Metaphysics is gaining popularity throughout the world. Many more people than ever claim interest or expertise in metaphysis. Yet how many of these people have actually ever mad any of the works of the world’s great metaphysicians? Not realizing that all Christian theology is based on and inspired by metaphysics, fundamentalist signorantly reject metaphysics as devilinspied occultism. Colleges and universities offer courses in metaphysics; but most professors of philosophy view what popular culture calls metaphysics as sheer superstitious nonsense, not even worthy of the name philosophy. And many of us within the community of Rolfers (including myself) are profoundly interested in pursuing the philosophical, metaphysical aspects of our work. Given all this confusion and fascination with metaphysics, it behooves us to under-stand the meaning, subject matter, and discipline of metaphysics.
The English word “metaphysics” is derived from two Greek words, “meta” and “physis”. “Meta” means “beyond something” and that something which metaphysics seeks to “go beyond” was called physis by the ancient Greeks. Our word “physical” is derived from “physis”, but to the ancient Greeks physis included much more than what we mean by the physical world. Physis was understood as the self blossoming, the self-emerging, and the enduring. Them is a wonderful Zen poem that grasps physis with perfect poetic clarity. It says, “All are nothing but flowers in a flowering universe”.
Upon hearing physis defined as a flowering universe, most of us would be tempted to understand physis as nature; but our modern use of the world “nature” comes from the Latin word “natura” which means “that which is born”. Nature, according to Christian theology, was something born of God. In contrast, physis, for the ancient Greeks, was the unborn self-blossoming real mof all beings. Physis is thus without beginning and end. Physis is the eternally self-begetting.
Although the word “physical” comes from physis, physis marks out a much greater realm of being than the merephysical. Our mechanistically oriented science, which has its origins and foundations in the revolution created by Galileo and Descartes, understands the physical as that which takes up measure able space. The physical world on this view is seen as a vast machine to be properly comprehended according to strict mathematical and causal laws. If physis were reduced to our modern use of the world “physical”, our Zen poem would have to read, “All are nothing but machines in a mechanical universe”. In a mechanical universe, where the objective world is reduced to the measurable, important ethical and aesthetic values such as goodness, beauty, and love become meaningless, subjective abstractions. Fortunately, physis is not so impoverished. Physis includes body, mind, spirit, and the whole of nature. Physis is alive with itself. It is the living realm of all beings.
Literally then, metaphysics is the inquiry into what is beyond physis. In its original meaning, metaphysics is not the search for something other or separate from physis. Since physis is the living totality of what is, every existing thing or being must already be a part of physis. To conceive of a thing or being standing apart from physis is impossible. Just to the extent that this imagined entity exists, then it is necessarily a part of physis. Metaphysics does not seek Being as a “something” standing outside physis; rather, it asks, “What is the Being of physis? ” Or, stated poetically, “What is the Being of this flowering universe?”
Metaphysics in its original sense, then, is not the attempt to prove the existence of a being that is other and separate from physis. To suggest that the Being of physis is a creator god is premature and a mistake. Such a suggestion reduces Being to a kind of being, i.e., a super-being that created all the other beings. Furthermore, metaphysics ceases to be metaphysics when it tries to reduce the Being of physis to a dimension of physis. The view that the Being of physis is purely mental or purely physical or some kind of energy are examples of this kind of mistake. Since physis includes what the modern world calls the physical and the mental as well as everyform of energy, it makes little sense to reduce the Being of physis to any of the kinds of beings or phenomena that are an aspect of physis. After all, physis is the self-flowing realm of all beings. Following through on our poetic rendition of physis, to suggest that the Being of physis is either mental, physical, or energetic would be like saying that the Beingof this flowering universe is either atulip or a rose.
Each and everything (a thought, a cloud, a flower, a human being, energy in every form, etc.) to the extent that it exists has being. Being can never be separate or apart from anything that is. Yet, Being itself can never be under stood as a mere being or kind of being. At the most fundamental level then, metaphysics inquires into the Being of beings, into the I sing of what is. Meta-physics asks for the nature and meaning of Being. This fundamental inquiry in to the nature of Being is also called ontology.
