“The heart is the center of being, acting, thinking, feeling and doing.”
With this phrase the Mayan researcher María Patricia Pérez Moreno, reminds us of the importance of the heart for the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Sentipensar is a term that has been taking space in research and activist practices in Latin America and other latitudes. This word is the union of feeling/sensing (sentir) and thinking (pensar) as actions that happen simultaneously. It indicates that it is impossible to separate thinking from feeling, which contrasts with the western Cartesian perspective where mind and heart are separate.
Feeling-thinking (Sentipensar) indicates that the heart is the center of intellect and reason. Although my approach to this term comes precisely through the conversations and contributions of indigenous Mayan scholars and activists in dialogue with de(s)colonial feminisms, something similar had been mentioned by Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda. Decades ago, Borda heard the term “sentí-pensante” among fishermen of the native Momposina people in Colombia. Borda recalls how a fisherman of this territory mentioned to him that term which implies acting from “the head-heart” together.
From the above we can say that sentipensar is a practice that has existed and persisted through time and despite colonial impositions in Abya Yala (Latin America). The word O’ Tan means heart in the Mayan Tseltal language. Pérez Moreno reminds us that, for the Mayan people of her community, O’ Tan encompasses aspects such as: “worldview, philosophy, morals, ethics, values, spirituality”(Pérez Moreno, 2014, p. 16). From this perspective the heart “cannot be reduced to an organ” (Ibid).
It is important to highlight that, from a Mayan perspective, as from other indigenous peoples perspective, everything has a heart; this includes water, mountains, stones… what does everything having a heart imply for the relationship with the territories we inhabit?
From the dominant perspective we are taught to dominate others, that the territory is a “resource”, an object for our survival and consumption. But if the territory has a heart, how can it be exploited without measure? From the perspective of indigenous peoples, this exploitation and objectification of life is truly irrational. Maya scholar Juan López Intzín reminds us that from the Maya perspective not only everything has O’ Tan, but also ch’ulel which can be understood as primordial breath or spirit and he mentions:
“the ch’ulel is what makes it possible for us to perceive and communicate between humans and other beings but one has to be in harmony with oneself and only then can one be at peace with others and achieve the good life-Lekil Kuxlejal with all that exists”(López Intzín, 2013, p. 98).
The good life that López Intzín talks about does not have to do with accumulating and consuming, but with centering the heart in that existence and in our relationships with ourselves and all human and non-human beings. The heart in its deepest sense to sentipensar ourselves as persons, community, society… implies work and unlearning the ideas, practices and notions that have prevented us from going with the heart.
From the academy we are taught that knowledge is objective, that reason belongs to the intellect and that this is superior to any feeling. Feminist philosopher Mariana Favela stresses that the knowledge we have been taught from this perspective is one that tears us to pieces, it cuts us because it separates the mind from the heart. Favela says that this knowledge makes us deny “that knowledge is those affections that are felt deep in the skin, in the heart” and assures that “alienated in the objectivity and neutrality of knowledge we lose ourselves without realizing its sterility” (Favela, 2013, p. 108).
From anthropology Patricio Guerrero Arias speaks of “corazonar” as a term that displaces reason as the center of the human. He emphasizes that affectivities and tenderness are aspects that make us as human as reason. Guerrero Arias explains that this term places “first something that power denied, the heart”. He also mentions that it gives “affectivity to reason”. He assures that corazonar “does not exclude” reason, but rather “nourishes it with affectivity, so that it decolonizes the perverse, conquering and colonial character that it has historically had” (Guerrero-Arias, 2010, p. 41).
In my life and academic work, I have practiced sentipensar to avoid the fragmentation referred to by Favela that is present in the way in which we are forced to generate knowledge from the academy, as feminist Rosalba Icaza also asserts. It was during my doctoral work that I was able to weave the sentires-saberes (feelings-knowledges) throughout my research.
Sentipensar was both a research methodology and an epistemology that involved making my feelings part of the whole process of research and analysis. I included sections in each chapter of the dissertation dedicated to sentipensar where I weaved through art, self-reflection, and the analysis of poetic narratives. This was part of the “how” I did the research that included sensing, my affects to deepen the analysis on the political aspects of knowledge in the context of resistance to coloniality in Chiapas, Mexico (Trejo Mendez, 2019).
Although, it is necessary to stop denying the knowledge that comes from sensing to transcend the illusion that mutilates us, sentipensar is an action that does not belong to the academy. It is a legacy-memory that invites us to be-do differently because it is time to look at ourselves and recognize that there have always been other ways of relating to each other, of knowing and living.
Corazonar, sentipensar, are emancipatory epistemologies. They are ways of knowing reality. They allow us to make other realities present, they make room for the denied: the affections. They question the fragmentation and the dominant rationality that has been imposed as the only way of being-knowing. Guerrero Arias reminds us that
“speaking from the heart has an insurgent political character, which has been a continuous practice of peoples subjected to coloniality (Guerrero-Arias, 2010, p. 41)”.
Coloniality is the domination of thought, being, knowledge, senses and affections that is still in force under the dominant systems of oppression that operate today. In this sense, rationality has also been an instrument of domination.
That is why it is important to learn to make room for tenderness, to center the affections, to understand ourselves not only as rational beings, but as sentient or sentient-thinking beings to transform the violence in the societies in which we live. To walk with the heart first and create collective practices that allow us to center the affections. This as a political practice committed to the life and dignity of all.
Note: This text was first published in German in 2022 by ILA magazin
Favela, Mariana. (2013). La Razón Cercenada comentarios al texto : “Ich’el ta muk:La Trama en la Construcción del Lekil kuxlejal (vida-plena-digna).” In G. Méndez Torres, J.
López Intzín, S. Marcos, & C. Osorio Hernández (Eds.), Senti-pensar el género: Perspectivas desde los Pueblos Originarios (pp. 107–110). Guadalajara: IINPIM, Taller Editorial la Casa del Mago, Red de Feminismos Descoloniales.
Guerrero-Arias, Patricio. (2010). Corazonar: Una antropología Comprometida con la Vida. Miradas Otras desde Abya-Yala para la decolonizaciooón del poder, del saber y del ser. Quito: Abya Yala, Universidad Politécnica Salesiana.
López Intzín, Juan. (2013). Ich’ el ta muk’:La Trama en la Construcción del Lekil kuxlejal (vida plena-digna-justa). In G. Mendez Torres, J. López Intzin, S. Marcos, & C. Osorio Hernández (Eds.), Senti-pensar el género: Perspectivas desde los Pueblos Originarios (pp. 73–106). Guadalajara: IINPIM, Taller Editorial la Casa del Mago, Red de Feminismos Descoloniales.
Pérez Moreno, Maria Patricia. (2014). O’Tan O’Tanil: Tsalel tseltaletik yu’un, Corazon: Una forma de ser-estar-hacer-sentir-pensar de los Tseltaletik de Bachajon. Chiapas: Abyayala.
Trejo Mendez, Paulina. (2019). Politics of knowledge, weaving stories of dehumanization, erasure and resistance in the highlands of Chiapas. Erasmus University Rotterdam.