By Kate White
John Chitty, my teacher, mentor, supervisor, friend and fellow pilgrim-on-the-path, has transitioned to the “magical place” where his life began.
He often said, “We are a unit of consciousness that comes from an invisible spiritual world to Earth for the purpose of gaining wisdom through experience.” He offered these words as a mantra, used whenever greeting a baby. And, I think, perhaps everyone he met. I imagine him back in that other realm having new experiences, gaining more wisdom.
Here on Earth, it falls upon us—those left behind—to find a way to celebrate his life, his turn on this planet as the one and only John Chitty. How did he touch us? What was and still is our experience?
John was a celebrated teacher of polarity therapy and Biodynamic craniosacral therapy. His blend of therapy combined ancient wisdom with current health practices. He and his wife, Anna Chitty, started teaching polarity therapy in 1979 and opened the Colorado School of Energy Studies in Boulder, CO. in 1992. At the end of his life, John created Polarity Counseling. I was one of his many students. We practiced this approach in our sessions, and he coached me on the combination of healing arts within it. He was ardent about the Two-Chair process, and I was a great beneficiary.
I offer my story, here, today, to honor my dear friend. Over the years, we collaborated on neuroscience projects, the latest trends in polyvagal theory application, working with babies, bodywork courses for perinatal healing, polarity counseling and so much more. This is a personal remembering of John and only scratches the surface regarding the depth of the impact he has had on me, my work, my family, and all those that come within my reach. My students benefit from his wisdom as it passes through me to them.
A Distinguished Lineage
The Chitty’s had a distinguished lineage that one could always feel when working with them. John and Anna openly shared where their ideas and practices came from and credited teachers who blended energy and bodywork healing practices. They credited Randolph Stone, founder of Polarity Therapy, and John Upledger, creator of ‘CranioSacral’ Therapy. They acknowledged Robert Hall and Fritz Perls for the Two-Chair Approach, a method designed to help shift fixed energy. And Peter Levine, who also credited Stone for influencing his pendulation work (this, not this) was noted. In addition, John and Anna pulled from the great osteopaths: Andrew Still, William Sutherland, Rollin Becker, and Robert Fulford. They also blended in: Focusing and the work of Eugene Gendlin; Listening by Carl Rogers; and attachment theory and neuroscience, especially the polyvagal theory by Stephen Porges.
Learning about the story of their lineage, I also imagined these personalities coming together to form the Chitty’s current practice: Ray Castellino, who brought them understanding or prenatal and perinatal imprints, and Maura and Franklyn Sills who added spiritual psychotherapy and Biodynamic craniosacral therapy respectively. I am also indebted to John and Anna for bringing Jaap Van Der Wal to the United States to share his teachings on spirituality and embryology.
Colorado School of Energy Studies a.k.a. The Jedi Training Academy
My studies in prenatal and perinatal psychology started in 1999 when a client of my Biodynamic craniosacral therapy practice remembered her birth on my table. In the course of my studies, I came across a paper by John on the polyvagal theory entitled, An Introduction to The Polyvagal Theory. Through his writings, I began to understand the impact of social engagement on babies and taught this to parents using his two-page paper as a handout.
I vowed that one day I would meet the great John Chitty and study with him. At the time, however, I was raising babies of my own and running my therapy center—travel was difficult. When I felt I could leave my family to attend his workshop on Working with Babies, he was sick, cancer (Stage 4 2D prostate-lungs-bones cancer, diagnosed September 2010) Finally, in 2013, he was well enough to teach. I made the journey to see him and to attend his course, Working with Babies.
I picked up my rental car at the Denver Airport. The man at the counter asked why I was there and where I was going. I said, “I am here to study at the Jedi Training Academy.” Taking in his response, I could tell he believed me for a moment. I guess anything is possible in Boulder, CO. But it was partially true.
The Chitty’s are well known for their capacity to train practitioners in the science and spirit of Biodynamic craniosacral therapy, and the wisdom of Randolph Stone’s polarity therapy. When you study with them, you feel the Force! The Colorado School of Energy Studies was like a modern Jedi Training Academy. I paused in front of the Energy School and took a picture of my reflection in the glass door. In the picture, you can barely make out that I am standing there, the words of the school melding into my body.
John and I connected quickly, easily. We talked about the application of the work and different hand holds for good craniosacral therapy. We worked on each other so he could give me feedback. Vulnerable, honest, the consummate teacher, scientist, guide to one’s deepest mysteries, John took me on as a student and mentee then and there. Much later he told me he recognized me, especially by the questions I was asking. He probably did that with everyone.
Over the Years
John and I separately, and then together, developed educational materials on the polyvagal theory, each of us developing a poster series. We loved to discuss the merits of different approaches people discussed in the published literature. He was a consummate reader, thinker, practitioner, and teacher. With each discovery of better teaching methods and ideas, John encouraged me to learn and teach them. He was a big supporter of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health where he gave many talks in our online program and at our conferences. ( https://vimeo.com/252238296).
