Play Fight Fest

Play Fight Fest: 13-16 June 2019
Présilly, France

Matteo Tangi Lineage

Playfight is a ‘blend of play, mindfulness and conscious fight. A practice to create deep connection by safely using strength and welcoming our emotions’ (Matteo Tangi). The purpose of playfight is connection. Connection with yourself, the other playfighter(s), the circle, the space and the surrounding world.

I am part of the Playfight Fest in France, Présilly. It is my first time that I  join a Playfight fest and I don’t quite know what to expect. From what I have found on Matteo’s site it seems to resonate well with my own artistic research, as 

  • Playfight aims to establish a deep connection with self and others – and therefore can be seen as a participatory sense-making activity;
  • Playfight combines play, fight and mindfulness. Play as a way to attune to inner resources, to connect with the child in ourselves. Conscious fight as a way to awaken the intelligence of the body. Mindfulness as a way to give and share attention in deeper ways.  
  • Playfight is a personal journey and a tribal experience. Individual sense-making and shared sense-making go hand in hand.

For me, it is a intense, unique experience:

A very special experience that sticks to me. I feel that this, here, matters. That this here is our humanity. I feel  how my emotions are connected to the body, to the others, and to the breathing.The breathing helps me to get closer, it helps me to get to shadow places inside of me, it helps me to create passages so that the frozen energy inside me becomes a stream, a flow, a river. It is a vitalizing source, one that needs no language because it taps into a deeper stream of consciousness. A little treasure.

 

Five elements of the enactive account

Most theories on subjectivity look to social cognition from a representationalist point of view (Fuchs & De Jaegher, 2009). Models such as theory of mind, theory theory or simulation theory[1]all state that the mental state of other people cannot be directly observed and therefore our mind-reading abilities have to rely on common sense or folk-psychological theory (Gallagher, 2004). In contrast, the enactive account looks at the problem of intersubjectivity from an interactive, embodied, non-representational perspective (Gallagher & Varela, 2003; Gallagher, 2005; Thompson, 2007).

In the enactive account, cognition is considered an “organismic activity taking the form of sensitive interactions stretching across the brain, body and environment” (Röhricht et al., 2014, p.13).  Inspired by robotics, dynamic systems theory, ecological psychology, the enactive account resonates well with phenomenology. The enactive account challenges the traditional idea of a representational mind.In the enactive account, the interaction itself is the source of intersubjectivity. Social understanding is not considered a simulative, projective or inferential process in the individual brain but meaning giving processes are generated and transformed in the interplay between individuals. Four assumptions are foundational for this alternative concept of intersubjectivity: (1) social understanding is both interactional and individual, (2) the basis for intersubjectivity is the embodied encounter with the surroundings, (3) intentions are not hidden but are expressed in action and perceptible to others, (4) intentions are dynamic and context-dependent (Fuchs & De Jaegher, 2009).

Enaction stands for the manner in which a subject of perception creatively matches its actions to the requirements of the situation. The term wasfirst introduced by Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991) and refers to a pathway[2]in which several related ideas come together and are unified: autonomy, sense-making, embodiment, emergenceand experience(De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007). These five different notions will be shortly addressed.

Embodiment
In the enactive approach cognition is seen as a form of embodied action. Saying that a cognitive system is embodied is almost a “tautology” (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007, p.487), albeit a necessary one, since in cognitive science the body has long been ignored.  Cognitive structures and processes emerge from “recurrent sensorimotor patterns of perception and action” (Thompson, 2005, 407).  Cognition involves an engagement of the full agent with the world including intentions, actions, perceptions and affects (Gallagher, 2000).

Autonomy
In the enactive approach living beings are seen as “autonomous agents that actively generate and maintain their identities, and thereby enact or bring forth their own cognitive domains” (Thompson, 2005, p. 407-408). An autonomous agent is a living being that generates its own activity: the living being is organised in such a way that the activity is both cause and effect of its own autonomous organisation (Thompson & Stapleton, 2009). A key attribute of the living body is its individuation, the process by which it makes itself distinct from its immediate surroundings and that enables an observer to distinguish it as an identifiable entity. More precisely, ‘a key attribute of the body is that it is self- individuating– it generates and maintains itself through constant structural and functional change’ (Di Paolo & Thompson, 2014, p.68). Autonomous agents are self-constructive: they actively monitor and coordinate their interactions with the environment (Froese & Di Paolo, 2011). 

Emergence
Emergence is a term that refers to collective self-organisation in complex systems theory. An emergent process  “belongs to an ensemble or network of elements, arises spontaneously or self-organises from the locally defined and globally constrained or controlled interactions of those elements, and does not belong to any single element” (Thompson, 2005, p. 60). In neuroscience the concept of emergence offers a new perspective on how numerous interacting brain regions and areas work together in linking movement, cognition and action. Emergence offers an alternative to “boxology” thinking (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007), that is, “the localisation of function at one level in specific components at a lower level” (p. 487).

Experience
In the enactive approach experience is interweaved with being alive and acting upon the world (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007). We give meaning to the world not by an isolated mental act but by experiencing and interacting with that very same world. “The experiencing agent is intentionally engaged with the world through actions and projects that are not reducible to simple mental states, but involve an intentionality that is motoric and bodily.” (Gallagher & Miyahara, 2012, p. 119).

Sense-making
By moving in the world we do not only process information but we create meaning. We inhabit the world: we bring our own identity into play. As an autonomous agent we sustain our identity, and by doing that, we do not only witness the world, but we modify it, we adapt it, we shape it. To create meaning is to give the world a temporal spatial shape. Moving in the world also means being moved by the world. Sense-making is not something passive but it presupposes a living being that actively engages in the world. By bringing his own identity into play, the living being throws a perspective into the world, through which meaning arises (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007). Sense-making is thus interactional and relational (Thompson & Stapleton, 2008).

