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Embodiment in Multiple Disciplines:A Model for Phenomenology and Interdisciplinary Study

Presented at the Annuals Meetings of the Interdisciplinary Coalition for North American Phenomenologists (ICNAP). Shirlington, VA, May, 2011.


In 2009, Fielding Graduate University introduced a doctoral course titled Embodiment of Knowledge.  Participants used phenomenology as a transdisciplinary platform for critique and conversation of multidisciplinary literature.  The original course design leveraged the range and synergy of embodiment readings.  Supported by tenets from phenomenology, the students embodied new knowledge by challenging disciplinary boundaries.  Multidisciplinary conversations developed progressively and dynamically, ultimately transcending established limitations to create new knowledge.  The structure used for this course can be applied to other topics, and constitutes an approach for interdisciplinary teaching and inquiry that has pedagogical application for lower as well as higher education.


KEY WORDS:  education model, multidisciplinary, Mode 2 knowledge, pedagogy, somatics, transdisciplinary


The Fielding Graduate University (FGU) initial course was a collaborative effort, resulting from the coordinated input of several faculty members and a handful of doctoral students.  As the instructional assistant, I was actively involved with the development and construction of the course framework and content, as well as recruitment of participants.  I participated in the initial course as the student anchor and teaching assistant, as well as an enrolled doctoral student.  Everyone involved in the initial and subsequent offerings have proclaimed it an educational and personal success.  The Embodiment of Knowledge course continues to be offered annually at FGU through 2011.  I contribute on an adjunct basis to its subsequent iterations.

I present this account with the approval and support of Fielding, and gratefully acknowledge the individual and collective investment of the students, faculty and administration in making this presentation and experience possible.  Specifically, I acknowledge and thank Dr. Valerie Bentz who served as the primary faculty, Fielding Provost Dr. Katrina Rogers who supported and participated in the course and this account, and Dr. Connie Corley who assisted with the first course offering.  In addition, this course would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment of the 12 pioneer student participants.


Embodiment in Multiple Disciplines:

A Model for Phenomenology and Interdisciplinary Study

Fielding Graduate University is one manifestation of an educational trend towards doctoral programs designed to engage student researchers in both applied and theoretical research (Manathunga, Lant & Mellick, 2006).  Exclusively a graduate school, Fielding is a distributed learning operation premised on the tenets of Malcolm Knowles (1973).  Knowles proposed that adult learners are responsibly engaged individuals who bring expertise to their learning and reciprocate by reinvesting gains from their education back to their fields. Headquartered in Santa Barbara, California, Fielding offers graduate degrees in Education, Psychology, and the multidisciplinary School of Human and Organizational Development (HOD).  All programs espouse a scholar-practitioner orientation to original research, and combine independent, online, and face-to-face learning methods.

In 2009, HOD students and faculty created a course called the Embodiment of Knowledge to conduct multidisciplinary inquiry into the topic of somatics.  Somatics is the study of the body as perceived from within in the first person (Hanna, 1991).  This doctoral level collaboration explored the subject of embodied knowledge.  It transpired over a six-month period and awarded 10 units of credit.

Embodiment is an elusive subject matter that is subject to various interpretations from different disciplinary perspectives.  This course was noteworthy in its ability both to impose academic rigor and to facilitate self-reported expansive learning for its participants.  Through the work of this course, doctoral students not only engaged the topic of somatics, but also incorporated embodied scholarship into their process.  This success was grounded in the pedagogical framework of the course.

The purpose of this paper is to describe the course’s multidisciplinary model that was used for the literature survey. The disciplines were selected based on their supply of somatics related literature.  Along with traditional disciplines of biology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, phenomenology provided content.  The course designers included phenomenology readings to draw in philosophy’s literature about somatics.  However, because of its inherent transdisciplinary nature, meaning its capacity to transcend disciplinary worldviews, phenomenology also provided a platform for integrating disciplinary based perspectives (Klein, 1990).  Some students went on to use phenomenological method for the course’s independent research component.  The impact of phenomenology combined with verbal and experiential learning modes demonstrated the importance of process as well as content in achieving interdisciplinarity.  I suggest that the approach used can be applied to innumerable topics, and constitutes a model for interdisciplinary teaching and inquiry that has pedagogical application for higher education.

Interdisciplinarity in Higher Education

Some scholars claim that real world problems do not obey typical disciplinary boundaries or respond to reductionist principles present in unidisciplinary approaches (Kline, 1995).  Similar conversations point to a need to build mode 2 knowledge that is defined as applied, contextualized, and inherently multidisciplinary (Manathunga, et al., 2006, p. 365), for example healthcare research that explores use patterns as well as efficacy (Gray, Iles, &Watson, 2011).  Honing in on a topic where multidisciplinary knowledge already exists provides a playground for creating deeper understanding that can be applied to complex sociopolitical issues (Manathunga, et al., 2006).   Higher education examples range from environmental studies and urban planning to food studies (Cargill, 2005; Kline, 1995).  Course syllabi typically invoke experts from multiple disciplines who present their perspective and leave the student to autonomously synthesize theories and methodologies.

Commingling disciplines can offer value beyond access to a larger pool of knowledge.  But educators do not agree on a single model for achieving interdisciplinarity.  According to accepted parlance, multidisciplinary study is a juxtaposition of disciplines to examine one topic; it is essentially additive not integrative (Klein, 1990, p. 56). Interdisciplinarity is not as easily defined (Klein, 1995; Manathunga, et al., 2004).  It is not associated with any particular subject, but refers to the process of integrating various aspects of knowledge and perspectives (Epstein, 2004).  Interdisciplinarity assumes a holistic approach that demands creativity and a spirit of cooperation to successfully transgress disciplinary compartmentalization.  Multidisciplinary study can sometimes give rise to interdisciplinary activity through a subsequent construction of a synergistic perspective or paradigm  (Epstein).  This is assumed to happen spontaneously, via grounded theory, if the individual components align properly.  Learners self-reflecting on their own process during multidisciplinary inquiry can evolve integrative ways of convergent thinking (Epstein, 2004).

Despite potential benefits of multidisciplinary study, doctoral research programs remain largely discipline based (Manathunga, et al., 2006).  One explanation is that multidisciplinarity lacks influential advocates since study by topic shifts the focus to the content, and hence the position of power away from disciplinary based resources (Yanoshak & Delplato, 1993).  Another more practical consideration is the lack of an effective model for multidisciplinary inquiry.  Lack of a unifying paradigm is particularly problematic when attempting to bridge the natural and social sciences as it requires maneuvering opposing epistemologies.  Without a strategy, multidisciplinary curriculum can simply dilute content and engender disappointment.

Creating Interdisciplinary Curriculum: The Embodiment of Knowledge

The impetus for the Fielding somatics course came from the subject.  A core group of ten doctoral students were interested in conducting inquiry pertinent to their scholar-practitioner interests in body-based practices.  They found that no single discipline provided adequate perspective and information for a fully engaged study of human development and somatic experience.  Although not appropriate to all academic settings, Fielding’s environment is well suited to pursuit of multidisciplinary mode 2 knowledge, with its emphasis on applied learning and research.  Typical of Fielding’s program design, the participants worked with faculty to create this course to satisfy their particular needs.

Figure 1. Multidisciplinary Inquiry of Somatics



The coursework consisted of three sequential components: literature survey, experiential seminar, and independent study.  In this paper, I focus on the multidisciplinary literature survey that was called the Overview.  This 11-week portion consisted of a face-to-face workshop, followed by modulated reading, reviewing, and discussing the literature.  Five modules, each two weeks in duration, progressed from studying the concrete, materialistic views found in biology to more abstract rubrics found in social sciences (Figure 1).  The last module enlisted literature about experiential practices. The five modules were titled: 1) The Material Body: Biology and Neuroscience Perspectives; 2) The Mental Body: Psychology Perspectives; 3) The Body in Context: Sociological & Anthropological (including non-Western perspectives); 4) The Philosophical & Spiritual Body: Phenomenology & Theology, and; 5) The Body in Practice: Somatic Awareness Training & Practices.

Prior to the start of the course, participants assembled an extensive reading list of over 100 references (Appendix A).  An online forum facilitated the literature review and discussions.  In order to cover a wide range of material, each participant reviewed different items from the reading list.  Each participant also read a common core reading in each module so as to lend common ground to discussions.  For the first four modules, the essays consisted of a written précis accompanied by a brief hermeneutic statement about the selected text.  While the précis objectively summarized the material, the hermeneutic component provided subjective opinions.  For the fifth module, the section on body-based practices, participants chose a scholarly writing style that they thought best represented their selection.

Participants posted their essays online and subsequently wrote comments on each other’s essays according to a schedule.  The online platform allowed convenient access to supplementary literature and research materials.  Our experience demonstrated how advancements in electronic learning environments support content integration across disciplines (Penny, 2009).  The online platform encouraged cross-disciplinary threads of conversation to emerge and flourish.  Participants could easily reference discussions that had evolved in prior modules and identify connections.  Going back to earlier arguments was only a keystroke away.  For example, discussions in the psychology module easily referred to relevant material from the prior module’s neuroscience discussions, e.g is personal affect determined by brain structure.

