​Begin With Stanley Keleman And You Arrive At Life

This page is an ongoing live link and tribute to the unparalleled work of Stanley Keleman. What he has accomplished is indescribable as a series of achievements, for it deals with how one comes to live a whole life itself. And the only way for a person to actually grasp that is by going through the very same door he did to make this discovery -- the door of all natural human experiencing. Doing this immediately restores to anyone the lived experiencing that is one's own.
​​However people later come to conceptualize their ​experiencing, it's always going on long before we ever start paying attention to it. (We're simply too busy using it!)

Life comes with certain givens already built into it. Nobody gets to choose where their life begins, the body they come with, country they are born in, culture they grow up in from adolescence to adulthood, nor the language in which they first learned to speak, think, act, and express themselves. We each begin by ​experiencing ​our way through all these many contributing influences. And that experiencing itself is ​the sentient participation in our own evolving life-process. It is and remains our fleshly, vibrant, pulsating core. 

That ​-- this whole substantive, ongoing, organismic life-process of the human being --
is ​what Stanley has given himself to understanding and elaborating a specific experience-based description for, one that no one else has put together so adroitly thus far. 
True humility isn't just an attitude. It's something way beyond that. It is to be deeply affected by the whole of what naturally exists. Those with it see the world differently from most others. They hold an inherent respect for what life is, how it's affected by whatever happens to it and then grows itself into more. 

The clarity and transparency this manifests itself in flow directly from living one's experiencing fully for just what it is.

To do that is, to be sure, as costly as it is liberating; yet over time it leads to a true self-knowing impossible to arrive at in any other way.

This he has achieved and lives.

​​​A Fortuitous Side Event At The Start Of My Doctoral Program Led To My Getting To See Him In Action

​​​This photo from the peak period of major cultural changes the late 1960s brought us to, shows exactly how I would've then appeared when watching this powerful group leader working one-on-one with any member of the two groups I was invited to attend as a participant. (I got to do that for three whole weeks!)

​By then, I'd long since finished both college and seminary -- and was putting my professional training to use in places like "HDI" -- the Human Development Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. It pioneered the first programmed learning materials ever developed in the Behavioral Sciences through its two founders,  Emory psychologists Jerry Berlin and Ben Wyckoff; filmed Eric Berne, Fritz Perls, Bill Schutz, and Harold Greenwald conducting therapy sessions before the 1968 American Psychological Association convention in San Francisco; and also combined its dual lines of extensive clinical reasearch (both Rogerian and Skinnerian) with that of psychologist Betty Berzon to jointly introduce the entire Encountertapes series, resulting from her five-year, research program into self-directed groups at Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla, California, later featured in the intensive specially-televised program provocatively entitled "A Circle of Love," hosted by Walter Cronkite in his The Twenty First Century program on CBS.

(For more on this whole subject, please see the "About All This" page at the start of this website.) -G.R.

​When dealing with anything alive, you must begin by taking into account whatever it is becoming; if you don't, your thinking is too small from the start. That's why all of us notoriously fall so far short of fully understanding ourselves, other people, anything connected with human civilization, or indeed, life itself. For when something isn't yet completed, simply "going back to the beginning," (commonly referred to as "the genetic fallacy") is never enough to see and know the whole story.

​Stanley is a man giving his all to dealing with human life in its entirety. He was doing this when I met him forty-four years ago, and he's kept on doing it ever since. I've been fortunate to observe more than a few renowned therapists firsthand as they put their mixture of science and art into practice (and even study with some), but when it comes to what he does: ​I've never come across anything else like it in my life -- neither before or since! ​The steps I've witnessed him get others to undertake in his working encounters, and the outcomes they resulted in for the individuals involved, still remain vividly intact today as one-of-a-kind vignettes permanently etched in my memory.

To find what others have not found, one must seek as others have not sought. Doing this is what led him deep into new territory; but it's also what made hecessary his finding another way of going about all the basic things. The compass he relied on in ​both​ areas was this: that everything had to ring true to his personal experience. It's what led him to such startlingly sound and self-evident results, which then spread so rapidly in great numbers among others who found that it rang true to their own experience as well.

