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Practicing love: embodied attunement through the lens of Aikido

Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Contemplative practices, such as secular mindfulness meditation, are being increasingly integrated into pedagogical settings to enhance social and emotional well-being and to address stress-induced overwhelm due to increased pressures on the education system and its constituents. While these practices bring benefits, including increased self-awareness, emotional self-regulation, and empathy for teachers and learners alike, this dissertation makes the claim that pedagogical practices on the whole reflect an epistemological worldview that privileges a highly cognitive approach to teaching and learning, one that fails to fully account for the deeper psychological, emotional, and somatic registers of human participants, and that sees them as separate from the other-than-human ecology of life around them. In a time of global crisis, such contemplative approaches to education, as beneficial as they may be, run the risk of reinforcing the psychosomatic notion of the individualized human self—itself rooted in interiorized experience--the Cartesian notion of mind-body dichotomy, and a host of other factors that underscore an already hypercompetitive and anthropocentric world. This dissertation extensively draws on the author's lifelong practice in the non-competitive and defensive Japanese art of Aikido. Known as the 'art of peace,' Aikido is an inherently relational practice that teaches practitioners to view and engage an 'opponent' from a virtue-ethic standpoint and ontological view of non-dualism, non-violence, and calm, controlled physical resolution. Aikido is rooted in a spiritual and practical ethos of harmonized relations, or more radically, of unifying 'love.' To be effective, one has to embody this ethic not only from the intention of an 'inner posture,' but through fluid timing, relaxed movement, and non-aggression in their 'outer posture' and intercorporeality. Learning Aikido requires one to focus not only on cognitively acquired skill, but also on mind-body-spirit integration. The four essays in this thesis explore the various ways, through the lens of this non-violent relational art of Aikido, that pedagogy is always something being practiced (on the level of psychological, somatic and emotional registers) and thus holding potential for transformation into being more relational, ecological-minded, and reflecting more 'embodied attunement.' Thus pedagogy, as Aikido, holds potency as the skillful practice of empathic connectivity or 'love.' From the 'art of motorcycling' to 'teacher as healer,' these essays present teaching-learning practice from the Japanese philosophy worldview as 'way' or path—one that is taken up for daily life and based on self-cultivation of virtue-ethics as an aspirational achievement of mind-body integration and wholeness, rather than preoccupation with establishing claims about absolute truth.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Bai, Heesoon
Thesis advisor: Smith, Stephen
Member of collection
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