What is listening, and who is listening?

Paul Vick

How do ‘Intention and Attention’ influence the way we work and the way the client’s system can respond? When this question is asked, does it include the clients’ intentions or the way they bring their attention to what happens in a session? Are my intentions helpful? What is the best way to be attentive to the clients’ process?

These questions arise so often, both in the teaching of this work and in the way it is practiced. If we can for a moment leave aside the right or wrong way, I would like to propose that ‘Attention and Intention’ are two essential components of a conversation. An ebb and flow.

That ‘Attention and Intention’ are at the heart of a conversation that takes place between the practitioner, the client, and the Tide. Between the practitioner and client, ‘Attention and Intention’ are expressed through a combination of verbal, tactile and sensory dialogue. But how are ‘Attention and Intention’ connected to the Tide?


My experience is that ‘Attention and Intention’ are essential elements of the Breath of Life, and that Attention and Intention are interdependent. Like a call and response.

That there is a clear ‘Intention’ in the way the Tide is organised and organises. Dr William Garner Sutherland often referred to the ‘Intelligence of the Tide’, spelt with a capital ‘I’. It plays an active part in how you get to know, what you know.

Intention is evident in the Original Matrix & the Organising principles of the Tide; bringing ‘Intelligence’ into form; the unfolding story of Biodynamic forces; the self-healing & self-regulating processes; the potential for transformation and change.

Attention is expressed as a ‘Field of Presence’, that gathers our awareness especially as we settle into the ever present ‘Stillness’. It contains within it the unifying principle of wholeness. Dr Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of Osteopathic thinking, challenged us all to “Be Still and Know”. Perhaps some of his meaning is revealed here?

Intention and Attention could be thought of as reciprocal waves of awareness. An awareness of the relationship between ‘Being and Becoming’.

In what follows I have developed these ideas about ‘Attention & Intention’ into the following areas; orientation; the treatment plan; differentiation; embodiment; and transitions.


Working with the Tides and their subtle nuances, we are always shifting through different states of perception and the way Attention and Intention are connected to the differentiated Tides.

Cranial Rhythmic Impulse (CRI). The practitioner’s attention is drawn to specific phenomena. There is an awareness of the differentiation of tissues and fluids. Attention is drawn to the ‘patterning of relationship’ between the inter-relationships within the body. Reciprocal motion and motility are the essence of this is co-operative organisation. In a sense there is an awareness of the ‘Intention’ to self-balance.

Mid Tide. The practitioner’s attention is with the body as a whole. Potency is strongly present in the Mid Tide. Its presence unifies the whole body. It is also the energy of change. Its intention is balance & vitality in relationship to the whole.

Long tide. The practitioner’s attention is centred in the inclusion of the body within its surrounding environment. The Breath of Life is pervasive. Attention and Intention settle into a unified field of presence. Together they weave the tapestry of Presence (the Tide).

Stillness is apparent. It finds you. No need to know. The experience is conclusive. It completely fulfils the sense of Being.


I cannot say that it originated in me, as it is a participatory experience derived in the moment. It is a partnership, a dance, and a synchrony of my own rhythm with the rhythms of other things, a settling into a ‘Rhythm of Presence’.

As we bring our attention to this rhythm, the intention (the Intelligence of the Tide) captures our attention (to its Presence). This is the Wisdom of Listening to an attendant world that requires our participation.


Perhaps in our work the clearest example of the reciprocal relationship between attention and intention is when we witness the ‘Treatment Plan Unfolding’ within the clients system.

Attention is the primary focus within the practitioner as they appreciate & track the self-balancing and self-healing processes within the client’s system. At the same time there is clear intention within the client’s system as these processes of self-regulation and change are occurring.

Physiological and physical changes can happen. Often there will be one thing happening in one part of the body so that something else can happen in another part of the body. It is a whole body, whole person event. It is natural that this will involve the emotional and mental processes as well. All of this may be taking place either consciously or subconsciously for the client.

It is a remarkable process. The client’s system is in dialogue with itself. The self-healing intention needs the attention of the whole body. The practitioner is present and ‘Being With’ (giving their attention to) the unfolding nature of this healing process, and they witness the transition from one state of balance to a new or different state of balance.

The practitioner is not simply an impartial witness. There is, in a real sense, a ‘flow or conversation’ between the attention of the practitioner and the intention (Organising Principle) of the Tide in the way it is expressed in the client’s unfolding process.

This process is a clear demonstration of an echo or resonance. A unified purpose and flow between intention and attention.

Presence is always whole.


Embryological Development
It is self evident that there is a strong intention to initiate, develop and form the body: the embryological imperative. Even when the body is fully formed it continues to be maintained throughout life by this underlying process or blueprint. It is this principle that allows the practitioner to witness and facilitate the changes in the healing process. By studying the historical development it is possible to chart the organising principles of the Tide and how it sustains and nurtures the body.

It is easy to see how the formation of the notocord and the body spaces give rise to our sense of orientation and our sensibility to space and containment. The growth of the body during its formation demonstrates the principle of expansion & rest, boundaries & sense of self.

Neural processes
There is a direct correspondence of the inner and outer oriented process of attention and intention in the sensory-motor system. It is a dialogue and exchange between the sensory world of being (attention), and the organised world of action (intention). With this knowledge you can capture the essential relationship between attention and intention. The sensory-motor system acts as a loop of communication. Research has shown that is very difficult to establish whether the sensory system or motor system was the first to appear in the developmental stage of the body. You can’t have one without the other!

