Minutes of Monthly Meeting
February 11, 1996
Location: Home of Lisa and Tom Federle
Meeting Topic: The Body in Historical and Contemporary Religious Perspectives
Speaker: Prof. Conrad L'Heureux, Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
Hosts: Lisa and Tom Federle
PRESENT: Connie Breen, Cochair; Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, Marilyn Beatty, Bert Buby, Corrine Coleman, Steve Coleman, Lisa Federle, Tom Federle, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Jack Hickey, Jack Kelley, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Bob Maas, Arch McMillan, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Mary Ellen Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Marianne Weisman, Murray Weisman.
Connie called the meeting to order at about 8:08 PM by thanking the Federle's for hosting the meeting . Lisa delivered the invocation which included both a prayer in Greek (Lisa and Tom are members of the Greek Orthodox Church) and a prayer in English. Her prayer in English was from the Union Prayer Book of the Reform Movement of Judaism. Connie then announced that annual Dialogue dues are now due (see the Dues and Fee Announcement later in these minutes). Ken passed around a monthly newsletter from the Ecumenical Institute for Jewish-Christian Studies in Southfield, Michigan. This is an organization similar to the Dialogue and is headed by Dr. James Lyons who spoke to the Dialogue at last year's retreat. Judy announced a series of four talks by Rabbi Michael Cook, Professor at Hebrew Union College. The topic of the series is "Four Historical Dilemmas of the Passover/Easter Season--Their Abiding Impact on Jewish-Christian Relations Today." Talks are scheduled for Feb. 27, March 12, March 19, and March 26 at 7:30 PM at Temple Beth Or.
Jerry announced he has met a very knowledgeable Muslim from Cincinnati and suggested he be invited to talk to the Dialogue. Bert showed the attendees a beautiful calendar printed for the celebration of Jerusalem 3000. Lisa obtained the calendar from a client who works for L.M. Berry. Father Jack Kelley announced some congratulatory letters he received as a result of his being awarded the Father Edward Flannery Award. Jack also discussed the Turner Diaries, a book which has received some recent notoriety because of its association with the Oklahoma City bombing. The book is a very rightist, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-Negro book. Jack also discussed some reactions to the play, Edith Stein, performed at the University of Dayton. Eileen pointed out that Edward Flannery himself received the first Edward Flannery Award. Connie then reminded everyone of the next meeting which is to be held at the Kotler's home.
Connie then introduced Prof. Conrad L'Heureaux. He was born in Salem, Massachusetts and attended MIT. He has served on the faculty of the University of Dayton since 1970. For the first 15 years of his tenure at UD, his scholarly activity focused on the Old Testament. After this period and as a result of student challenges concerning the relevance of the content of his courses to their lives, Conrad changed his research and teaching emphasis. He studied Gestalt Therapy and counseling, and his research and teaching began to focus on the inner journey in Bible and literature. He also underwent training and became a licensed massage therapist. His primary interest has been on exploring who and what we are as human beings and what we can do to maximize our potential as human beings.
Conrad passed around a brochure about a dance improvisation, sculpture, and music program created by Michael Bashaw. Conrad will be involved in this program. Conrad began his presentation by admitting some conflict about what to talk about. He resolved this conflict by deciding to talk about things that are important to him personally. Conrad first read Plato in his high school English class and was amazed that, prior to the birth of Christianity, Plato knew all this Christian philosophy concerning the relationship between the body and soul. Like the later Christians, Plato believed that someday the soul will be liberated from the body. Later Conrad studied the Hebrew Bible, especially the anthropology of the Hebrew Bible. Conrad stated that there is no word in ancient Hebrew that is equivalent to our word body. The word, neffesh is sometimes translated as soul. However neffesh cannot exist separately from the body. In the times when the Hebrew Bible was written, there was a much more unitary understanding of what a human being is. People of that time do not seem to have had the concept of dualism of body and soul. Conrad feels this ancient viewpoint is much more on track than our contemporary notions of dualism that actually came from Greek philosophy. Dualism entered Jewish thought in the Rabbinic period, well after the writing of the Hebrew Bible. Conrad's view is that it is a mistake to think of oneself as being two composite elements of body and soul. It is more helpful to think of ourselves as being unified.
