Spacious Body – Explorations in Somatic Ontology

Pages: 36-38
Year: 1996
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Rolf Lines – (Genérico)


Jeffrey Maitland’s book, Spacious Body, explores our experience of being alive and articulates the philosophical nature of this experience. It is not a book about Rolfing® structural integration, although Rolfing plays a major role in the author’s personal transformation. Maitland attempts to remove the confusion that commonly surrounds our conflicted experience of the subjective and objective, of the ego-self and true self, and ultimately of the true self and no-self. He defines this endeavor as an exploration into somatic ontology, the branch of metaphysics that considers questions about the nature of our existence.

Do not presuppose, however, that the text is a dry philosophical discourse on metaphysics. Rather, Maitland has given us an exciting yet thoughtful and systematic discourse concerning the nature of psycho-spatial transformation a journey into recovering and discovering our ever present, living self (and no self) in space and time.

Reading the text may become frustrating and uncomfortable at times since the author demands that the reader attend to and process an uncommon use of language as he exposes and examines our conflicting forms of psycho-spatial orientation. To accomplish this task, Maitland draws upon his extensive background and knowledge Zen meditation of existential and phenomenological philosophy including Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Merleau Ponty of the little known art and science of alchemy influenced by Paracelsus and his students and of the somatic manual techniques largely based on the brilliant work of Ida P. Rolf.

Drawing from these diverse yet convergent influences Maitland creates a road map based on the phenomenological distinction between prereflective and reflective experience, the terms points out are commonly confused with our sense of subjective and objective experiences:

Prereflection is a form of understanding. It is also the prior condition of reflective understanding. Prereflection is also an orientation, a capacity of experiencing reality without separating from it. Reflection is an orientation, a capacity of experiencing reality by separating from it. Reflection splits unified experience apart into subject and object; prereflection is unification, an understanding that participates in that which is understood. Reflection is separation, an understanding that steps back from ands out of unified experience, splitting it into a subject [subjective] who thinks about an object [objective].

The author then expands upon the traditional phenomenological definition of intentionality as one’s orientation towards the world or surface by also maintaining that to orient towards something requires a place to orient from which is termed the core. The core is our prereflective place of orienting toward the world and at the deepest level expresses our true self. The surface is “our presentation to and interaction with our world” and can be defined as the ego self. The core of a person is always the place of being from which we allow ourselves to be mobilized. The surface is always an expression of doing and gives us our sense of will. Maitland views the core as a “door without hinges” that in one direction opens toward the subject-object world that we all normally experience and in the other direction opens toward the essential “groundless ground” of our existence. Regrettably, the latter prereflective experience of our timeless presence is hidden from us much of the time:

The core is both self and no-self. The core is the site at which being is revealed. Ultimately the core is the event of primordial relationship which is neither will nor consciousness and which allows forth the totality of what is in space and time.

Thus, from our core we allow our very existence to be manifested while at the surface we experience this allowingness as effort or will.

Maitland proposes that the psycho-physical develop of a human being evolves through three stages. First the developing infant/ child/young adult must create a separate self independent of his parents’ willful psycho-spatial orientations. Next the maturing adult must realize the completion of the true self-what has been called the Atman, the Witness, and the Mind or Body of Christ, to name three. However, unlike most Eastern and Western religious philosophies, Maitland insists that the realization of the true self is only the beginning of authentic spiritual development. The third and final level of human development is the “realization of no-self or … spacious body.”

Inevitably, unless the child is raised under exceptional circumstances that include healthy parents and a supportive environment, serious conflicts arise within the developing self-between the ever present “allowing” at the core and the mobilizations of the “unwilling will” at the surface. That is, when the child’s willful surface expression becomes unconnected from the core’s beingness, the evolving distinction between core and surface remains undifferentiated and confused-resulting in psycho-physical suffering, conflict, disease.

All psychological, emotional problems are conflicts of space, conflicts generated in the attempt to create a self and come into congruence and agreement with the conflicted spatializations of parents and other people.

The usual response in the child or adult is to deny the conflict between the true core self and the surface ego-self of social conventions and personal fixations. To further reinforce this self deception, we seek out others with similar psycho-spatial conflicts and create group affiliations. Children will seek conformity to the incongruent spatial orientations of their parents or peers. Adults tend to find collective support for their core-surface conflicts by joining or identify with religious groups, political causes, sports franchises, and professional organizations that share their conflicted orientations and denial mechanisms. I believe, in part, that this is the reason those of us involved in manual therapy and movement reeducation so strongly identify ourselves with a specific group of practitioners whether it be Rolfers, physical therapists, chiropractors, Alexander teachers, etc..

The author maintains that authentic transformation begins with the experience of distinguishing the core from the surface. Distinguishing the core from the surface is the same as distinguishing the true self from the ego-self, or allowing from willing.” The first step, he emphasizes, in this long process is to accept our psychospatial limitations and conflicts for what they are since this is who we are in the present moment. Such acceptance involves an “allowing-will.”

True freedom arises, then, as the allowing-will. The allowing-will is the integrated grounding of the will in allowing. The allowing-will comes to presence in human life as the creative appropriation of limitation. “Appropriation” in this case means that your actions are appropriate to your situation. It also means that you own and allow your situation, and the transformation it demands, as your own. When you allow the limitations that inform your situation in this way, limitation provides for the actualization of possibility.

Much of this book then is about surrendering the self to the present space and time:

Another name for being is presence, or, what is the same thing, allowing presence. A human being is not simply a rational animal. A human being is a spacious body, a human allowing-presence. This space is your space. This time is your time. You are always and already this time and space for being. When you awaken your core, you dwell in the … harmony of primordial relationship and breathe free in spacious time.

Spacious Body is a landmark book that, if we allow, will guide us on a spiritual journey involving timeless flight…. Those of us who choose to read and study this book owe the author a special thanks for his willingness to formulate in clear, illuminating language the architecture and experience of such motionless travel.

Spacious Body is now available through the Rolf Institute.

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