defacing exercise


Materials required: printed photo or drawing (parts#1 and 2) + camera (part#3)

Time required: initially approx 30mins + follow up along the week

Part 1: 

A) Find a printed photo of yourself in which your face is clearly visible. Place it on a hard surface in front of you. (If you don’t have access to a photo, either print an image of yourself or make a detailed drawing which you can use instead)

B) Place the palm of your hands over your ears, press gently so to bring focus to your internal sounds. Keeping your ears sealed and your lips closed, roll your tongue in a counter clock wise motion, pushing onto the inside of your mouth. Do it slowly, feel the saliva gathering in your mouth, don’t swallow it. Connect to its ability to help break solid matter in the process of digestion and to help heal open wounds. Complete as many circles as your age. Circulate the saliva through your mouth (‘bochechar’/ rinsing motion without spitting) and feel the ocean and its waves within you. 

C) Slightly open your slips and let the saliva trickle onto your face in the image. Remember how water can dissolve things, shape shift things, help things heal, help things die, create space for new things…  Using your index finger to rub off your face, in a clockwise circular motion, feel the movement of time as your face disappears. Continue de-facing yourself until you create a hole.

Part 2: Lift the photo and search for the sky in that empty space. Beware of your mind’s tendency to project onto the (w)hole.  

[wash your hands #coronatimes]

“Sit with” the defaced photo for a day. Make notes about what the exercise makes visible for you: What (if any) resistance to the exercise did you feel? What have you learned about your relationship with the waters in your body? What have you learned about your relationship with your self image? How difficult was it to let go of a photograph? How difficult is it to let go of one’s self-image? What is your defaced photo teaching you?

Part 3: Hold space for the paragraph below for 10 days (from the text ‘Co-sensing With Radical Tenderness’). Work with one sentence each day. Throughout this period, create a series of images where the hole is inhabited by other entities in your current surroundings. (ie- hold the hole so that something shows through it and then take a picture of that). One image for each sentence. Think of this as an exercise to attempt going beyond the cycle of identification and dis-identification. In this sense, try to be sense-full. Treat the images as subjects rather than objects. Let them teach you. Pay attention to you desire to re-stabilize identity, judgment or esthetic values. Try to interrupt this desire to make space for the image’s teachings. Let them help you find yourself beyond yourself. 

To co-sense with RADICAL TENDERNESS …

Dance beyond the loop of identification and dis-identification.

Stop trying to shape reality according to narcissistic desires for pleasure, comfort and convenience.

Interrupt addictions to consumption, not only of “stuff” but also of knowledge, experiences, and relationships.

Let go of possessions, of possessiveness. Renounce desires for comprehension, consensus and control.

Experience dis-illusionment and dis-solution. Surrender without collapsing.

Integrate in a wider metabolism, with a much longer temporality than your human body.

Follow non-normative and non-linear time.

Interrupt desires for protagonism, futurity, and legacy.

Listen to it’s invitation to disarm, declutter, and decenter yourself.

Stop fearing fear, uncertainty, and emptiness.


If you are not quite sure about whether this invitation is something you would like to accept, the following notes may clarify the rationale of this exercise: 

  • The exercise aims to draw attention to how the crafting of self-image has become something central to our sense of self, something we are very attached to and something that fixes a form (the image) in ways that detach us from the moving metabolism that is our individual bodies and the collective bodies we inhabit. Pay attention to your relationship with your saliva, for example.
  • By asking you to deface yourself using your saliva, the exercise aims to create space for you to sense the difficulties of letting go of self-image and of a scripted relationship with your body – for example the idea that spitting is always a form of humiliation.
  • By asking you to take the pictures where your face manifests differently, the exercise invites you to find yourself inhabited by entities, spaces, temporalities and movements that are both familiar and unfamiliar to you.
  • Aesthetic concerns about how the images will represent you or how others will perceive them as beautiful or not reflect the unconscious dynamics of our attachments (e.g. parameters of worth/ worthlessness, desires for validation, perfection, meaning, control, etc.). Interrupting this wiring is really difficult and complicated. Try not to let the aesthetic/artistic drive for producing a pleasing product distract you or rescue you from the difficulties and discomforts that are essential for you to dig deeper in this type of learning process. 


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