Because human beings are unique among all the beings in this flowering universe, metaphysics is also an inquiry into the nature of being human. We have the unique potential to realize and experience the ultimate ground of existence. In the modern world, we continuously forsake our human being by behaving as if we were only human doings. But considered metaphysically, the being of human being is the site at which Being is revealed. All the great spiritual traditions of the world have recognized this truth about human being and have created various spiritual practices in order to cultivate this potential. Meditation, for example, is one of the most powerful and profound ways to uncover this primordial openness to Being that we essentially are. From time immemorial, it has been known that the realization of the being of human being through meditation is simultaneously the realization of the Being of physis. Thus, even though Western thought represents an unhealthy opposition between praxis and philosophy; at bottom, meta-physics is also actually a practical discipline.
Although thousands of treatises on metaphysics have been written, meta-physics is not essentially a set of doctrines or theories about the nature of Being. The question, “What is Being? ” is much more a wisdom-question than a knowledge question. That is, it is more like a Zen koan than a request for a verbal, conceptual articulation. The intellect is neither irrelevant nor inappropriate to the question. However, ultimately, one must come to under-stand that in the end the intellect simply is not completely adequate to the demand hidden in the quest for Being. At bottom, the answer to the question, “What is Being?” is like the answer to a koan. The answer is the transformation of the person (body and all) who asks the question.
No sooner had this fundamental question of metaphysics been asked by the ancient Greeks than it was lost and distorted in Plato’s philosophy. Even since Plato, Western thought, in the very attempt to uncover its own ground, has continually distorted and covered up the question of Being over and over again. For example, Plato is responsible for the view that the true home of the human soul is an eternal realm not of this earth and for the doctrine of metaphysical dualism. Plato argued that the mind is to the body as the pilot is to the ship. He further argued that the body is the disfigurement of the soul and that the true philosopher must seek unchanging, eternal truth free from the body.
Hundreds of years later, Descartes, in his attempt to lay the foundations for the newly emerging science represented by Galileo, embraced Plato’s dualism and added the astounding claim that the body is nothing but a soft machine. The view that the body and the universe are ultimately mechanical in nature is an unexamined metaphysical assumption that sits at the heart of our science and medicine. This assumption is hardly ever questioned, and most people accept it as self evidently true.
Philosophically, culturally and in many other ways we are still reeling under the influence of the conceptual frame work created by Plato and Deseartes. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the majority of Westerners to think about themselves in any other way. Yet, one can sense in the evolution of twentieth century philosophy the beginnings of an attempt to throw off the conceptual shackles and sedimented categories of the past. Some schools of twentieth century philosophy represent the attempt to properly ask anew the fundamental question of metaphysics, “What is Being?”
Unfortunately, there is much evidence that as a culture we have not even learned how to begin asking this question properly. One need only look at the enormous interest in and glut of books on metaphysics in popular culture. Much of this material is still rooted on the same oblivion of Being upon which our culture is based. The flow and glow metaphysics of popular culture is the same old stuff packaged in new words. Many people feel they have gained great in-sight and wisdom by reading and discussing these ideas. But reading numerous books on metaphysics even if they are great books and thinking one grasps metaphysics is like reading books on Rolfing and thinking one has been Rolfed.
Another common way to pervert the question of metaphysics is to ask it from within the framework of psychology. Even though working through one’s psychological conflicts is essential to any metaphysical quest and even though psychology is ultimately grounded in philosophy, psychology, by its very nature, is incapable of either asking or approaching correctly the question of Being. In virtue of its frame work of inquiry, psychology is necessarily constrained to view Being and the body through the lens of the psyche. The oxymoronic enterprise of either reducing metaphysical questions to psychological ones or of psychologizing metaphysics is a form of intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy that represents nothing less than self deception and the loss of Being. This confused approach to metaphysics by contemporary psychology is responsible for the wide spread but mistaken belief that working on one’s psychological, emotional conflicts is the same as pursuing the metaphysical quest for Being or the same as pursuing a spiritual path. Psychology is important, but it can never substitute for metaphysics.
