Where do I stand?

Writing in Fine Lines, asking the question Why is there no Horizon on the Web? I began with this quote:

“Recently I read David Abrams’ The Spell of the Sensuous.

We stand in our bodies.  We stand on our earth, on the locale where we are.  We perceive this through our senses, taking in through all of our capacities what we can of what we are and where we are.  We place ourselves this way.  This is the basis of any action – even simply the basis of being – before any action is even contemplated.”

This is the position on which Phenomenology rests.  I keep coming back again and again to this starting point for myself and my thinking.  This, in short, answers the question I posed in the title of this post; but what I want to expand on are the problems that arise when this is ignored.

Our most common understanding of a “Stand” is that it is an adopted position, the Alamo as a “Stand.”  As with the Alamo, there’s an assumption of heroics attached, as if the most laudable thing is to leave where you are, where your life takes place, and fight to the death to defend a position you’ve adopted.  This gives us a boost of pride and confidence precisely when we should be feeling the gravest doubts!  The entire effort has taken us, and willfully put us off-balance, while exposing us to great danger.  Instead of doubting our reaction at such moments we’re likely to grumble, “Bring it on!”

I see this everywhere I look.  This mechanism has a profound affect on the way we perceive danger, difficulty, and how we look for ways to move ahead in their faces.  It perpetuates our inability to be flexible and drill down into predicaments and find ways to side-step their most egregious aspects; while we do, what may be the worst possible things, we congratulate ourselves for “Making a Stand!”

Also recently on my home site, I wrote about Seth Godin’s new book and his idea that we “Acknowledge the Lizard!” He’s talking about the “reptilian brain” that lies within our brains, wrapped around our brain stem like a basking Anaconda.  It is the seat of our most reactive emotions, fear, anger, arousal….  At some point, I’ll write about the reasons why I see the period we are leaving as the Age of the Reptilian Brain, soon, probably in Fine Lines; since a good way into the idea is to trace its affects on design.  In the meantime, look at any new American car, especially Dodges and GM products, and you should be able to see what I mean.

That warm feeling that fills us, crowding out any appeals to reason, or even self-preservation, at those moments as we mount the walls of our personal Alamo, is the supreme satisfaction of that reptilian brain, it’s the pinnacle of Lizard Joy!

This is hard to overcome.  It takes effort.  It requires we develop practices that will help train us away from such elemental, but destructive, satisfactions.  There are few voices counseling for this today.  It goes against the prevailing trends, we’re all chasing easy, not looking for ways to make things harder for ourselves.  Distracted by our shared complacency, we blithely continue seeking business-as-usual, taking satisfaction from our “Stand.”

This is what scares me the most.  Sure we face all sorts of difficulties that will come at us from the natural world as it reels to shrug off the affects of the dis-harmonies we’ve inflicted; but the threats of dealing with six billion lizard brains attached to beings with oppose-able thumbs and highly developed fore-brains, and a myriad of destructive technologies backed by this “Can-Do!” attitude is the most frightening prospect I see!

What is the alternative?  let’s go back to the Abrams’ quotation,

We stand in our bodiesWe stand on our earth, on the locale where we are. We perceive this through our senses, taking in through all of our capacities what we can of what we are and where we are.  We place ourselves this way.  This is the basis of any action – even simply the basis of being – before any action is even contemplated.

If we make a concerted effort to follow the implications of this statement, we will find that where we stand is not where we place ourselves, where we stand is where we find ourselves to be. This is the precursor for gaining any traction, any strength to be gained from having a foundation upon which to build, off of which we can make a move.  In the rush of adrenaline the lizard brain misses this, it slithers and rushes about expending energy with no long term concern for its efficacy.  Real lizards are fast, they are light, they have slow metabolisms, and a great tolerance for torpidity between their burst of activity.  We aren’t so lucky!

A pitcher may throw a baseball over one hundred miles an hour; but before each pitch he takes a moment to find and adjust himself to the rubber on the mound.  He knows that all his subsequent efforts will be based on his ability to connect with this stable  “ground.”  All his efforts proceed from this connection, without it, he’s just flailing.  We need to do that.  We need to get in the habit of realizing there’s nothing more important.  That if we fail to do this, not once, but every time; we will derail all of our efforts.

The opposite of easy isn’t hard, it’s whatever it takes to meet the situation at hand.  Lizards can afford to flail, we can’t; they can get by with a meal a month, we can’t; they can sleep under a warm rock for days at a time, we can’t.  Let’s stop venerating and emulating the Lizard Brain and drop the pose of taking a “Stand.”  Let’s take the trouble to find where we are before we make claims of knowing what to do.  The alternative is looking more and more foolish every day, and it’s getting more and more deadly too.

Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

7 thoughts on “Where do I stand?

  1. Whooaah, Dude…

    I have to start commenting or I’ll forget what I thought of at the beginning by the time I finish reading. Yes, re taking a stand, it’s as if striking an attitude in itself constitutes moral authority, See also under Yeats’ “The best lack all conviction, Whilte the worst are filled with passionate intensity”.

    Standing also makes me think of the fact that we are physiological creatures, and the constant immortality project (I hope you have red Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death) of convincing ourselves that we are other than animals with big brains is one that also leads to making a stand, to convincing ourselves that we are not liable to physical laws.

    Re chasing easy, yes, it is immensely comforting to be carried along in a wave of love or hate, any oceanic emotion, to surrender control to a reassuring authority. the mood of the times is quite frightening.

    It seems one place to start is just paying attention to what’s around us, as you say, where we are. To turn Wordsworth’s “The sense of moving about in worlds not realized” on its head, that we are so absorbed in the protective dream that we can’t see what is in front of our faces.


    1. “Standing also makes me think we are physiological creatures…” Exactly! That’s what’s so central to the Phenomenological approach! That’s where David Abram’s “The Spell of the Sensuous” comes in. He makes a wonderful connection between the somatic basis of perception, in Husserl, et. al., and aboriginal engagement with their environments.

      The current mood is terrifying! Still, the only way through is to find ways to disengage the power of fear, in ourselves and in the wider public. This is probably the most difficult challenge we face.

      When we’ve burned through so much of what’s been insulating us from reality, we cannot afford to continue to hide in fantasies, whether utopian or apocalyptic.


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