My Significant Other is the Kosmos : Part 5 Bodies in Motion: Entrainment, Entelechy and the Eros of Evolution

Thursday, March 29, 2012


In light of the unusual events of that Sunday in May I was prompted to include in my art practice the guided chakra meditation that came with Layne Redmond's book. On the audio CD an unusual drum plays a regular, lilting, almost melodic rhythm as Redmond's voice guides the meditator through a visualization of the yantra figure for each chakra, locating the inner vision at the chakra's physical location in the body. Then with the rhythm of the drums a mantra associated with the chakra is chanted 16 times. This process is repeated for each of the 7 traditional Hindu chakras, working up the body from the base of the spine to the top of the head. The entire meditation takes about 30 minutes. After following this practice daily for a short period of time I began to notice something quite remarkable - my heartbeat began to fall into resonance with the drum and chanting rhythm. It became clear that my body had settled into a state of entrainment, something I had never consciously experienced before.Entrainment is a scientific term which has slightly different meanings in each field of science, but is basically defined in physics as "a process whereby two oscillating systems which have different periods when functioning independently assume the same period when in proximity to each other". A curious example of this phenomenon used to occur in clock shops of yore. In the days when clocks often kept time through the use of a swinging pendulum, a clock shop merchant would start his day winding the clocks up and setting their pendulums into motion, one by one. By the time he finished there would be a cacophony of sound from the assembled mechanisms, each of the pendulums swinging back and forth - tick-tock-tick-tock - but out of sequence as the result of the merchant setting them into motion randomly. Astonishingly, within a few hours all of the clocks in the shop would be ticking together, the pendulums swinging in perfect unison. This is entrainment in action. And this is what had happened in the chakra meditation. I had consciously set my breathing into synchrony with the drumming through rhythmic chanting, yet my heart, over which I had no direct control, followed suit on its own - and of course my first thought was "AREN'T I SPECIAL!!"; but then one more time I remembered I didn't have a self, so once again the affectation didn't take. What did take, however, was the conscious awareness of the phenomenon of entrainment in the body. When I brought that awareness to my studio I was in for a surprise.My method of art production has always had a strong component of physicality, and I've always considered the interactions of my body with materiality a vital aspect of my creative process. The work of the past few years involves a kind of weaving process - I always stand as I work, a spool of thread in one hand, the leading edge of the strand in the other. I lean to the left and hook the thread, pull back to the right and hook again, the thread sliding through my fingers as it plays out on the board. I reach up and down, shoulders rotating, wrist flexing, knees bending, fingers curling and straightening. All of this happens mostly subconsciously, barely registering within my awareness. An observer might comment that I look a bit like an orchestra conductor, or perhaps a strange animal immersed in some sort of ritual mating dance. This can go on for an hour without break, bobbing and weaving, twisting and stretching. The surprise I found was this - when in the flow, in the zone, my body is entrained. And it's in this state of entrainment, this bodily state of synchrony and resonance between all of the moving parts, that channels of the unconscious begin to loosen and expand, and I literally feel myself being pulled toward and through them. The entrained body becomes a vehicle that is no longer being driven solely by me, , but is in fact guided into the unknown by invisible hands. The question then becomes, "What is it that is pulling on me, guiding me?".This is the real mystery of the creative process, especially for the one who is being processed. Further heightening the mystery is the realization upon completing the work that you often have no clear idea how that finished product got there, nor are you necessarily certain of its meaning, You remember the intent you brought, the decisions you made both micro and macro, the movements, the materials....all of it. Yet there you are in a place you never could have imagined, even a moment ago. You've tapped into something that you can't quite explain or demonstrate even to yourself, much less articulate sensibly to anyone else. The only proof you have is the finished work.Thinking about this brought to mind a philosophy of thought that rose in the late 19th and early 20th century known as Vitalism, which posits that there is some non-physical, non-mechanical factor that drives life. An early 20th century proponent was an embryologist named Hans Driesch who saw in his research that there are aspects of the development of life that cannot be explained in simple mechanistic terms. He brought out the Greek term entelechy (pronounced en-TEL-uh-kee) to describe an inner process somehow inherent in life that makes use of material to develop form, yet is outside of the material domain. Needless to say, this kind of philosophy was and still is discounted by most scientists, who insist everything will eventually be reduced to physical processes; and who can blame them, given the spectacular successes of science in the past 300 years, and especially in the last 100. Yet it's my experience as an artist that entelechy might be closer to the mark as a way of describing the creative process - some non-physical, non-conscious, non-personal element that is contained in the process itself, and which drives and guides it through the vehicle of the artist. Something perhaps akin to...well..that element that drives and guides the eros of evolution - from rocks to roses to Rumi.Little did I know as I contemplated this notion of entrainment and entelchy that the chakra meditation, even as it entrained my bodily processes, had tapped me into its own entelechy, and that something entirely unimagined and unexpected was in the making.To be continued...