The Tao of Libby


Tom Wilson, Ph.D.


Over the past two years I have worked with a young girl named Libby, age 10, who was born with cerebral palsy, weighing one and a half pounds, as was her twin sister Abby. Both children have had numerous operations. Abby has developed physically more than Libby; she can speak, walk and run, go to school, and to special camps. I call her Annie Oakley, as she is a feisty little spirit with a coyote attitude, who competes in athletic events with other children even with all of her physical limitations.

Libby can’t speak or walk and her limbs, hands and feet are in state of flexion. Her arm and leg joints are enlarged and the bones of her feet are distorted. Libby’s medical condition is called quadriplegia, a type of spasticity (cerebral palsy) that affects all of her limbs and every area of bodily function. She wears diapers. Pureed meals are fed to her five times a day by spoon; liquids are fed through a gastrointestinal tube. Libby’s light reflex is weak. I’m told she sees no more than shadows. She spends most of her time in a specialized wheel chair or in different forms of lying or sitting on props and pillows. She laughs, cries and goes through a range of feelings, though I do not know if we can use the word “emotions” in the conventional sense to describe her states and ranges of feelings.

But Libby is in there, big time. She radiates light and love. When she looks at you—and there are moments when she fixes her gaze on you—that you know that she is wholly with you. Her laugh rises to the level of pure, unalloyed joy.

She is clearly conscious of what is going on with the energies of people around her. I have observed that she knows and can distinguish among different people in her life. More than that, I have observed that she senses the energy of people. One might think of Libby as physically impaired, but it would be a mistake to think that she does not inhabit her senses. She appears to me to live with a heightened level of proprioception. She takes in every sound. Though I am told that she is nearly blind, her eyes are constantly moving in the direction of sounds and light, and she can penetrate you intensely with her gaze and hold you there. Sometimes when I arrive to work on her, I will observe her through the window before I enter. Lying on the floor on her pillows, she is alone in a kind of alert stillness—the watcher on the hill, curious, taking it all in. She seems very conscious to me.

It may be that Libby’s sensations of life and the world are not impeded by the normal mind-forms of consensual reality. One telling example: Once when I was at her family home working with her, she was sitting quietly when a visiting caregiver came in the door. I could feel the heaviness of the woman’s energy immediately, and could read the signs of pain in her face and body language. Libby began to sob even before the woman came into her view or near her. She cried for almost half an hour. Later, I mentioned this to Libby’s mother, a spiritual teacher, and she said, “Oh, yes, Libby cries for her because she won’t.”

When I first began working with Libby about two years ago, her mother wanted her to have craniosacral work, and asked me what my approach to working with Libby would be. Although I thought I might describe my approach to body and energy work, I surprised myself by saying, “First, I do not think that Libby is broken, and I am not here to fix her. I will work I with her on the level of life-force energy, and Libby will respond in whatever way she does. If she comes out more into what we call the normal world, that’s fine. But I think we need to include all of these kinds of children in the definition of normal. She is part of what nature gives us.”  I’m still a bit curious about that statement; but I think I was trying to say that Libby as a being came first, and that I was not leading with technique or insisting on measurable outcomes. At that moment, I had no expectations and no attachment to results—though I must say that I wanted all the good that the work and my love and attention could give her, in whatever way possible. I really wanted to be of service to Libby, wanted whatever healing was possible for her, on all levels.

As I said, I started working with Libby two years ago; but it has not been steady or regular work. Libby has a lot going on in her life, lots of people working with her with different therapies. She gets physical therapy of some kind five times a week. And she has twice gone off to be in special homes. One was in San Leandro, which put her out of reach for many months. Later, when she was residing in a group home for children of special needs in Weimar, California, about 20 miles from Nevada City, I knew I could make a weekly trip over there to see her.

Reflections on the Work

From the start, my guidance said to come to Libby with stillness and presence, come with attention not intention, come into my own senses and be with her, and the tools in the basket will come to my hands as needed. Have there been physical breakthroughs in the work? Some days after a session she has more range of movement in her arms, but her left leg remains in a very contracted state with her hip. Her hands remain flexed most of the time with her thumbs between the index and middle fingers, locked in fists. She cannot hold her head up on her own. The greatest extension of her limbs appears to happen when she is experiencing something inside her.

I could also say that I find her more present, feeling her sense of awareness connecting with mine. Yet I can’t say that with certainty. It may be that the work has allowed me to be more attentive to what’s always been there in her, more aware of how present she really is. What I can say for sure at the outset of these reflections on working with Libby—and on what I have learned about her, myself, and energy work—is that it might best be described as satsang: sitting together in association with truth. That’s what we do: satsang with touch, sound, presence, and stillness.

