WHAT IS BELONGING?

Marginally this is about what Focusing is and isn't: about Focusing in relation to reason, being and culture.

Centrally, it is about something I have been (and am) struggling with. The struggle is about understanding what it means to belong.

This is tentative.

I

  1. There is the sphere of concepts and concept relations. This is "presided over" (one might say) by philosophy. It proceeds by reasoning. It is essential.

    When concepts fail or get stuck, then there is a searching in the inarticulate, in the quality sense. At this point we make the turn to Focusing.

    Max Planck is surely Focusing, as whilst walking in the Vienna woods he struggles with a felt confusion, and finds his way to quantum theory.

  2. There is the sphere of individual experiencing. This is "rooted in" direct feeling, in immediate existential impact. It proceeds by sensing. It is essential.

    When feeling is unclear, then there is a searching in the inarticulate. To find symbols for our being-in-the-world (something beyond mere conventional ciphers), we make the turn to Focusing.

    I am surely Focusing, as in grieving for the transient years I feel my way towards the essential.

  3. There is the sphere of "forms of life". This is rooted in social belonging. It proceeds by participation. It is unavoidable, inescapable.

    When participation jangles, or makes demands, or rubs abrasively, then there is a searching in the inarticulate. To carry forward belonging (something beyond mere defeat or rebellion), we make the turn to Focusing.

    We are surely Focusing, as we sit here, you and I, supported by and being the texture of our felt community, regenerating moment by moment our mutuality.

    Even the anarchist is only an anarchist within the texture of her social participation. Should that read, "Especially the anarchist?...."

    Maybe yes? I think so.

  4. All three spheres, always and necessarily, entail the others. I hope that is self-evident.

II

A lot of casual bashing goes on of "the intellectualised Western way of being". This strikes me as trivial and silly. Leopardi? Schumann? Van Gogh?

Though I will grant you that amongst the Confucians and Taoists in China; and in India to a large extent; and dramatically in the late-Roman Empire; and very strikingly in Islam outwith Persia; and even in the Buddhist worlds: in each case an earlier tradition of free and lively philosophical enquiry (amongst the privileged) atrophied gradually (or was brutally held down), because rulers and people alike found the thoughts of intellectuals disturbing and socially disruptive.

In each case culture stabilised, at the cost of a certain tragic degradation of human life and values.

So what we need is not less intellect, but something like:

I know that people are very various, that our differences are wonderful and startling. Yet to imply ("she is a thinker" - "he is a feeler") that any human being could live (that there could be any process of recognisably human living) outwith the continual interaction of these three spheres seems to me frankly unintelligible.

I don't find that there are "thinking people" and "feeling people". Not really. The functions are non-separable, surely?

For sure, there are many ways of being in the world. It is urgent, that we remember that. Yet in saying it, is it not too easy to slip into saying something just to the side of what we mean?

III

There is the view from here, and the view from nowhere.

When we attempt to take the view from nowhere, we have to make the step from here, from our experiencing, our concepts and our culture.

When we take the view from here, we rest in our experiencing. But unavoidably our concepts have their structure and implications, and unavoidably "here" includes other people.

When we consider our belonging, the question goes: can we take a view from above, which interprets what is happening in concepts brought in from outside? Or is it only possible to understand a form of common life from within, by participating in its rituals and freedoms? - and by participating in its own language?

I'm tending towards a position of uneasy accommodation, which says: I can only understand any form of common life, when (having entered into it with my whole being) I have a second form of common life available to me. I must be able to step easily between participation in the one and in the other.

I have to feel the strange shifting in who I am, the shifting in my spheres of thinking and being, which takes place at the point of transition from the one form of living to the other.

This is quite unlike anything which takes place in the natural sciences. It is not the view from nowhere. In relation to society, the view from nowhere is more or less unintelligible.

Nor is it a view from the frontier, the margins. To live at the margin is notoriously creative, but is useless here.

What is needed is more like "the view from experiential schism". All of me must belong to this belonging. And all of me must belong to that belonging. Somehow I have to stand the strain of that.

Also this is quite unlike empathy, which is a sitting next to (in one sense and most essentially), and not a participating.

Though to empathise you must also, at another time, have your own participating in life....

8th April 2003

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