With not On

I have been wondering about grammar – how a preposition might change the world. We’ve just finished Module 2 of the Professional Training in Somatic Movement Education. I still feel very much like a beginner, but we are on the move, and I’m beginning to understand things which might seem really basic, but my learning is slow, wondering and (hopefully) profound. One of these moments of learning comes from a linguistic mistake we make – one of us says we are or we were or we will work on someone, and our teacher, Brian, says with; we are training to work with someone. And mostly (still) we keep making the same mistake, casually talking about who we’re working on. Again and again Brian comes back to saying that we are working with them, that our touch, and our moving of them, or our requests for them to move with us, or (gently) in counterpoint to us, does not comprise a working on, but a working with. Why is this so hard for us to learn, for me to learn? Our grammar always catches our teacher who is always exquisitely attuned to the philosophical difference that his correction comprises. We are touching our students to enable them to better experience their own embodiment. And whilst this might seem like an obvious thing to somatic aficionados, to me it’s an astonishing thing – to touch someone as a way for them to better sense themselves, as a way to invite their internal wonder at their own sensations. In the days of Harvey Weinstein, such a touch seems world-changing in its gesture. In this shift from working on to working with is an undoing of a world view, a re-mapping of what happens when one person gets on a clinical table and another person works with them. It gifts agency to the one who is worked with and undoes the dyad of expert and patient. I’ve never learnt grammar like this before, one that undoes me of knowing and moves me to a different kind of syntax. I shimmer as I shift, from the specific task at hand, to the wide and wondering implications of what I’m learning.

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