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The Body Finds Itself in Language and Language Finds Its Home in the Body

From a Paper/Presentation delivered at a 1996 Conference Sponsored by the New England Center for Existential Therapy entitled "Heeding the Call of Being"

In this brief paper, I discuss how the body first comes upon itself and comes to be itself as body in the discursive movement we call language. I also discuss how language finds itself embodied, arises from and returns to and as embodiment.

When I speak of the body, I am speaking of that elephant in relationship to which all of us blind persons live. This body is an elephant and not a serpent and what elephant means is alive with possibilities that belong to the elephant in this relationship.

Finally, I would like to offer a prayer, both for myself and the world. Our beginnings always speak of a mysterious and undeniable givenness that permeates our existence. This givenness cannot, I believe, be overcome by any deconstructive analysis. Further, as Heidegger states; "As soon as we are born, we are old enough to die." However we may understand this fact, it too cannot be overcome. Our end is with us always driving us back upon ourselves and the mysterious ground of givenness. Our lives are a tenuous gift and 'we neglect this that at our peril. I pray that we all can submit to the ground of the gifting of our existence and learn to attend to this ground, to let our speaking find its aliveness and purpose from this prior listening and attention. This begins to address the question of developing practices that honor and facilitate our staying in the circle of this movement to which we are given.


This is an invitation to let your awareness travel around your body and find different places to settle down. This is an invitation to clear to allow a clearing to develop inside yourself and outside of yourself and to listen from the different resonant centers of consciousness; the center in your solar plexus, your heart, your third eye and the top of your head, your belly and below. This is an invitation to see how the speaking resonates in and from these different centers of consciousness, to see what thoughts, words, emotional resonances land and/or arise from these different centers of your being. There is a circle here, the arising-from and returning-to that moves in all directions at the same time. This is "self" as relational movement, as the clearing that clears in and by its movement, the movement that moves us and to which have been given over in its movement and as shepherds of and witnesses of and to the movement. In this talk, let us all try to play in the play of the circle.

The 'Word'

For Lao Tse, "The way that can be named is not the true way." In Jewish liturgy, there are many names for G-d. None of these are G-d's true name. This name cannot be know and spoken. However, in the beginning there was the word. Naming is foundational as the act of creation. Naming shatters the darkness and divides the darkness and light, at the same time, spanning both in the naming. Lao Tse names as question. G-d's unnamable naming names qualities without foreclosing on the aliveness and irreducibility of G-d (thus G-d remains unassailable to a postsmodern critique). For Heidegger, what distinguishes human existence is that the question of the meaning of Being is, for us an issue. That we raise the question (of the meaning of Being/G-d) at all signifies that we live in a relationship with and some understanding of Being; we live this as a questioning, as a clearing, which clears and is cleared again and again.

What is Phenomenology.

Phenomenology refers to that discursive relationship wherein the Being of the relationship is given place and comes to light as having a place.

Phenomenology is grounded in whatness, in the question of the Being of that which is to be taken up, of that which takes up thought. The logos/discourse presupposes a listening and a speaking. Whether or not anything is said, there is something to be said, to be brought to light in its Being as what it is 'as' disclosed in a discourse.

We are called to attend. Our radical incompleteness grounds our Being as question, as open essentially to the question of the meaning of Being. This call is discursive and calls us to take up our place in the discourse that is always going on. Yet the discourse cannot go on without our participation. We submit to the demands of the discourse. We are the servants of the discourse. This is what defines our Being as human beings.


There is no human discourse without words being somehow present. The absence of words is a distinct presence. Images live in immediacy, they cannot, in the immediacy of their way of being, gather and hold open. Language is able, through its dynamic structure, to accommodate though not contain Being. Words are linked associationally to every other word. They resonate to and from places that cannot finally be named but that move us to speak and move in our speaking. We always say more and less than we intend.

"In the beginning there was the word" is not to be taken metaphorically.

The cry of loneliness, fear, pain all mark and bring light to and bring to light the darkness. As the cry finds words, the darkness is filled with a soothing and fierce presence that names the darkness and connects the cry with the life that moves it to cry.

All our speaking is a cry.

The 'as' which, belongs to speaking about the body 'as' body, has to do with the disclosedness of the Being of the body as body. This is the result of that discourse that is phenomenological.

Further Inducement

Allow yourself to imagine that you are in your office with a client or that you are in the office of your therapist. Sense the physical space and where you are sitting or standing. Notice how your body feels occupying that space, what it is like to be resonantly present in that space.

Notice the silence, the listening that fills and clears the space. The listening brings a human presence to whatever is. The listening is cleared for and constitutive of an ongoing discourse that is particularly evident in the silence. Noise, chatter, everyday yakkity yak often obscures the discourse that is always already going on.

The silence is in-formed by a lifetime and a human history of speaking words. The consciousness that attends and holds open the space for discourse has been in-formed by language. Language provides a kind of architecture that sustains the shape and openness of consciousness.

Think of the difference between hearing your child cry with glee at seeing you and hearing your somewhat older child say, hi daddy. The cry delights and warms the body/mind. The hi daddy, does the same and something more. The felt sense of hearing the hi daddy, gives greater throw, specificity, articulates and links the articulation to the world of greetings and good-byes. The human self-relationship and human self-presence of the boy saying hi daddy is greater.

Words make the absence present. When I am gone, my son can feel my absence as a presence because he holds the word daddy in his heart/mind. This word is a fluid piece of architecture that in-forms consciousness and frees that consciousness for the openness of being with me even when I am not there.

The body is in-formed by that capacity to make the absent present. The body can now hold the resonant sense of being that only language can hold - hold because naming sustains and frees. When my son repeats the word daddy to himself, he vibrates with the resonance of the word. When he speaks the words, hi daddy, the resonance changes and is energetically extended out towards me, his dad. I, in turn resonate through the rich human chain of linguistic associations with those words.

The mind/consciousness, as informed by language, gives the body an audience. The body has always born the possibility for discourse. Without the properly in-formed mind, their is no discourse and the body cannot come to light 'as' it can be in a discourse. The listener completes the circuit that potentiates the discourse, formerly latent and now realized.

Language in-forms consciousness so that the body can be listened to for the first time.

The listening that is structurally at the heart of language arises from and returns to its home in the body. The body finds itself, for the first time, in listening's return home. It is dangerous to stray far from home. The world is in the current crisis because of the ways that western thinking has strayed so far from home. It is time to return to that mysterious home that is both essential and provisional and that always calls us to attend. The horizons of existence can be found in this relationship, our birth as a gift and our death as a living reminder that drives us to return home with love and care and careful and respectful attention.

I believe that western thinking has strayed far from home. I believe that this millennial journey has been a kind of skeptics journey that has born much fruit as well as created much violence. I believe the journey away from home is at an end and that it is time to return home. I believe that our skeptical minds can return to practices - meditation, prayer, religious practices of various kinds, focusing, socially responsible practices, community building practices - and reinvigorate these with a profound and sober and loving skepticism that is intolerant of fundamentalism, that won't accept counterfeit and narcotizing interpretations of these practices, that remains radically open and alive in these grounding and world and self nourishing and nurturing ways of being.


1996, David Stern, Psy.D., 261 Wickendon St. Providence R.I., (401) 274-2844

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1997. ]