Discover more from Layman Pascal
You don't need me to remind you of the importance of the body -- or do you?
Q: What or Who is Dogos?
DOGOS is a preposterous portmanteau of Dojo & Logos. Why would anyone combine those two words? Well, this neologistic quasi-meme is meant to remind us of the ongoing role that the body plays in thought, spirituality & wisdom. The skills that are cultivated in Dojos are necessary for a more profound assimilation of the spirit of Logos. I.e. our symbolic access to the deeper syntactical and semantic patterns of cosmic intelligibility continue to be rooted in our embodied sensorimotor and neuromuscular intelligence.
Forgive my baroque phraseology. I should probably pause to ensure that we know the meanings of the basic words that are in play:
Dojos are sacred physical spaces. Usually devoted to martial arts training or similar forms of interactive physical wisdom. In Dojos, we get personal and interpersonal opportunities for gymnastics, rough play, physical mirroring, grounding, alternating active/responsive positioning, visceral self-struggle & the constant developmental provocation provided by our private mental and emotional reactions to bodies in general.
Logos is a curious word describing something between Wisdom, Science (ie. “-ology”), left-brain tactical thinking, information flow & words/symbols in general. Maybe we could think of it for now as the syntax or structure by which the significance of reality is understood.
So it struck me that it could be important to combine these notions into a piece of hybrid linguistic gobbledygook that reminds us to stop our pernicious habit of automatically separating them and opposing them to each other. Dogos!
Classically we have divided the soul from the body. We have pretended that intellectuals are the opposite of athletes. However, that is a relatively recent affectation. Plato & Socrates fraternized not in primitive universities but in gymnasiums and outdoor athletic parks.
Just as the ancient Greeks included poetry and reasoning among the Olympic games they also assumed that physical play and struggle were part of deep intellectual pursuits.
This is echoed in the “Far East” where the most mentally demanding forms of spirituality (e.g. Zen Buddhism) were taught alongside physical exercise and martial arts skills in monasteries— which often required some rigorous mountain climbing just to reach.
In his autobiography Wild Ivy, the great Japanese Zen master Hakuin describes how his ability to sit still, deeply focus and succeed in profound koan breakthroughs was slowly undermined by his disintegrating physical self-regulatory capacity. Anxiety. Difficulty sleeping. Health problems. Weakness. To cure this “zen sickness” he was driven to undertake a version of Taoist training that privileges the core (hara) and feels into the whole lower body (koshi).
“The specifically human body is the vessel of the Way. And what it teaches us can only be realized with the whole body. The human body in its essence is a Dharma body, a Logos body.” - Sato Tsuji
My father -- no doubt echoing the vividly folksy idioms to which he was roughly exposed as a child -- used to challenge us boys to "get your ass in gear!" and not perform activities “half-assed.” He wanted us to focus and hurry up. To bring a kind of precision to our actions that is often difficult for lazy dawdling children. Obviously. However, these phrases stuck in my imagination. I often had occasion to ponder precisely what system of gears was hidden in my ass and what it might take in order to shift between various modes of lower-body functioning.
Similarly, in the classic book Bioenergetics, Dr. Alexander Lowen proposed that our colloquial metaphors are often rooted in actual physiological posturing. A girl might have an actual “chip on her shoulder” or an “ungrounded” fellow might have some chronic muscle armouring in his legs or feet. It is fun to look for such correlations. So the notion of getting my ass-in-gear often led me to consider the possibility that parts of my body might literally be idling or mysteriously inadequately mobile.
The largest muscles of the body (buttocks) seem problematic for many people. We fail to move these parts with adequate rapidity and agility — instead we often favor the head, neck and upper torso in which our mental & social considerations are typically anchored.
Hilarious footage of 1950s Caucasians (trying to learn the negro pop culture dance moves that created rock’n’roll) exists and provides a perverse window of insight into our lack of cultivation about the physical underpinnings of cultural wisdom.
We see lingering variants of these same subtle patterns extended in privileged spiritual and developmental contexts that invite well-mannered, clean cut, psychologically professional people to “feel into their body” as a controlled mental activity that is performed while sitting motionless.
As part of a regenerated wisdom culture, we may have to be reminded to shake our tailfeather…
I am not a tragic case of a frozen pelvis. My tailfeather moves around. But even I find that I am habitually insufficiently mobile in the lower body.
