Soma: origins and paths of an anarchist experiment Levier has been hosting 'Soma: body collaboration workshops' since

2007. Created in Brazil as an anarchist therapy, by Roberto Freire, Soma is used at these intensive workshops as a social laboratory, bringing art, activism and learning new skills together. Participants are invited to play as a way to rediscover the body, sharing collaboration games to rethink relationships. Jorge Goia, a Soma facilitator trained by Freire, describes here this journey from therapy to experiment. “There's nothing as contagious as the taste for freedom”, Roberto Freire (1927 – 2008) used to say to explain why he went on to create 'Soma – an anarchist therapy'1. Also, poetically, this sentence from one of his books introduces his unorthodox trajectory: graduated in Medicine, practiced in Endocrinology and Psychiatry, trained in Psychoanalysis, journalism, worked widely in the arts – drama, music, TV and film -, political activist, a best-selling writer with 30 books published in Brazil. In this productive walking through science, art and politics, Soma 2 is a synthesis of Freire's activism. Roberto Freire was part of a generation of Brazilians who dared to live a dream. Together with Paulo Freire, not related, and Augusto Boal, he took part in the educational and cultural projects which were changing Brazil before the military coup backed by the US in 1964. They were jailed and prosecuted during the dictatorship because their activities were considered subversive for the authoritarian regime. Later, Paulo Freire and Boal's writings were translated and read all around the world, spreading their ideas about how to raise awareness about social and political justice. Roberto Freire is less well-known, but in some way, they complement each other. If the Theatre of the Oppressed can be seen as one of the most engaging form of mixing art and activism; and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a revolutionary approach to education; Soma works with those who are involved in art, activism and popular education. When Roberto Freire created ‘Soma - an anarchist therapy’, in the 1970’s, he was looking for therapeutic methodologies that could help and support people who were involved with the resistance against the dictatorship. He studied the psychological and emotional aspects of being an activist, the contradictions between ideology and practices. Why is so difficult to overcome emotions such as jealousy, envy and fear, which disrupt the collaborative process? Taking part in different kinds of social and cultural movements, Freire realized traditional forms of activism, from political parties to clandestine organisations, have the same limitations of the power structure they want to overcome. And he dug deep, finding virus of authoritarianism not only in the state political system, but in all relationships, family, school, sexual, leisure, moral values, in the minimum rules of behaviour which regulate life in association with other people. Capitalism contaminates everyday activities and private
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Freire, R. (1988). Soma – uma terapia anarquista – volume 1 – A alma é o corpo. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Guanabara. Freire, R. (1991). Soma – uma terapia anarquista – volume 2 – A arma é o corpo – Prática da Soma e Capoeira. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Guanabara. 2 For further information about the methodology of Soma in English, download Soma vol. 3 from http://www.somaterapia.com.br/eng/soma.jsp#