Conrad went through a mid-life transition, partly as a result of students challenging him with respect to the relevance of what he was teaching (Old Testament theology). Conrad had always been drawn to reason, intellect, and spirituality. In his 40's he discovered emotion. Conrad had a lot of feelings he had repressed. After his mid-life crisis, Conrad entered the Masters Program in counseling at UD and began to study Gestalt Theory. Gestalt Therapy focuses on the here and now. Its focus is on bodily feeling. Traditional therapy relegates emotion to the mental side. The Gestalt therapist asks where in the body does one feel bad. It assumes that emotion is actually in the body.
Wilhelm Reich was an amazing person, although he was widely viewed as a crackpot at the end of his life. He went to Vienna after World War I where he met Sigmund Freud. Freud was impressed with Reich's talents and authorized him to be a therapist. Reich was thus positioned in all the intellectual ferment that surrounded Freud. Reich studied defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms form the character; they are not just separate things. Emotions are manifested on a muscular level. For example, how does a little boy teach himself not to cry. It must be done on the muscular level, perhaps by controlling the diaphragm which is a major muscle. An adult man may despair that he cannot cry. But, unless something changes on a muscular level, the problem cannot be solved. Another example is of a young woman who seeks to appear attractive to men by walking in a provocative way (swinging the hips). When she is told by her strict parents not to walk like a Jezebel, she may learn to control her sensuous walk on a muscular level. Later this muscular control may lead to sexual dysfunction due to the muscles in the pelvis being tightened up. On a visit to the Esalen Institute, Conrad shared a room with a Korean man. The man had lived through the Japanese occupation of Korea in World War II. At that time, Koreans learned to be stoic so as not to give the Japanese enemy the pleasure of knowing they were suffering. The man felt similar feelings during the Korean War when Korea was occupied by the North Korean enemies. Later he moved to San Francisco where he now teaches mechanical engineering. He has never been able to weep about all the horrible experiences he had endured during the two wars. The therapist at the Esalen Institute told him to speak in Korean. The Korean man yelled and screamed while lying on the floor. The therapist positioned him in a particular way. After about 20 minutes, the Korean man began to sob uncontrollably. Back at the room, the Korean man told Conrad that now he had completed his journey. The therapist was able to physically lead him into the position where he could overcome his problem.
What is emotion? If we relegate emotion to the mind, aren't we splitting up the human being too much? As a result of the spread of Nazism in Europe, Reich came to this country. He was kicked out of the Communist Party and the psychoanalytic society. In the US, he pursued some unscientific therapies. He was prosecuted by the FDA, put into jail, and died soon afterward. One of his therapies involved the use of Orgone Accumulators. With this therapy, people get into boxes to benefit from a healing energy which Reich called orgone.
Mary Whitehouse was a dancer 40 or 50 years ago. Later, she became a dance teacher. She went to Switzerland to study with Carl Jung, after which she returned to the US to pursue dance therapy. She promoted an idea called "authentic movement." Rather than imitate a movement of another dancer, she felt that perhaps there is an innate movement in the human body. She told people to stand still until there was an impulse to movement. Life is movement. She found that emotional problems expressed themselves in the way people were impelled to move. Reich worked on the muscles to free them up. Fanchon Shur, a modern dancer and choreographer from Cincinnati (Hebraic folk song composer, Bonnya Shur's wife) has worked on similar issues. Lorraine pointed out that psychologist Skinner also had the idea that mind was in the muscles. Conrad deals a lot on the literary level with personal journeys in history (i.e., The Odyssey). Often, Conrad has his students meet in the dance studio where he tries to get them to feel the energy in their own bodies. Conrad read a journal written by a student after this process. The student expressed exhilaration with her body, stating, "I am alive. I feel a controlled energy. I feel like I am having a sexual experience, but with myself. I have never felt so attuned to my physical and mental aspect. I feel complete acceptance and love for my body." For Conrad, this is not just discovering the body, it is discovering her inner vitality. Emotion can be experienced through the body.
At this point, Conrad recommended to the attendees the Michael Bashaw performance at UD on March 23. Michael Bashaw's idea is to convert the whole fieldhouse into one musical instrument. The event is called Improvisation. Conrad and Michael do not know exactly what will happen. Conrad is collaborating with dancers and musicians in a multimedia environment.
Conrad also talked about massage therapy. He asked what happens when we start paying attention to our inner feelings. In a safe and non-sexual way, one can experience the pleasure of touch. Conrad concluded his formal talk at 9:12 PM.
