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Sensory awareness and total functioning*.

THE WORK I am going to present to you cannot be identified with any one of the traditional or generally known approaches to human nature and creativity, although its various facets branch out into many of them, for instance, psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, biology, education, the arts, general semantics, etc. But it stands by itself and has its unique approach.

In introducing my work to you, I feel strongly that it is to Elsa Gindler and Heinrich Jacoby, both living and working in Germany and Switzerland respectively [1957], to whom I want to pay tribute. After I graduated from the Dr. Rudolf Bode School for Expressive Movement in Munich and had post-graduate work with Mary Wigman, by far the strongest influence on me was the studies with Elsa Gindler and Heinrich Jacoby, which had an evolutionary effect on my whole outlook and approach.

I would call Elsa Gindler a natural scientist of extraordinary quality. She has made it her life's work to explore to what degree we human beings cooperate with the forces of nature, for instance: with spontaneous development of energy within a given activity, with the processes of life and regeneration as they happen through us, with the dynamics of rest and activity, how we respond to gravity, and so on. She has found out that in the process of this exploration one can discover through sensing, how hindering tendencies come about. As the individual becomes more sensitized and learns to befriend himself with the potentials he gradually uncovers, the way slowly opens to a fuller experiencing and deeper relating to himself and all activities of daily living. Actually, her work is bio-social in nature.

Heinrich Jacoby, if one wants to make a distinction at all between his work and Elsa Gindler's, has been mainly interested in freeing creative energies and exploring our potentials of expressing ourselves--be it in any daily task or activity, or in speaking, music, painting, writing, etc. He found that our usual way of approaching tasks inhibits our vital powers. In contrast, an attitude of awareness and readiness of the total self, in contact with our activity and obedient to its dynamics, releases our energies and creative forces. We may say that the core of his work lies in bringing about such attitudes of 'allowing' rather than our customary 'trying hard,' making efforts, and 'doing.'

Both have come to the same conclusions: 1. that the full range of our potentials has never been discovered by us and lies as yet unused, but can be brought to life and gradually unfolded; 2. that what we do use, we often use to disadvantage with regard to our energy expenditure (and subsequently to our functioning) as well as to the quality of our actions; 3. that there are no ungifted people. If we believe we are ungifted, we will find on close examination that we are only hindered, and hindrances can gradually be shed, when we get insight into what has held us back and give ourselves new chances....

It is really interesting that the findings of my teachers based on empirical experimentation coincide with the discoveries of modern neurological research, as explained by Dr. Russell Meyers in his lectures at the Institute seminars, as well as with the age-old knowledge and metaphysical practices of Zen and Taoism. They all recognize: If we would allow the giving up of the effects of previous conditioning and become able again to experience--even unfold--our untapped potentials, only then, as Elsa Gindler used to say, would we live normally, i.e. according to our actual human design. You see, what we usually call 'normal' is far from our rich human possibilities.

What is it--this something which some people seem to have? Those who have it and to whom we always feel strangely attracted, seem to live out of a greater inner richness. I saw this quality recently at work when I watched a friend, a delicate, fragile woman of over 80, giving a treatment to a patient for well over one and a half hours. After she had completed, the patient, wonderfully relieved, exclaimed: 'From where do you have this strength and this marvelous sensitivity?' My friend smiled at her and answered: 'Everybody has it, only we don't know about it!'

Basically, this is the same answer which my teachers have given, and the practical work towards 'knowing that we have it'--or, to be more to the point--gradually discovering and developing it, is the content of our work.

If we all have it--and yet don't seem to have it--what has happened? Where is it hidden? It must be locked up. What has created this locking up? There are innumerable factors which can contribute. In this lecture I will elaborate on only two which influence human functioning: fear and conditioning.

How does fuller functioning manifest itself, and how does the opposite? It always manifests it self psycho-physically. There has been a controversy as to what comes first. Some contend it is the psychic: 'I am tense because I am afraid.' Some contend it is the physical: 'I am afraid because I am tense.' Actually, fear and tenseness happen simultaneously. They are two aspects of the way we react to a given stimulus. There are many more reactions in our organismic totality to such a stimulus; I do not have the time to speak about them now. Such reacting starts the first moment we arrive in this world, if not already before....