A blend of science. keeping a confessional tune where readers could follow his struggles. Looking for reflections about their hopes. because “love. “Why are those who want to change society unable to comprehend the nature of this society? Because they want to make omelettes without breaking the eggs. beauty and goodhumour as the most important things to being an activist. there they were two militants in crisis with their activism: they had struggled to not die. friendship. with some newspapers refusing to write the word tesão in their reviews about the book.Without tesão there’s no solution . at any cost. 3 4 Freire. we are someone's property. Freire created Soma as an open ‘work in progress’ throughout his writings. When we are completely safe. I came across Soma by reading Freire's books and got hooked by his writings. not life. temporally blind as consequence of tortures suffered during the dictatorship. it's necessary to get briefly introduced to Freire’s ideas. Authoritarianism does not just forbid freedom of speech. they wrote a poetical invitation to bring passion into politic and utopia into everyday life. wrote by Roberto Freire and Fausto Brito. But to know what Soma is about. she lives for satisfying. therefore an anarchist therapy like Soma should be like an anti-virus to capitalism. Unfortunately. almost survivors. R. (Utopia and Passion – The politic of everyday life). Utopia e Paixão – A politica do cotidiano.relationships. essays and therapy books all express an anarchist approach mixed with the search for pleasure. contradictions and discoveries. (1984). they had to find a new way of living! And to live is more than just to survive. of love. because she has her own utopia. was a big success among young people and a generation book for many Brazilians who took part in the fight against the authoritarian regime. Being slaves. Freire. and now. to not have a choice”4 (RF) His other books went on to deeper this search for freedom and love in social and personal life. there's no risk. challenging hierarchical relationships at the personal level. that is to change society without changing themselves. to present and make public his political views. ‘Sem tesão não ha solução’ . ‘Cleo and Daniel’ (1966). theoretical approaches and ethical choices. his main books are not translated into English/French yet. is the opposite of death!” (RF). Rio de Janeiro: Ed Guanabara. My favourite book is ‘Utopia e Paixão – A politica do cotidiano’. published in Brazil in 1984. The social and personal are one and the same when he writes about revolution. In the dictionaries. It tells a story about the rebelliousness effect of love under power relationships and how moral and sexual repression can create despair. no movement! “Risk is synonymous with freedom. spent most of his time in hospital talking to Brito. Almost at the end of the military regime.created a big polemic in the late 1980's. no change. The highest form of security is slavery. The book was born from hours of conversation between the two authors. we do not run any risk so long as we obey the fundamental rules of slavery: to not be free. literature and philosophy.”3 (RF) Like lots of people in Brazil. school. Power is established in the search for security. her need for pleasure. A person who likes risk and adventures has to accept insecurity. fear and madness. family. making it difficult to associate and collaborate. “there's light even in the darkness”. his novels. it also kills the possibility of love. His first novel. idem .

of course. Freire developed his own theory about a biological pleasure principle that should be an internal compass to guide our decision making. ideologies could be split in two. . We can experience these thoughts and emotions when we are coming against a challenge. R. (1990). Marxism asks us to support proletarian dictatorship before the communist paradise. Freire. either together or alone. we know. linking them to the 60’s spirit of rebelliousness and love. Our life is full of the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ we learnt somewhere in the world – family. how it will affect other people’s life. Rio de Janeiro: Ed Guanabara. Drawing on Max Stirner’s anarchist ideas. In love we never let ourselves be completed by the other. setting moral and social rules. fulfilment.tesão was defined as being sexual excited.”5 (RF) Following on defining his approach to tesão as a politic for everyday life. Rio de Janeiro: Ed Guanabara. are also full of them. otherwise. the most sincere and real sensation of being alive. We need to take the risk of being ourselves. at school. “Declaration of an anarchist lover: Because I love you. or just playing a game. Sometimes. mood at the moment. you don't need me. Psychoanalysis does the same talking about repressing our biological instincts to allow life in society. (1987). even if we appear to be concerned with here and now. if we do things sacrificing our pleasure. facing a life change choice. control based in behaviour patterns. religious traditions. what we think are other peoples' opinions. we must ignore our thoughts to be able to listen to ourselves because they are just reproductions of ideas that are not ours. We are deliciously unnecessary to each other”6 (RF) 5 6 Freire. and sometimes paradoxical. one linked with pleasure and other with sacrifice. These three elements are. How can we know what's nature and what's culture. We are not looking at or perceiving the present. pleasure. cheerfulness and pleasure. it's the most clear and intense. and will feel upset and frustrated when they don’t. Sem tesão não há solução. parts of Roberto Freire’s proposition for the meanings of the word tesão in Brazil. But Freire captured the semantic transformations of this word. Sensuality is the biggest honesty. the consequences of our actions. etc. I don't need you. messages when we come across a decision to be made. doing things because they bring us satisfaction. we expect other people to do the same. when young people started to use tesão to describe something or someone that brings out the experience of beauty. what really matters. We’ve got various ideas about what should or shouldn’t be done. what's coming from our 'real' self and what's regulated by social conventions? Most of the time. R. these kind of messages come from either past experiences or future expectations/projections. even if life isn’t good down here. the word tesão seems to have made everything sensual. How many ‘selves’ are there in what one calls ‘oneself’? We can clearly recognise different. The ideology of pleasure is Freire's anarchism against the ideology of sacrifice of capitalism. Because you love me. We would need to re-learn how to perceive our feeling and emotions. Ame e dê vexame. but somehow disfranchised from it. “At its current use. Freire wrote that you can find sacrifice ideology in many different doctrines: Christianity is based in the idea of hope in the heaven. feelings and emotions. And these worlds.

