A surprising place in which to find a way to describe coming home is in the aesthetics of Immanuel Kant (1734–1804). Although Kant does not make this comparison specifically, because of the close connection between beauty, order, and feeling-based judgments, a case can be made that his analysis of the appreciation of beauty can also serve as an elucidation of the experience of homecoming. (For a more in-depth approach to Kant’s aesthetics than I can provide here, see my article, “An Ontology of Appreciation: Kant’s Aesthetics and the Problem of Metaphysics,” Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 13, no. 1 (January 1982): 45–68.)
For Kant, the appreciation of beauty is not a frivolous pursuit of pleasant experiences. The power of beauty to profoundly move us lies in its ability to engage us in the free play of the same cognitive processes we employ in the pursuit of knowledge.
As cognitive beings we are always in search of knowledge. In advance of any experience of order, we are prepared and ready to find order. But, because we are also limited beings, we can neither fully comprehend nor prove this order.
Therefore, in order to practice science we must adopt a heuristic principle that assumes that nature is in harmony with our rational demands for order.
In the appreciation of beauty, this heuristic principle is unexpectedly confirmed and we find ourselves at ease and at home in a humanly habitable world filled with beauty.
The appreciation of beauty gives us an experience similar to the profound gratification we feel when we make breakthroughs in our pursuit of knowledge. We are profoundly moved in the appreciation of beauty because it sets in motion the same harmonious, orderly, intellectual activity that we enjoy when we are engaged in research.
In the appreciation of beauty, however, we are freed from the constraints and rigors of the kind of rationality required by the pursuit of objective scientific knowledge. As a result, we can revel in the joy of coming home to a world that appears specifically designed and ordered for us.
The pleasure we feel is the product of the deep gratification that comes from experiencing that our need for order is profoundly confirmed. Although there is no designer, natural beauty seems specifically designed to give us the kind of pleasure we as cognitive beings would most enjoy.
The important difference between science and the appreciation of beauty is that beauty comes into being without the benefit of concepts. Ultimately, beauty is the non-conceptual revelation of the activity through which all of this appears and disappears. Great works of art and the beauty of nature are windows to the world before it is conceptualized.
You do not have to agree with all the details of Kant’s approach to appreciate the depth of understanding involved in describing what it feels like to come home. It is significant that both [Philosopher Samuel] Todes [1927–1994] and Kant see in us a deep need for orderliness.
Remarkable as Kant’s elucidation is, however, something critical is missing. Conspicuously absent from Kant’s exposition of the kind of orderliness revealed in the appreciation of beauty is any reference to the body. Surely, the delight and ease we feel in the presence of beauty is also a bodily comprehension.
Great art and the beauty of nature move us, sometimes profoundly. They do not just give us a pleasure limited to cerebral free play. Our feeling-nature is joyfully released in the vertical. Being embodied means that we have found our true home, and our whole body participates in the appreciation of beauty and the experience of self-discovery it calls forth.
This kind of joyful homecoming is nothing if it is not comprehended by our feeling-nature and body as a whole.
Kant’s aesthetics allowed us to uncover this deep-seated need for order at the heart of our quest for knowledge. But this constitutive need is not limited to our cognitive facilities. It is fundamental and all pervasive—it involves the whole of us right down to the cytoplasm of our cells.
To return home is to find a world filled with beauty and a world to which we can belong.
Everything seems to participate in a celestial harmony, grand in its purview yet utterly simple in its presence. We are greatly moved by the sheer beauty of it all while embracing and being embraced by a magnitude of order that cannot be specified. Because it is known without concepts, it is beyond words.
Yet, it is utterly and conspicuously obvious to our feeling-nature. Homecoming is not just about cerebral free play. It is also about our upright body being released in gravity and dancing in the free play of verticality where our world makes sense and supports us as we make our way home.
Homecoming is the event of embodiment, an event so close to us that we often need to be reminded of its importance.
First and foremost, holistic manual therapy is about coming home to our bodies, to the balanced integration of core and surface in the uplifted but grounded free play of our verticality in gravity.
As [Rolfing Structural Integration developer] Ida Rolf, [Ph.D.], repeatedly said, when the body is organized in gravity, gravity is no longer the enemy of the body but its liberator.
