Luis Ammann is a journalist, with a degree in Modern Languages and specialized in Linguistics. He has been a member of the Humanist Movement since 1969, where he formed and directed organised structures of volunteers in 11 countries during 37 years. He has made different theoretical contributions to the current of thought of New Humanism, founded by Mario Luis Rodríguez Cobos, also known as Silo. He is the author of the book Self-Liberation, first published in Barcelona, Spain, in 1980 and published in more than 10 languages.
REHUNO spoke with Luis as part of the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first edition of the book Self-Liberation, which proposes personal work practices that have been used by thousands of people around the world. The method of Self-Liberation is conceived as a response to the deepest needs of human beings; the overcoming of suffering. In this context, Self-Liberation is a tool that allows this objective by modifying behaviour, as the author explains.
REHUNO: How was the process of putting together this book? What is the relationship that the book has with Silo, founder of the Humanist Movement?
LA: This book was first published in 1980, but it was finished in February 1979. The materials that gave rise to it were notes of work carried out by groups of people in what was called “Bases”. These were six-month retreats where they carried out self-knowledge and research. They began in a place called El Arenal (Jujuy, Argentina) in 1966 and continued in different places in Argentina. In 1972, in Yala (Jujuy, Argentina) a first compilation of these works was made, entitled Siloism. Silo gave some clues in direct talks, notes were taken and work was done in groups, and there were many people working with that until the 70s. The central ideas were always from Silo; we never added our own ideas to the text, only suggestions for implementation. After ’72 there were new topics collected in unofficial notes and they were written from what some of us researched, such as transferences, for example. In other words, the intellectual author is Silo and the rest is the work of many people. That’s how it was. I always try to explain it that way, as a teamwork of many people, but in the end all the intellectual concepts are Silo’s.
REHUNO: The book Self-Liberation is organized in two parts; the first covers relaxation exercises, psychophysical practices and self-knowledge practices. The second, called Operative, proposes exercises of catharsis, transference and self-transference. What is the origin of these works, did you create them?
LA: The work with the centres of response, which is in the section on Psychophysics, for example, comes originally from Gurdjieff (George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, Russian Master, creator of the Fourth Way) and the person who first presents them in the West is Peter Demianovich Ouspensky in his book “The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution” but they did not develop those themes.
They explain only the centers, the parts and sub-parts, but they did not establish—or they did not reach us—the exercises to determine what corresponded to each part and sub-part. And this is precisely what was done in the “bases” and “camps” before I entered in January 1969. Gurdjieff is also the one who discovered that it is fundamental to relax the face and the head in order to produce a good relaxation. Starting from the top is important for the subject of relaxation, but he did not leave a written work that could be followed to practice relaxation; that is what we developed. As far as Transference and Self-Transference are concerned, Silo explained the theory, gave a guide and many of us worked and made observations. This happened at a meeting with Silo in Corfu, a Greek island, in 1975. From there in Argentina two research groups were formed. One was coordinated by Juan José Pescio, who worked with Siloists from Buenos Aires to the South and the other by me, who worked with groups from Cordoba to the North. We coordinated several groups to work on transference. It was not written how the transferences were done, we had nothing more than the central idea discussed with Silo, a general guide. And we began to practice based on those central ideas, discovering new situations, solutions for those situations, understanding which were the paths that were not to be taken and where it was appropriate.
REHUNO: In the 1990’s edition you explained that the system of Self-Liberation is not a therapy, nor is it a medicine, but it is a tool for personal development. Today, modern science is increasingly confirming what was said by the most ancient medicines such as Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine, which in turn are derived from philosophical systems. They knew that breathing correctly, keeping the body relaxed and meditating are fundamental practices for good health.
LA: Self-Liberation is based on a central thought of Silo. that is the overcoming of human suffering, a thought of clear Buddhist root. The Buddha basically proposes this and creates a school of psychology, not a religion, although later some transform it into a religion. Today we could say that Buddha was an atheist, because the theme of god does not appear anywhere; his contribution is more referred to the theme of suffering, to the possibilities of coming out of the cycle of the different incarnations and everything else. Silo, in The Inner Look deals, in all his books basically, with the theme of the meaning of life and transcendence, that is, the overcoming of death. Silo’s work is more mystical, Self-Liberation is a translation, it’s made for a more western thought. It has the same central nucleus of overcoming suffering but it’s made for a more western mentality; it’s more like a cookbook (laughs) with the different things to do on the path of overcoming suffering. The overcoming of suffering has to do with health, psychophysical health, mental health, which is something that has been talked about more in the last 20 years but which Silo had already explained 50 years ago.
