Activeness: Engaging the Body

To do a great many things is not enough; what is important is what we do and how it happens. It is those of our actions which affect our whole nature that I call activeness.

(Naess, 2002, p. 76)

Simply because students are actively walking in the forest or are digging soil in a garden does not mean that they are necessarily engaged in learning or that they are developing a sense of closeness with nature. In IEE, the Activeness principle reminds us to be constantly thoughtful about how to engage the body’s tools for learning so that we may come to feel something for nature based on our immediate encounters with the world around us. Naess’s (2002) distinction between “being active” and “activeness” as two different kinds of relationship in which one engages with nature informs this guiding principle. Being active involves movement of the body in activities such as play or sport, an externally manifest relationship that has limited impact on our understanding of nature. In contrast, activeness is an internally manifest relationship and potentially has the most impact on our understanding of nature. While activeness may be achieved through physical activity, it may be better characterized as “lingering in silence” or as “pause” (Naess, 2002, pp. 2-3). It may indeed appear like inactivity. Naess’s distinction between activity and activeness is useful because all too often, or so it seems, the involvement of the body in learning is of the “being active” rather than “activeness” variety.

In IEE, the Activeness reminds us to pause, as part of learning, on a more regular basis. By pausing and being thoughtful about how to engage the body in learning a topic through a direct encounter with the world, we open up the possibility for our students to perceive something new, something extraordinary in the “ordinary” places in which they live, that they may not otherwise notice. Activeness involves affording students’ opportunities to feel their connectedness with the world around them. To fulfill this principle, teachers will consider the following in their teaching:

How does the body participate in this story?

What activities can engage the learner somatically in learning about the topic?

How can students’ sense of relation to the world around them be engaged?

Reference: Naess, A. (2002). Life’s philosophy: Reason and feeling in a deeper world. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.