I have chosen for today: 'Sensory Awareness and Total Functioning.' You will recognize and appreciate how the so-called physical and the experiential are one. Let us read Dr. Schachtel:
 ... Everything is new to the newborn child.... The average adult
 ... has ceased to wonder, to discover.... It is this adult who
 answers the child's questions and, in answering, fails to answer
 them, but instead acquaints the child with the conventional
 patterns of his civilization, which effectively close up the asking
 mouth and shut the wondering eye.
 ... most people, unless they have become complete automatons, have
 had glimpses of the exhilarating quality that makes fresh
 experience, unlabeled, so unique, concrete, and filled with life....
 You have seen how alive, how buoyantly so, the little ones are
 while exploring. Interest fires the tissues. Vitality, nerve
 activity, organic functioning, reactiveness are at their best, when
 we are really interested and in contact with what we are doing.
 Senses are open for reception, muscles for necessary changes, energy
 supply is at hand just as we need it, we are ready for action just
 as for rest--whatever is warranted. In other words, our whole self
 functions in what we do. (1)

But when our thirst for genuine experience is more and more discouraged, vitality tends to ebb away, or is wasted by continued repression. Every function becomes somewhat lowered in its power. Increasingly the stimuli which objects of interest could create diminish. We become more lame, or constricted, or, on account of the unsatisfied hunger for the needed stimulus, we become restless....

There will also be ever-returning conflict, because spontaneous impulses and needs of the organism ... will again and again try to re-establish nature-given reactivity, which then each time has to be repressed--unless the person has built up such resistances within himself in the form of constriction or dullness, that he does not feel these natural tendencies any more.

... Let me elaborate on such damage as it may affect the child's organism from the very beginning and continue though the educational process into adulthood:
 Tensions set in: 'I have to hold myself back!'
 Repression occurs: 'What I like to do is no good, I have to silence
 the demand.' Thus whole regions are being held to desensitize them.
 Lifelessness gradually develops: 'What I want is not what mother
 wants, I'm bad when I do it, I better give in.' Thus muscles get
 flabby, gland activity, circulation, organic functioning decrease or
 are otherwise disturbed, reflexes weaken, etc.
 Disorientation starts: 'What feels good to me is not right. I can't
 trust my "inner." I don't seem to know--the adults know.'

By this time the 'feeling of self' of the child has been weakened to such an extent that the basis is laid for accepting more and more conditioning. It seems to me that this insecurity, so subtly developed--'I don't know, the other knows'--follows us through life, weakening more and more our productive abilities. I meet in my classes this dependence, the stern belief in what others advise or teach, no matter how superficial or artificial it might be. It requires a great deal of work to loosen these ties so that we begin to dare again to trust our own sensations and feelings.

What does the child learn, and what do we retain to a smaller or larger degree, in case an education based on disregard of spontaneity and natural development is successful? As Heinrich Jacoby has bought home so emphatically (as the result of his inquiries into the nature of such hindrances, he has become the warmest spokesman for children):

1. He no longer trusts his own judgment--he has to be told.

2. The more exactly he repeats, the better.

3. The more he can give the 'right' answer, the better a child or student he is. ('Right' usually is what the parent or teacher wants to hear.)

4. The more quickly he thinks and answers, the more intelligent he is thought to be.

5. The more effort he makes, the more he will succeed.

Can you feel what all this does to the organism, and what attitudes it creates in us? We become mainly directed towards: Doing--Getting--Gaining approval--Making an effort--Following superimposed advice. And where is room left for individual search, for the blessings of just being, existing, responding in a genuine way--for sensitive awareness?

... People who come to the studio to have me tell them what to do to get a good posture--how to move, how to stand, how to sit--or in order to be exercised, are quite astonished at first, when they are invited to become more restful, to give up the 'doing,' so that they can listen better to what their body has to tell them. We need quiet for self-experience--quiet and awakeness. We need permissiveness too, permissiveness to all the subtle changes which may be needed.

It is easier at first for people to lie down on the floor, permitting time to perceive, or, as we say, to 'sense' themselves. We ask, 'What can one feel of one's own organism, what of happenings within--not what one knows of one's body, or what one thinks about it, or believes somebody else expects one to feel of it, but what one actually senses, no matter what comes to the fore?' Sensations come gradually; one can not force them. The more one expects, the less will come. We learn gradually not to expect anything at, all, but to register what is happening in our organism. This physical self-experience is for many people entirely new, often stirringly so.

The floor on which we lie can also serve as a good teacher. One may feel that one presses on it, or holds oneself away from it, often long before one registers any fine sensations.

... When I asked this man whether he was comfortable in sitting like this he answered, 'Yes.' After some time he found out that he could not breathe well. 'I guess I am used to it,' he commented. I asked him to try to find out what created this insufficient breathing. He began to notice that his arms were too heavy, that they pulled the shoulders down and rounded his back. (He had come to me on account of backaches.) He also noticed that his collapsing created pressure in his abdominal region. He began to get tired. At last he did not want to stay this way any longer because he could not stand it any more. In this way he experienced for the first time his discomfort, which he had been living with for many years.

