The Elephant (or duck) in the Room

May 19th, 2014






“Just scan your client and allow yourself to see the most obvious thing about them. What is the story their being is trying to express?”



© Marcus Soderland/Barcroft media

© Marcus Soderland/Barcroft media


This was the somewhat unconventional instructions I gave my diploma students last weekend when treating outpatients and each other. Instead of choosing the more classical zen shiatsu diagnostic methods – observing body type, posture, face, foot positions, palpating diagnostic zones like the hara, back areas, meridians, taking a medical history and so on – I wanted them to see just how much information was available when we relax our mind and see what is actually there.



There is a classical saying about diagnosis that goes something like this:



“The master observes. The competent therapist palpates. The mediocre must ask the ten dumb questions.”



Now, in practice, a therapist will probably use a mixture of all these methods. It is not stupid to ask questions for example. It is just that one would not want to base their whole diagnosis on what a client reports. Why?



Because if someone was fully conscious of all the factors creating their problem they would no longer be manifesting it.



Marianne Rosen, the founder of Rosen therapy told me once (in thick Germanic English) about a typical treatment session with her:


“Well, first I ask the client why they have come to see me. Then they lie to me. And then I begin the treatment.”


Of course she was not accusing her clients of consciously lying to her. Her contention was that if a client thought they knew the reason/trauma/events behind their emotional and physical problems – but continued to experience the problem – those were not the (true) reasons.




The elephant in the room


© Leo Cullen

© Leo Cullen


This is a saying to describe those nagging, uncomfortable subjects on the edge of consciousness that are being repressed or ignored by groups or individuals. The elephant in question may be the subject of shame, embarrassment, fear or pain that our unconscious mind is pushing us to address once and for all.


The unconscious after all, is constantly inventing ways to make itself conscious to us. How much we try to repress or avoid it is in direct proportion to how large that elephant grows. That can really crowd out a room.


The interesting thing about these elephants is that they are the most obvious thing about a person – at least to someone with the ‘soft eyes’ to see them…



‘Soft eyes’


This was a term coined by colleague Chris McAllister during a book writing session.[1] He was referring to an unfocused gaze using the peripheral vision in order to pick up on small details in client reactions or phenomena going on in their energy field.


soft eyes


It is a more relaxed and passive use of vision than when we are trying to actively look for something. It allows small details on the edge of consciousness to come to us instead of searching earnestly. It is the essence of what the ancient Taoists called Wu Wei or non-doing.


This technique allows us to see things that may not be immediately obvious – to us or the client. What I personally like most about the term ‘soft eyes’ is that it suggests that what is seen is treated softly and with non-judgmental gentleness.



A duck on the head


Among the many and varied Discworld characters created by novelist Terry Pratchett there exists a group of wandering street urchins. One has a duck on his head. When asked why he has a duck on his head he replies: “What duck?”


This imagery has also been used by cartoonist Michael Leunig to illustrate parts of his subject’s personality – like sweetness, sadness or disappointment – that is often unconscious to them.


© Michael Leunig

© Michael Leunig


In a treatment session, if a therapist mentions such a ‘duck’ that may be obvious to them but not (yet) to the client the likely result is for the client to deny it and defend themselves. In rare cases they may even become accusatory to the therapist.


If it is close enough to the edge of their consciousness however, even a simple statement can precipitate an enormous breakthrough. So we need to have our ducks lined up before we present them to their owners.




‘Love a duck’- the role of love in healing



The most laudable skill a therapist of any discipline can possess is not cleverness but compassion and love.



This is because such a therapist sees beyond the ‘faults’ of the duck on the head (or the elephant in the room) and into the being.


Our being does not suffer from the quirks of our all too human personality traits. It is the part of us that always knows our truth and is always unconditionally loving and accepting of it.


By focusing on that part in another with love and compassion we encourage them to do the same within themselves.




Chi and consciousness


In traditional chi-energy medicine like shiatsu and acupuncture the definition of disease is a blockage or hindrance of chi flow somewhere in the body-mind. The aim therefore is to re-establish a more harmonious flow of chi.


When we also see that chi is an expression of consciousness we can understand that a blockage of chi will likely include a blockage in our conscious connection to ourselves. This consciousness blockage then separates and creates its own life as the duck on the head or the elephant in the room.


In fact, it becomes the most obvious thing about us – at least to those with the (soft) eyes to see it.




Till we can view the ducks and elephants of another Monday in a softer, gentler way.





[1] Stay tuned energy-consciousness fans. There will (finally) be a book coming out in the early new year by myself and colleagues, Chris McAllister, Janne Nevelius with Filippa Werner.



© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:






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