 

Notes

[1]  Theory of mind, theory-theory and simulation theories are all theories that attempt to explain how we are able to attribute mental states of others (Shanton & Goldman, 2010). Theory theory holds that people “some-how acquire a ‘theory’ of the mental realm, analogous to their theories of the physical world’ (also referred to as folk psychology) while the simulation theory states that ‘people use imagination, mental pretense, or perspective taking (‘putting oneself in the other person’s shoes’) to determine others mental states” (Shanton & Goldman, 2010, p.527).

[2]Varela got inspired by the words of the poet Antonio Macheda: ‘Wanderer, the road is your footsteps: you lay down a path in walking’ (Varela, as cited in Thompson, 2007, p.13). 

MTD Workshop

In March 2018, I give a dance improvisation to eleven first-year dance students (six male students and five female students), at the University of the Arts, Modern Theatre Dance department. Rough and Tumble Play (R & T play) forms the main starting point.

Dancers:  Alberto Quirico, Björn Bakker, Lian Frank, Lucie Rutten, Oriane Gidron, Jente Witvrouwen, Simon Lelièvre, Fons Dhossche, Catarina Paiva, Laura Costa, Oscar Valenza 

In this workshop I hand over the photo material and video footage that I collected in December 2017 (when I observed the play activities of the four boys) to the dance students.

In this workshop, the dance students have to work in groups of three to four, they pick out some photographs and use it as anchor points for their dance improvisation. They revisit and relive the play event of the four boys by moving through the selected imagery, picking up traces of energy, intentions and foremost affects.

After the instruction, the first year dance students start to work in smaller groups. They look at the photographs, pick the ones out that hold their attention and move unto the dance floor. First slightly hesitative, but gradually the dancers tune into the imagery and recollect traces of energy, intentions and affects.

I observe the following things:

  1. Just as in the physical play event of the four boys, the dancers synchronize movements spatially and temporally. See picture below. Notice the position of the arms and the shift of weight in the legs, as if they were looking in a mirror. The bodies are clearly resonating with each other. Although the movements ‘differ in detail, they adopt flow and use of space, their tempo, rhythm and weight, their kind of responses and style’ (Blom and Chaplin, 1988, p. 23). They integrate the other way of moving into their own. Notice also the attentional focus. Not only is the gaze directed towards each other, also the movement of the head is synchronized.
  2. Even more, movements are not only generated by independent agents (i.e. the dancers) but also by the in-between (relational) space. Dance improvisation can be seen as an encounter of autonomous agents that constantly seek the balance between shaping the others and the space, and letting oneself be shaped. One could speak of co-agency, since the dancers coordinate their actions, intentions and affects. The dancers mould and sculpt their bodies in order to become a multi-sensed organism. The movement continuously evolves as a result of something bigger, namely the accumulation of bodies that together merge dynamically into a form – also referred to as common intercorporality, a state in which ‘body schemas and body experiences expand and, in a certain way, incorporate the perceived body of the other’ (Fuchs and De Jaegher , 2009, p. 72).

3. Dance improvisation is a self-structuring process. Rules pop up during the dance improvisation as a response to the ongoing movements. The rules serve as a framework, as recognizable reference points that provide a repeatable structure to the dance improvisation. ‘Improvisation arises from rules and rules arise from improvisation’, says Steve Paxton (cited in Buckwalter 2010, p. 42).

References

Blom, Lynne and Chaplin, Tarin (1988), The Moment of Movement: Dance improvisation, London: Dance Books.

Buckwalter, Melinda (2010), Composing While Dancing: an Improviser’s Companion,Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Fuchs, Thomas, and De Jaegher, Hanne (2009), ‘Enactive Intersubjectivity: Participatory Sense-making and Mutual Incorporation’, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 8:4, 465-486.

R & T Play Session

This Rough-and-Tumble Play Session takes place in December 2017, at the Conservatory of Amsterdam.  Four boys (all thirteen-year old) are invited for a spontaneous play session. 

In this play session I am mainly  interested in the spontaneous, physical play activities that pop up in the three-hour session. I ask myself the following question:  How and in what ways can the spontaneous play activities of the four boys be considered as participatory sense-making activities?

Physical play in this case refers to Rough-and-Tumble Play:

R&T play refers to ‘vigorous behaviours, such as wrestling, grappling, kicking, and tumbling, that appear to be aggressive except for the playful context’ (Pellegrini and Smith, 2005, p. 79), and that are almost always performed without hurting each other).  R&T play is mostly initiated by boys across a variety of cultures. Physical play activity seems to have different functions: the refinement of social skills, the training for the unexpected which subsequently leads to the improvement of self-regulation and a more accurate encoding/decoding of emotions. In addition, physical play also increases strength, endurance and movement skills. The boys play with dominance relationships through the exertion of corporeal power (Pelligrini and Smith 1998; Di Pietro 1981).

In the spontaneous play session I observe the following things:

  1. R & T play is more than just a physical encounter. Imagery, symbols and make-believe form a fundamental part of the play event. The blue mat becomes a war zone, a battle field, a ship, an island. These images are not only implicitly present but also explicitly referred to. The boy in the blue sweatshirt for example calls himself a king. At other moments the boys introduce images such as (ninja) turtle, mole, crab and giraffe – many of them borrowed from the animal world. They also use verbs such as killing, quartering and wiping away. Here we see that meaning making becomes a fluid and ambiguous process, that is mediated by the environment and the embodied interaction between the four boys.


One boy puts a blue mat over his shoulders and announces that from now on he is the king. 

2. The four boys organize their physical play through rhythm and coordination. Movemenst are performed with a shared sense of timing. Movements are synchronized: not only in timing and rhythm but also in movement form. This is not so much the result of a conscious decision: the synchronization happens in the interaction and is the result of the way they subconsciously adapt their bodies to each other.