We get in trouble when the order-thwarters are greater than the body’s ability to freely and orthotropically appropriate gravity in the free play of the vertical. But when the organization of the body is improved upon, aches and pains begin to disappear, the conflicts and fixations that weigh us down begin to dissipate, and we begin to wake up to new possibilities for our life.
Coming home is coming home to our bodies.
Kant’s homecoming, while exposing our fundamental need for order, is just a bit too cerebral. In order to underscore the importance of the body, you could say that Rolf discovered the somatic secret of alchemy—a morphological imperative or somatic analog of the need for habitable orderliness and the means to bring it about.
Comparing the art of Rolfing to how chemists determine the purity of substances, she says, “. . . if the angles are not sharp, show only sporadically, while the bulk of the material is ill-defined or amorphous, the chemist is warned that his substance needs further purification . . .”
Analogously, as bodies approach integration in gravity through the shaping process of Rolfing, they take on a more and more integrated well-defined form, and, as a result, function more economically and exhibit easy, coordinated movement. The more well-defined the body becomes, the deeper one’s experience of freedom, sense of place, and sense of belonging becomes.
When a body attains an integrated well-defined form, it manifests the beauty of normality: “And, when you see normal structure, all of a sudden you say, Why yes, of course, I recognize this as normal structure. Oddly enough, we all have intuitive appreciation of the normal.
When we see something that is normal we say, Isn’t that beautiful?, Doesn’t he move beautifully? etc., etc. Nobody asks you to define that beauty, everybody recognizes it. It’s an intuitive appreciation of normalcy.”6 Thus, we can say the homecoming consists of realizing the beauty of normalcy.
To those who may be put off by the word “normal,” remember that Rolf also said, “Average is not normal.”
In our initial attempt to get a felt-sense of what holistic manual therapy is and what it aspires to, we saw that it was able to handle a great many of the physical complaints clients present.
In addition, we uncovered a potential for self-discovery and growth. As a preliminary way to give voice to this potential, I likened it to a homecoming. Perhaps the most obvious but least appreciated feature of homecoming is that it is a bodily event.
Homecoming is coming home to my body at ease and free in a humanly habitable world. A body that feels at home, whose feeling-nature is free of conflict and fixation, and is at ease in an ever-changing world is a body integrated in gravity.
Élie Metchnikoff, the father of immunology, coined the word “orthobiosis” to describe the ever-ongoing striving of life to improve upon and enhance itself and its circumstances.
With respect to human beings orthobiosis must also include orthotropism, the body’s ever-present search for the vertical. As we begin to find integration in gravity our movement becomes more coordinated and less encumbered. We find ourselves dancing free in the integrated and grounded verticality of our upright bodies.
Manual therapy is simply the conscious expression of these orthobiotic and orthotropic impulses toward our own enhancement. Orthobiosis also extends its reach to our environment. We can see the results of our orthobiotic striving everywhere in our ceaseless shaping and improving upon of our environment.
The word “radical” means “to return to the root.” In that sense, manual therapy is the most radical approach to shaping and enhancing our selves. It goes to the source and works with the body’s own strivings to enhance itself.
Living in a habitable world presupposes, of course, that there is a beautiful and habitable world that can be perceived. But sometimes the suffering is too much and we resort to armoring ourselves against the struggle with gravity and too many order-thwarters. We rigidify, densify, or make ourselves too soft in a futile attempt to protect ourselves.
Unfortunately, such a defense makes it much more difficult to appreciate the beauty of the habitable world. When our body is in this kind of defended state, the beauty of the habitable literally makes no appreciable impression upon us—we become immune to being moved by beauty.
Thus, it is no stretch of the imagination to say that manual therapy is the conscious expression of orthobiosis. Shaping the body and its relation to the environment through manual therapy is one of the most direct and powerful ways to make it possible to find our way home.
The comfort of embodiment, the ability to feel at home and at ease almost anywhere, is an expression of the freedom that arises when we fully embrace where we already and always are.
From Embodied Being by Jeffrey Maitland, Ph.D. Published by North Atlantic Books, © 2016 Jeffrey Maitland. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
About the Author
Jeffrey Maitland, Ph.D. (jeffreymaitland.com) has spent most of his adult life deeply investigating Zen practice, philosophy and the nature of healing. He is a Zen monk, a Certified Advanced Rolfer™, a former professor of philosophy at Purdue University, and a philosophical counselor. He is also a Board Certified Diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management.