FOREWARD TO CHRISTIAN ASSEL’S BOOK ON “WALKING-IN-YOUR-SHOES”
Walking-In-Your-Shoes is a transformational process. It is a method which uses our natural gifts for transcendence and empathy to deeply relate to another being. I often refer to it as “spontaneous empathy”. The technique is simple yet profound: In a supportive group setting, or with a facilitator, one states the intention to be another person and begins to move in the space, refraining from imitations or cognitive guesswork, and tunes into the energies and feelings of the body. During the walking, one experiences a shift of awareness and spontaneously manifests behavior aspects, emotional/psychological states and life-themes of the person they are walking. The information manifested has been found to have a high degree of accuracy whether the Walker has knowledge of the person or not. People who have been walked frequently report that they have never before felt so understood and accepted, and those who walk experience a sense of liberation by temporarily "stepping out" of their often limiting self-concept. The profound implications of this process took me on a personal journey of practice and discovery for over twenty years. I have seen many lives transformed in positive ways by Walking-In-Your-Shoes. Here, at last, in Christian Assel’s book, the beauty and wisdom of this process is available for all.
When psychologist Dr. John Cogswell and I first began our investigations into this body/mind technique back in the mid-1980’s, we soon discovered that no amount of discussion could adequately explain what was taking place. Cogswell first called it “Walking-In-Shoes” because of the old Native American proverb, “You can never know another human being until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”. We were taking this idea to an experiential level using simple body/mind awareness and we were astonished at the results. How could one simply set an intention and “walk” as someone else, and spontaneously reveal the other’s inner life with such accuracy? To explain the phenomenon is speculative at best and as of today there are no scientific studies that can prove what is happening in this process. We also found great resistance to the practice, in ourselves and others, because the activity of walking as another challenges some very basic beliefs about the nature of reality. This resistance, we later agreed, is what can make it difficult for a practice like WIYS to flourish. What Cogswell and I and many other therapists, actors, artists, and lay people who helped develop the process could agree on were the beneficial effects of the practice: People were helping other people transform their consciousness through a kind of affective attunement and mirroring, and both the Walker and the person being Walked felt more alive, compassionate and empowered to be their true selves. We saw breakthrough after breakthrough—We could walk our mothers and fathers, our spouses and partners, our friends and employers, and the ancestors who are still influencing us today. For two decades Cogswell and other therapists continued to explore the technique in the field of psychology, business, conflict resolution and community renewal while I pushed ahead with groups of performing artists. I found in addition to the objectives of the therapeutic model that Walking could be applied to anything one wanted to experience—loved ones, friends, enemies, ancestors, (alive or dead), fictional characters, archetypes, dreams, future planning and ideas. I now consider Walking a foundational tool for the actor, writer and director because it allows both personal and collective unconscious material to naturally manifest through the artist and inform the work at hand, giving it personal connection and deeper resonance. How it works is something for continued research and study, and, as we found, requires some extensive discussions on metaphysical theory. But all intellectual discussion aside, after seeing, guiding and performing hundreds of Walks, the one thing I can be sure of is that the Walking process most certainly does work. It helps people access their gift for “spontaneous empathy”, brings about compassion and self-empowerment, and has the potential to transform human lives for the better.
In addition to helping us heal personal wounds, raise self-esteem, facilitate communication in family and society, we need a practice like Walking-In-Your-Shoes to challenge our epistemological view. At the heart of the process is the opportunity for us to break out of our limiting self-concepts and move into our deeper natures of love, compassion and what the Buddhists call “mirror-like wisdom.” It's about getting past our rigid concepts about reality and more importantly, about ourselves. It's about letting go, at least temporarily, of the belief we all carry that we are somehow inherently separate. Quantum physics and all the highest teachings in every religion say the same thing: Separateness is an illusion. We are all actually one and we are everything that is. It doesn't matter what you believe. It goes beyond the ego that has to believe in things. It's not about being “psychic” and if it is, then it's the psychic ability in all of us. Of course we can be each other...because we already are.
And now the news is out! Christian Assel’s book on Walking-In-Your-Shoes marks a culmination of years of study and practice by many people in this powerful technique. Assel’s years of experience in Family Constellation work provides the perfect foundation for WIYS to flourish and grow and find its place in our world. This important book also marks what I hope is a new beginning in modern psychology and contemporary culture, where the use of transpersonal methods become practical and even commonplace. I envision a world where Walking Groups are as common as 12 Step support, yoga class or the gym, but instead where people can go to practice their innate gift for empathy, resolve internal and external conflicts and help empower each other to be more fully alive. Christian Assel’s book is the first “step” in a long “walk” we can take together in transforming our world through this kind of service. I hope it will inspire those looking for an experience of greater depth and aliveness. I hope it will inspire others to practice the technique and form their own Walking groups all over the world. Maybe it will inspire you to take a journey, as I did, to learn that the whole body is the mind and that by simply setting an intention and giving in to emptiness, one can experience other people, other worlds and the deep reaches of the human psyche.
Santa Monica, California