Comments, subsequent essays, and more comments created increasingly complex critiques and arguments.  Module 1’s biological, material viewpoint on the body originated in a mechanistic, positivist perspective.  This forayed into a discussion of the separation of mind and body in Western tradition.  As we journeyed through subsequent modules, we revisited that conversation from different angles.  Another thread involved how the ontological split of brain to science and mind to theology is rooted in socio-cultural positioning between the Church and the Academy (Pert, 1997).  Multidisciplinary cross-references were not unidirectional, often anticipating upcoming relevance in the next module. For example, in the biology module we discussed the organic domicile of somatic awareness; in the sociological module we integrated considerations of gene modification by environmental influences.

From Module 1’s core reading, Damasio’s (1999) views on neurology’s somatic processing established a biological basis for discussion.  Damasio’s tenets provide a model for dynamic integration of input from variant sources, for example his description of how each memory is dynamically recreated each time it is recalled.  Our discussions mimicked similar dynamic integration with varying success through the modules as we selectively recalled and assembled pieces from prior reviews.  One such line of inquiry traced the experience of “gut feelings”:  Damasio and Pert (1997) were among those who explained the biological operation of interoceptive response; Gendlin (1978) approached the same experience from psychology’s perspective and introduced a clinical application based on the “felt sense” (p. 10); sociologists and anthropologists provided the perspective that response to such feelings is socio-culturally driven (Montagu, 1986).  Like Damasio’s dynamic constructions, we traveled through each perspective and attempted to weave pieces into a deeper understanding of somatic experience.

We determined that many interesting questions reside where disciplines repeatedly intersect.  For example, how does brain structure overlap into psychological function (Sachs, 1970); or how philosophy informs neuroscience (Damasio, 1999).  We also observed that conventional disciplines function with overlapping boundaries (Figure 2).  Reporting all the discussions is beyond the scope of this paper.

Figure 2. Interdisciplinary Inquiry of Somatics


Phenomenology was included in Module 4 on the philosophical body to provide thematic content.  We reviewed experts including Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962, 1948/2004, 1968), Leder (1990) and Shusterman (2008), and the recent cognition oriented work of Johnson (2007), Thompson (2007) and Petitmengin-Peugeot (2000).  Some authors inspired us to voice our own somatic experiences.  We personally related to Morley’s (2001, 2008) interweaving of phenomenology and yogic tradition, and Behnke’s (1997) arguments that subtle, unintentional body movements reflect embedded personal history.  We latched onto Leder’s (1990) statement from the Absent Body that the  “body has intrinsic tendencies to self-concealment” (p. 8).  In debating this point, we interjected how somatic awareness surfaced or was ignored in our work.  We acknowledged that our comments stemmed from our anecdotes rather than our scholarship.  Yet our initial purpose in this coursework was to build scholarly resources to expand and support our experiences.  This confluence advantageously set up introducing phenomenology to bring structure and intellectual tradition to experiential based research.

Readings from Module 5, The Body in Practice, addressed the emergent question of how to mesh scholarly inquiry with practical experience (LaFountain, 2008; Nagata, 2008; Rehorick & Nugent, 2008; Spector, 2000).  We discussed the potential for phenomenological methods for conducting original research on body-based phenomenon. We recognized that some of our discipline based experts, such as Damasio and Gendlin, were influenced by phenomenology.

Figure 3. Transdisciplinary Inquiry of Somatics


As we reoriented our discussion to exploring corporeality, we observed that our prior compartmentalization by disciplines was itself a social construction.  Setting up our review according to disciplinary modules reflected our tacit understandings of scholastic boundaries. Some educators claim that phenomenology is transdisciplinary study, in that it eclipses boundaries by focusing on the interconnectedness of reality (Klein, 1990, p. 66).  We agreed and further concluded that both phenomenology and body-based inquiry inherently transcend disciplinarity (Figure 3).

I find it ironic that our exploration of embodiment was conducted virtually. During the course participants also kept a private journal for recording their body based reflections.   Bi-weekly conference calls supplemented the online work, but the quality of conversation was different in real-time:  less articulate with less depth.  To encourage our embodied engagement, participants met for a three-day experiential seminar at the completion of the survey.

To conclude the course, participants conducted independent study and presented a paper at a final group meeting.  For this component, some conducted interdisciplinary research.  For instance, I developed a paper that applied concepts and language from neuroscience to construct an interdisciplinary meta-paradigm.  Invoking biological explanations of how somatic awareness occurs, I partnered phenomenology with neuroscience to propose a framework to explore embodiment (Fortune, 2009).  After presenting my theory at an academic conference, I reconsidered its value. Reflecting on input, I determined that my model was simply too limiting.

My co-participants expressed various other unique insights as a result of our process.  For example, one focused on how   “… my own area related to movement and bodies relates to organizations and decision making.” (Brown, 2009).  Another pursued research related to meditation, saying  “The authors state that mystical experiences can be attributed to changes in the brain….(but it) is possible that the neurological changes are a result of the mystical experiences…”  (Cotter-Lockard, 2009).

Other important findings from the discussions involved what we found lacking.  For example, we repeatedly read that scholarship needs more somatic involvement. But specific research praxis is lacking, such as an Embodiment Guide for Researchers.  We experienced a conundrum when debating the appropriate scholarly voice for this work.  Some participants struggled with précis writing as the appropriate reporting medium.  Précis writing was meant to convey an objectified rendering of the literature.  But some participants argued that writing about embodiment without invoking their own voice was like typing while sitting on their hands.  This argument is ongoing as we seek ways to engage our bodies in our scholarship.

Subsequent offerings of this course place greater emphasis on hermeneutic analysis.  I interpret this as a response to participants’ desire to surface disciplinary vernacular, concepts, and context as they try to integrate diversely framed knowledge.  Fittingly, some educators claim that successful interdisciplinary study requires deep contextualization (Penny, 2009).


We were all attached to the subject matter in some way; each participant brought their special interest to the course.  Since Fielding’s progressive design facilitates collaboration between students and curriculum, this approach was appropriate to the environment (Knowles, 1973).  The School’s democratic approach also minimizes disciplinary power issues that are inherent in more traditional university settings.  In this case, the participants determined the operative categories of knowledge and steered selection of the readings.  But conventional wisdom suggests that a specialist in the originating discipline vet literature selections for multidisciplinary surveys (Epstein, 2004).

We enlisted too much literature. Any single module could have constituted an entire survey course, providing both content and perspective.  The volume and breadth sometimes diluted the discussions.  I managed to keep discussion threads focused by active moderation:  I read all the materials and weaved them into the conversation, reframing or minimizing them as appropriate.  At the end of the course, I reviewed the reading list with key participants and removed materials we found irrelevant or lacking.

The survey took on a synergistic intensity that transcended the volumes of literature.  According to one participant, experts from multiple disciplines triangulated each another just as we mirrored and expanded each other’s thinking: “the experience of each validating the whole” (Macdonald, 2009).  This dynamic was fueled by the participants’ willingness to explore new ideas and the quality of their writing.  A mildly competitive atmosphere encouraged each participant to contribute higher levels of insights and articulations.  One called the dynamic  “group magic: an inquiry into experiences of collective resonance”  (Cotter-Lockard, 2009).

Some claim that effective interdisciplinarity not only provides a bridge between factual domains; it engages both cognitive and emotional learning (Epstein, 2004).  Experiential learning is critical to forging innovative connections with the literature.  This encourages students to develop personalized approaches to organizing and integrating knowledge into higher order relationships (Manathunga, et al., 2006; Mertz, 2001).  The embodiment course engaged three layers of experiential learning: the connection of the participants’ outside field to the topic, the innate link of each participant to the subject of somatics, and the experiential workshop that occurred during the course.  The course would not have been nearly as effective if the work had been limited to the literature bricolage.

I am a believer that effective lifelong learning crosses the borders of disciplinary perspectives and knowledge. Occasionally, I search for the Holy Grail of an over-arching interdisciplinary meta-paradigm that will unify and integrate multiple knowledge domains.  However, if this course is any indication of a likely candidate, it lies in the process and not in the content of the inquiry.  Perhaps the overarching meta-paradigm is a process rather than a theory.  The embodiment course’s process demonstrated how academic rigor can combine with experiential learning and lead to phenomenologically-crafted research alternatives, such as reorienting the lens to the inside of the explorer.


This account described the structure of an original approach to scholarly investigations of embodiment.  The course participants demonstrated experientially both the relevance and the accessibility of embodiment as a subject.  Phenomenological perspectives were critical for both process and as a source of literature.  However, the course’s unique contribution to embodiment studies involves the interdisciplinary model that framed the collective investigation.

Educational literature claims that interdisciplinary inquiry offers an important pathway for addressing critical issues of our era.  The Fielding embodiment course experience exemplifies how multidisciplinary conversations can build on each other progressively and synergistically, ultimately transcending conventional knowledge boundaries to reach interdisciplinary insights.  It further demonstrates a valuable role for phenomenology.  Phenomenology provides a transdisciplinary lens, replete with rigor and intellectual tradition, as a unifying basis for conversation, exploration, and research.

If forging new paths is the larger intention in interdisciplinary scholarship, developing more critical scholars and researchers is the practical outcome.  Interdisciplinary study engages the intellectual dimensions of real world problem solvers.  This course demanded that the participants develop strong integration and synthesis skills, as well as execute critical thinking to interweave and integrate various disciplinary based discussion threads.  More sophisticated and astute practitioners are better able to forge real world solutions that transcend limits of traditional disciplinary perspectives.  The results of this particular coursework serve as an exemplar, demonstrating the increasingly critical role of interdisciplinary higher education to address real-world complex challenges, particularly for doctoral students who are charged with forging new knowledge and ways of thinking.