Because of our Platonic Cartesian heritage, our culture has stood in denial of the body and its importance in transformation for over 2,000 years. As I pointed out earlier, one way to approach the question of Being is to ask, “What is the being of human being?” I suggested that the realization of the being of human being was the uncovering of our original openness to Being. This uncovering of our own being is the transformational revelation of the Being of this flowering universe. This realization requires the transformation of the whole being of the person who asks the question, body and all. To state it differently, transformation is the transformation of the body.
The oblivion of Being shows up in many ways in contemporary life. The most important for us as Rolfers is the denial of the body. Mytho poetically, body, earth, and feminine are linked together in the unconscious of most Westerners and stand in opposition to mind, heaven, and male. Even our religions manifest this split and denial. The Judeo-Christian tradition, after all, is often and for the most part in appropriately represented as a sky father religion. Thus, the denial of the body is also a denial of the earth and the feminine.
The pioneering work of Dr. Rolf is perhaps one of the most important developments in twentieth century thought and practice. To me, Dr. Rolf’s work obviously represents a struggle against our Platonic/ Cartesian heritage and its concomitant loss of Being. Clearly her genius created both a new set of techniques for manipulating the body and a new science of the body. And like any true science, Rolfing is grounded in philosophy: in our case, a philosophy that asks the fundamental question of metaphysics through an investigation of the uniqueness of the human body and its relationship to the earth. With the exception of the confusing and opaque system of medieval alchemy, Rolfing is the first system in the West to realize that human freedom can never be attained apart from our bodies and the earth.
An integrated human body, according to the principles of Rolfing, is a body organized around a vertical Line. This Line represents the most fundamental principle of Rolfing. Unfortunately The Line remains one of our most difficult concepts to articulate. What The Line is and how to reconcile the many apparently conflicting notions of it in our community are beyond the scope of this article. (I am writing an article on The Line which will appear shortly.) For the purposes of this discussion, however, permit me to blur a number of distinctions and speak rather loosely about The Line. In particular, I shall ignore the distinction between The Line and the various ways we understand the core. Is hall follow common usage and talk about The Line and core as if they were the same.
As I pointed out, the realization of the being of human being is simultaneously the transformational realization of the Being of physis. With-out loosing sight of the fact that Rolfing is both a science and an art, it is important to understand that Rolfing is also grounded in philosophy. Indeed, Rolfing approaches the transformational question of metaphysics through a new and unprecedented approach to the human body and its relationship to gravity. As we like to say, a Rolfed body is an integrated body, organized around The Line and balanced in gravity. Phenomenologically, a body with a line is a body that is grounded, uplifted and centered in the core/surface integration. The differentiation and final integration of core and sleeve are fundamental. The core is many levels at once: it is myo fascial; it is psychological (the core of the personality); and it is the being of our human being. The surface is myo fascial: it is our will, our doing as opposed to our being, and it is the ego-self. Metaphorically, the core faces in two directions at once. One direction is toward the limited and often conflicted ego and its connection to the human world. The other direction is toward what is not self and not will. Because we are human beings (not just human doings) and because we have a core, we stand, so to speak, with one foot in the infinite and one foot in the finite.
Thus the very attempt to Rolf a body ultimately points in the direction of metaphysics, toward the realization that the very attempt to balance a body around a central vertical axis carries the possibility of realizing the core (being)or our human being and that eventually this uncovering of our original open-ness to Being is the transformational realization of the Being physis.