Synchronization of action: notice how the two boys in black trousers synchronize their movement in time as well as in shape. 

3. In order to coordinate their movements, the boy have to attune to each other. This requires kinaesthetic sensitivity and shared attention. According to Gallagher (2010) shared attention is vital for (1) our ability to understand others, what they intend and what their actions mean and (2) our ability to co-constitute meaning.

Notice the shared attention of the three boys who are squeezing the fourth boy with the blue mat.

4. Another, final aspect becomes visible in the play session, something which can best be described as ‘serious attention to having fun’. The studio is filled with tremendous fun, excitement and enjoyment. At the same time the four boys display a serious attitude. They are dedicated and absorbed into the play. Rules are treated seriously. Rules set and define what should, can, shouldn’t and can’t be done. Even more, rules are made up during the play. Fun and serious attention are thus intertwined within play. Fun is the ‘exploration of the limits thus imposed on bodily activity and social interaction’ (Di Paolo, Rohde and De Jaeghe, 2010, p. 78). Fun is needed in order to change and revise the rules in such a way that it becomes a self-structuring process. However without a serious attitude, the fun will soon loose its grip.

Serious attention to having fun.

Thanks to: Teun van der Grinten, Michel van der Linden, Luuk Scheers, Maas Theuwkens

References:

Di Paolo, Ezequiel, Rohde, Marieke, and  De Jaegher, Hanne (2010), ‘Horizons for the Enactive Mind: Values, Social Interaction, and Play’, in J. Stewart, O. Gapenne and E. A. Di Paolo (Eds), Enaction: Towards a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science,Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 33 – 87.

Di Pietro, Janet (1981), ‘Rough and Tumble Play: A Function of Gender’, Developmental Psychology, 17:1, pp. 50-58.

Gallagher, Shaun (2010). ‘Joint Attention, Joint Action, and Participatory Sensemaking’, Alter: Revue de Phénoménologie, 18, pp. 111-124.

Pellegrini, Anthony, and Smith, Peter (1998),Physical Activity Play: The Nature and Function of a Neglected Aspect of Play’, Child Development, 69:3, pp. 577-598.

Rough and Tumble

In my artistic research I explore and analyse the differences and similarities between children’s physical play events and improvisational dance. I have found the term participatory sense-making useful in understanding the underlying mechanisms of both dance improvisation and children’s physical play since both activities seem to invest in creative activities, relational dialogues and embodied meanings.

In this post I discuss two related workshops. The first workshop took place in December 2017, at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. Four boys (all thirteen-year old) were invited for a spontaneous play session. The second workshop took place in March 2018 at the Modern Theatre Dance department of the Amsterdam University of the Arts in Amsterdam.

間 In-Between

Ma (間) is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as “in-between”, “gap”, “space”, ” pause” or “the space between two parts, sounds, objects or movements”.

In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form, of being and non-being.

Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it takes place in the imagination of the human mind who experiences these elements. Therefore, ma can be defined as an experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.

Ma has also been described as “an emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled”, and as “the silence between the notes which make the music’.

In-Between: the middle of something or between two things, a space or interval, a break in continuity.

Buddhism uses the word ‘bardo’ to describe the transitional state between any two states. It is mostly referred to as the transitional state between life and death, but the concepts much wider than that, such it can be applied to the transition between any two states (past and future, having and losing, knowing and not-knowing). Through attentive practices we can dwell in this in-between state and allow dualities to feed into each other.

Bardo is an interval, a hiatus, a gap. It can act as a boundary that divides and separates, marking the end of one thing and the beginning of another; but it can also be a link between the two: it can serve as a bridge or a meeting place, which brings together and unites. It is a crossing, a stepping-stone, a transition. It is a crossroads, where one must choose which path to take, and it is a no-man’s-land, belonging neither to one side nor to the other. It is a highlight or peak point of experience, and at the same time a situation of extreme tension, caught between two opposites. It is an open space, filled with an atmosphere of suspension and uncertainty, neither this nor that. —  Francesca Fremantle, 2001

Buddhist philosophy also states that the mind (our consciousness)  has gaps and breaks  Although Western psychology in general perceives the mind as a river, a continuous flow, a stream of consciousness, the Abhidharma philosophers state just like the river, ‘the mental stream is always changing […] but the stream of consciousness is made up of discontinuous and discrete moments of awareness’ (Thompson, 2015, p.35). According to Thompson consciousness  includes a gappy sequence of moments of awareness. (More on this in a following blog).

In our current society we tend to pack up space – and time as well: every moment is filled, every experience is full (or fully lived) and every space is inhabited. More and more, we are packing up our lives, our experiences and the spaces we inhabit. With this lab we aim to ‘unpack’ the space in between human beings, things and the environment.

With this research lab we aim to create pauses, gaps and periods of openness, where we’re not trying to fill up (mental) space, but we’re just seeing what happens next.

With the gap, we also refer to Nancy Stark Smith, a dancer and founder of Contact Improvisation that introduced the concept of ‘the gap’ in dance improvisational practice. She writes the following on the ‘gap’:

Where you are when you don’t know where you are is one of the most precious spots offered by improvisation. It is a place from which more directions are possible than anywhere else. I call this place the Gap […]. Every time I want a cigarette and don’t have one I’m creating a gap. Moments that once were easily and automatically filled have become uneasy and consciously unfilled. By leaving them unfilled, I’m not only breaking a ‘momentum of being’, a pattern of behavior, but I’m bringing attention and charge to a moment that would have passed without remark. (Smith, 1987, Contact Quaterly 12(2), p.3).

The gap or in-between is a moment, a place, a possibility, ‘an existential state, a suspension of reference points in which new experiences become possible’ (Cooper Allbright, p.259).