Perhaps the ultimate interdisciplinary paradigm lies in a process that is guided by a rational but flexible framework.  Using a similar structure and process, the embodiment course model could be applied to other topics to strengthen graduate education in myriad subjects (Figure 4).  Contemporary challenges, such as climate change and economic globalization, demand leaders and problem solvers to be present and open to information from many perspectives.  Considering knowledge from multiple perspectives and weighing it against experience and phronesis is one pathway to innovative solutions.

Figure 4. Multi- to Transdisciplinary Inquiry









E. A. Behnke, “Ghost gestures: Phenomenological investigations of bodily micromovements and their intercorporeal implications”, in Human Studies, 20/2, 1997, pp. 181-201.


S. D. Brown, in V. M. Bentz, C. Corley & L. Fortune (eds), Somatics: The embodiment of knowledge. Unpublished course postings, communications, and reports, Santa Barbara, CA: Fielding Graduate University, 2009.


K. Cargill, “Food studies in the curriculum: A model for interdisciplinary pedagogy” in Food, Culture and Society:  An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 8/1, 2005, pp. 115-123.


D. Cotter-Lockard, in V. M. Bentz, C. Corley & L. Fortune (eds). Somatics: The embodiment of knowledge. Unpublished course postings, communications, and reports, Santa Barbara, CA: Fielding Graduate University, 2009.


A. Damasio, The feeling of what happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1999.


M. J. Epstein, “Teaching a ‘humanistic’ science: Reflections on interdisciplinary course design at the post-secondary level” in Current Issues in Education [On-line], 7/2, 2004, Accessed April 3, 2011


L.D. Fortune, “Phenomenological brain-soma: Somatic awareness and neuroscience at a crossroads”. Paper presented at the Society for Phenomenology and Human Sciences. Roslyn, VA, 2009.


E. T. Gendlin, 1978, Focusing. New York: Bantam Books, 1978.


D. E. Gray, P. Iles, & S. Watson, “Spanning the HRD academic-practitioner divide: Bridging the gap through mode 2 research”, in  Journal of European Industrial Training, 35/3, 2011, p. 247.


T. Hanna, “What is somatics?”, in Journal of Behavioral Optometry, 2/2, 1991, pp. 31-35.


M. Johnson, The meaning of the body aesthetics of human understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.


J. T. Klein, Interdisciplinarity: History, theory, and practice.  Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1990.


S. Kline, Conceptual foundations for multi-disciplinary thinking. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995.


M. S. Knowles, The adult learner: A neglected species, Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company, 1973 (Revised Edition 1990).


D. B. LaFountain, “A breath of fresh air: Phenomenological sociology and Tai Chi”,  in D. Rehorick & V. M. Bentz (eds.), Transformative phenomenology, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008, pp. 175-192.


D. Leder, The absent body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.


C. Macdonald, in V. M. Bentz, C. Corley & L. Fortune (eds). Somatics: The embodiment of knowledge. Unpublished course postings, communications, and reports, Santa Barbara, CA: Fielding Graduate University, 2009.


C. Manathunga, P. Lant, & G. Mellick, “Imagining an interdisciplinary doctoral pedagogy”, in Teaching in Higher Education, 11/3, 2006, pp. 365-379.


M. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of perception, English trans. By C. Smith, London: Routledge Classics, 1962.

M. Merleau-Ponty, The visible and the invisible, English trans. by A. Lingis, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968.

M. Merleau-Ponty,  The world of perception, English trans. by O. Davis, London: Routledge, 2004.


M. H. Mertz, Intellectual border crossing in graduate education:  A report from the field. Educational Researcher, 30/5, 2001, pp. 12-18.


A. Montagu, Touching: The human significance of the skin. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.


J. Morley, “Embodied consciousness in Tantric yoga and the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty”, in Religion and the Arts, 12, 2008, pp. 144-163.


J. Morley, “Inspiration and expiration: Yoga practice through Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment”, in Philosophy East and West, 51/1, 2001, pp. 73-82.


A. L. Nagata, “Bodymindfulness and energetic presence in intercultural communication”, in D. Rehorick & V. M. Bentz (eds.), Transformative phenomenology, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008, pp. 141-154.


S. Penny, “Rigorous interdisciplinary pedagogy”, in Convergence, 15/1, 2009, pp. 31-54.


C. B. Pert, Molecules of emotion. New York: Scribner, 1997.


C. Petitmengin-Peugeot, “The intuitive experience”, in J. Shear & F. J. Varela (eds.), The view from withi : First-person approaches to the study of consciousness, Thorverton, UK, Bowling Green, OH: Imprint Academic, 2000, pp. 43-78.


D. A. Rehorick & L. Nugent, “Male experiences of pregnancy: Bridging phneomenological and empirical insights”, in D. A. Rehorick & V. M. Bentz (eds.), Transformative phenomenology, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008, pp. 33-50.


O. Sachs, The man who mistook his wife for a hat, and other clinical tales. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970.


R. Shusterman, Body consciousness: A philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.


M. Spector, Moments of awakening in the presence of impending danger: A phenomenological study of police officers in critical situations, Doctoral dissertation, Santa Barbara, CA: Fielding Graduate University, 2000.


E. Thompson, Mind in life: Biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.


N. Yanoshak & J. Delplato, “De-disciplining the disciplines: The suspect politics of interdisciplinary pedagogy”, in Gender and Education, 5/3, 1993, pp. 283-288.



Appendix A

The Embodiment of Knowledge

Reading list


Module 1: The Material Body: Biology and Neuroscience perspectives

Module 2: The Mental Body: Psychology perspectives

Module 3: The Body in Context: Sociological, Anthropological, & non-Western perspectives

Module 4: The Philosophical & Spiritual Body: Phenomenology & Theology

Module 5: The Body in Practice: Somatic Awareness training & Practices



For each module, the participants will select a reading from the list to present to the group in the form of a written précis. A brief (one paragraph to one page) hermeneutically designed statement will accompany the précis. This statement will address the underlying assumptions embedded in the selected text. The selection will be identified to the group to avoid duplications and allow the maximum material to be covered. The précis will be posted on a group forum according to the schedule below. In addition, the first four modules contain one foundational reading that everyone should read, regardless of who is doing the précis (if anyone). This reading is bolded in the individual modules.

In addition, each participant will contribute:

1)    Comments on a minimum of two other students’ precis for each module.

2)    A group conference call will be held after the close of each module for the purpose of sharing reflections on applications for individual practice and scholarship.



“Hermeneutics and Somatics: in Assessments and Dissertations”

Recommended reading:

Palmer, Richard E.  (1969) Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer. Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press. Chapters 1-3, pp. 114-137, & 13-14

Brennan, T. (2004). The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Chapters 1, 4 & 7

Bentz, V.A., The Body’s Memory, The Body’s Wisdom, Chapter in Lived Images: Mediations in Experience, Life-Word and I-Hood edited by Matti Ithonon and Gary Backhaus, Finland, Jyvaskyla University Press, 2003.


Module 1

The Material Body: Biology and Neuroscience perspectives


Benson, H. (2000). The Relaxation Response. New York, HarperTorch.


Blakeslee, S. and M. Blakeslee (2007). The body has a mind of its own. New York, Random House.


Cotterill, R. (1998). Enchanted Looms: Conscious Networks in Brains and Computers. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


d’Aquili, E. & Newberg, A. B.  (1999). The mystical mind. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.


Damasio, A. (1999). The feeling of what happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company.


Gluck, A. (2008).  Damasio’s Error and Descartes’ Truth. Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press.


Lipton,B. (2008). The Biology of Belief. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House Publishing.


Newberg, A., E. d’Aquili, et al. (2002). Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. New York, Ballantine Books.


Noe, A. (2009). Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness. New York: Hill and Wang.


Pert, C. B. (1997). Molecules of emotion. New York: Scribner.


Phantom limb research:

Ramachandran, V. S. (1998). Consciousness and body image: lessons from phantom limbs, Capgras syndrome and pain asymbolia. Pub Med. Assessed May 20, 2009 at

Ramachandran, V. S. and W. Hirstein (1998). The perception of phantom limbs. Brain, 121(9): 1603-1630.

Wenner, M. (2008). The perception of self: When the mind is fooled into disowning a limb, body functions go awry. American Scientific Mind. 19: 8-9.


Ryding, C., C. E. Rudebeck, et al. (2000). Assessing Body Awareness in Healthy Subjects ? The First Steps Towards the Construction of the BAS-Health. Advances in Physiotherapy 2(4): 176-182.


Small, G. and G. Vorgan (2008). Meet your iBrain: how the technologies that have become part of our daily lives are changing the way we think. American Scientific Mind, 19(5): 42-49.


Schwartz, J., Begley, S. (2003). The mind and the brain: Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force. New York: HarperCollins.



Tang, Y.-Y., Y. Ma, et al. (2009 (April 12)). Central and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short-term meditation. PNAS.

Tang, Y.-Y., Y. Ma, et al. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. PNAS 104(43).



Module 2

The Mental Body: Psychology perspectives


Brennan, T. (2004). The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.


Johnson, D.H. & Grand, I. J (eds). (1998). The body in psychotherapy: Inquiries in somatic psychology. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.


Gendlin, E.T. (2007). Introduction. In Focusing [Reissue, with new introduction]. New York: Bantam Books.


Haidt, J., Rozin, P., McCauley, C., & Imada, S . (1997). Body, psyche, and culture: The relationship of disgust to morality. Psychology and Developing Societies, 9, 107-131.


