Bodiliness, reflection and experience

di Antonio Ricci * - Translation by Angela Cervera *

“Man is a body in the same degree as he is spirit: entirely body and entirely spirit. There is no shadow of the spirit which doesn’t make way to a gesture of the body, nor motion which doesn’t draw in space a gesture of spirit”.

E. Mounier

After having explained the principle which support our educational work, as stated at the end of my former article entitled “About grief, love and experience”, I’m going now to examine the principle we employ for this purpose in our school which are: bodiliness, reflection and experience.

I believe that legs contain a profound memory waiting to emerge, but also that we need a great deal of energy to make it happen: we have to move to release it. We need a special energy to afford to reach very old memories or to follow through one’s own reflections; we need a simple vigour which doesn’t deny sweating, but rather makes use of it. It’s the only way to make a useful vitality emerge and that is, paradoxically, the consequence of that kind of exhaustion which consumes excesses.

When the body is balanced the mind works better, in other words we can say that the body, once released from the obligation of managing the everyday survival, is finally able to care about real human matters, which are usually overlooked, issues as: caring about what is useless and necessary, but unproductive, caring about fantasy and dream, about contradiction and the longing towards the Absolute, about the sacred and the profane, about beauty and concern, about what belongs to the depths of our souls or, again, caring about what is fatuous and elusive, about the freedom of thought and conscience.

These are all fields of the conscience that often remain unexplored. Exploring such fields requires “ardour”.

Jogging and going for long walks have always belonged to my self-discipline as well as practising fighting arts and meditation. I‘m very fond of each of them, both because I feel a peculiar natural inclination and because of all the reasons I’ve just mentioned. I often realise the benefits of sweating in terms of the quality of my thoughts and so very often, while acting, I come across thoughts which would have been otherwise unapproachable.
When this happens I let the thoughts blend, let them mix, making sure they take all the space they need so as to make them be able to stand out distinctly on the colourless backgroung of my conscience. I’m very careful neither to interpret them immediately nor to force connections but, instead, I rely on the fact that soon or later everything will be clarified, provided that I make myself available to hold what happens.

I’ve been trying long time not to fight powerful and overwhelming forces, whatever good or bad, for laziness or fear: I’m talking about an attitude to flexibility which can exist only thanks to discipline.

This attitude aims to be still able to think in order to keep making choices as a free person; aims to be still capable of giving to life one’s own direction both by being flexible and by taking position against things; aims to capture and change powerful forces without letting them be overwhelming: this might be successful or a failing experience, but it is, at least, necessary to bear the chance of falling and to learn to do it without hurting oneself.

To be a good fighter you need first to become able to fall down in an excellent way. In other words surrender, trying to hold such forces, means being able to swim with the flow remaining alert and aware, without forgetting to direct the flow with little and precise movements towards the aimed direction.

It is a research which considers the slightest signal or less evident traces. It’s a matter of awareness, of ordinary and extraordinary attention. That’s why a person needs getting used to hold the frustration which usually emerges from the loss of control. You have, in fact, to get accustomed to the fact that you are not in the position to understand everything nor to receive immediate answers but, rather, you have to train yourself to face the fear of failure, avoiding the temptation of “doing something because it’s better than doing nothing”. It is like an empty space, uncertain, sometimes confused, without any resolving expectation to be seen. I’m talking about a condition of attentive listening and deep willingness to hold what comes, where “acting” means just waiting, accepting that a creative process is still going on out of your control. Soon or later you will see a passage and that’s why you need to be ready to identify and to enter it before it gets closed again. It’s a condition which compels you to consider what happens while it’s happening and, in the meantime, not to lose the direction of your action: immediate purposes and future perspectives.

Thus what you are going to do in this very moment may become meaningful only in a projection into the future, meant as the action of waiting in the present time for something forthcoming, as well as laying on the memory of the past, which means the ability of recalling the past being in the present time: in other words the attitude of learning.

So there are three time dimensions which can be combined in our mind only at the present time: the present time of the past (what I remember now of the past), the present time of the present (what I consider now of what’s happening) and the present time of the future (what I’m now able to project into the future). Three dimensions which Saint Augustine of Hippo used to acknowledge as extensions of the soul and as tangible signs of its work.

The action of unifying the whole experience into the present time, according to the threefold meaning of S. Augustine, is nothing else than meditation. This is a state which may be experienced also during a “good fight” where the award is represented by the possibility to encounter another person, that means being aware of oneself and the other.

The winner is the one who is able to include. Including means to be willing not to escape the present time but, instead, to recognise the limits of the space you occupy and, therefore, to accept what happens while it’s happening, even before turning it into something else or accepting it definitely as it is.