The in-between creates passages from the actual to the virtual, thereby opening up a continuum of multiplicities. It enables us to engage with potentialities. Manning (2009, p.3) refers to this as the elasticity of the almost, ‘the intensive extension of the movement, a moment when anything can happen’. Openness, engagement in the here and now, flexibility and sensitivity are needed to tap into the stream of potentialities that emerge in the moment. In the in-between new associative frames arise.

According to Ann Cooper Allbright this ability to open oneself up to possibility, to engage with what is yet to come,t can help us in facing the cultural and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Only by opening up our minds and bodies to uncertainty, and only by acknowledging that not one singular answer or solution can be given to these wicked problems, only by opening up we can create other future scenarios. In order to do so we need to engage in the ‘here’ (the internally felt experience) and the there (what happens out there). Only then we can establish connections between self and world that are not stable or fixed, but in a constant flux.

I believe the potency of bodily practices today lies less in the opening up of more movement options, but rather in understanding how to encourage a willingness to cross over into uncomfortable territories, to move in the face of fear, of what is unknown. The willingness is made possible by the paradoxically simple and yet quite sophisticated ability to be at once external and internal – both open to the world and intensely grounded in an awareness of one’s ongoing experiences’ (adapted from Cooper Allbright, p.259-260).

In the in-between we enter a fluid zone, an unstable borderland of differences. According to Williams, this in-between space is not ‘a unit but an axis, not an entity but a state of being, less a relationship than an act of relating’ (1996, p.26).

In the In-Between Lab we engage in a fluid, relational practice that includes play, improvisation and yoga/mindfulness. We reside in this fluid zone that is full of potentialities, of becomings and of relational forces that trigger vitality affects in us. Through the artistic practice we tap into corporeal experiences , as a way to explore our own embodied positions and relationships to one another, and to the environment, in always provisionally located ways.

References

Manning, Erin (2009), Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy,Cambridge: MIT Press.

Cooper Allbright, Ann (2003). Taken By Surprise: Improvisation in Dance and Mind. In A. Cooper Albright & D. Gere (Eds.), Taken By Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader(pp. 257-267). Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

Fremantle, Francesca (2001).The Luminous Gap in Bardo. Tricycle, Meditation and Practice, Winter 2001

Stark Smith, Nancy (1987).  Editor Note:Taking No For an Answer.Contact Quaterly 12(2), p.3).

Thompson, Evan (2015). Waking, Dreaming, Being. New York: Columbia University Press.

Williams, David (1996), ‘Working (in) the in-between: Contact improvisation as an ethical practice’, Writings on Dance, 15, pp. 22–37.

Image: Glen Carrie

The mindful body and the bodily mind

Hatha Yoga and Mindfulness are often seen as individual practices that take place inside the body-mind. At first instance it is hard to imagine how both practices resonate with the enactive approach, and specifically with Hanne De Jaegher and Ezequiel Di Paolo’s concept of participatory sense-making. 

In this blog I want to clarify that relationship. 

Although my initial research question originally was framed within the context of play and dance improvisation, I extended (rather intuitively) my artistic practice to Hatha Yoga and Mindfulness. It first started as a daily ritual, getting up early and starting the day with a series of attentive exercises. Soon I got so excited that I decided to do a Hatha Yoga Teacher Training and half a year I inscribed myself for the MBSR Trainers Course.

As part of the teacher’s training I received an impressive list of books and papers on yoga and mindfulness. But honestly, I have to say, the reading material confused me. I was surprised to read that, according to some authors, mindfulness and yoga are considered attentive practices that draw the senses inwards in order to bring attention to a private, mental state.

This seemed in contrast with the way I experience yoga and mindfulness practice. To me, it is a practice in which openings and passages are created through which energy can flow from the inside to the outside (and vice versa).  Both yoga and mindfulness operate in the in-between space, i.e. an experiental space that connects inner and outer worlds. 

For me, yoga and mindfulness are deeply relational practices. There is nothing solitary about it. Through asana practice the body opens up and energy flows through the surface as well as to the deeper layers of the body. The breath serves as an anchor to remain in the present moment.  With every breath, elements of otherness pass through my body. Energy, intensities and vital forces float through the body.

The energy (that comes along with each breath) resonates with our body.  It travels in waves through our body – through all our senses – as it transfers energy and creates pathways and passages for the self. Different narratives may emerge as a result of this harmonic resonance. In this respect we might say that attentive practices provide a source of vital renewal since with each breath energy is transmitted from one particle to another particle.

Through attentive practice the self becomes more fluid, and in this process elements of self and of otherness float over in each other. Attentive practice allows us to (re)-experience the vital interconnectedness of the lived body. It’s here where the enactive account comes in. In enactivism every action is inter-action: organisms are embedded in an environment through dynamic coupling.

The term “enactivism” was first coined by Francisco Varela and colleagues in the 1990s. It stands for an emerging set of ideas that take the dynamic interaction of an acting organism with its environment as the central starting point (Paolo et al. 2010).The enactive account challenges the traditional idea of a representational mind. In the enactive account, the interaction itself is the source of intersubjectivity. Cognition arises through the dynamic interaction of an organism and its environment. 

The enactive account takes interconnectedness as the entrance point for human experience. In this approach sentient beings encounter a world. Experience is the result of the mutual interaction between sensorimotor capacities and the environment. In other words, we enact the world. ‘Sentient beings, on this view, are understood not as heteronomous, mechanical input-output systems, but rather as dynamic, autonomous systems—necessarily coupled to the environment, but also self-controlling’ (Mac Kenzie, 2010, p.86).

Evan Thompson, one of the founders of the enactive approach, provides a perspective on mindfulness that is more in line with my experience. In his blog he states that ‘mindfulness practices should be understood as skillful ways of enacting certain kinds of embodied states and behaviors in the world, not as inner observation of an observer-independent mental stream’.  Thompson warns us for the false assumption (specifically in the field of neuroscience research) that mindfulness is in the head.

