COTENTION AND BODILY AWARENESS 'FROM WITHIN'
Concepts of Embodiment of Trigant Burrow and
. . . till all at once, as it were, out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state, but the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond words, where death was almost a laughable impossibility, the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction but the only true life. . . . I am ashamed of my feeble description. Have I not said that the state is beyond words?
Alfred Lord Tennyson 
The human species is on the threshold of a new way of being in the world, a way which is evolving from our perception of being opposite to and alienated from our physical and social environments to recognizing, as Woollcott describes it, the "interrelatedness" of all aspects of the universe, experiencing ourselves as integral components of the world, and feeling a sense of solidarity with each other. While our propensity for conflict and destruction is abundantly apparent in the wars and oppression seen around the world, and in our pollution and destruction of our environment, there are also many signs of a trend toward an alternative mode of adaptation.
Feuerstein notes that Jean Gebser postulated this evolutionary step has been underway since the beginning of the 20th century, manifesting itself, among other ways, in philosophy, literature, painting, physics, biology, psychology and sociology. Different aspects of our relationship to the world are the focus of attention in these different areas of study: in philosophy, the forms or structures of consciousness, the relationship of mind to body and self to objects; in literature and poetry, the use or style of language; in painting, transcending the use of perspective; in physics, the structure of matter, space and time; in biology, the integrated structure and functioning of organisms, e.g., homeostasis; in psychology, the emergent awareness of unconscious processes, intuition, Gestalt and humanistic principles; and in sociology, the influence of culture on mental and social development.
This article is an attempt to elucidate aspects of humanity’s emerging consciousness by linking the bio-psycho-social approach of Trigant Burrow with the phenomenological philosophical approaches of Jean Gebser and Merleau-Ponty, as set forth by Elizabeth Behnke in her article, World without Opposite/ Flesh of the World.
COTENTION: PERCEIVING OUR INTERRELATEDNESS
Humans begin life, as other species do, as integral elements in the “seamless web” of nature. Trigant Burrow used the term preconscious to point to an organic authority
experienced by man in the precognitive, prejudicial phase of the mental life that is concomitant with the late prenatal and early natal development of the physiological organism. This preconscious period represents... a mode of completion and fulfillment, of uninterrupted confluence and totality.
He viewed the infant as being in tensional rapport–coterminous–with his mother, and in that state experiencing a “strifeless phase of awareness.”
Preconscious processes, therefore, constitute
the biological substrate of the cohesive feelings and motivations which bind man to his fellows and to his physical world. This unitary phase is primary to consciousness and exerts a powerful influence on subsequent aspects of man’s life.
In Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience Burrow gives many examples of the manifestations of preconscious processes in human activities, from music, poetry, and the arts to mystical experiences and the highly skilled performances of surgeons and athletes.
During the course of our evolution humans have, however, developed a second form of consciousness which has made it possible for us to make an adaptation to our environment that, paradoxically, both promotes our well-being and threatens our very survival as a species. This mode of consciousness, referred to as mental-rational consciousness by Gebser and higher order consciousness by Edelman, arose during human evolution with the elaboration of the cerebral cortex and subsequently with the faculty of language. In contrast to even our closest primate relatives, we are endowed with the ability to create words or symbols that stand for or represent the objects and events that occur in the world around us and within us. As Ernst Cassirer put it,
Yet in the human world we find a new characteristic which appears to be the distinctive mark of human life. The functional circle of man is not only quantitatively enlarged; it has also undergone a qualitative change. Man has, as it were, discovered a new method of adapting himself to his environment. Between the receptor system and the effector system, which are to be found in all animal species, we find in man a third link which we may describe as the symbolic system. As compared with the other animals man lives not merely in a broader reality; he lives, so to speak, in a new dimension of reality.
. . . No longer in a merely physical universe, man lives in a symbolic universe. Language, myth, art, and religion are parts of this universe. They are the varied threads which weave the symbolic net, the tangled web of human experience. . . .No longer can man confront reality immediately; he cannot see it, as it were, face to face. Physical reality seems to recede in proportion as man's symbolic activity advances. Instead of dealing with the things themselves man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself. He has so enveloped himself in linguistic forms, in artistic images, in mythical symbols or religious rites that he cannot see or know anything except by the interposition of this artificial medium.
