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tend to fade into the stable felt background that frames our conscious
focus, and that focus tends anyway to concentrate not on the discrim-
ination of bodily feelings but on the discrimination of external things
(PP, 430). Particularly hard to examine are habitually concomitant sen-
sations of bodily activities, whose different feelings “ since they almost
always come together “ are extremely dif¬cult to introspectively single
out from the total combination of feelings to which they belong: “The
contraction of the diaphragm and the expansion of the lungs, the short-
ening of certain muscles and the rotation of certain joints, are examples”
(PP, 475). In the latter example, James further notes, we generally over-
look the feelings of both muscle contraction and joint rotation, because
our interest is instead absorbed with the movement of the limb, which is
felt concomitant with these other feelings. The practical nature of con-
sciousness is what explains our strong tendency to focus on the limb™s
movement rather than on the internal feelings of movement in the mus-
cles and joints which actually initiate the limb™s movement; our interest
Deeper into the Storm Center 161

naturally goes toward the limbs because they are more directly in contact
with our goals of movement, such as reaching for an apple, kicking a ball,
leaping over an obstacle (PP, 687, 829“830).35
2. Beyond targeting problems of somatic introspection, James suggests
some practical ideas for making it more effective, strategies that are essen-
tially derived from his study of two key principles of attention: change and
interest. As human consciousness evolved to help us survive in an ever
changing world, so its attention is accustomed to, and requires, change.
“No one can possibly attend continuously to an object that does not change” (PP,
398), James explains, in pressing the paradoxical argument that in order
to keep attention unchangingly ¬xed on the very same object of thought,
one must somehow insure that some kind of change is introduced in the
object, even if this is only a difference of the perspective from which it is
examined as an object of thought. Similarly, as consciousness evolved to
serve our interests, so continued interest is required to sustain attention.
We cannot focus for long on things that do not interest us, and even one™s
interest in the thought of something one cares about (say, one™s right
hand) can soon be exhausted unless one ¬nds some way of reviving that
interest and introducing some change of consciousness. Though James
does not formulate them clearly, seven distinct strategies of somaesthetic
introspection can be derived from his discussions of attention, discrimi-
nation, and perception.
a. “The conditio sine quˆ non of sustained attention to a given topic of
thought is that we should roll it over and over incessantly and consider dif-
ferent aspects and relations of it in turn,” James asserts; and one very use-
ful means to do this is by asking a variety of “new questions about the object”
on which we want to ¬x continued attention (PP, 400). Such questions
provoke renewed interest in the object by prompting us to reconsider it
in order to answer the questions. Moreover, the very effort of considering
the questions effectively changes the way or aspect in which the object
is perceived. It is hard, for example, to keep our attention focused on
the feeling of our breathing. But if we ask ourselves a series of questions
about it “ is our breath deep or shallow, rapid or slow? is it felt more in
the chest or in the diaphragm? what does it feel like in the mouth or in
the nose? does the inhalation or exhalation feel longer? “ then we will be

35 These feelings of joint and muscles are felt but simply absorbed as signs of the limb™s
movement and thus they are typically ignored, since consciousness tends to leap imme-
diately from the sign to the interesting thing signi¬ed. Indeed, even our awareness of the
limb™s movement tends to get occluded by our interest in the external object to which
that movement is directed, the ball to be kicked, the apple to be picked, and so on.
Body Consciousness

able so sustain attention much longer and introspect our feelings more
b. The principles of change and interest are likewise basic to the intro-
spective body scan. This important tool of somaesthetic re¬‚ection, which
is deployed by numerous body-mind disciplines (from Asian-inspired
varieties of meditation to Western techniques like Feldenkrais Method),
involves systematically scanning or surveying one™s own body, not by look-
ing or touching from the outside but instead by introspectively, propri-
oceptively feeling ourselves as we rest essentially motionless (apart from
breathing), typically with our eyes at least partially closed. Though James
does not use the term “body scan,” he clearly grasps its core importance,
basic logic, and its challenging dif¬culty. If we try to examine our “cor-
poreal sensations . . . as we lie or sit motionless, we ¬nd it dif¬cult to feel
distinctly the length of our back or the direction of our feet from our
shoulders.” Even if we succeed “by a strong effort” to feel our whole self
at once, such perception is remarkably “vague and ambiguous,” and only
“a few parts are strongly emphasized to consciousness” (PP, 788). The
key to a more precise bodily introspection is therefore to systematically
scan the body by subdividing it in our awareness “ directing our focused
attention ¬rst to one part then to another, so that each part can be given
proper attention, and a clearer sense of the relations of parts to whole can
be obtained.36 The transition of focus not only provides the sense of change
that continued attention requires, it also provides renewed interest with
each newly examined part presenting a new challenge. Moreover, this
transition of introspective probing from one body part to another helps
in providing successive contrasts of feeling, and such contrasts help sharpen
the discrimination of what we feel.
c. If asked to assess the felt heaviness of one of our shoulders as we lie
on the ¬‚oor, we are not likely to get a clear impression of this feeling.
But if we ¬rst focus on one shoulder and then on the other, we can
get a clearer impression of each by noticing which feels heavier and rests
more ¬rmly on the ¬‚oor. Contrast makes feelings easier to discriminate,37

