I recently read in “The Body Has A Mind Of Its Own” by Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee that for the Himba tribe in Namibia, each person is born with a self-space like a bubble extending beyond the body that is always mingling with the self-space of others in the community. Because of this they felt they were never alone, and felt very sorry for westerners who thought of themselves as isolated in space. Our cultural mindset of an individual consciousness encased in a body creates a painful separation between our environment and ourselves.
We think of personal space as something that can be invaded or trespassed. Keeping the body and personhood safe is a high priority. Though people generally think of safety as physical, avoiding threats to the body, psychiatrist James Gilligan, who has spent his life working with prisoners, said that a threat to one’s dignity is just as serious. Since punishment is a threat to both he sees the increase in violence as due to the increasingly punitive nature of American society. He said a common statement among repeat offenders is, “I never got so much respect in my life as I did when I pointed a gun at somebody.” Feeling respected is part of a sense of safety, deeply rooted in our physiology. Just seeing a contempt face or someone rolling their eyes in relation to something you’ve said or done will make your heart beat faster. Physiologically, ridicule and mockery have the same effect as violence and can be the cause of violence. Nietzsche said, “Distrust anyone in whom the desire to punish is powerful.” The media revels in the thought that Roger Clemens might go to jail for lying, and that violates my sense of proportion. Obedience has become more important than justice, mechanically applying the same penalty, regardless of context. As the amount of rules increases, more and more of us find ourselves lawbreakers, transgressing codes designed to protect us. I’m often guilty of not wearing my seatbelt, but I feel I’m a better driver without it. If I do what I feel is right I can get a ticket.
Overemphasis on rules implies disrespect for the common sense of the populace. It communicates dangers that might not have been worried about before. It increases walls between people and stirs negative mental states like suspicion and worry. The labyrinth of barriers and limitations is part of a way of seeing built on separation. Every protection is another wall in the fortress between ourselves and others. Our safety is secured by our greater isolation. A new way of visualizing our place in the world might relieve this estrangement.
To envision ourselves as a part of a field of consciousness that includes us would help us accept the life lessons that are thrown our way as part of the knowledge we’re best suited to provide. We are, after all, unique places in space and time with a particular view that adds to the big picture. Trust is a precondition of safety and if you trust the overarching order as instructive you can be aware but not over vigilant. David Bohm, from his perspective in quantum physics, talked of beauty, art and creativity as acts of “fitting”, discernment of what’s works with the larger pattern unfolding in a given context. Since at a quantum level we’re all a continuous field, it might be time to let go of the cultural idea of ourselves as so separate. A change of image would lead to a change in attitude toward the world we’re immersed in, our systems and patterns of movement intricately woven through the totality of life experience. As part of our environment, it would be natural to act in harmony with it.