put a lot of emphasis on the physical, and I think that to some extent that gets lost in a lot of therapy work. I’m reminded of Hakomi Therapy by that comment. In Hakomi, if somebody has a habitual movement, instead of trying to distract them from that movement or change it, you can actually do that for them, take over that movement or help them with it. It’s a supportive way of allowing the managing to exist, and making space for whatever is being managed. It’s a very physical way of addressing.

Mark: The nice thing about Hakomi is that it combines the physical acknowledgment and the verbal. For me my most powerful moments have come where a physical opening has been accompanied by an intellectual realization and an emotional response. I think the most powerful therapies are able to access many levels at once.

Rudolf: What is acknowledgment to you?

Mark: It’s important to me. How often does someone acknowledge me, but I get no sense of the person behind the words. How often do I give people an offhand reply? I haven’t taken their words in.
Like this morning, I go to my daughter and say time to get up, and she says yes, and one hour later she is still under the blankets!
So that is not the kind of acknowledgment that has power. Instead, it’s powerful when someone speaks to me, I take their words in, I respond to them emotionally, physically, I feel integrated in my response. Or if they acknowledge me, they do not just acknowledge what I have said or done, but they have also seen me as I am.
That is important: how often do you feel that you are seen without judgement or preconception, but simply as who you are?

Rudolf: And this is vital for all types of relationships.

Mark: Yeah. And I think the power comes from the release and smooth flow of energy that comes from this acknowledgment.

Mirjam: To me it translates into a warmth around the heart and a deep sadness, not a sad sadness but it is a sadness that is showing me that I have been deeply touched.

Mark: My speculation is if the sadness is because the acknowledgment is only given so often, as if it is habitually denied and then when you are finally given it and ahhh … (sighs).

Mirjam: It’s coming back home.

Mark: Mmmm … perhaps if it occurred more often there would be the warmth without the sadness, the sense that I have missed out.
Certainly in the business area where I operate, seldom do I allow myself to experience this acknowledgment, even when it is offered to me.
So how much is it true that I am not acknowledged, and how much is it true that I do not allow myself to be acknowledged?

Rudolf: My sense is that there is a deep longing for it.

Mark: Yes. When I have that sense of being acknowledged, it is as if I do not need to go anywhere else, that I am complete and adequate. I don’t have to do anything, I don’t have to impress anyone.
Just to finish off, I’d like to talk about the power of this acknowledgment because it is often a very soft and unassuming thing. People think that something so soft can’t get you anywhere – no pain, no gain. I have to explain that to my yoga students that the gains that you make are from the least physical effort. But the power is there – the greatest power is actually released by these gentle, very aware acts of people reaching out and saying, there you are.

Mirjam: Just a gesture.

Mark: Just a gesture.

Rudolf: Good.

Mark: So that’s the power of acknowledgment.

Mirjam: Thank you very much.

Mark: Thank you both.

Mark Bloomberg is a professional forester who has been drawn to teaching and to learning about what it is to be human. He works as a consultant, teaches at Lincoln University and is a Yoga teacher.

Copyright © 12/1999 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Integrative Dialogue #11, Dec1999

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