February 16, 2010

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.

March 9, 2009

What we hope we learn....

We first met on September 11 and posed several important questions to frame up our process:

How do we document this?

* We have posed open-ended, phenomenologically oriented questions when we are together - e.g. "what is it like to...." "what does this mean?"
* We have taken notes to document our experiences, using the above questions as the prompt
* We have generated a process that asks each individual by turn to share their perspectives, and then we move into a more dialogic conversation. This way, we are sure to document the individual insights of the scholar collaborators, as well as the emergent shared meanings and questions

How do we position this work institutionally? Departmentally? Disciplinarily?
* We have built a strong relationship with the Institute for Advanced Study
* We are seeking additional internal resources to support further work
* We are adding to our group of investigators from other disciplines and other campuses
*We have developed a long-range strategy to position and elevate the work - institutionally, academically, and internationally

What shifts for each participant and the group as we go through this? Is there a transformational piece? If so, what is it like?
*We are seeing the trust of each participant in the embodied exploration component - we look forward to moving together; we honor the importance of each scholar collaborator's embodied experience, and understand that we need several hours together regularly to explore this.
*We are learning that embodied investigation not only contributes fresh perspectives conceptually and intellectually (e.g. a shift in understanding Husserlian definitions of 'being') as well as personally (what happens when we spend time in a state of 'being' rather than active thinking)

November 30, 2008

Stages of Embodied Practice

by Margie Fargnoli

Our first embodiment workshop was wonderful and I wanted to say how impressed I was with everyone's quality of participation.

After talking with Maggi, I thought it would be a good idea to review the particular steps we're using to explore embodiment from the BodyMind Centering perspective. As I said in my introduction at the workshop, this is not the only way to approach embodiment, but it is, in my opinion, a very good way because it is so clear and so grounded in the body.

Here are the steps we used:

1) Visualization -

This is the process by which the brain imagines aspects of the body and in so doing informs the body that it exists. In ths process there is a director or guide.

By using the senses, vision, touch and sound we clarify the internal geography of the body. Pictures, models, DVD's - anything that will give you an accurate three dimensional understanding of the tissue you are hoping to embody is worth using.

Next, internalize the visualization. Move around with it. See it inside yourself. "Where are my bones?" "What does it feel like to move across the room while envisioning my skeleton moving?" Start making an internal map that you can use to guide you to whatever "location" you're investigating. The visualization helps us understand the location/geography and shape of the location - bones, organs, etc.

2) Somatization the process by which the kinesthetic (movement), proprioceptive (position) and tactile (touch) sensory systems inform the body that it (the body) exists. In this process there is a witness, an inner awareness through movement and/or touch.

Following the map from visualization, I often suggest that we place or direct our attention or awareness in the tissue or system. Our directed attention combined with the visualized "map" guides us, opening us to experience that comes directly from the system or tissue as we move it or are being moved by it. As we are investigating,we are noticing the sensations, feelings, and/or perceptions that arise. Our attention is thus focused toward the direct qualities of experience in a given tissue and we are able to discriminate different qualities of experience between different tissues.

On Friday it became evident that situating awareness in the bones gave rise to a very different quality of consciousness as compared to situating awareness in the organs.

3) Embodiment

is the cells' awareness of themselves. You let go of your conscious mapping. It is a direct experience: there are no intermediary steps or translations. There is no guide , no witness. There is a fully known consciousness of the experienced moment initiated from the cells themselves.

This is a purely receptive sensory state. We attend to the co-arising of experience and the knowing of the experience. We are not managing the experience. This can be a difficult shift for us to make, especially if we have been practicing a cognitively-based styles of investigation that embrace a kind of forward momentum - thinking as a form of motoring. We are very quick to make meaning out of what we experience without understanding the importance of the influence of the original experience - the embodied, pre-reflective experience.

Meaning-making happens so quickly that it's easy to miss the actual embodied state. So embodiment as a practice takes patience and letting go of tightening in the mind (which is not to say a sloppy kind of loosy goosiness, but rather an alert, relaxed clear "seeing". It then may take a bit to language the experience or make meaning from it.

Quotes are from Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's, Sensing, Feeling and Action, (2nd Edition). Copies of this book are availabler at Coffman Union on the Minneapolis Campus or can be purchased online at