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Book excerpt: Walking in Your Shoes Walking Is Understanding A Great Alternative to Family Constellation Work



Christian Assel

Walking in Your Shoes

Walking Is Understanding

A Great Alternative to
Family Constellation Work

With a foreword by Joseph Culp

Table of Contents

Foreword by Joseph Culp
Author's Preface  
Introduction or: How It All Started

Chapter 1
What is Walking-in-Your-Shoes?

The Procedure of Walking-in-Your-Shoes
Which Roles Are Suited?
The Walk Begins

Chapter 2
Examples of „Classical“ Processes of Walking-in-Your-Shoes
Asperger Syndrome?
Ghost Train
Sore Feet
Grandpa Leo
The Stately Grandfather
Walk With A Pet

Chapter 3
Family Constellation
The Procedure
The Essentials of Family Constellation

Chapter 4
Selected Examples of Family Constellations
Time Out Family
Mother in the Mirror
Twin Brothers
Nail in the Wall
Compulsive Masturbation
Native American Bodyworker
Book TV Screen
Father Hangs Himself for Daughter?
Mother Stays, so that Daughter Stays
Dog Needs Petting

Chapter 5
Walking-in-Your-Shoes Combination With Systemic Elements from Family Constellation
The Wall of Silence
Aborted Child
The Vocation
Father's Unresolved Issue
Manager and Employee
Tiger Cage
Asperger Syndrome Number 2?

Chapter 6
Further Considerations and Thoughts
Why Representation Works or: Rediscovering the Mystical
The Soul or: What Is Really Taking Place?

Interview with Co-founder Joseph Culp
Interview with Founders, John Cogswell and Joseph Culp

About the Author

Foreword by Joseph Culp
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.  
August, 2010
Santa Monica, California

Chapter 1
What Is Walking-in-Your-Shoes?

Completely new to Germany, Walking-in-Your-Shoes is a new and unique method that impressively facilitates appreciation for people and elements, including your own family (present or original). It is based on the understanding that, as soon as you get to know someone intimately, including his motivations, his essence, his soul, it becomes so much easier to respect and acknowledge him exactly as he is. This “knowing” is a way to promote good relationships with one another, and to foster heightened power and potential – for both of you. Walking-in-Your-Shoes is also suitable for better understanding of an animal on an inner level. It is possible to “walk” an animal in the same way as you would “walk” another human being. The “walking” is to be taken quite literally. In a group situation, you select someone from the group to “walk” a certain person for you. This person then moves in the space as you assist him internally. By means of the physical movement, the walking person enters the actual role he represents. In that moment he is the other person, and is often able to report surprising details. Unknown realities, that previously lay hidden, are revealed and made accessible for you. Essentially Walking-in-Your-Shoes is about making the invisible visible.
There has been much speculation about the question: How is it possible that a representative can sense anything about the role he takes on? Many authors focus primarily on this issue in their books. So far, no one has come up with a really lucid explanation. I, for one, am not enthused about engaging in those kinds of explanatory models, because I am not much interested in wanting to find an explanation for something inexplicable. To me, power lies in stopping at these limits and in saying, “I cannot explain it, therefore I do not want to know it. It is enough for me to know that it works.”
As I explained earlier, Walking-in-Your-Shoes quickly spread beyond its origins in the world of acting, because of the recognition, that the “walking” was not confined to movie or stage roles only, but could be applied as well to real life roles – meaning, to real persons. In principle, you can have anybody “walked”: your mother, your father, a sister or a brother, a child, a deceased person, any other relative, a problem figure, a colleague, a co-worker, your boss, a stage or movie role, as well as yourself, your inner child, your future, your “blind spot,” your vocation etc. If you intend to work on relational issues, “double walking” can be applied, where two people are walking simultaneously, as we pay attention to the way they relate to each other and to their possible interaction.
Walking-in-Your-Shoes is about revealing what was hidden. We look upon certain people, animals or elements on a deeper level, in order to get to know them better. On this level, which might be called the “soul” level, we get to see someone or something in a particularly authentic and undisguised manner. I can see what makes someone “tick,” i.e., how he sees and senses himself in the world at large; what he has and what he needs; his ideal and his difficulties. If I get to know something or someone better, it becomes much easier to develop empathy and compassion and to relate on a deeper level altogether. As a result, I find it easier to feel appreciation and love in relationship to the person, the animal or the element, and to act accordingly, in order to foster a sense of togetherness both on the large and the small scale. And, Walking-in-Your-Shoes is a chance for growth for myself as well, because I can discover what the nature of other people's relationship to me is about, and mine to them. Many Walking-roles answer my own questions. As I come closer to the “appearance,” I go deeper into myself as well.
There are similarities with Family Constellation work, of course, in so far as representatives are being used for a process that creates the possibility for a tremendously unique perception of another being. Likewise, we look upon the happenings from outside and, most of all, as we walk, we perceive a deeper level of the soul, which is informative with regard to the true reality and the true nature of any given person, animal or element. Both techniques are rooted in the same source, so to speak. But, Family Constellation work differs from Walking-in-Your-Shoes, as the perspective and the preparation vary significantly. In Family Constellation, my view is focused on the system, i.e., I draw up a kind of “genogram,” where I keep an eye on any individuals who might play an important role in finding resolution. I shed light on entanglements within the system, and I introduce the important people or elements into the constellation in order to find ways of resolution. In this way, generation-spanning conflicts within the system can be uncovered, worked on and cleared through newly found approaches.
In Walking-in-Your-Shoes, however, I do not look upon the system as a whole; instead I focus primarily on an individual, an animal or an element per se. In this way I get to understand the fears, the joys, the hardships, the suffering, the longings and the beliefs of the other more clearly. By means of understanding how someone or something is made up “internally,” it becomes easier to respect the individual, the animal or the element and agree to their being more readily – namely, in exactly the way that the “character” as a whole shows up in the walking. In that case, recognition and respect themselves present the “solution,” no matter if the walking is being undertaken for myself, for an important person in my life, or for one of my aspects – like a symptom, a disease or a pain.

