Non-Verbal Awareness
[This section is dedicated to and derived from the work of Charlotte Schuchardt Read,
edited and excerpted from "Exploring Relations between Organismic Patterns and Korzybskian Formulations," General Semantics Bulletin Nos. 32 & 33 pp. 47 - 52, 1965.]

Our ability to use language affects our breathing, for our ‘feelings’, our ‘thinking’, including our theories, are inseparably bound with it, [and it is possible for us to interfere with or allow our natural breathing].

Our living has many facets which we may roughly call physico-chemical, electrical, neuro-muscular, sensory, verbal, and other energy manifestations at different levels of organization. In another sense, we live and act in the ‘here-now’ with an ever-present active background of our higher order life-generalizations, our mostly unconscious attitudes toward ourselves and our world. I believe that to develop our human potentialities most fully through the study of Korzybski's formulations we need both the theoretical understanding of them and down-to-earth awareness of their organismic manifestations.

In attempting to discover our own higher-order generalizations, or how we experience ourselves with relation to other people and our universe, we have not usually learned to ‘feel’ to what extent those attitudes are muscularly maintained, or to what extent we are living on more than one 'level'.

Studies of body-mind relationships have been a part of various Asiatic cultures for many centuries. Examples of these would be the Tai Chi of the Chinese, the Hara practices of the Japanese, and other Zen Buddhist practices, the Hatha Yoga exercises of the Indians, and so on. Particular types of physical training have been worked out in connection with their ‘philosophical’ or ‘religious’ premises as a part of their training toward their inner development, and the relationships are accepted as of primary importance.

Physical training in western culture has been considered separately from our ‘philosophies’, and usually even our ‘psychologies’, and has mostly been looked down upon as of less importance than ‘intellectual’ pursuits, if it is paid attention to at all. I am not speaking here of sports in which we participate or are spectators. We have ‘physical fitness’ programs, but the manner in which we move in all of our daily activities and its implications for ‘psychological’ health is not a part of our usual education.

Although some changes in attitude have occurred in recent years, largely through the interest of those engaged in psycho-somatic medicine and psychotherapy, and a need beginning to be felt more for deeper experiencing, more ‘total’, more spontaneous functioning, we are in general a very long way from the acceptance of the importance of our organism-as-a-whole in our general orientation.

When we use the word ‘organism’ (or ‘organismal’) we do not refer to a separate ‘body’, but to ‘you’ and ‘me’ as a totality which includes our living tissues as well as our ‘feelings’, our ‘thinking’, etc. In fact, it is the experiencing of this ‘feeling’ of being a more ‘totally-alive person’ that is what we are speaking about, and more generally, to be able to experience as fully as we can what we are saying theoretically.

How we move and generally function may be described in terms such as open-ness, spontaneity, serenity, coordination, flexibility, ‘naturalness’, etc. On other levels we may speak of brain wave patterns, breathing rates, electrical impulses from muscles, etc. I am aware that there are many different techniques for becoming more relaxed, and for better postural alignments. As Feldenkrais wrote, it is a matter of knowing what and how to observe.

What I am mainly concerned with here is not only a therapeutic alleviation of disturbing symptoms, but from a more general point of view, working toward the fulfillment of our capacities to be fully human, or to being ‘fully conditional’ or having ‘higher order conditional reactions’ in the Korzybskian terminology.

Lest anyone believe that it is easy to know ‘what our organisms ‘feel’, I may add that such awarenesses require a disciplined education of the senses, especially the proprioceptive sense, for months or years, a sensitivity that becomes ever more refined and deep with practice.

One way of approaching the subject, then, would be by noting descriptions of physiological or neuromuscular changes recorded in the literature and/or experienced in one's own practice, together with changes in behavior, if any, and seeing where there are similarities - and in connection with what procedures. Besides this, one may also consider whether there are particular types of physical practices which we may find most helpful.

Although the numerous available ‘physical’ types of methods may eventually help us to the desired integration if pursued diligently enough, and without distortion, I have come to ‘feel’ that a most direct and effective approach would ideally include a number of factors: 1) work toward a postural alignment in accordance with our structure, in balance with and in coordination with the pulls of gravity; 2) allowing the organism to come to a different pattern of functioning without interference (or with as little interference as possible, letting the impulses for changes or actions come from within according to its needs, not imposing them on ourselves; 3) an education of our sense awareness, particularly the proprioceptive sense, as a guide; 4) a correlation with our higher-order assumptions or in other words, the deeper significance to us of what we are ‘sensing’. (For example, are we clinging to a self-centered, limited evaluation of ourselves, are we holding ourselves aloof from our world, etc.?). We can learn to ‘feel’ whether we are pulling ourselves away from our surroundings, withdrawing, or collapsing onto them, or pushing ourselves into them in an attacking way -- or whether we are so much in tune with them that we function as a part of them, in contact with them. With such simple ways of studying, our attitudes-toward-life may be felt, the significance of our habitual tensions or lack of tensions may be revealed to us.

