This entry was to be the introduction to a report of an experience a while back that seemed to call for an explanation. It now is relevant enough to stand on its own. It may sound a bit theoretical but it is important, so please bear with me. In it, I explain a central tenet of Sensory Awareness. The term Sensory Awareness, as I use it, refers to a specific practice based on the work of Elsa Gindler as Charlotte Selver offered it and which lives on in her students. (More on the work here)
Wow, I just wrote a preface to the introduction to next weeks blog.
The beauty of Sensory Awareness lies in the question: “What is your experience?” It is an invitation to explore. In a session, this question underlies an agreed-upon task, which can be as simple as coming from sitting to standing. Ideally, as a teacher* I give as little guidance (and philosophy!) as necessary but enough to provide students with a framework within which to explore coherently. This is usually done by asking open-ended questions, such as: “As you get ready to come from sitting to standing, can you feel that there is something under you which supports you? Can you feel that something pulls on you, pulls downward? And what in you arouses in response to the pull and the support of the earth that allows for the coming to standing to happen?” Such questions are hopefully not premeditated but arise in the moment from my own experience and from what I notice by seeing the students work.
The questions serve as pointers to experience. Is it possible not to ponder them but to let them sink into our tissues and to then allow for what wants to happen to unfold? The questions are not to be answered through internal dialogue. I may later ask the student what her experience was but until then it is not necessary to verbalize, though incredibly hard not to, because we are so conditioned to give immediate answers to teachers (and the right ones too).
In Charles Brooks’ eloquent words, what we offer in Sensory Awareness is “the rediscovery of experiencing”. The teacher’s questions ought to give authority/agency to the experiencing student to find out for herself.** In this sense, the students are not “our” students and we are – as Charlotte often pointed out – not teachers, but together we study living, “our attitude towards life”, and how life could be, if we lived without an “attitude”.
This does not mean “anything goes” as one excited student once remarked after back-to-back sessions led by first Charlotte and then myself. It seemed to her that I was giving students more freedom to do what they wanted. I was mortified. No, on the contrary: giving students more freedom means to give them more responsibility. “Here is the task. How do you go about it?” is not an invitation to do ‘whatever’ but a request for diligence and for taking responsibility for one’s own experience. It is not: “How do I want to do this?” but “How does this want to happen?”. Not an easy proposition. In Charlotte’s words: “Sensory Awareness is a demanding mistress.”
An important aspect of Sensory Awareness is reporting back to teacher and fellow students, so we can compare notes, as it were (more on the art of reporting another time). It is with this in mind that I write here. My entries are reports from my own experience rather than teachings of a method, and meant to inspire you to find out for yourself, diligently, playfully. They are spontaneous writings in response often to intentional exploration of real situations. I share them and then ask: “What is your experience?”
After such a report, Charlotte’s sole comment often was: “This was your experience.” (Sometimes followed by: “Now forget it!”, meaning: This might have been an important finding but don’t let expectations get in the way of experiencing anew next time.)
*Or, as Charlotte Selver preferred to call us, leader (because our task is to guide and not to teach.)
** Again, the Buddha’s “be an island onto yourself”. (Beware: this link is supposed to get you to the respective quote on top of the page but your mind might get sucked into the startling title for the next chapter of the Sutta.)