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  • Writer's pictureTamsin Hartley

Asking questions your body can answer

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

When someone is feeling tension all around the top of their body, how could just two simple questions be as helpful as a massage?

Clean questions are a simple, powerful and respectful way of inviting a person to explore their experience. These questions, used with the exact words or gestures the person has used, help to keep the assumptions, suggestions and interpretations of the person asking the questions out of the way - leaving the person answering the questions free to do their own thinking about their situation.

Clean questions can be used to focus on the metaphors that a person uses to express themselves. When this happens, they experience being listened to at a very deep level and can be facilitated to make transformative and long-lasting changes.

In a Listening Space, Clean questions and repeating back key words are used to direct a person’s attention to what is happening in or around their body (ie. to their 'embodied' experience). The answers that arise will often appear to come as if from nowhere.

What follows is taken from a real Listening Space session in which only two of the Clean questions were needed:

  • Whereabouts is ‘x’?

  • Is there anything else about ‘x’?

(where ‘x’ is an embodied word the person has used)

Facilitator: What would you like to explore?

Explorer: There’s a tension all around the top half of my body. It’s trying to stay in control that’s creating it.

Facilitator: And a tension all around the top half of your body.

Whereabouts is tension all around the top half of your body?

Explorer: It’s completely around the base of my head right down to my waist.

It’s like a big iron armour all the way around.

A different kind of awareness of tension is revealed – a metaphor that gives a very graphic sense of how this person is experiencing this feeling.

The session continues:

Facilitator: And big iron armour all the way round …

Explorer: Yes, it’s on the outside crushing inwards. It’s hard, rusty iron, with no give in it.

Facilitator: And hard, rusty iron with no give in it.

Is there anything else about tension?

Explorer: Oh yes! There’s a little key!

Facilitator: And a little key …

Explorer: Yes, it’s over my heart, in the middle of my chest. It’s really little and it’s sitting in the keyhole.

Facilitator: Really little, sitting in the keyhole …

Explorer: It’s saying, ‘Come on turn me, turn me!’ It wants me to turn it.

Facilitator: And it wants you to turn it.

And the key is sitting in the keyhole …

Explorer: It’s drawing me to it.

Facilitator: And a keyhole that’s drawing you to it, in front of your heart, in the middle of your chest.

And a little key that wants you to turn it.

And armour, and hard, rusty iron.

Is there anything else about tension?

Explorer: Yes, it’s impenetrable, thick. It’s hard and solid. I can’t break into it any other way.

The key is the only way.

Facilitator: And a keyhole that’s drawing you to it.

And a little key that wants you to turn it.

And armour, and hard and solid.

And the key is the only way…

Explorer: I want to turn it. I want to turn the key!

Facilitator: You want to turn the key …

Explorer: It’s quite easy really. I’m turning it clockwise now. It’s just gone ‘PING’!

The armour has just flung open and the light has come in.

It’s gone all ‘liquidy’ in my top half, and the heavy metal has fallen to the ground.

I feel really light and open. It feels just right.

Facilitator: And really light and open.

And feels just right …

Explorer: Like the top half of my body is made of light rather than solid and heavy.

It feels more strong and flexible. I can move now.

It is as if Clean questions have enabled this person’s body to reveal its own solutions to an experience that has been troubling her.

Two finishing questions are then used to invite reflection on what this new awareness might mean to her.

Facilitator: And what do you know now?

Explorer: It’s up to me to move the armour. I’ve got a way in now, whereas before I had no choice.

Facilitator: And what difference does knowing that make?

Explorer: When I’m feeling tense and I feel the armour there, I just need to stop, take a deep breath,

unlock the armour and let it go.

Facilitator: And would that be a good place to leave it?

Explorer: Yes.

The session comes to a close.

This different kind of awareness happens frequently in a Listening Space session. By putting the person’s exact words into the Clean questions we invite the person to explore the next layer of meaning to the words they have chosen. It is a very mindful process.

Nick Pole, author of the excellent book Words that Touch, refers to the way in which Clean questions help people to make connections between the two hemispheres of their brain (right and left). Whilst both sides of the brain are involved in almost anything we do, there are very different qualities to the kind of thinking that each side does. For the majority of people:

  • the left hemisphere is home to the ‘verbal mind’ – the everyday, cognitive mind, which thinks in words and dominates the way we communicate with the outside world, whereas

  • the right hemisphere is home to the ‘body mind’ – the ‘embodied ways of knowing that animals are so good at, and which we humans keep forgetting, until we get in touch with them again through things like yoga, dance or meditation.’

In a Listening Space, Clean questions help to engage and connect the thinking of both sides of the brain. First, the explorer is invited to connect with their embodied experience. Then gradually the verbal mind creates a narrative (or story) to capture the essence of the body mind experience: a feeling of tension becomes a suit of armour. It is almost as if Clean questions act as a mediator between the verbal and body mind, inviting words for those experiences that are intangible and can be so difficult to define.

And what happens next?

People describe a sense of becoming ‘more alive to their body’, of ‘coming home to their body’, of ‘finding a stillness within where the answers lie.’ And from this place transformative insights can happen: a key is revealed that can unlock the armour.

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