Haidt, J., Joseph, Craig. (2004). Intuitive ethics: how innately prepared intuitions generate culturally variable virtues. Daedalus,133(4), 55-66.


Haidt, J., Rozin, P., McCauley, C., & Imada, S . (1997). Body, psyche, and culture: The relationship of disgust to morality. Psychology and Developing Societies, 9, 107-131.


Lincoln,M. J. (2006).  Messages from the Body: Their Psychological Meaning. Talking Hearts.


Olatunji, B. O., Moretz, M.  W., Mckay, D., Bjorklund, F., De Jong, P. J., Haidt, J., Hursti, T. J.,Imada, S., Koller, S., Mancini, F., Page, A. C. & Schienle, A. (2009). Confirming the Three-Factor Structure of the Disgust Scale—Revised in Eight Countries. Journal Of Cross-cultural Psychology, 40(2), 234-255.


Price, C. (2005). Body-Oriented therapy in recovery from child sexual abuse: an efficacy study. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 11(5): 46-57.


Sachs, O. (1970). The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Other Clinical Tales. New York, Summit Books, Simon & Schuster.


Schnall, S., Haidt, J., Clore, G. L., & Jordan, A. H. (2008). Disgust as embodied moral judgment. Pers Soc Psychol Bull, 34(8), 1096-1109.


Watson, D. (2000). Mood and Temperament. New York: Guilford Press.


Zajonc, R. B. (1980). Feeling and thinking: Preferences need no inferences. American Psychologist, 35, 151–175


Module 3

The Body in Context: Sociological, Anthropological, & non-Western perspectives


de Beauvoir, S. (1952). The Second Sex. New York: Knopf.

Book 1, Chapter 1. The Data of Biology.


Bstan-‘dzin-rgya-mtsho, D. L. (1999). Consciousness at the crossroads: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Brain Science and Buddhism. Ithaca, NY, Snow Lion Publications.


Freund, P. E. S. (2008). The expressive body: a common ground for the sociology of emotions and health and illness. Sociology of Health and Illness, 12(4): 452-477.


Hanh, T. N. (1975). The Miracle of Mindfulness: A manual on meditation. Boston, Beacon.


Hansell, S. and D. Mechanic (1991). Body awareness and self-assessed health among older adults.” Journal of Aging and Health 3(4): 473-492.


Hughes, B. and K. Paterson (1997). The Social Model of Disability and the Disappearing Body: towards a sociology of impairment. Disability & Society, 12(3): 325-340.


Lock, M. (1993). Cultivating the Body: Anthropology and Epistemologies of Bodily Practice and Knowledge. Annual Review of Anthropology, 22: 133-155.


Lovejoy, M., (2003). Bodily Subjectivity: Mapping a New Perspective on Women’s Body Experience” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Atlanta Hilton Hotel, Atlanta, GA <Not Available>. 2009-03-05 from


Montagu, A. (1971). Touching. New York: Harper.


Scheper-Hughes, V. and M. M. Lock (1987). The mindful body: A Prolegomenon to future work in medical anthropology. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 1(1): 6-41.


Simon, G. E., M. VonKorff, et al. (1999). An International Study of the Relation between Somatic Symptoms and Depression. New England Journal of Medicine 341(18): 1329-1335. See


Sparkes, A. C. (1999). Exploring body narratives. Sport, Education and Society, 4(1): 17-30.


Young, I. M. (2005). Throwing like a girl.  In On female body experience: Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


Module 4

The Philosophical & Spiritual Body: Phenomenology & Theology


Behnke, E. A. (1997). Somatics. Encyclopedia of Phenomenology. L. Embree, E. Beneke, D. Carret al. (eds.). Netherlands, Klawer Academic Publishers: 663-667.


Behnke, E. A. (1997) Ghost Gestures: Phenomenological Investigations of Bodily Micromovements and Their Intercorporeal Implications. Human Studies, 20 (2), 181-201


Johnson, M. (2007). The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. The University of Chicago Press.


Leder, D. (1990). The Absent Body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Merleau-Ponty, M.. (1945). The spatiality of one’s own body and motility. Chapter 3 in Phenomenlogy of Perception. Paris: Gallimard.


Morley, J. (2008). Embodied consciousness in tantric yoga and the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty. Religion and the Arts, vol. 12, (1-3).


Morley, J. (2001). Inspiration and expiration: yoga practice through Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment Philosophy East and West, vol. 51, (1).


Shusterman, R. (2008). Body Consciousness: a philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics. New York, Cambridge University Press.


Sokolowski, R. (2008). Phenomenology of the human person. New York, Cambridge University Press.


Thomson, Evan (2007). Mind in life: biology, phenomenology, and the sciences of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Varela, F. J., E. Thompson, et al. (1991). The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.


Varela, F. and J. Shear, Eds. (1999). The View from Within: First person approaches to the study of consciousness. Thorverton, UK; Bowling Green, OH, Imprint Academic.


Wilde, M. H. (1999). Why embodiment now? Advances in Nursing, 22(2): 25-38.


Module 5

The Body in Practice: Somatic Awareness training & Practices


Ackerman, D. (1990). A natural history of the senses. New York, Random House.


Lambert, K. G. (2005). Rising rates of depression in today’s society: Consideration of the roles of effort-based rewards and enhanced resilience in day-to-day functioning. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 30(4): 497-510.


Olsen, A. (1998). Body stories: A guide to experiential anatomy. Hanouver and London, University Press of New England.



Carlson, F. M. (2006). Essential touch: Meeting the needs of young children. Washington, DC, National Association for the Education of Young Children.


Hannaford, C. (2005). Smart moves: why learning is not all in your head. Salt Lake City, UT, Great River Books.


Hanrahan, M. (2003). Challenging the dualistic assumptions of academic writing respresenting PhD research as embodied practice. Forum: Qualititative Social Research, 4(2): 20.


Holland, D. (2004). Integrating mindfulness meditation and somatic awareness into a public educational setting. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 44(4): 468-4894.

Martial Arts:

Spector, M. (2000). Moments of awakening in the presence of impending danger: A phenomenological study of police officers in critical situations. Santa Barbara, CA: Fielding Graduate University. Doctoral dissertation in Human Development.


Massage & Bodywork:

Field, T. (2001). Touch. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.


Jacobson, E. (2004). “Getting Rolfed”: Structural bodywork, disciplined development, and embodiment. In Healing by hand K. S. Oths and S. Z. Hinojosa (eds). Walnut Creek, CA, AltaMira: 171-194.


Juhan, D. (1987). Job’s Body: A handbook for bodwork. Barrytown, NY, Station Hill Press.


Minor, J., Warburton, M. & Black, V. (2004). Achy-Breaky art: The historical development and contemporary practice of Tuina.  Healing by hand. Oths, Kathryn S. and S. Z. Hinojosa. Walnut Creek, CA, AltaMira: 23-42.


Walkley, S. (2004). When the body leads the mind: Perspectives on massage therapy in the United States. Healing by hand. Oths, Kathryn S. and S. Z. Hinojosa. Walnut Creek, CA, AltaMira: 23-42.



Goldman-Schuyler, K. Leadership integrity through mind training and somatic learning. San Francisco, Alliant International University.


Nagata, A. L. (2008). Bodymindfulness and energetic presence in intercultural communication. In Transformative phenomenology, D. A. Rehorick and V. M. Bentz. Lanham, MD, Lexington Books: 141-154.



Beringer, E. (1997). Feldendrais. In Groundworks: Narratives of Embodiment, Johnson, D. H., (Ed.). Berkeley, CA, North Atlantic Books. 81-100.


Chodorow, J. (1999). Dance therapy and the transcendent function. In P. Pallaro

(Ed.), Authentic movement, (pp. 236-252). London: Jessica Kingsley.


Elman, D. (1997). F. M. Alexander. In Groundworks: Narratives of Embodiment, Johnson, D. H., (Ed.). Berkeley, CA, North Atlantic Books.


Gray, A. E. L. (2004). The Body Remembers: Dance/Movement Therapy with an Adult Survivor of Torture. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 23(1).


Kasai, T. & Takeuchi, M. (2001). Mind-body learning by the Butoh dance  method. Proceedings from the 36th Annual Conference of American Dance Therapy Association, Raleigh, North Carolina, October 11-14, 2001  ( 2002-03-07).


LaFountain, D. B. (2008). A breath of fresh air: Phenomenological sociology and Tai Chi. In Transformative phenomenology, D. A. Rehorick and V. M. Bentz. Lanham, MD, Lexington Books: 175-192.


Stromstead, T. (2001). Re-inhabiting the female body: Authentic Movement as a gateway to transformation. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 28(1), 39-55.



Lindenberger, U., Li, S., Gruber, W., Muller, V. (2009). Brains swinging in concert: cortical phase synchronization while playing guitar. BMC Neuroscience, 10(22).



Desikachar, TKV. (1995). The heart of yoga: developing a personal practice. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International. Pp. 1-14, chapters 8 and 9 – pp. 79-90.


Feuerstein, Gorge (1998). The Yoga tradition: It’s history, literature, philosophy and practice.  Prescot, AZ: Hohm Press. Chapters 1 (intro) and 18  (Hatha-yoga).


Khalsa, Sat Bir S. (2004) Yoga as a therapeutic intervention: a bibliometric analysis of published research studies, Indian Journal of Physiological  Pharmacology; Vol 48 (3): 269-285


Eliade, M (1969). Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. Princeton: Princeton University Press.