It’s a conceptual mistake to superimpose mindfulness onto particular brain areas or networks- Evan Thompson.

Thompson provides two arguments. First of all, he criticizes scientific illustrations of focused attention and the different stages of mindfulness (sustained attention > distraction and mind wandering > becoming aware of the distraction > reorienting your awareness >returning to sustained attention). The illustration shows the activation of particular brain areas in each phase.  Thompson argues against this kind of reasoning: according to him one cannot dissect the brain like this. No specific brain area can be located since multiple cognitive processes are involved.

 

Thompson (referring to Mole) when he states that attention is ‘cognitive unison’. Just as unison can’t be located somewhere in an orchestra, but it is how different cognitive processes operate in a coordinated way.

Attention is the agent-level phenomenon of task-relevant cognitive processes operating in unison’ – Evan Thompson.

Second of all, mindfulness is not a private mental act but a social phenomenon.  In other words, mindfulness is a social practice. It is embedded in a cultural context.  According to Thompson (referring to Tomasello) mental attention is an ‘internalized form of social cognition, dependent on being able to share intentions with others, imitate others, and share attention with others’.

I would like to add to this that attentive practices not only take place in a social and human realm, but also in a non-human realm. We do not only relate to human beings, but we relate to living things, objects and natural phenomena of the physical world (such as the air around us, the weather, gravity, the ground that we are walking etc.) Through attentive practices such as mindfulness and yoga, we sense our interconnectedness with the world – including everything (from things, objects, organisms, human beings to natural phenomena) that is part of our material and cultural world.  

Blog Evan Thompson:

http://philosophyofbrains.com/2017/01/28/mindfulness-and-the-enactive-approach.aspx

Image: Declan Lopez

 

The Enactive Account and Participatory Sense-Making

Introduction
The term “enactivism” was first coined by Francisco Varela and colleagues in the 1990s. It stands for an emerging set of ideas that take the dynamic interaction of an acting organism with its environment as the central starting point (Paolo et al. 2010).The enactive account challenges the traditional idea of a representational mind. In the enactive account, the interaction itself is the source of intersubjectivity. Cognition arises through the dynamic interaction of an organism and its environment. ‘Organisms do not passively receive information from their environments, which they then translate into internal representations […]. They participate in the generation of meaning through their bodies action often engaging in transformational and not merely informational interactions: they enact a world’ (Paolo et al. 2010: 39).

Enaction stands for the manner in which a subject of perception creatively matches its actions to the requirements of the situation. The term wasfirst introduced by Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991) and refers to a pathway in which several related ideas come together and are unified: autonomy, sense-making, embodiment, emergence and experience (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007). These five different notions will be shortly addressed below.

 Embodiment
In the enactive approach cognition is seen as a form of embodied action. Saying that a cognitive system is embodied is almost a “tautology” (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007, p.487), albeit a necessary one, since in cognitive science the body has long been ignored.  Cognitive structures and processes emerge from “recurrent sensorimotor patterns of perception and action” (Thompson, 2005, 407).  Cognition involves an engagement of the full agent with the world including intentions, actions, perceptions and affects (Gallagher, 2000).

Autonomy
In the enactive approach living beings are seen as “autonomous agents that actively generate and maintain their identities, and thereby enact or bring forth their own cognitive domains” (Thompson, 2005, p. 407-408). An autonomous agent is a living being that generates its own activity: the living being is organised in such a way that the activity is both cause and effect of its own autonomous organisation (Thompson & Stapleton, 2009). A key attribute of the living body is its individuation, the process by which it makes itself distinct from its immediate surroundings and that enables an observer to distinguish it as an identifiable entity. More precisely, ‘a key attribute of the body is that it is self- individuating– it generates and maintains itself through constant structural and functional change’ (Di Paolo & Thompson, 2014, p.68). Autonomous agents are self-constructive: they actively monitor and coordinate their interactions with the environment (Froese & Di Paolo, 2011). 

Emergence
Emergence is a term that refers to collective self-organisation in complex systems theory. An emergent process  “belongs to an ensemble or network of elements, arises spontaneously or self-organises from the locally defined and globally constrained or controlled interactions of those elements, and does not belong to any single element” (Thompson, 2005, p. 60). In neuroscience the concept of emergence offers a new perspective on how numerous interacting brain regions and areas work together in linking movement, cognition and action. Emergence offers an alternative to “boxology” thinking (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007), that is, “the localisation of function at one level in specific components at a lower level” (p. 487).

Experience
In the enactive approach experience is interweaved with being alive and acting upon the world (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007). We give meaning to the world not by an isolated mental act but by experiencing and interacting with that very same world. “The experiencing agent is intentionally engaged with the world through actions and projects that are not reducible to simple mental states, but involve an intentionality that is motoric and bodily.” (Gallagher & Miyahara, 2012, p. 119).

Sense-making
By moving in the world we do not only process information but we create meaning. We inhabit the world: we bring our own identity into play. As an autonomous agent we sustain our identity, and by doing that, we do not only witness the world, but we modify it, we adapt it, we shape it. To create meaning is to give the world a temporal spatial shape. Moving in the world also means being moved by the world. Sense-making is not something passive but it presupposes a living being that actively engages in the world. By bringing his own identity into play, the living being throws a perspective into the world, through which meaning arises (De Jaegher & Di Paolo, 2007). Sense-making is thus interactional and relational (Thompson & Stapleton, 2008).

According to the enactive account sense-making arises when the behavior of two systems are in a sustained coupling. Think for example of the synchronization of pendulum clocks hanging on the same wall (Winfree 2001) or the affect attunement of mother and infant (Stern 1985).

