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Literalism, Metaphor and 'Soma-Semantics'

Peter Wilberg

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We must insist over and over that what is at stake in the question of truth as raised here is not simply an alteration of the previous concept of truth, nor a supplementation of the usual representation, but a transformation of humanity itself.

Martin Heidegger

Different theoretical languages and discourse styles in medicine and psychotherapy can be compared to different ‘body languages’, each with their own characteristic densities, textures and tonalities - some more skeletal and schematic, others more tangibly fleshed out; some offering a superficial skin of thought, others more visceral - the result of a deeper metabolisation of experience.  Different theoretical models may be more or less rigid or flexible in their core assumptions, more or less expressive in their metaphors, more or less muscular or flaccid in their syntax and argumentation. They evince different capacities for containing and fearlessly confronting ‘fundamental questions’ i.e. hidden but deep-seated tensions of thought which bear within them the seeds of a profound transformation of human thinking and the human being. They may be highly ‘centred’ and ‘integrated’, organised around a central concept and offering a high level of internal consistency, but at the expense of greater ‘holistic’ completeness. Alternatively they may spiral out into different domains, mixing their metaphors and models in an eclectic medley in order to achieve this greater completeness - albeit often at the expense of depth, solidity and internal consistency. Theoretical terms may be more or less authentic expressions of the individual theorist, either couched in stereotypical phraseology borrowed from others, or giving expression to original insights which question or add new resonances to terms otherwise taken for granted.

To begin with therefore, a hypothesis. The hypothesis is that just as an individual’s body language reveals an inner character structure, so does their verbal language. In other words, there is nothing that we can ‘read’ in a person’s body that cannot also be heard in their language and discourse style - and that includes the theoretical languages and discourse styles of therapists, their trainers, and writers on therapy like myself. Secondly, a question: can a therapist be ‘grounded’ in a bodily way and yet employ a theoretical language that is in some way disembodied or ‘schizoid’? Both the hypothesis and the question have a profound bearing on the main subject of this essay - ‘soma-semantics’ - and on the central question the title raises: in what is the theory of somatic psychotherapy itself grounded? This question is inseparable from its twin - in what is the practice of somatic psychotherapy grounded? Is it for example, grounded in a set of theoretical models, in the empirical data on which these models are based - or in the personal, ‘experiential’ learning through which these models are developed and refined? If the latter, what is the nature of this ‘experiential’ learning and its relationship to the individual’s own dominant theoretical models?

I would suggest that for there to be a genuine unity or ‘homology’ between theory and practice, it is not enough simply to recognise the way a practitioner’s models and modes of working, their personal ideas and experiences creatively affect and reshape one another. Instead both theory and practice must be understood as sharing a common ground. Does such a common ground exist? Theory construction is normally understood as a rational process in the root sense: using language to ‘render an account’ (reor) of our conscious experience of the world. The result is a form of representational knowledge. But the body’s own wordless knowing, by its very nature, falls outside the domain of representational knowledge. Far from representing anything to consciousness, it is what first allows things to come to presence within our consciousness. It is a form of implicit, wordless and ‘tacit’ knowing - expressing the way we are silently and inwardly touched by events (tacere). Representational knowledge, on the other hand, no matter how wide the variety of different perspectives and models it seeks to integrate, is the attempt to represent reality not in the way it immediately touches us but as an integer - a pristine, ‘untouched’ whole.

What common ground can there possibly be between mentally constructed models, however complex and ‘integrative’ and the body’s own tacit, tangible and ‘tegrative’ knowing? Particularly, if bodily knowing is not in essence knowledge of or about things at all, nor even a representation of the relationships between them, but a type of gnosis - an intimate, felt relationship to the world. For Martin Heidegger, the common ground linking the word and the wordless dimensions of knowledge and truth was language itself. We are not talking here of a ‘post-modernist’ view that would reduce everything in our bodily experience to a ‘signifier’ defined only by its relationship to other signifiers and not to any ‘signified’. Instead we are talking of something fundamental to a new ‘soma-semantic’ understanding of bodyhood and of the common ground of theory and practice in somatic psychotherapy. This is an understanding of language as a culturally-acquired body of meaning, and an understanding of bodyhood as a living biological language giving fleshly expression to this body of meaning. What I call the human organism is the inner organisation of our body of meaning - a body of felt sense or ‘resonance’ ultimately structured by our own organising patterns of thinking.

