Breadth of Attention: an experiment

An experiment in awareness and attention

First –

Let your attention expand. Let it become peripheral and panoramic.Relax your attention and rest in awareness. Rest in the given sensation of the situation. Stay with this a while.

Next –

Focus your attention. Narrow your attention.

Play with these two positions of awareness and attention.

I am interested to know if your sense of well being changes from one attitude to the other.

If you wish to share your experience, I would be delighted to hear from you.  Send me your reflections.

Peri Mackintosh


Awareness of Attention

Essential to FF is the process of being aware of our own and others attention. For people who grasp this, FF is instantly possible.

I believe this ability is innate. In humans and animals and between species. I say this because I see the immediacy with which some people and all animals seem to display this. However, I think this
instinctual detection of another’s awareness can at times be distracted. Training therefore comprises allowing our innate sensitivity to inform our interaction unhindered.

Peri Mackintosh

Finding You and the Shape of Attention

My task in FF is to find You.

My sense of myself emerges and takes shape through and in my attention.

Out of the panorama of given awareness my attention is a marshaling of resources from the most subtle noticing to the most dramatic of vigorous action.

This marshaling of attention is perceptible in others. We can see – hear – feel how someones attention forms.

In FF we oriantate our selves both around our forming attention and the attention of our partners.

Is the sharing of our attention, our connection?

Our self attention has place and shape. This is fluid, mobile. I may for instance at one moment feel I am in I’m upper chest and face . From this vantage another area may be objectified – the itch on my ankle “down there”

This self awareness is always subtly shifting ( although we all may have tendencies to position ourselves in certain ways – what we might call attitude).

The next moment I may, for instance, recede behind my eyeballs “deep in thought”, and the next, gradually open and expand into a more diffuse broad awareness of the entirety of my whole bodily being in this space.

Our awareness can expand to the panoramic and contract to pin sharp focus and can be variously configured in shape, depth and projection. This is the continually evolving shape of my presence.

In FF we track this both in ourselves and our partners. We attempt to match and meet through the flow of our attention, drawing as much of our selves to each other as we can muster.

mindfulness, awareness, nowness, presence

I don’t like the term “mindfulness”. It has for me a scent of piety, or preciousness as in “minding your your p’s and q’s”. It also carries the implication that it involves a kind of intense thinking about what you are doing. Of course it is none of these things, but I am happier with the terms of awareness, nowness and at a pinch presence.

Freeforming begins in awareness. By this I mean the Perlsian coming to my senses, – a de emphasis of thinking about. I am talking of a pre-reflexive consciousness, my experience before I start thinking about it. What I am sensing, experiencing now.

I like Trungpas deft admonition that what is important is what we are aware of not, us trying to become more aware.

Its sticking to nowness rather than my mental embroideries, even if it is most reasonably about the now ( or what was the now…).

It this now that has a gutsy, physical energy to it which the term mindfulness misses.

It is this energy of the moment that informs the practice not my calculation or consideration.

I am fond of telling Freeformers that in Freeforming my ideas, however clever they are, always result in a break in contact. A severance from now. A break from you.

The discipline is a kind of decanting the revved engines of my thinking and a return to listening, waiting, resting in sensation – allowing my self to be moved by the situation.

So yes there is a presence to the situation in the sense I am her, now, with you. (Again, I am reluctant to bandy this word presence as it carries a dramatic or earnest flavour to it that I find obscuring. By now you be noticing my pickiness with words which is hopefully given respite in the non-verbal!)

For me there is deep richness in the moment as I recede. There is the fullness of life that my reflections invariably negate.

So Freeforming begins in awareness. Awareness is also the aim and end of Freeforming.

This moment without stricture.

transition from touch to sight

Carl asked us to investigate the transition from working from eyes shut to eyes open.

Beginning with touch and eyes shut.

I noticed that as I open my eyes my awareness shifts location rapidly. I found it almost impossible to keep my awareness with the touch.

In a way this is obvious.

Simply my intention to shift sensory modes entails a shift of awareness.


meeting awareness with awareness

Freeforming is about meeting our partners awareness with our own awareness.

We often begin practice sitting.

We practice returning to our awareness.

Lowering the degree of our engaged identification with our thinking to return to the “empty mirror” of awareness.

We then attempt to meet this awareness in our partner.

I picture this as holding a plastic cup of water between us. At first the cup may be full of ripples if not spilled or dropped entirely.

However, we attempt to stll our selves so that the water becomes still.

It reminds me of my experience of the Kashima Shin Ryu sword practice. Facing opponents practice by waiting until they sense both themselves and their opponent is completely settled, before acting

A moving target is difficult to hit. In Freeforming I want to make myself easily available so that the other can reach my awareness. I may also wait for them to settle.

It is from our creative adjustment to make and maintain this stillness connective awareness between us, that the motion of Freeforming is generated.

About the Freeforming Seminar October 2009 by Caroline Redl

Dear Peri,

I’m very grateful to have had this wonderful experience of Freeforming again.