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Filed under Academic papers and publications, Somatic practices & research, Uncategorized

Article published in Schutzian Review

I am delighted to announce that my paper ESSENCES OF SOMATIC AWARENESS AS CAPTURED IN A VERBALLY DIRECTED BODY SCAN: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL CASE STUDY has been published in the 2011 annual review Schutzian Research.  This was my first phenomenological research as a doctoral student a couple years back, and I am pleased it is being so honored and will enjoy a larger audience.  The full citation for this piece is

Fortune, L. D. (2011). Essences of somatic awareness as captured in a verbally directed body scan: A phenomenological case study. In R. L. Lanigan (Ed.), Schutzian Research: A Yearbook of Worldly Phenomenology and Qualitative Social Science (Vol. 3, pp. 105-118). Bucharest, Romania: Zeta Books.

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Filed under Academic papers and publications, Uncategorized

Where truth intersects with meaning: Somatic awareness as explained by neuroscience viewed through a phenomenological framework




Where truth intersects with meaning: Somatic awareness as explained by neuroscience viewed through a phenomenological framework

Presented at

Society for Phenomenology and Human Studies Annual Conference

Arlington, Virginia

October 30, 2009

Luann D. Fortune

School of Human and Organization Development

Fielding Graduate University

Luann Fortune, LMT, MA, is a doctoral student in the School of Human Development at Fielding University. She can be contacted at

Where truth intersects with meaning: Somatic awareness as explained by neuroscience viewed through a phenomenological framework


Somatics has long been a topic of conversation in phenomenology. Recently, biological science treatments have evolved to expand these conversations from describing the Brain to suggesting how the Mind operates to construct reality. This paper builds on the framework provided by neuroscience to explore potential partnerships with phenomenology for investigations of embodiment. Invoking operational descriptions of how somatic awareness is constructed, the discussion attempts to reach beyond the more simple metaphor of the brain as a master control tower. It considers aspects of somatosensory processing that can integrate body-based perceptions into consciousness, memory, intentionality, and other higher mental aspects of individual identity through a novel interdisciplinary approach to understanding experience from inside the body.

Keywords: body awareness, embodiment, somatosensory, interoceptors, interdisciplinary, phenomenology


In the animated film Wall-E (Stanton, 2008), what remains of the earth’s human population is confined to a hovering spacecraft, supposedly waiting for the earth’s eco-system to be restored sufficiently to support planetary life. Over 700 years of confined outer space living, the humans have evolved into blobs of flesh and brain. They live cradled in mechanized hover chairs that provide them their only mobility and offer them stimulation and pleasure via a virtual life on an attached flat screen.  Amongst the myriad facets of their cluelessness, they don’t even realize they cannot ambulate unassisted. In this regard at least, they are missing somatic awareness.

Bodily sensations intermingle with consciousness to create somatic awareness. Tied to the body’s alert system, it is foundational to individual and evolutionary survival. Recent developments in neuroscience attempt to explain the biological operations attached to somatic awareness through cognitive science (Damasio, 1999, p. 13-14). But directing and cultivating this body-centric awareness is ancient. Somatic cultivation figures in many therapeutic and spiritual enterprises, such as tantric yoga (Morley, 2008) and tai chi (LaFountain, 2008). In addition, since somatic function is foundational to all inquiries concerned with living human bodies focusing on its awareness affords an intersection for social science discussions from various perspectives.

Yet, a disconnect between the concepts of physiological science and philosophies of the mind contributes to linguistic inadequacies for mind-body exploration (Gendlin, 2000, p. 113). The contemporary proliferation of neuroscience data and findings (Kandel, 2006, pp. 7-8; Shermer, 2008) does not examine the quality of somatic experience. Phenomenology offers both the theoretical framework and practical approach to fill knowledge gaps (Rehorick & Nugent, 2008, p. 33) by directing attention to the essence of somatic experience.

In this paper, I consider how somatic experience is constructed in the brain and how the results can get channeled into conscious awareness. I allow for aspects of somatosensory processing that can integrate body-based perceptions into memory, intentionality, and similar higher mental aspects of individual identity as they interact with perspectives from psychology, sociology, and transcultural perspectives. I suggest that using phenomenology as a vehicle for inquiry, the constructs from neuroscience, and language borrowed from social science perspectives can interweave to suggest an interdisciplinary paradigm for exploring somatic awareness.

Brain Science on Somatic Awareness

Receptors and managing the incoming

In neuroscience parlance, somatic awareness results from an integration of the somatosensory system and consciousness to create active and passive responses. Tracing any given response begins with a stimulus. Stimuli attributed to both internal and external origins construct somatic perception (Damasio, 1999, p. 149). Identifying and describing these elementary building blocks will be useful when we consider how to apply neuroscience tenets in other disciplines.

Different sensors recognize interior and environmental stimuli. Environmental receptors monitor external data through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007, pp. 34-35). Receptor functions are highly specialized, allocated to detecting variations of light and color, ranges of auditory waves, myriad and intertwined scents and tastes, tactile pressure, relative temperature, and vibration. But the receptors alone do not constitute vision, hearing, or any other sensory experience (Schwartz & Begley, 2002, p. 26-27).

Internal perception occurs in similar steps. Sensors monitor balance, proprioception, or kinesthetic, and interoception, including a sense of energy, vibration, or vitality (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007, p. 204) and detect sensations of pressure or temperature (Damasio, 1999, p. 150). Movement and posture are sensed through vestibular and muscular-skeletal receptors that inform consciousness about movement and placement in space of body organs and parts (Damasio, p. 153).

Since the nervous system is hard-wired to perpetuate the organism’s survival, it must continually differentiate between signals emitted from our external environment and those internally generated (Damasio, 1999, p. 136). The physical body provides the living object with boundaries, especially important with humans equipped with limitless mental animation driven by higher capacities (Damasio, p. 143). But whether any given sensation actually results from external factors or whether it is internally initiated is less rigidly delineated than traditionally thought. Research concerning phantom limb sensation (Ramachandran & Hirstein, 1998) demonstrates how the brain can construct sensation without external stimuli and parallels discussions in philosophy.

But assuming an exclusively internal reality espouses solipsism and leads to the trap of subjective isolation (Sokolowski, 2008, p. 68-69). In this paper, both internal and external stimuli are allowed for and pertinent to somatic awareness. Developing somatic awareness to a higher level of consciousness, to better appreciate the complexities of distinguishing the internal from the external, could contribute to improved individual survival skills. This point is germane to multi-disciplinary application.

Processing incoming data

Constructing perception begins with collecting, relaying, and managing signals from the body. Constantly relayed messages that stream to the appropriate collection sights and processing centers are like foot soldiers updating bodily status (Damasio, 1994, pp. 87-88, 1999, p. 151). Conventional biology states that integrating incoming signals to achieve perception takes place in various areas in the brain, with simple sensory and motor functions localized within specialized cortical areas (Gellatly & Zarate, 2005, p. 27).

Modern neuroscience continues to seek the ultimate goal of identifying each brain area responsible for each function: brain mapping (Schwartz & Bengley, 2002, p. 23-24). Using recent technological advancements, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) (Damasio, 1999, pp. 82-83), Descartes’ image of the brain as the thought machine (Schwartz & Bengley, p. 32) can be fully diagramed. The mapping paradigm attempts to assign specific folds of cortices to functions as well as to behaviors (pp. 62-73). Recent brain maps show regions located in the parietal and temporal cortices that are thought to parse and map somatic experience (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007, p. 204). Evidence demonstrates that brain maps are malleable and can be reoriented through a process called plasticity (Ramanchandran, 1998, p. 1851).

A. Damasio (1999, 2002) does not dismiss brain mapping, but rather adds an explanatory dimension. He says thoughts, experiences, and memories are dynamically constructed and reconfigured with each incidence of experience. The concept that complex thinking and behavior is assembled and involves multiple areas of the brain is traceable to J. Hughlings-Jackson (1835-1911) (Gellatly & Zarate, 2005, p. 27). The same activity can be assembled at lower or higher levels, a concept still resident in distinctions and labels used for somatosensory mapping (Blakeslee & Blakesless, 2007, p. 81). Russian neuropsychologist A. Luria (1902-1977) posited that dynamic brain assembly has a temporal dimension. Different brain area “ensembles” (Gellatly & Zarate, p. 29) working together on different occasions achieve the same function. K. Lashley (1890-1958) suggested that there is no single site of particular memory (Gellatly & Zarate, p. 99), although current thinking holds that memories live in specific circuits (Damasio, 1999, p. 21). The concept of neuroplasticity (Schwartz & Begley, 2002) whereby brain cells continue to create new alliances throughout the life-cycle, offers a remodeling mechanism for substituting and expanding particular sites in any given circuit (p. 15-16).

Progressively dynamic, the brain serves not only as a receptacle for stimuli, but intertwines with the body to create new stimuli. This applies to multiple layers of consciousness, including somatic experience and awareness (Damasio, 1999, p. 21). According to the Damasio (1999) some areas of the brain are flexible and can serve multiple purposes in mental functions. However, those areas responsible for mapping the internal body condition are dedicated and unchangeable (p. 21-22).

Sensory somatic subsystems

According to Damasio (1999), the somatosensory system is a complex series of responses, and not one single system (p. 149). Three subsystems operate in parallel to construct somatic-sensory experience: the internal milieu and visceral, the vestibular and muscular-skeletal (Damasio, p. 86), and the fine-touch subsystem (p. 151). Each subsystem deals with particular information, but they also work in tandem to create whole images and experiences.

