An interview with Ariel Giarretto

Meeting Ariel Giaretto is a can’t-miss chance. So last spring we had a chat with one of the people who actively took part into the most important changes in the American society in the last years. Today she is active in some of the sex-positive communities of the Bay Area in California. Ariel has been gathering experience at the Esalen Institute in the Nineties, then she met Peter Levine, who got her to teach Somatic Experiencing all around the world, then she designed the Full Embodiment method. She has been always sponsoring the beauty in meeting human beings in their unicity and countless differences.

Under an astonishing clear blue sky, sitting by a white table in the garden of the hotel she is staying in, we asked her some questions.

We found very interesting what you wrote about the fact that most of the difficulties and obstacles we experience in our sexuality can come from some forms of disconnections from our bodies, sensations and desires. At different extent we all suffer from the disconnection from our bodies, our relations with other people and the earth. We would like to know why you think that this process of disconnection is an inevitable consequence of living in the Western culture.

Mostly because of my personal experience and thanks to the way I got in contact with my body in order to be more entirely here, more present and connected to the planet. It comes also from the fact that I realized that very few people are present and aware of their body. If I am not in me, I cannot be connected with you or with other people.

Since we were children, we have been taught to think about but not to feel our own body; this is a missing part for many of us.

This understanding inspired me to take it as a personal mission: helping people meet their own truth, something that sounds as a yes, not superficially, a yes at a very deep level, even deeper that any trauma they could have ever experienced, in the purest part of themselves. I think that if we are more connected to our own body we can be more in balance with the Earth, avoiding hurting each other and being able to get in contact with something beyond intuition, something dealing more with the decisions by our soul. Everything would be different, with our children, with animals, with anything. The more I get in contact with myself, the more I enjoy my life.

Love, sex, creativity and energy can be experienced as a whole in consciousness, but if all these aspects are experienced separately and without being conscious of them, we risk to lose the real joy of life. How can we integrate these immense vital powers through our own bodies?

First of all we have to take off fear. With the Somatic Experiencing method we work for building containment through our body. The bigger the containment, the less we are frightened by this vital energy. In many cases, one of the causes of the problem is coming from the fact that our parents were frightened by this vital energy; we were forced to learn to keep it low, to separate it from our experience. So when we have access to it, we can be deeply frightened by it. We can help people to sense small portions of this vital energy, have access to it and feel comfortable with it. At this stage, people could turn curious about it and eager to sense more of it.

I’ve learnt on my skin how fundamental is a gradual approach, titrated with small drops: when we start taking off fear from any aspect of the human experience, the feedback to this work is a spontaneous yes.

We all know how it is important for children not to feel guilty, refused or judged by their parents for their first contacts with their body and sexuality. Do you have any suggestion on how to take care of such important moments for their future?

Today we know that the first imprintings can take place very early, even far before a child is 4-year-old. I think it is very important to work with couples before they have children, help them to feel their bodies and become aware of their own self-regulation. I like working with women before they get pregnant, in order to let them feel and welcome their babies in a body free from guilt. It is important that parents honor and celebrate their babies’ bodies when they start touching and exploring them. For children it is not dealing with sexuality, but it is like they say “oh, what a nice sensation I feel here and there too….” In order to start feeling at ease with their bodies without feeling guilty.

It all comes from parents, from their way to behave naturally and do not feel guilty when their children ask them “What’s that?” – looking at breast or genitals. The way we answer to their natural curiosity influences the way our children will feel at ease or unease with their bodies. It mostly depends on the first feelings they experience, from the fact they felt guilty and that this feeling can stay with them for all their lives. Looking at children, the only word we can use to describe that status is…magnificent! As child, our body is magnificent.

The key is feeling how we would like to be introduced to sensing our body, how we would like to be supported in exploring it. According to my experience, this is the first step of a deep reworking and dispelling fear. People should work on their bodies this way before having children, that would be the best. I’ve been meeting many women who unconsciously keep closed their pelvic areas, that’s why they found it very difficult to conceive, to let their children come to life through that part of their body. I think this is coming from grandmothers and great-grandmothers and has been happening for many generations. It is a consequence of the way of living they had in the past.

So, the origin of our experiences comes from the past and you talk about “soul”. Now we would like to know how you perceive our existence, the “full embodiment” in what is called the dance between spirit and matter.

That’s a great question.  We could discuss about it for hours…

I think it is a mix: genetics generates an imprinting, our cells have memory, but we have our conscience too and this starts adapting to the imprintings coming from previous generations. We could call it dual, but I think this word is too violent and cannot explain it well. It could be described as a kind of marvel, being here I mean. The conscience of who I am is more real than how I must adapt to the body I came in.