For the enactive account experience is central to sense-making. ‘Experience in the enactive approach is intertwined with being alive and enacting a meaningful world […]. Organisms casta web of significance on their world’ (Jaegher and Paolo 2007: 488) and they do this by interacting with the world. That is, organisms or agents engage in sense-making, they generate meaning and take a perspective unto the world. The generated meaning does not belong to the internal dynamics of the agent, nor to the environment: it manifests it self in the relational field.

Since agents give meaning to the world, their interactions with the world move beyond information exchange. ‘Meaning is generated and transformed in the interplay between the unfolding interaction process and the individuals engaged in it’ (Jaegher and Paolo 2007: 486). Paolo et al. (2010) argue that play and dance improvisation are transformational activities that foster novel sense-making capacities. Play and improvisation allow us to temporarily detach meaning and to imbue the interaction with affects, intensities and values that emerge on the spot (Paolo 2007).

As Johnson (2007) states, we make sense of the world, first on the base of our sensorimotor experiences, affects and visceral connections to the world, and second by our imaginative capacity that enables us to understand abstract concepts. The enactive account offers an explanation of how we are able to inhabit two seemingly different worlds, the biological sensorimotor world and the world of language, symbol and representation. In the modern Western world the latter has become privileged, leading to the dominance of propositional and conceptual meaning-making processes. As a result of the linguistic-symbolic articulation the world presents ‘itself to us as a collection of seemingly fixed (i.e., reified) independent categories and objective things, pre-given social structures and institutionalized ways of thinking and interacting’ (Schyff 2015: 5).

The enactive account, resonating deeply with Eastern philosophy, counterbalances the Western focus on language, symbol and representation  (also known as the disembodied mind). One of the goals of enactivism is to close the gap of the ‘double articulation’, i.e. the gap between the biological and symbolic world. In the enactive approach, higher-order processes find their base in the embodied interaction with the world through processes such as dynamic coupling, multi-sensory engagement and the action-perception link.

The enactive account offers a holistic perspective in which life, body-mind and environments are deeply intertwined. Sense-making in this respect is not seen as the appropriation of fixed codes of meaning by a stable and unified agent. Instead, sense-making is considered a fluid, dynamic process that takes place in the coordinated and synchronized interaction with things, others and environments. ‘It is the world of Becoming, which includes both relative being and non-relative being taking place in the flux of self-organizing, self-renewing processes of the universe (Nakagawa 2000: 32).

The enactive account, in line with Eastern philosophy, argues that nothing in the world can exist entirely in and of itself – experiences, things, thoughts, selves and minds come into being in the interaction with the world. Out of this follows that the self is not a singular, fixed entity but a plural and dynamic being. We do not move and engage with the world from a pre-given, fixed stance instead the self is just as much a non-self, floating in between being and non-being (Varela et al. 1991). The same is true for meaning. Meaning is here ‘understood as ‘knots’ of various relations, which includes the perspective of the experiencing ‘subject’ her- self as constituted by a unique and ongoing history of such relational processes’ (Schyff 2015: 6).

References

 

Research Question

In this artistic research I aim to explore the relationship between (group) dance improvisation and the aesthetics of play through an embodied analysis of De Jaegher’s and Di Paoli’s concept of participatory sense-making (2007).

Some definitions of dance improvisation and play
De Spain (2003, p.27) defines dance improvisation as ‘a way of being present in the moment’. Dance improvisation is often associated with the spontaneous, with the unknown (Foster, 2003) and with creativity (Nakano & Okada, n.d.). Dance improvisation is seen as a special form of social interaction (Blom and Chaplin, 1988), as the embodied interaction of bodies on an affective, cognitive and physical level (Ribeiro & Fonseca, 2011). Blom and Chaplin (1988) consider dance improvisation as the ‘dynamic daughter of dance, at times self-indulgent, at times concise and determinant, but always developing and changing. She has a free spirit: she should be given free rein within wisely and flexibly set boundaries’ (p.x).  Blom and Chaplin also refer to the intrinsic goal of dance improvisation: ‘Dance improvisation exits outside everyday life, creating its own time-space boundaries, seeking only its own profit and goal’ (p.x, 1988).

Play is defined as a ‘free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner’ (Huizinga, 1955, p.13). Fagen (1981) adds to this that play is not serving an immediate useful action. Burghardt (2011) states that play differs from functional expression of behavior since it is often incomplete, exaggerative and it involves patterns of movements/behaviors that are modified in form and sequence.

In my own artistic work I have noticed that children’s play seems to share important principles with dance improvisational practice. To mention some: energy level and intensity, risk-taking, the spontaneous, the relational, the moving point of contact between the participants and the way sense-making occurs. These are aspects that I have encountered in both physical play and dance improvisation.

Dance improvisation and play theory use similar constructs to describe and analyze the two phenomena. Terms such as challenge, uncertainty, risk, contact as a third space, collective agency and shared sense-making are frequently used. Some authors explicitly draw analogies between play and dance improvisation. Rodriquez states that play consists of transindividual processes of action and reaction ‘which often takes on a to-and-fro quality reminiscent of dance’ (n.d., p.2).  Sheets-Johnstone points to the intimate relationship between play and dance. She considers play as “kinetic happening in which the sheer exuberance of movement dominates and in which a certain freedom of movement obtains” (Sheets-Johnstone, 2005, par. 29). According to Sheets-Johnstone both dance and movement are intrinsically to play: dance in fact can be seen as the continuation of children’s natural movement-exploration.

Even more important, communication in both play and dance improvisation takes place on an embodied, kinetic level. Some verbalization may occur, but the primary instrument for sense-making remains the body. Dance improvisation and children’s physical play events can both be considered as organizational practices. Both activities organize and reorganize our lived and embodied experience. Even more both activities are socially shared and culturally shaped – and thus highly relational. Relational in the sense that collective, kinetic sense-making arises out of the intertwinement of perceptions, movements and affects (Johnstone, 1966 [2015]).