A fifth, but perhaps a most important point is to work with an attitude of friendly self-acceptance, realizing that we are learning about life in a larger sense and not only about our own particular way of functioning.

About three years after Science and Sanity was published, when Korzybski was able to devote much of his ‘time’ to giving seminars and working with people, he found there was a correlation between undue tensions and intensional attitudes. He came to ‘feel’ that the use of a technique which he called ‘neuro-[evaluational]’ relaxation was ‘essential’ in the process of learning to become more extensional. I worked with him with this technique for years with students at his seminars. This was helpful to many persons, but did not include some of the other factors mentioned above.

Insufficient emphasis is put, in most methods I know of, upon the tendency of the organism to establish a more co-ordinated order by itself if ‘allowed’ to do so, if the hindering patterns are given up. This is not a speculation, but can be ‘felt’ in some degree by anyone who will permit the necessary quiet attention and has enough trust in themselves. This cannot, of course, be forced or done deliberately. It seems to me to be a multi-ordinal mechanism where on one order we can initiate a stimulus for a changed pattern on another order. (For instance, we can take steps to change some inner conditions which may make possible some other effects.)

I ‘feel’ it is not enough to work toward a state of what we usually call ‘relaxation’ unless through it we can arrive at a ‘deep’ and alive relaxed condition of optimum, or most healthy, tonicity, where the energy used for our tasks or for any activity is not more than what is needed, or the least that is needed. I am assuming, and there are others who make this assumption, as I understand them, that what on deeper levels we all long for and are continually aiming for in one way or another, and toward which organismically we are tending, is a ‘feeling’ of contact or ‘continuity’ with our environment, which in its adult expression would be found in our ideally ‘human’ human being.

Letting our organismic patterns come closer to their healthy harmonious order is in line with the premise followed by Carl Rogers that a disturbed person can become more integrated ‘by himself’ so to say, with a non-interfering, sympathetic type of feedback guidance, when he gains the self-acceptance needed to let go of his restrictions. It is an important sign of successful psychotherapy when a patient ‘feels’ he can safely express his ‘feelings’ and be able to live more spontaneously. It is basic to any creative endeavor to be free enough to allow the developing of what is new and different within us. It is in accord with the Korzybskian formulation of functioning at our best when in accordance with the structure of our nervous system and the world, when our time-binding energy is unobstructed and allowed to work freely, according to its capacity.

A type of physical-psychological training, therefore, through which we learn to allow this capacity for change within the organism, for becoming more fully integrated when unnecessary efforts are given up, can become an effective means toward our development. I have studied an organismically-oriented work taught by the Charlotte Selver in New York, who was a student of the late Elsa Gindler in Germany. A guiding tenet of this approach is that the organism tends toward establishing a more harmonious functioning if the hindering tendencies are given up, and that if we are able to persistently encourage these natural processes, eventually a whole new attitude appears. This includes the way we relate to ourselves and our environment. It leads us to more quiet and consequently clearer perceptions. A new responsiveness develops, less limited by the old conditionings, and more fully reactive to each situation as it happens. We can become progressively closer to the more wholly-involved, in-rapport kind of living with which we are endowed potentially. We can learn to ‘sense’ when we approach this condition and when we are farther away from it – and here the proprioceptive sense, perhaps the most important of our senses, becomes more fully developed. Such ‘sensing’ can lead us to insights that may be significant for us. We can gradually learn to let our living processes (for example, our breathing, the flexibility of our muscles, etc.) be unhindered, and can experience a different order in our functioning.

Through this kind of training, for which I am indebted to Miss Selver – and which I have much oversimplified in this brief reference – I have been working toward attempting to bring some of the aims of general semantics more to realization through actually experiencing them. I have sought to discover what correlations there may be between changes sensed on organismic levels and the formulations of Korzybski's system.

These are some ways in which I have come to believe, through my practical study, that we can learn to experience more what we profess: We can develop more strongly in our reactions what we call the ‘natural order of evaluation’, letting an experience be felt before speaking about it, getting in touch with the ‘territory’ before reacting to it. We can become more aware of how much (or how little) we are in contact with our surroundings, with the chair we sit on, for example, the floor we lie on, or stand or walk on. To be able to ‘feel’, through the use of our senses, and to be able to express what we ‘feel’, requires a much clearer ability to ‘sense’, to be honest with ourselves, and to be able to bring our ‘feelings’ to words, than we usually demand of ourselves.