Pop-psychology books on ‘body language’ instruct the reader how to ‘interpret’ another person’s postures and gestures as if they were mere abstract signs indirectly representing emotional states rather than embodiments directly revealing them. Paradoxically, such ‘textbooks’ of body language do the very opposite to what they intend - reducing the reader’s openness to what is directly revealed through the language of bodyhood. I say the language of bodyhood rather than ‘body language’ because the latter term is not only a cliché but also
a pleonasm. The body does not ‘have’ a language. It is a language - a living biological language of the inner human being. Or rather, the body is the fleshly text of this language, concealing different layers of meaning and different aspects of the human being in the same way that their words do. The inner body of meaning that I call the human organism can no more be reduced to this fleshly text than the meaning of book can be reduced to its ink and paper. We understand a book not by subjecting its paper to physical, chemical or biological analysis but by reading it, that is to say, by entering its multi-dimensional inner space of meaning. The same is true of the human organism. But just as the body is the fleshly text of our organism, so is the mind its linguistic body.

This understanding of the human organism as a body of meaning or ‘soma-semantic body’ combines Winnicott’s concept of the organic unity of the psyche-soma with his concept of potential space - not the three-dimensional space in which we dwell as bodies but the multi-dimension space of meaning in which we dwell as beings. Winnicott emphasised the infant’s capacity for psycho-somatic ‘indwelling’ - feeling at home in his or her body. In contrast to the psyche-soma Winnicott understood the mind-psyche as a type of alter-environment, constructed by the infant to make up for failures of environmental provision to protect it from environmental impingements that threatened its sense of ‘going on being’. On the other hand, the mind-psyche could also reproduce those impingements internally, functioning as an internal persecutory force. Winnicott’s dichotomy of psyche-soma and mind-psyche is a profound articulation of the body-mind split he observed in his patients. What it lacks, however, is any sense of the original organismic unity that precedes this split. Body psychotherapists are well aware of what it means for an individual to lack a fully embodied sense of self, the experience of psycho-somatic indwelling. But what of the individual’s capacity to ‘dwell’ within their own mind-psyche, to experience it as a linguistic body of thought with its own organismically sensed tonalities and textures, its own skeletal structures, ligaments and muscles, its own surface structures and visceral depths, its own armouring and motility.

Martin Heidegger too, spoke a great deal about ‘dwelling’, noting that the English verb to be and the German “Ich bin” and “Du bist” are both derived from the Old High German verb buan - ‘to dwell’. He referred to language as the “house of being”, but emphasised that occupying a house by no means guarantees our capacity to experience it as a place to dwell - to be. If the practice of somatic psychotherapy is grounded in the therapist’s own organismic awareness, then this awareness itself comes about through a basic change in their inner relationship to their own bodies, allowing them to dwell with whatever - and whoever - comes to presence within them. As for the theory of somatic psychotherapy, however, this has to do with the grounding of organismic awareness in the mind-psyche rather than the psyche-soma - the linguistic body of the human organism. This grounding requires, I believe, a no less fundamental change in our inner relationship to language, allowing us to ‘indwell’ and experience words themselves in a new way - not just as a means of representing ideas and experiences but as bearers of deep organismic meanings. The theoretical constructions we build with language can be more than just flat, two-dimensional representations.  They can not only house but also inwardly expand our own organismic awareness, conveying wordless resonances that open up new inner dimensions of meaning, and of our own being. The question is, how?

