In the lead up and during my most recent conversation with Jordan Peterson I came to a new depth of understanding around the idea of the 4 fundamental connections and why movement is actually the most important foundation for any practice of self development.
If you have been reading our blogs or watching the podcast, you’re probably aware of the idea we have put forward that there are 4 fundamental areas of practice: movement, mindfulness, nature connection and community.
We also find that within movement there are 4 pillars of practice: body integrity practices, body to environment practices, body to object practices, and body to body practices.
Finally, we see these as facilitating the 5 fundamental relationships that an individual has with being:
1. The relationships internal to the self
2. The relationship of self to the environment as a place that we must move ourselves through
3. The relationship to the objects we can manipulate to use as tools and toys
4. The relationship to the other living agents around us
5. The relationship to the transcendent principles and collective intelligences we live within.
We believe meaning in life is contingent on the depth and sophistication of our relationships along these 5 dimensions.
I have had a sense for many years that movement is necessarily the base of this capacity to relate to being and to become a self.
In preparing for my discussion with Jordan and during it I came to a deeper description of why it is movement that must be at the base of the self development pyramid.
Meaning & Movement
In the first chapter of his book Maps of Meaning, Jordan claims that “meaning is… implication for motor action”, or the configuration of the world map that guides our action. Meaning grounds in movement.
As I thought about how to present to him how our work with EMP integrates with his work in Maps of Meaning, I started thinking about the development and neurobiological lenses.
As infants, the process of figuring out the meaning of our selves and our relationship to the world is done through movement.
An infant does not have a narrative self; they do not have words that articulate what they experience. They only have sensations, embodied reactions, and a small set of motor actions (i.e. breathing, crying, nursing, grasping, defecating, urinating, arching, curling, and gazing) at their disposal to begin making sense of existence.
Through using these basic actions they can begin feeding in concert with their mother, they can begin to attune emotionally with their parents and other caregivers, and they can begin to resolve the world through developing their eyes.
As they develop more complex motor capacities the world starts to afford them new meanings both internal and externally.
For instance, babies go through a period of fascination with their fingers and then their feet, they put these in their mouths as the mouth is the most neurological developed part of a baby at birth. Through mapping with their mouth the baby begins to refine their own map of their body.
As all this is happening, the meaning of the body is not simply physiological or structural, emotion is embodied, joy is expressed in nursing, in a smile, in a the posture of the eye muscles, negative emotions are expressed in arching backs, tensed fists, and scrunched up facial muscles. Our primal expression of emotion is inherently coupled with motor outputs.
Only as we age are we able to inhibit the motor circuitry associated with an emotion so we can feel angry and not hit, scream, or throw a tantrum.
We internalize and abstract our experience of emotion, but it all starts in movement.
Similarly, our capacity for a narrative self, with a stream of verbal consciousness, is downstream of motor outputs. We learn to associate sounds with getting things we want. When the child first expresses, “mom”, or “want”, or “no”, again this is associated with gesture and movement that expresses the child’s needs. The words of course are themselves motor outputs and neurological research shows that when we think in words we are in fact firing the motor circuitry associated with the motions of the vocal tract that would make those words.
To think in images likely relies on firing of motor circuitry in the visual system, and as we grow and learn to make art, crafts and write or type we are mapping in new ways to move that can be abstracted into the mind as means to shape thought through neurology that first developed to control movement.
The layer I have been calling body integrity practices can also be described as the somatic and structural layer of development, and just as the child maps themself through movement, we are also always mapping the integration of our own structure, psyche and emotional selves through movement.
When we do not move, we are in fact allowing that map of self to begin to erode.
Then as we begin to move we are in fact mapping into the nervous system the meaning of the environment we move through via movement, this why small children are so intrinsically driven to engage in exploratory locomotor play; its how they make the world real within themselves.
And this is equally true for social and relational others, starting with nursing, then simple games like peekaboo, then developing into wrestling, dancing, chasing, and shared acrobatic movements as we develop. This is actually the foundation of how we come to know each other.
Once again, we will necessarily have poor maps of the full nature of our family, friends and lovers if we have never wrestled, danced, worked, and played together physically.
I now believe that Mindfulness, Nature Connection and Community practices can all be seen as derived from the developmental priors of movement.
Mindfulness is an abstraction that derives from the somatic and sensory layer of the movement practice.
Nature connection practices like foraging, tracking, weaving, rope making, shelter building, bird languages, etc… are derived from our fundamental exploratory, locomotor and manipulative capacities first expressed in play.
Community practices such as verbal dialogue, story telling, rituals etc are also all derived from the fundamental prior of interactive physical play.
Movement comes first in the cultivation of meanings, and we are suffering a profound loss of meaning in our culture because we have failed to understand this, our philosophy is totally alienated from our gymnasia and we are all vastly poorer for it.
The mission of Evolve Move Play is to rediscover meaning and wisdom through the body and its fundamental interactions with the world.