36 James treats this as a principle for attention to any large whole. “The bringing of subdivisions

to consciousness constitutes, then, the entire process by which we pass from our ¬rst vague feeling of
a total vastness to a cognition of the vastness in detail ” (PP, 793).
37 James (PP, 463“464) notes two sorts of contrast: “existential ” and “differential.” The ¬rst is

the simple contrast between whether the feeling (or, more generally, element) in question
is actually there or is absent, without considering the speci¬c nature of that element.
Differential contrast is a matter of contrasting the nature of the existing feelings (or
elements). Both kinds of contrast can be helpful in somaesthetic introspection. We can,
Deeper into the Storm Center 163

and contrasts of succession are more discriminating than simultaneous
contrasts.38 So focusing ¬rst on one shoulder and then the other is far
more effective for noticing how our shoulders feel than the method of
trying to combine our attention on the feeling of both shoulders in one
simultaneous perception. When it comes to more global discriminations
of body experience, as when trying to feel which parts of the body feel
the heaviest or densest or tensest, it is even clearer that we cannot rely on
a simultaneous comparative grasp of the feelings of all our body parts,
but must instead proceed by successive examination and comparison of
parts. That is what a body scan is all about.
d. Besides the use of focusing questions and the transitions, subdi-
visions, and contrasts of the body scan, James™s discussion of attention
suggests further strategies for maintaining the interest necessary for effec-
tive somaesthetic introspection. One is associative interest. Just as the faint
knock of an expected lover will be heard over louder sounds because the
listener is interested in hearing it (PP, 395), so we can stimulate atten-
tion to a bodily feeling by making its recognition a key to something we
care about: for example, the recognition of a certain feeling of muscle
relaxation or rhythm of breathing whose presence and perception can
sustain a feeling of repose that leads into desired sleep.
e. Attention to bodily feelings can also be enhanced by the strategy of
warding off competing interests, since any form of attention constitutes a
focalization of consciousness that implies ignoring other things in order
to concentrate on the object attended (PP, 381“382). That is why intro-
spective body scans and other forms of meditation are performed with
the eyes closed (or half-closed) so that our minds will not be stimulated by
perceptions from the external world of sight that would distract our inter-
est. Internal perception is thus indirectly improved by blunting external

for example, learn to discriminate a previously unnoticed feeling of chronic muscular
contraction in our antigravity extensors by suddenly feeling what it is like to have those
muscles relaxed (say, through the work of a somatic therapist who supports our weight)
and thus to have a momentary absence of the contraction. But we can also learn to
discriminate the degree of felt tension in, say, a clenched ¬st by the contrast of intensifying
the ¬st™s muscular contraction through one™s own greater effort of ¬‚exion or through
the therapist™s squeezing of that ¬st (or even the other ¬st).
38 James cites experimental evidence to show that among differential contrasts, those of

succession are more discriminating than those of simultaneous perceptions. “In testing
the local discrimination of the skin, by applying compass-points, it is found that they are
felt to touch different spots much more readily when set down one after the other than
when both are applied at once. In the latter case, they may be two or three inches apart
on the back, thighs, etc., and still feel as if they were set down in one spot” (PP, 468).
Body Consciousness

perception. Somaesthetic introspection can also be sharpened by other
methods of indirection. For example, when we are lying on the ¬‚oor, we
may be unable to feel which parts of our body are not making contact
with the ¬‚oor, but we can come to notice them by ¬rst attending to which
parts of our body are felt to make such contact. Though James does not
mention this indirect tactic of introspection, it could be accommodated
by his strategy of contrast.
f. Still another technique for sharpening our attention to a feeling
we are trying to discriminate is by preparing for or anticipating its per-
ception, since “preperception . . . is half of the perception of the looked-for
thing” (PP, 419). With respect to somatic introspection, such preparation
(which in itself heightens interest) can take different forms. One can pre-
pare oneself to discriminate a feeling by conceptualizing where in one™s
body to look for it or by imagining how it will be induced and felt there.
Such conceptualization and imagining clearly involves linguistic thought,
which means that language can be an aid to somaesthetic insight, though
it can also be a distracting obstacle when the range of language is assumed
to exhaust the entire range of experience. While emphasizing the limits
of language and the importance of nameless feelings, James realizes that
language can improve our perception of what we feel.
g. Linguistic tags or descriptions, for example, can make a very vague
feeling less dif¬cult to discriminate by tying that feeling to words, which
are much more easily differentiated. James argues, for instance, that the
different names of wines help us discriminate their subtly different ¬‚avors
far more clearly and precisely than we could without the use of different
names.39 The rich and value-laden associations of words can, moreover,
transform our feelings, even our bodily ones. For such reasons, the use
of language to guide and sharpen somaesthetic introspection “ through
preparatory instructions, focusing questions, and imaginative descrip-
tions of what will be (or was) experienced and how it will (or did) feel “
is crucial even to those disciplines of somatic awareness that regard the

