Accepted paper:

Joy of being water: Moving with the elements in contemplative practice

Author:

Krzysztof Bierski (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Across contemplative techniques, practitioners guide their movements by evoking the elements. How one can experience wellbeing by, for example, floating in or flowing as water? I suggest in correspondence with the elements' creative properties.

Paper long abstract:

Unlike the effect-oriented practices of physical rehabilitation or therapy, contemplative movement is open-ended, explorative and it has no definable end. To move contemplatively is to do so without judgment but with attention and care by focusing on the immediate phenomenal experience of being in the world. Across contemplative techniques, both ancient and modern, practitioners evoke the elements such as air, earth or water to realise human interdependence with the environment and to realise the never-finished nature of experience. In this pulling together (co-templation) the ways of the elements become the ways of practitioners' sensations. By moving in (floating) and as water (flowing) participants in improvisational dance techniques becomes metaphorically similar to or metonymically in close contact with this element. Air, meanwhile, is boundless and so are associated with it in the spiritual traditions of the Indian subcontinent immeasurable qualities of compassion and equanimity.

While current sociological accounts tend to explain contemplative techniques in terms of an inscription of predetermined form onto the body, research with contemplative practitioners in chronic care settings in India, Japan, and Israel suggests that moving with the elements might be better understood in terms of correspondence. In particular, contemplative exploration of the elements entails coupling of movement and word (or action and perception) yet, as we shall see, it also brings together intero- and exteroception. I suggest that becoming well in contemplative practices entails learning to move skilfully with the world and its elements by cultivating attitudes such as love, trust or acceptance.

panel P069
Movement, stasis and interoception: unsettling the body [Medical Anthropology Network]