- Erika Shershun, MA, MFTI
Updated: Jan 18
Reaching is such a fundamental movement that most of us don't think twice about it. Yet, when you were an infant learning to reach was a milestone. The act of seeking, extending beyond oneself and into the environment, is one of six fundamental movements, along with yielding, pushing, grasping, pulling and releasing, that each and every one of us struggled to master. In addition to serving a particular physical function, each of these six movements holds a psychological meaning, and in combination with the others, offers essential support in finding and creating changing definitions of ones self.
We reach to take in, receive, touch and be touched, to express ourselves, to create, to set boundaries, reject, defend, help and protect, to propel ourselves forward, back, or side to side, to investigate and explore, we reach for what we need and for what we wish to offer. And in reaching our arms are far more than appendages attached to the core of our body, they are an expression and extension of our hearts. My most inspirational teacher, Bill Bowen, (2003) explains:
"The scapula is suspended in a tensile network of connective tissue that attaches to the shoulder girdle. Via this network the arms are an extension of the thorax. Psychologcally speaking, the center of the thorax is the 'heart space'. The arms are an extension of the heart. They begin with the heart and express out into the world. By observing the quality of movement, or lack of movement, at the shoulder girdle and arms, we can see the expression of character as it manifests out into the world."
Have you ever mindfully observed how you are reaching out into the world? I invite you to take some time to be with yourself and explore. How do you prepare to reach? Start with slowing down, going inward, and ground, find your center; take note of what sensations, thoughts, and images arise now, even before you engage in extending to reach.
Where do you physically sense the preparation to reach?
What is the quality of the sensation?
Is there an excitement present?
Do you feel invited to reach, or do you sense reluctance, hesitation or fear?
Is there a belief that you must push through or against something to reach out?
How do you support your own urge, or lack there of, to reach?
What else is present?
Now prepare to reach for an object. You might choose to assign some significance to the object; notice if there is a shift in your preparation to reach. Once you've observed what's present in the preparation slowly extent your arm toward the object.
Where do you engage the movement?
Does your reach feel supported structurally?
Do any areas of tension arise along your path of movement?
If so, notice any accompanying thoughts or images.
Do you have an attachment to the object?
What emotion is present?
What else do you notice?
Now try assigning your object another meaning, or reaching for something else altogether. If you have a willing partner present you might try reaching for their hand. Again slow it down, noticing variations and changes in sensation and thought.
Our reach is an exploration into chance and the possibility of what may be there for us. We reach toward another in the hope of meeting and being met. How do you open to and invite another to meet you?
My former supervisor, Peter Wright, pointed out that we reach the furthest with our eyes. "Our eyes and hands teach one another. Let your eyes and hand talk to each other." He suggested if you don't reach so much with your hands and arms, perhaps you could reach further with your eyes, or the reverse. Notice you have choice, you have options.
I recently viewed a lovely example of this in the movie Wild, adapted from the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed:
"I knew only that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. That seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough, that it was everything. My life, like all lives, mysterious, irrevocable and sacred, so very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be."
Sometimes in our preparation to reach we realize the reach is no longer called for. So whether you're aiming high as you reach for the stars, taking another stroke as you ambitiously propel yourself forward like the swimmer in the accompanying image, or realizing that you don't need to reach with your arms at all, mindfully observe where this knowing originates in you. Is this choice to reach a little, a lot, or not to reach at all an extension of your heart?