The internal milieu and visceral subsystem monitors the chemical state of the body’s cells and baseline functions. The bloodstream serves as the transmittal channel, conveying neuro-chemical signals such as hormones that are triggered by generically termed interoceptor reactions (Damasio, 1999, p. 150-151). These are collected and interpreted at central sights including regions of the brain stem, hypothalamus, the sub-fornical organs located at the cerebral hemisphere level, and the telencephalon (Damasio,  p. 150) . Subsequent neural activation can then initiate responses. Since these regions can also initiate transmission of signals along the neural pathways, they are critical to the nexus of body-mind connection with application to cultivating somatic awareness and passive practices such as meditation and biofeedback.

The muscular-skeletal and vestibular subsystem conveys information on the state of voluntary, striated muscles and associated skeletal structures. Kinesthetic data collectors, also called proprioceptors, carry signals along neural pathways (Damasio, 1994, p. 88) to monitor movement, posture, and internally sensed bodily position from the internal perspective (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007, p. 11). The vestibular system, linked to devices in the inner ear, monitors balance, equilibrium, and motion, and helps convey sense of dimension and perspective. The muscular-skeletal and vestibular subsystems work in tandem to provide continual information about where the body and its parts are in space. This subsystem is invoked in active somatic practices such as yoga.

The fine-touch subsystem relies on skin receptors to detect specific stimuli, such as deep or light pressure, heat, or cold, and is primarily concerned with describing objects and stimuli external to the body and sensed through the skin’s surface. Tactile practices, such as massage, rely on this subsystem. Scientists recently speculate on the existence of a peripersonal space, an area off the skin and around the body that is annexed by the nervous system (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007, pp. 3-4).

Damasio (1999) proposes that the intersection of the somatosensory subsystems does not occur in one region of the brain, but “emerges dynamically and continually” (p. 154) out of multiple orders of neurological processing. At least a portion of the brain area designated as the somatosensory cortex is involved. Brain stem nuclei, the first nexus point in the central nervous system (CNS) are believed necessary to interpret and regulate homeostatis and map body signals. The hypothalamus and the basel forebrain are interconnected with the brain stem by their common ability to circumvent the blood brain barrier and respond to chemical indicators, such as levels of hormones, glucose, various ions, pH in plasma, and oxygen. Therefore, each of these areas is able to receive signals via both neural and bloodstream pathways, and also discharge neural signals to each other as well as elsewhere in the nervous system.

Monitoring the body’s state is not the same as experiencing and interpreting body awareness. Damasio (1999) suggests that multiple brain structures beyond the designated somatosensory cortex are invoked to construct even the most elementary self-awareness (pp. 154-156). Full integration involves activity in the forebrain, in the medial cortices and regions of the insular cortices known as S2 (Damasio, p. 156). Regions located in the parietal and temporal cortices are thought to parse and map somatic experience (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007, p. 204). The myriad areas involved in this operation illustrate the various permutations of any single experience of consciousness, including somatic perception.

For example, seeing and recognizing an external object is the result of complicated and variable coordinated processing efforts (Damasio, 2003, p. 198-199). In a hypothetical instance, signals captured in the retina are integrated with information in the visual cortex in the occipital lobe (Damasio, 1999, p. 334), the dimensional perspective supplied by the vestibular system (p. 146-147), memories from the hippocampus (p. 157-158), and emotional associations from the amygdala (p. 61-62). Monitoring the internal state is equally dynamic, although possibly less at the forefront in the consciousness.

So, it is arguable whether our internal experiences are universal. Without viewfinders into another’s awareness, the most benign of sensations could be perceived with highly individualized variations.  For example, an estimated five percent of the human population (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007, p. 119) has synesthesia, a biological condition where sense perceptions get mixed up. It is often not diagnosed until past early childhood.  Yet undiagnosed synesthesians have known a number of deviations, such as smelling their auditory experience or tasting their visual stimuli, for their entire lives, not realizing that this was not everyone else’s experience as well.

Progressing along the consciousness hierarchy presents added layers of complexities. But according to Damasio (1994), all somatic subsystems remain critical to constructing higher order reasoning. Signals from the internal milieu contribute to the construction of emotions and feelings (p. 48). Somatic markers (Damasio, 1994, p. 174) are reactions that result from emotions linked to bodily sensation. They are the “gut feeling” (p. 173) or the danger flag (de Becker, 1997). Damasio’s  (1999) somatic marker hypothesis (p. 41) posits that patients with damage in the somatic related brain regions consistently demonstrate difficulties navigating in their social environment. (p. 41-42). Damasio (1994) hypothesizes that areas in the pre-frontal cortices receive signals from all the sensory areas and integrate these with other information (p. 182-184) in the essential construction zone of human responses.

Various threads of research explore how the body, especially facial expression, can reveal somatic, emotional, and intellectual states. Recognizing such non-verbal cues contributes to intuitive ways of knowing (Gladwell, 2005, pp. 206-214). But in an interesting turn, some research also indicates that bodily expression can exert a reciprocal reaction to intellectual and emotional states. Research findings claim that making certain facial expressions can not only reflect feelings, but create them (Ekman & Davidson, 1992, pp. 342-345). Awareness and intentional direction of somatic markers provides a key for intersecting Damasio’s constructs with other disciplines and offers a potential avenue to explore the anecdotal tenet of where-goes-the-body-so-goes-the-mind-and-spirit.  Application of this construct provides foundational justification for practitioner approaches in multi-disciplines.

An alternate proposal (Panskepp, 1998) to Damasio’s tenets describes a parallel rather than integrated system. The most elementary level of consciousness originates in the brain stem and spans levels of consciousness via a CNS neural-network (pp. 562-582). Affective feelings may be caused by the neuro-dynamics of basic emotional circuits interacting with the neural schema of bodily action plans. According to Panksepp (1998), consciousness is developmentally and evolutionarily connected to both sensory-motor awareness and higher cognitive abilities (Panksepp & Northoff, 2007). Panksepp’s version ascribes importance to somatic awareness; Damasio’s hypothesis suggests a unified holistic mind-body paradigm.

Neuroscience Tenets at the First Degree of Application: Neurology

Similar to the more recent work of Damasio (1999, 1994) and Ekman (Ekman & Davidson, 1992), W. James (1842-1910) proposed that emotions result from bodily states (Damasio, 1999, p. 288). Neurology subsequently discredited that tenet, specifically citing spinal cord transection patients. Case studies describe that although spinal cord severance interrupts signals from the body, such patients still possess emotions. However, deeper examination and several biological factors validate the dynamic construction principles of Damasio and his forerunners concerning the critical role of somatic input for feelings.

Arguments that cite paralysis patients as possessing emotions neglect several critical considerations. First, even if the spinal cord is severed signaling occurs through the vagus nerve that bypasses the spinal cord, connecting directly to the brain stem. Next, signals from the body convey not only via the spinal cord and neuron system, but biochemically through agents such as hormones via the bloodstream. Third, damage to the spinal is seldom completely severed, and some amount of neurological signaling continues. Fourth, sensations from the head and face bypass the spinal cord and feed directly to the brain. Therefore, some incoming sensations are accommodated. Finally, there is indication that spinal cord injuries do result in diminished emotional experience, even after factoring in associated depression and traumatic response (Damasio, 1999, pp. 289-290).

Case studies describing Locked-In Syndrome (Foer, 2008) further support the body’s influence on the mind.  These unfortunate patients, suffering from full bodily paralysis while still maintaining consciousness, use their only operating body part, a flickering or blinking eye, to report an odd sense of calm. As the body shifts into stillness, so goes the mind (Damasio, 1999, p. 292-294).

Allowing for anticipated emotional dysfunction in neurologically injured patients could contribute to a framework for holism in medical treatment. But treating the mind with the body is counter to underlying premises of western science and medicine.

Brain science meets Philosophy: Why body-mindedness

Separate body and mind systems, called substance dualism (Damasio, 2003, p. 187), are consistent with Cartesian thinking (Hanrahan, 2003, p. 7). Founded in the Church’s influence in modern western civilization (Lipton, 2008), dualism provides the basis for modern western physiology. Consistent with the underlying scientific paradigm, measuring trumps more qualitative ways of understanding. But, in the words of the Merleau-Ponty (1962), science is a “second order expression of the world” that is founded on the first order of how we directly experience the world (p. ix). Phenomenological research provides methods for qualitative inquiry, a discipline for sorting and interpreting subjective accounts, and an intellectual tradition that reveals meaning so as to contribute to scholarship.

Returning to holism by crossing over other disciplines’ boundaries requires clear language. The subject of somatics offers common ground for establishing such a vernacular: “We need to reawaken our experience of the world as it appears to us in so far as we are in the world through our body” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 239). But Merleau-Ponty also observes that the language is elusive: “… language in the notion of sensation…nothing in fact could be more confused” (p. 3). Practitioners who profess to contribute groundbreaking work in mind-body intervention admit that their work needs clearer and more systematic articulation (Johnson, 1997, p. 4).

Beyond scientific exactitudes and debates to define the anatomical structure and functional source of somatic awareness (Sotnikov, 2006), somatic experience begins with a “wordless knowledge” (Damasio, 1999, p. 168). Phenomenology is well suited to investigating experience that “one cannot yet label or name” (Rehorick & Nugent, 2008, p. 33). As a practical consideration, because of its open-ended nature, phenomenological inquiry is useful for topics where research is minimal as it can serve to bridge otherwise incongruent concepts (Gendlin, 2000, pp. 116-117). It promotes understanding as it connects the experience of the one to the experience of an other (van Manen, 1990, p. 54).