From a physical perspective, it does not appear that very much has happened. In my Polarity training, my teacher, mentor and friend, Bruce Burger of the Heartwood Institute, instilled in us that energy work “addresses the soul.” At the soul level, the level of the great mystery, I know that “work” has been done. Working with Libby has taken me on a journey to the deepest reaches of my relationship with my work, tested me, scared me, humbled me, and deepened me. What I see in Libby is the presence of Shen (spirit). Believing that everything is rooted in spirit, I can place an appropriate level of attention on the physical, but my deeper attention is on the enlivenment of light in Libby.

You probably are already ahead of my typing: Libby has been my teacher all the way. Thus the title, The Tao of Libby. So, let me share some reflections on the journey with Libby.

The Work

Prior to the current phase of working with Libby in Weimar at the group home, I worked with her in Nevada City in multiple sessions using craniosacral, Jin Shin Jyutsu, and acupressure meridians and points. The sessions were good, in that Libby always seemed to become translucent and go into a deep stillness. She would just beam light and love. Her mother was very interested in the techniques of craniosacral, and would ask what specific cranial techniques I used. So, I made sure I did lots of cranial holds along with Jin Shin Jyutsu and acupressure. Yet I was not seeing any discernable physical changes in Libby, and I started to become anxious about getting results. I felt this pressure to show Libby’s mom progress.

One day in this state of frustration about whether the work was being effective, I heard a voice of guidance in my head, not my mind, say, “Sing to her.” I‘ve been told many times that I have a good speaking voice, but I know I don’t have a singing voice. Therefore, I was a bit startled by the voice telling me to sing. Then I remembered that several years ago in a spiritual gathering with my Reiki teacher from India, a swami in the group suddenly announced to those present, “Tom heals with his voice.” His remark seemed to me to be out of the blue. Several years later, sitting with Libby, I saw Swami Rishi’s remark as future guidance for me. So, I began to sing to her while working. It made her giggle, burst into peals of laughter and joy, and gave the sessions a beautiful resonance. I dropped my frustrations. Knowing that’s its all sound vibration, I found that singing lights Libby up, calls in the Shen.

Prior to starting to work at the group home for this project, I became aware of another voice of guidance. I knew working at the group home was going to entail some difficulty, as the owner told me there would be limitations: I would be working with Libby on the play porch with the other children free to play there, and that Libby would have to stay in her special wheel chair.

How was I going to use flows and get to points on Libby in the chair? I would have no access to her back and sides. Then, the voice that started coming and kept coming was one word, “Qigong.” I study Qigong and practice Wuji Qigong. But what started to clarify was Qigong as the power of life force energy itself, assuring me that I could work effectively off-the-body. Maybe even more than that, the guidance was to really come into my hands, bringing my attention to the laogong point in the center of the palms and work from there.

As best I could, I worked with Libby doing as much touch as possible with craniosacral, Jin Shin Jyutsu, and acupressure. I also worked off-the-body in slow, fluid Oigong movements along meridians available or unavailable to touch. I held each of her joints (the eight gates) in one hand and directed energy to the joint with the other hand off-the-body. At one point, I laid one of her hands in my palm and held my other open hand above hers. She completely extended her hand, stretching all of her fingers outward. It was a beautiful validation that Qigong was effective.

Kathleen Davis, a master teacher at the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley, gave me a beautiful suggestion for working with the state of flexion. She said to go in the direction of the flexion rather than against it. Accordingly, I would take one of Libby’s hands in my hand and gently urge her arm farther into flexion, closer toward the shoulder, while my other Oigong hand worked off-the-body and followed her hand and arm deeper into flexion. I would let her arm rest in that position for a moment, keeping my attention on tracking the energy transformations. Then I would gently urge extension of the arm back toward its original position while leading with my off-the-body Qigong hand, as if inviting movement. What would happen is that without any real pressure the arm would go beyond the original position into greater extension. I would then lead her arm back and forth in a very slow Zen rhythm of flexion and extension; and each time the arm would go farther into extension with no force at all—just an invitation to go with the off-the-body hand leading it. In this way, Libby would often extend her arm fully.

Clearly, at times our sessions using Qigong helped to increase range of motion and relax the state of flexion. I did the same work with her hands, which are typically clenched with the thumb held between the index and middle fingers. Sometimes her hands responded to energy work; at other times, they resisted. I also worked with the meridians in the legs, held points above and below the joints, and held Kidney 1 and other acupressure points in the feet and ankles. I worked the Gall Bladder and Liver points in her feet to address the muscle-tendon connection of the Wood element.  Her feet and toes have not yet responded and remain in flexion. She has less control of her lower body than upper body, and her legs spasm frequently.

The next stage of the work opened up when I got permission to get Libby out of the chair and onto the floor on a pad with cushions. I now had access to more points and flows, with some limitations given the state of her body and how much I could move it around. For example, I can’t put her on her side or stomach as it might result in restricting her trachea. I still use a lot of off-the-body Qigong work tracing meridians, on acupressure points, and on her swollen joints. I take pulse readings and am able to check her tongue when she laughs. Her tongue is normal pink and the coating is a normal white. Her mother long ago took the twins off all medications and prepares all organic food. Libby’s digestion is good. There is no discernable pulse even when pressing in for the deeper yin organs. From a body reading perspective, Libby is in a contracted state, and therefore, I think of expansion, of working with the Wood element for tendons and muscles governed by Liver and Gall Bladder, which are governed by Jupiter (expansion). And I always sing to her.

