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Ian Grand, Somatics, and All That Jazz

Ian's utter unconventionality opens the door to creativity by its very presence

Don Hanlon Johnson June 10, 2016

I first met CIIS professor emeritus Ian Grand in 1985 at the prompting of the manager of the Grateful Dead. Knowing that I was involved in matters pertaining to the body, he urged me to contact Ian, saying he was the most brilliant therapist he had ever experienced.

We met for lunch at a café on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, and to our joy we found that we had been companions for some years along many of the same paths without having bumped into each other until this moment.

Written On The Body

Ian, like me, had behind him a long journey through the wilds of the 1960s: the political upheavals associated with the civil rights movement (he had been jailed in St. Louis for protesting hiring practices at a major bank), resistance to the Vietnam War, the undoing of dysfunctional educational institutions, economic and housing justice . . . all against the backdrop of Esalen, humanistic psychology, bodyworks from various undergrounds, and psychedelics.

Ian spent part of his nearly four months' sentence in city jail in the workhouse organizing a school for other inmates. Stokely Carmichael joined a march to the jail in support of Ian and fellow inmates.

He founded and directed the Center for Environmental Education and the Center for Educational Alternatives at San Francisco State University, where he also directed the Experimental College. He, like me, had gone on to gather these fragments into a focus on the bodily basis of the social order, as a therapist, teacher, activist, and writer.

Ian was the original editor of the journal inspired by Stanley Keleman's bioenergetic work, the Journal of Somatic Psychotherapy; published a number of seminal articles on somatics; and became director of the Social Physiology Institute in Berkeley. He was one of the first to join Israeli Moshe Feldenkrais' classes for leaders at Esalen and San Francisco.

An intimate cement of our growing friendship was a unique spiritual journey, one that to an outsider might seem to be in radically different worlds: mine emerging from the practices of medieval Christian mysticism, his from the more ancient Jewish traditions carried forward by the visionary Hasidic rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. And yet, we had each found our own way to a similar region where those traditions converged in their attention to the unfolding of deeply embodied experiences of movement, chant, healing touch, and focused breathing.

At the time of that first meeting in Berkeley, I was engaged in the earliest years of crafting our current master's degree program in Somatics and Somatic Psychotherapy, then situated at Antioch University's San Francisco branch. The late Michael Kahn, Maryanna Eckberg, and I were struggling to get the program on a sustainable footing.

Now from this perspective of 25 years, it seems that our friendship is not unlike those that arise from the bonds of people who have survived intense combat assignments during their stay in the military, having come together in intense struggle and reaped in later years the fruits of staying the course.

Somatics and CIIS

For a few years, we had to support ourselves through our private therapy practices since our small student populations and the fragility of Antioch and later New College of California, both of which went bankrupt, allowed us only one full-time salary that we shared among ourselves, each of us having to devote the equivalent of full-time work to keep the program moving ahead.

In addition, we were forced to constantly retool our offerings to ensure that our graduates were able to gain licensure under the recently formed MFT wing of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.

In 1992, we all, faculty and students, were rescued by CIIS' new president, Robert McDermott, along with Renée Emunah and her Drama Therapy program. It was here that Ian's work expanded rapidly. He earned a PhD in Social and Cultural Psychology from the Union Institute, and went on as a full professor to succeed me as Program Director, a position that he held for 13 years.

Ian created and directed the Somatics program's Center for the Study of the Body in Psychotherapy, a platform for grants supporting the various symposia, lectures, and workshops that he and I conducted.

Following one of his special inquiries, Ian wrote a series of articles dealing with sociocultural aspects of embodied psyche. These included the World Futures article "Becoming Paladin: The Bodily Ground of World Becoming"; and "Body, Culture, and Psyche: Towards an Embodied Sociocultural Psychotherapy," published by the Journal in New Delhi.

In these articles, Ian explored questions of the relationships between deep structures and processes of psyche; sociocultural environments of practice and embodied value making; and the roles of media, books, and schooling in personal development.

Integral Scholarship

As a key figure in the rapid expansion of CIIS, he served as Chair of the Integrative Health Studies program and was co-founder of the Transformative Inquiry and Community Mental Health programs.

Ian is a scholar in the old truly integral style whose research and writing interests span several areas of inquiry: lifespan development; influences of media, schooling, and spiritual practice; social embodiment; gender, ethnicity, and the polycultural; and education.

He has focused on somatic psychology practices, looking at convergences between psychodynamic theory, sociocultural understandings, and somatic psychotherapy approaches. He and I edited a collection of essays titled The Body in Psychotherapy: Inquiries in Somatic Psychology. He is the author of A Beginner's Palette of Somatic Psychotherapy and Qualities and Configurations: A Workbook in Somatic Psychology.

He is currently on the editorial board of East West Affairs: A Quarterly Journal of North-South Relations in Postnormal Times, and this brief bio would be incomplete if it did not mention his being a painter and a jazz musician with a long history of improvisational collaboration. Since becoming Emeritus Professor last July, Ian has turned his attention to continuing writing and thinking with others toward new understandings of embodied psyche. He has published two chapters in the Handbook of Somatic Psychotherapy and has two chapters currently in press on creativity and improvisation.

In the course of writing this short piece about such a large life, I articulated for myself what has been truly special to me about Ian. Like some of those who have been key inspirations in my life-Carl Rogers, Charlotte Selver, Isadora Duncan, Ida Rolf, Rosemarie Freeney-Harding-Ian is radically idiosyncratic.

His utter unconventionality opens the door to creativity by its very presence. He doesn't flaunt it or argue it or try to convince anyone; it's who he is. Hugely generous, big-hearted, and deeply human.