A Simple Experiential Experiment
|Dec 26, 2005|
Here is an exercise, suggested by my friend Piet Hut, followed by my report about the exercise. Feel free to perform it yourself and leave comments!
The Exercise. Take a collection of objects in front of you. Become fully aware of your role as subject, observing/watching these objects. Then, reverse the subject and object roles, and let those objects watch you. Spend a few minutes doing this. What happens? What do you register? How do you feel while registering?
Note: You may find the idea of an object watching you nonsensical or strange. Interpret these intructions in whichever way you feel comfortable.
After doing this once, or a few times, you may try the following variation. Instead of a collection of things in front of you, do the same experiment with an thing behind you, preferably a large
thing, such as the wall behind you. In what way does it make a difference working with an object that is present but not within your field of vision? Finally, you can try yet another variation. Let all objects around you look at you, simultaneously. Let everything be included,
the ground below you, the ceiling and/or sky above you, everything.
EXPT 1. The wall was at my back while I was in the shower — I felt doing the exercise was a good use of my time. Of course, the wall was a lot closer than walls usually are in living rooms and offices -it made an appreciable difference. The presence of the wall was quite direct -even though I could not see it, it was there. There was an experimental confound because the shower was on and coming from the same direction, so the report really incorporates the wall and the water. I noticed some interesting differences from the visual presence of the wall. First the wall was felt in the body -at the nape of my neck and all over my back. The bodily presence doesnt usually manifest when seeing -though when I turned around and looked at the wall after I had felt it in my body, the wall maintained its presence in my front and in my face; I guess I ignore that presence in normal life. In any case, this observation made me think that visual presence often washes out other kinds of presence for me — I am such a visual animal. Secondly, when the wall was to my back, it was not a wall, just an inchoate presence that (conceptually) I know as being the visual wall. Its felt quality was more like an energy that got stronger
as I approached it and it started repelling me me when I got too close. Third, there was a clear distinction between the wall as such and its feeling in the body, I felt the wall both out there and on my body. In vision (it seems to me) we identify the object and its percept, my experience with the wall suggested that the proprioceptive senses might be different than vision in that regard. Third, the subject-object reversal was easy. In fact, the entire time, I felt that the wall was in a two way interaction with me -it was as much the subject as the object. Maybe the visual sense has a greater “objectifying” function than the other senses?
EXPT 2. Taking in the entire environment was a very interesting experiment, not because it was new — I have done meditative practices that advocates exactly that — but because I never did it with the intention of verbal description. I have to say that I found the task of verbal description mutually exclusive with the task of taking in the entire environment. Any time I described a portion of the environment, the rest of the environment would vanish — for sure, I knew it was there and I could come back and describe portions that I had missed earlier, but
the felt experience of opening out to everything was diminished whenever I tried to describe a subset of the experience. However, when I stopped trying to describe the world and just speak (internally to myself) freely, I could just incorporate the speaking as part of the taking in of the
entire field of experience. When I did so, the linguistic component did not serve a descriptive purpose. I cannot remember what I said -since I made no attempt to concentrate on the words.