Theory building is just that - the construction of a conceptual building from the raw material of language. The question is, what sort of ‘buildings’ are constructed, with what style of architecture and from what linguistic raw materials. The languages of the technological sciences have themselves a highly technical character. The analysis of technical discourse shows it to be constructed, almost lego-like, from a finite lexicon of technical terms and phrases. This is an example of homology between a domain of knowledge and the language used to describe that domain. Therapy is not a form of technology - somatic psychotherapy least of all. Yet we would expect the theoretical language of the latter to be in some way homologous to its domain. Poetry is not a discourse style homologous with the work of a motor mechanic. Nor would we expect a purely representational use of language to be the most appropriate one for developing a theory of somatic psychotherapy that is truly homologous with its principal domain - the domain of organismic awareness, and of resonant organismic contact and communication.  The question “In what is theory grounded?” can therefore be put in other terms. Is it possible to create a body of knowledge whose organising theoretical language is homologous with our own organismic awareness. A language which is rooted in the ground of this awareness, and which directly re-lates or ‘bears back’ that awareness - not a language which merely represents the ideas, emotions and ‘experiences’ that it bears forth and brings to presence. A language, in other words, which is itself organismically resonant, and which therefore can grounds our own organismic awareness in its own deep and finely-tuned resonances.

Such a grounding language arises from the use of resonant metaphor. To speak of the body as the ‘fleshly text’ of the human being or of the human organism as the ‘body of meaning’ beneath this text is, of course, an example of metaphorical language. Yet a major and increasing weakness of theorising in the whole field of psychotherapy is to seek scientific credence for itself by adopting the literalistic model of scientific truth that dominates biological medicine and neuropsychology

From a literalistic standpoint, a child who wakes up in pain with earache and tells her mother that "an elephant stamped on my ear" (cited by Fiumara in The Metaphoric Process) is asserting a proposition about reality which may be proved to be ‘empirically’ false - there is and was no elephant in the room. But would we regard a mother who took her child’s statement literally, or asked the child to “prove” it empirically, as a model of a thinking human being? And do we have any grounds for thinking that the more clinical proposition "I have an ear-ache" is an intrinsically superior way for the child to communicate the experiential reality of its pain.

The word ‘metaphor’ derives from the Greek verb metaphorein - to bear across. Metaphorical truth is not ‘empirical’ truth represented ‘literally’ - in or by words. It is experiential truth that is borne across ‘through the word’ (dia-logos). The scientist and the psychotic are both prone to confusions of literal and metaphorical truth. The ‘psychotic’ who asserts that aliens are invading his body and the ‘scientific’ psychiatrist who labels him as psychotic for doing so in fact share the same basic assumption. Though the psychotic takes the proposition as true and the psychiatrist denies its truth, they both take it as an assertion of literal rather than metaphorical truth, as a representation of truth ‘in’ words rather than a dia-logical communication of truth ‘through the word.” Both share a common language pathology, underpinned by the literalist understanding of language that underpins the scientific world outlook. This literalist understanding of language makes science deaf and blind to its own dependence on overt or covert metaphors. Medical science for example makes use of a number of overt metaphors. These include the metaphor of ‘healing as war’, instanced in such terms as ‘fighting infection’, ‘strengthening the body’s immunological defences’ etc.  Physics makes use of the metaphors of ‘field’ and ‘wave’. Psychodynamics employs the metaphor of the body as a container of feelings, of vitality as a fluid substance that can overflow or be ‘blocked’ in its flow (libido).

The theory of ‘bioenergetics’ borrows the concept of ‘energy’ from physics in an attempt to raise the scientific status of these vitalistic metaphors - to substantiate them as statements of literal, empirical truth rather than as communications of experiential truth. That is not to say there is no such thing as ‘bioenergy’ - rather that terms such as ‘bioenergy’ and ‘energetic process’ are predominantly used by body therapists in a metaphorical way even whilst being presented theoretically as ‘literal’ scientific facts. This is just one example of the basic psycholinguistic ambivalence that
has permeated the theory of somatic psychotherapy ever since Reich sought to empirically substantiate the Freudian concept of libido and the Jungian concept of psychic energy. This essay is not concerned with the empirical status of Reich’s researches but with the dominant experiential metaphors it has given rise to, and the fact that these metaphors are not understood as organismic gestalts - as figures of speech emerging from the ground of organismic awareness. Instead they are taken literally and represented as the very ground or ‘fundament’ of this awareness. To state that ‘energetic processes are fundamental to all human functioning’ is no less a form of scientific reductionism than the reduction of consciousness to brain functioning or of the body to a functional instrument for the self-reproduction of its genes. The theoretical grounding of somatic psychotherapy must be sought in quite a different direction from the disguised scientific metaphors such as ‘energy’ or immune ‘defences’ if this sort of reductionism is to be avoided. The terms ‘soma-semantics’ or ‘soma-semiotics’ hint at this other direction. For if metaphor pervades even medical and scientific terminologies, then the ground for a new understanding of mind and body can only be laid by a new understanding of metaphor as such as a form of figurative mental language which has its true ground in organismic awareness.