In other words, sense-making is a truly embodied process. Meaning is generated through coordinated movements of several agents in a transformational way. Di Paolo, Rohde and De Jaegher (2010) speak of experience transformations, that is, sense-making is shaped by the environment and the collective body-mind. The participants are active creators of meaning.

Di Paolo Rohde and De Jaegher (2010) propose that the best examples of participatory sense-making can be found  in the field of dance, ritual, music and play since all these activities move beyond concrete goal-directed activities, and therefore allow for ambiguity, fluidness and the generation of novel kinds of values. However, this is more an assumption than a statement since the underlying mechanisms in dance and play – and its relationships with the concept of participatory sense-making, have not yet been thoroughly explored and analysed, at least not from an insider’s perspective. In this artistic research study I will therefore explore and describe how both practices – group dance improvisation and children’s physical play events- can be considered special forms of participatory sense-making, a concept derived from the enactive approach (De Jaegher and Di Paoli, 2017).

The enactive account and the concept of participatory sense-making
One of the founders of the enactive approach Francisco Varela describes enaction as the laying down of a path in walking: ‘Wanderer the road is your footsteps, nothing else, you lay down a path in walking’ (Varela, in Thompson, 2007, p.13). In other words,  according to the enactive approach organisms do not passively receive information, but they enact a world. Meaning arises through a dynamic interaction between an organism and its environment. Enaction can thus be defined as ‘the manner in which a subject of perception creatively matches its actions to the requirements of its situation’ (Protevi, 2006, p.169). In this viewpoint we do not engage in a pre-given world by a pre-given mind, but meaning arises out of the sensorimotor interactions with the environment. Meaning, or sense-making, is something that is co-constructed between and within living beings that interact with each other and with the environment.

Hanne de Jaegher and Ezequiel Di Paolo (2007) refer to this [interaction] as ‘participatory sense-making’, a thoroughly embodied activity in which individual sense-making is affected by inter-individual coordination of movements, perceptions and emotions. In the participatory sense-making process the participants coordinate their behaviour.Sense-making is an intentional and expressive activity. An activity affected by coordinating movements in interaction.

Each agent involved in this interaction process contributes in his own way to the coordination and co-regulation of intentions/perceptions and movements. Even more, the interaction process itself can move into directions that are unexpected to the agents and even not-willed. This means that when we engage in interaction, not only the participants but the interaction process itself can influence the sense-making. Intentions are generated and transformed into social interactions.  In the enactive approach sense-making and meaning in interaction cannot be a solely individual activity: they are co-authored, inter-bodily, situated and situational (Jensen, 2014). ‘Sense making re-enacts multiple voices, defined as silent others that affect what we think, say, do and not do in situated dialogue. Sense-making, thus, unfolds as double dialogicality that links socio-cultural history (norms, knowledge, rules etc.) with real-time dynamics as we orient toward each other and use cultural artefacts (including verbal patterns)’ (Pedersen and Linell, as cited in Jensen, 2014, p. 285).

As we have seen in the previous paragraph both dance improvisation and play seem to serve as good candidates for participatory-sense making processes (Di Paolo, Rohde and De Jaegher, 2010), specifically when it comes to explaining how the physical couplings between agents and environment, the situatedness as well as the action-oriented approach don’t tie down cognition to the here and now. In order to do so,participatory sense-making (PSM) should involve activities that are 1) highly embodied and 2) allow for ambiguity of meaning as well as the generation of novel kinds of values. Dance improvisation and play seem to be good candidates.

In sum, in this research study I will explore how group dance improvisation and children’s physical play events can be seen as special forms of participatory sense-making. Out of the above, the following research question can be formulated:  How and in what ways can we consider children’s physical play events and improvisational dance as  participatory sense-making (PSM) activities?

In a broader context, I do believe that children’s physical play events and dance improvisation are special places that are not only energetic events, full of intensity, but are highly social and relational as well. Special places in which we can experiment in an embodied way with self agency in relationship to collective agency (in terms of risk-taking, touch/contact and shared embodied sense-making). With this artistic research I aim to create and evoke a deeper awareness of the way we interact with each other on an embodied, tactile level.

 

References
Blom, L.A., & Chaplin, T. (1988). The Moment of Movement: Dance Improvisation.Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Buckwalter, Melinda (2010). Composing While Dancing: an Improviser’s Companion.Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Burghardt, G. M. (2011). Defining and recognizing play. In A. D. Pellegrinin (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of the development of play, 9-18. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

De Jaegher, Hanne and Di Paolo, Ezequiel (2007). ‘Participatory Sense-Making: An Enactive Approach to Social Cognition’, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 6(4), pp. 485-507.

De Spain, Kent (2003). The Cutting Edge of Awareness: Reports from the Inside of Improvisation. In A. Cooper Albright & D. Gere (Eds.), Taken By Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader(pp. 27-41). Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

Di Paolo, Ezequiel, Rohde, Marieke, and  De Jaegher, Hanne (2010), ‘Horizons for the Enactive Mind: Values, Social Interaction, and Play’, in J. Stewart, O. Gapenne and E. A. Di Paolo (Eds), Enaction: Towards a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science,Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 33 – 87.

Fagen, R. (1981). Animal play behavior. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ferholt, B. (2007). Gunilla Lindqvist’s theory of play and contemporary play theory. Retrieved 27-12-2017, http://lchc.ucsd.edu/Projects/PAPER1%20copy-1.pdf

Foster, S. (2003). Taken By Surprise: Improvisation in Dance and Mind. In A. Cooper Albright & D. Gere (Eds.), Taken By Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader(pp. 3-12). Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo Ludens: A study of the play-element in culture. Boston: Beacon Press.

Jensen, T.W. (2014). Emotion in languaging: languaging as affective, adaptive, and flexible behavior in social interaction. Frontiers in Psychology5, 720. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00720

Nakano, Y., & Okada, T. (2012). Processof improvisational contemporary dance. In 34th Annual Meetingof the Cognitive Science Society.