The Procedure of Walking-in-Your-Shoes

In the beginning the role of the “walker” is determined. The choice is not always clear and definitive right away, which is why we talk about the situation and the objective a little bit, and I point out which role might be most suitable. The next step is about selecting someone, from the participating group, who will “walk” this role for the other participant. This means that the participant does not walk himself; instead, he picks another member of the group as a representative. Now the “walker” prepares himself for the task at hand by emptying himself mentally and disregarding the surroundings. He puts himself completely at the service of the subsequent process and lets himself in for whatever will show up, refraining from evaluation or interpretation. The walker repeats and names the assigned role aloud for everyone to hear: “I am . . .[Name of the role] now.”
Then the Walk starts with the very first step. The walker begins to walk, i.e., to move in the space. Everything else shows up and results from what the walker senses in his role outside and inside of him. No standards are given, and anything can happen (As you will find out in the examples). The procedure is so very interesting because everything that appears in the walk has so much to do with the real person, the real animal or the real element which is represented. We do not know why that is, but it is always amazing how precisely the disclosed information matches the reality, so that many participants are downright perplexed about how accurately a certain individual or an animal shows up in the representation. Although the walker has no – consciously known – information about his role, he comes surprisingly close to this person, animal or element, as he walks it. Many participants have asked me how it is possible that a stranger can experience the role of another human, animal or element with such precision. In that case I have to admit: I don't know. I cannot explain it and I don't want to try to explain it. To me the following idea is enough: Every participant carries “his” information with him in a way that is inaccessible to the mind. By means of certain tools such as the Walking, we can render this information visible and fruitful. (Learn more about it in Chapter Six) Some participants have asked me also if this might lead to a situation in which we come too close to a person, and elicit information from them that they would rather not reveal. But a walk is just a snapshot in time, and whatever becomes apparent is only valid for the time being. Besides, we do not practice fortune telling; neither do we claim “truth” for ourselves. If something proves to be true at all, this applies only if the walk changes anything in the participant's life or well-being for the better.
At the end of the process, when something crucial has appeared, it is recommended to release the “walker” from the role. A good way to do that is by thanking the “walker” and calling him by his real first name: “Now you are . . .[Name] again.” In rare cases, a walker might get so absorbed by a particular role, that he can still feel the reverberations of the experience for some time after the end of the walk, when he is already back in his chair. That is quite natural and is related to the fact that the walker has to reclaim his own personality after having spent some time outside of his usual identification with his own persona. Very rarely, someone sticks to the role nevertheless. In that case, other concrete measures can provide a remedy, such as bowing to the destiny of the real person who has been “walked,” with full awareness and with an attitude of recognition and respect. That can be done also with the whole group, since all participants have been involved in the proceedings as witnesses.

Which Roles Are Beneficial?