There is no hierarchical separation of mind. participants play a game to experience situations that will open questions about their everyday life. above the materiality of the State and Property. in terms of behaviour. It seeks to challenge the regulation of life shaped by hierarchical rules and social conventions with playfulness and cooperative games. care. I would come with a joke: ‘Which kind of explanation do you want? One based on psychoanalysis? Or a cognitive-behaviour approach? Also I can provide a bodyemotion theory. the body as the source of desire and pain. taking risks. making choices. usually a ready-answer disenfranchised of human singularity. collaboration. It's when the paradox between therapy and anarchism creates a singular group dynamic. First. The aim is to observe how the body is related to emotions and how this experience can avoid generalisation and find its singularity – each one is one of a kind. The word soma comes from the Greek and it means the totality of being in the widest and most complete sense . Right and wrong. it’s necessary to leave behind two fundamental stones of psychological science and of all hierarchical relationships: interpretation and judgement. It is not by chance that the first anarchists. The games ask the group to interact physically. a cause explaining all the consequences. soul. can reveal what is unclear for other people. The games raise different issues that trigger observation of how we respond to situations involving trust. most of the time without any verbal communication. visible and alive! Freire adopted this concept to make a statement: Soma is not a conventional psychotherapy. is where the engine of social control operates. skills . responsibility. It’s like to re-learn how to listen to others. Gregory Bateson and capoeira angola.but above all. There. a long time ago. confidence. participants sit in a circle to talk about their feelings. relationships. the Trial and Law. dreams. Soma games came from a research into “unblocking the creativity” for actors: a series of workshop which would make possible a rich journey of discovery for the individual about the nuances of his/her behaviour. where you talk and listen to a therapist. Frederick Perls.With this political framework. After they have played together. ideals. etc.’ An interpretation closes what could be widened and leads to judgement and blaming of something or someone. feeling. touchable. Basically.the body and its extensions. usually an expert in something. The talking part is as important as the games. Sometimes. Listening to . are based in the idea of normality. body. emotion. whatever: soma is antonymous to psyche in the sense that soma is material. Interpretation means someone. creating its own way to deal with impasses and differences. sharing. Soma was created to be a journey to re-discover human relationships. Inspired by Wilhelm Reich. Freire's desire to bring freedom into emotional matters. and adventures through the dynamic between risk and safety. They afford an environment where one can perceive physical reactions in usual situations of human relationships. put together as their main targets. people with previous therapeutic experience would look at me and wait for a ‘scientific explanation’ for what they said about their life/behaviour. Soma sessions are split in two parts. conflict. To do that. It’s a ‘why’ based in the power of knowledge. emotions and perceptions. The group dynamic facilitates an environment where participants can develop more autonomy and creativity throughout body awareness and the production of non-authoritarian relationships. conflicts. an Afro-Brazilian art form. Freire created an experimental laboratory to inspire an empowering group dynamic where capitalist values should be challenged in a personal level.