Humanity, therefore finds itself in a profound dilemma. We now possess a powerful tool, our ability to use language, which constitutes a potent constructive and destructive force in our dealings with our physical and social worlds. On the one hand, we have developed the intellectual wherewithal to build skyscrapers and tunnels, airplanes and automobiles, hydroelectric and atomic energy plants, metropolises and the United Nations. On the other hand, we have developed the tendency to fragment ourselves into alienated egos and prejudiced opposing groups, created weapons of mass destruction, dictatorships, million-man armies and terrorist organizations.
Burrow noted that we now suffer from "an inadvertent but nevertheless biologically unwarranted overemphasis on both the word and the head that produces the word." Wilber concurs, saying, language by its very nature creates a "split in the universe between the knower and the known, the thinker and thought, the subject and the object. . ." Hence, we have entered a mode of consciousness or attention that divides us from our environment and from ourselves.
Burrow named the mode of attention that has developed with the advent of language "ditention" to emphasize the division or split between the observer and what he observes; and he coined the term "cotention" to refer our innate preconscious mode of experiencing that entails an awareness of our unitary, organismic processes. These processes provide "a more unitary, cohesive type of experience. . . the sense of inner completeness and the feeling-continuity with all things. . ," "the cohesive feelings and motivations which bind man to his fellows and to his physical world."
Throughout his career Burrow pursued the goal of transcending the ditentive mode of relating, as it was manifested in the group setting among his colleagues and students, and in phenomenological research involving kinaesthetic practices he referred as the cotentive technique. These endeavors are described in other articles on this web site, including Prescription for Peace and Trigant Burrow and the Laboratory of the I by Alfreda Galt.
WORLD WITHOUT OPPOSITE/FLESH OF THE WORLD
Burrow began developing his revolutionary theories and explorations in human consciousness in the United States in the 1920's within the framework of psychoanalysis and biology, publishing The Social Basis of Consciousness in 1927 Concomitantly, very likely it was the Zeitgeist, developments were taking place in Europe in the field of philosophy where Edmund Husserl was discovering "a new terrain of consciousness and . . . an extraordinary method."
Elizabeth Behnke has written extensively about the theories of many, including Husserl, Gebser and Merleau-Ponty. In World without Opposite/ Flesh of the World she sets out to elucidate "the corporeal foundation sustaining the natural attitude itself. . ." By "corporeal foundation" she means: the foundation for experience provided by the "lived body"–
a general manner of rendering oneself present to something through the body; its typicality is that of a pervasive and operative style of corporeal constitution. . . “The body," says Merleau-Ponty, "is our general medium for having a world.”
The existence of a bodily or corporeal foundation of consciousness is a central concept in phenomenology and is germane to consideration of the concepts referred to by Gebser as "world without opposite" and by Merleau-Ponty as "flesh of the world."
In World without Opposite/Flesh of the World15 Behnke attempts to elucidate the implications of the role of bodily experience by contrasting two different perceptual styles or experiential modes, which she labels separative seeing and bodily awareness from within. Her approach to these alternative styles of perception is to give experiential examples (which she urges the reader to actively try out himself/herself) in order to provide the basis for phenomenological explanations of each style.
Separative seeing constitutes our habitual mode of awareness of our subjective and objective environments and "permeates the whole of our everyday life." This perceptual is our characteristic manner of rendering ourselves present to the world and the "power that seeing exercises over the seen." Behnke identifies five aspects of separative seeing: distance, perspectivity, alienation, staticity, and typicality. In her words:
The typical perceptual style emerging in this description is one in which a subject faces an object, over there [at a distance] and other [alienated], in such a way that the subject is limited to a perspective. Both subject and object are typically static, and the style as a whole is a general manner of rendering oneself present to something through the body; its typicality is that of a pervasive and operative style of corporeal constitution.
Consider, for example, our typical manner of perceiving another person as we walk down the street, e.g., a man with a gray beard sitting on a stoop. We assume the role of subject or viewer facing the individual. He is experienced as other than oneself, and statically representative of a certain class of beings, a "man," occupying a fixed position in space. Moreover, we typically classify various features about him: his age ("middle aged"/"elderly"), his manner of dress ("neat"/"disheveled"), his ethnicity ("white"/"black"), etc.
