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awareness, we can learn to feel when we are contracting our muscles more
than is necessary and in places that con¬‚ict with the ef¬cient execution
of the movement desired; and such knowledge can instruct us to make
the movement more successfully and with greater ease and grace. This
improved way of performing the movement and its attendant proprio-
ceptive feelings can then be reinforced into a new and better habit of
action.41

41 An abundance of clinical cases attesting to the success of this melioristic strategy can be
found in the literature relating to the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method.
Besides the writings of Alexander and Feldenkrais (some of whose works have already
been cited in this and earlier chapters), there is considerable secondary literature, more
extensive with the Alexander Technique which is the older method. See, for example,
Wilfred Barlow, The Alexander Technique: How to Use Your Body Without Stress (New York:
Knopf, 1973), whose second edition (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1990) also con-
tains Nikolaas Tinbergen™s testimony (from his lecture in receiving the 1973 Nobel Prize
for Medicine) concerning the logical cogency of the Technique™s core strategy and its
Deeper into the Storm Center 167

Recall the example of the batter. Though a batter should bat best when
his attention is ¬xed on the ball and not on his own body, a slumping
batter may discover (sometimes through an observant coach) that the way
he places his feet and grips his toes, or the way he too tightly clenches
the bat, puts him off balance or hinders movement in the rib cage and
spine, and thus disturbs his swing and impairs his vision of the ball. At this
point, conscious attention must be directed to the batter™s own body and
somatic feelings so that he can recognize the bad habits of stance and
swing, inhibit them, and then consciously transform his posture, grip,
and movement until a new, more effective habit of swinging the bat is
established. Once it is established, then focused attention to these bodily
means and sensations of swinging can be relinquished to sink back into
the unattended background so that the batter can focus wholly on the ball
he aims to hit. Nonetheless, since his very skill of somaesthetic awareness
has itself also been reinforced by this exercise of introspection, it can be
reapplied with greater ease and power in future cases where his habits
prove inadequate, including a relapse into the earlier habit he has just
corrected.
Pragmatism™s melioristic respect for means should have made James
more appreciative of the instrumentality of bodily consciousness in
improving our habits and achieving our ends of action. But he followed
the dominant tradition of philosophers who stress the dangers of somaes-
thetic introspection for practical life. Kant, for example, vehemently
protested that the practice of examining such inner feelings “is either
already a disease of the mind (hypochondria), or will lead to such a dis-
ease and ultimately to the madhouse.” Such introspection of sensations,
he argued, “distracts the mind™s activity from considering other things
and is harmful to the head.” Moreover, “the inner sensibility that one
here generates through one™s re¬‚ections is harmful. Analysts easily get
sick. . . . This inner view and self-feeling weakens the body and diverts it
from animal functions.”42 In short, since focusing on one™s inner bodily
feelings is harmful to both mind and body, we should eschew such intro-
spection.

practical success. See also Frank Jones, Body Awareness in Action: A Study of the Alexander
Technique (New York: Schocken, 1976), which includes clinical accounts and experimen-
tal studies on the effects of heightened consciousness and conscious control.
42 Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. Victor Dowdell

(Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996), 17; and Re¬‚exionen zur Kritischen
Philosophie, ed. Benno Erdmann (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1992), 68“69 (my
translation).
Body Consciousness
168

Sharing Kant™s “tendency to hypochondria,” and fearing “those intro-
spective studies which had bred a sort of philosophical hypochondria” in
his own mind, James concurs that “there is . . . no better known or more
generally useful precept in the moral training of youth, or in one™s per-
sonal self-discipline, than that which bids us pay primary attention to
what we do and express, and not to care too much for what we feel.”43
Since feelings and action are intrinsically connected (for feelings involve
action and are deeply in¬‚uenced by it), we can do better, James argues,
by focusing simply on action to get a handle on our feelings, especially
because feelings are far more elusive and harder to manage. To con-
quer unwanted emotions (such as depression or sullenness or fear), we
“must assiduously, and in the ¬rst instance cold-bloodedly, go through
the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to
cultivate.” For “by regulating the action, which is under the more direct
control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”
Thus to attain or regain cheerfulness, we should simply “act and speak as
if cheerfulness were already there.” “Smooth the brow, brighten the eye,
contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak
in a major key” (GR, 100; PP, 1077“1078). James repeatedly urged this
method not only in technical and popular texts but also in private advice
to his family, exhorting his homesick daughter Peggy to “bottle up your
feelings,” “throw up your arms 3 times daily and hold yourself straight.” “My
˜dying words,™” he wrote to his younger brother Robertson in 1876, “are,
˜outward acts, not feelings!™”44
Though right to advocate the value of bodily actions for in¬‚uencing
our feelings, James fails to recognize the corresponding importance of
somatic feelings for guiding our actions. We cannot properly know how
to smooth the brow, if we cannot feel that our brow is furrowed or know
what it feels like to have one™s brow smooth. Similarly, those many of
us habituated to poor posture cannot manage to hold ourselves straight

