The practice was formulated by Dr. David Berceli. Over the past decade it has spread across the globe to bring aid to people seeking to discharge traumatic stress through a purely physical approach. His organization has a humanitarian slant, aiming to bring low-cost solutions to people living in conditions where more expensive psychotherapeutic approaches are not available.
Our teacher employed a series of yogic postures to warm up the body, exhaust the legs, and generate tremors in the thighs, hips, and lower back. After an hour of work, our class went into a resting posture for about ten minutes, and when we were finished I noticed that many of my body pains were significantly reduced. The positive results have been sustained for over a week.
The effectiveness of Dr. Berceli’s TRE technique can be explained in purely physiological terms. Author Robert Sapolsky wrote a fascinating book called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, which covers the benefits of releasing trauma through physical movement. Research scientists have discovered that wild animals who encounter ongoing life-threatening situations are skilled at dissipating the longterm impact of stress. Sapolsky believes that human beings could benefit from following the model of our fellow mammals.
Human beings are encoded with a similar self-soothing tremor mechanism, but few people know how to access it. Children do it naturally, but mounting social pressures during early development contributes to an impression that traumatic release is a sign of weakness. Children learn to abort the very process by which their bodies are attempting to discharge stress and maintain strength. As adults, this self-conscious resistance to traumatic release can become a major impediment to our healing.
The desire to appear normal is sometimes so entrenched that we will not allow ourselves to cry or shake, even in the privacy of our own homes. Many people seek solutions from the pharmaceutical industry when the “medicine” is readily available within our own body.
During the TRE session, I became aware of a play on the word psycho-somatic, which would integrate my experience of geometric light during the kinetic release.
This new word was psycho-cymatic. Scientists have outlined a field of study called cymatics, from the Greek root cyma-meaning wave, implying a study of wave forms. Research has shown that sound vibrations have a direct impact on the organization of physical matter. Perhaps you have seen videos where sand has been scattered across a vibrating surface; a single tone frequency is directed toward the center of the plate, causing the materials to spontaneously self-organize into beautiful geometric shapes. As the pitch climbs up in register, it reaches key demarcation points where the previous geometric arrangement temporarily dematerializes and then reconfigures in a more intricate and complex shape.
The Greek words cyma (wave) and soma (body) also relate to sema, a Greek word with two meanings; tomb and sign/symbol. The use of the word sema as tomb originates with the placement of Alexander the Great’s soma (body) in his casket. An interesting composite meaning emerges when these three words – sema soma cyma – are strung together.
As already mentioned, dolphins appear to communicate with one another using a semantic vocabulary of cymatic wave forms. Neuroscientist and clinical psychotherapist John C. Lily bridged the science of cymatics and semantics with his invention of sensory deprivation chambers. These water-tombs are also called floatation tanks. Lily would fill his tanks with saltwater and enter them horizontally, allowing his body to float and experience weightlessness. During these floating sessions, his body was completely cut off from light and sound stimulus. Absence of light and sound in these water-tombs generated mental imagery and auditory hallucinations, which he wrote about extensively in his books and essays.
Lily’s experimentation with internally generated light-and-sound hallucinations coincided with a mounting interest in dolphin communication. During the 1980’s he was the lead on a project that would attempt to teach dolphins a synthetic language. Floatation tanks have since become a staple of Western psychedelic/spiritual counter-culture, with float shops popping up all around the world.
There may be a connection between Lily’s sensory deprivation research and his interest in Buddhism. During the mid 1970’s, Lily published a book called Simulations of God, in which he wrote a famous essay called God As Consciousness-Without-An-Object highlighting the Buddhist notion of sensory deprivation as a path to God.
A variety of methods are employed to help the Buddhist aspirant empty their mind. One practice is called mantra, which involves the prayerful recitation of syllables combined with visualization of deities, followed by a period of silent meditation. During these silent periods, the mind is emptied and becomes a receptive vessel for transmissions from the deity. Monks use a mala, or prayer bead necklace, to count the number of times they have repeated a mantra.
In the Tibetan dialect, mala implies circularity, and it shares an etymological root with the word mandala. I have personally experienced deep states of meditation from chanting mantra in sensory deprivation tanks. Occasionally these float sessions led to the spontaneous emergence of mandalas in my mind’s eye.
Tibetan monks practice the creation of highly intricate sand mandalas as part of their spiritual work. Colors and geometric elements of the mandala are selected to symbolize states of consciousness during the process of awakening. The mandalas are built, shared with the larger community, and then washed away with water to represent the impermanence of life. In this act, they conjure the death of body (sema-soma), the cymatic organization of psychic energy (cyma-mandala) and the creation of a meaning-rich symbol (sema) all at once.
There appears to be a link between acoustic vibrations and the geometric organization of matter and light. Buddhist mantras generate cymatic visualizations in the mind’s eye, similar to the states attained during floatation tank meditations. These same acoustic-geometric patterns appear to be at the root of dolphin communication. Cymatic patterns are also generated by sand placed on a vibrating plate, which may be the secret reason that Buddhist mandalas are built from sand. All of this data points to an underlying principle of unified harmonic order. Sound frequencies traveling through air have an effect on human neurology and the human light body.
Elijah Parker of Onedoorland Stewdios in Portland, Oregon has created a beautiful collection of cymatic artwork under the pseudonym Subliminal Phoenix. The video at the beginning of this article comes from his collection. Elijah and I both have extensive experience working with Procyon Mind Machines, a technology that stimulates the auditory and visual cortex to produce a variety of different fluid mental states. These brainwave entrainment experiences have inspired both of us to create art inspired by the alchemy of tone and color.
There are limitless possibilities and applications in the realm of psycho-cymatic healing. Some of them are based on sensory deprivation and others on sensory stimulation. Here is one more transmission from the psycho-cymatic dimension, brought to you by Subliminal Phoenix. Enjoy!