Felix pointed out the Greek idea of a sound mind in a healthy body. Descartes had similar notions in the 16th century. Current theory now holds that the brain functions as a parallel processing computer. Felix also pointed out the pleasure people get from endorphins, especially during exercise. However, in contrast to what he sees as Conrad's views, Felix feels it all resides in the brain. He asked how this theory ties into the theory of Gestalt Therapy. Conrad says that Gestalt Therapy does not get into questions of neurological function. However, his view is that not just the brain thinks but rather the whole organism.
Marilyn Beatty asked about Plato and the concept of dualism. She felt that what was left out of the discussion was the soul. As an illustration, she mentioned her daughter who is very focused on herself. Marilyn had some concern about whether people can feel responsibility for their actions if they lack a soul. Conrad asked what is wrong with being preoccupied with oneself? Marilyn replied that it could lead to being self centered. Lorraine agreed with Marilyn's comments. She felt the student's journal read by Conrad was interesting, but it reflected a Hedonistic orientation that she is not comfortable with. However, Lorraine stated that she is amazed with the things Conrad has done. Nevertheless, Lorraine emphasized that people should think of their bodies as not just themselves but connected to the universe. Eileen was gleaning from Conrad's remarks that knowing ourself is the first step to knowing other people. As an illustration, she referred to a baby who is residing in her house who is so loved that it is not afraid of people. Eileen would not worry about a teenager who was getting in touch with her body. Conrad replied to Lorraine that he does not reject the connection to the universal mentioned by Lorraine. Ken asked whether Conrad had experienced any negative reactions to his approach due to the Puritan influence in our culture which focuses on self denial.
Arthur asked about the Second (Christian) Testament and its link to Greek dualism. Conrad replied that he has not studied the Second (New) Testament in depth. However, Jesus' statement, "What profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?" is traditionally interpreted as reflecting a dualistic philosophy. However, Conrad does not interpret the statement as dualistic. Bob Maas asked about using the diaphragm muscle in the abdomen for emotional healing. Jack Hickey expressed surprise that Aristotle was not mentioned. His philosophy had much more influence on Western Civilization than that of Plato. Aristotle's view was that man is combination of matter and form. The substantial form remains after the body dies as spiritual matter. Emotions in man occur at two levels: animal level and human level. Man is a combination of vegetable, brute, and man. Conrad replied that it can be argued that the Aristotelian notion is much more unitary and less dualistic than the Platonic one. It is thus more consistent with Conrad's viewpoint. Someone asked how it could take only one session for the Korean man to get over his problem? Murray pointed out that Conrad ignored the environment and its effect on the body. Bert expressed the view that Jesus' statement (beginning of this paragraph) fits right into Conrad's theory. Eileen pointed out that the original gospels may not have been written from a dualistic viewpoint. However, later interpretations based on Greek translations of those gospels became dualistic.
Jerry Kotler expressed his puzzlement by Conrad's omission of the large body of literature on the soul and its perpetuation after death. Conrad replied that he does not believe there is a soul or a body. There is only one organism. In response to a question, Conrad replied that he does not know whether there is an afterlife. He does not know what happens when we die. Connie asked whether Conrad believed in spirit. Felix stated that we cannot come to any conclusion about the existence of a soul. Conrad stated that he cannot accept the way the body is defined as a correlative to the mind or the soul. Conrad rejects the dichotomy. It does not make sense to talk about body in this sense either. Erika reported that she watched a program on the Learning Channel called the Human Animal. According to the program, the human is the only animal that expresses emotions through the facial expressions and hand movements. We communicate with the whole body. Arthur referred to a person who is a savant named Deepak Chopra from India. Conrad has listened to his tapes. Although, he does not understand all of the Indian philosophy, Conrad likes his approach. In response to a prior remark by Jerry which questioned whether Conrad's scholarly approach falls legitimately in the area of religion, Conrad replied that life is a mystery, and he defines religion as the search for what is authentically human. Lorraine stated she likes Conrad's approach but still believes there is something more than the body. Steve Coleman pointed out the impact of believing in something on making it true. Bob Maas talked about the concept of the psychoorganism. Jack Kelley asked about Conrad's personal and religious life. "Are you a Catholic?" Conrad was uncomfortable putting a label on himself.
The meeting adjourned at about 10:00 PM.