43 William James, “The Gospel of Relaxation,” in Talks To Teachers, 99; hereafter I refer to this

essay as GR. On James™s hypochondria, see Perry, TCWJ, who also cites James™s mother™s
complaints about his excessive expression of “every unfavorable symptom” (361). On
the “philosophical hypochondria” of “introspective studies,” see James™s letter to brother
Henry of Aug. 24, 1872, in C1:167. Just as Kant publicly avowed his “disposition to
hypochondria” in The Con¬‚ict of the Faculties [ trans, Mary J. Gregor (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1992), 189], so James repeatedly confessed, in private correspondence,
to being “an abominable neurasthenic.” See, for example, his letters to F. H. Bradley and
George H. Howison in C8:52, 57.
44 C9:14; C4:586.
Deeper into the Storm Center 169

in a way that avoids excessive rigidity and arching of the back (which
constrains our breathing and performance and will lead to pain) with-
out a process of learning that involves sensitive attention to our pro-
prioceptive feelings. This was a lesson that James™s disciple John Dewey
later inculcated, having learned it from the somatic educator-therapist
F. M. Alexander. James™s unfeeling insistence on vigorous dorsal contrac-
tion and stiff upright posture is thus a sure prescription for the kind
of back pain he indeed suffered throughout his life, just as it is surely
an expression of his puritan ethics more than a product of careful clin-
ical research. If “action and feeling go together” (GR, 100), as James
shrewdly remarked, they both need our careful attention for optimal
functioning.
James feared that somaesthetic introspection would inhibit action and
destroy the energies, spontaneity, and positive attitude he considered cru-
cial for success in practical life. As mental “inhibition” undermines our
“vitality,” so “hyperesthetic” body sensitivity lowers one™s “pain-threshold,”
thus heightening our inhibition to act and diminishing our energy.45 We
must instead free our action and even our thought “from the inhibitive
in¬‚uence of re¬‚ection upon them,” James argues in “The Gospel of Relax-
ation” (GR, 109). “Unclamp . . . your intellectual and practical machinery,
and let it run free; and the service it will do you will be twice as good”
(ibid.). This advice to “trust your spontaneity” (ibid.) obviously builds on
James™s emphasis on the usefulness of habits. But what if our habits are
¬‚awed, as they very often are? To act spontaneously will simply reinforce
these bad habits and the damage they cause. We cannot correct these bad
habits without inhibiting their free ¬‚ow, nor can we learn improved bod-
ily habits without paying attention to the different somatic feelings that
these new ways of using one™s body involve. Because somatic inhibition
and re¬‚ection are crucial in forming more fruitful and intelligent habits,
they are tools rather than obstacles to practical life, though they can be
misused (or overused) like any other tool.
Ironically, in the very same essay on relaxation, James blames bad bodily
habits “of jerk and snap” as the source of “American over-tension” with its
hurried “breathlessness” and “too desperate eagerness and anxiety.” To
counter these “bad habits” of “over-contraction” of our muscles, which in
turn induces an “over-contracted . . . spiritual life,” James urges “the gospel of
relaxation” (GR, 103“105, 107) based on the work of the contemporary

45 James, “The Energies of Men,” 1225“1226, hereafter EM.
Body Consciousness
170

somatic and spiritual writer Annie Payson Call.46 But how can we ensure
that our muscles and breathing are “all relaxed” (GR, 104) without
inhibiting our prior habit of over-tensing them and without attending
to the different somatic sensations of muscular relaxation and excessive
tension so that we can track the former and avoid the latter?
Besides the inconsistency of urging both spontaneity and the spurning
of bad habits, there is an unresolved tension between the essay™s gospel of
relaxation or “ease” and its earlier touting of “muscular vigor,” “athletic
outdoor life and sport” as the key to overcoming inhibiting timidities and
instilling better “spiritual hygiene” (GR, 102“103, 107). Such emphasis
on robust muscular effort and striving is far more in tune with James™s
repeated advocacy of “the strenuous mood” of living with “hardihood”
and “toughness” over “the easy-going mood” of relaxation and “moral
holidays.”47 James seems to sense the problem of consistency when insist-
ing that the needed relaxation involves a full moral letting go rather
than a willful effort “to become strenuously relaxed” (GR, 112). One
way to explain James™s very uncharacteristic urging of moral and physical
release (and its odd conjunction with athleticism) is to recall that the
essay originated as a lecture to a school for women gymnasts, which was


46 James refers primarily to her 1891 book, Power through Repose, though later invokes, with
respect to moral relaxation, her later book A Matter of Course. James may have derived
the phrase “gospel of relaxation” from the English evolutionary philosopher Sir Herbert
Spencer, a frequent object of James™s study and critical discussion. On a visit to America
in 1882, Spencer commented in a Boston newspaper that overworked America had “too
much of the ˜gospel of work.™ It is time to preach the gospel of relaxation.” See Feinstein,
190.
47 See “The Moral Philosopher and The Moral Life,” and “The Moral Equivalent of War,” in