We can practice the important ability to be ‘silent on non-verbal levels’ emphasized by Korzybski as a first requirement for learning to be conscious of abstracting, when we learn to become inwardly silent and get more in contact with ourselves and our environment. We practice delaying our reactions, not by suppressing them but by getting closer in touch with what we are reacting to. We can become familiar with what it ‘feels’ like to be more open and receptive, and learn how we can consciously work toward more nearly approaching this attitude.

To act with a ‘higher degree of conditionality’, where we would not identify new situations with previous ones, but would react to each on its own terms, would require an inner flexibility. On organismic levels, this would be manifested as movable joints and flexible muscles, freer, reactive breathing, more inner awakeness, enabling us to be alert and in tune with the environment, ‘with’ what is going on and responding to it in a sensitive coordinated way.

To ‘feel’ what the term ‘organism-as-a-whole-in-an-environment’ represents on the level of experiencing, to be in contact with our organism, to be actually functioning as an integrated whole, fully alive, and actually in contact with a particular environment, would transform most of us.

To ‘feel’ ourselves as time-binders, considering ‘time-binding’ not just intellectually but as participating in the human experience of millenniums, coming once more in our adult lives to a sense of continuity with the environment, in the immediate sense in the present, and in the larger sense, would be incompatible with ‘feelings’ of alienation. I believe it important for us to bring this ‘feeling’ of relatedness to our own awareness as a foundation on which we live our moment-to-moment lives. I ‘feel’ that here Korzybski's formulation of the circularity of human knowledge applies especially, expressing as it does that we read into or project onto the ‘event’ or process levels our own highest-order generalizations (about ourselves and our world). If we could clarify to ourselves the generalizations we live by, ‘intellectually’ and as felt, they would be found to be related to our lower-order functioning – our perceptions, our movements, our physiology, etc. (As, for instance, being able to give up a pose I may enable more genuine ‘feelings’ to be felt and expressed.)

There are, as we know, criticisms of general semantics to the effect that we are imposing its methods onto disturbed deeper patterns, which are not enough reached. They cannot be reached if the discipline is ‘understood’ only superficially. As with any formulations, they can be verbalized without necessarily affecting our behavior. By increasing our awareness on organismic levels we have powerful means to come closer to ourselves, and to have important additional feedbacks for our own self-guidance, once we become sufficiently sensitive. We are not easily fooled on these silent levels of sensing when we become aware enough and are willing to learn in this way.

A few words about how we work practically: At first we may lie on the floor or sit and quietly let whatever we ‘feel’ of ourselves come to our attention, without looking for anything, without expectations, without demands, just accepting whatever happens. Gradually, when we become more restful and cease having as much need to talk to ourselves, we are able to get clearer sensations of our condition and get the ‘feel’ of ourselves as living organisms. We may find that changes are needed, such as perhaps letting more air in or out, or settling more on the floor. We may begin to ‘feel’ here and there how we are preventing fuller breathing or how we are holding ourselves away from the floor even though we are lying on it, and we may gradually become able to permit the changes needed toward a more natural functioning.

The ability to perceive our own subtle reactions in very simple experimenting with lying, or sitting or standing, walking, etc., grows with practice. We find how much our usual sub-vocal chattering to ourselves prevents us from being in contact with ourselves and our deeper ‘feelings’.

We may discover how we respond to our base of support, whether it be a floor, or chair, or the ground, and whether we are able to ‘give’ to it. Such ‘giving’ or ‘yielding’ does not mean ‘collapsing’, but involves a giving up of unnecessary efforts and permitting more contact. We attempt to get as close as we can to our sensations, unique for us, not mixing them with what we wish to ‘feel’, what we ‘think’ we ought to ‘feel’, what we believe someone else wants us to ‘feel’, but as much as possible what we actually do ‘feel’.

Sometimes we work with touching objects, such as stones. Getting in touch with a stone without speaking, ‘feeling’ it in our hands, picking it up and handling it, can help us to become ‘silent on the object level’, or on the level of the object. We may experiment with stepping on stones, ‘feeling’ how we respond to this through our feet and legs, whether also in our feet and legs (really a part of us) we can be flexible enough to ‘give’ to our surroundings, and whether our response could not also involve ‘all’ of us.

At other ‘times’ we work with each other, and such subtle working together can become revealing experiments in how we communicate with each other non-verbally. For example, one person may sense their partner's breathing by gently placing their hands on their partner's back. The person being felt can notice how they respond to their partner's touch, and whether it has any effects on the way they are breathing, or whether they notice any other changes. This involves a quiet concentration and an appreciation of how much we affect others on many deeper levels without words.

