Response to Mitch Hall’s Commentary on “Practicing Proprioceptive Dialogue” (Steven Rosen)

I appreciate Mitch Hall’s thoughtful reflections on Proprioceptive Dialogue. His references to concepts and practices related to PD are a welcome contribution.

I agree with Hall on the helpfulness of Morris Berman’s book, Coming to Our Senses. Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin also seems quite relevant to the subject of cultural history and embodied awareness (for an interpretive exploration of Berman, Gebser, and others, see Topologies of the Flesh, Chapter 6). Finally, to Hall’s list of practices related to PD, I would add social self-inquiry, a group investigation based on social psychiatrist Trigant Burrow’s pioneering experiment in intentional community. See the website of The Lifwynn Foundation.

Let me now respond to Hall’s questions. He first asks:

How do 20 to 40 people who persevere as a group in ongoing meetings, with the primary concern of each to explore their own “hidden agendas,” attend and respond to one another?¬† Such a group sounds surprisingly large for the purpose of dialogue in which each expresses his or her voice.

In Bohm’s approach (developed in conjunction with the work of group psychotherapist Patrick de Mare), the idea was to create a dialogue that went beyond the “family dynamics” arising in small groups to a more public group experience, so that social issues could be explored dialogically in a social forum. This purpose was presumably met in the so-called “median group” of 20 to 40 participants. However, in my own experience of dialogue, the median group in which I participated in fact did not seem very proprioceptive, whereas my work in smaller groups has been more so. Nevertheless, I do believe it is possible in a group of 20 or more for people to disclose their hidden agendas and be deeply receptive to one another, though it might be more challenging, with fewer participants having the opportunity to fully voice their concrete reflections and feelings.

Another good question raised by Hall: “Can individuals engaged primarily in group dialogues with one another cultivate refined levels of introspective, proprioceptive skills¬† without the benefit of also engaging in primarily nonverbal, somatic practices, whether vipassana, yoga, sensory awareness, or qigong, for example?” In dialogue groups I have known, members quite often have also been involved in many of the practices Hall mentions. In one group, sensory awareness was systematically incorporated into the dialogue, and a yoga instructor in another group has begun integrating dialogue into his teaching.

As for the question of whether “participating in such a group affect[s] participants’ relations outside the group,” it is hard for me to imagine that the effects of sustained and serious involvement in PD would be entirely limited to the group setting. My guess is that — to a greater or lesser extent and depending on the individual — there is some spillover into participants’ external relationships. In their general dealings with the world, would regular PDers find themselves more aware of their own hidden agendas and projections? Would they have a greater capacity to listen more attentively and deeply to others? Group members often informally report such effects. I do agree with Hall that interested investigators could go beyond anecdotal accounts to conduct systematic research in the area.