In a recent interview “Europe, land of resonance?“, the sociologist Harmut Rosa discusses the concept of “resonance”, a term he uses to describe a way of engaging with things and experiences, that I would characterize as open, receptive, and oriented to mutuality. His presentation touches on many psychological and cultural considerations worth reflecting on, at a time when we are all trying to be mindful and present.
What do you think of his thoughts on mindfulness? I definitely ‘resonate’ with his criticism about the over-emphasis on the individual, and on how, prioritizing certain attentional states on the immediate self, there can be a disengagement with the politics of the world. As we see it all over, our world, our communities, need us to care and engage with politics and social justice.
In this writing, I will elaborate, briefly, my own views on some of the components I associate with Rosa’s notion of resonance. Again, I see the characterization of “resonance” as being about openness, receptivity, and orientation to mutuality.
Openness allows us to let in the influence of events, objects, people. Such openness requires us to be present and available, as in mindfulness, to let the world in. It is the opposite of alienation. It is common to be closed off. If we are in pain, too attached, at war with x, or overtaken by compulsion, we will be probably shut off, close up, as our priority is to act upon the world to achieve our goals or agenda. Alienation ensues. Part of our work in therapy/counseling is to help people experience openness. In sessions, we create safe and supportive conditions, and an emotional environment, that allows for soothing, and a qualitative slowing down that creates space and softens compulsion, at least in the session. Soothing and safety, combined with intention, allow us to suspend, for some time, the compulsive pressure of our regular tendencies. We can open up, re-consider, let in.
Receptivity refers to a qualitative state of being affected, where we let the idea, object, person, situation touch us in a way that transforms us. Receptivity means loosening some control. Let me emphasize “some” and not all control. We are, sometimes, so defended, scared, and habituated to walk around defending ourselves or attached to some all-consuming goal, that we take loosening control as meaning losing all control. Losing all control is not good, ever (I think, let me reflect more on this. What do you think?). Rosa’s thoughts on how opening all the borders in Germany may not be a good idea supports the point that, even when we want to deeply change our boundaries to be more inclusive, engaged, and have a happier and smarter living, we have to regulate and control control (yes control control, or the losing of control). In my work as therapist, and my own personal experience, I see how, whenever people want to challenge their own beliefs and/or start new behaviors, there is an exaggerated, superficial, and inaccurate intuition on what the alternative behavior or idea may be. Fear and ignorance can make us imagine very misguided assumptions. Thus, a person who suffers from being overly anxious with money, and who acknowledges that they self-deprive unnecessarily, may imagine at first that, if they start spending more money, they will become catastrophically wasteful and reckless. Someone who has embraced that their Republican cousin is an idiot, may think that if they open up to consider their cousin political ideas, they will only hear stupid reasoning brainwashing, or unexamined premises. We need to commit to practicing not knowing, imagining more, allowing ourselves to give alternative experiences a genuine try, at least in our considerations. In a wonderful interview/conversation (in Spanish, and here is the link) Francisco Varela speaks of the violence of embracing what we know without considering that we don’t know a lot, and of wanting to reduce the other person, or an event, to the terms of what we so limitedly know. Again, to resonate, we need to lose some control, not all. We do know things. But our knowledge is limited, our being is limited, and it is actually a wonderful situation that we can let new things affect us. Receptivity is a blessing.
Orientation to mutuality. In here, I am thinking that, in order to let resonance be part of our experience, we need to be in dynamic reciprocity with everything, the affecting thing, the environment, and ourselves. A resonant experience expands and blurs the boundary of causality and locality, because it emphasizes that experience emerges from the dynamic interaction of parts: the larger universe. A concrete brick does not have resonance because the rigidity of the material does not allow movement with the context. The sound is localized to a very brief-in-time and small area, at least for our human range perception. Their little mutuality may make bricks good for construction, but not for sounds. Music is a good example of resonance, where the instrument and the player interact in mutuality. It is not just the violinist who does something to the violin, the violin does things to the player. The player needs to ‘listen’ to the violin, feel the texture of the vow and instrument body, the sound, the tensions and resistances. The wood, the strings, and the body of the player interact in mutuality.
As we continue to accumulate evidence about what works in psychotherapy, the research is clear in pointing to the centrality of the relationship between the therapist and the client. The therapeutic relationship is based on resonance, where both the therapist and the clients are open, receptive, and mutually affecting. In fact, any intentional community, in order to thrive, needs resonance.
If you want to share your thoughts about Rosa’s interview or my writing above, I will be delighted to receive them.