Lakoff and Johnson have shown convincingly that most linguistic metaphors are rooted in bodily activity and self-experience. We can speak figuratively of a ‘balanced mind’, a ‘balanced’ or ‘balanced argument’ only on the ground of our bodily experience of balance and weightedness. Etymology too, shows that many apparently ‘abstract’ terms originally referred to tangible bodily actions (indeed the word ‘abstract’ itself derives from the Latin abstrahere - ‘to lift something off’). But the model of ‘soma-semantics’ I am presenting here however, is quite distinct from that of Lakoff and Johnson. For it understands bodily experiences themselves - feeling ‘uplifted’ or ‘weighed down’, feeling our ‘energy’ rising or falling, ‘flowing’ or stagnating’, being ‘blocked’ or ‘released’ - as figures emerging from the ground of our organismic awareness. Bodyhood itself is understood as a metaphorical language - a figuration of experience emerging from the ground of our organismic awareness. Conversely, what we call ‘mind’ is understood not just as a metaphorical body, a living body of mental metaphors which linguistically configures and communicates our bodily self-experience, bearing it across in figures of speech. Central to the historic body-mind dualism is the fact that philosophy and psychology have so far failed to see any intrinsic connection between language and life, verbal discourse and organismic vitality. What I call organismic thinking arises from an experience of thinking itself as a metabolic and metaphoric activity of the human being as a whole - renewing the vitality not just of our language but also of our bodily life. Fiumara has called attention to what she calls the “pathology of literalness” that pervades contemporary culture (apart from the calculated use of metaphoric resonance in advertising) and deadens the inner life of individuals, inducing “imitative acquisitions which exclude all forms of personal metabolic effort”.

Life-damaging inclinations may be detected in a tendency to gravitate towards literalness in such a way that the more personal non-literal expressions are increasingly atrophied. What is left is a mute distress due to the annulment of one’s inner life…Literal language might even become the almost exclusive means for being with others and sharing life’s vicissitudes; it may sadly be the case than whenever a more personal language is used, the environment tends not to respond, as if the individual were non-existent. To adhere to a literalist language is perhaps to try desperately to be normal..…In whatever contexts literalness is at a premium there are positive reinforcements for adaptation to a standard vocabulary…

By ‘metaphor’ Fiumara too, understands more than just verbal figures of speech. From the point of view of somatic psychotherapy, the child’s spontaneous gesture is a form of embodied emotional metaphor. Conversely, what Reich termed character armouring and lack of bodily expressiveness can be understood as a type of literalness of body language. The person smiles, but the smile does not so much emanate and embody a feeling of joy or warmth as represent such a feeling in the absence of it - forming part of a standardised social code of appropriate ‘body language’.

By contrast, Fiumara notes that:

…expressions of rage and hatred may even come to constitute rare opportunities for the experience of depth and intimacy; the literalist cultural atmosphere may thus be suddenly shattered with paradoxical ‘relief’ for the interlocutors engaged in it. To obtain a stronger contact
, recourse is made to metaphors triggering hostility which in turn can elicit signals of personalised intentions otherwise concealed.