Damasio proposes that the felt core self generates a feeling of knowing (1999, pp. 171-172) that comes before verbalization and autobiographical consciousness. This first person perspective, what has been called the “look of a feeling” (Wilber, 1996, 2000, p. 1) is ideal for generating datum on embodiment. A similar concept is found in a Phenomenological construct called being in the epoche (Husserl, 1975, p. 8). Phenomenological inquiry is designed to capture feelings and perceptions at the core of where they live: with the subjective individual consciousness. Sensations mix with memories and emotions to engender higher consciousness to the extent that the actual experience and the thoughts about the experience become fundamentally intertwined (Damasio, 1999, p. 35). In the words of Merleau-Ponty (1962): “A thing is, therefore, not actually given in perception, it is internally taken up by us in so far as it is bound up with a world, the basic structure which we carry with us, and of which it is merely one of many possible concrete forms” (p. 381).

This mixing bowl dynamic (Damasio, 1994, p. 129) substantiates nonwestern views (Nhat Hanh, 1975) that the body-mind is essentially unified. Mental life emerges from the body’s basic functions, rather than being superimposed on a separate bodily level of being (Shusterman, 2008, p. 180). This variance in thinking points to a foundational challenge in integrating positivist science’s view on somatic experience and holistic approaches.

There is also a temporal challenge (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 79-80) to reconcile. As opposed to the ever-changing stream of consciousness, biology sees the body is a source of stability and relative sameness (Damasio, 1999, p. 142). In navigating through the duree of lived experience (Malhotra (Bentz), 1981, p. 111), construction of reality is always a split second ahead of the present (Damasio, 1999, p. 94). By the time consciousness captures and assembles verbal, sensory, and symbolic data to create the present, the flow has carried us beyond the temporally volatile moment. Thus, the present is forever relegated to the past (Barth, 1961, p. 48) carried forward with us as molecules of memory (Kandel, 2006, p. 241; Perth, 1997, p. 143)

But the physical body is always in the present (Blackburn, 2008, p. 2) and provides a touchstone for communications and inquiry. Husserl’s essence of being (Behnke, 1997) is grounded in the physical body’s perceptions (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. xi). Whether consciously or not, every body movement is recognized through a network of somatic sensors (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007, p. 204). Sensory perceptions, generated by both internal and external stimuli, are building blocks of the in-the-moment experience. Perhaps in some cases, bodies function best when we ignore them rather than mindfully guide them (Shusterman, 2008, p. xi), as when a musician masters a score. But somatic awareness is achieved when consciousness is intentionally directed to mitigate bodily sensation with cognizance.

Like Damasio’s consciousness model, Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit describes an implicit sense of one’s situation, both internally and in context (Gendlin, 1978) . According to Gendlin (2000), the “body as internally sensed” (p. 110), which can reveal a “gamut of responses, feelings” and ways “one becomes familiar with oneself” (p. 110), is akin to somatic awareness: Befindlichkeit reveals authenticity (Gendlin, 1978).

Consideration of bodily experience is fundamental to the work of M. Merleau-Ponty, who refered to the internal total awareness as body schema (1962, p. 113-114). Phenomenology’s relationship with body-based inquiry continued in the work of T. Hanna (1928-1990) who coined the term somatology and later somatics (Behnke, 1997, p. 664) to describe his multi-disciplinary inquiries that intersected physiology and subjective perception. Subsequently, E. Gendlin developed the concept of focusing (1978) to investigate the body’s felt sense (Behnke, p. 645), giving rise to practice applications used today. A related technique, the body scan (Shusterman, 2008) offers one potential research tool for collecting data from non-verbal sources (p. 162).

In multiple modalities, the therapist, doctor, or coach often asks the client to report on their immediate internal body sensations and experience.  Questions like, “where do you feel discomfort, tightness, aching, or tension inside your body right now” are used to solicit input for designing intervention. In the technique called Body-Scanning this line of questioning is structured into an extended inspection of the internal body experience. Verbal prompts guide the participant through a journey of their real-time felt response (Olsen, 1998, p. 17).  The instructions are geared to direct awareness and presence, beginning with differentiating between external and internal stimuli and focusing on the breath. Prompts continue to direct attention through the inner body, and ask the participant to notice what is sensed. The subject’s internal observations engender words and metaphors that provide a starting point for description (Shusterman, 2008, p. 164). Based on Damasio’s constructs (1994, 1999, 2003), somatosensory input intertwined with educated intentions will progressively increase the richness and clarity of the descriptions one can produce. The whole being can be trained to better appreciate, capture, and communicate their internal bodily experience.

Phenomenological methods provide substantive techniques to record the essence of an experience as it is unfolding (Van Manen, 1990; Bentz & Rehorick, 2008). Though not identical to the actual lived experience, protocol writing, a crisply descriptive text describing an experience, (Van Manen, p. xx) gives lived experience a voice. Text, capturing the body-scanner’s vooice, can then be interpreted. As a practice and a research tool, the body scan can be applied in multiple disciplines to collect data on lived somatic experience.

Spiraling Deeper into Multi-disciplinary Inquiry

At a pivotal point in the story line of Wall-E (Stanton, 2008), the ineffective bodies of the exiled humans hijack their space craft and return to earth, ready to rebuild their terrestrial home. Their blossoming somatic awareness, which develops gradually through the film, is intrinsic to the eventual empowerment that fosters their rebellion. According to Shusterman (2008), somaesthetic feelings that can be named can then be trained and ultimately lead to transformation (p. 130).

Whether their pari-mobile physical condition is permanent, the reported micro-gravitational bone loss due to some genetic mutation, or a reversible response to environmental circumstances that will be remedied with medical science, proper diet and exercise, remains unknown to the viewer. Will the landed people continue to reverse their lack of somatic awareness? Will improved awareness lead to stronger, more mobile bodies? Will better bodies contribute to personal fulfillment and further expansions in consciousness? What we can predict for them, as they strive to overcome or reverse their embodied circumstances, can draw from other knowledge areas.

Arguments to consider span various paradigms. These range from whether the time lapse was sufficient for a permanent change according to Darwinian evolution, to the premises in sociology and trans-cultural studies that suggest that group values act as change agents (Aronson, 1972). Biological realities affecting the body influence individual consciousness and collective cultural factors. Politico-socio environments become embodied in our being. Somatics further plays a role in spiritual enrichment, and thus serves as a source of core nourishment.

Body awareness is rich territory for interdisciplinary exploration as already demonstrated by inquiries appearing in various fields. Socio-cultural ethnography describes how norms affect the experience of body awareness (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2003, p. 109). Psychology offers evidence that somatic awareness can be cultivated through body-based therapy (Price, 2005). Embodiment issues are now emerging in the Interdisciplinary field of Organizational Development in the applied practice of Somatic Coaching (Flaherty, 2005, p. xv). Today, bodymindfulness (Nagata, 2008, pp. 149-150) is discussed in social science venues as varied as cultural communications studies (Nagata, pp. 143-147) and trauma treatment protocol (Rothschild, 2000, p. 3).

Striking a balance between choosing a focus and deploying a multi-dimensional framework is key to effectiveness. While too much focus leads to a reduction in complexity, too little focus results in minimal direction and insipid insights. Using phenomenology’s approach and biology’s constructs provides a concrete platform for diverse questions. A foray into possibilities begins with considering how Damasio’s neuroscience allows insights into discipline specific interests.

Somatic Awareness and Psychotherapeutics

Psychotherapeutic practices are interlinked with somatic awareness. Psychology’s attention to bodilyfocused attention and practices can be traced back to the early 20th century and the work of W. Reich, F. Perls and the Gestalt movement, and C. Jung (Davis, Eshelman, & McKay, 1988, p. 15). Progressive relaxation, a technique to internally release muscles, has its roots in E. Jacobson’s work (1938), as a method to manage stress by controlling body tension. In the mid-1970s, A. Lowen introduced Bioenergetics, to treat anxiety by focusing on internally constricted muscle patterns (Lowen, 1975). Damasio’s (1999) model provides a language for communicating the mechanics of these practices: each involve signals from the muscular-skeletal subsystem, as do the practices of martial arts, yoga, and dance-movement therapy (Behnke, 1997, p. 664). Neuroscience’s principle that controlled movements can affect feelings (Ekman & Davidson, 1992, pp. 342-345) allow an additional avenue for describing how body can shape emotional states. This scientifically based hypothesis furthermore supports the arguments proposed by T. Brennan (2004) that affect is transmitted from person to person through nonverbal channels (p. xx). This suggestion can be further explored using neuroscience’s constructs of paripersonal space (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2003, p. 3).

Self-help somatic practices of biofeedback, and sensory integration therapy (Behnke, 1997, p. 664) involve Damasio’s (1999) internal milieu and visceral subsystem, focusing intentionality to control bio-chemical signals. Massage therapy’s effectiveness originates by invoking signals in Damasio’s (1999) fine-touch system. Yet each of these practices demonstrates that irrespective of which subsystem manages the initial signals, the responses are integrated and perpetuate subsequent responses in the other subsystems. For instance, massage therapy starts by initiating fine-touch signals, which in turn contribute to internally generated relaxation of muscular-skeletal structures. Proprioceptive signals from relaxed musculature trigger responses in the internal milieu to release hormones to activate the para-sympathetic Relaxation Response (Benson, 2000). Hence, neuroscience offers both a language and scientifically grounded mechanics to triangulate principles garnered anecdotally from clinical practice.

