Have we lost our mind? I’m not talking politics here, though of course, that’s beyond dispute. What I mean is a longer question, with its roots at least as far back as Descartes building a wall between the heart and the mind—and in some cases, deporting it entirely to another country. Much of Western thought places knowledge exclusively in the mind and schools are built around that notion. Book-learning has been the main mode of acquiring knowledge, filling the brain with second-hand information often purposively divorced from the heart and the body in the name of some apparent objective truth. We fill our offices with neck-tied men who cut off circulation to the lower half of the body, watch talking heads on TV jabbering about what they think is important for us to know.
Meanwhile, in the real world, knowledge lives elsewhere— or at least has multiple addresses. The Balinese place real knowledge in the liver, the Zen meditator centers knowing around the hara near the belly-button, the character in the film Stormy Weather watches a tap dancer and exclaims, “You sure have educated feet!” Someone in the Ghanaian village asked about his thoughts on the new chief replies, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him dance yet.”
These thoughts surfaced after a day of delightful workshops at the Orff Conference in Atlantic City. After a scary few years of seeing more and more Power-point presentations with participants sitting passively in chairs, the old Orff spirit has re-surfaced with folks with shoes off out on the floor and the teacher embodying the music and communicating directly from gesture to gesture, body to body, voice to voice. The Orff approach at its best is not business as usual, but rather a radical return to the intelligence of the hand, the wisdom of the heart, the knowledge felt in the liver, information gathered from bare feet on the floor, all released through play and humor and social contact.
In the past two days, I’ve felt that alive buzz in the room return, the kind that gets put to sleep by too many directions put up on the screen and people filming with their i-Pads. It gives me hope that Orff’s promise is coming into a new Spring. Wildflowers breaking through the crusty layer of unimaginative thinking, the soil again moist and breathing.
“The heart is the new mind” says some poster available on the Internet and you might also add the Body in there and start to trust again that we know things in inexplicable ways and that the most important things we know are stored in our bones and muscles and mysterious synaptic pathways. It’s good and perhaps necessary to make them conscious and name them, but first we have to feel them and trust them and live them, let the intuition lead the intellect into the bright sunlight of consciousness. That’s why the Orff approach attracted me and why I think it continues to attract others— a new/old way of knowing much needed in our narrow-caverned thinking.
Thanks to the young teachers in this Conference and beyond who are carrying that torch forward!