Beyond 'Matter', 'Energy' and 'General Relativity'
Some first philosophical writings from Prague
On Meditating Ordinary Things
some reflections on 'the question of Being'
The Life of Your Time
Some first philosophical writings from Prague
On Meditating Ordinary Things
some reflections on 'the question of Being'
The Life of Your Time
This essay is intended to amplify, expand on, explain and explore in somewhat greater philosophical, metaphysical, existential and phenomenological depth what I wrote in a much earlier essay called ‘Time to be Aware’:
Today’s world faces a grave economic, ecological, cultural crisis – indeed a global and planetary crisis. The word ‘crisis’ means a ‘turning point’ - in time. The basic need expressed in this crisis is for human beings to find a way of being-in-time that is not simply dominated by ‘busy-ness’, by doing, and aimed only at having. The new relation to time that human beings so desperately need at this time is one in which they give themselves time, not just to produce or consume, work or play – but to be aware. For to truly ‘be’ is to be aware. Just as to truly ‘meditate’ is simply to take time to be aware. For only by taking time to be aware can each of us open up a broader space of awareness … Only out of such a broader, more spacious and expansive awareness field can human beings also come to deeper, more thoughtful decisions and find better practical solutions to both personal and world problems. And only out of this broadened and deepened awareness can we also relate to other human beings in a more aware way – thus bringing about a healing transformation in human relations.
We are born on a specific day at a specific time, live our lives in a particular temporal epoch and culture. We each use our time in specific ways and in many different ways. Each day we concern ourselves with different past and future events and possibilities and the hopes or fears and anxieties that surround them. We speak of these events as occurring ‘in’ time, or of filling or occupying our time as if it were a type of space. Yet we can also feel time, like soil, as more or less fallow or fertile, depleted or rich in possibilities of emergence, growth or ‘presencing’ – what the Greeks called physis.
Both our lives and our consciousness seem, ‘at times’, to speed up and slow down ‘in’ time - a paradoxical statement. Yet as individuals, cultures and as a species, human beings think, speak, move, act and react at different tempos to other individuals, cultures and species. We need only note how someone breathes - whether in speaking or in silence - how much time they take before responding to our words, the pace of their movements and gestures, or even just the look in their face and in their eyes, to perceive in all these aspects of their body language (and speech too, is a form of body language) both a particular relationship to time and a particular relationship to themselves and others - for example how patiently they take or grant time to others or whether, instead, they convey a sense of impatient restlessness, of not really ‘having time’ for us.
As Marx devoted so much time to making us sharply aware, we also sell our labour time in order to make money and ‘live’, as a result of which the very ‘business’ of living, in the form of incessant ‘busy-ness’ and time poverty - is the mark of our era - as is the pressure to conform to the daily demands of clock-time and ‘productivity’, i.e. to be somewhere or fulfil a task ‘on time’ or to do or produce something in ever less time.
Then again, no sooner do find ourselves in a certain difficult psychological state or mood or with a certain bodily symptom - a simple headache or backache for example - that we also find ourselves consciously or unconsciously asking ourselves time questions – questions such as ‘Why now?’, ‘For what (past) reason?’, ‘What might I have done (in the past) to avoid it?’, ‘How long will it go on (in the future)?’ and ‘What (now or in the future) should I do about it?’ - for example ‘Should I take a pill?’ and if so what type, in what strength and when?
All this may at first seem too obvious to remark upon. Yet behind these seemingly all-too obvious ways in which time plays a role in our lives lurks a deeper truth. This is the understanding that there is not one single aspect or dimension of our lives, our life world and of our lived experience – whether individual or social, mental or emotional, psychological or somatic, social or economic, personal, interpersonal or trans-personal – that is not, if we explore it more closely, essentially nothing but a specific relation to time - a specific way of ‘being in time’ and a specific way of ‘living’ time.
Prevarication, procrastination, wasting time and inability to prioritise our actions are just the most obvious examples of lived relationships to time. But what if life itself is essentially nothing but 'lived time' - shaped through-and-through by all the obvious but also many subtle and varied ways in which, as individuals or as whole societies and cultures, we are aware of time, relate to time – and live time.
Prevarication, procrastination, wasting time and inability to prioritise our actions are just the most obvious examples of lived relationships to time. But what if life itself is essentially nothing but 'lived time' - shaped through-and-through by all the obvious but also many subtle and varied ways in which, as individuals or as whole societies and cultures, we are aware of time, relate to time – and live time.
We need only take our soul life as an example: desire, intent and expectation, anticipatory excitement whether experienced as trust and hope or as stress and tension, as anxiety or fear, impatience or frustration, leading to fulfilment or its opposite - regret and disappointment, loss and mourning, pleasure and enjoyment or boredom and meaning loss. Which of these feelings or states of being are not, each in their own very specific way, a relation to time and with it to things present or absent - whether in the present, past or in the future? And is their relation to time so transparent and obvious as to render it meaningless - or is this relation what first gives them their meaning? Does a mood of depression for example, appear to slow us down or make time appear to move more slowly? Or is the ‘mood’ itself a way of living time - a mode of relating to and living time that we might call ‘slowing’? Such questions can be asked of any mood.
So whether we approach a ‘future’ event, for example, in and from a mood or bearing of anticipatory, impatient or anxious excitement, one of patient inward resolve or else one of dread or boredom – all these moods are relationships to what approaches us from the future. By ‘future’ is meant not simply some future ‘point’ in time that is not yet ‘now’, but rather that which is nearing us in time - coming to presence or ‘presencing’ - and in this way also coming to be or ‘be-coming’. Our relationship to time is therefore in itself and already a relationship to being, understood as the ‘presencing’, ‘coming to be’ or ‘be-coming’ of all we experience.
We speak of having or not having time for something or someone, or of making or not being able to ‘make’ time for them. But what does it mean to ‘have’ or ‘make’ time – for example to make time for another person? Is this merely a matter of ‘scheduling’ a shorter or longer future period of clock time in our calendars to speak with or meet with them? Or is truly ‘having’ or ‘making’ time for someone really a matter of truly being with the other in a way in which we are fully ‘there’ - fully present for and with them in a way which, in turn, fully lets the other ‘be’, i.e. ‘come to presence both to themselves and with us?
Indeed, can we actually speak of ‘meeting’ another person at all, if, in the course of this ‘meeting’, there is no genuine coming together or co-presence – which is to say, no letting presence in a way which allows both ourselves and the other to fully be or come to presence? Is not ‘time’ itself this very letting presence – whether of someone or something that seeks our awareness in what we call ‘the present’, calls to us from the past or approaches us from ‘the future’?
And what does it mean to truly ‘care about’ or ‘care for’ anything or anyoneif such care does not involve ‘making time’, ‘taking time’ or ‘giving time’ to them in this deeper sense, i.e. as a specific mode of relating to time? Yet this is precisely the type of ‘caring’ to time that today’s system of ‘healthcare’, with its rushed, seven-minute-or-less consultations does not allow for – a paradox given that so many medical symptoms and illnesses are themselves a bodily expression of an unhealthy way of living time – or of having to live it in order to make money.
Not only moods and symptoms however, but also the very world in which we live, including every type of thing and being within it, makes manifest a specific relation to time. So this very book (whether in the form of a paperback or an e-book read on an electronic device) is not only something ‘present’ before your eyes but something that brings to presence its entire history - whether as a manufactured ‘object’, a cultural phenomenon with its own history, a series of meaningful alphabetic symbols in the form of words – but also as the sensory surface of a wholly invisible space of meaning.
This space too, is not unconnected with time. For it is essentially a ‘time-space’, being pregnant with countless actual or potential meanings old and new - that may come to presence in the reader’s awareness, that they may associate also with specific lived aspects of their own past, present and future experience.
Indeed even in the reader’s ‘now’, and behind the most seemingly obvious fact of all - namely that you, dear reader are, presently, reading these very words – lies a deeper question. Why now – at this time, on this day - and at this particular point and period of time in your life as a whole?
Just as it takes time to read, so also does it take time to look and listen - to ‘let presence’ what a piece of music or a painting, for example, offers to reveal to us. Indeed no form of aesthetic or even simple sensory awareness is free from a temporal dimension.
Time literally surrounds us in space. It is inscribed in the history of the personal possessions around us as it is in the faces of both buildings and of persons, in the layout of the land and of towns and cities – and all this in a way that not only brings the culture and psychology, archaeology and architecture of the ‘past’ to presence but also reflects in them the contrasting light and faces of both current and future possibilities and technologies.
Like old photo albums of ourselves and others at different ages and in different decades of our lives, our domestic environment too, like the varying ages and architecture of buildings in a town or city, is a spatial co-presence of many different times or ages – each with its own fashions, values, cultures and technologies. Thus the study in my 60’s built house, with its laptop sitting atop a now venerably old mahogany desk; my retro-styled CD-player (itself a nod to time) across the room from my newer, flat-screen TV; the tablet computer on my old second-hand leather and walnut-wood sofa; the photographs of my father, grandfather and younger son (then younger still) on the wall – all these things surrounding me as I write make present different years, decades, even centuries.So do, for example all the music CD’s on a person’s rack, all the photographs or pictures on their walls, all the books on their shelves, all the clothes in their wardrobes and even the utensils in their kitchen drawers. The list could go on and on…
Everywhere in the world we find cities in which modern (or ‘post-modern’) corporate skyscrapers tower like titans over older – even centuries old - buildings, houses and streets, including churches, temples or mosques. Then again, we also find whole countries whose cultures and values have, to different extents and in different ways, visible and invisible, remained largely untouched by modernity.
Again, we are speaking of things so self-evident, that, despite - or precisely because of – their everyday familiarity and proximity, we simply take for granted and therefore pay them no deeper attention, not granting even a moment’s time for any deeper and more thoughtful awareness of them – and of time itself.
Time? What is that - besides something which we all take for granted, and which we all know that, like space, we live ‘in’ – as if time itself were just a type of space? The problem is that this ‘something’ – time – is of course, clearly no ‘thing’, and certainly nothing of the sort we might find in space. So what then ‘is’ time - assuming of course that we can even speak of it as if it were some ‘thing’ that is, i.e. something simply ‘there’ or present?
Is this just a ‘scientific’ question for physicists to mathematically trouble themselves over and find a ‘solution’ to using abstract mathematical concepts and diagrams of ‘space-time’? Clearly not, for though physics claims, through its Big Bang theory, to have ‘explained’ the origin of the universe - and with it the birth of time itself – in doing so it ignores the obvious philosophical paradox in this theory – namely the claim that the origin of time itself can be dated back to or said to have ‘begun’ at some point or as a result of some event ‘in’ time.
Given these paradoxes we are left with the question of whether ‘the question of time’ is not a ‘scientific’ question at all (at least in the modern sense of the term ‘science’) but rather a question of a wholly different type, namely a philosophical question – by which I do not mean a merely academic question but a question concealing still-hidden and more fundamental questions, questions with deep meaning for our lives and the way we live them.
Yet ‘at the same time’ we have, by beginning to explore this life meaning, already brought to light some deeper ‘philosophical’ aspects of what we live and experience as ‘time’ - time as a dimension of life as experienced within consciousness, i.e. as a dimension of consciousness itself; time experienced as a type of space that can be filled; time as the approach or presencing of a ‘future’ event or experience; time as a letting presence of something or someone – or else as their experienced absence, no matter whether in the ‘past’, ‘present’ or ‘future’ – all these being terms which reduce time merely to a one-dimensional line.
All this is just a beginning in our exploration of time as it is actually lived and experienced, rather than conventionally or scientifically conceived. So let us explore a bit further the nature of this lived and experienced time. Let us say for example, that behind a mood we might call ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’, lies an awareness that your life is in ‘crisis’, calling for some sort of fundamental change or transformation.
It is said of change or transformation that they occur ‘in’ time, or even constitute its very essence. Yet what of the awareness that first calls for a life change or transformation? Is this not first of all an awareness of an entire field or ‘space’ of different possibilities or potentials for change? If so, then we have immediately transcended the simplistic notion of time having only one dimension – a dimension that can simply be added to the three dimensions of space as we know it. Instead we come can come to new awareness of 3-dimensional space itself - firstly as a space of awareness and secondly as a space of possibilities or potentialities of action and experience that are latent or present within awareness. This is even the case if you have decided on a certain direction of action, for example to apply for a new job. For even before you apply for it you will probably have considered a range of different possible jobs to apply for. Will you get the job you most want (or first apply for) or won’t you? If you get an interview, how will it go? How will you experience it and how will you or would you like (or not like) to be - to experience yourself - during it? Here again and first of all, we are speaking of an awareness of different possibilities.
Between your ‘now’ and the future date or ‘then’ of the interview there is what we call a stretch or ‘span’ of ‘time’ in the ordinary, one-dimensional sense. Yet with how much tension (German Spannung) will you experience this seemingly uni-dimensional stretch or span of time, given that around it lies an entire space or field of possibilities - one that would, at the very least, need to be represented in two dimensions – assuming we can speak of it as a ‘dimension’ at all in the ordinary sense of something objective and quantitatively measurable and uniform in its nature. For depending on the subjective mood it gives rise to – whether one of optimism or pessimism, tension or anxiety - your relation to the field of possibilities behind and surrounding the interview will qualitatively affect your entire sense of self and with it also your perception of the entire ‘three-dimensional’ world around you.
Expressed in ordinary language, we say that the interview is not ‘here and now’, in the present, but there and then - ‘in the future’. And yet this ‘future’ already brightens, darkens or in some way colours your ‘now’ - your ‘present’. Furthermore, there is a portion of you that is not simply ‘here’ in this ‘now’ but that has run ahead of itself in anticipation of the interview, to an extent that you are already ‘there and then’ – already experiencing this ‘future’ event - one way or another - as part of your ‘present’.