39 James notes how the use of verbal description for a previously nameless quality can make

the feeling of that quality more distinct: “the snow just fallen had a very odd look, different
from the common appearance of snow. I presently called it a ˜micaceous™ look, and it
seemed to me as if, the moment I did so, the difference grew more distinct and ¬xed
than it was before” (PP, 484). In a very different context, T. S. Eliot argued that the poet™s
role, by forging new language, is to help us feel things that could not otherwise be felt,
thus “making possible a much greater range of emotion and perception for other men,
because he gives them the speech in which more can be expressed.” See T. S. Eliot, To
Criticize the Critic (London: Faber, 1978), 134.
Deeper into the Storm Center 165

range and meaning of our feelings as going well beyond the limits of

A prominent feature of James™s philosophy of mind is his tendency to
translate the ¬ndings of his psychological research into moral maxims
and practical methods for the improved conduct of life. His theories of
habit, will, emotion, and self provide striking examples of this.40 But for all
his study, practice, and advocatory discussion of somaesthetic introspec-
tion, James does not develop his insights into practical ways of deploying
its heightened awareness for enhancing our performance in the wider
world of action. While James af¬rms other bodily-related methods of self-
improvement, somaesthetic introspection remains con¬ned to an obser-
vational role in psychological theory. Considering the robustly pragmatic
tendency of his thought, this failure to transform theory into practice
seems surprising and regrettable.
James, however, had reasons to doubt the value of such introspection
for the practical business of life. First, it seems to con¬‚ict with his advocacy
of leaving as much as possible of our practical daily life “to the effortless
custody of automatism” or habit (PP, 126); it also runs awry of what he
calls the “principle of parsimony in consciousness” (PP, 1108). Focused
attention to bodily feelings “would be a super¬‚uous complication” (ibid.)
that distracts us from the true ends of our practical enterprises rather
than aiding their realization. Of course, at an early stage of learning, the
singer may need to think “of his throat or breathing; the balancer of his
feet on the rope.” But these forms of “supernumerary consciousness” are
eventually best avoided in order to achieve true pro¬ciency by concen-
trating on the ends “ the right note or the pole one is balancing on one™s
forehead (ibid.). As James later puts it, “the end alone is enough”; “we
fail of accuracy and certainty in our attainment of the end whenever we

40 His four practical maxims on habit are (1) to acquire a new habit or be rid of an old,
we must “launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible.” (2) “Never suffer
an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life .” (3) “Seize the very ¬rst
possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you
may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain.” (4) “Keep the faculty of effort alive
in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day” (PP, 127“130). James™s account of the self as
an amalgam of different selves, leads him to offer a formula for raising self-esteem (PP,
296“297), his account of the will as attention delivers a method to combat alcoholism
(PP, 1169“1170). The maxim emerging from his account of emotion will be discussed
later in this chapter.
Body Consciousness

are preoccupied with much ideal consciousness of the [bodily] means”
and the internal (or “resident”) feelings they involve: “We walk a beam
the better the less we think of the position of our feet upon it. We pitch
or catch, we shoot or chop the better the less tactile and muscular (the
less resident), and the more exclusively optical (the more remote), our
consciousness is. Keep your eye on the place aimed at, and your hand will
fetch it; think of your hand, and you will very likely miss your aim” (PP,
James is right that in most practical situations, when our already
acquired habits are fully adequate to perform the actions and secure the
ends we desire, it does not seem helpful to focus attention on the bodily
means and feelings involved in such actions. But, in his ultimate example
to make this point, he nonetheless highlights the bodily means of keeping
the eye focused on the target, which may sometimes require attending
also to other bodily means that help secure the eyes™ directional focus.
Moreover, as already noted, our habits often prove insuf¬cient, either
because new situations require unfamiliar forms of action or because our
habits are simply defective, so that the desired action is either not per-
formed successfully or is performed in a way involving excessive effort,
pain, or other negative consequences. In such cases, a careful attention
to our bodily means (and attendant feelings) of action can be very help-
ful, not only in improving the performance of the particular action on a
single occasion but also in constructing improved habits for performing
that action (and also other actions) in the future. Through such focused


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