Tuesday, Feb 07th 2023

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Bodyspeak: A New Look at the Art of Movement - Part 5

Part 5: The Sixth Sense

Ever since Aristotle first identified the five senses - sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, we've been used to thinking that we have just these five. Because the senses can be located in clearly recognizable organs of the body - the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin - they are also commonly thought to be "discrete," distinct and functioning separately from one another.

Actually, the senses work in conjunction. Taste and smell, for example: food tastes bland when we have a cold. Sight and hearing reciprocate to help us judge distance and relationships between objects. Sight and touch also work together. The philosopher Merleau-Ponty describes how these two senses, once considered to operate in totally separate perceptual fields, actual coordinate. He calls this process "The Intertwining":

"The look. . .envelops, palpates, espouses the visible things. As though it were in a relation of pre-established harmony with them, as though it knew them before knowing them, it moves in its own way with its abrupt and imperious style, and yet the views taken are not desultory - I do not look at a chaos, but at things - so that finally one cannot say if it is the look or if it is the things that command. . . We must habituate ourselves to think that every visible is cut out of the tangible, every tactile being in some manner promised to visibility, and that there is encroachment, infringement, not only between the touched and the touching, but also between the tangible and the visible. . . Since the same body sees and touches, visible and tangible belong to the same world. It is a marvel too little noticed that every movement of my eyes - even more, every displacement of my body - has its place in the same visible universe that I itemize and explore with them, as, conversely, every vision takes place somewhere in the tactile space. There is a double and crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and of the tangible in the visible; the two maps are complete, and yet they do not merge into one." (16)

Merleau-Ponty comprehends, with great subtlety, the interrelationship of the sense of sight and of touch, but cannot quite allow that their fields could actually merge. A mime is capable of providing direct access to this knowledge - embodied knowledge - that the visual and tactile fields do merge, even in everyday life. We could not walk a straight line toward a destination if they didn't. In fact, the only realm in which perceptual fields are separated, artificially, is in the text of a philosopher, or in the experience of individuals influenced by that type of analysis.

Someone familiar with Avital's work might recognize in Merleau-Ponty's chiasmus a fair description of "The Eye-Knot" exercise. Two people stand facing each other. They make eye contact and visualize a cord connecting their eyes.(17) The goal is to move in such a way as to "tie" a knot in this cord without "breaking" it by losing eye contact. Participants typically become so absorbed that when Avital comes, stealthily, with his imaginary scissors and cuts the cord, they are startled and fall to the ground!

We do, in fact, have more than five senses. ("Five senses?" Avital asks. "What about the other 95?") And they all inter-relate. Perceptual researchers have identified a number of "new" candidates for recognition as full-fledged "senses."The sense of hot or cold, for instance, is pretty basic. It is related to touch but with a thermostat attached. Pressure sensitivity is even trickier. Or how about our sense of position in space - vertical? horizontal? upside down? right side up? There is, at least, this "sixth sense" which is increasingly being recognized for the profound effect it has on the way we function as perceiving beings. This is the kinesthetic sense, or kinesthesia.

Kinesthesia might be termed "the common sense" because it functions to integrate the workings of the other senses. Renaissance anatomists speculated that there must be a "common sense," which coordinates the functioning of the other senses, and they attempted to locate it in various organs of the brain. We now know that organs and receptors distributed throughout the body are responsible for the kinesthetic effect.

A basic dictionary definition of kinesthesia is "the sensation of bodily position, presence, or movement resulting chiefly from stimulation of sensory nerve endings in muscles, tendons, and joints by the force of gravity."(18) Kinesthesia is also activated by the vestibular system, the fluid-filled organs of balance in the inner ear. In its integrative function, kinesthesia depends upon the subtle interactions of all the senses: our impressions of degrees of light and sound, visual and auditory depth perception, sense of warmth and cold and the effects of breezes - to name only a few of a multitude of sensory inputs. Kinesthesia is, in short, the sense by which we orient ourselves to the world - our internal compass.

For the mime, this sense functions in the way sight does for the painter, or taste for the gourmet cook, or touch for the sculptor, or scent for the perfumier: it is both tool of exploration and object of exploration. The purpose is to use the sense and refine it at the same time.

Martial arts expert and movement trainer George Leonard observes in The Silent Pulse that "This delicate, sophisticated sense. . .not only helps us to stand straight, but to think straight . . . .thought is involved with the body, its balance, its ability to integrate movement and sensing and touch."(19)

In its full sense, kinesthesia has two aspects, attention and attunement, which arise out of the interplay of rest and motion (Avital's Motion/Stillness principle). Attention is the act of placing awareness. It is a highly conscious state depending on a clear sense of the person or thing being attended to and of one's own internal state. It is a condition of restful alertness, calm focus. When full attention is given, attunement becomes possible. Attunement means to come into harmony or pleasant interaction. It depends on a feeling for the natural rhythms underlying all movements - the back and forth pendulum swing of give and take. This is the sense that develops in Steven's poem, "The House Was Quiet. . ." and in Avital's mask session. It is this sense, also, that harmonizes the imbalance of opposites. (See "Beyond Opposites.") Paradox is experienced as a "tilt" in the mind. When this tilt is played out physically, the mental tilt adjusts.

Continue to Part 6: Kinesthesia and the Mind/Body Split

"Samuel brings awareness to the soul of people and gives the artists who work under his direction the need, dedication, and love for the world of silence and the beautiful art of movement."


- Marcel Marceau, BIP 1961

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About LCDS

LCDS is an independent school for self-discovery through the human Arts.  The school offers seminars and workshops teaching the concepts of Theater, Mime, and Movement.