This example of the job interview is just that – one example among countless others. For our human awareness and imagination is constantly projecting itself into the future. So we are never merely in the ‘here and now’ but always in some way already ‘there and then’ in what we think of as ‘the future’ – aware of and experiencing in advance, and within our own present, some ‘future’ event, situation or action – whether actual or simply possible – and experiencing it too, in different possible ways and as having different possible outcomes. The more we narrow or fixate this awareness of a field of possibilities and possible outcomes however, the more ‘anxiety’ we are likely to feel - the very word ‘anxiety’ having to do with ‘narrowness’ or ‘narrowing’ (as in the related German words eng - ‘narrow’ - and Angst - ‘dread’ or ’anxiety’).
There are ‘moods’ which, as intrinsic modes of relating to and living time, can be more or less healthy and helpful. For however distant in days and weeks of calendar or ‘clock time’ an event such as an interview is, we may so much shorten or narrow our awareness of the gap between present and future (or present and past) that the very distinction between them becomes blurred.
The future or past comes to so much fill or ‘pre-occupy’ our present awareness that we become ‘lost in time’. This means we are unable to hold past, present and future apart within that more spacious awareness field which is the present – a field that may also embrace more life choices and possibilities than those we are presently focussing or fixating our awareness on.
We began the ‘interview’ example with the experienced sense of a life ‘crisis’. We end it with the ancient roots of the word ‘crisis’ itself in the Greek verb krinein – which refers to the capacity to ‘pick out, choose, decide, judge’ – something that only an expanded awareness of time as a spacious field of possibilities allows us to do.
The words ‘crisis’ and krinein are also and in themselves but one example of the way in which language itself has an intrinsically historical and therefore ‘temporal’ dimension, i.e. that words too may, through what we think of as their ‘evolution’, conceal a hidden relation to time. Just as time is inscribed in the many faces of the world around us, so is it also inscribed and echoed in language itself - in the history, sounds and usages of every word we utter or read. Thus in English we speak of ‘biding our time’. Yet the verb ‘to bide’ is related also to the words ‘abide’ and ‘abode’. In this way language itself speaks of time as something like a dwelling or ‘abode’ in which we can linger or ‘abide’.
The German equivalent of the English expression ‘there is…’ (as in ‘there is time’) is ‘Es gibt…’, which translates as ‘It gives…’ - as in ‘It gives time’. This is no mere idiosyncracy of the German language, for in English too the verb ‘is’ can be replaced or rephrased in many ways. Thus the expression ‘The lecture is in room 5’ can be rephrased as ‘the lecture takes place in room 5’, ‘the book is yours’ as ‘the book belongs to you’ etc. (Martin Heidegger, Basic Questions)
Yet the German ‘It gives’ and ‘It gives time’ not only replaces an ‘is’ in similar fashion, but in doing so raises many deep questions directly related to the nature of time. What, for example, is this ‘It’ (Es) that not only ‘gives’ time but also gives whatever, in English, ‘there is’ - suggesting that ‘being’ too, is not simply something present but something given, granted or ‘extended’ to us in the same way that time is. But ‘given’ by what or whom - and in what way, mode or manner? And how does this or any manner of giving’ time relate to ‘taking’ time? Indeed what does it mean to ‘take time’ for anything or anyone that ‘is’ - if whatever ‘there is’ is essentially something that is not merely ‘there’ but first of all given to us for the taking – and that in the same manner that time itself is?
These and many other questions relating to the nature of time, including many of the questions raised in this essay, were first explored by the 20th century German thinker Martin Heidegger. Heidegger is most renowned for his opus entitled ‘Being and Time’. Complementing this is a later seminar of his entitled ‘Time and Being’ - one in which the question of what it might mean for both ‘time’ and ‘being’ to be understood as ‘given’ or ‘extended’ to us in some way is addressed.
“Man: standing with the approach of presence, but in such a way that he receives as a gift the presencing that It gives by perceiving what appears in letting-presence. If man were not the constant receiver of the gift given by the ‘It gives presence’, if that which is extended in the gift did not reach man, then not only Being would remain concealed in the absence of this gift, but man would remain excluded from the gift of ‘It gives Being’.”
Martin Heidegger, Time and Being
This essay is entitled ‘The Life of your Time’ but in ‘Being and Time’ Heidegger argues that our ‘lived’ relation to time – what I call ‘lived time’ - is itself and in essence a relation to death. In other words, the ‘It’ that ‘gives’ time was simply and in a certain sense death itself. I say ‘simply’, yet Heidegger also argued that death - precisely by virtue of setting an apparent limit to lived time and a given lifetime - cannot itself be considered an event or point ‘in’ lived time or in that lifetime. On the contrary, ‘lived time’ is itself and in essence an awareness of its own limit, i.e. death. Hence Heidegger called the most ‘authentic’ relation to life, time and being that we can establish – the one truest to the essence of them all - ‘being toward death’. For only with death in constant view are we recalled to our “ownmost” (most unique and authentic) life possibilities as individuals - thus enabling us to more resolutely ‘pick out, choose and decide’ from these possibilities - rather than deluding ourselves into imagining that because we have ‘all the time in the world’, these possibilities are unlimited – for Heidegger a wholly ‘inauthentic’ way of relating to time because it places all these life possibilities on the same plane and does not call upon us to give any of them greater rank or priority.
It is one thing for a child to experience a world of unlimited possibilities. It is quite another thing for a mature adult. Therefore to truly ‘have the time of our lives’ meant, for Heidegger, precisely not to indulge ‘the life of our time’ by pursuing visions of every fanciful possibility that comes to mind, and thereby - like a child - to still fantasise a realm of unlimited life possibilities. To do so was for Heidegger a way of not authentically facing up to limitation and death - not experiencing lived time in its essence as ‘being toward death’.
Amid these reflections of Heidegger’s, however, we must not lose sight here of our - and his - more basic question. This is the question of what that which we call ‘time’ essentially ‘is’, assuming it can be said to ‘be’ anything at all. According to Heidegger it cannot – anymore than ‘being’ can be said to ‘be’ in the same way that some existing thing like a table or person ‘is’. For though we may see a table and say that it ‘is’ or that ‘there is’ a table - yet nowhere do we see this ‘is’. Rather, when we say of anything that it ‘is’ we are referring essentially to the presence of a thing or being – or to its presencing or coming to presence in awareness.
“Time is not. There is, It gives time.” Martin Heidegger,Time and Being
Which is to say ‘It’ bestows or gives presence – ‘It presences’. The ‘It’ presences not simply as things or beings that are ‘there’ or ‘present’ but also as those that are not – that are absent or distant, long gone, past - or yet to come. Thus a beloved person may be far more intensely present for us in not ‘being there’ – in their absence, than they were in their presence. That is why, through the departure, distance or death of a loved one their presence may come to be so intense as to ‘haunt’ us – in and through their very absence. As also may the anticipated arrival or approach of someone or something who is on their way but still absent in the sense of not yet ‘here’. In all absence then, there is as much presence and presencing as in all ‘presence’ or ‘being’ itself – if not more.
That is why it is important to dispel all notions of time as a one-dimensional series of ‘nows’, of presence as a ‘now’ - and with it all babble about ‘being in the now’ or ‘the power of now’. For as Heidegger remarks, we do not say of the guests at a celebration that they were all ‘now’ but that they were all present. Yet presence is just as much something that is felt - even in absence – as seen. It cannot be dated and has as little to do with the ‘now’ as time itself has do to with a clock or watch telling us that ‘now’ it is 6.30 pm. Heidegger again: “We say ‘now’ and mean time. But time cannot be found anywhere in the watch which indicates time, neither on the dial or in the mechanism…” Time and Being
Felt presence on the other hand, whether in the form of presence or absence, presence-in-absence, absence-in-presence – or the ‘presencing’ of what is present or absent - lies at the very heart of time as it is lived – of what I call ‘lived time’. It also lies at the heart of all mystical and religious feeling. Thus in the New Testament the Greek word parousia – which refers not just to bodily presence but also to ‘arrival’ or ‘coming’ – as in ‘the second coming’ – goes to the very heart of Christian religious feeling. The felt absence and ‘at the same time’ the felt expectation of the coming or arrival of a Messiah or Imam - is shared with both Judaism and Islam – and yet has little or nothing to do with any calculated ‘dating’ of this coming in the future. Instead the presence of what is yet to come is felt as already and mysteriously presencing in the present - or else ‘signs’ are sought for the imminence of this presencing. The ‘It’ which presences is in this way religiously or mythologically personified as a being - whether as God, a god, a human being or a human god-being .
‘As above, so below’. For on the most mundane of levels lived time is also an interpretation of signs of something presencing – for example signs of pregnancy or of illness, signs which give hope of success or improvement or signs which seem to presage failure, death or some form of personal or mass catastrophe. That is why even the smallest events in our lives or the smallest actions or words of another can hold such meaning for us – as can our own actions and words. So, knowingly or unknowingly we live time through the preoccupation of our present awareness with little things – wondering in the present whether or how something we did or said in the ‘past’ might rebound on us in the ‘future’ – hoping or fearing for its consequences i.e. what it might bring to presence in our lives.
The preoccupation of human awareness with ‘what if…’ questions - with predicted, feared or wished for possibilities and probabilities - is not just the province of scientists, statisticians or Wall Street traders. Nor is preoccupation with the causal consequences or ‘outcomes’ of plans or actions just the province of modern-day managers or a product of old religious beliefs to do with ‘karma’ or ‘the wages of sin’. Such preoccupations are instead a way of feeling and living that which we call ‘time’ – a preoccupation in the present with that which may or may not come to presence, may or may not be given or extended to us by that ‘It’ which gives or bestows presence – and whether or to what extent we will allow ourselves to receive or take up what is given or extended to us.
To plan for the future or wish for certain outcomes is fine. But to let our awareness or expectations for the future – or memories of the past – preoccupy or ‘fill’ our present awareness is an unhealthy relationship to life and time, an unhealthy way of living time. Herein lies the truth of the old maxim to ‘take each day as it comes’ - in other words to relate to each day, indeed each moment, in just the way it ‘presents’ or ‘gives’ itself to us - for in English too, to ‘present’ means also ‘to give’.
The paradox however, is that though our awareness may be unhealthily filled with past or future preoccupations and the thoughts and feelings surrounding them, we rarely give awareness to the most obvious characteristic of these thoughts and feelings – namely the ways in which each and all of them constitute a very particular way of living time. Nor do most people give time to being more aware of and questioning the particular relation to time in question. To do so they must first be aware of this relation as a relation to time. For it is only through a clear awareness that whatever we may be feeling - as a state of stress or anxiety for example – is the expression of a particular relation to time that we can free ourselves from this relation to time. That is because the very awareness of time is not itself anything temporal - and therefore in itself transcends any particular relation to time. It is also an awareness that tends to withdraw in the everyday business of living time in the way our culture takes as ‘normal’, i.e. a constant busy-ness in which we attend, now to one thing and then – straight away - to another.
In other words, just as in looking at things our awareness of the empty space around them tends to recede or withdraw into the background – even though it is that which first makes it possible for us to see anything at all - so too does our awareness of time itself tend to recede or withdraw in the very process of ‘living time’ in the mode of ‘busy-ness’.
It is not the supposedly inherent nature of time as some sort of sequential ‘timeline’ of actions or events that demands from us a busy and breathless ‘going from one thing to another’, but the other way round: living time as a succession of uninterrupted actions or activities is what gives rise to this linear idea of time – through a type of awareness which is narrowly focussed on successive actions or tasks rather than open to simply receive what time ‘gives’ to us at any moment - and in a way which also allows us to ‘take our time’. This is why I have repeatedly written of the importance of ‘taking time to be aware’ as the condition for expanding the sensed space of our awareness - noting also that, at least in English,people speak, - with exactly the same meaning in mind - of having or not having ‘space’ for someone or something and not having ‘time’ for them.
This is not in any way surprising, For along with a sensed lack of time for something or someone – or an unwillingness to grant it, goes a restriction of the sensed ‘space’ of our awareness that is experienced in a direct bodily way – for example as a sense of confinement in our own skins or through states of muscular tensions or contraction that may restrict even our breathing. Behind and beneath commonly used words such as ‘pressure’ or ‘stress’ therefore, lie not just some sort of purely psychological or mental state but a bodily one - and one which speaks essentially of a sensed bodily contraction or confinement of the space of awareness we feel ourselves dwelling or abiding in. This sensed bodily and muscular contraction in turn has to do with an experienced ‘time pressure’ - and/or an inability on our own part to grant ourselves ‘time to be aware’ and to ‘take our own time’ - even if only to just breathe.
In contrast, I advise granting ourselves the necessary time to create what I call ‘breathing spaces of awareness’ – and to do so between any and all everyday tasks or activities which demand an intensely focussed or narrowed awareness. In this context, the minimum requirement for a healthy relationship to time is awareness of our breathing itself. For it is in our way of breathing that we find perhaps the single most basic embodiment of our relation to time and space – hence the ancient association of cosmic time cycles with breath cycles and significance attached to breathing techniques in yogic meditational traditions.
In the quotation with which this essay begins, as in all my own writings on yoga and meditation, I redefine ‘meditation’ itself as ‘taking time to be aware’ – not just in the context of formal meditational classes and sittings held at specific times but in every life context or situation - not least in the course of everyday interactions with others. I also re-define ‘the yoga of the breath’ - pranayama - not seeing it as some system of ‘breath control’, or as some yogic technique of giving special attention or awareness to intervals between out- and in-breaths (or vice versa) but rather as an intensified awareness of our breathing – particularly when it has become stifled or exaggerated by what is felt as pressures of time. It is through awareness of our breathing that we are able to stay in touch in with our bodies in the immediate present, becoming both more present in a bodily way and also more open to taking in - breathing in - the broader field or space of awareness within and around us, and all that is present within it.
Awareness of breathing also allows us to become aware of any tensions in our respiratory musculature and resulting restrictions in breathing that at the same restrict our field of awareness in the present or fixate it to some narrow focus. Without awareness of breathing this restriction of both our breathing and awareness would otherwise go unnoticed - except perhaps as a vague somatic sense of psychological tension or restlessness and usually accompanied also by a rigidity of bodily posture that in itself inhibits the free adjustment, expansion and deepening of both our breathing and awareness.
