Becoming another: connected selves

My previous post critiqued the notion of humans becoming animal. I argued that humans are animals, so we can’t become animals. But there’s actually a much more interesting angle to all this. Ignoring for a moment species boundaries, what does becoming another being mean?

Anne Game is an academic – a sociologist – and a keen horse rider. One morning her horse, KP, became inexplicably paralysed and she had to relearn how to move. As part of her healing process KP wanted the relationship with Anne that came from being ridden. At first the horse found it hard; Anne was fearful of hurting the horse – or herself – and progress was slow. But a dramatic shift happened when Anne let her body move as if she and KP were cantering: “To help her to remember canter, my body had to take up this movement. The between horse and human movement canter had to be generated for KP to entrain with it, to get in the flow” (Game, 2001).

We might say KP learnt to canter again though Anne’s movement. But that’s not quite it: the horse/human, the centaur that is KP/Anne learnt to canter again. As Anne puts it, “I propose that we are always already part horse, and horses, part human: there is no such thing as pure horse or purely human. The human body is not simply human”.

From this perspective it became clear to Anne that her own fear had been holding back KP’s initial efforts. “The protectiveness I felt was more likely to have been self-protection, a consequence of identification. And identification is clearly inappropriate in the circumstances, for it involves being too close, too attached to be able to be with the other and feel what they need. When I identify with you, your situation becomes mine: closed off in separateness, I thus lose the capacity for the other to be called up in my self”.

horse

Becoming horse is not about identification. It requires something more subtle. Anne proposes a “a forgetting of human self in a between-human-and-horse way of being” that however retains a “a fearless capacity for otherness and difference”. Anne suggests that this models how effective therapy needs to offer a “non-attached holding of self and other”. Anne doesn’t say much more about that, but it’s a profound insight that I hope to unpack myself in future posts.

If we take ourselves to be self-contained, autonomous beings in an world of others, then much of what happens in therapy is mysterious. If, however, we understand subjectivity as a phenomenon that emerges from a complex flux where bodies are not discrete, then our therapeutic work – and many other, otherwise inexplicable phenomena – become clearer.

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2 Responses to Becoming another: connected selves

  1. Jay says:

    Hi Adrian,

    “propose that we are always already part horse, and horses, part human: there is no such thing as pure horse or purely human. The human body is not simply human”

    yes, I see things not too differently: we live in a sea of energy, not just human, but bird, cat, plant, insect, horse and so on. There is no differentitation, its all matter, its just that usually we are ‘tuned into’ the human part of the sea. There are no boundaries between matter, its just that our thinking establishes barriers that aren’t actually there.
    In lucid dreams perhaps we may fly like a bird, having tuned into another part of the sea.
    The shapeshifting shamans enter into a waking trance and armed with their ‘connectors’ tune into some other ‘being’
    For example, my sea-eagle feathers (which have all been gifted from the land of the the resident sea-eagles here including one very special feather which was dropped down from a sea-eagle as I was walking underneath) are the connector to another part of the sea. Entering into a no-mind trance, or probably more acurately a heightened awareness, together with the feather, I tap into sea-eagle energy. Its not that one is trying to imagine what a sea eagle must be thinking but rather certain traits which may include (greater vision & head movement for example) occur. A shift in energy occurs, an accessing from one part of the sea to another.

    So, for what its worth, I think the story of Anne and KP speaks to this occurence.

    Kind wishes, J

  2. Adrian Harris says:

    Yes, this concurs with my one experience and that of shamans I’ve spoken to. But there seems to be a tension with David Abram’s experience of becoming a raven, described in ‘Becoming Animal’. I’ll need to re-read it, but it sounds like he is making an effort to identify with the raven – in contrast with what I read in Anne Game -“becoming horse is not about identification”. Then he describes how it is to be in the raven’s mind, seeing what it sees, which again is different from the experiences I’ve had or heard of. A topic for another blog post I think.

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