REHUNO: What is the key you found about relaxation and breathing?
L.A.: Few people paid attention to Gurdjieff regarding the importance of relaxation of the face, and we started there. The head, the face, the eyeballs, the two sides of the nose, the corner of the lips, all that is well developed in our relaxation. And then the breathing as a concrete thing that serves basically for everything, from calming down before going to a job interview, for example, to facing any other situation or starting an internal work practice or a ceremony. Looking a little bit deeper into the theme of allegories and symbols which are set out in the chapter on transference, in terms of the connectives between one situation and another, one wonders, what are the connectives? It can be an image of a bus trip, or any image that has to do with going from one place to another, where you take advantage of it to close what you have already done and prepare for what is to come. Then relating that content to psychophysics, how can you take advantage of a connective? Making a muscle relax? Impossible many times! But you can relax in a short interval with your breathing. Because breathing is the way we reach the internal organs. I can work the external muscles from the outside—I tense and release the muscles and they relax—but the internal organs how? Basically it’s through breathing. Breathing is connected to the emotions, so it not only helps you physically, but also neutralizes you emotionally, leaves you in a good tone, neutral. So it’s all very intertwined, and those exercises are quick.
REHUNO: The structure of how a transference is made, for example, the different elements that are analyzed allegorically such as the connectives, attributes, containers, contents… None of this was previously theorized?
L.A: The idea, for example, that one had to work on three planes of images (high, medium and low), that is explained by Silo. What is there in each plane as significant? That wasn’t established, we found that and Silo ordered it. For example, “The luminous city in the upper level,” which is a recurring image, we also found a luminous city in the lower lever, so we thought, how can that be distinguished? What is located at the top and what is located at the bottom? In short, all these explanations were given by Silo. We discovered that there was all this material, and he helped to put order to it, to make sense of it. In other words, to a great extent it was a collective work, there was participation of many people. Everyone who entered the Movement at that time went to the field and grassroots work and that was related to the “testing” of the centres of response in the world. We all went through that, and that is how this manual was put together.
REHUNO: And at that time you also wrote what would later become Psychology 1, 2 and 3, which were precisely the notes from Corfu and the Canary Islands. Is it correct to say that in those years the main theoretical basis of Silo’s work was developed?
L.A: Yes, totally. Corfu in 1975 and the Canary Islands in 1976 and 1978. Then Self-Liberation was published in 1980, the year in which the mission of the 80s was launched, and that closed a whole stage, a stage of a lot of research, of very good work, other diffuse and disparate works, that is, materials of different levels, but all that is the basis of the subsequent stages.
REHUNO: And, do these works remain then as a synthesis of the internal work of the previous stage?
L.A: And yes, precisely the first two official books were published: The Inner Look and Self- Liberation, both in the 80s. Until that moment we didn’t have official books, there were just notes.
REHUNO: In general, it is not part of Western culture to meditate, to know oneself, and even less so 40 years ago. How was the acceptance of that book at that time?
L.A.: Silo proposes meditation on oneself, he always insisted that you don’t need teachers, but that you do need to reflect. Of course, this result can be quite different among people, first of all because almost nobody meditates. And those who do meditate already have a lot of co-presences, experiences and beliefs from their previous formation, so to really meditate on the present without the noise of the past and the expectations of the future, is something very difficult.
Silo had already discovered and presented in The Inner Look the key: “there is no meaning in life if everything ends with death”. And how do Westerners who want to do something with themselves, how do we translate what Silo discovered? Then Silo puts together a psychology too, and that psychology creates elements that are key, core elements that are presented in the prologue of the first edition, he creates a series of exercises that have interesting antecedents. For example, what Gurdjieff left were techniques that this Master supported in art, in music, in dance, very elaborate things. I have spoken with music specialists who say that the work Gurdjieff had developed was very elaborate, with the theme of metrics and scales. That is, there is a lot of knowledge but it has to be passed on to people in a simple way.
REHUNO: Was that a concern in the book?
L.A.: Exactly! Yes, to make it as simple as possible. And later, Silo makes it even easier in Silo’s Message.
REHUNO: How is it proposed to work with the book Self-Liberation? How often should people work with these practices?