The perceptual style of separative seeing seems to correlate quite closely with Burrow's ditentive mode of attention, which constitutes the basis for our social alienation, as well as, our alienation from inanimate objects. Although Behnke does not address the question of the role of language in perception, Burrow argued that the use of language dominates human perception, and that our propensity for symbolically classifying reduces people to members of one class or another, e.g., a sex ("male"/"female), a race ("white"/"black”), a religion ("Catholic"/"Protestant"/ "Jew"/ ”Muslum”), etc. Consequently, we reduce people, to a large degree, to objects, interfering with our perceiving them as other living, breathing persons.
Moreover, the classifications provide the material for our mode of relating to our physical and social worlds. For example, compare your affective reactions to your perception of the person sitting on the stoop, if you were to perceive him as a "disheveled," "elderly," "white," "Catholic," "man" vs a "neatly dressed," "middle aged," "black," "Muslim," "man."
In both instances, a separative or ditentive attitude would have been adopted, and the resulting perceptions, as well as, behavioral dispositions toward the individual, would be alienating; the stage would be set for the manner of dissociative relating that typifies most human social relationships.
Behnke offers the perceptual style of bodily awareness 'from within' as a radical contrast to separative seeing. Whereas we tend to be oblivious to the experience of our body while engaged in separative seeing, bodily awareness 'from within' arises from perception of the "internal flux" or "kinaesthetic field" that is spread throughout our body.
The term is a reference . . . to the body sense that is a “feeling-through” my lived body (including its appropriated “extensions”). . . a concretely reflexive living-through the moving corporeal “conditions” by which we are “rendered present to something.”
She summarizes a phenomenological description of perceiving her body while lying down as follows:
Whereas separative seeing yields static objects “over there,” optimally given as clearly bounded figures against ground, bodily awareness ‘from within’ yields a dynamic “hereness” that displays “spread” without clear “edges.” And while separative seeing transfixes the ego as well as its objects, bodily awareness ‘from within’ moves in a fluid self-awareness that does not require perspectival orientation. It is characterized by “mineness” rather than alienation and by “living-in” rather than contemplating as an object.
In short, bodily awareness 'from within' is characterized by dynamism, not staticity; an aperspectival, not perspectival, orientation; a sense of inclusiveness or spread, not distance; and a sense of "mineness," not alienation. Moreover, the perceptual style of bodily awareness 'from within' can occur as we employ vision, hearing, touch, taste and olfaction. In other words, we can perceive the whole spectrum of sensory events 'from within,' and thereby enrich our perceptions by embodying them.
How would we perceive the man on the stoop 'from within'?
First, we would feel ourselves as dynamic, and thereby recognize and empathize with his dynamic Beingness. Secondly, we would not view him as if we were gazing from a fixed position or perspective from behind our eyes at an object occupying a particular position in space, but, rather, from multiple perspectives (at different moments in time); and experienced as included within a shared space. Hence, we would be open to him as a fellow human with whom we can feel a sense of acceptance and solidarity.
To summarize, an alternative exists to humanity's alienated, conflictful way of being-in-the-world. We no longer have to experience ourselves as detached from and in opposition to others. We can learn to attend to the dynamic processes inherent in our Being and thereby become aware that we exist in an intimate, interconnected relationship with our fellow humans and the world as a whole.
To realize this potentiality we can engage in various somatic practices, such as developing bodily awareness 'from within' and Burrow's cotentive technique. These practices will facilitate transcending our tendency to pass over in silence the experience of our body, the very core of our Being, and thereby set the stage for containment and integration of our out-of-control symbolic faculty within our whole Being. Consciousness of our corporeal or biological substrate–bodily awareness 'from within'– and our symbolic consciousness will interpenetrate to become cotention. With this shift in the center of gravity of our consciousness, a radical and adaptive reorientation to the physical world and to our fellow human beings will take place, which will be experienced as "lucid awareness" or, as Tennyson described it, ". . . the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest . . . the only true life . . . "
