This summer I was on an almost deserted beach in Sardinia. In front of me there was a little baby girl who had just realised that she could ‘walk’ if, having got up onto her feet, she threw herself forward she could stumble four or five paces before losing momentum and falling down again. She was totally absorbed with this new discovery of free movement. She continued with this cycle of rising, lunging forward, taking some steps and falling again for several minutes. At a certain point her attention was taken by the marks left in the sand by her hands as she fell. She had made another discovery! She realised that by hitting the sand with her hands, she could make all kinds of fascinating holes and indentations. As she was busy with this new discovery, the waves swept in reaching just to where she was sitting and washed the sand smooth and clear of any marks at all. Another discovery!! What was it that she had witnessed? She then repeated the whole sequence – running, falling, making hand-marks in the sand – then watching the water come in and erase everything. Amazing!!! Next she ran a few steps and made more holes. Again the tide wiped all her markings on the world away. She ran back to the previous spot, making holes, watching the water erase everything. Now she ran back and forth between the two points where she was making marks – as if trying to conserve some marks against the erasing of the water. She continued this experiment for several minutes. Then again something new! A single piece of seaweed was left behind by the waves. She picked it up, gazing at its glistening, shining, colours – waving it back and forth, catching the sunlight’s reflections. This was too exciting! She ran and fell back down the beach to where her parents were. She demonstrated her exciting discovery, screeching with joy, waving it in the sunlight – but it seemed that her father had already seen seaweed. He took it from her and threw it down on the sand. Then lifted her up and placed her in her new brightly coloured rubber floating ring, and pushed her out into the water for some proper beach activity. As soon as he stopped pushing, she twisted around in the rubber ring, turning back towards the beach, striving forward with a great effort, she arrived back to the sand, threw herself out of the ring, and ran back to where the seaweed had been thrown. She picked it up again, and this time went to her mother to share her exciting discovery. This time her mother took her sharing seriously and engaged with her daughter in the immediacy of her astonishing discovery. I later asked them how old she was, and they told me she was just 13 months.

I tell you this story because I want to leave you with an image of the Sacred in action. This baby girl was in a state of Sacredness, being able to spontaneously live her amazement of being-in-the-world, discovering exciting connectedness between herself and everything around her. Each of us had this capability of living in the Sacred before language caught us and made us into humans-with-conscious-purposes. Thereafter we become blind to the operation of the Sacred within our own being. If we are lucky, we retain the ability to be occasionally amazed, astonished, in awe of the whole system within which our living is embedded.

The little girl, not yet having entered into languaging, is free to spontaneously be in the sacred. We, on the other side of the languaging barrier, are no longer free to do so – unless we are very lucky, and we find ourselves in astonishment before some phenomenon of nature. We must impossibly struggle to free ourselves of the grasp of language in order to be able to sense the systemic complexity of our living.

Our current cultural orientation to ‘creating a product’ blinds us to the here and now of our interactions with others. It is therefore difficult to be in the present in our relationships – including the mother-infant relationship in the play situation. To remain in ‘total mutual acceptance without expectations’ is very difficult for many people.

It is worth underlining the way in which this outlook helps to define what Kelly meant by the Psychology of Understandings – it is a way of living in relationships with others so that we are able to sustain our ‘personal presence’ in an ongoing ‘present moment’. Or, to put it differently, we are in a relationship of reciprocal presence together. What the Psychology of Understandings implies therefore is that we are in relation with the other person in a series of present moments in such a way that we do NOT operate under the explicit or tacit intention of ‘doing something’ to, with, or for the other person. We are simply, personally, present.

I conclude with a final quote from Wittgenstein –

“Man has to thrust against the limits of language. Think for instance about one’s astonishment that anything exists. This astonishment cannot be expressed in the form of a question and there is no answer to it. Anything we say must, a priori, be only nonsense. Nevertheless we thrust against the limits of language. Kierkegaard, too, recognised this thrust and even described it in much the same way [as a thrust against paradox]. This thrust against the limits of language is ethics. I regard it as very important to put an end to all the chatter about ethics – whether there is knowledge in ethics, whether there are values, whether the Good can be defined, etc. In ethics, one constantly tries to say something that does not concern and can never concern the essence of the matter. It is a priori certain that, whatever definition one may give of the Good, it is always a misunderstanding to suppose that the formulation corresponds to what one really means, [Moore]. But the tendency, the thrust, points to something. ” [pp. 12 – 13]

vincent kenny on bateson’s notion of the sacred.


2 thoughts on “grace.

  1. cecil

    This reminded me to what Sheet-Johnstone called “intercoporeal/sensory attunment” in interpersonal relationships (see her article “Kinetic tactile-kinesthetic bodies: ontogenetical foundations of apprenticeship learning”)…

    1. nutshell Post author

      thanks cecil!
      haven’t read that but enjoyed sheets-johnstone’s presence at the drawing conference in 2009. maybe i’ll get back into reading articles someday… 😉
      hope you’re well!
      big hug


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