culture shaping. When Soma expresses its political interests. which is another product of the neurosis of capitalism. What we believe today as a fact. expressions of laboratory. But if we get rid of the capacity or authority to interpret and judge. emotions? The traditional division of Cartesian heritage points to an inside. to open questions. These are some beliefs moving psychology as modern science and they justify therapeutic techniques and methodologies. In the Soma process. therapies keep working with their binds with concepts like health. Neurosis. genetics. medicines and healing. we could think of psychological therapies as a new religions. but the best listeners. character. neurophysiology. But even using different approaches. or depression. this is one of the main skill necessary to develop a group dynamic based in horizontal relationships. but this doesn’t matter to the consumers of therapy. illness. freezing in space and time ‘reality’ and its meanings. therapy/confession. rather than the function of friends and communities. leaders are not the best speakers in the community. In this crazy time when people spend lots of money to have someone to listen to them talking about their life. opening different windows. And there are listeners that make the other feel dull. where there's no space for judgement and interpretations. might be in doubt tomorrow. treatments. And even more because there are so many psychological theories around the body and its links with mind and emotions. prescription/ritual and health/cure. The big trap in modern science is reductionism: rational explanations that always leave out something of the process. using science to explain feelings and emotions. but a metaphor for life. Experiment is not an exclusive right of whoever can control variables. psychological subject that is beforehand of any material reality. how can we make use of psychological knowledge when listening to other people? I learnt to think that we could keep asking interesting questions. formatting and defining all nuances of an individual that is almost a blank canvas awaiting the social painting. The speed that ‘scientific’ truths change place confuses anyone that relies only on cartographies such as psychology. it’s because being listened to became rare and institutionalised. We would need to learn how to be a ‘creative listener’. hormones. offering different point of views. everything becomes a symptom for the prescriptions of pills.judgement-making immobilises the possibility to create. to escape from definitions and normalisations regulating everyday life. Or to an outside. Giving up the pretension of prescription. to make more articulations. of establishing a general formula to be applied across the board. If therapy has found space to spread out as a commodity in capitalist society. A good listener is someone who makes the other feel fluent. boring and repetitive. when reduced to the psychological or to sociological. it escapes traditional therapeutic methodologies. with all metaphors well applied. . as the notion of a private life grew. What constitutes someone’s behaviour. bright and inspired when he/she talks to them. Anarchism must not continue to be ignored as a collective practice if we want to break down the absolute power of science. and recipes in self-help books. not just point out ready responses. They carry on believing in the authority of the therapist with scientific knowledge. What would happen if we dare to stop looking for definitive answers? We could have more descriptions about possible interactions. Among the Zapatistas. paranoia. experiment and science can gain other meanings and follow other paths. cognition. like guilt/sin. anxiety. the one that helps someone to perceive more things.

we make more mediation. an anarchist therapy needs to use theories as maps. it is in transformation. T. Soma groups are a space for experiences of what was previously only potentiality. where the body games create an environment which affords development of skills10. The world is a space for experimentation. it receives cultural education. and more articulations9. take short cuts. But these skills are not properties of the participants. numbers and graphs. the process attempts to keep one’s soma moving. but what leaves a dynamic trajectory by which we learn to register and become sensitive to what the world is made of. We need theoretical tools to blow up the walls of arrogant scientific knowledge. See at http://www. Prickly Paradigm Press. It has biological influences. it is built. Latour. In a Soma workshop. Soma gives voice to the body to express doubts. Soma doesn’t try to define one’s body. but not just by determination and definition. to build methodologies affording instruments. Such approach breaks with the traditional rational way to develop skills.fr/articles/article/077. D. opening possibilities of new engagements. The more articulations we make. where the mind is split from the body. questions. If in the modern laboratory theories sustain hypothesis. (2002). and isolated from life experience. confined inside oneself. (2000). where often one prays for certainty. can we apply now what was just potentiality before. as David Graeber has put in his writtings about anarchism and anthropology7. the more we become sensitive to difference. how to stop and enjoy the view. to point to effects which produce results. A body is not a provisional residence of something superior. avoid abysses.bruno-latour. than what comes to the mind. emotions and feelings. Fragments of an anarchist anthropology. B. mind. how it feels in the body. London: Routledge. affects and effects. And when we perceive more contrasts.html 9 idem 10 Ingold. How to talk about the body? The normative dimension of science studies. to learn how to make more ‘articulations’. It means looking more to the process than to the results. and make possible livelihoods. To have a body is to learn to be affected. Skills only exist and appear in relationship with either something or someone. and we are not in the same place any more. and the more we can refine our senses to perceive. but not like a gene holding its destiny. to confront those who determine objectivity as scientific proofs with certificates. we take the risks of missing the point. in our multiple interactions with and possibilities in the environment. This relational approach breaks from the idea that skills are something one owns. The skills required to play Soma games can produce new ways to perceive and relate. they happen in the involvement with the group dynamic. skills to facilitate consensus. in an anarchist experiment they are more indications about how to find paths. And only in relationships. (2004). dwelling and skills. This process creates an environment in which the consensus decision making process starts in each participant's body. An experiment can be a life changing experience when it creates new possibilities: one more step. A body is an interface that becomes more and more describable when it learns to be affected by differences8. the more we are affected. with our dwelling creating an environment to develop skills. The perception of the environment – essays about livelihood. . When the body is in articulation. to create new forms of non-hierarchical sociability. but not like a moral standard frozen in time and space. the individual removed from its surroundings.To avoid these conceptual networks. Consensus and autonomy are ethical proposals to live with less 7 8 Graeber. The body is the inevitability of human beings.

