The Tyranny of Rationality & It's Antidote (Spoiler: it's Dance)
Coming Home to the Body in Postmodern Times
The Terrifying Stagnation of our Own Inevitable Dissociation
If you grew up in the Western world, you were undoubtedly indoctrinated to believe — nay, know — that mind is king. More than our emotional, embodied, psychological, or spiritual experience, our culture requires that we rely on and strengthen our mental experience. We are all masters of abstraction and rulers supreme of rationalization. Religion has nothing to do with religious experience, exercise has nothing to do with embodiment, and psychology has nothing to do with an individual’s psyche. Such are the times in which we live.
Also alive in this I-am-separate-from-my-experience paradigm is the idea of mind as (A) a distinct thing unto itself, separate from any and all physical stuff, and (B)supreme ruler of said stuff. In this framework, thinking not only gets relegated to a position far superior to feeling and bodily sensations, but it also lords over nature and the natural world (it’s no mystery that the body and all of it’s complicated feelings are themselves natural). Only through the power of the mind can that dangerous, mysterious beast — the natural world, the natural me — be tamed.
Although not the sole seed responsible for disseminating these alienating notions, we largely have Francis Bacon, father of empiricism, to thank for their flourishing. He extolled such revolutionary ideas as nature must be “bound into service,” made a “slave,” and put “in constraint,” or “molded.” Nature, keep in mind, includes our own human nature.
About a century after Bacon’s brilliance literally paved the way for a parking lot, French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes fathered the now famous so-called Cartesian split — that is, the unassailable separation between mind and body — with his statement cognito egro sum. Basically, my existence is my mind and my mind is my existence. “There is nothing included in the concept of body that belongs to the mind; and nothing in that of the mind that belongs to the body,” noted Descartes. If Bacon built the coffin, Descartes hammered in the nails. And thus has lain the body of the repressed Westerner for a few centuries, and there it may continue to lie, unless we do our due diligence to exhume it.
Claiming all natural intelligences of the body (instinct, intuition, emotion, passion, open-heartedness, will, self-regulation) inferior to rationality means that for many — too many — generations, human beings have grown up in collective systems that perpetuate a self-severing. The insistence of the only-ever-rational mentality has cleaved us from the very things that we need to survive, namely nature in all its forms. Separation from the natural world makes it very easy to decimate, and separation from our own natural selves results in a kind of slow-suicide that I would say is the hallmark of self-betrayal. We are killing the planet, killing each other, and killing ourselves for want of the irrational faculties that we were — unbeknownst to us — required to give up at birth.
It is clear to me that our embodied intelligences, emotional intelligences, spiritual intelligences, and creative intelligences are dying on the vine, so undernourished they are by the collective system. And their death not only leaves us barren, but makes us susceptible to dogmatic systems of government ala Hitler, Stalin, and Marx, for without a sense of our own living truth — something that can only be established in your bodymind through personal exploration and deep soul-searching— we leave ourselves entirely open to the suggestion of others. The underlying, unconscious, unexamined belief at work here is I don’t know who I am, I don’t know how to find out, so I’ll just let someone else tell me.
This terrifying reality has, unfortunately, become a autolytic system: we are severed from ourselves by culture and so we become individuals who seek the affirmation and approval of culture, thus perpetuating a system which keeps us cleaved in two. And because individuals never learn how to rely on their irrational faculties for information, they only ever use the data and numbers produced by their rational worldview to support the upholding of said worldview. Thus the lid of the coffin remains ever-so shut and hyper-rationality prevails.
