Sunday, May 01, 2016

Do Situations Exist?: A View from the Inside-Out

Do Situations Exist?: A View from Inside-Out

What precisely is a situation? The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “situation” as “...the set of things that are ​happening and the ​conditions that ​exist at a ​particular ​time and ​place.” (Italics mine)* Of course this is just one of many definitions but this particular one serves our purposes. It contains the term “happening” which will play an important role in our inside-out project.

How do we know what constitutes a situation? We have defined the term, but that does not help us to come to terms with what “situation” means as a possible component of human experience. (In fact, as we shall eventually come to appreciate the word “situate,” like all other nouns, does not refer to a something or other in an independently existing world. A matter we will take up in more detail later in the project.) What inside-out thinking demands is that we remain loyal to a way of thinking that takes experience as fundamental, the basic, the essential. The definition of the word “situation” provides little help in determining whether this word will be of much use to us when it comes to inside-out thinking. Let us delve a bit deeper into what “situation” means from our perspective. In this blog, we will at times continue to use the word “situation” as we normally would while further unpacking some of its explicit and implicit (inside-out) meanings.

Situations include both a spatial and temporal dimension. These two components of a situation are both necessary, but as we shall see, insufficient. From our perspective, space and time are inseparable and yet distinguishable. Normally, when we hear the word “space” we think of it in purely physical terms, at least at the level of our most explicit thinking and saying. When pressed to say what space is, our initial reply is usually put in physical terms as in “The ball is in the closet.” Space is a kind of container, a metaphor that has a long history. The preposition “in” functions to indicate a physical space containing the ball. There are about one hundred and fifty prepositions in the English language and their function is to convey spatial and temporal relationships, time, and location.The car is across the street” indicates that the car is located or situated in some definite place. The prepositions “before” and “after” serve to situate in time. “Via” and “across” situate in directions. “Over” and “under” situate in a spatial or temporal sense. These examples may serve to refresh our schoolbook memory regarding the functions of prepositions. Using as our model the preposition “here,” we may note that it usually situates something—be it an event, thing, or spatial location. However, it is fairly easy to see that this situating is a bare-bones situating. “Here” says little about the actual living presence (and present moment) that “here” implies. It’s like the difference between a map and an actual place. The actual place is vastly more rich than the word “here” indicates—at least to our conscious mind. Our language reveals and conceals time and place. Temporal and spatial experience is infinitely more plenteous than words can convey. Our conscious mind can only abstract* from a living situation static details or particulars. Think of the body-mind immersed in [as] each living situation. This immersion is universal in scope experiencing the fullness of each moment without our necessarily being conscious of its animate totality. Yet, we live the movement of time and space in the richest sense; a sense we might refer to as the origin. If we could glimpse into the wholeness of our living time and space, what might be some of the “conceptual takeaways,” including significant analytic structures, be? What “abstractions” would serve to help us return to the fundamental and live in the wholeness of the womb of space -time? We may find that this “return” is a huge leap, an animate immersion, into a realm that is inherently more satisfactory than the partial, derivative perception we most commonly exercise. We must exercise a type of memory (smrti/sati)** that makes a re-turn to the origin possible. All of our analytic structures and themes must serve to return us to the non-conceptual and sentient origin. Our exercise or project must signal and encourage a direct return to the origin as opposed to a more theoretical project, i.e., one that seeks to find “the truth” about our experience, or life as lived. Seeking the truth is seeking a propositional knowledge that, while valuable in many contexts, is not the embodied knowing of our origin. Our project (as well as propositional knowing) is always a tentative one. First, because it is always subject to further completion and second, because it is meant to serve the return to origin. Let’s begin by taking space and time and attempt to determine how these terms may serve the return.

Our word “space” has far too many common meanings for us to elucidate. Therefore, we must settle for a model usage and hope that it will serve to demonstrate, in the most general sense, how our use of the word is similar and yet very different from more common usages. It is similar in the sense that “space” aims to locate, contain, measure, reveal, hold, embrace, make room, subtract, etc. Moving “closer” to our intended meanings, “space” must be seen as fluid, alive, malleable, yielding, revealing, etc. In every situation, living space pliantly provides the animate context for sensory and conceptual experience—as illustrated in the sentence before this one. We live, breathe, and think in and as space as the life-giving and omnipresent context for sensorial and conceptual realities, i.e., qualia. At one “moment” open and expansive, at another restricted and enclosed, space presences everything; it bears all experience. Space yields that which is given in experience. Our bodies are alive, at their most subtle levels, in sentient adaptation to the evanescent pliancy of space. Its dimensions are a seamless correlate to the body’s animating, feeling processes. At every turn, space yields all things anew and dynamic. It is truly alive. These are just several of the originary meanings of “space.” We will be forced to elaborate further as we proceed.

Time,” in its most common usage, is, boldly stated, space. One cannot abide without the other. Space is the reciprocal of time. Time is the reciprocal of space. At least this is so when we see time as the “progression” of experience. What arises as a configuration of space is also true of time. Time, viewed from experience outward takes on a meaning wherein it cannot be separated from space. Time is the movement of experience, i.e., the movement of the totality—body, mind, self, world, and universe (BMSWU). Space and time can only be seen, within our operational framework, as two when we abstract (or create) from experience two of its essential structures and distinguish them in analysis. In their living, space and time are not thematically differentiated. Time and space, like so many other living realities, can be distinguished via abstraction but never separated. We spoke above about the “evanescent pliancy” of space. We are now in a position to look at the significance of this phrase for indicating the inseparability of space-time. Both space and time are evanescent and pliant, i.e., they are alive with and as experience. Their evanescence is indicative of their processual nature. They are moving as space-time in a dynamic abundance of experiential content, impermanent and anonymous. (More on their anonymity later.) Their pliancy indicates the ever-changing flux of life’s diversity. Time spent in the doctor’s office is different from time spent making love. Space lived making love is different from space lived in a busy grocery store. These examples point to the pliancy of space-time and their sentient symbiosis.

In this initial movement of an abstraction procedure that serves to return us to the origin, time and space co-indicate each other. Thus, these terms serve our quest for a living, i.e., evanescent, satisfaction that abides (in its abiding) as the wholeness of all experience. Rather than distinguishing between the “living” and the “non-living,” or the “sentient” and “insentient,” our analysis presents the evanescent as the living and the static as the insentient. It is from this perspective that we may say that all of life as experience is sentient. Qualia are living—and even propositional knowledge is alive as experience. This appears at first sight to smack of panphychism, the view—with many variations—that all that exists exists in some sense as a mental entity. In our view, the qualia, or contents of experience, are not experienced as mind but are experience itself. It is only in retrospect that the term qualia is useful.

In our next segment, we move on to space-time as humanized, i.e., as circumstance or our lived and living environment. It is in this context wherein we will discuss what it means to be fully alive as the conscious environment.

*The word “abstract” is from late 14c., originally in grammar (of nouns), from Latin abstractus "drawn away," past participle of abstra here "to drag away, detach, pull away, divert;" also figuratively, from ab(s)- "away" (see ab-) + trahere "draw…”.

**Occasionally, I will note the Sanskrit and Pali words that bear a close relationship to the English terms that precede them. This is to encourage the reader familiar with Eastern philosophy to make connections that may bridge the gap between say Buddhism and Yoga and our project here.   

Burning as living, Living as burning

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