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Staying true to the truths of experience

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone is an astounding thinker and writer – in short, a most remarkable woman. Her field of study is the philosophy of Biology/Anthropology and the philosophy of Mind/Body, which basically studies the nature and relationship of the mind to the body.  Her insights are influential in dance therapy, as she explores the dynamics of movement, language and meaning-making – insights that also deeply influenced my ideas on the body and how we make meaning. There exist a profound challenge in “languaging” dynamic experience (see my previous blog ~ https://bodytheology.co.za/2019/07/11/the-lost-language-of-bodies/ ) and in meeting that challenge, we should “be true to the truths of the experience”. In theology we often tend to devaluate the experiences we live, to subvert it to the authority of the church, its dogmas and then use Scripture to humiliate people and ridicule their  “dynamic experiences”  – forgetting that all the words in Scripture are a struggling effort to put into language of what was experienced dynamically – and that this is a process that is still ongoing.

These dynamic experiences refer to the “complex diversity of feelings and thoughts that exceed the bounds of everyday language because they are experienced dynamically”. Maxine encourages us to find ways that “demands our drawing back from an easy, ready-made everyday language and our turning first of all to experience itself”. To be able to do this, we have to “bracket” our natural attitude towards the world and “thereby meet an experience as if for the first time”. The  notion of bracketing as a process where everyday judgements, beliefs and reactions are put aside, as well as “everyday habits of languaging experience”; in doing this, experience itself is moved to the foreground and we can listen to its interior dynamics. We must be slow in putting words to what we experience. And first listen.

Maxine emphasises the need to first experience the dynamics before trying to describe or name them. She continues that “names are indeed lacking not only because everyday language is basically deficient with respect to dynamics, but because names cannot do justice to dynamics”. Emotions have a double dynamic in the sense that they “move through us in distinctive ways and move us to move in distinctive ways”. We experience cognitive emotions in feeling fear, sadness and delight, where a “felt dynamic moves through our bodies and moves us to move — or not to move — in an affectively unique manner”.  The body is the foundation of experience and this testifies “to the rich and complex dimensions of bodily being”. That is why it remains crucial to explore “the living realities of corporeal life and of understanding in the deepest sense in each instance what it means to be the bodies we are”.

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