In such work we aim toward a fuller and deeper functioning as a coordinated whole person, becoming more open to sensations from our surroundings and from within ourselves, and responding in a more ‘total’ way. We become aware of whether we are straining and making unnecessary efforts. We learn to become more accepting of what comes to our awareness, and to keep our attention on our experimenting.

We can notice changed reactions in others by observing how they behave, how they hold themselves or move, how they look, their different patterns of breathing, etc. The persons themselves may or may not be aware of such changes, or they may not speak about them. Often they have experiences which they find difficult to verbalize.

I have not at any ‘time’ used instruments for recording changes, as in the classes we have not been concerned with the research aspect. I point out relationships to general semantics sometimes as we work together, but I have not asked for responses in these terms. Those who work in this way have usually found it to be a valuable experience for them, judging from what they have said and their behavior. I do not have data from a scientifically conducted experiment to present, but I believe that the responses are encouraging enough to indicate that such an approach is promising in relation to general semantics. Those who have been teaching this type of work for years independently of general semantics would be able to report many beneficial results, but I refer here only to my own experience and working with others.

I can give a few examples of comments from students, which will convey something of their type of response at the end of a session or at the end of a seminar. So far the classes I have taught have been of limited duration: once a week for a period of six or eight weeks, or for a total of five or six meetings during a general semantics seminar-workshop. This is of course no more than a brief introduction for work of this type, although there are some who come to more than one course. Even such a limited number of experiences, however, has been found to be of value.

Sometimes a student will evaluate the experiences with reference to general semantics, as for instance:

“These activities have really been a revelation and I am convinced they are pivotal in the practical application of GS.”

“I believe in the course of this meeting that I have come to appreciate more fully the meaning of the term non-verbal – or better, I begin to understand what is ‘really’ meant by the word. I am sure I will be able to reread Korzybski with a different and more meaningful perspective.”

“This direct un-speakable level ‘feeling’ of orientation and disorientation with respect to space-time is opening to me a new insight into GS as a methodology for training in saner reactions.”

“I have been able in these groups to sense for the first time without verbalizing and to achieve a peace and harmony with my environment hitherto unknown. I now realize that whatever I say it is, it is not, the word is not the thing.”

Sometimes students report differences in their perceiving, such as: “My senses have doubled their awareness.” “I believe the influence of these sessions is showing up in how I observe people.”

Some students become aware of their ‘feelings’ more: “Here I began to get some experience of what non-self-conscious self-awareness ‘feels’ like.” “I acquired the ability to become quiet and to experience the here and now to an extent hitherto unrealized, I felt objects, emotions and reactions with a new, almost childlike appreciation and fresh interest. I became less ashamed, apprehensive and skeptical concerning my own ‘feelings’ and realized that although I am unique in my ‘feelings’, there are a multiplicity and profundity of similarities in all humans. This would include loneliness, emotions and needs.”

“The ‘idea’ ‘organism-as-a-whole’ is so different from the sensation.”

“The experiments, though they may be simple, were remarkably revealing to me. In some cases they seemed to provide me with an understanding of phrases which I previously found incomprehensible.”

“The communication with my environment, with ‘all’ persons of the group during the meetings was increased. It is easier for me to make contact with ‘all’ things inside and outside and the world seems sweeter.”

One student who had just completed her third seminar-workshop recognized how different her experiences were this time. She wrote: “If I ‘thought’ I had a complete experience in these groups in the last two seminars, I was mistaken. Of course, I had ‘feelings’, but they were different and I am not sure how ‘true’ they were. This ‘time’, I was successful in delaying my reactions and coming to grips with my “real” ‘feelings’. I have these sessions to thank for this. They are vital and life-giving.”

And finally, one of the students verbalized what others also may have ‘felt’ when she said: “Most of what happened would lose too much to try to verbalize. There is no ‘thank you’ that could be adequate.”

I ‘feel’ that the exploration of Korzybski's formulations in non-verbal ways, especially as they relate to organismic awareness, offers a rich field for study as we continue our efforts to internalize them.

There is a danger, however, in ‘thinking’ or being too ‘philosophical’ about what happens in this kind of work. It is easy to let words or formulations get in the way of our ‘sensing’ when what is most required is the ability to quietly experience anew, without identifying with a previous situation, without actively looking for anything, staying within the limits of a particular activity we are concentrating on. We observe and generalize, as we must because we are human. But we learn not to cling to our generalizations or to trust them. And when we become more able to trust ourselves at deeper levels we ‘feel’ more in rapport with our world.

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