A Somatic Philosophy of Freedom

From the beginning of my studies in Somatics, it has been Thomas Hanna’s inquiry into freedom that has taken root deep within me. Deeply curious about human freedom, Hanna left very few disciplines unexplored to pursue his interest in this topic.  A philosopher at heart, his exploration began with philosophy and ended, curiously enough, in the body.  Never having met him, I find myself feeling a loss and constantly wondering where his keen mind would have led him (and us) in these years since his death.
Freedom, I think, is a much overused word, and perhaps somewhat misunderstood.  Freedom is not the fairytale notion that we can be free from our problems, cares and responsibilities.  No, quite the contrary, Hanna was talking about freedom “to” something.  And that freedom “to” something was the freedom to adapt creatively and responsibly with one’s environment.

When I worked for a consulting firm out of Boulder, Colorado, my job was to travel to various businesses around the country and work with their management team to increase excellence in the workplace.  One of my favorite tools was a graph that laid out the process from incompetency to competency.  It looked like this:

  • Unconscious competency
  • Conscious competency
  • Conscious incompetency
  • Unconscious incompetency

The graph worked its way from the bottom up.  The task was to pay attention to the ways that you weren’t even aware of being incompetent; once this awareness was seen, it was now conscious.  The task was then to become competent until this new competency became a habit.  Then one was free to look for the next unconscious incompetency.  (Sound like yoga?)

For me, this graph sums up Thomas Hanna’s understanding.  The “incompetency” of movement can only be changed when it is done with the cortical part of the brain.  Hence the movements of change must be slow, small, and conscious until such time they become habitual.  True freedom demands a certain vigilance and is always a movement towards greater competency.

There is a quote from Victor Frankl that states:  “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  It is this “space” that Thomas Hanna was interested in.  The more space there is in the form of options, time, and awareness in all areas of our lives, the more choice there is.  And when there is more choice, there is more freedom to respond admirably rather than react from habitual limitations.  Neurologically, we are wired to constantly be able to re-wire……if we so choose.

Humans are above all relational creatures, existing with other humans and other species in a vast, changing environment.  To be free in this constant flux of unknowns and changes is to know the feeling of options that spaciousness and ease allow.  It is to feel empowered and easy in body, mind, and spirit while inhabiting a complex world.  I think this was the crux of Hanna’s message to us.

It is the mix of this philosophical pursuit with the understanding of neurology that defines and differentiates the practice of  Somatic Education from other practices.  One of the principles of Somatics stemming from Thomas Hanna’s inquiry into freedom is that humans should be free and autonomous.  The other principle stemming from Hanna’s inquiry into neurology is that habituation, in the form of sensory motor amnesia, is the problem.

This dance between freedom and habituation is played out in all the areas of our lives.  This is why our continual ability to stay curiously attuned to our internal sensations coupled with our outer experience is critical for launching us into a future that is not a downhill, mundane repetition of current existence, but rather the continuous adventure of exploring novelty and possibility.

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