The first time that I encountered Candace Pert’s research into the emotional component of pain was while watching the 1993 PBS documentary (and reading the companion book) Bill Moyers: Healing and the Mind. At that time, it sparked an interest; years later it became a passion. Dr. Pert was also one of the interviewees in the film What the (Bleep) Do We Know?! which was shown at the Sedona Film Festival in the spring of 2004. While I found the film as a whole to be more than a tad NewAgey, if not downright cultish, it did have some good information in it, and it reawakened my interest in the work that Candace Pert (1946-2013) was doing.
I bought her book, Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel (Scribner, 1997; ISBN 0-684-83187-2) and read it straight through in a weekend. Then I read it again, slowly, carefully trying to digest the information she was sharing. It immediately found its way to the list of top five books that changed my life.
In the early 1970’s, while a graduate pharmacology student at Johns Hopkins University, Candace Pert discovered the opiate receptor in the brain that is responsive to painkillers and drugs. She went on to discover other receptors, and more importantly (I think) discover that they are located throughout the body and not just in the brain. The receptors are chemical “locks” into which corresponding chemicals (manufactured or bio-chemical) fit like keys. She received her PhD from Johns Hopkins in 1974. She continued her research at the National Institute of Mental Health, studying neuropeptides, the chemicals the brain uses to communicate with the body. She became the chief of brain biochemistry at NIMH in 1982. Dr. Pert and her team are credited with discovering Peptide T, which is thought to have the potential of impeding the HIV virus.
Her book rocked my world because it shared the scientific knowledge that the emotions we feel, especially those around pain, trauma, and other “charged” instances, have a direct correlation to different parts of the body, and vice versa. Suddenly, I had been given validation for what I empathically felt as I worked on people’s bodies. On a personal level, I no longer needed to feel like an aberration for being able to feel what I did. And, she had mapped the anatomical locations where high concentrations of the neuropeptide receptors are. The significance of the fact that their locations nearly matched the locations of the chakras (“chuk-rahs”) was not lost on me. (As with the pineal gland in the brain, the ancient sages had shared their knowing over millennia; science is catching up.)
Her research into emotions being held in the body by way of the release of neuropeptide ligands, and the memories of those emotions held in their receptors, interfaced with my experience of clients’ emotional release/ catharsis during bodywork. She wrote:
…peptides serve to weave the body’s organs and systems into a single web that reacts to both internal and external environmental changes with complex, subtly orchestrated responses. Peptides are the sheet music containing the notes, phrases, and rhythms that allow the orchestra—your body—to play as an integrated entity. And the music that results is the tome or feeling that you experience subjectively as your emotions.
This is not “mind over matter”, the mind controlling what the body experiences; this is the realization that the mind and the body are, in fact, one. The true definition of the word “psychosomatic” was revealed to me. Throughout my life, I had heard the word as a blow-off term (sorry, there’s no polite way to say it) that was used to mean whatever physical change was being registered was “all in (the person’s) head”. It was a completely discounting phrase that must have led thousands and thousands of people to seek treatment through unnecessary anti-psychotic drugs. And still, their pain remained. In my work I found myself encouraging my clients with phrases like, “This isn’t your brain talking; this is the brain in your (wherever the pain was) talking.” Countless times the immediate response would be, “So I’m not crazy?!”
With my family’s history, “crazy” is a word that I don’t like to hear used lightly. It gave me an immense amount of gratitude to be able to shift the thought paradigm my clients had been given about the pains they were feeling. The more that it happened, the more clients I was able to help work through the emotional component of their pain, the more I knew that I needed to learn more about this connection between the emotions and the physical body. My clients were amazed that their sometimes years-long chronic pain had been relieved; none of them was more amazed than I was.
In 2003, one of my clients was thinking about moving to Boulder, Colorado. This was the same client who had experienced the dark energy of what had happened previously in a house that she was living in. Soon after that, when her new house was complete, she called upon me to address the energy of the new house. That house had been built into a hillside above the town of Sedona, and in the process an Earth Sprit had been dislodged and was wandering around the lower floor of the house. The room she had built as a massage room was on the upper, ground level floor and so I had never been downstairs. It was her son and his wife who were staying in the guest room and had the experience of it, and to hear her tell it, they were given quite the scare. We built a little place in the back garden for it to relocate, and with a bit of honoring ceremony it was willing to do so.
Having had these two experiences, once she had found the house that she wanted to buy in Boulder she was not going to do anything about it until it was checked out for unseen hangers-on. She asked me to fly up to Boulder with her, and I was more than happy to do so. The house turned out to be fine and I spent the rest of the time there exploring the area. I was reading the local hipster “here’s what’s going on” weekly newspaper and I saw an advertisement for a two-year program to study somatic psychotherapy through the Hakomi Method.
When I got home, I began to research the Hakomi Method. I began by reading Grace Unfolding: Psychotherapy in the Spirit of the Tao-te Ching by Greg Johanson and Ron Kurtz (Bell Tower/Harmony Books, 1991; ISBN 0-517-88130-6). Ron Kurtz was the founder of the Hakomi Method (now the Refined Hakomi Method). I contacted the Hakomi training center in Boulder, and began the application process and in 2004 I began to commute to Boulder every six weeks for the week-long classroom portion of the training.