We receive and assimilate impulses from the outer world (sensory system) and then process and gather our response to this (motor system). Our responses can be invisible and internal, such as thoughts and feelings, or they may become more externalised and be physical movement, speech, facial expression or whole body expressions of communication.

In this exchange there is a relationship between the field of attention and the impulse to respond. A circle of communication is established.

Physiology processes
It is also evident in the physiology of the body, in the balance of function and process, which organises the internal environment of the body together with the impulses that stimulate the way we meet the external environment. It is a magnificent process that constantly reflects the way we are within ourselves (inner directed) and the way we act in the world (outer directed) and the balance between the two.


The basic adventure of life is how a person organises the form of their life, disorganises what is no longer relevant, and generates new experience.

Our human existence rests upon the fact of embodiment, where our soma (body story) is the hidden author. It is how we embody our truth, and the way we transform inner experience into a personal shape. Our ‘Human Form’ is a complex process of impulse, feeling, thinking, images, and actions.

The therapeutic relationship bears witness to this, to the way a person responds from inside herself and to the potential of the Tide. This poses some significant questions. How does the body centre itself in this process? How does it impact on the perceptions we have of life?

For the practitioner this is really quite central to the experience of change. If our shape reflects how we act and feel and see things, does this affect the way we work - what we relate to in ourselves and how we relate to the clients we work with?

We too have embodied our beliefs and ways of being!

If this is true, and I believe it is, can we find a neutral yet authentic way of being with ourselves and with our clients? Can we find a way of being that does not impose limitations on the client’s process and is potentially demonstrating a freedom to change?

What is required is a TRANSITION from one state of being to another. This will be true for both practitioner and client.


Transitions are an opportunity for change, an opportunity to reshape ourselves, to reorganise and to be more in relationship to the life we live. The impulse for change arises from within us, outside of us (environmental / social), or a combination of both.

A big part of life is to know where we stand, how we are doing, & can we communicate our needs and desires. If we need something, do we have some way of making that happen? This will be initiated by an intention. Being aware of how we are doing requires attention. Once again we see a reciprocal relationship between attention and intention.

For many people, making transitions is not easy. After all we have become skilled in doing things a certain way, and it may be difficult to change. These turning points may require a new life skill or ‘a new embodiment’. Some people rush through these moments too quickly and don’t really assimilate the change. Others may need to take their time to digest the change, but their life circumstances demand a quicker response.

Transitions indicate the beginning of a new way of being.

In the middle of this process we will begin to disorganise the old ways, and be in the process of organising in a new way. In the end we are changed. This may be happening in small ways, or a whole new perspective on life and its possibilities are revealed.

The process can create a sense of separation and loss as we formulate our new form. The outcome at this point is unclear. It is not yet fully formed. All change is based on the appearance of this transitional state.

Yet there is a definite energy to it. That feeling is an indicator of change. It fills the senses with a certain expectation, and captures your attention. Something is in the air.


Transitions are acts of imagination, and sometimes require courage. They are acts of freedom, individuality, and self-regulation.

They can even teach us awareness of how we embody things. They can show us how we can respond and be sensitive to new patterns in our lives, new shapes and forms. It is also possible to recognise the patterns of mental, muscular and organic sensations that accompany life transitions. It can be a relief, even a revelation, to discover that something that feels uncomfortable or strange might be helpful! This can be life changing.

Experiencing ourselves in this way helps us to be with the changes and to experience the empowering nature of the process of change. We can choose to be present in an embodied self. It is important to know our bearings in this sense. ‘Being With’ the elements and nature of our own landscape.

For the practitioner, the treatment is about the emergence of an intention within the client. The outcome is fully encapsulated in the unfolding of the treatment plan.

For the client the intention for change pre-empts the transition. Usually this arises naturally and from a state of being resourced. This may not be the case. The client’s system may be unclear and need time to discover its priorities & direction. Settling, resourcing, building vitality, and accessing Stillness are important at these times.

The practitioner is not simply a neutral observer. To track & facilitate this experience in others the practitioner needs to be present and oriented to the Tide, orienting to the client’s system.

Key to this is listening and responding to what is presenting in each session as a new and unique event. It’s never happened before. By looking for solutions we may be overwhelming the client with our expectations.
We need to listen and listen some more, taking time to absorb and hear the story as it appears. This creates clarity of attention. The Relationship is being nurtured.

As we respond to the experience we naturally reflect and take in the way things are appearing and unfolding.
The art of this process of clarification is to wait for a response from the body, from the person, from the Tide. There is no sense of guiding or directing the clients’ process. We are establishing their relationship to what is happening and whether they are resourced, present and oriented to the therapeutic process.

In this way a clarification also occurs within the differentiated layers of the body-mind and the way Tide is expressing itself within the client.

Our intention is for clarity of relationship and we wait for a response from the field of attention. In the union of attention and intention there arises an exquisite possibility: the Presence of the Tide.

Paul Vick is the Director and Senior Tutor for Resonance Trainings. Resonance Trainings provide fully accredited Practitioner Trainings in Craniosacral Therapy and a complete programme of Post Graduate studies.