From this point of view, whilst adopting any type of fixed yogic or meditational posture or asana can aid in making people more aware of their breathing and so also more capable of both deepening and slowing their breath cycle (hence slowing their lived experience of ‘time’ and bringing themselves more fully into the present) it can also make people reliant on such fixed postures to do so. Paradoxically then, the use of and reliance on fixed yoga asanas to cultivate awareness of breathing can prevent people from cultivating an even more important ability. This is the ability to freely and appropriately adjust and alter our posture in everyday life situations and relationships – adjustments and alterations necessary to become more present to ourselves and others by restoring the depth and expanse of both our breathing and awareness – and in this way freeing it from tensions and stresses that express an unfree relation to time.
In a sense then: awareness of breathing is awareness of time. Similarly, our way of breathing is our way of ‘living’ and embodying time. Therefore altering our way of breathing is a most powerful and effective means of altering our relation to time in a way that can free our field of present awareness from restrictions, make us more present to ourselves, to others and to new life possibilities within that field – in all these ways allowing us to embody the very essence of time as ‘presencing’, ‘becoming present’ or ‘letting presence’.
We have already moved from simply considering the relation of ‘Being and Time’ to considering another relation – the relation of ‘Awareness and Time’. Here however, we are confronted with a double paradox. One paradox is that time itself is nothing temporal, but that which first extends and opens up a space of awareness of things actual or possible, present or absent - and in this way also first gives or grants an awareness of those possibilities and their presencing in our lives. Time itself, in other words is, in this sense, the very ‘It’ that ‘gives’ both time and being – as the very being or presencing of things in awareness.Conversely however – a second paradox - we can just as well say that it is awareness that first gives or grants time to attend to or be aware of whatever is present, absent or coming to presence. So what is it then that comes first – ‘awareness’ or ‘time’? Which is the precondition of the other – ‘awareness’ or ‘time’? Or is not the very ‘or’ in this question misleading? Is it not possible instead that the essence and precondition of all things is something more primordial than either awareness or time, but might instead be called ‘awareness time’ and/or ‘time awareness’ – understood as that which first opens up and extends a field or space of awareness in which things can come to be in time, i.e. to come to presence within that field?
In answer to such questions we are already in a position to outline or summarise, in two sets of definitions, some initial or basic elements of a new metaphysics of space and time, awareness and being, of a sort already suggested in this essay – albeit one radically different from conventional physical-scientific concepts of ‘space-time’:
1. Space – the co-presence of things, both actual and possible in awareness.
2. Time – the ‘presencing’ or ‘coming to be’ of all things in awareness – and even in their seeming absence or non-being.
3. Time-Space - the simultaneous co-presencing or coming to be of all things - at all times.
1. Being – the presence of things.
2. Time – that which first gives or extends a space of awareness for things actual or possible to be – to come to presence.
3. Awareness – that which first gives or extends time – time to be aware of those things in their presence and in their manner of presencing.
Such abstract metaphysical definitions do not in themselves help us to live time in a more satisfactory or fulfilling way, certainly not in a culture whose basic philosophical formula or definition reads ‘Time is Money’, and time is something ‘spent’ – either spending or making money. In such a culture people’s awareness of and relationships to time are both dominated and obscured by the form they take – an almost total preoccupation of their time, being and awareness with money. Money of course, is expended - not simply given or ‘extended’ to us in the same way that time is. So its place in most people’s lives becomes a further hindrance to attending to and tending the space of life possibilities that time extends to us, possibilities which people experience only as more or less conflicting impulses or tendencies within them.
On the other hand, lived time does indeed always have the character of tending, like the branches of a tree, in many different directions. From out of this diversity of tendencies we come to intend and live out certain of the life possibilities extended to us, albeit in a way that we think of as realising certain possibilities ‘at the expense’ of others. It does not occur to us, as it has done both to philosophers and metaphysicians and to physicists themselves, that in truth, we live out time in many parallel lives, comparable to branches on a tree of time. In other words, for every conscious choice or decision, however major or minor, that we take in the life we know (for example an important choice between two or more possible life partners or career options) there are two or more ‘parallel’ selves leading ‘parallel’ lives in which, co-presently with our own life, they are living out and fulfilling precisely those choices we did not opt or decide for.
So having chosen the path and life of an accountant or teacher say - rather than, for example, an engineer or artist, an individual will then think of the latter as selves they only could have been in this life - had they taken a different choice at a ‘critical’ life juncture. Yet for those selves which branched out in the direction engineering or art their own lives in time as are as real for them as the selves that chose the life paths of accountant or teacher – and it is the latter which are merely selves or lives that ‘could have been’.
Some people are very aware of living time in ways that do not fulfil possibilities and creative potentials they know they possess and strongly desire to fulfil. Others seek to create or maintain some ‘hobby’ time for gifts unfulfilled in the time spent doing their jobs. Yet few realise that what may appear to them as mere hobbies or interests, pursued in whatever time they can make for them, are, in another life, their chief activity – that the self that chose engineering as a career but who also paints or writes in his or her ‘spare time’ is a full-time writer or painter in a parallel life, one whose life activity and learning feeds into and nourishes the activity and talents of the ‘spare-time’ writer or painter.
This understanding adds an important life dimension to what seems like the purely abstract metaphysical assertion that ‘time-space’ is a co-presencing of all things actual and possible, for this means also a co-presencing of lives, i.e. of those ‘parallel’ lives in each of which time is lived in as many different ways as there are potentials, possibilities, leanings, interests, inclinations or tendencies within each individual. From this perspective – from within this larger ‘time-space’ – it is, (contra Heidegger) only for a given self, living their lives - their time - in a particular ‘chosen’ way, that certain other possibilities and potentials within them must of necessity, go unfulfilled. And if who we are in any given life is in many ways itself inseparable from the ways we choose to live our time in that life, then we are forced to the conclusion that whatever ‘It’ is that ‘gives’ time and ‘gives’ being, is also what gives or grants us our own being - our own individual sense of self and identity - in any given ‘life-time’.
The mythological image of the world as a tree – the ‘world tree’ – is a most apposite one here, offering us a picture too, not just of ‘the world’ or even of ‘evolution’ as we think of it, but of time itself - as something that roots and branches in many different directions, both vertically and laterally or horizontally. As a species of consciousness and no mere insentient natural ‘object’, trees themselves live and experience time in a quite different way to human beings, often embracing a far larger span of time. And their branches certainly do not think to themselves – ‘if only I had branched in the direction of that other branch’. Instead each branch - indeed each twig and leaf - knows itself as a portion and expression of the tree as a whole and all its branches, being both distinct but also inseparable from them - as it knows itself also as distinct but inseparable from the trunk of the tree - and from its roots in the soil. Then again, the tree is only seemingly something fixed and rooted to the ground where it stands – for through its seeds it also takes root and grows as other trees in different places and over different periods of time.
To think of ‘awareness time’ as an all embracing ‘time-space’ challenges us to reconsider also our view of different times and places (plural), and in particular to understand that different ‘times’ – both in our personal lives and as eras of our collective human history - are all co-present, continuing to live their own present as we live ours. For it is only from the perspective of our present they no longer ‘are’ and belong to our ‘past’, just as it is only from the perspective of their present we are ‘not yet’ and belong to their ‘future’.
I have already referred to how time surrounds us as things in space, and yet they also surround us in the same way that different geographical regions, countries and places do, as Seth affirms in the books of Jane Roberts:
“Times exist then as surely as places … In the present … area in which it seems to you that a physical civilization once existed, that civilization still exists … The civilization in flower, and the ruins, coexist.”
The implications of this are enormous. It means, for example, that the people who ‘used’ to live in your house, town, city or country – no matter how ‘long ago’ – still pass you by, invisibly, each moment of the day (which is one reason why some people sense or perceive what they think of as ‘ghosts’).
“While time is not moving in a particular direction … each moment explodes outwards, or expands outward in all directions.” Seth
Here we come to a most fundamental distinction – between the ‘now’, conceived as a chronological point on a one-dimensional line of time, and ‘the moment’ - understood more in three-dimensional terms and comparable with a spherical time-space. The moment, like a sphere, has both an inside and an outside. It can also expand outwards or contract inwards. That is why in lived time, whenever our awareness is totally absorbed or immersed in some activity, the temporal expanse of an entire hour or even day might seem, in retrospect to have gone by in ‘no time at all’ - or as if in a single ‘moment’. Behind this experience is the deeper metaphysical truth that ‘moments’ can both expand to embrace a large expanse or volume of lived time, only then to appear to have contracted or collapsed to what we think of as ‘just’ a single ‘moment-point’.
This explains also our experience of lived time in the dream state – in ‘dreamtime’. For in a dream too, an entire hour or day of lived time might seem to have been experienced, even though, chronologically, only a few minutes have passed. That is because dreaming and dream-space is an expansion of the time-space of awareness contained within ‘the moment’. When we forget a dream, on the other hand, it is as if this expanded time-space of the moment has collapsed and disappeared into a single point – one comparable to the ‘singularity’ at the heart of a black hole and from which no light can escape.
“All outwardness turns ultimately inward, and then again outward in all directions. And each inward action forms a new dimension that must, again, be thrust outward.” Seth
If there is any way of understanding ‘time’ itself in temporal terms, it would be as a rhythmic expansion and contraction of eternal and yet ever-changing ‘moments’ of lived time – in other words a rhythmic breathing of the moments, albeit one that – in order not to be stifled - needs to find expression in the changing rhythms of our breathing itself.
The breathing pulsation of the moment is illustrated in the diagram below – in which the moment is envisaged as a ring, wheel or ‘chakra’ of time, one which can also be seen as a flower with many petals – each a movement from the core of the moment to its periphery and vice versa:
Think of the points on the periphery of this ring, circle or wheel of time as progressive times of day, days of the week, or months of the year. Our usual experience of living time is like passing along this circular of time from one time of day, one day, one month, one season, one year or series of years to another – and so we experience and conceive of time as a line rather than a circle or ring.
What the diagram is designed to illustrate however, is that the different points on the peripheral ring of time do not follow one another in a line or even a ring or circle of time at all. Instead, they emerge and re-emerge from its centre (as indicated by the arrows leading from and back to this centre or singularity to the uppermost point on the wheel). This explains a phenomenon that is rarely acknowledged in most people’s experience of lived time: namely that they experience a closer relationship between the mornings, afternoons or evening of any given day than between successive days, a closer relationship between particular days of each week (for example between their every Wednesday, Friday or Monday) than they do between successive days ‘of’ the week. Similarly, many people experience different months or seasons of the year (a February for example) as closer in lived time to the same month or season in the preceding year than to the month or season immediately preceding it in the same year.
It is as if, in our lived experience of time, what dominates is not a progression of successive days, months or seasons but the experience of each and every particular day, month or season – each and every Monday, May or Summer for example, in a similar and yet different way - in other words in endless variations, all emerging from the centre of the ring, flower, wheel or ‘chakra’ of time – the so-called Kalachakra. This would also explain a common phenomenon in medicine – namely that onset of an illness or a critical medical condition frequently coincides exactly with the date or time of an earlier and perhaps traumatic life event experienced by the patient – for example the death of a parent or spouse. It also reflects a deeper metaphysical truth that what we think of as successive points or periods of time do not so much follow one another around a ring or cycle of time, but instead are periodically reborn from its centre.
It is for this reason that, in lived time, different times – whether times of the day, days of the week, months or seasons - are not mere quantitative stretches of time but rather each have their own particular and familiar qualities and associations. So on the most mundane level, each evening marks the end of the working day for most, just as each Wednesday marks the half-way point in their working week, each Monday its start and each Summer brings with it the same prospect of taking a holiday.
Taking each day ‘as it comes’ is like taking each season as it comes and each ‘time of day’ as it comes - allowing its particular qualities to presence themselves once again and anew. Herein perhaps lies an important clue to a truly natural relation to time and a truly natural way of ‘living time’ – one far removed from both ‘time’ and ‘nature’ as science understands them. In contrast, while it is common to think or say that time naturally ‘passes’ or ‘flows’ like a river, as Heidegger points out, precisely in its flowing the river also remains forever what it is – the river - and in this sense does not ‘flow’ at all. Instead it abides as what it is, and in abiding, explores and experiences itself in different ways and under different climatic and seasonal conditions.
In conclusion, we might say there is indeed a hole at the core of our understanding and experience of time – and of each moment. The hole lies in the truth that this core or centre is no mere point but an infinite inwardness. It is not simply that time is essentially ‘cyclical’ rather than ‘linear’, but rather that, like a circle or sphere, it is radial – it has an ‘inside’. Only for this reason can we visualise each centre of a time ring as one ‘point’ on yet larger ring, cycle, wheel or sphere of time. Only for this reason too, can we experience time as something that, like light radiates outward from a centre - or like gravity or ‘black light’ – radiates inward toward a centre.
The outer ring of any wheel or sphere of time represented in the diagram as a ‘moment’ corresponds also to the so-called ‘curvature of space-time’ as Relativity theory understands it, whereas its centre is symbolised in physics by the singularity at the core of a black hole. The new metaphysics of time suggested in this essay, therefore is also a new meta-physics – one based on the understanding that only something given or ‘ex-tended’ to us as the extensional space surrounding us but also something that in-tends towards, into and through a ‘singularity’ at the core of each moment – a singularity that leads into the infinite inwardness of the moment, understood as a wholly non-extensional ‘time-space’ of awareness.Within this non-extensional time-space, countless ‘extensional’ or ‘space-time’ universes open up and expand - as and like moments or spheres of awareness, each connected with every other through its core.
The internal spherical time-space of the moment is also symbolised in quantum physics. Here it is understood as a field distribution of possibilities or ‘probabilities’ – comparable to life possibilities. This is called the ‘wave function’ and represented by the Greek symbol Psi - Ψ. It is the so-called ‘collapse’ of this wave function and its probability field – for example through the influence of an observing subject or psyche - that gives rise, according to some physics to uni-directional time – whereas others deny that the field collapses and instead talk of other probabilities in the field presencing themselves as parallel worlds and universes.
