Phenomenology. As I was reviewing phenomenology and hermeneutics for my Advanced Qualitative Methodologies class I remembered a simple contemplative exercise that I was introduced to in a graduate fine arts class that brought awareness to the pre-reflective stage of cognition. I think that the originator of the exercise was the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark (1920-1988). I’m offering my recollection of it in the hope that you will enjoy it as much as I did. Here’s how it goes:
You need the following materials:
- 1 stone. The stone should be 1.5 to 2” in diameter, give or take.
- 1 plastic bag. The bag should be the kind you find in the vegetable section of the grocery store — the clear or slightly frosted kind you pull from a roll. This exercise doesn’t really work with ordinary plastic bags, so you have to get this part right!
- something to write on and with.
1. Fill the bag with air and tie a knot at the opening to keep the air in.
2. Put the stone on the bag.
3. Hold the bag in your hands with the stone balanced on it.
4. Just experience how this feels for a while.
5. Notice what comes to mind.
6. When you are ready, put the bag down and write.
If you need prompting, think about the relationships between the stone, the bag, the air, and yourself. What happens when you move, even slightly? What sensations do you become aware of? What do you feel? What thoughts arise? Where do they go? How do sensations, feelings, perceptions and thoughts arise, influence one another and change? Where does this lead you?
As I recall, some of the final writing pieces produced by my colleagues had only the faintest traces of the stone and the bag. But that didn’t matter. The point of the project was to heighten one’s awareness of the fluid, uncertain and interdependent relationship of matter and mind in its multiple aspects and to give voice to the experience that unfolds. What begins as a sensorial experience becomes contemplative and, finally, reflexive.
Phenomenology bodes well in the arts where the emphasis is on the senses and the practice of working mindfully with materials in the world matters.
The awe I experienced holding this simple construction in my hands seems miles away now. But that one moment, that one teaching and learning moment, continues to inform me.