Tag Archives: Phenomenology

Psychoindustry – II

This is a school.

More precisely, it is a secondary Montessori school, which is one of the freer kinds of Dutch schools, where children are supposed to follow their own curiosity and where the role of the teacher is to facilitate that. This school hosts about 4000 people, who spend the majority of their adolescence here. It’s where their minds take shape.

In 1973, Edward Relph wrote his dissertation on ‘Place and Placelessness’. In it he worked out a theory on how the place we find ourselves in shapes our feelings, our beliefs and behavioural patterns. We identify with our places, and partially become them. The theory is used by some architects, and proof for it is accumulating in psychological studies.

Take a look at the school again. Straight, squared lines, regular shapes. The rooms enable just distribution of space, equal for all students. The place is fair, overseeable, easy to cope with, efficient and justifiable to whichever authority paid it. An efficient school to efficiently educate kids into efficient members of society. It does look a bit like an industrial grid, doesn’t it?

Without looking at important factors such as the educational rules and programs of this school, or the structure of society in general, I think this building has huge impact on the development of the personalities of the younger generations. To speculate: it may increase a person’s preference for a predictable life where he or she feels in control. It may subconsciously decrease creativity, openness to the unknown and innovative thinking, but strengthen skills such as the capacity to structure data, perceiving people as numbers and following rules. I believe that school buildings such as this one stimulate more machine-like, cold and lifeless attitudes than, for example, a school composed of little huts in a forest. More industrial minds, capable of more industrial decisions. In that sense, the building fits the age.

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‘Pop!’

There’s a jar on the Sunday morning breakfast table. What’s inside, we do not know, but it must be some kind of jam. I’d like to put some of it on my bread. I seize the jar and get my fingers around the lid. I try to twist it once, but it doesn’t move. My girlfriend asks me to give her the pot, so she can show me how to open it. I don’t. One of our guests also makes a move on it, while I make more attempts with the kitchen towel. The tension rises as I buy some time by explaining them how ridiculously they behave. I would probably do the same.

What makes jars so fascinating that everyone wants to open them? Why do people feel the need to grab it out of another’s hands when they not instantly succeed? Where does this unlikely increased helpfulness come from?

The first thing that comes to my mind is proving yourself. By smoothly opening a jar you can show your strength, or, if you use one of the myriad jar-opening-tricks, your wit. Then again, do we really believe that there are grown up people out there who are incapable of opening a jar? Or is it collective youth trauma? Perhaps we were all so eager to open jars when our hands were smaller than the lid, that the desire has grown out of our control?

An important factor here may be that any jar can only truly be opened once. Opening it makes you the one and only breakfast table overlord. The satisfaction there is comparable to being the first to tread virgin snow, calling upon our animal desire to irreversibly devour beauty.

The opening also causes an irreversible obligation. Not only can we eat, we have to. We have a limited amount of time until its content goes bad. A deliberate reducion of our reserves. Quite a big choice for a jar opener to make, is it not? It showcases the abundance of resources in our domain: what a wealthy collective we are to be able to open a jar.

Finally, there is another kind of satisfaction you can experience there. The jar was stuck and now it’s not. Only the opener will know the secret of how tight it was. ‘Pop!’. It feels funny. And the point in between stuck and released reminds you hands of some inner stuckness, equally looking to be released. There is a sense of infinity there: once the lid turns, it could keep turning forever. You feel a void. The void of your own unhalted force which just opened the jar. As if a little piece of yourself gets launched into freedom.

It turns out that opening a little jar, in our world, can be quite a big thing. Aid should be offered quickly and with stress, else its holder may succeed. Perhaps my friends were not so ridiculous after all.

Exglow

I’m of the opinion that there are far too few words for the different kinds of feelings, sensations and emotions we go through. Why, for example, is there only one word for emotion, while it contains an entire world with subtle and vigorous differences? It’s weird, because emotions occupy a notable aspect of our existence.  By not naming them, we keep them covered under a surface where they stay until they are dug out by whoever finds the access.

The one I am going to discuss now is probably my favourite. I’ll call it exglow, but if you have a better word, feel free to use that one instead. I think, I hope that everyone experiences it once in a while. It’s a sudden, usually brief, very localized , but also very present sensation right below my belly button. It’s not a pressure, rather a release. It is about the size of a walnut, but with less defined contours.  Sometimes when it happens, it contracts my attention into some kind of light. I can see it, but not in a day-to-day-visual way. It seems, rather, that because the sensation is so strong, it temporarily blurs my sight, while my mind directs at the point it comes from. Very often, it feels like the start of something new. As if a seed  germinates. I don’t always notice a change afterwards, though.

At times, but not always, the feeling radiates through to my eyes, which then release a single tear, sometimes more. Other times, it causes a pressure somewhere above my belly button, could be anywhere. I seem to suppress it then, but I don’t know how. Or it doesn’t give a pressure, but it flows upwards along my chest and nipples towards my shoulders. Those are all effects of the feeling, though, not the feeling itself.

Several things trigger exglow in me. They all have to do with a shift. Films can do it, and more specifically, instances of breakthrough. It could be the infamous declaration of romantic love, but it can also happen during revolutionary breakthroughs, such as in the courtroom during Erin Brokovich or sometimes when I see the ‘I have a dream’ speech. More individual revelations do it too, for example in Blue Jasmine, and, very memorable, Doubt. If you’ve seen them, you’ll know which instants I mean. Revelations. One more side note: I if I watch the films again, I don’t necessarily feel exglow again. The surprise element plays an important role.

For me, exglow also occurs during empathic moments with friends, for some reason mostly with women. Sometimes the trigger is  a change in emotional charge between us, or sometimes either of us went through some personal transition. It can also happen when I’m looking into someone’s eyes, and I feel that person is looking back. I usually can’t invoke it though.

Once, during a dream, I felt it for the longest period I can remember. I was in a courtyard of a ruin and I saw a shiny object hover from the right side to the left. Much like a small star with a glow that was terracotta and green. The whole dream had those colours. I ran towards it, jumped into it and kind of merged with it. As we flew at bit further together, I felt exglow very vividly. It is one of the most beautiful dreams I had.

What I think is very remarkable, is that apparently for this emotion -if that’s what it is- it does not matter if the trigger is real. After all, it happens during films and dreams as lively as during real life events, or even if I just imagine those events, for example when I write. Still, it is a very physical sensation, and it can even motivate me to do certain things or ascribe a certain value to a relationship. Isn’t that interesting?

And it has a scary part too. If I am so easily moved by exglow, all you’d need to do to steer my life in a direction, is to give the suggestion that triggers it in me. Is that why we naturally keep people at a distance? I don’t know, but as I said, I think more openness about this topic wouldn’t hurt.

Thesis Spiritual Experiences in Nature

For those who are interested, I wrote a thesis in 2011 on spiritual experiences in natural areas in the Netherlands. I got an 8,5 for it. I have have written an abbreviated version for publication, but it was rejected for one or two good reasons and a whole list of quite silly ones. My intention remains to publish it when I have more time. Whenever that may be.

Here it is:

Havik2011ThesisSpiritNature