Embodied Being

By Jeffrey Maitland

The 20th century could be characterized as a time when critical thought was ruthlessly directed at its own foundations, calling into question the very cogency of science and the universality of our most cherished values. In the midst of both the turmoil and the tremendous creative upsurge afforded by the depths of this self-examination, the 20th century also witnessed the quiet birth and development of a new field of inquiry known as Somatics. Somatics is both a science and a philosophy but it also includes holistic manual therapy as a practical application of its principles. Because it is a new inquiry into the nature of the body, it demands new eyes and bold forward thinking investigators who have freed themselves from the artificial divisions of the past.

In the wake of this creative upsurge are those who say the Muses no longer speak to us. But the truth is that these nay-sayers have lost their footing and no longer know how to listen. Even when the muse raises her voice and speaks directly into their ears, they remain confounded by the din of postmodernism.

I remember quite clearly how I found my way to philosophy. The girl I was dating told me that I talked like someone who had too many philosophy classes. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was just a naive college freshman. If she had brought muses into the conversation, I wouldn’t have known about them either. All the same, I knew enough to know that I had just been taken down a notch. Strangely, her comment unsettled me. Without giving it much thought, I changed my major to philosophy the next day. Eventually I became a professor of philosophy.

The study of philosophy led me to Zen practice and a number of years later I was ordained a Zen monk. Early in my Zen training I experienced what the great Zen teacher, Hakuin, rendered with perfect poetic precision: “This very place is the Lotus land of purity. This very body is the body of the Buddha.” Although I did not know it then, this experience was the beginning of my lifelong fascination with the phenomenology of the body. Today I might express my fascination this way: in the end, the mystery of consciousness is the mystery of the flesh, or what I call the sentient body.

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