Am I my Body?

“The basic organization of nature is the process of living and not the categories about living.” – Eugene Gendlin, Sitting with Gene at his Leading Edge (Audio, Focusing Resources).

Toward the end of a series of conversations called ‘Sitting with Gene at his Leading Edge,’ Eugene Gendlin recounted a story about a boy in a Thinking at the Edge Class, who at the end of the class asked the teacher: “Well… am I my body, or do I have a body?”

Note that, for the child, neither proposition feels like it satisfactorily settles the matter; and that, for him to put the question that way, there’s already a bodily knowing working in him. Gendlin said that, if he had been there, he ideally would have said: “Good for you! You already know that those are both wrong. You already know that you don’t just have a body, like you have a chair. And you also know that you aren’t your body.

It is more important that a child recognize their bodily knowing than to come up with the answer immediately or to accept someone else’s ready-for-the-occasion answer. A skilled teacher wants the child to sense/feel/be aware of – the spot in him where he can think forward with and from that bodily knowing; where he can reflect from his living, because: “The basic organization of nature is the process of living and not the categories about living.”

There is a boy – a living event. We know him, as an ‘other’ ‘over there’; but that’s our cognition. It’s not him. He intuitively knows himself from the inside, as a quite specific here – and, if we look closely, our sense of him as the ‘other, there’ is also a ‘here’ experience of great intricacy.

In an unarticulated way, which has been ongoing since he was born (and which was there in the womb), he knows that he is alive. And, now, that living event – the individual – says, ‘I,’ and ponders what he is. (But, he’s not a ‘what‘; not a thing.)

So, how does confusion arise, such that we think we are this content, or that content – body or some ‘thing’ else? Gendlin goes on to give a model for thinking about the ‘I’ process. He gives a way of thinking about how we experience our ‘I.’ I’ll quote that hereafter Iin the next instalment of this long response), but before that, I’ll give my own understanding of how the confusion has arisen in us humans, this confusion of ‘I-dentity’ (Wolinsky, 1999).

Before I do, though, I’d like to introduce, here, another perspective on the child’s question. It reminds me of a passage in the Buddhist Sutta Nipata, a conversation between a yogi and the Buddha, which I summarize this way: The yogi asks, “Where do the great elements of existence cease?” And, the Buddha says, “The question is not rightly put. It’s better to ask: ‘Where do they have no footing?’” (See: http://www.leighb.com/dn11_85.htm)

So, why did the Buddha change the yogi’s question? Because the initial question begs the issue. That is, the unexamined premise in the question shapes or limits the inquiry. With the question as originally put, we’ll end up having to answer on the same level. That won’t free up the process. The Buddha’s formulation, there, can take you to the experience.

In the case of our child, above, can you see that to say, “Am I my body, or do I have a body?” will keep him on the same level as the old concepts, and so maintain the cycle of confusion? Unbeknown to himself (of course), his question applies previously tried opinions – those in the common stock of his culture. (In particular, the old trap of mistaking concepts – our categories of thought – for living process.) This way lacks experiential precision.

So, Gendlin, if he had been there, would send him back to his body, back to the vague feeling in the middle of him, where the question arises, back to the matrix of his living in situations. (Children have this capacity.) There, he’ll find the ‘felt sense’ of the whole matter – a ‘direct referent’ symbolizing the matter, preconceptually. He’ll find there a ‘this‘ about the whole matter. It’s vague because it’s bodily felt and it’s a leading edge; and yet, it’s precise, because it’s how the whole matrix of life lives that particular question forward in him, in this class, at this moment. Gendlin calls this Implicit Precision.

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