|Title||Friends Passing: Thomas Hanna (1928-1990)|
|Publication Type||Magazine Article|
|Year of Publication||1990|
Obituary for Thomas Hanna (1928-1990) by Elizabeth A. Behnke, SPPB. Includes extensive biographical information and anecdotes.
|Full Text|| |
Tom Hanna — happy existentialist,1 hands-on philosopher,2 and founding figure of the field of somatics — died this summer, suddenly, unexpectedly, abruptly, in an automobile accident near his home in Northern California. He left an impressive legacy that far transcends disciplinary divisions. His books, for example, include The Thought and Art of Albert Camus (1958); The Lyrical Existentialists (1963); Bodies in Revolt: A Primer in Somatic Thinking (1970); The End of Tyranny: An Essay on the Possibility of America (1976); The Body of Life (1980); and Somatics: Reawakening the Mind's Control of Movient, Flexibility and Health (1988), along with two edited collecions: The Bergsonian Heritage (1963) and Exploreres of Humankind (1979). But perhaps the arc of his adult life tells it better.
After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1958, Tom “intermittently taught, did social work, research, and writing in Virginia, Paris, Brussels, Mainz, and Guadalajara.”3 He served as Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Florida from 1965 to 1970; at one point, he offered a class in yoga without remembering to specify an enrollment limit for the course. So many students signed up that there was no classroom on campus big enough to hold them all, and so the class was hold outdoors, with students meditating and practicing Hatha Yoga right next to where the campus ROTC students went through their own rather different training exercises.4
An article that appeared in the Fall 1969 issue of Soundings — ”The Living Body: Nexus of Process Philosophy and Existential Phenomenology” — already contains many of the main themes and theses of Tom's later work.5 Meanwhile, however, he spent eight weeks in the summer of 1969 in Guadalajara, Mexico, where — supported by a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies — he wrote Bodies in Revolt, a work he characterized as a “free essay.” It was in this book that he officially resurrected the Greek word 'soma' and redefined it for our times. “'Soma,'” he wrote (pp. 35, 36-37),”does not mean 'body': it means 'Me, the bodily being'”; “somas are you and I, always wanting life and wanting it more abundantly. Somas are you and I, brothers of acommon mibranous enclosure, a common mortality, a common environment, a common confusion and of a common opportunity, right now,to discover far more than we have ever known about ourselves.”
The insistent and visionary rhetoric of Revolt is somewhat (though only somewhat!) tipered in two articles that followed — ”The Project of Somatology,” which appeared in 1973, and “Three Elements of Somatology,” published in 1975.6 By now, Tom had relocated to the West Coast, where he held the position of Director of the Humanistic Psychology Institute (the freestanding graduate school founded under the auspices of the Association of Humanistic Psychology and later renamed the Saybrook Institute) from 1973 to 1976. After seeing Moshe Feldenkrais work with a fifty-three year old man with cerebral palsy — a scene vividly described in The Body of Life(pp. 178-81) — Tom not only decided to do his work himself, but arranged for the first U.S. Feldenkrais training course, which began in 1975 and was held in three successive summers in San Francisco.7 He carried out his own practice8 through the Novato Institute for Somatic Research and Training, of which he was Director. And in 1976, he founded Somatics: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences and became its first editor.9
According to the “Advertisement”, “Somatics is a ‘magazine-journal’ in the sense that it presents articles written in the style of popular magazines as well as research and theoretical papers that are usual found in scholarly journals. Thus, the guidelines for articles submitted to Somatics are quite broad — a magazine-journal is open to all possible styles of manuscript. This policy recognized that innovative ideas, research,and discoveries in the somatic field come from diverse quarters, from both academic and nonacademic sectors and from both scientific and non-scientific researchers.”
Such editorial open-mindedness has made for a fascinating publication, with each issue Includinng poety and an intriguing cover photograph along with the articles, the book reviews, and the bibliography of recent research articles prepared by Eleanor Criswell. In Volume IV, Number 2 (Spring/Summer 1983), a formal definition of the word “somatics” made its appearance in the publication for the first time.10 And beginning with Volume VII, Number 1 (Autumn/Winter 1988-89), the elegant definition, “Soma: The body experienced from within” also began showing up in its pages.
Tom not only provided editorial leadership for 29 issues of Somatics, but contributed articles from time to time as well:
But in addition, every issue began with the “Reflections of the Editor” on the inside front cover. Among my favorites are “How Much Is Enough?”(3;2), 'The Earth's Desire” (3:3) “One” (4,3), “The Humming, (4:4), “A Bird. Calling” (5:2), “The Tall Grass” (6:1), “Of the Same Soil” (7:1) and “One More Pretension” (7:2). Each deserves to be read and reread in full. Here.,however, some brief citations will have to suffice. These words are from “Words, Shadows and Life.” which appeared in the inaugural issue in Autumn 1976:
“The vision that is whole is the vision that does not exclude but opens itself to all without obliterating the wondrous complexity: the sprawling cosmos of matter, the moving presence of ibodied life and the beckoning depths of human awareness.
“Never to allow these parts to obscure the whole: never to allow the whole to obliterate the parts . . . .
“Life can be seen lucidly only against the supporting background of non-life; I cannot see myself without seeing us; and we cannot see ourselves as a species without seeing the gyrating whole of the cosmos.”
Yet for Tom, even the “vision that is whole” remains incomplete if it is not translated into the realm of action and experience, as we can see in these lines from “Zero” (2,3):
“I believe that wisdom is not discovered by knowing the truth but by living it. Unless it is lived it is humanly worthless.”
This commitment to “living it” came through especially powerfully in the last summer of Tom's life, when he offered what was to have been the first phase of a three-year training course in the clinical techniques of his own “Clinical Somatic Education.” One of his students in this training program wrote,
“The value for me was primarily the exposure to a man of such intense authenticity. He was as much of a self created person as I have ever met. . . . He started off the first day by saying that he was going to give us everything he had, nothing held back. That extended through the presentation of his work to some very intimate writings and stories about himself. He gave us a cosmology, the evolutionary background on who we are as a species, how we are part and microcosm of the universe. He provided a background of up to date scientific vision to provide a context for holding and valuing humanity and our individual selves as members of the family. It was in the example he set that I found the greatest reward. Given such a grand vision of who we are and where we've come from and experiencing someone who lived out that vision was very moving.”11
Tom left us a rich heritage of tangible resources, including not only his books and articles. but also the “Somatic Exercise” series on cassette tape and a video presentation entitled “Unlocking Your Body: Regaining Youth through Somatic Awareness.”12 He was an inspiration to many; Ed Casey, for example, was influenced by Tom's writings in choosing a career in philosophy, and when Don Johnson first read Bodies in Revolt, he felt that he had found his philosophical brother.” And I shall always remember Tom's generous support and encouragement for the ‘Study Project in Phenomenology of the Body’ in general and for my own research in Huseerl's phenomenology of the body in particular.
But Tom's work is not over even though the physical body that was his in life now rests in the earth beneath an oak tree in Texas: “his contributions to humankind continue, for the seeds have been sown.”13 Memorial contributions may be made to the Thomas Louis Hanna Scholarship Fund for Somatic Studies. Sonoma State Univereity Acadiic Foundation, 1801 East Cotati Ave.. Rohnert Park. CA 94928. But memorial acts of awareness, movment, learning, and joy may be made by any body, any soma, at any time.