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Drawing on G. H. Mead and Merleau-Ponty, this paper aims to extend our understanding of self-reflexivity beyond the notion of a discursive, abstract, and symbolic process. It offers a framework for embodied self-reflexivity, which anchors the self in the reflexive capacity of bodily sensations. The data consist of two years of ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews of vipassana meditation practitioners in Israel and the United States. The findings illustrate how bodily sensations are used as indexes to psychological states, emotions, and past experiences, while constant awareness of embodied responses is used as a tool for self-monitoring. The paper follows the interaction between discursive and embodied modes of reflexivity and the attempt to shift from one mode to the other. I suggest that currently popular practices of embodied awareness, from meditation to yoga, are based on embodied self-reflexivity and are part of the postindustrial culture of self-awareness.

How do abstract philosophies turn into lived reality? Based on 2 years of ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews of vipassana meditation practitioners in Israel and the United States, the paper follows the process through which meditators embody the three main Buddhist tenets: dissatisfaction, impermanence and not-self. While meditators consider these tenets central to Buddhist philosophy, it is only through the practice of meditation that the tenets are experienced on the bodily level and thereby are “realized” as truth. This realization takes place in the situated environment of the meditation center, where participation in long meditation retreats facilitates the production of specific subjective experiences that infuse the knowledge of Buddhist tenets with embodied meaning. The paper illustrates how abstract concepts and embodied experience support one another in the construction of meditators’ phenomenological reality and suggests a general framework for studying the variety of relations that exist between the conceptual and embodied dimensions of different types of knowledge.

The ‘problem of other minds’ is central to sociological theory and of immediate importance to contemporary research on subjectivity and interiority. How do we cultivate and maintain an intersubjective space during silent, private, experiences? Drawing on Alfred Schutz’s phenomenology, this study challenges the common view which regards silence as an obstacle to social relations. The data consist of two years of participant observation of vipassana meditation practices in Israel and the United States. Vipassana meditation is conducted in complete silence, discouraging group sharing of meditation experiences, thus offering an extreme case of silence and privacy. The findings illustrate how, despite the absence of direct verbal communication, the practice of meditation still holds important intersubjective dimensions. I suggest that covert mechanisms of silent intersubjectivity play an important role in everyday social life and require further ethnographic attention.
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