A Movement Practice for Westerners?
A central problem in the Western philosophical tradition – whether it is known or unknown – is the lack of a movement based mind-body practice.
The West has no movement practice similar to yoga, Tai Chi, walking meditations, and the sacred dances etc. we find in other cultures and traditions.
And at the same time our posture and coordination get worse, our attention spans get shorter, and we can’t consciously control our minds or bodies for more than a few minutes.
Do you think these two trends might be related…?
My task is to (re)discover the West’s missing movement practice.
A movement based mind-body practice that is part of the Western wisdom tradition itself, and not just extracted and imported from other cultures.
I don’t have all the answers – this isn’t gurumaster coming down from the mountain! – but I will be sharing my ongoing learning with you.
There will be short essays here on Substack plus some videos on Youtube. You can also have 1 to 1 lessons with me and learn the movement practice I do every day.
The first question to ask is: why is the Western tradition lacking a movement based mind-body practice?
There are three possibilities, either:
The West never had a movement practice, it’s one of the things that makes the west different from other cultures, for better and/or worse.
The West did have a movement practice but it was lost and forgotten at some point in time, and never recovered. Or:
The West does have a movement practice but it survives in a fragmented form, different pieces found in various disciplines and activities, running like a golden thread through the ages.
If you are reading this you can guess that my answer is number 3.
What we’ll explore
The missing practice is based on a principle as old as human beings – but the best place to start is with Ancient Greeks.
Imagine some sort of discipline that is halfway between philosophy and athletics. I think the Ancient Greeks left us clues to such a practice in their sculptures, art and writings.
But this is not a philosophy of movement where theory and practice are still separate – which for us moderns is literal: a philosophy department over here and a gymnasium over there, different places, different people.
What we need is: Philosophy in Movement.
We moderns can barely imagine what such an integrated discipline would even look like. It’s not just reading some Plato then going for a run (although sounds fun, brb.)
Do you think the ancient Greeks didn’t apply mathematics and philosophy directly to war and athletics? Or their “intellectual” arts didn’t grow out of their “physical” arts in the first place? And in fact, it’s our modern splitting of the two realms that makes us blind to everything “in between?”
What’s more, I’m convinced that such a psychophysical practice has been formulated into a learnable technique once again, in our own time.
So what is this mysterious technique – and where can you learn it? Well, that’s the purpose of my upcoming series of mini-essays and training videos.
Who this is for
This is an ongoing, long term project, for a dedicated group of practitioners.
We need to think in terms of cultivating a “spiritual practice” that people will still be doing in 1000 years.
We won’t pretend this will solve the spiritual crisis in the West, it’s too far gone, at least in its current form. Our role here is planting seeds for whatever comes next. Let’s be good ancestors.
We need more people who can reduce philosophical ideas down to practical procedures, while at the same time lift up existing practices into their wider philosophical context.
We need to bridge the gap between theory and practice. We need to work on both at the same time - what we’ve forgotten in the West.
Join me on this journey
Help me keep these essays free. I’m not a land owning Athenian aristocrat – and don’t have many cattle to sacrifice to the gods – so if this is your “thing” as well, you can support my work by becoming a paid subscriber.
Thanks. I’ll keep you updated on where the money goes… I promise only a little will be spent on stockpiling the sweet, sweet Cyprus honey that fuels my brain…
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Please get in touch if you’re working on something similar! This is only one piece of the puzzle…
Would you like a 1-to-1 session?
You really should take a look at YouTube channels dedicated to modern dance. your concerns were being expressed widely since the beginning of the 20th century, with efforts across the Americas and throughout Europe to break free of the rigidity of Western ballet and incorporate the wisdom of movement traditions across the world.
Martha Graham consulted with Joseph Campbell in her attempts to to revitalize modern dance. Jose Limon drew on dances of the indigenous peoples of his native Mexico, and John Cage, through his experiments with Zen, inspired Merce Cunningham to create stunningly new modes of movement.
And of course there was Isadora Duncan at the beginning of the 20th century who was the inspiration for much of 20th century modern dance. And speaking of a whole different tradition, from the spiritualist dances of African Americans in the 19th century to the tap dancers, jazz dancers, boogie boogie dances, rock dancing, street dancers in New York in the 70s doing their robotic like movements, and so much more, there's a whole world of modern movement.