In terms of our diagram of lived time, each ‘point’ on the ring of time is therefore actually a field distribution of life potentialities, possibilities or ‘probabilities’ that may come to presence – comparable to possible locations of an electron circling an atom. From this quantum-physical perspective we might risk a yet more radical meta-physical definition of time. This is an understanding of time in electrical terms as what is called ‘voltage’ or ‘potential difference’. Yet by ‘potential difference’ we mean here an awareness of any type of potential potential change (the original meaning of the Greek word kinesis). This includes qualitative changes (for example of mood) and not just quantitative changes in the form of what physics understands as ‘kinetics, i.e. ‘motion’ or ‘change of place’.
Returning to lived time as we ourselves can come to experience it, what I have suggested in this essay is that it is only through living and breathing time’s infinite and aware outwardness and inwardness - the outwardness and inwardness of each eternally presencing moment - that the life-potentials and life-mysteries of both Time and Being (including both their ‘physics’ and their ‘metaphysics’) can be revealed to us.
Put in other terms: it is only through a “letting presence” in awareness of a ‘voltage’ or ‘potential difference’ between all that is and all that could come to presence in the ‘awareness-time-space’ of the moment – its field of probabilities - that anyone can be said to truly and fully ‘be’ in the present or to ‘be present’. It is only through the contraction of this time-space of awareness that past and future become dissociated from each other and the present or too closely merged within it. As a result the field of ever-changing probabilities and possibilities it embraces is not lived as source of greater awareness and freedom of choice but rather as a mood of anxious uncertainty.
This is an understanding which certainly casts Heisenberg’s ‘uncertainty principle’ in a rather new light - as it does many accepted concepts of time and space in physics. For whilst time is a central ‘variable’ in almost every single physical-scientific concept and model of the universe, whether of the atom and its sub-atomic particles, of motion and relativity, light and gravity, electromagnetism and ‘energy’ as such, the inner nature of time (its aware inwardness and the inner spatiality of the moment) has barely begun to be explored - except through the many ways in which these physical-scientific concepts and models provide us, unknowingly, with new and meaningful metaphors of subjectively lived time and of metaphysical time. By this I mean time understood as an infinite, spacious and essentially timeless field of awareness - one from and within which all actual and potential phenomena ‘in’ time are not simply ‘givens’ but constantly being given, constantly presencing in their own eternal time-space of awareness.
We should not forget also that ‘time is in the eye of the beholder’, and that lived time - as subjectively perceived time or subjective time, varies not just from individual to individual but from species to species. The ‘objective’ measure of this variation is called ‘critical flicker fusion frequency’ (CFF). This is the frequency at which an intermittent light stimulus appears to be completely steady to an observer - comparable to the rate at which a series of still images can be registered in consciousness. The higher the CFF, the more ‘stills’ can be registered one at a time. The CFF of human beings is 60 Hz. But for a dog, with a CFF of 80 Hz (or ‘stills per minute’) a TV programme actually looks like a series of rapidly-changing stills. As for a fly, with a CFF of 250 it can register so many ‘stills’ that a rolled-up newspaper swung in way that for us appears rapid, seems, to the fly to move in ‘slow motion’ – which is what makes it very difficult to swat it. Flies may seem to lead short lives to us, but then their lived, experience of time is so much ‘slower’ than ours that their subjectively experienced lifetimes are far more elongated than they seem to us to be. What constitutes a ‘moment’ for a fly is a far more elongated ‘time’ than ours. For the earth, a single ‘moment’ for the earth would embrace 24 hours of lived human time. Similarly, one ‘moment’ in the world of the stars would embrace at least a year in terms of human time. As a result, to the ‘eye’ of another star, our solar system would appear like a petal of elliptical paths traced by the planets around the sun. It is therefore not just how quickly or slowly motion is perceived but what is perceived that changes according the ‘’time-awareness or ‘time-eye’ of any body whatsoever – not just those of animals or human beings on this earth, but that of the earth, planets, stars, galaxies and whole universes. For more on this dimension of time see ‘The Secret of the Gods’ by E.T. Stringer.
Heidegger, Martin Time and Being
Heidegger, Martin Being and Time
Roberts, Jane Seth Speaks
Roberts, Jane The Magical Approach
Roberts, Jane The Way Toward Health
Stringer, E.T. The Secret of the Gods
Wilberg, Peter Inner Universe
Wilberg, Peter Event Horizon
Wilberg, Peter Head, Heart and Hara
Wilberg, Peter The Little Book of Hara
Medicine and the 'Free Market'
Cancer as a Metastasis of Monetary Capitalism and the work of John McMurtry
A traditional communal market - one in which producers come to sell their own products for money - as market commodities - in order to buy other commodities for themselves, is indeed a truly free market, operating under the Marxist formula of C-M-C (Commodity-Money-Commodity). Such communal markets were and are still meeting places facilitating healthy human social relationships in a way free of domination by the sick accumulation of money for its own sake. What is still called the ‘free market’ in the global capitalist system however is anything but free. For a start, whilst claiming to produce goods for human needs, it fails, as John McMurtry emphasises in his books and talks, to provide for or support even the most basic life needs of most of the world’s human population, not to mention countless other species of life. Secondly, within the global ‘free market’ the means of production are owned by only a few. The majority therefore, have only the physical and mental labour power of their own bodies to sell.
A capitalist market is therefore, as Marx already pointed out, based on the wholly unfree and forced sale of the individual’s labour power. As McMurtry puts it so concisely: “You must sell yourself so that you can buy” – “You must sell what you are” and “You must buy to be”. Capitalsim is therefore essentially the prostitution of the individual’s labour power and with it both being and very body of the labourer. It is also the prostitution of the individual’s time – often a lifetime in the form of labour time sold to another. This is what Marx called ‘wage-slavery’ or ‘the alienation of labour’:
“What, then, constitutes the alienation of labour? First, the fact that labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labour is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague. External labour, labour in which man alienates himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labour for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another.”
By turning it into a mere means of survival or existence, employment in the capitalist ‘free market’ often limits or leaves unfulfilled - ‘unemployed’ - all the most highly individual potentials and capacities of the labourer or ‘employee’ – for it is the capitalist who dictates which of these capacities workers do or do or not employ. As a result these capacities are neither differentiated nor exercised freely at all - but instead may proliferate, like or as undifferentiated cancer cells.
The capitalist free market consumes the life of the worker rather than fulfilling it. ‘Consumption’ (tuberculosis) was thus, not surprisingly, the first significant disease that constituted a direct somatic metaphor of industrial capitalism, and has since returned in even more virulent forms. This is not to say that workers are not at the same time consumers, for capitalism also demands that individuals substitute consumption of commodities produced by other workers for their own free creative life and productive activity. In the face of the Marxist law of the falling rate of profit in capitalist economies, workers can only make up for this through getting into debt offered by the banks – for example credit-card debt - which has become the principal means by which capitalism has allowed workers in the developed world to continue to consume despite stagnant or falling wages.
The capitalist ‘consumer market’ is not based on the formula of the communal market (C-M-C) but on the formula of the capitalist market, M-C-M (Money-Commodity-Money). Under this formula the shareholder, investor or capitalist uses Money to buy Commodities - not in order to consume them but only in order to
sell them for more Money – for profit. It is also a market in which labour itself is a commodity to be bought and sold for profit on the so-called ‘labour market’.
The identification of a ‘free market’ not with a communal market but with a capitalist market operating under the formula of M-C-M is the trick used to identify capitalism as such with ‘freedom’. Marx questioned what ‘freedom’ exists in a capitalist market if people lack the means – for example the land, tools or education - by which to produce for themselves the commodities they need? And as McMurtry adds, basic life needs such as food, clean water and housing or shelter are not even recognised in capitalist ‘free market’ economics unless they take the form of market commodities privatised by big corporations. The capitalist ‘free market’ then, is therefore one in which not even the most basic, natural necessities of life are in any way ‘free’. It is also one in which the ruling ‘ethical’ principle is that life itself is something that has to be earned (‘earning a living’) by selling one’s labour to an employer, and in which the sole purpose of life is not to cultivate one’s life capacities but simply to earn enough money to maintain one’s life – to survive.
As a result, individual life potentials and capacities are stunted, distorted or “mortified” in the service of corporate employers – replaced through the division of labour by the endless repetition of mindless tasks in factories and service industries. The diversification and differentiation of individual life and labour capacities is thus replaced by multiple, repeated labour activities – again, rather like the multiplication of undifferentiated cancer cells.
This understanding brings us to the latest and final form of capitalist 'free market' economics, a 'neo-liberal' economics in which the traditional capitalist formula of M-C-M has mutated into a new one: M-M-M (Money-Money-Money). Under this formula the majority of market transactions now take place solely on so-called ‘Money Markets’. Here money itself is the principal commodity in most market transactions - with money in one form (currencies, shares, bonds and debts) being used only to buy and sell money in another form – all in order just to accumulate money capital from and through money - money created as credit in particular. Under the reign of this new ‘free market’ formula, money is no longer principally invested in commodities or in productive labour or industry, but rather only in money itself. And if money can be made by actively withdrawing investment from productive labour and industry - even to the point of reducing whole economies to rubble or ruins - then so be it. For money, created as debt by the banks, is now the global god that rules the planet - multiplying itself, like cancer, in the wholly unregulated and uncontrolled way that McMurtry describes as ‘the cancer stage of capitalism’ – a cancer which sucks the life out of both human national economies, human labour and nature itself.
For the global money markets now lead a life totally independent of and totally indifferent not only to the ‘real economy’ but to life as such – whether the life of human beings, nations or any form or species of natural life. It is no longer labour therefore, but simply money which determines the value or worth of any other commodities – including labour itself. Indeed it determines the value of all things and all forms of life. McMurtry however is quite wrong to see this as something unanticipated by Marx or unaccountable for in Marxist or neo-Marxist terms1. After all, even before the gold standard was abolished and fictitious electronic money began to be created from nothing by the banks as credit, Lenin was well aware of and analysed in depth the increasing dominance of finance capital over industrial capital. And Marx himself had already long before written that:
“Money is the universal self-established value of all things. It has, therefore, robbed the whole world – both the world of men and nature – of its specific value. Money is the alienated essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it.” Karl Marx
In a world ruled by money, profit on the money markets can and is made by destabilising productive economies and destroying human and natural life - whether through debt-slavery, world wars or ecological destruction. Indeed such planetary ‘ecogenocide’ as McMurtry calls it, has now become a principal geo-political means of making money - purely for its own sake and as a value in itself.
The ‘cancerous’, life-destructive nature of today’s money-driven and money-based global ‘free market’, as John McMurty also recognises, is also not unconnected with cancer as a medical disease. For as as he points out, cancer was a rare phenomenon for millennia - but the incidence of it has grown in line with the rise of unregulated financial money markets and its effects on the lives, economies and environments of human beings. This is also why cancer as a medical disease can never, in principle, be explained, let alone cured, by biomedical research. Nor will its roots be found in genes or even, as McMurtry suggests, in the carcinogenic or genetically modified foodstuffs and other products shamelessly promoted by money-driven corporations. For essentially cancer is a type of internally disguised metastatic ‘privatisation’ of the system of monetary capitalism itself in the individual human body - expressing in the form of a multiplication of undifferentiated cells the stunting of otherwise richly differentiated life capacities and potentials by a sick economic and ecological environment - one which serves only the uncontrolled multiplication of self-identical monetary units rather than the creative expression of diverse individual life values and potentials.
Cancer as a medical disease - the ‘C-word’ - is of course the one that is feared above most others as a biomedical diagnoses. Yet it also perfectly symbolises and embodies another ‘C-word’ - one that is rarely mentioned in the same breath – ‘Capitalism’. From McMurtry’s perspective, cancer as a medical disease can itself be seen as one type of privatised, bodily metastasis of a global cancer of the social and planetary body – the cancer of a new monetary and monetising capitalist creed and religion with no regard or respect for any values whatsoever connected with human or natural life.
Yet our global monetary market system is still taken as given and ‘normal’ by economists and politicians alike - and never so much as questioned in the mainstream media, even whilst they report on its many abhorrent and devastating economic, ecological and geo-political effects. Yet McMurtry himself concurs with the standard biomedical model of cancer - one that is itself part of the medical ideology serving a money-driven cancer ‘industry’ – speaking of the cancer of monetary capitalism as a failure of the social ‘immune system’ in ‘defending’ itself against foreign ‘non-self’ cells. This was the same biomedical model of the social ‘organism’ adopted by Hitler – for whom Jews were a ‘foreign body’ or invasive ‘tumour’ in the organic life and body of the ‘Volk’. Yet McMurtry himself applies the same standard, quasi-military metaphors of medical immunology – as well as speaking of a ‘fight’ to 'beat' cancer on both an individual level and a social and planetary one (a metaphor despised by many cancer patients urged to 'fight' and ‘beat’ their own illness).
In contrast to McMurtry, I see the key question as not so much how to ‘beat’ cancer – either medically or as a global monetary system – but rather how, as individuals, both alone and together, we can learn to live with and within a cancerous global monetary economy without sacrificing our own lives and values to it – and also without either just adapting to its false and superficial notions and norms of ‘health’ (which reduce it to mere economic functionality in the system of wage slavery) or letting it make us ill in a way that simply turn us into fodder for money-driven medicine and hi-tech medical or pharmaceutical treatments – themselves a part of the monetary cancer that McMurtry writes of.
McMurtry, however is also right (and courageous) in fully recognising the conspiratorial machinations of today’s ruling global financial elite – for example the planning of 9/11 as an ‘inside job’ to create pretexts for the invasion and destruction of Iraq and other countries in the Middle East and erstwhile Soviet bloc, the creation of Orwellian surveillance and police states, and a never-ending ‘war on terror’ – one designed to fulfil its own prophecies. Yet just as importantly, he recognises all these conspiratorial machinations as expressions of a new phase in the systemic development of capitalism, one that in turn has given rise to the life-blinkered mindset and value system that itself rules and possesses the minds of that ruling financial elite – those who seek to and in large part already do control and possess the world.