I asked him to stay a little longer yet, to feel his obstructed breathing once more, then very gradually, so that he could feel what happened--to allow the changes which he needed for more satisfactory breathing. Sure enough, a big sigh carried him up quite a bit, brought his arms out of their flabby hanging and freed his shoulders....

To sum it up, this initial process of sensing enables us to find out about our actual attitude and condition in a given activity, and let ourselves be led entirely by our genuine needs to what feels more satisfactory within this activity....

Experiments in which we find out whether or not we yield to another person's support are interesting study. We learn a lot about ourselves. We come face to face with our own attitudes. In evaluating what we discover, we may learn that it is often fear which makes us hold back. We may also notice in which regions of our organism we resist or help unnecessarily, and in what ways this happens. Each person has his individual way to bring such obstructions about. When we discover that we do not need to resist or help, we can gradually give up such efforts and become more friendly toward the procedure. It takes time to become more permissive, so that we can enjoy the offered support. So such work on 'regions' can become very productive for freeing a person-as-a-whole.

Waking up in our hands and feet is another powerful experience--they change from being unrelated 'dangling objects,' which we either 'let go' or 'hold,' to real 'feelers,' reactive to what they touch, more a part of our gradually more sensitized self....

In the center of our work on sensory awareness stands the study of breathing. Breathing is the central experience of being alive. Patience is necessary to get aware of what happens. Complete honesty is of course essential. Our sensations may be vague at first, and only very gradually get clearer. This is only too natural but many people believe that they should feel everything right away. As we become able to give up being so anxious, and pushing ourselves, we will accept--even appreciate--a more gradual process of changing. We learn to get interested in the different steps which lead toward more natural breathing. Every step becomes significant and revealing.

We begin to distinguish between producing breathing, helping breathing, preventing breathing, and allowing breathing. Many people think of breathing only in terms of performance. They have never stopped to realize that breathing is the first thing the baby does--and it certainly has not learned to perform it. So if breathing does not function satisfactorily, there must be interference. We may discover the nature of such interference. There may be residual tensions, there may be resistance patterns caused by anxiety or fear. Often signals we get aware of help us to give up such resistances, and with the help of more quiet and breathing, to take a new stand. So no 'performance' is necessary, but more and more obedience to the genuine function as it wants to occur, without interfering 'help.'...

Much of what we learn in breathing will be fruitful for balancing: becoming changeable, sensitive to minute happenings, reactive toward touch, including the base of support....

You may have realized that we have gone back, all the way back to childhood activities, to alive, unlabelled experiences. We have taken time to explore what it means to rest. We have rediscovered the supporting power of the earth and found that by entrusting ourselves to it we become free for action. As in childhood, obstacles attract us again. In meeting them we strengthen. We begin not to be discouraged when we meet hardship--such occasions may become very productive instead, because we realize that we learn from every experience.

Working together with other people, enjoying the same tasks together, or struggling with them together, giving help and receiving help, learning how to approach the other, how literally to 'handle' him, are stirring experiences of direct communication. Our own organism, whose resources we had not known, who often was a stranger to us, gradually becomes our friend. We actually discover that our organism is 'we'--our own living self. We are led back to spontaneity, to fresh undivided experience, and come close to a concentration clearly expressed by a Zen Master. (2)
 'What is the Tao (the way, the truth)? asks the disciple. 'Your
 every-day mind,' replies the Master; and he goes on to amplify:
 'When I am hungry, I eat; when tired, I sleep.' The disciple is
 puzzled, and asks whether this is not what everybody else does too.
 No, the Master replies; most people are never wholly in what they
 are doing; when eating, they may be absent-mindedly preoccupied with
 a thousand different fantasies; when sleeping, they are not
 sleeping. The supreme mark of the thoroughly integrated man is to be
 without a divided mind.

This, indeed, I would call 'total functioning.'


1. Schachtel, Ernest, 'On Memory and Childhood Amnesia,' Psychiatry, Vol. X, No. 1, (February, 1947), pp.8 & 9. (Copyright by William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation).

2. Suzuki, D.T. Zen Buddhism. New York: A Doubleday Anchor Book, (1956). p.xvi.

* Excerpts from the General Semantics Bulletin No. 20, 1957. For the full text with illustrations, go to
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Title Annotation:Silent Levels
Author:Selver, Charlotte
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Previous Article:Charlotte Schuchardt Read on Sensory Awareness.
Next Article:Correspondence.

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