1. Quoted by Maurice Nicoll in Living Time and the Integration of Life ( London: Vincent Stuart, 1952), p. 64.
2. Woollcott, P. Jr. See Varieties of Conscious Experience on this web site.
3. Feurerstein, G. Structures of Consciousness (Lower Lake, CA: Integral Publishing, 1987) p. 130
4. Burnshaw, S. The Seamless Web (New York: Braziller, 1970)
5. Burrow, T. Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience
(New York: Basic Books, 1964) p. 104
6. Ibid., p. xvii
7. Burrow, T. Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience
(New York: Basic Books, 1964)
8. Feurerstein, G. Structures of Consciousness (Lower Lake, CA: Integral Publishing, 1987) p. 41
9. Edelman, G. Consciousness: The Remembered Present.
In P. C. Marijuan, Ed. Cajal and Consciousness (New York: N.Y. Academy of Sciences, 2001), p. 113
10. Cassirer, E. An Essay on Man (New York: Bantam, 1970) p. 27
11. Burrow, T. Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience
(New York: Basic Books, 1964) p. 112
12. Wilber, K. Two Modes of Knowing. In R. Walsh and F. Vaughan (Eds.), Beyond Ego (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1980) p. 234
13. Burrow, T. Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience (New York: Basic Books, 1964) p. 71
14. Ibid. p. xvii
15. Behnke, E. World without Opposite/ Flesh of the World. Posted in Varieties of Consciousness on this web site.
16. Burrow, T. The Social Basis of Consciousness. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927)
17. Natanson, M. A. Edmund Husserl: Philosopher of Infinite Tasks. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973) p. xiv
18. Behnke, E. World without Opposite/Flesh of the World p. 7
19. Ibid., p. 8
20. Ibid., p. 12
21. Ibid., p. 9
22. Ibid., p.11
23. Ibid., p. 15
24. Ibid., p. 16
25. Ibid., p. 23
26. Ibid., p. 17
27. Rosen, S. M. (1997). Wholeness as the body of paradox. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 18, 4, 391-424..
28. Behnke, E. Personal communication with the author in which Dr. Behnke stresses the point that "lucid awareness . . . is a matter of autonomy in context of (rather than abstracted from) connectivity, rather than egoless confluence . . .”
 Quoted by Maurice Nicoll in Living Time and the Integration of Life ( London: Vincent Stuart, 1952),
 Woollcott, P. Jr. See Varieties of Conscious Experience on this web site.
 Feurerstein, G. Structures of Consciousness (Lower Lake, CA: Integral Publishing, 1987) p. 130
 Burnshaw, S. The Seamless Web (New York: Braziller, 1970)
 Burrow, T. Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience (New York: Basic Books, 1964) p. 104
 Ibid., p. xvii
 Burrow, T. Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience (New York: Basic Books, 1964)
 Feurerstein, G. Structures of Consciousness (Lower Lake, CA: Integral Publishing, 1987) p. 41
 Edelman, G. Consciousness: The Remembered Present. In P. C. Marijuan, Ed. Cajal and Consciousness (New York: N.Y. Academy of Sciences, 2001), p. 113
 Cassirer, E. An Essay on Man (New York: Bantam, 1970) p. 27
 Burrow, T. Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience (New York: Basic Books, 1964) p. 112
 Wilber, K. Two Modes of Knowing. In R. Walsh and F. Vaughan (Eds.), Beyond Ego (Los Angeles:
J.P. Tarcher, 1980) p. 234
 Burrow, T. Preconscious Foundations of Human Experience (New York: Basic Books, 1964) p. 71
 Ibid. p. xvii
 Behnke, E. World without Opposite/ Flesh of the World. Posted in Varieties of Consciousness on this
 Burrow, T. The Social Basis of Consciousness. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1927)
 Natanson, M. A. Edmund Husserl: Philosopher of Infinite Tasks. (Evanston: Northwestern University
Press, 1973) p. xiv
 Behnke, E. World without Opposite/Flesh of the World p. 7
 Ibid., p. 8
 Ibid., p. 12
 Ibid., p. 9
 Ibid., p.11
 Ibid., p. 15
 Ibid., p. 16
 Ibid., p. 23
 Ibid., p. 17
 Rosen, S. M. (1997). Wholeness as the body of paradox. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 18, 4, 391-424.
 Behnke, E. Personal communication with the author in which Dr. Behnke stresses the point that "lucid awareness . . . is a matter of autonomy in context of (rather than abstracted from) connectivity, rather than egoless confluence."