The philosophical alchemists called the spiritual illumination of the body “metasomatosis”. To grasp the point correctly and philosophically, I prefer saying that Rolfing is a form of somatic ontology. Were it not for the fact that popular culture has thoroughly corrupted the discipline of metaphysics and confused it with the most wildly extravagant nonsense ever written since the vulgar medieval alchemists took pen to hand, we could say that Rolfing is a form of somatic metaphysics. However, to avoid the confusions surrounding metaphysics in our culture, the phrase “somatic ontology” seems more appropriate to describe the philosophical basis of our work. Ontology, as I pointed out previously, has come to mean the branch of metaphysics that inquires into the nature and meaning of Being.
Before concluding this article, let me make one final point about what is commonly called metaphysics in our culture and Rolfing community. When most people talk about metaphysics these days, they are talking about what is more accurately known as hermetic meta-physics. According to legend, Hermes Trismegist us, demigod and in carnation of the Universal Mind, delivered to the ancient Egyptians spiritual truth coupled with the occult sciences such as astrology, numerology, tarot, alchemy, skrying (the practice of crystal gazing and developing inner vision), the manipulation of energy and energy fields, and various practices of magic.
The present day interest in hermetic metaphysics all too often displays an ignorant and mindless fascination with the most superficial and ungrounded aspects of these occult sciences at the expense of their ontological or meta-physical ground. At the heart of the occult sciences is a practice (either meditation or practices analogous to meditation) designed to bring about the transformation of the practitioner. To pursue an occult science without under-taking the practice of transformation is not metaphysics. Ultimately, such a pursuit is a form of egoic, self-serving foolishness which actually stands in opposition to and blocks the metaphysical quest. Without its metaphysical ground, an occult science is no more than an ungrounded paranormal technology based in the conflicted, fixated ego’s desire to influence and manipulate the world for its own self serving purposes. I do not want to take a stand in this article as to whether these paranormal technologies are real and effective or whether they are just superstitious rituals. My only point is that considered as a technique, an occult technology is essentially no different from any other technology. It can be used for good or evil purposes; and unless it is grounded in the metaphysical quest for the transformed self, it remains just another way to manipulate the world like driving a truck or running a computer.
Ultimately, metaphysics is not a theory or system of beliefs about the nature of Being. It is not a religion. And it is not a paranormal technology for manipulating or gaining power in the world. Metaphysics is the heart of every true spiritual quest and sits at the very center of every religious tradition through-out the world. It asks, “What is Being?” and eternally waits for those who can-not rest easy with mere book-learning and everyday answers. Metaphysics waits in silence for those who are willing to undergo their own transformation in answer to its primordial question.
Dr. Rolf’s vision was broad and deep. I think we do a great disservice to the nature of the work she left in our hands if, as a community, we cannot embrace the full scope of her genius. This work is still evolving, and no one individual or group has the final word on what Rolfing is. I think it is significant that Dr. Rolf left her life’s work, its continuity and evolution, in the hands of a faculty and a community of Rolfers called the Rolf Institute not in the hands of one person. As a group we must be dedicated to ongoing dialog about the nature of Rolfing. Because Rolfing is somatic ontology and not flow and glow metaphysics, it demands that we examine our work from a variety of stand points. We must remain committed to research and to exploring Rolfing from the perspective of the behavioral and biological sciences. At the same time, we need to appreciate that Rolfing is a profound philosophical system. To the extent that we hold onto the full scope of this magnificent work and continue to dialog, we will evolve and mature in vital and healthy ways.
Having devoted this article to exploring metaphysics and its relation to Rolfing, perhaps, it is fitting to end with a cautionary appeal for us to take a breath and stay grounded around this concept of somatic ontology. After all, who among us really wants to become a flow and glow metaphysician? Feeling good after having given or received a Rolfing sessions does not necessarily mean that Rolfer or Rolfee has become a great enlightened metaphysician who has completed the fundamental quest for Being. Perhaps it simply means that we have created better circulation to the head, only this and nothing more.
Jeffrey Maitland, Ph.D. is an Advanced Rolfer in private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona, and he serves as a the chairman of the Rolf Institute’s faculty.What Is Metaphysics?