The recognition that character armouring is a form of corporeal language pathology, arising from the generalised poverty of personal, metaphorical self-expression that people experience in a literalistic age, is central to a ‘soma-semantic’ approach to the practice of body psychotherapy. That is because metaphor itself is central to the process of translating messages from our inner being that
defy literal expression. Organismic awareness is the medium through which we gain a felt sense of these messages. Verbal and corporeal metaphors are both ways in which we give them figurative expression. As such they are both channels of organismic self-expression, contact and communication Rudolf Steiner claimed that all mental illnesses have their roots in the body. And vice versa, all somatic disorders have their roots in the mind. There is an important half-truth in this assertion. For without both a metaphorically expressive body and a generative metaphorical mind, the process of metabolising and metaphorising our own lived experience is left entirely to the ‘literal mind’ or the ‘literal body’. The result is mental and physical symptoms and disorders - both an alternative form of organismic metaphor. Biodynamic psychotherapy, with its focus on assisting the organism in its emotional digestion or ‘psychoperistalsis’, and bioenergetics, with its focus on freeing the body from ‘literalness’ of expression are both valid therapeutic responses. The desire to integrate biodynamic and bioenergetic approaches with psychoanalytic understandings, however, is an implicit acknowledgement that the individual’s capacity for free and deep metaphoric symbolisation of their experience is no less important - for their bodily well-being as well as their psychological health.

Paradoxically, it is only through organismic awareness that we can experience the life of the mind (our own minds and those of others) in a bodily way - as a more or less adequate mental skein or ‘skin’ of language, a more or less rigid structure of mental joints and muscles, a more or less split off or armoured segment of our own organism as a whole, our living body of meaning. For the somatic psychotherapist, this means that character pathologies can, as I have already affirmed, be experienced in a no less tangible way through listening closely to client’s language than through looking at and ‘reading’ their bodies. Outworn or dead metaphors, stale or stereotyped language, under- or over-containment of meaning in words, can be felt as tangibly as deadened flesh, as gestures lacking resonance or rigidities of movement, or as under- or over-contained ‘energy’. I am not referring here to ‘paralinguistic features’ of speech communicated through the body - tone of voice or clarity of articulation, for example, but of the tonality and texturing of a person’s language as such - their words themselves. In other works, I have described how the metaphoricity of language has to do not only with the words we employ but also with the very sounds of which these words are composed. For these word-sounds themselves carry inner senses and organismic resonances linking them metaphorically with other words containing the same sounds. As poets have always recognised, there is a hidden syntax and semantics of sound - a ‘soma-semantics’ of sound with its own metaphoricity and with deep roots in the ‘grammar’ of the human organism itself. But if character pathology is understood essentially as a pathology of literalism - creating imbalances between the literal and the metaphorical functioning of both mind and body, then healing depends on the therapist’s ability to hear these imbalances and respond to them organismically - through their own conscious balance of literal and metaphorical communication, and above all through the conscious metaphoricity and organismic resonances of their own words and body language.

“Scientific revolutions are, in fact, metaphorical revolutions” (Arbib and Hesse). New representational models arise from new and revelatory metaphors. A new theoretical language and a scientific model of somatic psychotherapy can be conceptually grounded in the metaphor of language itself i.e. in metaphors of literalism and metaphor. So too, can a new approach to the practice of somatic psychotherapy. I myself use the term ‘organismic ontology’ rather than ‘soma-semantics’ to describe this new theoretical and practical framework. That is because both our physiology and our psychology are living metaphorical expressions of our ontology - the inner language (logos) of our being (ontos). Each of us does not merely ‘have’ a language. Each of us is a language. Each being is essentially characterised by what Bollas has called their own unique ‘idiom’ or way of being - their own language of being. What we call ‘beings’ are the many languages or ways of Being.

So far in this essay I have referred to the grounding of theory and practice in organismic awareness, and to the grounding of this awareness itself in a metaphorical language capable of resonantly ‘bearing across’ this awareness (metaphorein). I have used the contrast of literal and metaphorical truth, literal and metaphorical languages, to present a new model of character pathology as a pathology of literalness in both bodily and verbal communication. In this way I have contrasted a linguistic or ‘semantic’ understanding of somatic psychotherapy with bioenergetic or biodynamic models drawing their metaphors from the literalistic standpoint of physical and biological science. Behind these reflections lies a new understanding of the human organism as a singular ‘body of meaning’ irreducible to the physical body, its fleshly text, or the mind as a texture of thought woven in language. At the same time I have stressed that organismic awareness or ‘felt sense’ can be thought of as the unified ‘ground’ of body and mind in another sense, giving rise to configurations or gestalts of bodily and emotional experience on the one hand, (including sensory perception) and verbal figures of speech on the other. 