Dancing with Yin and Yang
My in-depth training in John’s polarity approach—dancing with yin and yang— began after the Working with Babies class, mostly in the form of supervision and coaching. In our sessions he would say, “Give me 10 minutes and two chairs.” Or, “We can solve this! Get me two chairs!”
The years following 2013 were filled with many two-chair sessions and a full education in the application of energy medicine and polarity to every life situation. John said to me, “State change is the name of the game.” He did not necessarily believe in getting to the root cause of anything. It was more about acknowledging states and how they are coupled with experience. He also did not pathologize behavior, and he refused to participate in my attempts to do that to myself or any situation.
Many times, we did ‘Body Low Slow Loop’, an instruction summary for their sympathetic nervous system first aid method as taught and used in their classes. It was derived from the work of Peter Levine, an attempt to simplify the trauma-recovery model into as few steps as possible. I listened to their podcast (https://www.energyschool.com/audio-recordings) on the approach out loud so often my husband could imitate him.
One of the things I really loved about John was his faith in love, relationships, marriage and the importance of the couple as a unit of yin and yang. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csGSTdxfWoQ&list=PLTRx0v6Ou6BH05IZgtdHcmGSwGIqci9R_).
John taught my husband and me about the importance of seeing each other in this way. He would say that my husband’s opinions were primary. To this day, when I have a dilemma that needs a polarity approach I often say to my husband, “May I ask a John Chitty question?” This is our code for a request for him to become yang to my yin. It made our marriage stronger. John coached us on how to improve the energy system of our family, and within myself. Being a wife and mother was an important role in his book and took precedence over work or play. My family thrived.
Working with Babies Until the End
John and I connected deeply in our work with babies. It was our joint passion besides interrogating neuroscience. His mantra—recognizing babies as spiritual beings having a physical experience—is one that I have turned into an exercise for students so that everyone can see and feel this special way of feeling heard and seen, a blueprint experience for human beings.
His work on understanding parenting and his 5-step approach to helping babies heal are a must for anyone who wants to work with families with babies. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWSxxbhGv4E&t=6s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUGFq10f_cQ&t=447s)
Toward the end of his life, John asked me to teach the two-chair approach for working with babies. For this, you put the baby in the empty chair and have the parent dialogue with the baby. This was part of the original Working with Babies course. I said I would.
We prepared together for his death. That last time I saw him was at the Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Conference. I tried to gently talk with him about his condition and was glad I told him how important he was to me and to all involved in healing arts. We had a chance to exchange table sessions. Always the teacher, he gave me feedback on different hand holds that combined polarity and craniosacral therapy.
We talked occasionally up until his death. He told me, “Nothing lasts forever except the mountains.” He always kind of smiled when we talked about what was happening. Modern medicine’s approach to healing cancer amused him. He combined many things to help extend his life way beyond what he was told to expect. Anna told me later that he often said that he lived beyond his expiration date. (see his health page http://john.energyschool.com/)
Pretend You Are In A Clearing
John had many practices for me to follow, all of which are too much to list here. However, I will complete this remembrance of John with this story.
When I was recovering from one of the biggest losses in my life, I felt unsure of my next step. He told me, “Pretend you are in a clearing in the forest, and you have an instrument like a xylophone. Find the tone of what you want for yourself and strike it, then wait to see what come towards you.”
He taught me so much with this one story. First, there is finding the tone, the vibration and that takes threshing and self-reflection. Second, trust that all that needs to be done is striking the tone and then waiting. Third, recognize that your tone is creating an attraction so you can see what is happening. These are steps to guide myself and anyone through life’s experiences: Strike a tone, wait and recognize that what you want is coming toward you.
All my love goes out to John’s family, especially Anna and their children and grandchildren. I also send out a big hug to the many people who were touched by John Chitty. He meant so much to so many.
May we all have lives life like that. John’s courage and capacity to live eight years with stage 4 cancer made him fearless about many things. He confronted me when he felt I needed and supported me when I had a dilemma. Until we meet, let me say three things John frequently said to me: Greater Forces are at Work, Full Speed Ahead and To Be Continued (dot dot dot)
To be continued . . .
About Kate: Kate is a Biodynamic Craniosacral Practitioner, Advanced Bodywork, Prenatal and Perinatal healing specialist, Baby Practitioner, Polarity Counselor who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her work specializes in preventing and healing earliest trauma for families and adults. She is also the Founding Director of the Department of Education for the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health. She is the Director of the Center for Prenatal and Perinatal Programs where her work will support the Chitty Protocol and Dancing with Yin and Yang in many of its classes and trainings. To be continued . . .
To learn more about John Chitty and his work: Energy Exercises: Easy Exercises for Health and Vitality written with Mary Louis Muller (1980, 2018); Dancing with Ying and Yang: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Psychotherapy and Randolph Stone’s Polarity Therapy (2013); and Working with Babies: A Five-Step Therapy Method for Infants and Their Families (2016).