A contemporary approach to psychological counseling, aptly named Body-based psychotherapy, involves interweaving talk with physical interventions such as touch and movement (Price, 2008, pp. 47-48; Staunton, 2002, pp. 107-108). Beyond channeling attention internally to collect information, the body-based psychotherapist employs soma-directed tactics for presumed inherent benefits. By intentionally cultivating client attention to their inner experience, the psychotherapist promotes recovery and personal evolution through improved self-awareness (Price, 2008, p. 51). Using the body as a staging area for self-revelation, such therapy claims to also support personal growth (Blackburn & Price, 2006, p. 68). Various case studies report memories, emotions, and trauma as being revealed and released in body memory (Damasio, 1999, pp. 118-119; Elmen, 1997, p. 109; Hall, 1997; Olsen, 1998, pp. 15-16). Hence, the in-the-present body is not only the staging area for experience, but reflects development as it serves as a resource for healing and transformation (Price, 2008, pp. 1-6).

Study participants report feelings of empowerment through improved somatic awareness (Price, 2005, p. 52). This finding suggests a useful factor for our imaginary returnees to earth in Wall-E (Stanton, 2008). Perhaps a series of body-based psychotherapy sessions would support and motivate them to the higher level of personal development needed to address their environmental challenges. Scientifically based mechanics for perception development are available in the expanding theories of plasticity and epigenesis (Lipton, 2008, p. 36-39). Lipton (2008) further suggests that perception effects belief that underlies self-agency and actualization.

Applying Brain Science in Sociology

Cultivating increased somatic awareness could have a “profound influence on all therapeutic modalities” (Blackburn & Price, 2006, p. 68). But a full appreciation of somatic awareness requires contextual consideration. For instance, neuroscience abounds with clinical benefits of touch (Field, 2001). But some cultural norms create prohibitions against touching. Sociology traditionally addresses issues of collective norms and behaviors, including those involved with somatics.

In I. M. Young’s Throwing like a girl (1980/2005), the author posits collective elements that shape bodily experience (p. 142-143). Young (1980/2005) contends that the feminine experience is not based in biology, physiology or female essence, but rather in the “particular situation of women as conditioned by contemporary society”  (p. 153). Women’s perception of themselves, resulting from socially constructed self-concept, underlies them not fully engaging their physical strength (p. 143-146). Data claims women are more prone to tentativeness (p. 146), have less motility (p.146-153), and harbor a fear of getting hurt (p. 146). Women’s underestimation of their capacity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (p. 147) and carries over into external aspects of life (p. 152-153). The “girl learns to hamper her movements” (p. 154) and see herself as being “physically inhibited, confined, positioned and objectified”, “rather than as a living manifestation of action and intentions” (p. 155).

In addition to feminist theory, bodily experience tends to generate discussion concerning factions that are marginalized. In an essay on disability sociologists B. Hughes and K. Paterson (1997) claim “sociology has discovered the body”, and at the same time, studies have “seen fit to dispense with it” (p. 326). To convey theory into practice, sociology will benefit from clearer language, and concrete methods, techniques and approaches for bringing the body into text.

Internal feelings, which can be identified and captured in body scanning (Shusterman, 2008, p. 162-164), reflect habits learned from our sociocultural formations (p. 130). They can thus be relearned (p. 130). Biologist B. Lipton (2008) agrees that perceptions, not genes, control the construction of behavior (p. xx).  Whereas social structures, such as education and parenting practices, will instruct Young’s genderbased norms, neuroscience describes a mechanism for changing such perceptions on an individual basis. Integrating recent findings from research in neuro-plasticity can offer hope for reshaping women’s experience of body, including the kinesthetic experience of throwing. Additional perspectives more aligned with applied psychology invoke visualization to re-orient team sports performance (Sheikh & Korn, 1994, p. 23). But re-orienting collective norms to shape individual experience requires more than understanding how the tools work.

Cultural crossovers: Spirituality and Somatic Awareness

Somatic awareness plays a role in some religious and spiritual practices (Kovach, 2008, pp. 941-942) as well as centuries old yoga poses such as Savasanna (Singleton, 2005, p. 289). In its essence, meditation offers a gateway for deeper self-knowing and holistic mindfulness. However, there is a common Western misconception that Eastern traditions promote somatic awareness (Morley, 2008, p. 154). In actuality, most Yogic tradition transcends somatic awareness (Morley, p. 149). At best, the body is a vessel rather than a focus. Morley argues that Tantric tradition affirms the primacy of somatic consciousness (p.155) Vipassana meditation, which professes body and mind interconnectedness, cultivates body mindfulness as a vehicle to insight through somatic awareness (Holland, 2004, p. 470).

d’Aquili and Newberg (1999) developed a neuroscience model to help explore the brain’s role in religion and mystical phenomenon. Specifically, it claims that the act of meditation serves to suspend temporal and somatic awareness in pursuit of a higher state where physical boundaries are surpassed (pp. 157-168).  However, rather than deepening real-time bodily experience, meditation posits a goal of transcending the physical body to attain an absolute unitarian state (pp. 14-15). Brain science research reinforces practice by triangulating findings with phronesis. In consciousness that is influenced daily by Western paradigms, scientifically grounded substantiation carries authority and can help establish popular acceptance of emerging constructs.

The generation of somatic awareness and meditative state both begin with a common pattern in the frontal cortex, but deviate in their subsequent directions. Recognition and response to both internally and externally generated stimuli occur through sensory receptors in the upper parietal lobe (d’Aquili and Newberg, 1999, pp. 33-36). Intentionality, including construction of somatic mindfulness, originates in regions in the frontal cortex called the Attention Association Area ( d’Aquili and Newberg , pp. 34-35) where firing neurons activate focus and concentration. The vestibular system’s dimensional data, integrated with kinesthetic and tactile perceptions, is parsed by cognitive operations that interpret and assign meaning. Somatic awareness demands focus on bodily sensation, whereas meditation strives to transcend it. Studies that monitor brain activity during deep meditation record a drop in parietal lobe activity, the brain region associated with processing somatic sensations (Blakeslee & Blakeslee, 2007, p. 122). In a process called functional deafferentation, the brain systematically blocks incoming information, including recognition of internal sensation, while it spirals into self-induced over-excitement (d’Aquili & Newberg, 1999, pp. 41-42).

Whether one accepts the specific technical aspects of the d’Aquili/Newberg model, it serves to further triangulate materialistic dimensions associated with channeling somatic awareness, and the critical role of intention. It also provides vernacular for related conversations important to a deeper question which arises through considering the spiritual dimension of somatic awareness: Cultivating somatic awareness asks me to pay attention and develop a relationship with an aspect of myself that I know will leave me in death. Aside from a discussion of the human versus the divine, why would I willingly go to an awareness that is embodied in mortality? Perhaps the answer lies in acknowledging that anticipated foundational awareness is the basis for all subsequent higher consciousness, and makes this life more than a rehearsal for a hypothetical afterlife. Focusing on somatic awareness requires that the state of being bodily mindful be valued in its own right.

Conclusions and Further Study

Whether somatic awareness can be cultivated or eliminated completely is explainable from multiple disciplinary viewpoints, and now triangulated in neuroscience theories and findings.  In addition, neuroscience offers a framework to construct a common somatic language. A more developed language is foundational to describing the wordless state of the inside out where all perception begins; a vernacular to describe the inner state is under-developed. Exact words fall prey to metaphors and images that are clearly superimposed by some sphere of the higher intellect.  For example, the descriptions of internal organs and soft tissue structures are likely images drawn from an individual’s familiarity with Western anatomy and physiology. This speaks to the value of providing basic anatomical instruction at an early age to support self-care. Science demands exactitudes, including in vocabulary and definitions (Damasio, 1999, p. 27). Other disciplines can benefit from this clarity and also use it to approach cross-disciplinary parity with various theoretical intersections with science and somatics.

Underlying the “So What” question: What I have taken for granted is not so easily named. Why, again, is increased somatic awareness valuable? In addition to therapeutic interventions and self-care, the implications for intimate relationships render wordless images of the satisfied lover, the suckling infant, the empowered warrior. Somatic awareness allows one to take better care of oneself, one’s partners, and by extension, one’s clan. Our fictional Wall-E earth returnees can cultivate somatic awareness to support their individual and collective body developments. It could provide a cornerstone to environmental survival and evolutionary success.

From another aspect, the process of conducting scholarship in body mindfulness (Nagata, 2008; Anderson, 2002-03) can enrich research results. Merleau-Ponty (1962) claimed that the body provides “significance not only to the natural object but to the cultural object like words” (p. 273). Words invoked and received, come through the body with or without awareness.  Making bodily awareness a partner to intellectualization bridges the reflective being with the embodied being.  And when one is lost, somatic mindfulness can serve as vehicle for consciousness re-orientation. “Intentionality would carry us to the heart of the object” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 277). Intentionality must begin from inside the looking glass.

Phenomenology asks us to suspend attachment to permanence. But our biological realities dictate that our body holds memory. Assuming we choose to bracket the assumptions that come with this state, bodily awareness must first be acknowledged and understood. Phenomenology tells us that the core of understanding is in experiencing.

The practical reality is that to access the epoche we must work through the body. In two final scenes of Wall-E, the resilience of human spirit is demonstrated in body-based responses: the captain draws sufficient strength to command his body to stand erect and walk several feet, thus securing safety for his passengers; and the touch of a hand, albeit robotic, restores Wall-E’s soul. Even as scholars, the body we start with is our own.


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