In a pluralisation of Heidegger’s profound ontological reflections on Language and Being, I have introduced the notion of ‘languages of being’ - the understanding of all beings, including human beings, as bearers of a unique ‘idiom’ (Bollas) which they translate into the languages of the word and the flesh. The unified metaphorical or ‘soma-semantic’ understanding of the underlying unity of mind and body which I call ‘organismic ontology’ offers not only new theoretical metaphors but calls attention to the importance of the ‘language mind’ as an organismically tangible dimension of the human organism as a whole - a ‘mental body’ which plays a direct role in configuring the individual’s own bodily experience and behavioural metaphors. With regard to the practice of somatic psychotherapy I therefore attach particular importance not only of ‘reading’ a client’s body language but hearing their verbal discourse as a direct expression of what Reich calls character structure - and acknowledging, conversely, how the client’s figures of speech or metaphorical deficits bear directly on that structure. Implicit here is a warning to somatic psychotherapists that overemphasis on the bodily metabolisation and metaphorisation of the individual’s lived experience may, if not balanced by attention to their linguistic body serve merely to ameliorate the additional burdens placed on the body by a mind constricted in its metaphoric freedom by the dominant norms and demands of our literalistic culture.

Every theoretical language and scientific model is, of course, also grounded in a unique cultural, and political context and in turn bears a hidden weight of cultural, historical and political resonances. These resonances become less and less obvious as time goes on and society changes. Reich’s thinking matured during a time when German scientific culture was polarised between ‘mechanistic’ and ‘vitalistic’, ‘atomistic’ and ‘holistic’ understandings of human biology and behaviour. Both Nazi ideologists and left-leaning or liberal thinkers and scientists such as Kurt Goldstein used the powerful metaphors of Organism, Gestalt (configuration) and Ganzheit (wholeness) - metaphors which had been deeply rooted in German culture since Goethe. Contemporary “New Age” thinking and “Alternative Medicine” were foreshadowed in the nineteen- thirties by the proponents of “New German Therapy” - homoeopathic and naturopathic treatments heralded as an alternative to “Jewish” medicine. Medicinal herbs were grown in Dachau in order to be tested on concentration camp inmates. Then again, Humanistic Psychology, Gestalt Therapy, and Reichian Orgonomics - not to mention relativity theory - were all the work of émigré German and German-Jewish thinkers whose work was deeply rooted in the key cultural metaphors of pre-war Germany. Most of these thinkers were forced to somewhat dilute and simplify their thinking in adapting it to the cultural environment of the United States, where their theoretical languages lost most of their deeper psychological, philosophical, and political resonances. Today we live in different times, and though terms such as ‘Wholeness’, ‘Gestalt’ and ‘Organism’ still figure strongly in somatic psychotherapy, their historical-cultural roots and resonances are no longer heard at all. The word “Gestalt” is understood only as the label for a current form of psychotherapy. “Organism” is now a mere synonym for “living body”.

