We have the innate capacity for the never-ending dance of falling, finding support, reorienting, and responding anew to each moment, again and again. We have the possibility to relate to the world with flow, presence, ease, and joy. — Pilar Martin*
Pilar Martin’s medium is the human body, the human condition, and our shape-shifting capacity to develop and heal. She believes that in our culture we think we can “get it together,” fix our bodies, and then relate to others. But the opposite is true. Everything we do to heal the body—going to the gym, seeing doctors, eating well—all happens in relationship with others. Healing does not take place in a vacuum.
As a Certified Advanced Rolfer, nurse-midwife, and somatic practitioner, Pilar’s methods involve the skillful means of listening to the human organism. Life is marked by change and movement. By listening to any part of a client’s body, Pilar can feel where movement is impeded. She listens with her hands, which are very attuned after 30 years. She discerns with her eyes and intuition, seeing where the body is bound or confused. The places where movement is stuck speak to her—this is why clients and students call Pilar the “body whisperer.”
For Pilar, the human being consists of soma-psychology, karma, astrology, and habitual patterns. In a person’s shape and gesture—comprised of flesh and psychology—the full being is expressed through body, energy, and mind. The spirit unfolds broadly, encompassing a person’s psychology in relation to the universal context. Pilar maintains that, as humans, we must be met with support in order to thrive. The more support we have, the more potential there is for our seamless movement. We can then relate in healthy ways within the bigger mandala of our lives.
Pilar has been seeing about 20 clients a week for 30 years. How can she sustain this? She finds each person, and each session, to be a new adventure. With her clients’ unfoldment comes novelty and deepening. Pilar finds that no protocol is applicable, because she is always meeting the unknown, that which is contracting and expanding, beyond mere physical healing. This is where spiritual practice comes in. Upon the basis of skeleto-musculature healing and calming energies, how does one go beyond physicality to the psychological and emotional plane? Having taken Dharma teachings, Pilar works within a context beyond phenomenology. She describes it as a dance between her and the people who seek her support. What does the spiritual mean to her? It is the subtler layers of the mandala unfolding.
Each body is a unique mandala. Pilar understands that, with experience, the paradigm shifts from “either/or” to the nonduality of mandala. She treats people by relating to them from the richness of mandala—beyond “healthy/unhealthy” and “stuck/unstuck” dichotomies. The front, back, sides, center, anticenter, and all directions, this is the mandala—empty, fluid, congruent; opening as the potential of action. Pilar says the pathologies and distortions of the body are fixations on a duality that is experienced, yet isn’t inherently true. The lack of recognition of our inherent Buddha-nature is our original amnesia!
The archetype of the torus form clearly expresses a three-dimensional mandala, well suited to understanding the human form and energy body. The flow happens in the empty space within us—in our spinal cord fluid, lymph, blood, breath. Our core is empty, yet contains these systems. This contrasts with the idea of “core strengthening” in popular culture. The gross level of core tightening is the opposite of what Pilar practices with clients. She says we cannot achieve wellness out of duty, force, control, or effort. Her point is not to tighten the core, but to engage the empty space of one’s core by fully relating to the periphery. How does one meet the Earth? With gravity, in space—relating front to back, side to side, crown to tail, like a fully adept dancer or yogi.
The original schools of yoga, martial arts, and Sufi spinning are examples of totally experiential mystical playgrounds, not fitness playgrounds. In these non-conceptual arenas, we see our avoidance, our preferencing. In these practices, we can experience ourselves authentically—where we inhibit, and become disoriented or traumatized. For Pilar, it all goes back to midwifery. She is a midwife for adults’ unfoldment of their own liberation. She cannot do it for them, only provide a mirror. The body whisperer does not fix anyone. Rather, she supports clients in accessing layers of their own soma-psyche-mystic being to heal themselves.
Pilar’s life as a master Rolfer in California is a far cry from her childhood in Madrid. As a child, living under Franco’s fascist regime, she was scared of others. In such a repressed society, people felt they could not trust one another. She moved to Ibiza for many years, and then to California with her Norwegian husband. As an adult, Pilar felt that motherhood would be an opportunity for her to build a bridge toward larger humanity. Though not believing herself maternal, she understood that it would be a stepping-stone for her growth. The experience of being a mother became an enormous opportunity to release her childhood issues. She was able to see where her own parents’ parenting and her childhood context had not been supportive. In seeing this she learned to parent herself and her son at the same time. Her son, Kevin, is now 18 and a fine young man in every way, passionate about the arts and sciences. Pilar says that due to her training she could see her inhibitions and heal her past by offering what she did not originally receive. She describes it as a process of letting go again and again. As a mom she was able to engage this transformative process without difficulty, but says her karmic knots went deeper as a wife, and have been harder to let go.