You know, I’ve been studying with Ray Castellino while Dominique was working as a training assistant. Then, when Dominique started attending the training in Somatic Experiencing, I was one of Peter Levine’s assistants, so we built a good relationship.

It is very clear how we come in, how incredible is this sensation.

We are driven by an intention, we have our own way of being and we can fully live our potential even though we have to adapt to our body, the Planet, our history, our parents’ histories and traumas. But Somatic Experiencing, Prenatal & Birth Therapy and Full Embodiment get beyond all, beyond imprinting and back to the essence.

Where Wisdom and Energy of Life are at their utmost.

This is my vision and the core of my job: getting beyond traumas in my body to reach the vital energy, what Ray Castellino calls health concerning the system and Peter Levine defines resilience.

Our magazine is followed by many therapists and pros in helping people; many of the people they assist have experienced sexual abuse. Can you explain us which are the basic principles you found your work on with this kind of trauma?

One of the basic ideas is to restore the perception that our body is a safe place. Restore a sensation of stability in our feet, our legs, of strength in our arms that can protect us in order to create a sense of containment and protection in our body. As long as the person gets gradually in contact with this sensation of protection in their own body and the memory of their childhood, their system starts stabilizing.

Another basic principle is to identify and honor the strategies of survival the person has been using in the past. Dissociation, tightness or the sense of vanishing must be recognized, the person can get aware of these strategies and check if he/she is still using them in the present without using the full range of their potential. The somatic perception of body, the ability to feel we can protect ourselves, to say “this is my space” make the difference. Most of the healing occurs when people realize that now they can protect their own space.

Unfortunately violation of these boundaries usually occurs as children, when children cannot defend themselves, so we have to restore the connections to active defenses because in addition to the trauma consequences, the most frightening thing is the fact that this can happen again.

It is not about saying “Yes, I am self-confident”, but about perceiving the possibility to do anything to protect us.

Another principle the person should learn is to orient and detect dangerous people from inoffensive ones. Especially when abuses occurred within the family and by people who were supposed to protect us, all our reference points are confused and references must be clear again.

It is about coming back to the present, feeling safety here and now in me. Usually it takes some time to reach this sensation, so we have to grant us some time, all the time we need.

And the last principle, another fundamental component of my work, is the ability to restore the sense of trust, to be able to trust people. The right ones.

One of the core principles in human life is to live a good and healthy relationship with our peers. Often verbal and behavioral attitudes are less evident than actions and seem less invasive. What’s the difference between physical and verbal abuse?

It is more difficult to protect from psychological abuse, it is more insidious. But thanks to methods as SE or Full Embodiment we can help a person to understand when a physical invasion occurs, in order to detect the “invader” and react or answer in a proper way according to the situation. The psychological abuse can turn us mad because it is more difficult to detect, can be done in many ways and the abused could not understand it clearly but just perceive there is something wrong.

I could listen to something, but have a completely different perception of it. For example when children grow up in an environment where alcohol or drug abuses are ongoing, they could find it difficult to understand what is happening around them. In this case, usually nobody explains children what is the problem, indeed somebody could say them all is OK even though something dramatic or shocking has happened. In this case children perceive something is wrong, but their perception is invalidated, they start feeling confused and cannot trust their perception of reality.

When we feel we really want something but somebody tell us: “No, you don’t want that thing” – when your experience or intuition is underestimated, when they make you doubt of yourself and you think you are crazy, that’s a psychological abuse for me. When I start thinking I am crazy and not that the situation is crazy…

What’s the relation between addiction and difficult  emotional status?

According to me, part of the healing process is to feel the whole range of the experience. If I feel anxious, can I stay in this anxious status without doing something like having coffee, eating chocolate or smoking a cigarette? In SE we talk about decoupling. Probably there is a vacuum or something that is asking us to be felt. How can I help people to feel what they really wants? If anxiety is perceived as a sense of vacuum, I can suggest them to touch the part of their body where they are feeling this anxiety. This could change something in how they perceive this status and generate a better sense of protection. Once the anxiety lowers down, they could perceive they do not want chocolate anymore, but could realize they need something else, maybe a hug. So we identify the trigger, the stimulus that puts us on the spot, and then the immediate need it generates and in the end understand what is what we really need.

Thanks to these methods we can get in contact with emotions in our body-mind system in a conscious and safe way. What are the main differences between these methods and the cathartic methods quite popular in the past?

