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« The Body of Sustainability | Main | Design Futures »

August 07, 2008


Lisa Christie

Steve, I am appreciating this profound and timely discussion!

Yes, the I-Thou (or subject-subject vs. subject-object) relationship is at the heart of Partnership at every level: self, family, organizations, and ecological.

And I agree that transforming our relationship with our own bodies (and I would add holistic, intuitive modes of cognition), transforms our relationships with others/the World. (I'd also like to link this to possibilities for transformative leadership).

So, returning to the question of what the body of sustainability (or Partnership with self) might look like, your bringing Buber's experience and articulation of I-Thou relationships seems like a good place to begin.

There are two, paradoxical Partnership relationships with our bodies:
1. One is subject-subject, recognizing the intelligence and even wisdom of our bodies, apart from our rational consciousness, which might be imagined as the tip of the iceberg. For example, we can notice a kind of intelligence at the cellular level and different bodily systems that are not (usually) under our direct conscious influence or control.

2. The second (which might be termed expanded subject) involves the expansion of our subjectivity to include the excluded parts, which we have denied due to cultural philosophic biases and/or have numbed out due to pain or trauma. Interestingly, the philosophic bias that holds our bodies and "others" as "Its" has supported the neglect and abuse of self and others, which creates more pain and trauma. As you mentioned, our worldviews are "self-sealing."

To ground this at a practical level, it's interesting to consider how common it has become in our culture to ignore our needs for rest, nourishment, recreation. There is the cultural motion of "mind over body" -- that the body is this inconvenient thing the mind drags around. Taken to these extremes, the body becomes a slave to the rational ego. However, because the body is part of ourselves, we become slaves to ourselves, to whatever end is driving us. This damages our bodies/ourselves, and is, therefore, unsustainable.

I think part of the issue is our future orientation. Culturally, we value outcomes, especially quantitative ones. We subordinate today for tomorrow. There are positive aspects of this; rational analytic consciousness (from which I think a future orientation arises) evolved because it is useful to our survival. However, it seems we have developed this orientation to excess. I heard a wonderful quote recently comparing life to a journey by train: We are always focused on getting to the next station; the final station is our death. From that perspective, we see that the trip was not about arriving at the stations, but the journey itself.

Recognizing that the journey is important, shifts our emphasis back to the quality of our experience. If we begin to value the quality of our experience as a good in itself, rather than conside ourselves/bodies as primarily a means to an end, we begin to live more in the present. And that's a space from which we attend more to the experience and needs of our body and thus our own needs with compassion and respect... And, I think that does, as you suggest, lead us to a place of valuing the quality of experience of others and the larger whole.

I think this whole issue goes very deep, but I think this is a good resting point!

Thank you for your interesting and engaging posts.



Thank you for such a wonderful comment. It seems we are both swimming in a similar (if not the same!) pond these days.

What you are adding here about how we live in time is of such importance. The way we hang on to the incomplete and unresolved past (traumas) and the way we make the significance and meaning of our lives dependent upon future outcomes.

We seem to always be either holding onto things or trying to get life to turn out in some way other than how it is right now. What a stressful way to live. It reminds me of the absurdity of Sisyphus being cursed to roll a bolder up hill only to have it roll back down again so that he could repeat this eternally. We live life in an absurd way - always rejecting what is in favor of what isn't.

Wonderful to be in conversation with you again.

Take care,


Lisa Christie

Yes, I am delighted to find that we are swimming in similar (or the same) pond these days, and appreciating being in dialogue.

You make an excellent point that living in the past or the future reflects a rejection of the present moment, of the world as it is.

The rejection of the present moment/world as it is might be understood as a rejection of our experience and interpretation of our experience. That would lead us to consider the quality of our experience in the present moment and our perspectives and beliefs.

For example, we might dissociate from trauma, and then keep those blocking mechanisms in place long after the event, or we might develop/learn perspectives and beliefs that lead us to reject the present or aspects of the present.

So, with respect to the topic of sustainable embodiment, it would seem that it would be useful to consider the quality of our experience in the present and notice our beliefs, as a strategy towards reconciling/healing our relationship to the present/the world…

Again, thank you for the great conversation.


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