When we speak of the grounding theory we are also speaking of the grounding of thinking itself.  The question “In what is theory grounded?” not only goes hand in hand with the question “In what is practice grounded?” It also goes hand in hand with the question “In what is thinking grounded?” The terms ‘reason’ and ‘ground’ can themselves be used synonymously in English as in German, but this by no means implies that thinking can be reduced to reasoning. Rather the opposite - reasoning is essentially a search for grounds and grounding, an attempt to find a grounded orientation or bearing towards the world. When body therapists use words such as grounding, centering, containing, holding, facing they are speaking metaphorically of different comportments or inner bearings. An inner bearing is not simply a physical posture. Nor is it merely a disembodied theoretical posture or mental attitude. Mental attitude has to do with the focus of awareness - with what we have in view and how we view it.  Inner bearing has to do with the (movable) locus or ‘centre’ of our awareness - with where we view things from within ourselves, and the orientation we adopt towards them. We can change the focus of our awareness - the what and how - without in any way changing its locus or centre, let alone the orientation of this where from, this locus or centre.  In essence, therefore, it is in fact somewhat misleading to speak of a ‘centred’ or ‘grounded’ bearing at all. A person’s physical posture may indeed be centred in the region of the body’s abdominal centre, and thereby in a specific gravitational relationship to its ground. But this in itself tells us nothing about the locus and orientation of the individual’s centre of awareness. Inner bearing is a relationship of this organismic ‘centre’ (what I describe, metaphorically, as our ‘magnetic core’) to its inner ground - our inner being. It is also a specific ‘magnetic’ orientation of this centre to its inner periphery - to other beings.

David Boadella too, speaks of ‘inner ground’ and ‘inner attitude’. In Lifestreams he gives an excellent example of how significant they are in practice, referring to a client whose silent message was “You can touch my body, you can work on my breathing, you can search for my energy, but I will not let you really meet me.” The breakthrough came only when he restrained from all forms of bodywork and simply shared his own felt, organismic perception of the client’s inner bearing  - her deep distrust in other people’s ability to reach her. His conclusion: how important it is “not to proceed with the body work unless there is contact with the inner attitude of the person” (my stress).

Physical postures, like mental attitudes and theoretical positions are the embodiment and expression of an inner bearing or comportment. They are ways of adopting and articulating this bearing in both a bodily way and through articulations of language - and thereby bearing it across to others. All genuine changes in the way we think, like genuine changes in character, embody and express a basic change in our inner bearing - our whole way of being with ourselves and others, of being-in-the-world and ‘being-in-the-word’. What Heidegger called thinking was not intellectual reasoning but the adoption and articulation of a particular inner bearing akin to that adopted by Boadella in his case example - that of restraint or ‘withholding’. If character too is essentially inner bearing, and ‘character structure’ an embodiment of inner bearing, then it was Heidegger’s opinion that what most characterised our contemporary culture of literalism was effectively a flight from thinking - an incapacity to patiently metabolise and metaphorise one’s own lived experience and in doing so adopt and articulate a self-authentic inner bearing. Recognising this flight from thinking, we must also recognise that there is no form of therapy that does not, in today’s world, ultimately depend on the readiness of individuals to think and ‘theorise’ for themselves - to listen to their own language and to their own bodies. For only in this way can they begin to counter what Fiumara calls “a cultural climate which, in extreme cases, makes it impossible to advance to the level of being speaking individuals, and confines us instead in ‘spoken subject’, in the sense that language actually speaks through us.”

In this form of life, ‘acting’ appears as preferable to any form of elaboration and creativity; substitution of situations, persons and things thus becomes preferable to any form of laborious repair and transformation. Broken relations are replaced with fresh relations, discarded objects with new objects in a general style derived from the consumption of standard goods and world views.

As for theory, therapists should by no means understand this as just a matter for therapy trainers, trainees or theorists. What about the client’s capacity to think - to patiently and creatively theorise about themselves and their world?

In the case of individuals whose language is excessively literal (or ‘normal’ to the point of being pathological), there is hardly any theorising about the world or the self. The individual excludes himself from creative life by passively adhering to whatever theories are there to be utilised
Such outright passivity may in fact conceal a benumbing pathology - a nameless one - which is so perfectly camouflaged as to remain unnoticed, and thus not amenable to any form of articulation.

The dislocation (German Verrückung) of the individual from the nameless pathology of literalist ‘normality’ may appear to hold within it the threat of madness (Verrücktheit), opening up a groundless existential abyss (Abgrund) into which they fear to fall. In actuality, the dislocation is as Heidegger points out “a dislocation of humanity out of its previous home - or better, from its homelessness - into the ground of its essence..”

©Peter Wilberg  2001

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