Basically there is nothing you cannot choose for a role. For me, the limit has been reached if you pick a role beyond your own field of experience and without real meaning for you personally. That would mean to enter the realm of arbitrariness and mere curiosity. In that case you might want to ask yourself if the method is still being used productively and responsibly. Besides, you might rather want to use your time for another, more useful walk. Still, there are seemingly unlimited possibilities. It might be useful to have yourself walked, or the father, the mother, a child or other member of the family. In order to make the right choice of role for you, ask yourself the following question: “Which role is most likely to provide answers and most support my situation at this point in my life? What kind of understanding would help me to take the next step?” Although we look into the individual particulars as we walk, they constitute a part of a system, and are decisively informed by it. Therefore, it makes sense, when we select the role, to look at other figures within the system as well – regardless of whether they are deceased or still alive. This method shows again and again that our connection to deceased individuals is not “dead,” quite the contrary. The relationship with all who belong to the family (present, as well as original), remains alive. The deceased are not just “gone”; rather they often continue to play an important role. In a certain way one could say that even the deceased remain alive, and a good relationship with them creates power, so that many things become easier for us. Furthermore, our system includes individuals who have been fateful in a particular way for us – such as the other party in an accident, or people who suffered a disadvantage through our actions, etc.
If the relationship with significant individuals is difficult, no matter in which way, it creates a difficult area within us as well. It will show up in our body, in our behavior, or in our points of view. Therefore it might be important to examine our relations with alive or deceased individuals in a walking, and renew them, if necessary, in order to honor them.
The Indian chief of the Pomo, who opened the 1st U.S. Conference on Systemic Constellation in Portland, Oregon in 2005, said something very touching to us “Westerners.” If I were to reduce his long and interesting speech to a single sentence, it would be:
“I am glad, that finally you found a way to practice and to understand a principle, which has worked very well in our culture for thousands of years . . . Whenever we are in need of healing, we call upon our ancestors.”
Previous partners can be walked as well. They still belong to the system and matter, because they were fateful for us. Even though the former couple relationship may no longer be “active” and belongs to our past, the connection remains forever. Disregarded relations can create enormous conflict, if they are overlooked.
In the same way, you can pick a person from your living and working environment who you have problems with, like a colleague or a neighbor, etc. This may help you to get a new understanding of someone, because it is only when we don't understand a person that he can pose a problem for us. An insight into another person's being can provide a key to a new kind of behavior – towards ourselves as well as towards other people. It is also possible to walk an animal. This is an especially productive area with a great deal of potential yet to be discovered. Pets share the lives of “their” humans; they get a sense of subtle undercurrents and troubles, and are sensitive to emotional and mental circumstances as well as changes. If you want to get clear about the life of an animal or the nature of your relationship to it, a walking can create a double effect in many cases. Often you can help an animal only if you help the human as well. Animals tend to take on the human's problems and burdens; a fact which is often noticed very late or not at all. Therefore, it is necessary to gain an insight into some core issue from within the human area, in order to relieve an animal. If we recognize what the animal looks upon, this may provide an important indicator for the overlooked issues of the human. And if the human solves the problem, the animal is relieved as well.
You can also walk a certain aspect of a person, for instance, the inner child, the “blind spot” (you can always find one) or an underdeveloped area of your personality. It could be your vocation, the addiction, the future, your self-esteem . . . and so on. In any case, the sentence, “There is never enough appreciation!” holds true for me.

The Walk Begins

The walk begins with the first step. Maybe the walker needs to orientate himself and find his way within the role first; in this case it makes sense if he simply moves, meaning “walks,” within the space first. Any other movement works alike, and it is recommended to not predefine it. Sometimes a role is characterized by the fact that it is not even possible to take the first step. At other times a walk is determined by a sense of stagnation and heaviness; this is an important clue, and to force walking would be pointless. And sometimes a walk is informed by ease and vigor.
After the first steps I can observe the way in which the walker walks, any prominent feature or characteristic. Does he take big or small steps; does he walk slow or fast; is there a rhythm or a pattern; does he walk with, or rather without good energy; where does he look? How do I perceive the walk; how does the walker himself perceive the walk? What is it that takes place in front of me? I try to understand what goes on exactly. What happens really?
Through the act of walking, the body is set in motion, maybe into some kind of rhythm, and energy is being released. The movement of energy releases images, emotions and impressions that are closely related to the role. This is what we are looking for, what we want to work out.
While the walker remains in the role and continues to “walk,” I question him about his own perceptions, possible experiences of images or sensations, and the particulars of the process. I try to get an idea of what is going on. My observations and my questions are the means to work out the significant details for the participant who “walks,” as well as for the whole group. Here it is important to refrain from interpretation and to stick to the happenings closely. I do not enter my imagination; in my thoughts and images I remain close to what can be observed.
It is equally important to focus on the essential communication of any particular walk. I do this by questioning the walker about his own perceptions. The whole point of this process lies within the discovery of the essential and most significant message, and that should be the only criteria for any questions to the walker.

© Windpferdverlag Oberstdorf, Germany 2010


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