L.A.: If you are looking to synthesize, the work in that book could be done once in a lifetime. If you do it well, working with the whole system of Self-Liberation could be only once in a lifetime. But then one wonders what you do with the new situations that arise, or in the face of things that you thought you had overcome and are not overcome. For example, very difficult situations that require elements of reconciliation. And not only with others! I have discovered that the greatest difficulty is in reconciling with oneself, with images in which one feels that one has failed, or feels that one has done something harmful to others or to one’s own process. It is not easy. So for that I think you have to reach self-transference to reconcile yourself, self-transference to overcome certain internal conflicts, in short, self-transference to balance psyhological contents. Because the ideal for the consciousness is that there are no contents that are so dazzling that they become a kind of food for secondary dreams. That you have balanced your life, your mission and that you can transfer some of it to the outside, to those closest to you, or wherever you can get to. And with the issue of health I think there is a very large field of application.
REHUNO: The basic model of psychological work that we have today is basically that of a patient and a professional, whether it be the therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. Does Self-Liberation have that intention of proposing work that can be done alone?
L.A.: What we permanently recommend is to work with others. If you want, there are many practices that can be done alone, but the work is much richer if it’s in a group. Everything in Siloism points towards the relationship with one another, or with others. The Principles, for example, speak of valid action, of actions that end in others, that one would repeat, that make one grow internally. Always in a relationship of parity, our works do not contemplate the hierarchy of therapist and the patient, we always work horizontally.
REHUNO: One part of the research you were doing was during the dictatorship in Argentina. How was that?
L.A.: We went through two dictatorships, and suffered the lack of freedom, the clandestineness, but without major consequences because we were very much infiltrated by the intelligence services. They knew we had nothing to do with violence, they had our materials, they knew what we were doing because they were investigating us. We did suffer arrests and many of us were imprisoned, some in very harsh conditions and there were even friends killed in La Plata, but this was mainly during the rise of a paramilitary police gang called Triple A (Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance). In 1975 some friends from Córdoba, including my partner and I, were imprisoned in very harsh conditions in the clandestine detention centre “D2”. But fortunately here we are.
REHUNO: Would you change anything in a future edition of the book?
L.A.: In the chapter on psychophysics there is an explanation of the response centres (intellectual, emotional, motor, vegetative) and we decided to put only the examples of the intellectual center with parts and sub parts, of the others there are no examples, there is only the detail of the intellectual centre. I recently found a work that is quite well done, contributed by María Angélica Soler, and in a next edition of Self-Liberation we should make a call citing that work, for those who want to go deeper, because she develops it more and better. Another question that we should improve in a next edition is the subject of the bibliography. Although Silo’s work is very original, and for that reason it is difficult for us to put together a bibliography, since we don’t have one, these books are not taken up in universities. That would have to be done, although we can’t detail each part, since it’s a work that arises from experience, we would have to put those previous references.
REHUNO: What are your future projects?
LA: I’m working on two projects. I want to develop the chapter on self-transference, which is a part of the book that many people end up not using because it seems complex, and I am writing a paper on conflict resolution. From détente we are focusing on a part of the most serious conflicts, but we are going to expand it. Conflict has three vertices formed by a visual image of a problem, another is the muscular tension that this image produces and the third is the corresponding emotion. For example: a person is being harassed by their boss in front of their colleagues. There is the image of the boss saying I don’t know what, and then the colleagues around them laughing, others feeling sorry, etc. And the person feels a terrible muscular tension, which is not always in the same place, it depends on the person. If you work only the muscular, physical tension, you can achieve relaxation to a great extent, but you can also achieve relaxation by changing the image of the situation that caused such tension. If you start working on the image, introducing elements that were not there, for example, curtains, a funny picture of a man with a moustache, imagine that while the boss is scolding and degrading their pants are falling down, that changes the scene, it is no longer the same scene, then the physical tension and the emotion associated with that image dissolves. That helps a lot in the resolution of conflicts, whether they are of childhood, adolescence or the present moment. The idea is to give new tools.
REHUNO: Luis, thank you very much for that interview and congratulations on the celebration of the book’s 40th anniversary.
L.A.: No, please, thank you very much.
To know more: http://www.luisammann.com.ar/
Centres of Response: An educational perspective on psychophysics. Maria Angelica Soler.
Original article in Spanish https://www.pressenza.com/es/2020/03/entrevista-a-luis-amman-autor-del-libro-autoliberacion/
Translation Pressenza London