Healing among tribes of the Amazon

SE Session with a Xingu Tribesman

by Sonia Gomes Silva and Cathrine S. Thommessen on April 21, 2015

From the end of the previous installment:
“… One of the Yudjá needed special care since he had not responded to earlier medical treatment. There was a strong belief within the tribe that his illness— with symptoms like dizziness, fever, anemia, and low platelets— was caused by a spell (black magic). Sonia was asked to work with him as therapist.”

Sonia met with the client, let’s call him Mairipora, twice. The first meeting took place on November 29th, together with his family to make the young man more secure and confident of the process. The next session took place the day after, with the presence of his parents and grandparents, outside their traditional straw cottage (Mairipora himself did not live there regularly as he normally works as a teacher in another area).

The Session

Mairipora received Sonia with courtesy, forcing a smile. His face showed discomfort.

Sonia asked: “How are you feeling?”

Mairipora: “Very tired and weak.”

S: “Take all the time you need to find a more comfortable position in your chair and tell me how can I help you, okay? … Stay with attention to what is going on in your body right now … What are you experiencing at this moment sitting in that chair? You might find this kind of question a bit strange, but I want you to know that I’m interested in everything that you are experiencing at the present moment. That’s how I work, using this awareness technique that facilitates me to help you. So, let’s watch and listen to what your body tells you now …” (Pause …)

S: “Where do you notice any tension: which of your body’s muscles are tense? And where in your body do you feel more relaxation? I also want you to begin to identify how your body realizes the illness …” (Pause …)

S: “So, last night you told me that you were not feeling well. You said you felt weak, drowsy, and dizzy. And now, today, you still feel the same way? How do you feel now?”

M: “Dizzy, with drowsiness, weak.”

S: “Oh … yes. Dr. Duarte told me that you have been sick for quite some time, is that it?”

M: “Yes …”

S: “Please just sit back and tell me what else you feel in your body. I need to have all the information you can give me to know how we can spend this time together as well as possible. I’m very curious to know about what’s going on with you. Can you tell me how long you have felt like this?”

M: “It’s been a while, I’ve been ill more than three months …”

S: “Tell me a little more … what is your experience? … Feeling dizzy, weak … and what else? Does it feel like you have the power to live? To do things? Have you been sitting like this all the time since I saw you last night?”

M: “Yes. I feel very empty, unwilling to do anything.”

S: “As I understand Dr. Duarte, you are taking medication; have been through clinical examinations as well as reviews with him, without any improvement?”

M: “Well, it improves a bit but then everything comes back.”

S: “Okay. I’ll ask you to look at your body and see how you are sitting in the chair. I ask you to observe, with your eyes wide open, everything you see around you. I want you to pay attention to the way your foot relates to the ground, the way your back touches the back of your chair; I want you to feel my hands touch the top of your head. Is that ok?”

Mairipora nodded.

S: “So, I will place my hands on your shoulders. Please sense your feet on the floor at the same time.”

M: “Yes.”

S: “I am pressuring both shoulders. Sense it here?”

M: “Yes.”

S: “I’ll press a little bit on your back and between the shoulder blades. Can you make a counter-pressure against my hands? How do you feel?”

M: “Well.”

S: “Now I want a little more pressure from your feet down to the floor: push against the floor. Please keep your eyes well open and take a good deep breath and exhale together with a natural sound. It could be something like this: ‘aaaaahhhhh….!’ …”

Mairipora did as instructed.

S: “How do you feel?”

M: “Better.”

S: “So, with your eyes open, please look around by moving your neck from side to side. As you move the neck, find any object that catches your attention. Take your time. Also pay attention to your breathing and to how your body is functioning, changing. Okay, just stay with that.” (Pause …)

S: “Can I place my hands on your chest?”

M: “Yes.”

S: “You can put your hand on top of mine, okay? … Breathe a little and give it time … It’s very hard to spend so much time feeling sick … not knowing what is really happening to you. I heard you have done several clinical tests, traveling a lot. It takes time to get to Alta Floresta: that city is far away. The condition of the road is bad, the travel is hard. Sometimes it takes three days to get to the city. Imagine these difficulties and how you have felt unsafe going through all this. Your father is so proud of you, your mother too. They are worried about you, so is the whole tribe and Dr. Duarte as well. He asked me to come here to see you. Seems you are very much loved by all of them. I’m here and I sense that you are quite fragile. I understand what you’re going through … But then, I noticed you want to get out of this situation, isn’t that right? I heard that you traveled several hours by boat to come here to see me. Did you?”

indigenous-amazon-peopleM: “Yes. Dr. Duarte told me that you might be able to help me and I trust him.”

S: “Oh that is so cool! I’m happy for that. Okay. Now I can ask you a question, can’t I?”

Mairipora nodded.

S: “Dr. Duarte said that you told him they used witchcraft, did a spell. From your understanding this is the reason why you got sick. Is that right? Did you get sick because of the spell that was put on you?”

M: “Yes.”

S: “Can you tell me more about it? When was the first time you identified this spell?”

M: “I was finishing a course in teaching and when there were two weeks left till the end of this course, I got sick. Then, soon after, I went to see a shaman for healing and he told that I have gotten a spell.”

S: “Okay. When the shaman told you that you have a spell, what was the first image that came to you?”

M: “The Kayapó Indians.”

S: “For you, the Kayapó have sent a spell on you?”

M: “Yes.”

S: “Can you see them right now in your imagination?”

M: “Yes.”

S: “Good. Hold this picture a bit. Then tell me: What do you feel when you see the image of these Kayapó in front of you? Right when the shaman told you that you have a spell?”

M: “I feel a bit angry.”

S: “A bit angry … Where in your body do you feel this anger?”

M: “I feel a little tight here.”

Mairipora pointed to his stomach.

Next week > the conclusion to this SE session: A Sound with the Strength of a Jaguar

Using SE with indigenous tribesCo-authors Sonia Gômes Silva and Cathrine S. Thommessen joined an international team in 2014 for an expedition to Xingu National Park to work with Brazil’s indigenous tribes. Sonia is a senior professional training faculty member at the Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute, a clinical psychologist, a Rolfer®, and a Rolfing movement practitioner. She is based in São Paulo, Brazil. Cathrine is an SE™ practitioner, movement educator, and movement therapist based in Oslo, Norway.

Photos by Eduardo Biral, all rights reserved (used here with permission)

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