McMurtry is right too, in his view of the basic economic ‘cure’ for the ‘cancer’ of unregulated monetary capitalism, namely the re-appropriation of money creation by sovereign nations and states through public rather than private banking. For this has worked whenever it has been tried – for example by Lincoln - and before private banking cartels once again regained the upper hand in making governments dependent on borrowing from them at interest. Yet this very ‘cure’ for ‘the cancer stage of capitalism’, i.e. owning rather than disowning that cancer - also undermines McMurtry’s basic thesis that the power of private banks to create money from nothing (so called ‘fiat’ money-creation) is, in itself, some wholly alien ‘disease’ (or, as some believe it to be, a conspiracy on the part of extra-terrestrial aliens3), a ‘cancer’ that humans beings and the human social organism need to ‘fight’ or ‘make war on’ – metaphors much despised by cancer patients themselves. In other words, Marx’s view that “Money is the alienated essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it” does not mean that this "alien essence" can be reduced a product of an alien disease entity or species.
Finally, the question still needs to be raised as to what the outcome would actually be if our current global financial elite fully achieved what conspiracy theorists see as its ultimate aim spelled out by Rockefeller, i.e. that of establishing its own total supra-national dominance through a single world government under its control – and with it a single global currency and a single central bank? Would not then ‘The Illness’ become ‘the Cure’? For if this aim were ever achieved, Wall Street, the money markets and the geo-political manipulation of national governments and their military powers by global bankers through debt would cease to serve any further function for that ruling global elite. Instead it would - for the first time – be clear for all to see that the fiat money capable of being created by a global central bank and through a world currency could and should be used to support rather than destroy the life of human beings and the planet. In this way ‘the cancer stage of capitalism’ would, in and of itself, create the global conditions for communism2, albeit through a series of apocalyptic crises and wars resulting in an ultimate ‘apocalypse’ in the root meaning of the word – a ‘revelation’.
That this apocalyptic ‘road to communism’ is far from ideal, bearing as it does the already very real risks of a further world war and/or the total immiseration of most of humanity and destruction of all natural life species on the planet, could be avoided by the abolition of the money markets and the establishment of public banking systems on a national level – is without question. In just the same way, cancer as a medical disease is far from being an ideal way of giving individual expression and embodiment to a world which itself denies individuals essential bodily, social and relational forms of life support - and of affirmation of their individual values and potentials. This is why communism, is the only ultimate ‘cure’, i.e. a social and life system, which, far from being collectivistic, is one in which, as Marx himself defined it in The Communist Manifesto: “…the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
For all sicknesses, whether of the body or the social organism are essentially what Martin Buber called “sicknesses of relation”. Hence the principal means of global change and transformation lies neither in collective political protest nor in the individuals or the ‘self’ alone, but rather in what I call ‘Relational Revolution’ - the transformation of the immediate, lived relation of individuals to others within all groups, communities, corporations and societies. In other words, it is only through learning new and more aware ways of relating to each other as individuals that we can both cultivate our own individuality and nourish that of others – even with and within ‘the system’ as it is.
Peter Wilberg 2014
1. It is advances in technology that has made the current advanced and metastatic stage of ‘cancerous’ capitalism possible – in particular through the creation of electronic money and with it the facilitation of millions of financial transactions in seconds. This confirms, in contrast to McMurtry’s view than technology is a mere tool or instrument of money capital, Marx’s basic thesis that advances in the ‘means of production’ – in this case the means of production of money itself - necessarily bring in their wake changes in the ‘relations of production’, i.e. social, class and property relations.
2. Marx himself, of course, always recognised that the systemic contradictions of capitalism would never lead to communism until capitalism itself had become a fully globalised system.
3. There are many who, like David Icke, trace back the current ruling financial elite and its dynasties to a sinister species of extra-terrestrial aliens who became the god-like rulers of early human civilisations such as those in Mesopotamia (Sumeria) and who find a reflection of this in the current but degenerate ‘apotheosis’ or self-divinisation of that elite – who regard themselves as ‘gods’ above us all. Yet what such forms of ‘alien conspiracy theory’ all fail to recognise is the invaluable practical knowledge and advances in the means of production that these early and initially peaceful theocracies (alien or otherwise) instituted – including invaluable advances in non-commodified water-supplies, irrigation-based agriculture, sophisticated arts and architecture, hygienic city planning and, last but not least, written alphabets of the sort without which no literature of any sort on any subject - including this very essay and the texts it refers to, would be possible.
Buber, Martin Between Man and Man
Icke, David Human Race, Get Off Your Knees
Lenin, V.I. Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism
Marx, Karl Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts
Marx, Karl The Communist Manifesto
McMurtry, John The Cancer Stage of Capitalism – Crisis and Cure
Wilberg, Peter Deep Socialism – a new Manifesto of Marxist Ethics and Economics
TOUCH, AESTHETICS AND THE LANGUAGE OF THE TANTRAS
Pure, sense-free awareness is itself what senses and feels all things.
Many Eastern ‘spiritual’ traditions see the attainment of a type of pure sense-free awareness as an end-in-itself and to downgrade sensory experiencing to the level of less refined or ‘grosser’ levels and modes of awareness (‘tattvas’). Western spiritual traditions have also tended to elevate the intellect and downgrade the realm of the sensory, and, like many Eastern traditions, to falsely identify the latter with ‘gross’ matter and with a ‘material’ world. The paradoxical truth concealed by this ancient but still-maintained prejudice isthat it is precisely what can be called ‘pure’ or ‘sense-free’ awareness’ that is what senses and feels all things – which are but forms taken by it - just as it is also pure-sense free awareness that inwardly touches all that it feels and feels all that it touches.
For just as in touching something with our hands we also come to feel it, so also does the simple feeling awareness of anything also and automatically touch it - and that even without any outer ‘physical’ contact occurring. Alone in the Eastern ‘tantric’ tradition do we indeed find some ‘reflection’ of this truth, and of the experience of the touch (‘sparsha’) of pure awareness (‘cit’).
“[Oh Goddess, who is] beyond the five voids and whose characteristic is the touch of cit.”
from the Jayadrathalamayatantra or ‘King of the Tantras’ as cited by Fürlinger in The Touch of Śakti.
Space is the embrace of the divine.
Space too (‘the void’) is no ‘objective’ or ‘physical’ dimension but a field of
subjective, sensory experiencing. In essence, space is the embrace of the divine - of that pure sense-free awareness (‘cit’) which - in making space for and manifesting as all that can be experienced in a sensory way - also feels and touches it, both from within and without. Yet we tend to see space only or principally as a field of visual experiencing – and then reduce this in turn to a visual perception of ‘material’ objects or bodies. In reality however, nobody (‘no-body’) can see, hear or even touch ‘matter’ - which is a purely abstract concept to which there corresponds no ‘objective’ reality we can directly experience or prove the existence of. Instead, what we think of as sensory qualities or properties of ‘matter’ are simply particular qualities of tactile experiencing such as hardness or softness, roughness or smoothness etc. In other words, as Samuel Avery points out, it is only because something we actually see in space is also sensed as something that can potentially be felt or handled in a tactile way - that we think of it as ‘material’.
Visual experiencing of and in ‘space’ is itself a visual and spatial interpretation of tactile experiencing in all its dimensions, actual and potential - which include hearing, taste and even smell. For hearing is vibration that touches us - and that also gives us a sign of something that can potentially be touched. Similarly, smell gives us a sign of something that can potentially be tasted - taste itself being a mode of touch. That is why a dog’s experience of space is shaped as much - if not more - by their acute sense of hearing and smell than by sight alone.
It is therefore not sight but touch that can be said to be the true essence of all sensory and bodily experiencing. Thus not only sensations of hardness and softness, weight and density, warmth and coolness, but also of air and breathing, of taste and digestion, lightness or heaviness, movement and stillness, tension and relaxation, sound and silence, even pleasure, pain and emotional states, are felt in a principally tactile way, as are such senses as ‘pressure’ of time, of spatial expansiveness or confinement, closeness or distance - not to mention our sense of how inwardly close or distant, ‘in touch’ or ‘in contact’ we feel with ourselves and others.
“The tactile realm of perception is the same thing as the body.”
All that we see from the outside and call ‘a body’ is in essence nothing but a realm of actual and potential modes of tactile experiencing - proprioceptive and kinaesthetic, respiratory, auditory, olfactory (smell) or gustatory (taste and digestive sensations), emotional and relational.
As a result of these considerations, however, one may ask whether the very word ‘body’, with its immediate connotation of something principally seen in the form of a visual, mental or technological image, has itself become an obstacle to a more basic understanding of what ‘a body’ – ‘any body’ - essentially is. The same can be said of the word ‘soul’ – which is why I prefer the term ‘feeling awareness’.
In this context however, it is important to distinguish ‘feeling’ and ‘touch’. If we touch something we of course 'feel' it. On the other hand we can be 'touched' in a feeling way and not just in the physical way implied by the term 'tactile' - just as feelings can also 'touch' us in a non-physical way. What we call ‘soul’, therefore, can be understood precisely as this feeling dimension of tactile experiencing. To say that “the tactile realm of perception is the same thing as the body” is to say that not just what we call ‘body’ but also what we call ‘soul’ are, in essence, anything ‘in the world’ that we experience as ‘touching’ us in a manner that is felt in what may be more than just a ‘tactile’ way - whether this be a visual image or perception, a sensation of pleasure or pain, a look on a person’s face or in their eyes; a sound, word or tone of voice, a painting, poem or piece of music, or an experience, event or encounter of any sort. This is what makes it impossible to separate our self-experience from our lived or experienced world. For what most essentially constitutes that world is all that has the potential to touch us in a feeling way. Indeed any ‘world’ consists of nothing but particular potentials of felt, tactile experiencing – none of which arise from some ‘thing’ called ‘the body’ or ‘the soul’, but rather from ‘feeling awareness’ - an awareness which knows no bodily boundaries and yet is the essence of both ‘body’ and ‘soul’ - both of which consist essentially of felt shapes, patterns, tones and textures of awareness.
As human beings, whilst we can see a plant or even a single-celled organism under a microscope – neither the cell nor the plant can either see, hear or even smell. What the plant senses, it senses only in a directly tactile way – whether as a breeze, insect or chemical on its surface. What a single cell experiences – even a cell of our own ‘body’ and its multiple ‘sense organs’ (a retinal cell for example) it experiences through the touch of its feeling awareness alone. It is only through the sense of sight that has been developed by ‘multicellular organisms’ that human beings in particular first come to perceive and conceive ‘cells’ themselves principally as visual and ‘material’ objects – rather than feeling them in the tactile way that they feel themselves.
What we call ‘a feeling’ (singular noun) or ‘feelings’ (plural noun) is one thing. ‘Feeling’ (verb) on the other hand, is another.
‘Feelings’ are something we experience ourselves as ‘having’. Feeling on the other hand is something we do. Or rather not something that ‘we’ do but that awareness itself ‘does’ – for without a feeling awareness of a self or selves – of an ‘I’, ‘you’, or ‘we’ - there could be no self or selves to experience, just as without a feeling awareness of all there is to potentially experience, there would be nothing to experience - and so also no field or felt world of experiencing, tactile or otherwise. The terms ‘feeling awareness’ and ‘body of feeling awareness’ therefore remain an important reminder that it is not the visually perceived and seemingly ‘physical’ or ‘material’ forms (cellular and bodily, thingly and worldly) that feel or touch, but rather awareness itself in all its manifest sensory shapes, patterns, tones and textures - and that what awareness feels and ‘touches’ are essentially nothing but other such shapes and patterns, tones and textures of awareness.
It has long become common to oppose ‘figurative’, ‘representational’, ‘naturalistic’ or ‘realistic’ art with so-called ‘abstract’ art in all its shapes and patterns, colours, tones and textures. Nothing does more to undermine this dualism than the mode of aesthetic and sensory experiencing of the world around us that is the essence of what I call ‘Sensuous Awareness Bliss’. For through it we come to an awareness that what we see in the natural form of a sea or sunset, tree or mountain - or even a man-made object such as car or building - is nothing less ‘abstract’ in its form than any so-called ‘abstract’ painting or sculpture – but only of if we do not merely perceive something as ‘a sea’ or ‘ a sunset’, as ‘a tree’ or ‘a mountain’, as ‘a car’ or ‘building’.
Any great work of art – whether ‘realistic’ or ‘abstract’ can prevent us from interpreting what it depicts only as some familiar or nameable thing or being, and allows us to experience its shapes, tones and colours as shapes tones and colours of feeling awareness or 'soul'.
In this way, art can help us to see and sense all things and beings as works of art in themselves. Thus if an ‘abstract’ or even ‘realist’ painting gives us a strong impression, say, of the particular colour, pattern and texture of, for example, ‘the brickwork of a building’ - yet in a way that prevents us from seeing it merely as ‘the brickwork of a building’ - then the artist is bringing us back to our senses. By this I mean back from what has generally become in today’s world a wholly de-sensualised experience of things and beings - one in which they are merely perceived ‘as’ this or ‘that’, i.e. according to whatever name and ‘idea’ we attach to what or who they ‘are’. The portrait artist too, abstract or realist, does not just depict what they see with their own eyes. Instead, in the very act of ‘depicting’ the face and eyes of a real or imaginary other, what is revealed is the very way of looking out on the world and feeling themselves that manifests itself through the look in the eyes of this other and the cast of their gaze, together with the unique line or colouration of mood or feeling tone that are already inscribed on or that inwardly colour the face of this other.
The ‘eye of awareness’ is like the eye of an artist. It enables us to see and feel the innate meaning or sense present within the outer form, faces and facets of any thing or being, nameable or not – and in this way to sense the qualities of soul they give expression to – as works of art in themselves.