I think catharsis was a very important passage for a population who experienced such hard times. I think that after World War II everybody was shocked, many were depressed and sexually blocked so there was the need for something strong in order to overcome those feelings. But now I think we are living a different situation. More than 2 generations have passed since the use of catharsis started in the 60’s, most of those people are grandparents now. Maybe we passed from an excessive closure in the past to a too wide and vast something. We could step a bit back and discover details, shades with a finer approach to new experiences. Another thing I learnt from Peter Levine is that it is useful to honor our personal limits, we don’t want to push or skip them, we don’t want to interrupt or block them, we want to feel and respect them. There is a good reason for this. Peter says that when you feel a resistance, you can thank it and welcome it because there is a good reason for it. There are many other situations where catharsis can be necessary, for example when we are really freezed and yelling or hitting with all the strength we have can help, but even in this case there is no point in repeating that experience one hundred times. Once you did it and you started feeling the containment of your body it is not necessary that the whole thing is so enormous. You know, many people want to live the great experience … Fine, if you want to live a strong experience, go on with it. But it doesn’t mean this will change you, maybe it will be a wonderful experience, but nothing else, as eating a lot of good food doesn’t mean this will satisfy the origin of your hunger.

Nowadays science states that change takes place through slow, volunteer and daily patterns, such as learning to play an instrument, you train and train yourself for a while until you do not need any longer to think how you have to do it, you just do it. And that’s life, with new behaviors, new believes, new experiences allowing you to explore new patterns until they become part of you. I think it takes longer, but it is more satisfying. But it can be more difficult, many people are lazy and want the big experience!

And now we move on and talk about an emerging topic in many cultures today: gender… What do you mean when you say you are a liquid gender?

I’m trying to support myself and other people in taking our own time to identify our gender. I’ve been around for a while… you know, as a teenager or in my twenties or thirties it was like this, it was important to have an identity and we were wondering: “Who am I? Who are you? Do I like men? Women?” –  In some cases it takes many years to become what I am today. I had many sexual experiences in my life and it was wonderful; but now I feel I’m coming back to a quiet monogamy. I do not want to identify my sexual preference or my gender, but today I feel that being in a stable relationship with a man is what I need now. My being fluid does not change, now this is what is good for me, something simpler maybe!

How can we approach to feeling ourselves fluid about our gender?

We can stay open and curious about it. I don’t think that being fluid or liquid can fit everyone, I have no expectations on this to become common for all or that we should all live this way, but I really feel we should all go beyond fixed definitions….man, woman, gay, lesbian or what else … It is very important to feel how we can open our hearts to the others in different ways.

I’ve learnt to know and accept myself through experiencing beyond forced genders, discovering the male and the female in me.  I think it is useful for those strictly heterosexual men to explore their approach to other men, I mean not necessarily having a relationship, but simply by learning to play with other men. Indeed, even for women it can be very important to experience different shades in the relationship with the others, for example experiencing their strength and power in the relationship, not necessarily sexually…It was very important for me to discover my female part so I think it could be the same for other people. Without feeling pushed or forced to this experience. I also support a kind of asexuality. If there are people who do not feel the need to live their sexuality, this is fine. There is no path to follow, everybody is free to discover their own truth, what they meet along their life, what makes them feel more in contact with their vitality.

And in the end we would like to ask you what you think  about the circles of women and the circles of men. What does it happen in that sacred space when people with the same physiology and anatomy gather together?

This question requires an open vision on different levels of our awareness. Women have been gathering in circles since many years, they meet and exchange their knowledge and experience on sexuality, autonomy and the process of liberation they are leading. In the United States this movement is very strong. I don’t know very well how it is in Europe, but sometimes in these situations men are excluded and I don’t like it at all. I think that everybody can experience amplifying their own potential without feeling necessarily the other as an enemy.

On the contrary it can become an oscillation: from oppression to aggression, as a kind of catharsis, but I hope that this force once it is blocked it can turn stable and settle down. Actually we can start considering similarities, our vulnerability and the opportunity for men to have their role in this. In many places all over the world men do not talk about their sexuality, they do not talk each other about the messages they receive from their bodies, so when this happens it can be a great relief. Shame and isolation can dissolve when they discuss about their experiences. However this must not generate separation between genders because we have all been wound in different ways. There is no doubt that women have been abused through many generations and for this reason it is important today to start changing the experience men live in order to stop this abuse.

Sometimes in the seminars I host in the United States, circles are made in order to allow men to talk about their experiences in front of women. Sometimes there are feminists who disagree on it, but this way allows topics involving the shame we experienced to emerge and let men get aware of their behavior. If only I could have forty more years to live, I’d like to work on liberation and male sexuality, two topics linked to each other, I would avoid conflicts and separatism. Men who recognize their responsibility and are aware can be more available for their children and this is very important.

More information about Ariel Giarretto : arielgiarretto.com

An interview by Jerry Diamanti and Nadeshwari Joythimayananda

English editing by Serena Caloi

Thanks to Associazione Somamente and Elisabetta Ugolotti for the cooperation.