At one point after many weeks into my work with Libby at the group home, I fell into another phase of becoming invested in outcomes. My mind again wanted to tell me I wasn’t getting results and that I needed to focus on more tools, more “something”—that I wasn’t doing enough. A battle was going on in my head. I wanted a different reality. I kept trying to remind myself that it was all mind energy. I needed to keep balance and find the middle way, which was quieting my mind and working in a state of stillness and presence. But I was getting down on myself. I couldn’t shake the monkey mind.

What got me back to center was a beautiful spring day driving though the countryside from Nevada City to the tiny town of Weimar, with its two little stores and one little post office. Everything in nature was clearly perfect just as is. In this meditative state, I recalled a short story by J.D. Salinger named “Teddy.” There is a passage in the story where Teddy as narrator talks about his first cosmic consciousness state of awareness:

"I was six when I saw that everything was God, and my hair stood up, and all that," Teddy said. "It was on a Sunday, I remember. My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean."

From the level of the Tao, Teddy could have just as easily have said, “I saw God pouring God into God.” 

The Salinger story gave me clarity. I found myself settling down and becoming peaceful. I had allowed myself to focus on such a small part of Tao, the physical. I realized that there is so much more going on than we can know—but we can know that it’s immense and let it be. Libby was unknowable, like the Tao, the mystery at the center and very ground of being. I knew now that I would never know Libby except by experiencing the luminescence of her being—the radiance that was always there. From that point, I truly let go of outcomes. I came back to bringing my attention and trust to the Shen. Being with Libby for an hour a week, touching and singing, stopping sometimes and just sitting with her, watching her eyes sparkle while taking in the world, hearing her joyous laugh, was now enough.

And in this way, we came full circle. From a place of non-attachment to any outcome, I was free again to trust what was in the tool basket, what we know about this work, about the wisdom given to us by our ancient and modern masters. This shift could be described as focusing on “being while doing.” So now when I do the cranial holds, for example, I bring my attention to the sphenoid, temporals, and parietals and simply focus on bone motility, tracking energy unwinding and the harmonizing of the cranial wave. In Jin Shin Jyutsu and acupressure flows, I bring my senses to the texture and synchronization of the pulses to know when energy has harmonized. I bring my attention to Yang and Yin as heaven and earth energies, working with the meridians from that space, unburdening first and nourishing second.

Working with the Five Elements, I bring my attention to the spirit of the elements using the mother, child, and grandparent relationships for harmonizing organs and meridians. When I feel Libby running hot, and her tongue is reddish, I will work with Lung, Bladder and Kidney—Lung to dissipate heat and the Water element to quench fire. I’m also guided to bring attention to working the stomach area with Thai massage and elements of Chi Nei Tsang, all very gently. I work with an Extraordinary Vessel in every session, especially the Central and Regulator, focusing on the EVs as primal reservoirs that activate the other meridians, as well as all they do that remains beautifully unknowable. I trust the spirits of the acupressure points, and work with several of them in every session. And I use the Five Shen Flow regularly to address the spirits that live in Libby.

Finally, I am working out a flow pattern for cerebral palsy based on Katsusuke Serizawa’s Tsubo: Vital Points for Oriental Therapy, in which he provides 19 points specifically addressing cerebral palsy. Serizawa calls for working with the points with shiatsu massage; but I vary the work with a combination of physical and quiet attention to the points, depending on how Libby responds. Every session, then, is a blend of modalities as that day’s assessment indicates by tongue, pulse, palpation, sound of her voice, skin coloration, and other indicators.


Simply trusting allows me to know that energy always does the work—if that’s an appropriate term—in the oneness of the Tao. The key lesson for me resides in the realization that to focus on outcomes actually distracts your attention, taking you away from being fully present with your client. A focus on results takes you away from the realm of presence and stillness into the domain of doing. You are outside the work! With Libby I have enlarged my sense of how we can be with the work at deeper levels at all times, and that it is not about knowing or belief, but about trust. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Trust Nature. Nature is right, always.”

Throughout the two years I have known Libby, I realize that I have always seen her as a radiant being, an unfettered little Buddha emanating light and love. Maybe that’s the gift of these special children: allowing us to see the essence of being, unfettered by conditioning of all kinds. Children like Libby give us the opportunity to open our hearts and hands to them, and to see the beauty in them as reflections of every aspect of creation.? 

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© Copyright 2010 Tom Wilson, All Rights Reserved 



© Copyright 2010 Tom Wilson, All Rights Reserved
P.O. Box 2278 Nevada City, CA 95959-1945
Phone: (530) 913.1309