The Writings of William James, ed. McDermott, 627“628, 669, and “The Absolute and the
Strenuous Life,” in The Meaning of Truth, in William James: Writings 1902“1910, ed. Kuklick,
941. In the latter essay, James™s overwhelming preference for the strenuous attitude is
highlighted by his contrasting it to that of “sick souls” in need of “moral holidays,” thus
implicitly identifying the easygoing mood of relaxation with (mental or moral) sickness.
James similarly argues for “strength and strenuousness, intensity and danger,” and the
“heroic life” of “human nature strained to its uttermost” as crucial elements for making
life signi¬cant rather than ¬‚at and zestless (in “What Makes a Life Signi¬cant?” Talks to
Teachers, 133“134). He likewise praises “the supreme theatre of human strenuousness”
and “strenuous honor” in contrast to “unmanly ease” (in “The Moral Equivalent of War,”
666, 669). True to his tolerant pluralism, James, however, acknowledged that some people
¬nd real joy in a simple life “of both thinking of nothing and doing nothing” and urged
that we respect their forms of life and happiness (so long as they are not harmful), even
if we ¬nd these forms “unintelligible” (“On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings,” Talks
to Teachers, 127, 129).
Deeper into the Storm Center 171

then repeatedly used as a talk for women™s colleges.48 An unabashed (if
unconscious) sexist, James had no trouble af¬rming a double standard
of strenuous living for men and relaxed ease for women that would help
keep the latter happily at home where they could better care for the stress
of their striving males.
Such explanations, however, do nothing to resolve the crucial prob-
lem of reconciling effort and relaxation, since men and women need to
integrate both elements into their lives “ not in terms of consecutive ¬ts
of frenetic activity and total collapse but ideally through performing the
effortful with more relaxed ease. Relaxation per se was a dif¬cult value
for a puritan like James to embrace, but it could be recommended as
a tool for better health and functioning, just as occasional “moral holi-
days” could be justi¬ed only as “provisional breathing-spells, intended to
refresh us for the morrow™s ¬ght.”49 Conversely, as James knew from per-
sonal experience, relaxation could be pursued under the guise of illness,
which would allow even a puritan to rest from normal responsibilities yet
have his vigilant “Arbeitsmoral ” conscience satis¬ed by a “work-schedule”
of restful therapy at the spa.
Another problem is that James™s essay exhorts us to relax but fails to
instruct us how. Relaxation implies a proper degree of tonus, a balance
of tension and release in the muscular system. But a person who does
not know experientially what this state feels like and how, practically, to
achieve it will ¬nd little help in the injunction to relax and will not know
how to comply with it.50 The fallacy of James™s simple exhortation to relax
all our muscles is not only that we need an appreciable degree of muscle
contraction to hold ourselves functionally together but also that the only
directly voluntary way to relax a muscle is by contracting its antagonistic
one. Although James advises relaxation through slower breathing and a
diminishing of unnecessary muscle contractions, he says nothing about

48 This lecture to the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics concludes that “What our girl-
students and woman-teachers most need nowadays is not the exacerbation, but rather
the toning-down of their moral tensions” (GR, 112). James repeated the talk at Wellesley,
Bryn Mawr, and Smith, and referred to it as his “female College address.” See C2:389,
C8:96.
49 James, “The Absolute and the Strenuous Life,” 941.
50 I learned this from my clinical experience as a professional Feldenkrais practitioner. Many

people I have worked with simply did not know what it felt like to release from certain
chronic patterns of excessive contraction in their upper back, neck, and rib cage, and thus
were unable to relax the muscles there until they were coaxed by bodily manipulations
into the desired release from these contractions.
Body Consciousness
172

the means to achieve this, not even evoking the methods in fact described
in Call™s book.
The sole practical recommendation James ends up offering is just to
give up trying and trust in God. The way to relax oneself, “paradoxical as it
may seem, is genuinely not to care whether you are doing it or not. Then,
possibly, by the grace of God, you may all at once ¬nd that you are doing
it, and, having learned what the trick feels like, you may (again by the
grace of God) be enabled to go on” (GR, 112). More than paradoxical,
this method is excessively vague and overly reliant on supernatural prov-
idence. It is also, given the lecture™s target audience, suspiciously sexist.
Not only radical feminists will be shocked by James™s call for women edu-
cators to slacken their striving, forsake critical attention to their feelings,
and instead simply trust their spontaneous habits (largely the product of
patriarchal domination) and their faith in the Divine Patriarch. Finally,
since James™s proposed method of relaxed trust in the divine also relies
on attending to “what the trick feels like,” it contradicts his claim that we
should disregard examination of our feelings and instead concentrate
only on action to regulate them.
To argue in James™s defense that somatic philosophy need not pay more
explicit attention to speci¬c somatic methods would be inconsistent with
his own pragmatic concern for the concrete. James™s personal correspon-
dence displayed an eager interest in expounding the details of many of
the somatic regimes he tried, and his presidential address to the American
Philosophical Association (“The Energies of Men”) was largely devoted
to advocating a systematic study of the speci¬c means for increasing our
energies by tapping more deeply into “our possible mental and physical
resources,” of which we normally use “only a small part” (EM, 1225). Such
extension of our individual powers, James argued, would also bring wider

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