We do not ‘transcend’ the world of names and forms (‘namarupa’) by ‘controlling’ or ‘suppressing’ the senses but, on the contrary, by intensifying our immediate sensory experiencing of things, any in particular by not merely seeing them merely as this or that (for example as ‘a bird’ or as ‘a tree’, as ‘a car’ or as ‘a lamppost’). In this way, we do not let shadows be cast on our immediate perception of things by a prior ‘idea’ of what they are. We are reminded of Plato’s cave allegory, in which shackled prisoners see only shadows cast on the cave wall light by figures from behind – until one prisoner turns to face the light and can re-enter the bright, colourful world of rich sensory experiencing which it illumines. And yet very word ‘idea’ comes from the Greek eidos – which originally meant nothing ‘mental’ but rather some ‘face’ or ‘aspect’ of the immediate sensuous ‘form’ or ‘look’ of anything we perceive – for example its shape, colour or texture.
The sensory is the most abstract.
If portraiture, ‘realist’ or ‘abstract’, can reveal the soul of the subject – in particular those shades and colourations of awareness or soul that find expression in their faces and eyes, and if ‘Romantic’ art was able to reveal the inner soul moods not just of man or of the artist, but of nature too - through its faces - then ‘abstract art’ can, in general, show us precisely that there is nothing more innately ‘abstract’ than the immediately experienced sensory ‘faces’ or ‘aspects’ of all things – their eidai. Quite simply then, it is the immediate sensory dimension of experiencing that is the ‘abstract’. We only need to observe a seemingly random or ‘abstract’ patchwork of moist green seaweed on a sandy beach at low tide to recognise in it what might, if depicted in a painting hanging in an art gallery, be seen only as some piece of what we call ‘abstract art’ – appearing as it would to depict nothing recognisable or nameable at all.
All that what we call ‘abstract art’ has ever done is to simply ‘abstract’ or ‘lift off’ (Latin abstrahere) particular sensory dimensions and qualities of experienced phenomena in a way that frees us from perceiving those phenomena solely ‘as’ this or that, i.e. in the light and through the lens of purely ideational ‘abstractions’.
In this way, we can begin to get a sense of what it would feel like to become aware of things as they are, i.e. precisely not, for example as ‘cars’ but as ‘abstract’ sculptural shapes, each a sensory expression of innately sensuous shapes, densities, weights, colour tones, lustres and sheens of awareness itself. I understand Awareness Bliss (‘cit-ananada’) as thus an experience of ‘enlightenment’ or ‘truth’ in the deepest sense that abstract art strived for – an experience of all things as the sensory expression of innately sensuous ‘forms’ (Plato) or “idea-shapes” (Seth) of awareness rather than as mere mental idea or verbal constructs (‘vikalpa’). The fact that immediate sensory experiencing, free of experiencing ‘as’, has become something alien to all but artists can be put in another way. For there is no way that a ‘little green man’ from a alien planet – one lacking any vegetation - would or could see ‘trees’. Assuming that this alien's senses included sight, all they would see would be nothing but an ‘abstract’ configuration or branching of different shapes and tones of green. Similarly, like an infant without language and words (‘in-fans’) would and could not hear a sound as, for example, the sound that of ‘a bird singing’ or ‘a car passing by’. In fact they would not hear sounds as coming from anything that ‘out there’ at all. Instead they would simply experience these sounds in a tactile way - as the inner vibrational touch of their tones and textures.
Words are a translation of the wordless - not of other words.
It is not words but only the wordlessly felt meaning or ‘sense’ – their resonance and the way they touch us – that can be translated. Because of this, no amount of knowledge of Sanskrit and no amount of scholarly ‘interpretation’ alone allows us to translate so much as a single Sanskrit word of ‘the tantras’ – whether into English or any other language.
The only true form of translation is translation from experience.
We can only translate into our own language and words experiences that we have independently of the tantras - but feel to be resonant with their language and terms. Even such ‘experiential translation’ – translation from the language of experiencing itself - however, will lead to error if the very experiences we translate are already shaped and coloured in advance by a framework of purely verbal translations or interpretations of the tantras themselves. To in any way ‘make sense’ of the tantras – or anything else - in words, is therefore only possible on the basis of our own independent sensory experiencing and its wordlessly felt ‘meaning’ or “sense” (Gendlin). By speaking of ‘felt meaning’ as ‘felt sense’ we are already and implicitly hinting speaking from out of the wordless realm, not just of sensory experiencing in general, but of felt, tactile experiencing – of feeling and touch - in particular. Unless the primacy of the tactile is understood, all sorts of errors of translation and interpretation result. An example of such error is the common interpretation of ‘kundalini’ as a path of ascent through ‘the body’ from the realm of tactile, sensual and sexual experiencing to a state of pure, sense-free awareness - one that is associated with both ‘the void’ and ‘Shivatattva’. This is paradoxical – since, again, it belongs to the very essence of pure ‘sense-free awareness’ to be precisely that which senses, feels and touches all things. The supposed ‘highest’ state of ‘sense-free’ awareness is therefore itself and in essence tactile – a self-perception or ‘proprioception’ of itself through all the infinite sensory modes, actual and potential, in which it manifests, and which are associated in the tantras with its ‘Shaktis’.
The ultimate result of any ‘ascent’ of ‘Kundalinishakti’ through the ‘tattvas’ and ‘chakras’ therefore has, paradoxically, as its true goal an experience of its ‘fall’ or descent (‘Shakti-pata’), i.e. an experience of the touch and pervasion (‘samavesa’) of all ‘lower’ things by that pure sense-free awareness (Shiva) which alone senses, feels and touches them as its ‘Shaktis’.
For this experience however, no rise or ascent of ‘kundalini’ through the body is required at all! Indeed no body is needed at all, since what we call ‘the body’ is not some bodily object which senses or feels or touches – but rather a particular felt shape taken by the entire field of sensory experiencing – and of tactile experiencing in particular – that embraced and pervaded by pure awareness. To even speak, as Fürlinger does, of “the Touch of Shakti” is therefore also a misnomer. For ‘Shakti’ itself is nothing but the sensing, feeling touch of pure awareness or ‘Shiva’. For it is this touch which allows pure awareness to feel itself through all that it touches and feels – through all it’s potential and actual manifestations or ‘Shaktis’.
Non-duality as such is touch.
The inseparability of touching and being touching – of ‘con-tact’ - is what is abstractly named with the term ‘non-duality’. In essence however, non-duality as such is nothing other than the most elementary, sensory experience of touch. It is through the feeling, sensing touch of pure sense-free awareness or Shiva that it comes to feel itself - through, within, around and as all actual and potential things and all bodies - and in this way also to first gain or attain a primordial sense of what is called ‘Self’. Shiva’ is, in this sense, not our highest or ultimate ‘self’. Instead it is that pure, sense-free awareness which first makes possible any and all experience of ‘self’, itself an essentially sensory, feeling and tactile experience of a sort which we actually need no tantras at all to come to and be aware of. Yes, we can find echoes and reflections of this experience, if we come to it ourselves, in the Kashmiri Shaiva tantras, for example in the single word ‘vimarśa’ - whose root is mrś means ‘to touch’. Even if we do not know this root meaning however, if we translate the word experientially, it seems absurd to verbally translate it, as Dyczkowski does for example – as ‘reflective awareness’. For from experience we will know that all reality is not so much a mirror-like ‘reflection’ of the light of pure awareness (any ‘perception’ or ‘reflection’ of light being something which is itself only possible through the touch of that light) but rather a felt, tactile proprioception of that light - in all its sensuous, bodily shapes and forms.
Avery, Samuel The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Avery, Samuel The Transcendence of the Western Mind
Dyczkowski, Mark S.G. The Doctrine of Vibration, an Analysis of the Doctrines and Practices of Kashmir Shaivism
Fürlinger, Ernst The Touch of Śakti, A Study in the Non-Dualistic Trika Śaivism of Kashmir
Wilberg, Peter Tantra Reborn – on the Sensuality and Sexuality of the Soul and its Bdy
Wilberg, Peter Tantric Wisdom for Today’s World
Wilberg, Peter The Awareness Principle, a radical new philosophy of life, science and religion
Metaphor and The Metaphorical Body …the Missing Link Between Illness, Language and Life
Peter Wilberg, 2012
“The greatest thing, by far, is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned and is also a sign of genius.” Aristotle
“…a powerful metaphor may complete its work so effectively as to obliterate its own traces.”
Gemma Corradi Fiumara The Metaphoric Process – Connections between Language and Life
The attempt to demonstrate such a mastery of metaphor as Aristotle describes did not only find expression in the arts of rhetoric and dialectics, or in the parables of Jesus - indeed in the sacred religious scriptures of almost all cultures. It also found expression in lost genres of everyday speech – which in turn were echoed in great poetry and literature such as that of Shakespeare, whose vividly metaphorical character was no mere exceptional literary device of an author, albeit employed with genius.
As Lakoff and Johnson have shown, language is pervaded through and through by metaphor, not least bodily metaphors, both on the level of everyday discourse and also of scientific language and terminologies. Yet despite the fact that language can be said to be metaphorical in its very essence, a literalistic understanding of language has become so pervasive that metaphor is seen as a mere decorative, ‘literary’ or poetic ‘use’ of language. Few see that the languages of ‘the sciences’ are also pervaded through and through by metaphor - for example the idea of ‘waves’ of light or quantum ‘packets’ of energy. Yet what remains unseen is how even the most elementary prepositions such as ‘in’ and ‘out’ employed in both everyday language and scientific propositions are themselves metaphors derived from experiencing (for example ‘He has a pain in his shoulder’ or ‘mammals developed out of reptiles’. Similarly, to speak of events occurring in time, or of a ‘point’ in time at which the space-time universe ‘began’ (the ‘Big Bang’) is to apply spatial metaphors to the temporal. And to speak of ‘grappling with an idea’ or ‘grasping’ a concept is - as is so often the case - to invoke a metaphor associated with bodily experiencing to describe a supposedly abstract ‘mental’ process. As well as bodily metaphors, it is also technological ones which play a key role in shaping the language of the sciences. Thus without the industrial-technological language of mechanics and electronics we would not be able to speak of psychological phenomena using a mechanical metaphor such as ‘stress’ or electronic ones through which one speak of the ‘hard-wiring’ of the brain. Such metaphors confirm Heidegger’s understanding that, far from being a mere ‘application’ or ‘product’ of the sciences, the latter are inseparable from the development of new technologies and their products. Finally, without metaphors derived from ways of speaking about language itself, geneticists would not be able to speak, for example, of the ‘expression’ of genes.
Though all language is metaphorical in its very essence, today’s blindly and deafly literalistic understanding of language in the sciences – not least in medical science – constitutes an epochal change. It also constitutes an assault on what Fiumara calls the metabolic function of metaphor in processing human experiencing. Thus the child she refers to who says to her mother that “an elephant is stamping on my ear” is seen as merely using fanciful ‘childish’ metaphors in place of a literalistic and thereby also ‘adult’ recognition of ‘having an earache’. Similarly, when adults speak metaphorically of feeling ‘distant’ or ‘close’ to someone, ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ towards them, or of being in a ‘heavy’ or ‘black mood’ in contrast to a ‘lighter’ or ‘brighter’ one, we take such sensual language as merely metaphorical rather than as a most direct expression of their own lived bodily experience of self and other.
Unquestioned literalism in the sciences, as in everyday human discourse in general, goes together with the ‘reification’ of language – the assumption that just because words like ‘stress’ or ‘energy’ have become common usage in both everyday life and the sciences there is some ‘object’ or ‘thing’ corresponding to those words and merely represented by them in a ‘literal’ way. Thus it is common to speak today of the sequencing of ‘the human genome’, heralding this as a huge scientific and medical breakthrough. Yet the simple use of the definite article to imply that there actually is a ‘thing’ that can be called ‘the’ human genome’ is a myth. It ignores the scientific reality that firstly it is impossible - in principle - to examine anything more than ‘a human genome’ or a set of individual ‘reference’ genomes taken from specific donors, and that secondly, every time a cell divides, new mutations arise - with the result that “no two cells, even within the same individual have the identical sequence”. Consequently “all available whole genome sequences show potentially disease-producing variants” (geneticist Ken Weiss, writing in the on-line journal The Scientist). The sequencing of ‘the human genome’ therefore, is not any sort of great leap forward in ‘empirical’ science but as Weiss points out, Platonic idealism in its purest form. This is not untypical of the sciences which take their own mental or mathematical constructs or ‘ideas’ as more ‘real’ than any tangibly experienced phenomena that they may be used to ‘expain’. In the case of ‘the’ human genome it is as if a pure idea of ‘the’ dog would be taken as a normative template on a potentially infinite variety of dogs – or the latter seen as but variant ‘expressions’ of this pure idea. That said, the language of human genomics and molecular biology is the closest that science has come to an explicit recognition that the body as such is - metaphorically - closer in nature to a language than to a machine. All the more pity then, that the metaphorical dimensions of the body and as a language remained totally ignored in biological science and medicine. For as Aristotle already noted: “It is from metaphor that we best get hold of something fresh.”
If however we are to become ‘masters’ of metaphor and to master a fundamentally new metaphorical understanding of language as such – and with it of ‘thinking’ as such – we must first of all examine the ‘metaphoricity’ hidden in the very words ‘metaphor’, ‘language’ and ‘thinking’ themselves. Otherwise we fall into the ever-present danger of re-introducing literalism and reification – for example by assuming that just because we have such a word as ‘metaphor’ there is some agreed and already understood ‘thing’ corresponding to this word, or to the words ‘language’ and ‘thinking’. The word ‘metaphor’ derives from the Greek metaphorein – meaning to ‘bear across’. Its metaphorical usage came from the specific interpretation of this root meaning as a ‘bearing across’ of a meaning. This metaphorical meaning and use of the word ‘metaphor’ alone suffices to show its significance – for ‘to bear across a meaning’ is precisely how we understand the meaning of communication as such. For the early Greeks as described by Homer, however, it was not just words that were experienced as communicatively ‘bearing across’ meanings – so also were what we call ‘things’ themselves. Thus a lightning bolt would not just have been ‘thought of’ but also experienced by the early Greeks as bearing across a meaning – specifically as a message or sign from Zeus. Similarly, a propitious wind was experienced by Odysseus as helping not just to bear his vessel across the seas but also and above all as a message of support and sign of the benevolent working (ergon/energeia) of a goddess. It is in this context that when the philosopher Martin Heidegger came to ask the question and write his famous essay entitled “What is ‘a thing’?”, he drew on the root meaning of this word as a ‘communal gathering’ (Ding) to speak of all things as a fourfold ‘gathering’ - of earth and sky, gods and mortals.