Often I throw my body out of optimal alignment, bounciness & poise (what my cognitive science friend John Vervaeke might call “meta-optimal gripping”) by something as simple as trying to take action when I am too far away from an object. I reach, bend, lean and twist — rather than simply scooting my pelvis into a closer, sturdier position from which to take whole-body action.
Even given as much time and attention as I’ve put into somatic experience, yoga, play & general physical intelligence, I still have a subtle habit of trying to “do” from the head and upper torso. I lock the lower body and try to respond from the upper body. This strikes me as a perfect image of the human tendency to separate cephalic intelligence from core, pelvis and leg intelligences. And if it is still afflicting me then there is a good chance that it is widespread in the broader world…
III. Ongoing Relationship of Proprioceptive Intelligence & Wisdom
“To become a complete human being without acquiring the body-soul center is quite impossible.” - Karlfried Graf Durkheim
Today we face a large amount of accumulating data suggesting the deep relationship between the basic functions of a human nervous system & its more refined operations. Hurling rocks and spears at various targets, for example, is not merely primitive play but has been demonstrated to enhance emergent cognitive capacity for targeting abstract issues and contemplative aspirations.
Higher spiritual, intellectual and wisdom intelligences initially and continually require adequate and ongoing richness of capacity in lower levels of the developmental stack.
We might postulate that having an enlarged repertoire of experiential movement patterns (viscerally deployed in thematically distinct relational engagements) is a precondition for the kinds of cognitive enrichment necessary to map an enlarged set of stylistic patterns found in imaginal and rational spaces.
Wisdom requires your mind to take additional coordinated variables and nuances into account (so that it can simplify them) but that, in turn, may require that the body’s basic nervous system is freely able to explore more varied coordinated postures and interaction styles.
Avant-garde biologist Michael Levin suggests that nervous systems are cellular collectives specialized to solve problems in three-dimensional space for mobile organisms. If true, this suggests that the embodied mapping of interactive motions in physical space exists long before — and underwrites — the imagistic, abstract and cultural problem-solving particular to Sapient persons.
Of course, we have seen examples of people relatively dissociated from sensorimotor intelligence who are operating at high levels of abstract competence — from Stephen Hawking to every satirical caricature of the clumsy nerd intimidated by bodily action. Certain kinds of high functionality can persist under the conditions. However, we might still have reason to think that there is a limit to how far the abstract can separate from the proprioceptive.
Or at least how far apart they can operate, in general, without deviating significantly from the production of deeply human and ecologically friendly insights that map the multidimensional complexity of life — pushing beyond mere cognition into life-affirmative wisdom.
While it is certainly possible to excel at the complicated control and rearrangement of symbolic abstractions, this skill still appears to be nested within specific contexts or a worldspaces. Folks involved in developmental systems such as Integral or Spiral Dynamics or StAGES are very clear that we need to differentiate between how well you can compute patterns & what type of inhabited world provides the meaning-generating frame for these computations.
”When the perpendicular of the body holds firm, the perpendicular of the mind is also firm.” - Okado Torajiro
The ancient mythological image of Atlas holding the world upon his shoulders could be interpreted as expressing the role of the physical body in producing and sustaining a worldview.
Does the physical intelligence of the body have a significant role in enabling and correctly utilizing emergent upgrades in our lived understanding of the world? Plausible. We might need to combine symbolic and proprioceptive data to produce hybrid insights. Wisdom production might require us to prune our abstract possibilities by contrasting them to embodied experience.
Perhaps basic forms of physical capacity (that might require regular exercise and regeneration) such as gestural improvisation, interpersonal resonance, tempo coordination, ecological awareness & self-sensing are needed in order to provide a consciousness that coordinate, improvise, flex, self-sense and map individuals within environments.
AFTERWORD: The Great Moustaches
Do not beleive any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movement & in which the muscles do not also revel. - Frederich Nietzsche
I think with my muscles. - Albert Einstein
In the modern man, partly owing to his abnormal education during his preparatory age, and partly owing to influences due to certain causes of the generally established abnormal conditions of modern life, the working of his psychic centers during his responsible age is almost entirely disconnected. Therefore his intellectual, emotional and instinctive motor functions do not serve as a natural complement and corrective for one another…
- G.I. Gurdjieff