Protevi, John (2006). “Enaction”. A Dictionary of Continental Philosophy. Yale: Yale University Press. pp. 169–170. 

Ribeiro, M. & Fonseca A (2011). The empathy and the structuring sharing modes of movement sequences in the improvisation of contemporary dance. Research in Dance Education, 12, 71-85.

Rodriquez, H. (n.d.). The Playful and the Serious: An approximation to Huizinga’s Homo Ludens. Retrieved 11-01-2018, http://gamestudies.org/0601/articles/rodriges

Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2005). ‘Man Has Always Danced’: Forays into the Origins of an Art Largely Forgotten by Philosophers. Contemporary Aesthetics, 3, 1-26.

 

Mindfulness

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. –  Jon Kabat-Zinn (1991)

Mindfulness is not so much an activity, but a way of being in the moment. The term mindfulness originates from the Sanskrit word “Smṛti,” which literally translates to “that which is remembered”. Mindfulness thus can be seen as a practice in remembering to pay attention to the present moment experience (Nack, Harris & Fortthun, 2014). 

In daily life we often navigate through the world by using the automatic pilot, i.e. our habits and automatic thought/movement patterns. Even more important, our mind is often at a different place then where the body is – distracted, wandering around, worrying, planning ahead, straying.

Mindfulness invites us to intentionally disengage from automatic pilot and to bring our full attention to the here and now. Mindfulness is a practice that brings you back to the here-and-now experiences, it helps you to disengage from unhelpful modes of mind and to engage with more helpful ones.

Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it. – Sylvia Boorstein

We can distinguish two kinds of modes in which the mind operates: the ‘doing’ mode and the ‘being’ mode.

Doing mode:

  • the getting things done mode;
  • achieving, striving;
  • setting goals;
  • problem solving;
  • disintegrating and disconnecting;
  • the doing mode is activated when we experience a discrepancy between where we are now and where we want to be.

Being mode:

  • conscious choice to become aware of all aspects of our body, mind and life without judgment or interpretation;
  • in the here-and-now;
  • no longer running on our habits;
  • allows us to experience things as if for the very first time, with a freshness and a beginners mind;
  • connecting and gathering;
  • curiosity;
  • no setting of goals.

Core features of mindfulness: non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, letting go.

Essentially, mindfulness allows us to live in ways that are less automatic. This necessarily means less time spent worrying, ruminating, and trying to control things we can’t control. It means we become less vulnerable to the throes of the fear-driven, older parts of our brains, and freer to use our newer and more sophisticated mental abilities: patience, compassion, acceptance and reason. – David Cain

The mindfulness training consists of eight weekly sessions, 2.5-3.5 hours in duration. Each session contains the following elements: exercises, (individual and group) inquiry and education.  Formal mindful exercises include: body scan meditation, Hatha yoga, sitting meditation (mindfulness of breath, body, feelings, thoughts, emotions,and choiceness awareness). Informal mindful exercises include:  awareness of pleasant and unpleasant events, awareness of breathing, deliberate awareness of routine activities . daily home assignments are given  including a minimum of 45 minutes per day of formal mindfulness.

 

Upcoming Mindful training sessions:
 Utrecht University of the Arts, October -December 2019, for students, teachers and staff

Further reading material:
Kabat-Zinn, J. Mindfulness Meditation: What It Is, What It Isn’t, And It’s Role In Health Care and Medicine
and Suzuki, M. Comparative and Psychological Study on Meditation. Eburon, Netherlands, 1996. Pg. 161-169.

Hatha Yoga

In my classes I teach Hatha Yoga, with a specific focus on Yin Yoga.

Hatha refers to the practice of physical yoga postures. Hatha is commonly translated as a combination of the “sun” (ha) and “moon” (tha). A Hatha Yoga class consists of basic yoga poses that are designed to align and calm your body and mind. 

Hatha Yoga aims to connect the movement of the body with the rhythm of the breath and the mind. Energy flows through the body, up and down, in and out. Hatha represents opposing energies such as hot and cold, dark and light, active and passive, female and male – in a similar as the yin-yang concept in Chinese philosophy.  It brings balance to the body and mind by a series of physical postures called asanas. The postures increase balance and strength, and reduce stress.

Hatha yoga generates an awareness of how body parts are connected to the body as a whole. Even more, it generates an awareness of the body’s intrinsic connection to the world.

I strongly believe in embodiment and the body-mind connection, in fact the body is a great listener and often knows more then  the mind does.  It’s a deeply gratifying practice, modest and pure. For me it is a way to attune to the self and to the world around me. 

In my classes I combine Yin Yoga with Hatha Yoga. Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style of  with postures, or asanas, that are held for longer periods of time. Yin Yoga was started by martial arts expert and yoga teacher Paulie Zink, and further developed by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers.  Yin Yoga is not intended as a stand-alone practice, but it is complementary to other forms of yoga and exercises. 

The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness.— Sakyong Mipham

Yin Yoga exercises focus on the connective tissues- the tendons, fascia and ligaments (that are general harder and stiffer) with the aim to stimulate increasing circulation in the joints and to improve flexibility. Yang Yoga exercises focus on muscle tissues (that are more fluid-filled, soft and elastic). 

Yoga begins with listening. When we listen, we are giving space to what is. — Richard FreemanCalms

Yin Yoga:

  • Calms and balances the mind and body
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Increases circulation
  • Improves flexibility
  • Releases fascia and improves joint mobility
  • Balances the internal organs and improves the flow of chi or prana 

Yoga is a dance between control and surrender — between pushing and letting go — and when to push and when to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your being.— Joel Kramer

Free class: each Monday Morning, 7.30-8.45 AM, WG-Terrein, Amsterdam