Today we understand speech and language merely as ways of thinking or talking ‘about’ things. In earlier cultures however, things themselves – a particular mountain for example - were experienced as speaking to and/or giving important signs to people. This is something we only dimly recall today on exceptional occasions - as when we are infused with a numinous sense of wondrous meaning by a wonderful mountain vista, or take fire and clouds of ash rising from it as a sign – albeit not of or from a god or being, but merely of ‘volcanic activity’. As for the word ‘language’, its own ‘metaphoricity’, as with so many words, is drawn from a part of the body – the tongue (lingua) in particular. But if we then rest with the unquestioned assumption that the word ‘tongue’ merely denotes some fleshly body part, what are we to make of talk of ‘angels’ who speak in ‘tongues of fire’? Is this ‘mere’ metaphor based on the fleshly tongue? Or could it be that the fleshly tongue is itself a living biological metaphor of ‘metaphoricity’ in its deeper sense – being a medium for the ‘bearing across of meanings’? If so, then Lakoff and Johnson’s conclusion that in essence linguistic metaphor is drawn from or rooted in the bodily experiencing of self and world must be turned on its head. By this I mean that the human body must itself be recognised as a ‘metaphorical body’ – serving to breathe, metabolise, body forth and ‘bear across’ the human being’s lived experience of themselves and their life world in the same way that language does. In other words, it is not that language has its root in bodily experiencing. Rather both bodyhood and language serve to give form to and ‘bear across’ modes of experiential awareness, revealing their innate meaning-full-ness.
On a more fundamental metaphysical level, what if, as Seth claims (see Appendix) that all things or ‘objects’ are just as much symbols as words are? What if what science thinks of as ‘matter’ in all its forms, biological and otherwise, is itself a dimension of meaning made manifest i.e. not a primordial ‘substance’ of any sort but, in tune with the root meaning of the word, a primordial matrix of actual or potential meanings that is the mother (mater) of all ‘material’ things – with each such ‘thing’ serving to disclose or ‘bear across’ a specific sensual shape and form of meaning or ‘sense’ (just as a specific word or utterance might do)? This would explain also why it is that in almost all religious traditions the natural or ‘material’ world was thought of as something spoken or uttered into existence, not through an egotistic command such as ‘Let there be Light’ but in the same manner as meaningful sounds take shape upon the tongue and are borne across the breath. In this context, the modern term ‘psychology’ can be said to have successfully obliterated all traces of its metaphoricity, being generally taken today as a mere technical term denoting a specialist science. In its forgotten root sense however, it refers to the logos or ‘speech’ of the soul or psyche itself - and no mere theorising academic or scientific discourse ‘about’ it.
The importance of ‘etymology’ in understanding the intrinsic ‘metaphoricity’ of language is no mere matter of philological interest. For what the very term ‘etymology’ means in its own root sense is nothing less than ‘the truth of speech’ (etymos logos) in its broadest, deepest and most essential sense. This in turn has profound implications for our understanding of what we call ‘thinking’ and its relation to speech and language. For it means we can no longer reduce our understanding of what ‘thinking’ itself most essentially is to some mere ‘mental’ use of language to ‘re-present’ in words what we have already and simply assumed to be a world of pre-named and pre-given ‘things’.
This is what might be called a literalistic understanding of thinking itself - one which is profoundly challenged and subverted by understanding the metaphorical character, not just of language and words, but also of things themselves – understood, metaphorically as a language.
The idea that ‘mind’ and ‘thought’ might have a bodily dimension has today been reduced to an almost total identification of mind with the brain – an identification which leaves wholly unexplained how consciousness as such can arise from what is seen as the essentially insentient ‘grey matter’ of the brain. The relation of ‘mind’ and body is thereby reduced to a mere relation of one part of the body – the brain – with all others. On the other hand, the fact that we speak of someone ‘holding’ a particular intellectual or mental ‘attitude’ or ‘position’, and of using thought to ‘get a grip on’, ‘grasp’ or ‘handle’ particular concepts or questions already ‘bears across’ a recognition that the realm of ‘mind’ itself belongs instead to a deeper more primordial dimension of bodily activity and awareness – one which also bears itself forth in our entire bodily attitude, posture and comportment. Hence Heidegger spoke of “the bearing of thought” (die Gebärde des Denkens) in general, and particularly of its “handicraft” – the way in which this bearing bodies itself in a more or less aware, meaningful, mindful, meditative or skillful use of the hands. The hands are also of course a medium of contact with both things and other beings – or rather a way in which such contact, whether with God or another human being, is sealed – for example through a gesture of prayer, a meditation, a handshake or salute, or, in the yogic tradition, different meditation configurations of the fingers and hands known as mudra or ‘seals’ – in this case designed to seal a state of consciousness. Essentially however, the use of the hands is one way in which, as human beings, we bear and body forth the sensually tactile dimension of awareness as such – for we cannot actively touch and feel something with our hands without at the same time being touched by it – feeling its sensuous character. Touching and being touched, i.e. ‘feeling’ as a sensuous activity and feeling as a sensuous experience – being in this way essentially inseparable – cannot in any way be severed into a relation between a separable feeling ‘subject’ on the one hand and some felt ‘object’ on the other. Nor is the intrinsically tactile dimension of feeling awareness embodied only through the use of our hands – otherwise we would not speak of ‘handling’ somebody more or less ‘tactfully’ or being in greater or lesser, deeper or more superficial ‘con-tact’ with them in a way that did not refer to any use of the hands or to any type of outward bodily ‘touch’, ‘contact’ or ‘handling’ at all.
The entire way we ‘think’ and understand ‘thinking’ hinges on what sort of relation to language and speech lies behind and guides that ‘thinking’ – a ‘literalistic’ or a ‘metaphorical’ one. If the latter, then, in order to ‘think’ at all, we cannot employ any words as if their meaning was just some pre-given and ‘literal’ denotation of some pre-given ‘thing’. Instead we must ‘bracket’ every single word we use in formulating a proposition or even a question and instead learn to listen to and question more deeply even the most common and taken-for-granted words we might employ in couching and formulating both our questions and answers. This includes the verb ‘to bear’ itself. Thus we cannot speak of “the bearing of thought” or use such expressions as to ‘bear across’ to translate the root meaning of ‘metaphor’ as metaphorein without ‘bearing in mind’ the uses and root meanings of the word ‘bear’. Such uses include expressions such as to ‘bear’ or ‘bear up’ to something (a difficult situation or state of pain for example), to be ‘bearing’ something in the form of carrying it (a weapon or child in the womb) together with the Proto-Indo-European root meaning of the word – meaning to give birth - and in this way bring a being ‘into view’ for the first time.
Heidegger himself suggests that ““Thinking is a listening that brings something into view… Thinking should bring into view something one can hear. In doing so it brings into view something that was un-heard of” thereby enabling us to ‘see’ it. He goes on to recall that the Greek word for an ‘idea’ (eidos) referred, also in Plato, first of all to something seen, meaning as it did a visible aspect or ‘look’ of something that can be “brought into view” and ‘seen’. “Therefore in thinking both ordinary hearing and seeing pass away for us, for thinking brings about in us a listening and bringing-into-view.” Through thinking in Heidegger’s sense then, “sensory seeing and hearing is taken over into the realm of non-sensory perception...” Heidegger also remarks that “the language of scholars names such a carrying over ‘metaphor’”, but does so only in order to immediately qualify this remark by adding that this use of the word metaphor (to describe a ‘carrying over’ or ‘bearing across’ of a sensory phenomenon into the realm of the non-sensory) is true for those for whom only “hearing with ears and seeing with the eyes is genuine hearing and seeing.” In contrast, he affirms that though “we hear a Bach fugue with our ears … if we leave what is heard only at the level of what strikes the tympanum as sound waves, then we can never hear a Bach fugue. We hear, not the ear.” Likewise if “human vision remained confined to what is piped in as sensations through the eye to the retina, then, for instance, the Greeks would never have been able to see Apollo in a statue of a young man…”
“It is of the highest importance that there be thinking physicians, who are not of a mind to leave the field for the scientific technologists.” Martin Heidegger
The type of ‘thinking’ required of such “thinking physicians” is precisely the one he describes as a mode of listening - one that brings something previously unheard to view and thereby enables us to ‘see’ it in a way not reducible to visual perception. Such a thinking must necessarily be based on a new understanding of the relation between ‘mind’ and ‘body’ – a relation now freshly understood as a relation between language and life – not least bodily life. Yet one can already begin to become such a “thinking physician” by merely attending to the hidden truth of the term ‘biology’ itself – now freshly understood in its root sense as the very ‘speech’ (logos) of ‘life’ (bios). For the way in which our lives themselves speak to us and touch us inwardly finds expression in both language and the life of our bodies. Such talk is not ‘mere’ metaphor. Instead it is a clue to both the bodily metaphoricity of language and the linguistic metaphoricity of the body. Yet if one cannot ‘read’ the connection between verbal metaphors drawn from the body – for example expressions such as a ‘broken heart’ or ‘loss of heart’ - and what medicine designates as ‘heart failure’, then there is no way in which the heart as an organ, heart functioning, heart failure or disease can themselves be understood as a ‘biological metaphor’ of life itself. That is why awareness of metaphor as the ‘missing link’ between illness and life challenges us to enter into an entirely new relation to language - one through which we become open to its innate metaphoricity. In the context of medicine however, this challenge is made difficult from the very start by the fact that even a simple word such as ‘heart’ – despite the many metaphorical figures of speech that make use of it – is taken first and foremost in a literalistic way, as denoting some specific anatomical and fleshly organ. The result is an entire field of medical science known as ‘cardiology’ which conceals the very genesis of its own name in Homeric Greek language – where the original meaning of kardia had, as Julian Jaynes explains, nothing whatsoever to do with either an anatomical organ or a source of emotional ‘feeling’ contained ‘in’ the body or psyche, but referred instead to an experienced sensation of quivering and excitatory motion – in other words the pure sensation of what today we would call ‘emotional’ experiencing.
It is surely noteworthy too, than in both the Old and The New Testament, as well as in Indian theological scriptures, the word for heart is never used to denote a specific anatomical organ, let alone one that is merely seen as some sort of biological pump. Instead all references to the heart in Hebrew, Greek and Sanskrit referred either to the realm of emotional experiencing and/or to the divine essence of self and to the seat of the divine in the body. In other words, the word for ‘heart’ was only used in what today we would see as a ‘metaphorical’ sense. It would be a huge mistake to conclude from this however, that what the much later development of medical anatomy came to perceive and understand as the heart as an anatomical organ was in any way the ‘real’ source of this earlier metaphorical use of the word heart. If anything it is the other way round - for even medical science recognises today that emotional states of the sort that, like expressions such as ‘broken hearted’, are couched in ‘the language of the heart’ are ‘borne across’ and thereby find metaphorical expression in the functioning - or dysfunctioning - of the heart as a biological organ. In other words it is not the fact that certain expressions make use of the name of a bodily organ that endows them with metaphoricity. On the contrary, it is what we now perceive only as biological organs and their functions that are themselves a living biological metaphor of the subjective states described in expressions such as ‘broken hearted’. Different perceptions and experiences of what constitute ‘the heart’ are just one example of this. One could also question how regions of the body such as ‘head’ and ‘belly’ are perceived. For in the context of today’s ubiquitous media propaganda for ‘brain science’ for example, what are we to make of traditional Japanese culture and language – in which to speak of someone as ‘thinking with their head’ constituted a pejorative judgement - if not an outright insult - and where in contrast to the Western dualism of head and heart, mind and emotions, it was the lower abdomen or hara that was felt and regarded as both the spiritual and physical centre of gravity of the human being, as the very seat of our innermost self, as the key source of strength and confidence in both life and martial arts – and as that region in which we most truly ‘think’ in the deepest sense – not through reason alone but through patiently and meditatively ‘digesting’ our lived experience? This process of digestion was felt as occurring in the abdominal region of the inwardly felt body - what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘the body without organs’(BwO). Hence the fact that committing harakiri meant painfully disembowelling an enormous length of convoluted intestinal flesh was not in any way central to this ritual act. Yet surely, it will be retorted, our ‘physical’ body and its organs, being visible objects of sensory perception, must be regarded as more essentially ‘real’ than our inwardly felt body and any forms of subjectively experienced spiritual, emotional or cognitive capacities experienced through this ‘body without organs’?
This rejoinder however, forgets that sensory perception as such has itself a metaphorical character. For in reality we do not see any such ‘thing’ as ‘a heart’ or ‘a stomach’ or ‘a liver’ any more than we perceive any such thing as ‘a kettle’ or ‘a bicycle’. Or rather the little word ‘as’ in the last sentence is the giveaway. For we can perceive some piece of equipment as ‘a kettle’, as ‘a bicycle’ only by virtue of the use we know we can put to it and the function it can perform for us. Similarly it is only through the development of clinical anatomy that we now perceive what we call ‘the heart’, ‘the liver’, ‘the lungs’ etc. as mere fleshly biological organs serving purely biological functions. The key point here however is that perception as such is essentially experience or perception as, and thus is itself intrinsically metaphorical. Through the reification of language on the other hand, literalist thinking forecloses the limitless different modes of perception ‘as’ that constitute the very foundation of this metaphoricity in both language and lived experience. This is what has led to the modern, medical-scientific outlook - which regards the body as a clinical object – the body as perceived, examined or scanned from the outside - as more ‘real’ than the body as felt and experienced from within. The vast ‘bodies of knowledge’ accumulated by medical science have their own validity, and yet they are in no way rooted in our own subjective experience of bodyhood and our own immediate bodily knowing. And the biological sciences can only get away with their claims to an ‘objective’ account of the body and its organs through a concealed form of anthropomorphism of the sort normally associated with religious languages and imagery. This anthropomorphism is concealed in the almost universally unquestioned assumption that our human perception of reality, including the human body, its internal organs and its outer environment, is something ‘objective’ – rather than being essentially subjective i.e. shaped by specific field-patterns of awareness unique to our species – which in turn pattern our perceptual field of awareness or outer perceptual ‘environment’(German Umwelt).
