Find your own meaning in a piece of art
Wendi Maurer and Hanspeter Mühlethaler teach classes on Thinking At the Edge (TAE). They use playful exercises to help their students grap the concepts experientially. The following is one such exercise. This page is also available as a printable PDF.
You can do this exercise on your own, but it is preferable to do it with a partner. As the Listener, you will listen, take notes, and say it back only using the Focuser’s words. You will respect whatever the Focuser says without judgment. Please do not share your personal experience, even if you believe that it is the same. Each of us is unique, and so are our experiences.
An ideal place to do the experience is an art museum, but you can chose art in your home or in books.
If you do the exercise with a partner, each of you selects a piece of art, one that attracts you “in a way.” Use your intuition to choose one.
It is probably not the best choice to select the picture you like the most - One that challenges you, irritates you, might let you find something interesting and new. You do not need to understand why you picked it at this time.
Focus with your partner on your selected pictures. Share your time so that each of you has the same amount of time, for example 20 minutes each. The Listener reads the following instructions slowly and writes down what you say after each section:
1. Notice and acknowledge your quick reactions to the work, “I like these beautiful colors”, or “It’s too abstract for me...”
By staying a while with the obvious, we open a space, for the implicit "more" of meaning.
2. Now, connect in a Focusing way to the piece of art. The following questions may help you to sense into and stay with the unclear or fuzzy as it comes. Please do not find quick answers to the questions, rather sense into them, stay a while with them. The Listener reads them very slowly, giving time for the Focuser to answer each befpre going to the next one.
- Is there a place in your body that is affected by the artwork?
- Is there something that touches, irritates, fascinates you….?
- Can you play with the distance between you and the piece of art? How does it feel if you sense yourself as part of it? Or it as part of you?
- Does what comes while being with the artwork connect to a personal experience?
3. Try to express the crux of “all that” what came in a phrase or a sentence that comes from your felt sense. Sense into your words. Is what you found related to your life, to your understanding of the world? Is there a wisdom or next step in your life that might emerge from this?
4. Reflect for a moment and allow what comes of this experience to let you know of its relevance in your own life now!
This page is also available as a printable PDF.
What is TAE? Who are the people who came up with this exercise? See info on TAE and bios below.
What is Thinking At the Eadge (TAE)?
A Taste of TAE is a playful approach to the philosophical practice, Thinking at the Edge (TAE) based on Eugene T Gendlin’s (1926 – 2017) Philosophy of the Implicit.
In his work, Experiencing and Creation of Meaning (ECM) (Gendlin 1997) Gendlin shows that meaning of language, say a word, is not as commonly understood as we expect. Meaning is created in human beings by a functional relationship between the word and the situation in which it is perceived (heard, read …). The situation includes an intricate ensemble. For example, it contains what was said before, the experience of the person with the word, and much more.
For the most part of a situation, we do not have words. Instead we experience it as an unclear bodily feeling which is affected by what we think/perceive. As a consequence the meaning of language exceeds all we can say. This is why Gendlin speaks of implicit or felt meaning, a sense of meaning that is more than we can explicate.
In Gendlin’s words: “An internally intricate sense leads to a series of statements with certain recognizable characteristics. Statements that speak-from the felt sense can be recognized by the fact that they have an effect on the felt sense. It moves, opens, and develops. The relation between sensing and statements is not identity, representation, or description. An implicitly intricate bodily sense is never the same thing as a statement. There are many possible relationships between the body and statements and we have developed some precise ways to employ these relationships.” (Gendlin, 2004)
TAE, based on Focusing, is a method to give words to our felt meaning (or felt sense). These words might seem somewhat odd but we feel that these words have a precise personal meaning.
TAE teaches us how to connect to and patiently stay with our bodily felt meaning, in order to let fresh language emerge. We often get excited as we feel the opening of new dimensions of understanding.
In our class, A Taste of TAE, we offer playful exercises to learn and experience the basic ideas of TAE. We offer playful exercises with Art, Music, Stories and more. We believe that these exercises can be helpful for later systematically learning TAE with all of the complex elements. And we also believe that the exercises help to use the basic ideas of TAE in everyday life, just by sensing into our body the questions, “Is there more meaning in this or that?” or “What do I really mean with XY?”
Dr. Wendi S. Maurer is a Certified Focusing Oriented Psychologist in private practice since 1991. She is available in person and through Telehealth. Dr. Maurer is active on the TIFI Membership Committee and has taught many Focusing classes. She specializes in Healthy Coping and Meaning in Life, Grief and Loss and more. Dr. Maurer is a Coordinator-in-Training, through Ann Weiser-Cornell, providing training and promoting those interested in becoming trainers.
Hanspeter Mühlethaler is a Certified Focusing Professional. He is retired from his primary career as a Physicist and Engineer. Now Hanspeter is active on the TIFI Board of Trustees. His main interests are in the philosophical aspects of Focusing, especially in the practice of TAE which he taught at Universities in Switzerland. He also combines Focusing/TAE with mountain hiking.
For more information on their classes, A Taste of TAE and Thinking At the Edge and Embodied Thinking and Expressing, see classes.