The Unexamined Consequences of Hyperrationality
We have seen how dissociation from nature, both inner and outer, is killing us literally. But it’s also killing us peripherally, because in a hyperrational society, there can be no depth. If everything exists on a 2-dimensional plane of numbers and data, then only the things that fit onto that plane are allowed to exist. Hyper-rationality turns the world into a sheet of graph paper
In this kind of society, meaning-inducing experiences like wonder, mystery, synchronicity, religious awe, and symbolic awareness must be explained with “science,” and thus they are explained away. That is, after our rational systems are done with them, the cease to exist entirely. So, by unconsciously buying into society’s rational-only dictums, we are not only cutting ourselves off from the interconnecting feelings and revitalizing forces that live within our own bodies, but we’re also severing all ties to the kind of meaningful experiences that we would need to heal the dissociation in the first place. It’s the most hair-pullingly ironic situation I can think of, and I’d laugh if I weren’t so concerned.
Rational worldview discovers no evidence of the existence of meaningful experience whilst searching for a way to explain meaningful experience, thus denying individuals the skills and faculties to have said meaningful experiences (which we were totally having before, I might add). And as a result, we fall into the thrall the ultimate super heroes/villians of the Rationality! comic series: sociopathy, psychopathy, and narcissism. Eep.
So, by turning the world into a sheet a graph paper, rationality necessarily kills our access to depth, and thus to meaning. Without depth, there can be no wisdom and no creativity. We are caught in a perpetual loop of the same numbers denying the same lived-experience turning the same individuals into robots wreaking the same havoc on our wellbeing and our planet. And we’re unable to access the very thing which would get us out of this whole mess — creativity.
If you ask me, creativity is the most devastating loss of these hyper-rational times.
Toward a Psychology of Wholeness
Freud’s discovery of the unconscious shattered human perception of the how things were. Suddenly, the wild, untamed nature Bacon so feared was not only something out there, but also in here. And while I feel forever indebted to Freud’s discovery, his insistence that the unconscious is not much more than an untoward, violent place echos deeply the views of his intellectual forefathers. Treating the unconscious realms of psyche like a sideshow curiosity, at best, and a lewd, slovenly criminal, at worst, is no better than Bacon’s assertion that all nature must be enslaved.
The reality — that the unconscious, like the body — not only contains treasures untold, but tugs an individual strongly in the direction of self-realization (if that individual were to have the inner faculties to register said tug — which most don’t — thanks hyper-rationality), is much more compelling. It suggests an inherent wholeness in the psyche, which is conveniently (wink wink) a very powerful antidote to dissociation, and has the effect of realigning us to the source of creativity and wisdom: depth. Veering decidedly from Freud’s hyper-rational relationship to the unconscious, Jung fathered his own psychological discipline on the recognition of this idea of wholeness, and suggested that the ordering principle of the psyche can only be encountered when we give up our rational-only worldview.
This, of course, is easier said than done. But I believe it can be done, and that the secret lies in the body. It is through the body — and particularly through the body in spontaneous motion — that a person encounters what I can only refer to as a sense of soul, that “self-sustaining … substrate — [the] inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence — that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego, and consciousness go into eclipse,” as James Hillman, father of archetypal psychology, writes of it.
Body and soul, soma and psyche, are the discarded siblings of mind, logos, and while they have been given absolutely no air time in the past centuries, if we want to stand a chance of surviving this collective initiation in which we find ourselves, we’re going to have to start learning their ways. They are the starved aspects of self, dying on the branch from which they grow, and — mark my words — they are the solution to our hyper-rational existence. Without them, we’re just here, in the mess of the modern era, trying to make ourselves comfortable through increasing dissociation. With them, we stand a chance of flipping the script.
At first, we’re going to be highly inelegant wielding these concepts, and probably rightfully wary as to their real usefulness. But returning to a psychology of wholeness — that is, a psychology that embraces the unconscious, incorporates the body, and grapples with meaning through an experience of soul — will save us from our demons. Discovering wholeness in yourself makes you immune to populism, degradation, and dogma, and if there are any true demons in the world, those are certainly some of them.
Embodied Experience & Dance as the Antidote
It all comes down to this: having an truly embodied experience — one where I encounter the living pulse of my own source as it shapes and contorts me in a dance outside of my control, for example — categorically saves me from the tyranny of my own highly evolved rationality.
