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Philosophy of/in motion

The short version:


1. Any identity is based on the proscription of certain ways of moving in order to facilitate others. Identity filters out most of what is possible and creates a form of concentration on just a few selected patterns, which are essential and constitutive of that identity.


2. Living within the patterns of a given identity (or just moving from one identity to another) entails a form of bondage and confinement. But since any way of being entails a form of identity, freedom cannot be gained by simply relinquishing all identities (not having any identity at all is yet another identity).


3. Freedom consists in understanding, experiencing, embodying, and enacting any identity as a possibility rather than as a necessity. If taking up an identity leads to forget other ways of moving (hence creating a form of bondage), exploring those other possible moves relinquishes the bondage and reveals that moving in a certain way (according to a certain identity pattern) is never a necessity, but only and always a possibility.


4. Being free is being capable of all movements and none in particular, is being everything and nothing in particular, is embracing all possible identities without identifying fully with any of them, playing all roles on stage, without being reduced to any of them. Being free is being always partially beyond and outside what is currently appearing as oneself. Being free is being always partially out-of-oneself—ecstatic.  


The longer version:


Philosophy can be a way of articulating and expressing otherwise inarticulate and rather ineffable intuitions. While something might likely get lost in the translation, this is also a worth engaging exercise, especially if it is envisaged as open-ended and as a work-in-progress. Articulating and expressing intuitions allows not only for the communication of them, but also shows the extent to which a certain intuition can embody itself in grosser and less refined forms of expression, by thus also exercising a pressure on these forms to come up with new and more powerful tools to make room for what the intuition is pointing at (we read about this feedback loop in Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, ch. 8).


One of the most fundamental philosophical questions that one may ask is: what is the nature of reality? Is it possible to see everything that is real as a specific manifestation of some sort of underlying principle? Several thinkers in different times and traditions came up with a relatively similar answer to this question. They suggested that the nature of reality is what we might call ‘motion’ (Plato called it ‘action’ or dynamis in the Sophist 247e, Kashmir philosophers called it ‘vibration’ or spanda, Spinoza called it ‘power’ or potentia). This is an intuition. How do we express it?


To begin with, motion is not a simple thing. In fact, it is not a thing yet (rather, things arise out of certain motions). Motion is an event, something that happens. Motion is also a structure, in the sense that it keeps together different elements that can be discerned, and yet cannot be fully separated or isolated from one another. This structure is about an element of identity and an element of difference. In order for (any) motion to manifest, something needs to remain the same throughout the event. If everything moves at the same time, nothing is actually moving. And for the same thing to undergo a certain motion, there must be something in it that does not change, something that stays the same, that remains identical to itself. Yet, motion is motion because it bring about some sort of change, it introduces a difference (the displacement of a body, the alteration of a state, the arising and fading away of a phenomenon). We can then say that, in its most general and abstract form, motion is unity of identity and difference. This claim has the same abstractness of the grammatical extraction of the root of a verb. It provides the basic structure upon which language can produce all sorts of meanings by inflecting it. 


Since motion is the unity of identity and difference, we can already see that motion does not arise from identity and difference as they combine, but it is rather the other way around. Identity and difference are phases of motion, like the lows and highs of a wave.  


If we follow up on the image of the wave, we can observe that waves can be more or less steep. If we interpret the ‘low’ as a moment of identity and the ‘high’ as a moment of difference (this attribution is purely conventional, could also be the other way around), then the steeper the wave, the more abrupt the passage between identity and different will appear. By contrast, the smoother the rising and falling of the wave, the more the fading of identity into difference will appear continuous and gapless. Steeper waves are usually associated with higher frequency and quicker vibration, while smoother waves with lower frequency and slower vibration. 


This suggests that when motion takes consistently a very high frequency, the ‘things’ that result from it might appear as more demarcated, solid, rigidly distinguished from all the ‘rest’ (identity and difference appear as more distinct from one another, with less transition between them). By contrast, if motion slows down and run at a lower frequency, things start to melt and fade, their borders become more fluid. At the highest frequency (if this is even conceivable), identity and difference would break apart entirely, and at the lowest, they would be indiscernible. In both cases, motion would become impossible, and hence both cases can be taken as two asymptotic borders within which motion moves: absolute fragmentation and absolute undifferentiation. 


With this bit of theory, we can turn to a more concrete question: where do we live in the spectrum of motion? The theory just sketched would predict that the more we experience the world as a scattered aggregation of rigidly defined identities, the more we should expect a higher frequency of motion; vice versa, the more the world appears as an undifferentiated blob, the lower the frequency of motion. In both cases, our attention operates also as a filter: there is a transition even in the steepest wave, which would connect identity and difference, yet it might be so steep that we easily miss it and simplify our perception by simply separating identity and difference for our convenience. And there might be a high and low even in a seemingly waveless stillness, but it might be so slow and smooth that our attention might miss it, by thus leading to the conclusion that we experience something entirely motionless. 


In previous posts, I called ‘primary embodiment’ the process through which something assumes a certain functional shape. This can be expressed as the imposition of a certain pattern of motion upon something that in principle could move in many other ways. Using the bit of theory sketched here, we can now say that primary embodiment consists in a speeding up of the frequency of motion, so that a certain identity is more clearly isolated from what is different from it. As the motion speeds up and the wave becomes steeper, primary embodiment also entails a systematic overlooking of the (still present, yet difficult to perceive) transition that connects identity (the constructed form) with difference (the formless background from which that form emerges). 


