I realize, now, that the title of this piece might seem like hype. I thought Thomas Hanna’s introduction to his methods sounded like hype. What pathos! when the truth sounds unbelievable! when what sounds too good to be true IS true!
To understand the metaphors, “Socratic, Promethean, and Herculean” in relation to Hanna Somatics, we must understand some things about Socrates, Prometheus, and Hercules.
Socrates was a teacher and prominent personage of ancient Greece. As a teacher, he guided his students along lines of consideration, asking them leading questions so that his students might arrive at insight, themselves. His viewpoint of knowledge, topsy turvy to that of most contemporary ways of operating, is that we inherently know everything, but have forgotten nearly everything, and the teacher only reminds us of what we have already known but forgotten.
Compare the Socratic view with this conventional view of knowledge: We fundamentally know nothing and have to learn everything, and the teacher is the one who tells us what’s what. One who really knows what’s what ends up in Who’s Who, and if you’re not in Who’s Who, you’re nobody.
Kind of opposites, aren’t they?
So the Socratic method is “from inside, out, prompted by what’s coming in from outside.” The methods of Hanna Somatic Education produce, to quote Thomas Hanna, “an internalized learning process” by guiding clients through certain self-explorations of sensation and movement.
This is not the same as letting clients dictate the course of a session or do a poor approximation of our instructions or add irrelevant efforts to a movement; it’s not the same as our taking whatever they give us as a response to our instructions. Remember, they are amnesic and don’t usually understand their condition correctly.
Socrates led his students to conclusions interactively, according to their responses; we lead our clients to outcomes interactively, according to their responses. The instruction comes from outside; the learning comes from within.
Now, Promethean. Prometheus was the son of the Titan, lapetos, and the nymph, Klymene. The name, “Prometheus,” means “foresight.” According to myth, it was Prometheus who taught humankind the skills of civilization and gave us fire. (Crane, Gregory R. (ed.) The Perseus Project, www.perseus.tufts.edu, July, 2002).
The gifts of Prometheus were the technologies of civilization and a corresponding awakening of attention of a special kind in order to receive and use these gifts.
Somatics is exactly an awakening of attention of a special kind. It is an awakening of attention on many levels of the human being, bringing self-mastery. The process teaches the relationship between mind “and” body (the “two” being internal and external manifestations of the same thing, and therefore not-two). It awakens us to new sensations. It cultivates the ability to focus attention, to act deliberately, to recognize the relationship between effort and its outcome, to be self-correcting, to follow through to completion. It teaches how to direct attention and intention toward the same thing. It gives us access to more of our abilities.
For almost everyone, these learnings generate a significant awakening. You can see how they are all elements of a sound civilization necessary to responsibly use the gifts of Prometheus. My hope for working and playing with people in the somatic realm, is that their “pilot light” gets lit (they receive the gift of fire), and they are able to continue somatic awakening largely on their own.
And now, Herculean. Hercules, known primarily for his strength, has been described as the perfect embodiment of pathos, the experience of virtuous struggle against great difficulties that leads to fame and, in Hercules’ case, immortality. (Crane, Gregory R(ed.) The Perseus Project, www.perseus.tufts.edu, July, 2002).
Ever try to get someone to do something in a new way? Ever have anyone ask for your advice and then argue with you about it? To do somatic processes with people, even to get them to try it, even when they are interested in doing them, often “gets interesting.” It seems, at ti.nes, that a Herculean effort is needed to guide people through the process of change, even when they want to change.
Magnify that challenge to an entire culture accustomed to placing responsibility for health and wellbeing outside oneself, and you see the scope of our work. To get a culture to change its way of operating from that of dependence upon a DoctorPatient/Parent-Child system (that saves people from the consequences of their own actions) to that of responsibility for ones own well-being (reducing the need to be saved from consequences) is a Herculean Feat tantamount to cleaning King Augeas’ stables by redirecting a river. The feats of Hercules, of which cleaning King Augeas’ stables was one of twelve, required strength and the use of available resources in new ways. They required more than Hercules’ solitary strength, but also his acceptance of help and ideas from others, his persistence, and his ingenious development of new ways to overcome seemingly impossible challenges.