So, that’s it: as an antidote to a hyper-rational society I propose dance, and lots of it. Not the choreographed dance of technique and discipline, however, for that would only continue to hoist mind over matter. I propose a dance of freedom, where movers are taught to shape their experience through their whole body, instead of explaining it away with the rational mind. I propose a dance of authenticity, which is both contained and vulnerable, where movers can encounter their own depth in real-time. I propose a dance that includes emotional expression, a dance that is by all definitions of the word, creative. This would be a rewilding through movements birthed from raw instinct, a kind of follow-the-leader played with your guts and sinews, a building up from bones to in order to break free. And it would shake free the shackles of rationality.
My reasons for this proposal are threefold:
The body is our first source of gnosis, the place in which we first discover the truth of our own existence. It is there before we develop verbal language and so it is, at its purest, undefined by labels, numbers, and explanations. Consider this: Who I Think I am will almost always pale in comparison to Who I Am. That kind of connected state can only come through lived experience, which requires a deep sense of embodiment.
Human beings, underneath all the identity stuff, are essentially movement, as all matter is. We are literally made of movement. Except for matter cooled to 0°K and perfectly empty space, all of the quarks, atoms, molecules, and cells that comprise physical reality are in constant motion. As things made of matter, we are always in motion.
Spontaneous movement — that is, movement generated by internal impulse as opposed to external control — is inherently creative. Not only does the individual make shapes that previously did not exist, they do so by aligning with the mother of all creativity: the unconscious. In this context, where movement is not dictated by conscious choice, but by surrendered flow, all embodied action is an alignment with the unconscious.
As human beings in possession of an entirely whole, creative psyche, we each possess, buried under years of conditioning, the ability to discover not only our inherent integrity, but also make meaning, open our hearts, and learn the wisdom right there in our own bodies. We can apprentice ourselves to our own inner backcountry trackers — the ones that show us how to read the disturbed earth for signs of life, how to distinguish one animal print from another, and which leaves to avoid because of toxins.
Just as it was possible for you to turn off your embodied experience, it’s possible to rediscover it. Novels of meaning and memory, long-form essays of emotion, and diligently penned cosmic connections open themselves up to us with some gentle coaxing (and maybe a willingness to look like a fool on the dance floor for a little while). No longer an inert lump of meaningless flesh, both the collective body and your body can be exhumed and cherished, held in the same high esteem as King Mind; indeed, the body can become Queen. And it is through an open-ended embodied meditation that we can start to again recognize soul: we re-member, as in we take our dismembered body parts and stitch them back together.
Embodied practice, and specifically practices that support spontaneous movement, is a goldmine of medicine. It connects us with our inner authority and self-awareness. It strengthens feelings of safety within ourselves — we learn to feel at home. It encourages empathy through emotional attunement . It supports emotional literacy by giving us a living map with which to apprehend, interpret, contain, and express feelings in healthy, safe, intelligent ways. It can heal developmental insults. With time, a person can experience joyous, ecstatic, or deep trance states. It opens to the doors to repressed memories, disowned parts of self, and our natural self-regulating nervous system. It leads to increased cognitive agility and vitality. It has the potential to heal physical pain that has been exacerbated by psychological unrest. And it paves the way for a direct experience of spiritual truth, catalyzing gnosis or mystical revelations that promote inner peace, wellbeing, and feelings of profound connection*.
In my experience as a lifelong dancer, a student of mysticism, a dance teacher, and a psychologist, that these are the salves we need to save us from ourselves right now. We need the body and we need the soul; by becoming embodied, we become ensouled. To become ensouled fills life with meaning of the sort capable of treating all manner of hyper-rational symptoms. Feeling at home in our bodies, at peace in our minds, and connected to meaning in our lives are our birthrights.
*If you are interested in the research supporting these claims, I will be more than happy to provide references.