I was already living abroad. Emotions can be at the same time cause and effect. crossing boundaries of traditional relationships with a sometimes disturbing radical honesty. someone not ashamed to show his emotions and feelings even when they were against social rules.hierarchy in a group. And art and activism are pedagogical tools because they can affect people to create unusual articulations and new propositions. and science flirts with the arts. they are bodies affecting themselves.br/folha/ilustrada/ult90u30634. something that just appear in the lack of reason. with intensity. The original contribution of Freire's Soma lies in its hybrid approach: a mix of therapy and pedagogy. but I haven’t got any explanation to it. With love you can just do a necropsy. politics and emotions. re-building the body. result of changes and trigger of modifications. He lived them. and how it 11 Interview with Roberto Freire by Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo (2003) http://www1. enjoying life. I worked with him for almost 20 years and shared a beautiful collaborative friendship. going out. envisaging a radical participatory. The politics of everyday life begins with our private matters. Roberto Freire dared to dream a bridge between them. arts and science. Soma challenges participants to reinvent relationships. where one can live singular experiences. emotions are not immaterial. Freire liked to be called Bigode (moustache). when our feelings and emotions come together with our beliefs and ideology. but felt. to resist and to react against hierarchy and social injustice.uol. I stop loving. I have turned the sessions away from an emphasis on neurosis (we have something wrong) towards the gaining of skills (we can learn something new). even among participants of his therapy groups.folha. Love is not to be understood. experienced. In his last years. Soma can be a form of political engaged live art that aims to challenge the authoritarian or submissive behaviour that we discover in our daily lives.an anarchist experiment”. subjective. If I examine it. and aims to extend this awareness to other areas of our lives. Soma seeks to inspire skills to build horizontal relationships. and they require learning other skills than the ones developed by authoritarian societies.shtml . we raise awareness and bring out the physical reality of our bodies educated in the capitalist culture of fear and security.”11 RF Roberto Freire created Soma dreaming to spread out personal and social change like an infection: once you've got that taste of freedom on your body. skills that can transform the way we perceive the world. Soma can be approached both as an art form and as activism. He loved being informal. you won't be satisfied with less. And for him.com. These are the reasons why I have been doing “Soma . but got in touch frequently with him telling about my experiments with Soma. Linking these. It encourages perception and awareness of how this behaviour reproduces authoritarian systems. When we give up imperatives of ‘Truth’. his nickname. ethics comes close to aesthetics. in all the books I wrote. two wide fields of subjects separated by a sea of ideas. never biopsy. its dwelling and livelihood. He used to define himself as a militant of pleasure. With this experimental format I've been practising. creating new forms of socialization and activism. collaborative practice. Soma is inspired by anarchism and psychology. Changing therapy into experiment. “I only talked about love in all my life. with the possibility of fighting against oppression and domination with more than words and rationality.

still leaves indelible pleasure experiences of utopia and passion. but his desire to see more and more people infected with tesão. . Doing Soma is not just to keep alive Freire's work.

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