August 6, 2011

“Self-Knowledge is a Dangerous Idea”

“Self-Knowledge is a Dangerous Idea”:
An Interview with Brazilian therapist and education Regina Favre.

What follows is one of the most moving articles from the June/July of the Brazilian Yoga Journal which is a subsidiary of the Yoga Journal in the US. Some of the articles are translated from the American Yoga Journal and then new content is added. Yoga Journal Brasil is published bi-monthly – each issue has a theme.

I was very moved by an article in the most recent edition on self-esteem, and with permission from Greice Costa, the editor and interviewer, and Regina Favre, I have translated their recent interview into English.

Regina Favre, Founder of Laboratory of Formative Process, São Paulo

Therapist, philosopher and yoga practitioner, Regina Favre is the founder of “Laboratório do Processo Formativo” (Laboratory of the Formative Process) in São Paulo, and has worked in private practice, education, and research for the past 35 years.  In 1986, she came across “someone who said something very important about the body,” Stanley Keleman (author of Emotional Anatomy, which she later translated into Portuguese):  the body is a process in continual construction.

This interview shows how this process is related to self-esteem.

Where does your work intersect with self-esteem? Bodies live in ecology. The body is not an individual, separate from nature, from society, from the evolutionary process or information networks. The body is a genetic process, a place, an environmental processor that has a genetic recipe for its growth. A fundamental premise: the body is not and object in space or a support for consciousness. It is a living process with many layers and interconnected levels of functioning, and has connections to all other levels of reality. Every body processes its environment, building tissue, behavior, and experience. Each life has its cycle and at a certain moment, the body falls from the tree of life and dries up on the ground.  This is an evolutionary perspective from Darwin, I didn’t come up with it.  This body thinks, eats, dreams, speaks, digests, and in addition to those more primitive processes, has more complex emotional, mental, and affective processes. The mind is contained in it. It is important to understand that the body is in continual production.

“Today I am not what I was yesterday.”

Experiences and Self-Esteem

Certain experiences are beyond our ability to assimiliate them in some stages of our lives.  There are situations where there is not enough formative time, nor are they constituted in a trustworthy environment for the body, together with the mind, to have the time to form and learn from that experience, in order to create tissue and  behavior with it.  These are experiences that take us off track and diminish the power of the individual.

And this individual has the power to move forward because life, despite everything, wants to move forward and spread itself through bodies. Life struggles to go forward all the time in whatever manner possible. When they grow in less than ideal environments, bodies are like a plant that can’t find the right soil nor the ideal weather to develop- they grow weaker and with less power. And we are always searching for more power.

The Search for Greater Power and Self-Esteem

We can only live this self-recognition in the areas and dimensions where we feel this power of life happening in us.  Power is the ability to recognize what I am doing, how I do it, and to intervene in how I do it. This is practical.  Self-esteem doesn’t necessarily have to do with social adaptation- but sometimes it does.

It has more to do with this self-recognition of power, and it has to do with a good functioning of life in you, whether that be physical, emotional, or mental.  And that your actions can go into the world, connect with the world and come back to you as a form of learning—this leads to self-esteem. Self-esteem is the completion of a cycle of action that actualizes itself in the world and comes back to you.

Because what individuals look for, or that which makes them function is the fact that they function.If individuals don’t function, they lose power and die. The organ, or behavior, that doesn’t function, tends to fail.

This is totally connected to self-knowledge, right?

Self-knowledge is functioning itself.  Self -knowledge is a dangerous idea, because it puts you in a very self-contemplative, introspective situation – me with my things, me isolated on this magical and marvelous mountain. Self-knowledge, in this case, is recognizing how I function, identifying my actions and being able to interfere upon them.

The Body & Globalization

It is necessary to recognize the body as a living process and not just as an individual production in the framework of a family, a Reichian psychoanalytic and bioenergetic perspective which is, in my point of view, insatisfactory.  The body has a belongingness to the bigger world, I mean, to political, physical and social ecologies. This has become very evident since 1968, when globalization started at the same time as student movements and Latin American military coups. Since then capital has become multinational. The world continued to open and arrived where it is today, totally global, and this made it clear that the body is a planetary process continually happening.

How Does Globalization Affect our Self-Discovery?

The same thing that scares us with the speed and all the dangers of death, attracts us.  We remain in a level of excitation, information, and fear.  The same power that informs us and scares us offers solutions called fast forms. They are easy solutions in the form of easy behaviors so that we manage to remain inside the social network.

But these easy solutions immediately replenish our dissatisfaction and put us back in that place of how am I going to deal with self-esteem, self-management, the continuation of my processes, my somatic maturation, from embryo to old age. This requires constant fine-tuned adjustments from me, that are not the ready-made adaptations offered by fast forms.

Can you give some examples of Fast Forms?