The training is a great opportunity to become more physically and mentally present. It dissolves  habitual ways of doing things and gives me new perspectives and flexibility in my work as an actress and aikido practitioner.

It’s good to break  the rules again!

Listening to my own body, trusting it and following its movements was an enriching experience. Getting my head “out of the way” opened new fields of experience and lightness. This experience of letting go was so refreshing.

Freeforming makes you really aware of your partner and the space you move in. I felt the benefit of this when I returned to my work and my aikido training.

I also found it very helpful to work with Freeforming in my teaching. Aikido is complex. It can take a long time to become aware of the inner processes that aiki movements have on your body and spirit. I experienced Freeforming as a clever short cut that makes issues like contact, flexibility instantly physically accessable.

I started using elements of Freeforming with great response in my aikido classes as well as in my movement training classes for actors.

Freeforming is like a wordless international language of the body and emotions.

People are suddenly moving gracefully in awareness together.It’s hard to believe it is emerging in the moment without any rehearsals!

Thank you Peri for this great experience and thank you to all the wonderful people I’ve worked and leaned with in October 09 at the Konjiki Dojo.

Hope we all meet soon again and expand our freeform experiences!

Take care and all the best from Berlin


mood contagion as kimusubi

In practice to day with Carl – we weren’t getting it….

Despite our best efforts we were unable to connect. To find kimusubi. To meet each other.

I tried slowing to allow connection in stillness – no joy.

I tried moving as fast as I could to catch up with what I perceived as Carls flickering attention. No dice.

We paused to review. “we are not communicating” Carl succinctly put it.

We tried again. I then remembered how Carl had a number of times referred to mood. This term had never entirely clicked with me. However, I decided to focus on this. What was the mood in the room? I  felt as though  my zone of awareness  lowered. My sense of smell perked…

Boom – we were connecting! The Practice instantly moved from an arid desert to a rich, vocal and emotional dynamic engagement.

I realised I had been looking for communication on the first or second floor – but Carl was looking for me in the basement. Our kimusubi or connection happened in the  ambiance of our meeting rather than the detailed alignment of our focus or attention. The connection felt like that of a pack of animals with coordination of roaming  rather the pointed precision of duelists. In psychological terms we are talking mood contagion.

This was no new area for me to practice in, but one I hadn’t consciously made explicit to myself in my conceptualisation of freeforming practice. It could have been described as the id of our situation.

So, Carl, thanks for your patience in helping me realise this crucial aspect of practice.

Holding attention

Hiro and Peri with Paper

Hiro and Peri and Paper

I may use my eyes to see the direction of your attention but  I can feel your attention upon me.

I can feel where your attention is.

I can sense when I hold your attention.

I can also break your attention. I can neglect your attention and move too fast.

In kimusubi our attentions  are like lights shining back at each other. And like a bright light I feel the “heat” of your attention.

In the past few weeks I have been focusing on our ability to be moved, to be motionally responsive to our partners attention. We experimented with one person restricted in their travel by having to remain on a large sheet of paper. This challenges the free participant to release thier mobility.

I was also interested how in a particularly fast engagement my own volition could override my responsiveness. I discovered that at speed I needed to allow my awareness to “fall” or “rest” in my partners movement. This receptivity allows for a direct connection with less of  the interuptive mediation of my will.

These past few weeks in order to hone our attention skills we have refrained from much actual physical contact.

Car and Peri

Carl and Peri

This has been intense and rewarding in the distinction and clarity it brings to the practice. Kimusubi is about attentional linking. This can sometimes be muddied by the mechanics of a physical contact when pressure and weight bearing can be confused with attentional focus. It is the attentional focus that might distinguish Kimusubi free-form practice from, say, contact improvisation.

where your energy is….

I noticed with a number of trainings  there is demand that a practitioners “energy” inclination, arousal arrangement be a certain way. At times this can be at odds with where theirenergy is. This I realise creates a problem in aikido practice. If the goal is unification though  joining energy –kimusubi– we are at once creating a split between the practitioners actual energy state and that demanded of the practitioner.

With this in mind I am attempting to encourage practitioners to stay where there energy currently is. Using the a deepened breath to heighten this awareness. Practice then evolves from from following the direction of any energy and opening to the influence of the energies of those around, without loosing touch with our own energies.

This will be familiar to Gestaltists as both the paradoxical theroy of change and the practice of inclusion.

“lose your mind and come to your senses” – warming up

I realise that Fritz Perl’s catch phrase “lose your mind and come to your senses” neatly sums up my approach to “warming up”.

For me to prepare for freeform practice I need to shift mode from “thinking about” and doing, to feeling. That is, grounding my self in my “felt sense” allowing my awareness to play in sensation. In practice I do this by using my inhalation to feel whatever there is to be felt and exhaling into that. Dissolving. Any movements I make are then to heighten sensation in as many areas of me as possible. This of course rapidly bring me to my awareness of my environment, ground and air temperature and others I am working with.

When facilitating a warm up in a group I am now wary that I will become too much the focus of the groups attention. That they will watch, and do and still leave themselves in the realm of “thinking about and doing”.