What is “Normodinamica”?

di Antonio Ricci *

People ask me very often about the meaning of the word “Normodinamica” and about the role it plays in our school. I’ll try an answer.

Normodinamica started between 1984 and 1989 and it is the name Paolo Menghi, (infantile neuro-psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, systemic-relational psychotherapist), used to describe his educational, clinical and formative approach which pursues the conscious development of the individual: an approach which was meant to be in a constant state of becoming and was strictly related to him. Since Paolo Menghi has never given any systematic explanation of Normodinamica there are no technical manuals, nor epistemological definition or standard procedures to be found. One of the reasons for this only apparently incompleteness is surely his premature death but it’s also important to consider his will to proceed into a field of free research. He preferred to plant seeds rather than to rise fences.

His new perspective marked a break with the contemporary world of psychotherapists because of a different interpretation of what was, at that time, conceived as the conventional professional training. This break became evident when he renounced to an important institutional role (he was, in fact, cofounder of the “ Istituto di Terapia Familiare” in Rome) making clear that all his work was heading towards a redefinition of the whole conception of formative processes. Thus in 1984, at the height of his professional activity, he left The I.T.F. to found his new school. The works published after this date, which I suggest reading for a better understanding of his teaching, are in the whole four: two collections of aphorisms and poems, “Il filo del Sè” and “Figli dell’istante”[1], a novel, “Zone di Silenzio”[2] and a little book , “Mandala”, where can be found a more systematic evidence of the method he was elaborating.   Only recently a collection of his seminars has been pubblished by Astrolabio publisher bearing the name of “Trasformare la mente”[3]; the writings had been previously issued on the “Ttsui Ting Ttai” magazine after having been improved and re-elaborated by the author. Everything else is made up of a large, never published, unsystematic corpus which includes writings, video and audio recordings concerning his public seminars as well as courses, training sessions and lectures held between 1989 and 1998, which was also the year of his death.

It’s worth mentioning that the largest part of his teaching could not simply disregard a direct relationship with him, that’s why, as a large part of it had been lost or could not be reproduced, concerns rose after his death about the use of this teaching. After about fifteen years from his death a very little group of his direct students still keep operating with the same spirit of research, while integrating different approaches and qualifying in even very different professions. I am one of them and in the 1998, i founded the School Periagogè which starts within this attempt of continuity and differentiation, aiming to give priority to the educational, pedagogical and formative dimention in order to emphasize a multicultural approach, which combines to the experience of Normodinamica other epistemological references among which are the dialogical personalism, the constructivist psychology so as the pedagogical encounter.

Right within the evolutional approach to human being embraced by the School “Periagogè” we can find three themes in common with the Normodinamica:

  • A dialogical and psychodynamical conception of the person, that is an appreciation both of his/her intersubjective and deep
  • A process-oriented and systemic conception of the world , as well as oriented towards interdependent structures and
  • The deep belief that conscience might be expanded throughout the whole life.

According to this perspective two aims are to be pursued:

  • The understanding of how the deep self works as well as one’s own relationships and evolutionary cycles in order to gain an active and competent acceptance of reality.
  • The development of a conscious and responsible will.

For this reason it’s necessary to establish a good relationship towards any real-world expression in order to let anyone play an active role in the transformation of concrete areas of one’s life.

The research as well as the clinical and educational action of the Periagogè School rotate around five fields of experience:

  • the conflict;
  • the building of a self;
  • the analogical and bodily dimension;
  • the intersubjective relationship;
  • the relationship to the world.

The approach of Normodinamica allows to trace some meaning categories very similar to the fields of experience just mentioned which were summed up by Paolo Menghi in his former teaching with five Sanskrit words:

  • Tejas: it draws attention to the evolutionary importance of friction and to the possibility of a balanced management of the conflict.
  • Ekatva: it studies the possibility to combine the different senses of the self, which aims to move the individual towards a growing entirety, balance, strength and cohesion.
  • Vairagya: it studies the need of both distance and closeness while searching for an intersubjective relationship.
  • Amatra: it draws attention to the analogical both artistic and bodily communication considered as ways of integrating experience otherwise not to be expressed with words.
  • Yatra: or in other words overcoming the boundaries and the restrictions of the own belonging systems, the human cohabitation and the relationship to the world.

