Institute still uniting body, mind and spirit
April 7, 2003
I never thought I would see someone thrown to the floor on the stage of Paepcke Auditorium, but that’s what Tom Crum did to his assistant last week in Aspen. I also never thought I would hear anyone yodel from the podium in Paepcke, but that, too, happened when Klaus Obermeyer performed his traditional Bavarian warble.
The Aspen Institute stretched a bit last week by producing a combined presentation and evening seminar titled: “Body, Mind and Spirit.”
The presentation, which featured Aikido teacher Tom Crum, was followed by a dinner seminar at the Aspen Meadows where a discussion delved into the philosophy and practice of body/mind/spirit integration.
When I say the Institute stretched, I mean that it reached back to the philosophical underpinnings of Aspen at the time of its renaissance in the early 1950s. Humanism was then seen as salvation for a post World War II world that had just experienced the horrors of the holocaust and its methodical industrialized genocide.
It was then that Walter Paepcke, Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler created in Aspen an institute that would further moral and ethical leadership by introducing seminar participants to the great ideas of western man. Ideally, the Babbitts of the world would become educated participants in the moral ascendancy of humanity rather than slaves to materialism.
Humanism became the focal point because it spoke with a prophetic air to the ennobling of Mankind. Humanism provides man with the wherewithal to rise to great heights through the enlivening of the human spirit and by embracing freedom and responsibility in self-governance. Humanism proclaims that man has a potentially divine nature and assembles his future, whether good or bad.
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Tom Crum’s presentation in Paepcke was captivating and highly entertaining as he addressed body, mind and spirit through the “dance” of Aikido and the concept of “centering.” The parallels he drew between physical and emotional conflict were illustrative of how each of us faces conflict on a regular basis and how the tools for coping with conflict and growing from it are at our fingertips.
The audience was fully engaged as Tom led us through the philosophy and practice of this most graceful martial art. Centering, he explained, represents the unity of body, mind and spirit in a harmonious manifestation of human potential.
Following Tom’s program, a smaller group adjourned to the Aspen Meadows where we gathered at a large dinner table and tackled Aristotle, Plotinus, Lucretius and selected philosophical readings from the Great Books. Progress was sometimes slow and plodding, but we labored through definitions of body, mind and spirit as the constituent parts of what it means to be human.
We then took what Tom and the great philosophers had taught us and applied it to practical applications of personal performance. This was a powerful grounding experience for participants and the conversation became lively and often personal. We then related body, mind and spirit to the “Aspen Idea” and discussed the Aspen community with our newfound insights.
Participants brought to the table a variety of topics, including local politics, war, education, and the raising of children. The dialogue was frank, candid and meaningful. Gradually, body, mind and spirit amalgamated into a unified whole from which we drew our personal truths.
When the focus was on Aspen, we debated the merits of the conflicting triads identified by Mortimer Adler: the Machiavellian (money, fame and power) and the Platonic (the good, the true, the beautiful). We agreed that these values intermingle in Aspen and define our diverse and often contentious community.
The program opened our eyes to the complexities of humankind and focused our attention on the underpinning philosophy of the original Aspen ideology. Participants left with plenty to think about and it became obvious that this seminar could be expanded and opened to a larger audience.
Hopefully, The Aspen Institute will see value in striving to understand the ideological basis of its founders, including a renewed study of humanism. A trustee of the Institute, Peter Cundill, underwrote the program because he feels that body, mind and spirit are vital parts in the equation for living the “whole life” and becoming the “whole man.”
Such was the goal of Walter Paepcke, who envisioned Aspen as a place where people could gather, discuss ideas, enliven the spirit through music, art and nature, and nurture the body with fresh air and exercise. The Aspen Idea lives today, not in abstract, but in practice. Last week’s program proved its viability.
Paul Andersen thinks past principles and ideologies are worth exploring. His column appears on Mondays.