​This obviously entailed developing a new vocabulary and nomenclature for human behaviors that others had yet to identify as specifically or completely comprehend. It proved to be a great boon too, because it served to give him a ready rapport with each individual he works with, for he already discerns the primary motoric patterns they employ in approaching life generally, enabling him to thereby explore with them their reasons and working rationale for living their lives in the particular way they do. ​But notice: ​this isn't then proffered as a psychological "interpretation" of their actions related to things that took place in their past; instead, it becomes a bridge over which they can now walk to better handle whatever is uppermost in their lives at the present time. This makes his helpful running commentary when working with anyone strikingly fresh, to the point, immediately applicable, and suasive. 

It's best to begin, I believe, with a small section of the incisive, cogent interview that introduced me to Stanley and the significance of his work, written by the probing and prolific author Sam Keen, then a regular contributing editor of ​Psychology Today​(and also a member of my doctoral committee). Sam and Stanley were going to conduct a workshop together at the Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma, California, entitled:"The Body as the Living Expression of the Formative Principle" on October 8-12, 1973. Sam noted and kindly suggested, "Since you're going to be out here for the faculty committee meeting of your program anyway, you're welcome to come to this as well."

​The rest, as they say, is history.

​​​Sam Keen's Window Into The Work Of Stanley Keleman
​  "Stanley Keleman is a celebrant of biological life.
If we had Earthfathers, he might be one. He looks like and moves with the authority of a large and probably friendly bear. The massive iron sculptures of hovering birds he welds in his spare​time suggest his rare combination of power and tenderness. It is not hard to believe the rumors of the California grapevine that he is one of the most​effective therapists in the bioenergetics movement, or to understand why there are long waiting lists for the workshops he gives at growth centers across the country."

Keen outlines Keleman's biographical background, then traces the wide-ranging path he set out on to gain a solidly professional grounding in the fields pertinent to his becoming a full-fledged therapist, one capable of working with any problems suffered by those needing to find health and wholeness in a way that genuinely brings mind and body together into a full and true living of both.

​​​Stanley Keleman
​​This sample selection below of Sam's questions and Stanley's answers will reveal the overall nature of their probing exchange, showing its depth of content, the range and scope of its substance, and the usefulness of its key notions and procedures in uncovering, addressing, and working on the needs or problems of any given individual. Those who want more will find reading the full ​twenty-one pages of the interview well worth their while.   
​  Keen: What are the defining characteristics of bioenergetics as you practice it?
​  Keleman: ​Bioenergetics focuses on the movement and form of the human organism. It tries to understand the relationship between emotion and motion, structure and process. We say that a person is a life process, a moving structure, a body in motion. And all emotional or psychological conflicts involve a distortion of body movement. To free the self is to free the body.
​  ​Keen: How does your practice differ from that of a Freudian, Jungian, or Primal therapist?
​  ​Keleman: ​My first interest is in a person's body presence. I look to see how much coordination and grace there is in the body, where it is weak or rigid, what parts are overdeveloped or have too little development, how much vitality is obvious. And I try to locate the physical and psychic constrictions that have become habitual.
​  ​Keen: ​Is there a universal language of the body? Do bodily stances correlate with emotional dispositions?
  ​Keleman: ​My reading of the language of the body is based on working assumptions. Stiffness in the neck or spine or locked legs generally indicate fear of instability and the necessity to inhabit life with firmness. Where the muscles are weak or tend to collapse it is an indication that the person cannot stand a lot of excitation or conflict. There are recognizable patterns: hysterical bodies are overactive, self-defeating; masochistic bodies are dense and heavily muscled; schizoid bodies are fragmented, the parts don't seem to go together, some are overstiff and others are weak.
​  ​Keen: The poker and the marshmallow or the hypertonic and the atonic represent the extremes in body types.
  ​Keleman:​ Right. I also divide the body arbitrarily into upper and lower halves. The lower half of the body gives me clues about how a person relates to the instinctual world. Sexuality and excretion reflect the relation to the private instinctual world, and the legs and feet show how a person feels about independence and grounding. The upper body represents the way a person lives in a social world. By noticing the arms, hands, chest, and face I get an idea of how a person reaches out to manipulate and love the world. I am interested in the relation between the instinctual and the social worlds. Is the upper body more developed than the lower? If so, the person may have had a very restrictive upbringing and may have compensated by controlling upper-body movements at the cost of cutting off involuntary sexual feelings and movements. Or the lower half of the body may be overdeveloped. Women who received a lot of reinforcement for being attractive and sexy, for loving their daddies, often are alive and have a lot of movement in their lower bodies but have sunken chests and dull eyes; they look frightened and submissive and lacking in the force necessary to challenge life.
​  A person's structural and movement patterns are existential statements about how he lives in the world.