The world of Rolfing is a community of curious humans inquiring into different areas of humanity, beyond the medical paradigm. Like other kinds of somatic practitioners, they are keenly interested in shape, gesture, and movement. What is unique about the founder, Ida Rolf, is that she placed human health in relation to gravity and to space—she was a pioneer in this way. Pilar’s work is based on these principles and her methods are inspired not only by issues with the body’s connective tissues, but by osteopathy, movement, and phenomenology.
Pilar studied phenomenology with Rolf Movement teacher Hubert Godard, and through him she understood that one cannot be a healthy human being alone, because all of life is relational. The world influences us in every way. Hubert presented this context in a way Pilar later understood as the “outer sky,” the larger context for experience. She learned from his passion for movement: from biomechanics, body techniques, and psychology, to the aesthetic of human expression. Having pursued a dance career, Hubert then conducted his own research into somatic techniques. This led him to investigate functional rehabilitation, biomechanics, and the nervous system’s function in motricity.** His teachings and mentorship are ingrained in Pilar.
In the last five years, Pilar has sought out further guidance on the soma-psyche-spirit connection. In teachings with her Buddhist lama, she has been introduced to further layers of sky, like concentric circles of experience. For her, awareness—outer, inner, and secret—have come together over time from study with these two masters.
Our physical structure is designed to naturally and instinctively receive support from both gravity and light, to find stability in a constantly moving world. Yet when we sense or feel that we are losing support, either physically, emotionally, or spiritually, we grasp, contract and lose our balance, becoming disoriented. — Pilar Martin*
Gravity is the only constant in a sea of ever-moving phenomena. With advanced practice, one can find support in space and in groundedness. Pilar’s Buddhist teacher has said: “You can rest in gravity—but how can you rest in space?” Dzogchen teachings are sustenance for Pilar’s meditation practice, and the lama’s question her is koan. She takes deep inspiration from the writings of Longchen Rabjampa, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, and Chogyam Trungpa.
Action happens within phenomenal space. If someone has confusion in their perceptions, their access to space may be temporarily unavailable. Pilar’s work is to open this with people. It can be difficult—this possibility to adventure—without enough support. Supports can be physical—gravity, Mother Earth, the mother principle, physics, metaphysics, or psychology. Supports can be spiritual. Whichever realm the support comes from, one relies on it for venturing into new territory. All of this is expressed through the body as the body cannot lie. All is apparent. The journey starts at birth, with the curiosity of what this life is all about. Becoming a midwife was a way for Pilar to initially seek answers to the great mysteries of body and spirit.
Pilar became a Rolfer to address the question of why humans stagnate and shape-shift. In relation to the ground and to the display, in the context of the human being, she wanted to explore and understand the inner and outer sources of support. How does the body create “holdings” to compensate for a lack of support? Holdings, or co-contractions, and grasping are protections from confusion between support and freedom. Freedom is in our latent action. This is why she engages with humans in space—to help them to free their own potentiality.
We tend to respond to the world in the same way every time, yet we have the innate capacity to meet each moment anew. We can discover our desire for embodiment, new patterns of movement, and the capacity to respond to life more creatively. — Pilar Martin*
As a child, Pilar feared being lost in space, like an astronaut. Laying in her little bed at night, she would suddenly panic about flying up into space, absent of gravity. In stark 1960s Madrid, she had no one in whom she could confide. As an adult, she was drawn to Zen Buddhism as nothingness spoke to her. She later visited Vajrayana temples, but found their imagery overwhelming. But in meeting a qualified lama, she made a connection with the Vajrayana teachings. Now, Pilar says, he is her midwife and she bows to this, knowing how vital the role is. Through the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, she has connected to precious wisdom teachings. She views the dharmakaya as the great void, a full, vibrant emptiness. She sees nirmanakaya as the wisdom mandala unfolding on the planet—her familiar territory. More elusive for her is the sambhogakaya realm, so she takes it as the meditational focus in her personal practice exploration.
After many years of meditating, Pilar finds that this sky gazes back at her! Sambhogakaya, the radiant display, gazes back at her. As with the torus, all is happening simultaneously. Normally, we only notice one-directional seeing. Pilar puzzles about seeing fractals in the natural world, and in the unseen world. What is emptiness? Who is cognizing emptiness? For many, their reference point for the sacred in phenomena is called God. But Pilar feels this is related to the true nature of the human being. She finds exploring the meaning of the sambhogakaya realm to be simultaneously amazing and humbling. She offers gratitude to the lama-midwife, and anticipates each new revelation on her horizon with joy.
** Hubert Godard (Rolfing)
A Vajrayana Buddhist practitioner since 2000, Sarah C. Beasley (Sera Kunzang Lhamo) spent close to seven years in retreat under the guidance of Lama Tharchin Rinpoche and Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. She is an experienced teacher, writer, sculptor, photographer, dancer, and Iyengar yoga practitioner. Sarah offers a workshop, “Meditations for Death, Dying & Living,” based on the text Vajrasattva Ceremony for the Dead (Concise Nay Dren). For more information, visit Moondrop.