Primary embodiment (thus understood) is not per se a problem, it is in fact a natural possibility for how motion can unfold. But primary embodiment does require a significant concentration of energy in order to be sustained. And this is a problem, at least from the point of view of the finite structure that is created. It makes that structure very demanding with respect to the other patterns of motion in its surroundings, from which it needs to absorb and sequester as much resources as possible to keep its high-frequency pattern going. 


Example: most of the dimensions of our today’s human culture are products of primary embodiment. We ceased long ago to be just animals, and also to be just humans. We became all sorts of things (kings, priests, warriors, farmers, doctors, astrologers, philosophers, yogis, artists, lawyers, scientists, football players, criminals, and so on). Any of these constructions is a form of primary embodiment, and all of them require quite some resources to be sustained over time (you can’t be a King if you have no kingdom, and you can play football if there are no teams, rules, audience and infrastructure to play). They all have high frequency (they are relatively rigidly demarcated in what they are with respect to what they are not), and they all require a lot of resources from what is around in order to keep that high frequency going (to be a King you need to conquer land and people, and to be a football player your team needs to win matches and conquer followers). 


However, primary embodiment is just one possibility emerging within the spectrum of motion (covering only the high-frequency range). In previous posts (also here), I called ‘deep embodiment’ the process of relinquishing to a certain extent the form or structure imposed by primary embodiment, so that the same form can be appreciated as emerging within the broader and formless landscape from which it was supposed to be taken out. Using the theory sketched so far, deep embodiment does not only correspond to lower frequency of motion, in which identity and difference are more smoothly connected (or identity less sharply demarcated), but in fact to the rest of the spectrum of motion that is made invisible at the high-frequency level of primary embodiment. To put it into a slogan, deep embodiment is to ‘regain the context’ of primary embodiment, or to re-learn how to move within the whole range of motion, hence also regaining sensitivity to the inner nature of motion as a unity of identity and difference. 


Now, two question arise: (1) Are primary and deep embodiment related by any structural reason? And (2) how do we move from primary to deep embodiment? The first question is about the nature of reality again. We saw that there are two main ways in which motion can take shape (at high-frequency, or at any other lower frequency). But why does it do so? Why is motion not always at high- or low-frequency, for instance? The second question is about practice or method, in the sense that it asks in what ways can we transition from primary to deep embodiment (or perhaps also the other way around). 


I don’t have full-blown answer for (1), but here’s a hypothesis. If motion is the unity of identity and difference, then motion itself needs to oscillate between high and low frequencies. At the high-frequency, identity and difference are most clearly disentangled from one another, although here their unity becomes less apparent. By contrast, at the lowest frequency the unity of identity and difference becomes more apparent, although they themselves are so fully blended that they stand out less as distinct elements. In order to manifest as a unity of identity and difference, motion thus oscillates itself between high and low frequency, since it is only through this global oscillation that the nature of motion can be fully expressed in all its facets and nuances. This entails that low frequencies are in demand for ‘activation’ (they need to be brought up to higher frequency, or to use mythological language: the Infinite yearns for creating worlds of finite beings); this is the process that leads to primary embodiment. At the same time, higher frequencies are in demand for ‘de-activation’ (they need to be brought down to lower frequencies, or in mythological language: the finite needs to open up and dissolve a bit into the Infinite from which it emerged). This is the movement of deep embodiment. It’s not the case that one is better than the other, but rather that both are complementary phases of the global expression of motion itself. 


When we seek deep embodiment, we’re just aiming at completing the cosmic swing of motion, which is left suspended and incomplete in the process of primary embodiment. In the same way, when we take up a form, we’re aiming again at giving rise to a new form that can articulate that same global motion and perpetrate its unfolding. 


So (2) how do we do that? If the nature of reality is motion, and if the overall pattern of motion is to swing between higher and lower frequencies, it is to be expected that the way (the method, the practice) of connecting these possibilities will have to be yet another way of moving. More precisely, a way of integrating different ways of moving. For instance, to what extent can we keep our form (high frequency, primary embodiment) while also relinquishing it and seeing it in the bigger background of a formless reality (low frequency, deep embodiment)? Moving from high to low frequency is basically a process of slowing down motion. And slowing down here means to pay greater and greater attention to the transition that connects the highs and lows of the wave of motion, to be more present in that transitory phase than on its peaks. This means exploring what it takes to relinquish an identity (coming down from the high peak of being ‘this’), and what it means to explore the possibilities entailed by what is different (coming up from the low peak of being ‘nothing in particular’). 


In other words, the core method for linking primary and deep embodiment consists bringing together these two aspects: relinquishing the boundaries of identity by exploring other possibilities for motion (note that this is a ‘slowing down’ of the frequency of motion in the sense defined here, although it might not express itself necessarily as a slow physical motion). There is no single way of doing this, and no single result. The whole point is in fact an open-ended exploration of the whole spectrum of motion, which constantly creates and reinvents itself. In a sense, this is a process in which we (as everything else) are always involved anyway. And yet, as we make it more conscious, explicit, and deliberate, we might gain access to new depth and dimensions of it, which might otherwise remain inaccessible. And that is the space for letting freedom grow.


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