Bodiliness is therefore meant to be the condition of human existence in the relatedness to the world as well as a way to make experience of the world, which may yet remain latent without having any effect on knowledge.
Gaining experience is the basic essencial condition to achieve knowledge, but it is not enough.

How are bodiliness and experience related? What does combine them?

While running I usually watch the others doing the same. I’m very interested in observing their steps and the different ways people find to re-establish balance in running, as well as in observing how the whole body contributes to the movement. I observe and learn: some of them, very few, show a nice, synchronised and fluid gait, nearly effortless, which certainly is the result of a meticulous and serious research: they run investigating the motion of running; the others, the majority, simply accelerate their usual gait and somehow, in the meantime, something important happens. So I observe how habitual postures can be the cause of totally inefficient centres of gravity and also how unconscious automatic motions might cause twitches and physical rigidness. For all these reasons people, in order to avoid falling, are forced to useless, exaggerated and unpleasing movements. The result is a huge effort that makes people only get back to the usual uncertain starting point. Nothing changes. But bodies which are engaged in such apparently easy motion let emerge features which would be, while resting, much less evident to the that person.

So you can see shoulders which seem to be hanging from high or curving downwards as well as blocked, breathless diaphragms; heads bended too much forwards or backwards; rigid arms, totally uncoordinated or showing an exaggerated, artificial motion; tense hands or totally feeble ones and again, the lower part, the pelvis forced in useless twisting or feet tossed randomly, barely lying on the ground or stamped down while bending in a painful and useless way.

All this makes the gait appear funny and unusual: some of the people appear as swaying, disordered and inconsistent puppets; others seem suffering and rigid because they simply drag themselves. Most commonly you might have the feeling to watch a caricatured running rather than a true one.

These bodies and motions are much more significant than any issue about themselves people might have talked about, because they reveal something about the deepest meaning of a person. If they only could see themselves for an instant!  Such plain evidence is moving because it shows a silent loneliness and discloses the vulnerable nakedness of each person facing one’s own self, but it might also be annoying because of the unawareness it reveals. My experience has taught me that telling my students what they should or should not do during a bodily learning phase, is never enough or, to put it better, it’s quite useless to force students to replace a “wrong” motion with a “better” one. It works much better if I create the proper training conditions which help them start learning again, in order to build a new conscious automatic movement, able to replace the older one because it works better. From an educational point of view I think that the quantity of ability shown by a student at the beginning is not important or, even less, there aren’t ideal motor patterns to achieve; what really matters is the process the student needs to come through so as to switch from one condition to another being simply what he/she is. Awaking the body and making it able to start learning again may need a long time, in other words, it is necessary to focus on a long and important process which considers the time and manner of each person, a process able to connect bodiliness and experience at the service of awareness. So what’s the hurry?

The aim is to achieve the entirety of a person and to do this one life is not enough, so the purpose is to build a wider margin of freedom which means both an interior freedom and a larger possibility of an individual action, instead of accepting without any criticism an external pattern, whatever bodily or ideological, only because it’s considered a “better” one. Dialogical philosophers would state that we need not a new thought but, most of all, a new way of thinking ; not a new action, but a new way of acting.

But now let me go back to the topic of running. During this simple action some bodies seem to be trapped into an idea of self which has never really been neither fulfilled nor verified. They are bodies to be shown or to be hidden, rather than meant to be used in their largest potentiality for achieving what they really want.

These bodies are rather vehicle of often unaware wishes, emotions and feelings, as well as source of delight or showing existential suffering. They are as exploited and abused mules, which, having not been heard for years, have become angry and dull. They are, again, unknown and disobedient bodies, which might suddenly stop working well beyond any expectation and long before any will and continuity guarantee. Therefore they are bodies which express inevitably, in a very mysterious and coherent way, the relationship which each of them has with the world. A shape which is also action and motion. This is what we are and this is the way we mold our body in accordance to our level of awareness. Thus what we are and what we are becoming is represented by the whole body, although a person might be more or less aware of it.

So this is what our body represents: a sort of information given to all, which might be far from evident to everybody. The body reveals our way of being in the world:   the way we reaffirm our certainties about ourselves, as well as the way we show our demands towards the others. It is a constant bodily speech which may be very far from our words so as from our conscious thoughts. Awareness molds the body and this, itself, nourishes consciousness. It means that awareness and body are merged yet separated, because one without the other cannot exist in mutual influence.

