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What We're Doing When We're Experiencing in the First Person

by Margaret Adamek

Don Hanlon Johnson refers to this style of embodied inquiry as "disciplined experiencing." For some, any whiff of the term 'discipline' connotes everything from academic siloization to Foucaultian musings on the nature of knowledge and control. Perhaps on some level, Johnson includes this notion of 'discipline' in his discussion, given that he is a former Jesuit monk.

What Johnson suggests in the use of this term is that there is a way to 'experience one's experience' that requires rigor, practice, a particular style of attention, and extensive cultivation.

In a more standard treatment of the word 'discipline' - one that cultural studies aficionados would probably prefer, Poteat suggests that the transition to "experiencing one's experience" is moving from the "disciplined body" to the "aware body." What he refers to, however, is essentially the same type of rigorous practice of first person experience that Johnson refers to, despite the confusing contradictions in terminology.

Because of the complexities of using the term "discipline," I will use Poteat's term - the "aware body" - to describe the somatic style employed by our Embodied Methodologies Working Group when we are exploring in the first person.

So, if we are in 'aware body' mode, what does that mean? Any somatic style or way of being in the body requires a 'somatic mode of attention' - a way of paying attention. The notion of 'forms' or 'styles' of attention is not completely strange. We employ a variety of attentional styles, depending on the task at hand. Natalie Depraz describes the style of attention required for first person-oriented experiencing as a "letting come" - a receptive style of attention.

So, experiencing one's experience requires a particular style of attention and form of awareness. Body-Mind Centering founder, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, describes this embodied style of the aware body as 'effortless' whereas oftentimes the attentional style of the scholar is effortful concentration.