​~ ~ ~

​Sam Keen
​​​​But this isn't merely academic discussion, nor only a matter of ideas and abstractions, for, as Wilhelm Reich discovered, such things are all quite visible and can be seen right there in the physical reality of the human body. In brief, attitudes become postures and actual stances as well.

​Keleman: ​He (Reich) developed a theory of character armor which said that distortions of the libido were always manifest in chronic muscular contractions and frozen body dispositions. He saw that major character and body traits had the function of regulating feeling and energy. The physiological and the psychological are two foci of the same process; the character armor shows in the chronic muscular contractions that make a stiff neck, a determined jaw, an overinflated chest, or a tight flat abdomen. Chronic muscular contractions diminish sensations, diminish movement, and diminish the ability of self-expression and so they encapsulate a limited and unrealistic self-image. If a person cuts off feelings of anger or sexual sensations he will create a self-image that protects his chosen limitations, he will defend a philosophy of life that states that anger is bad and sexuality is a dangerous force needing severe restraint.

~ ~ ~

​Yet be very leery of letting any norms and standards come in that usurp the great variety found in life naturally, so that soon no room is left for individual differences.

​Keleman: Nowhere in Reich or Lowen is provision made for what Jung called the introverted personality. Some people choose to let the world come to them and are not terribly aggressive. Their sexual style reflects this choice. What's wrong with that?
​   People are so different. Some bodies are Gothic in appearance, others look like Rembrandet or El Greco paintings. I take these differences seriously. Some people make sharp, analytical penetrating movements in the world; their energy works in sharp spurts and then retracts. Others make soft and sustained contact and their energy is patterned like waves that rise and fall slowly. Some people need very shorp boundaries and others are softer and more diffuse.

​. . . But blocks are not overcome merely by experiencing them and gaining insight into their origins. A person begins to experience the world in a different way. When the character armor begins to break up, vibrations, pulsations, and streaming sensations bring new awareness of life into previously deadened areas of the body. That is exciting but also scary. It takes time to be able to tolerate greater aliveness.

~ ~ ~

And recognize that some things come to fruition only in maturity. 

​Keleman: ​But I don't think every form of social conduct can be called mature. As a person moves toward maturity, sexual excitation becomes secondary. It is the deepened feelings that become the determining factor in sexual life. And for feeling to develop there must be some containment of sexual excitation. My experience tells me that unless I care for somebody in a relationship with a lot of continuity, I will not be deeply satisfied. The ability to stay with my feelings, and not see them as something to be purged, creates a sense of anticipation, a hunger for the richest fulfillment possible. Denial and containment is itself a pleasure when it means my feelings are deepening. Even Charles Lamb understood "the ecstasy of modesty." I believe in the care and nurture of excitation, in allowing it to ripen into mature feelings.

​~ ~ ~

Finally, one must decide just where they choose to stand in the timeless debates of the ages on the actual nature of the self, or on where individual responsiblity enters in, and on the part an individual's personal action plays in the whole of existence and any human life.

​Keleman: ​I don't buy the rhetoric that came out of the sensory awakening movement or out of Gestalt therapy that we have to "lose our minds and come to our senses." This view is based on the myth of innocence: all we have to do is become passive to our experience, let it all flow, merge into what is already happening. But this leaves out action. We are participants in the ongoing drama of life.

​. . . Look, it is very easy to be a cosmic being, to sink into Unity. You are born a cosmic being. When you come out of your mother's womb you are in touch with universal cosmic life. But you have very little individuality. The process of declaring or taking possession of your embodiment requires that you affirm who you are. In a sense you must turn your back on the universal if you want to claim your right as a human being. And anyone who refuses to become an individual is a shame to God or the cosmic process, because he is dealing with God's business and not his own. He denies the meaning of being born. The fact of being born is already a statement of incarnation. It involves saying no to a cosmological life, a life of polymorphous perversity, a life without boundaries or limits. One of my teachers, Karlfried Durckheim, taught me a powerful lesson: 'You never kill the ego, you only find that it lives in a larger house than you thought.'

"The authentic religious affirmation is contained in our self-affirmation."

~ ~ ~

Extensive samplings of topics from Stanley's work are an ongoing part of this page on a regular basis, as well as its being discussed directly in The Human Realm Group housed on Facebook. Look for a fresh posting every month or so.  (Clicking on the button below will open a window that will take you directly to Stanley's Center for Energetic Studies website.) --G.R.