Hence what joins bodiliness and experience? It is the act of reflecting which draws knowledge from experience and it does under the pressure of the full awareness of a bodily motion, full of sensoriality, emotions and motorial energy.
Building consciousness through the act of reflecting, requires a twofold attitude: to be receptive and penetrating.

The receptive attitude makes you be attentive to listening and observing, in other words you collect suggestions, you explore in order to understand, you remove judgments preferring to go back to the elementary experience, which is above all a sensorial one and it’s an attitude which pays attention to the primary and powerful strength which usually is manifested in events. This is a form of learning which allows the external world to impress a mark, to shake a balance, to infringe certainties even before any definition. In this sense it requires the creation of a capacious and solid interior space, as well as flexible and empty, created through a long process which implies a gradual simplification of many processes. All that leads to a basic simplicity which doesn’t mean overlooking complexity but, rather, corresponds to “ take away what’s useless”.

So we can say that sacrifice and surrender are two forces we cannot avoid facing up as well as fear and anger.

The penetrating attitude makes you be active, sharp and cutting in order to penetrate fields of experience otherwise unapproachable. You act to be able to face what is going to happen, so as to name things, giving them a sense and a place. You will create connections and meanings acting in accordance to your own values and interests. It’s a learning form which wants to give shape to the world leaving its mark and generating a change, rather than suffering it. Therefore a strong, stable and recognisable identity is required which is ready to include the change without being shaken from the ground, able to identify openly its own preferences as well as what is intolerable, able, once again, to take position and to attack so as to cooperate and to participate with the attitude of building. The penetrating attitude defines, preserves and defends what is valuable. In this field of experience bravery and loneliness are the two conditions you can no longer avoid facing up.

Bodiliness, reflection and experience are fields where we experience the relationship and, as such they can be employed in an educational and clinical setting in favour of the conscious growth of the person within a qualified and well-intentioned relationship. In such a relationship the exchange between the educator and pupil, the terapist and the client can take place simultaneously through all these three settings without being confusing. It is precisely in the bodiliness of the person who educates and cures that you can have an opportunity to contact and meet the other, so as it’s in the educator’s reflexive attitude that you can find understanding and a definition and, finally, it is in his experience that a constant learning process might be achieved. It is exactly in the combination of these three elements that the person can perceive the time and the space of the meeting as significant, realising it just while it happens. In so doing, the meeting becomes meaningful for both sides thanks to the fact that persons exchange their views and mutually complete their vision of the world. What really matters is to recognise the absolute freedom of the other to do anything he wishes with what he has been given.

That’s why will remains a fundamental element of the evolutional process of a person, where anyone deals with the most important issues of the existential search that is: responsibility and freedom.

I started this writing stating that a well balanced body releases the mind and allows it to take care of human issues which are often overlooked, but now I end my comments affirming that it might be not enough: you must want it and that implies responsibility.   Talking about interior freedom is a responsibility and it requires to be committed to it.

Being able to name the issues of a personal research is a challenge because it compels you to take coherent action, to stop hiding, but it may become a light assignment for people who want to stop separating real life from the idea they have of life, seeking for entirety and authenticity.

I’m deeply concerned with all these issues I have just talked about and they have always been on the horizon of my research. They give meaning to any personal action and subscribe to any decision regarding my professional life, they are the premise which led me to choose the disciplines I practice, so as they are the explanation of any choice I made in terms of educational programme. How could it be possible, after all, to talk about humanistic and educational issues if we weren’t able to see such perspective on the horizon? Why should we decide to climb such slopes, sometimes so tiring, and why should we ask others to do the same?

A Buddhist pray recites: “All human beings may feel fulfilled in happiness and in peace without illusion”.

What is certain is that anything concerns the educational research cannot neither guarantee nor promise any peace or happiness, because every person is called to achieve them in the loneliness of his/her own existence. What really would be worth doing is to give a real answer to this last most important little word “without illusion”.

On the basis of what has been said so far, I believe that the profound sense of these two words may eventually be clear to some readers and that the strength of such intent may be able to guide the silent actions of many people.

It certainly concerns a far and high horizon, but not less real.

Leggi la versione italiana “Corporeità, atto riflessivo ed esperienza”

Antonio Ricci, psychopedagogist, is the founder of the «Centre of Educational and Pedagogical Studies Periagogè», School of Normodinamica. He has been practising Kendo and Judo for over 30 years, he likes practising long distance trekking and, as a keen amateur, also running and  mountain climbing.
He has included the above mentioned disciplines in all educational, clinical and training processes which are dealt by the Periagogè School.

Angela Cervera, teaches English literature and language. She is a member of the psycho-pedagogical equipe of the Periagogè.