In magazines, movies, and TV you encounter recipes for relating to everything- lifestyle, consumption, and image.  All of these shapes are purchasable, their advertisements teach you how to live. There are manuals for everything, all the time. The possibility of inventing your own life has become very small.

Do Facebook and other social networks also dictate forms of happiness and success? How do we deal with this?

There is a trend to make a spectacle of our lives- as public, as a celebrity, as success.  Self-esteem is related to this, your life compared all the time with certain ideal models published with greater or lesser levels of social acceptance. It is difficult to mature in the sense of encountering solutions that are completely yours. There is the question of youth, the question of the eternalization of life. For example, I am going to be 69 years old, I am looking to live a life that is more and more real and less and less idealized. The question is: how do you make a life that is yours and include it in a social network the size of which you can deal with for real relationships.

How do we position ourselves in this world without being in the fast form models?

Constructing your life step by step without comparing what you are obtaining or what is emerging from you to ready-made models in order to see if it is going well or not.

There is a greater truth that is identifying the process of the production of yourself. The production of yourself goes in “loopings,” it is not a linear process.  In one life, there are many lives happening, it is not just one life; it has many dimensions, it is a bundle of threads, each one with its own lifespan.  There are bodies that last a long time in us. I was a mother for a loooooong time, for example!  The body keeps dreaming with itself, the dreams gain molecules, and from there, become forms.

Life has all the processes that you need to learn. You don’t come with this knowledge. And the market took over this process of the transmission of experience, which is a profit strategy. You are not going to turn into a Maori to avoid this, but you can regulate the extent to which you are a victim of consuming an image or how much you appropriate from these images in the crafting of yourself.

In yoga philosophy, you are not the roles you play, whether that is a mother or a philosopher: you are something more that connects you with a larger, universal force. How do you see this?

Certainly we are a part of something much larger, that is the biosphere, the planet, which are part of a universal force. Up to there, we are in total agreement.  I also agree that we do not need thoughts like “if I don’t make it, I am a nobody.” which are a type of identification with something small.

But there is something that requires a greater sensibility within social processes of what bodies do, of what you experience, that make huge differences. There is the force of the market,the sphere of social influence. The point is to turn your attention to a more political frame and to live consciously.  It’s important to know which forms are pressuring you and which are helping.  Even if there is this bigger force.  The body is a pulsating pump, it is not a muscular object.  It expands, contracts, absorbs, and gives back in many directions.  It is permeated with channels.  The body squeezes substances, images, and events, and transforms them into a tissue of experience, into a neural map, and transforms them into a form of action of territory, of products, of objects of language, and connects itself with others.

Do we have control over this pump?

This requires a good education, as any action requires learning.

If I watch TV and want to be just like a top model, what should I do?

Like any other identification with ready-made models, these women are programmed to destroy our self-esteem. They are producers of dissatisfaction, for you to buy the thing you don’t have. You can feel the destabilizing effect that these images have on you and continue to align with your own unique process.

There is so much social pressure that your own choices about the script of a more singular life are discarded because of the social person, with the illusion of inclusion. Today’s greatest fear is being excluded.

How do you gain self-esteem?

You connect with yourself and discover your brightness.  And it is your shine that makes you unique, this is the key.

Is it like a mini-enlightenment?

It is more than that, it is creating biodiversity. We live on a planet where the tendency is toward shrinking biodiversity because of homogenizing forces.  Therefore, when you shine, it is not just an individual pleasure, it is a contribution to biodiversity.  The brilliance is a production of difference.

The Body in Yoga Practice

When you are practicing, you can ask yourself: who is doing this posture? It’s not worth doing a beautiful movement or getting upset because you can’t do enough.  Who is doing this asana?  How do I do this?  Gather here, reach there, harden that, breathe this way.  Even though I may know all of these instructions, there is a way that my body here, does this. What behaviors are included in this way of doing things?  How do I do this historically?  Maybe in a dense manner- tightening myself.  Muscularly with the tendency to make myself more dense. When I am more dense, what information arises from me, about me?  Am I exposing myself less to a singular experience (in reference to biodiversity), am I protecting myself, with fear, wanting to seem bigger than I am, wanting to be stronger?  I am avoiding feeling fear, which is to say, leaving the present moment.  I am using the resource of my form, which is historically in me, that I recognize always doing things in this way.  This is who, who does things in some way. Which is always a way of protecting myself from the present.

If I do a yoga practice, it is so I can learn to be in the present. What for? So that I can learn from what is effectively here and now, in which I can structure my experience and expand my action, without isolating myself by means of strategies from the past. It is my structure here, right now that is doing this. It can be a more current structure or a structure full of past history hanging on old behaviors that still act in me.

It’s not enough to get a massage to be free of them. It’s necessary to know how they work in me, how I can intervene so that they move and appear as other possibilities, and structure themselves within new limits. The form is a limit.

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