Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

'Writing the Pain': Engaging First-Person Phenomenological Accounts

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

'Writing the Pain': Engaging First-Person Phenomenological Accounts

Article excerpt

Abstract

One way to teach or communicate embodied-relational existential understanding is to encourage the writing and reading of first person autobiographical phenomenological accounts. After briefly reviewing the field of first person phenomenological accounts, I offer my own example - one that uses a narrative-poetic form. I share my lived experience of coping with pain and hope to show how rich poetic phenomenological prose may facilitate lived understandings in others (be they our students, clients or colleagues). I argue that first person accounts can powerfully evoke lived experience, especially where they focus on existential issues, use personal-reflexive and/or relational-dialogal forms, and draw on the arts.

Introduction

In a reflexive narrative Kiser (2004) offers an existential analysis of his experience of having a psychotic episode. He describes the episode as involving such internal devastation that it

...leaves in its wake scars like canyons that can never be erased ... When the wasteland of nothingness came to claim me yet again, I was utterly helpless and undone. (Kiser, 2004, p. 433)

Work such as this, where researchers use their own experiences to examine the quality and essences of a phenomenon, exemplifies first person approaches. Such approaches follow the path of the original philosophers like Husserl, who pioneered phenomenology as the reflective study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first person point of view.1

In this article I would like to suggest that one way to teach or communicate embodied-relational existential understanding is to encourage the writing and reading of first person autobiographical phenomenological accounts. As Richardson (1994) suggests, learning to write can be seen as part of a process of enquiry. According to Richardson (1994) a researcher's selfknowledge and understanding of a topic develops through writing. She therefore seeks to "encourage individuals to accept and nurture their own voices" (Richardson, 1994, p. 523).

In addition to autobiographical enquiry, I would also like to celebrate the use of reflexive depth-full and compelling poetic-creative forms, following the Utrecht tradition of Van Manen's (1990) hermeneutic action-sensitive pedagogy. "Textual emotion, textual understanding can bring an otherwise sober-minded person (the reader but also the author) to tears and to a more deeply understood worldly engagement" (Van Manen, 1990, p. 129). I also follow the Embodied Enquiry work of Todres (2007). Todres' (2007) project is to restore a poetic heart to academic writing. According to Todres (2007) balancing a concern with 'texture' and 'structure' in our qualitative enquiry into human experience allows us to retain more holistic, embodied, resonant forms of knowing that are not fixed. Todres (2007) argues for an inner poetry to the qualitative research undertaking:

Poetic language with regard to experience is 'truthful' in that it attempts to retain the prereflective qualities of experiential structures - concrete, embodied, mooded, sensed, interrelated, and always full of the imagination gathered from other times and places. In poetic discourse, one's relatedness to existence is revealed in that it asks the listener to move towards the speaker or the text and to find the body of the occasion, its taste, and mood in his or her own. (p. 12)

After briefly reviewing the field of first person phenomenological accounts I offer my own autobiographical example - one that uses a narrativepoetic form. I share my lived experience of coping with pain and through this I hope to show how poetic phenomenological prose may facilitate lived understandings in others (be they our students, clients or colleagues).

This account of pain experience was initially written for myself as part of helping me voice and work through (make sense of) my experience. Later I intended others to read it, particularly physical therapists and other health professionals who, for all sorts of understandable reasons, can sometimes be inured to the pain and suffering of their clients. …

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