It’s easy to imagine the embarrassment that such terms may have caused to the academic world of psychologists and psychiatrists where Menghi worked. There was, in fact and not without reason, a certain suspicion towards the oriental disciplines as well as towards spiritual expressions, particularly concerning a naïve and superficial use of these words and further because they used to delineate a neat line between science and spirit. It corresponded, however, to Menghi purposes: that is to bridge the gap between western scientific research and the eastern spiritual one. The use of such words may still generate misunderstanding and confusion about what are to be considered the instruments and the aims.

That happens to be when the initial meaning of these words is no longer taken into consideration and they are only contemplated as “disciplines”, which they are not in a strict sense, because they make use of earlier disciplines wherefrom they take their technical equipment. For example in our School the Japanese fighting disciplines of Kendo and Judo as well as the Yoga techniques, even though related to their tradition, are studied in accordance to the educational and clinical principles of Normodinamica, to the traditional psychology as well as to the dialogical personalism.

We apply them basing on evolutional and methodological premises which not necessarily belong to such disciplines. On the basis of this approach the School organises the whole didactic, educational and clinical work. Thus the training of teachers and therapists necessarily includes an already gained qualified experience in both areas, in other words they absolutely need having a degree and an advanced black belt. The way the two things are combined concerns an educational – methodological problem and defines our approach.

The innovative power of Menghi’s thought is not to be found in his original ideas but rather in achieving this valiant synthesis, as well as in revisiting and making relevant methods, principles and awareness techniques which place the individual, the importance of direct experience and bodiliness at the heart of the matter.

From the eastern culture he took the interest in a unified body and mind dimention as well as in the sophisticated technologies aiming to expand the awareness of such dimention, which was never meant to be separated from bodily experience.

I think that it’s worth highlighting how his attempt to synthesize east and west can find a qualified equivalent in C. G. Jung’s studies, wherefrom he certainly derived inspiration as well as principles and methodological references, especially if compared to the wide epistemological references in the field of the psychoanalytic and systemic relational psychology, a field he was already working in.

With regard to his way of considering mental illness and existential distress there are, instead, many affinities with the anti psychiatry movement, with Laing and Cooper’s thought and with several studies of the Palo Alto School. Nowadays, principally in academic circles and within the clinical research concerned with educational processes, we can certainly find many other examples of such bodily and experiential approach, which is joined to the use of meditation as well as of training methodologies belonging both to martial arts and to classical yoga, from biogenetics to psychosynthesis.

The relevant reflections about the dialogical nature of human consciousness, which belong to the dialogical personalism philosophy whom Periagoge refers to, show several important connections with Menghi’s thought. This is particularly evident if we regard his way of considering the depths of pneumatology, putting it at the heart of the matter especially in relation to the educational process of the person, which is never to be considered detached from an interior as well as intersubjective relational dimention.

In his teaching we might find signs of a serious, laical and never ideological reading about the Christian search of the “whole man”.

I think that Menghi’s most radical response to his firm believes has to be found in a different approach to the training of therapists and educators. In fact all the training and development programmes he managed were based on:

  • the search of coherence between idea and life;
  • the enlargement of the therapeutic and educative setting towards daily life situations;
  • the attempt of creating the possibility of a more direct personal and relational involvement of the therapist/educator, which consequently brings the therapist/educator both to lose his safety zone related to the setting/room and prevents the latter from hiding his face, body as well as his personal history to the patient/student, something which had formerly always been imposed to the patient/student;
  • the need of a constant debate and to verify the psychological, energetic and physical stability of the therapist/educator;
  • the need of the therapist/educator to possess an autonomous discipline which involves each physical level as well as each level of “being”: from a correct diet to self care , from possessing knowledge and culture to gaining profound and intrapsychic awareness, from enjoying a family and emotional life to the search of a life direction.

In this regard the training process which Menghi recommended found his premises in the great seriousness with whom he considered the assignment given to the therapist/educator, which based on an important deontological principle : taking care of other people’s psychophysical health means necessarily first of all taking care of one’s own one, in a very serious way and for ever. In this sense “for ever” represents a life direction and supposes the fundamental choice of pursuing coherence and of constantly verifying one’s own attitude.

I can without any doubt state that the Periagogè School is quite accurate in following the last issues we’ve just mentioned because it believes in their importance and considers them essential to anyone who wants to take up a career as therapist and educator.

These are elements which are essentially still in the wake of Paolo Menghi’s original teaching.

[1] “The thread of the self” , “ Sons of the instant”

[2] “Areas of Silence”

[3] “ Transforming your mind”

Leggi la versione italiana “Che cos’è la Normodinamica”? 

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.