Yet as Heidegger acknowledged, there was indeed one biologist – Jacob von Uexküll – who did see through this anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism. Uexküll’s breakthrough lay in recognising that not only did different species of organism inhabit different perceptual environments – they also perceived both their own bodily form and that of all other organisms in quite different ways within that environment. Thus he showed how, for example, a tick, fly, spider, shark or jellyfish would in no way perceive each other’s bodily form or environment – or the form of the human body itself – in the same way that human beings do (let alone perceive the human body as a ‘human’ body). A decisive ‘Achilles’ heel’ or ‘fly in the ointment’ of literalist biology and medicine therefore (and indeed literalist science in general) lies in anthropocentrically ‘privileging’ our own highly species-specific way of subjectively perceiving reality – claiming a greater degree of ‘objective’ reality to it than that of all other species.
There is an analogy here to the way in which an adult might give greater validity to experiencing a particular sensation as ‘having an earache’ than the child’s experience of it as ‘an elephant stamping on my ear’. Yet how and by what means can an ear itself ‘ache’ or where can an ‘ache’ ever be found ‘in’ an ear? For an ‘ache’ or ‘pain’ is an essentially subjective experience that cannot be visibly perceived ‘in’ or ‘inside’ anything. It certainly cannot be perceived ‘in’ the body and its organs as they are perceived, even by so-called ‘internal’ examination - which is itself a form of external perception or perception from the outside - and that through our highly species-specific modes of metaphorical perception – perception ‘as’.
The biomedical ‘diagnosis’ of illness is an example of a particularly limited mode of perception ‘as’. The patient’s symptoms are perceived solely as signs of some possible disease entity at work ‘in’ their body and ‘causing’ those symptoms. In this way a framework of already signified senses or meanings (possible diagnoses) is superimposed on the sensed significances of those symptoms for the patient themselves – a significance that has to do with the aspects of the patient’s life history, life experience and life world as a whole that their bodily life and symptoms may be giving metaphorical expression to. That is why, in contrast to Biological Medicine, what I call ‘Life Medicine’ constitutes a paradigm shift towards a metaphorical understanding of illness - in contrast to a mechanistic ‘causal explanatory’ one. This goes together with an understanding of the human body itself as a living biological language of the human being and no mere biological machine. Language and its metaphoricity thus becomes a new ‘root metaphor’ for understanding both the nature of the human body and the genesis of illness – which is no longer reduced to an ‘expression’ of an individual’s genes but seen rather as an expression of what have been called ‘memes’ – albeit freshly understood as ‘root metaphors’ central to a patient’s individual way of both metabolising and metaphorising their lives and lived experience. Such individual root metaphors may find expression in both the patient’s life, speech and their symptoms. In his book Meaning-full Disease medical consultant Brian Broom gives a typical example of this, in which the root metaphor is ‘shell’.
“… a 71 year old woman, had an 18 month history of generalized thickening of the skin, and tissues under the skin … Despite her age it was impossible to pinch her skin into folds. Despite intensive investigation a firm diagnosis had not been made … but though the appearances were not classical she was told she had “connective tissue disease” and was accordingly treated with steroids and other potent drugs. I was asked to see her for a second opinion. I began by enquiring about the onset of her skin thickening. She startled me by saying that it began when she fell over in the local garden nursery, sustaining injuries to her face and legs. I was inclined to brush this information off, and get on with the important (sic) material. But something made me hesitate, and I enquired further. She described the fall as “shattering.” Mystified as to the relevance of this I asked what effect this event had had on her. She replied: “I went into my shell for a while.”
I was immediately struck by the fact she was presenting to me with a thickened shell of skin and here she was using language to match. I invited further comment, and within the next 3 to 4 minutes she used the words “I went into my shell” 3 times … Moreover she further volunteered in her description of being taken back to her home by a friendly gentleman: “I went inside the four walls of my house, and closed the door, and sat and sat and sat.” In the few weeks following the injury skin thickening developed first in the legs and then became more generalized … Moreover the embarrassing injuries to her face induced social withdrawal. She had actually started to improve by the time I saw her and the possibility existed that this was a response to the drugs she had been on. I enquired of her as to what she felt was the cause of her improvement. She related it to a friend who had come to her and said that she should get active again. She said that she improved again as she started to “come out of my shell.” This “shell” theme was the metaphor she persisted with in both her language and her body.
I suggested to her that the thickening of the skin was a bodily (somatic) representation of what she was also expressing in using the term “shell.” She accepted this, though without much insight. I encouraged her to continue to be active and resume her previous social contacts, and suggested I follow her up regularly for support, encouragement, explanation, education, and revision of her home situation so that coping could be ensured for as long as possible. After the third visit she declined further sessions. One year later both she and her physician reported marked clinical improvement, and she was on no medication.”
Broom summarises the case: “The fall appears to ‘shatter’ this elderly woman. She firms up around this disintegrative experience by constructing a ‘shell’ around herself, and develops thickening of her skin. Her language, in her use of the word ‘shell,’ repeatedly expresses this motif. More than this, she expresses the same theme in the ‘action’ dimension of her life: she retreats inside the ‘shell’ of her house. Thereafter she does not improve until she dares to ‘come out of my shell’.”
Metaphorical expressions such as ‘going into’, ‘retreating into’ or ‘coming out of’ one’s ‘shell’ are of course not unique inventions of the patient Broom describes, but an accepted idiomatic use of language – certainly in English. Nevertheless Broom ‘hears’ in the word ‘shell’ a root metaphor enabling the story behind this particular patient’s illness and its metaphoricity to “come into view” and be ‘seen’. It is in this sense that the word can here be considered a metaphorical ‘meme’. For though it was embodied by the patient in a highly individual way – through her transforming both her skin and her house into a shell – the word ‘shell’ and all the metaphorical expressions around it are also part of a shared language. Such shared phrases, like what have been called ‘memes’, can be compared to shared genes - and may indeed be ‘inherited’ or ‘borne across’ from them.
In this context I think of a client who was aware not just of a tendency to ‘withdraw’ or ‘retreat into’ her own ‘shell’ - but of ‘resigning’ from life in a way her own severely and chronically arthritic mother had done - to the point of becoming bed-ridden for years. This patient too spoke of an experience which she felt had ‘shattered’ her sense of self. Her fears surrounding this - and of following in her mother’s footsteps - were intensified when she began to develop arthritic finger joints on her right hand. For this threatened to severely limit if not eventually end her capacity to practice as a massage therapist, something which was for her an extremely important medium of life fulfilment and contact with others. The fear of losing this important dimension of her life led her to ask ‘herself’ which ‘self’ it was that had this tendency to withdraw or retreat from social contact and communication - and the discovery that it was not ‘her’ true self but rather one formed through identification with her mother. Yet it required the intense fears aroused by the arthritic condition of her fingers - and with it the weakening of her capacity to use her hands in giving massage - to both metaphorically ‘point a finger’ at this issue and at the same time gave her a stronger impulse than ever before to finally ‘get to grips’ with it. Since doing so she has ceased to be troubled by painful finger joints and her hands strengthened – despite her repetitive exercise of the joints in question.
This ‘case example’ illustrates two points. One is that, as Darian Leader points out, the study of the ‘genetic transmission’ of disease does not take fully into account the role played by the ‘trans-generational transmission’ – not of diseases as such but of particular ways of being and relating that leave their ‘imprint’ on the child. This would also explain why in certain cases but not in others a particular disease-related gene finds expression. The example also illustrates the close relation between metaphorical language (‘pointing a finger’, ‘getting to grips with something’) and the nature of disease symptoms themselves as ‘somatic’ or ‘biological’ metaphors - in this case weakened finger joints on that hand, which in right-handed individuals, is generally stronger and also used to ‘point a finger’. What I call a ‘metaphorical meme’ then is a specific metaphorical ‘signifier’ such as a ‘shell’ or ‘finger’ which offers a central link between illness, language and life. It does so through uniting a generally used word or metaphorical expression with both the specific life experience and history of an individual and their ‘expression’ in the genesis of symptoms, whether or not they are thought of as bearing a ‘genetic’ element. For we ‘inherit’ not just ‘genes’ but also ‘memes’ – understood as specific ways of being and specific ways of speaking – of ‘bearing across’ of a meaning. The metaphoricity of body speech and/or illness symptoms consists in the way they simultaneously embody both specific ways of being that we may inherit from or share with others (or a specific other) and specific ways of meaning that find expression through common, imprinted or inherited uses of metaphorical language.
Both ways of being and ways of meaning however, are also intrinsically relational – for even withdrawing from social relationships is itself a mode of relating. In the case of the client with the arthritic finger, it was through listening to the intonation and message borne across by her whole way of listening to and speaking with me, that her relation to her father was also brought into view. For the client’s own way of listening and responding in speech appeared to be specifically attuned to anything at all that was said to her that she could possibly interpret as in some way critically ‘pointing a finger’ at her – and thus respond to defensively rather than taking in. Addressing this very point with her she recalled having had a teenage (experience?) of an extremely unjust criticism and hurtfully accusatory ‘finger pointing’ by her father – after which she felt her previously close and warm relationship to him to have been shattered and emptied of any feeling of closeness.
Like a key word or finger, an illness symptom does not literally ‘represent’ but metaphorically points us to a whole way of being and of meaning (as reflected in the meaning of the German word for ‘meaning’ (Be-deutung or ‘what is pointed to’). So whether we speak of a central ‘somatic metaphor’, a key metaphorical ‘signifier’ or a ‘metaphorical meme’ the meaning is the same. It is the way in which, in general, illness and its symptoms can metaphorically point us to what are, essentially, unhealthy ways of being and relating - and in this way help ‘cure us’ of them. This is also the subject of my book The Illness is the Cure. Yet as an old Chinese saying goes ‘The wise man points at the moon. The fool looks only at the finger’. The ‘foolishness’ of biological medicine consists of the way it focusses on the pointing finger that is the symptom – and seeks the meaning of what it may be pointing at only as some form of disease entity (a particularly limiting form of perception ‘as’ which is blind to the dimension of metaphoricity to which the finger points). In the case of Broom’s patient the diagnosis had been some atypical form of ‘connective tissue disease’. Like much medical terminology however, this very diagnostic expression is itself loaded with unseen metaphoricity, pointing us as it does, metaphorically, to the fleshly, linguistic and existential ‘tissues’ of consciousness and experiencing that ‘connect’ us to each other and to the world, and that constitute the ‘metaphoric body’ – the ‘connective’ link between language, life and illness.
What we call ‘the body’ has of course been perceived and understood religiously, scientifically and metaphysically in many different metaphorical ways, for example:
… as a likeness of God … as a sacred temple of the gods … as ‘the word’ (logos) become flesh (sarx) … as a more or less disposable shell or container of the soul or psyche … as a biomechanical machine – the most basic metaphor of medicine … as an expression of our genes – a more recent medical metaphor
This final metaphor is perhaps one which comes closest in its language to understanding the body as a language – as the very ‘speech’ (logos) of ‘life’ (bios) itself, albeit a type of speech which is not essentially molecular but metaphorical through and through, and the very essence of ‘biology’. In this context however, Heidegger’s call for “thinking physicians” and his reference to the “bearing of thought” take on a new significance. For even the typically ‘clinical’, intellectually disembodied and literalistic bearing of the professional physician today is a “bearing of thought” in the deeper sense – not just the application of a body of professional knowledge and skills but something that bears itself forth in the bodily comportment of the physician towards their patients, i.e. their bodily way of being and speaking with them - and their embodied capacity or incapacity to truly, i.e. ‘patiently’, ‘bear with’ the ‘patient’. For only through this patient ‘bearing with’ – and not through any rush to some form of diagnosis and treatment - can the physician come to sense a patient’s inwardly felt ‘dis-ease’ and to do so with and within their own inwardly felt body, rather than merely seeing only the outward expression of the patient’s dis-ease in the form of bodily symptoms or signs of some clinically identifiable ‘disease’. This is also why, in my book entitled ‘The Illness is the Cure’, I stress, as in other writings, the importance of understanding illness as a state of pregnancy and the role of the physician as one of midwife – helping the patient, through the ‘metaphoricity’ of their illness, to give birth to a new ‘inner bearing’ towards the world, other people, life, death – and illness as such.
Appendix – from Chapter 5 of Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts
“As you read the words upon this page, you realize that the information that you are receiving is not an attribute of the letters of the words themselves. The printed line does not contain information. It transmits information. Where is the information that is being transmitted then, if it is not upon the page? The same question of course applies when you read a newspaper, and when you speak to another person. Your actual words convey information, feelings, or thoughts. Obviously the thoughts or the feelings, and the words, are not the same thing. The letters upon the page are symbols, and you have agreed upon various meanings connected with them. You take it for granted without even thinking of it that the symbols - the letters - are not the reality - the information or thoughts - which they attempt to convey. Now in the same way, I am telling you that objects are also symbols that stand for a reality whose meaning the objects, like the letters, transmit. The true information is not in the objects any more than the thought is in the letters or in words. Words are methods of expression. So are physical objects in a different kind of medium … It is only from this viewpoint that the true nature of physical matter can be understood. It is only by comprehending the nature of this constant translation of thoughts and desires - not into words now, but into physical objects - that you can realize your true independence from circumstance, time, and environment. Now, it is easy to see that you translate feelings into words or bodily expressions and gestures, but not quite as easy to realize that you form your physical body as effortlessly and unselfconsciously as you translate feelings into symbols that become words.”
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