Sunday, December 16, 2012

Positioning in Physical and Spiritual Space and their Psychological Implications

Open landscape with the sky as background
Open Spaces by Jaroslava Hlebarska
Where you are at any given time depends on where you were a moment ago and where you currently place yourself. For the most part, this is physical placement. For example, I walk from my desk to the kitchen. At 1:05 pm I was still sitting on my chair only to get up to pour myself a cup of coffee at 1:06 pm and return to my computer screen at 1:07. (Note: Not only is my apartment rather small, but I actually forgot to put in my sugar!) So I have moved through the confines of space and find myself at a different location at slightly different time intervals.

All this is obviously based on the more pragmatic and convenient assumptions of Newtonian physics. If you mix in Einstein's relativity theory or even go further by claiming that time is not only not linear, but, in fact, non-existent, then all you have at best are three unrelated snapshots of me at my desk, at the coffee maker and at the desk again. Or I may have poured my coffee after having drunk it to the last drop! But for now let us simply stick to Newton.

Physical positioning can become more relevant and perhaps obstructive in other kinds of situations. I can be standing at the entrance of a movie theater, for instance. Due to my physical positioning, I may be blocking the incoming people. In this way, I assume that I did not mean to block others; nonetheless, my physical presence stops or impedes others from using the space around me. My body becomes then an obstacle set firmly within physical space.

We can also position ourselves strategically. For example, if I am talking to an attractive woman at a party, I might stand in a certain way that other males will have difficulty butting in and interrupting our flirtatious conversation. I do so because I do not want others to become serious contenders or competitors of the object of my affection. This is rather strategic positioning; whether it happens on a conscious or unconscious level, the aim is to protect others and/or our own interests.

In fact, we can see that physical positioning can have psychological implications. Think of Christmas dinner and the sought-after seat at the head of the table. The idea is that those who occupy that space are the leaders of the family pack. You might get the same effects with the preacher's (or sometimes even teacher's) pulpit; they end up having a psychological advantage due to their physical position. The hilarious scene of Chaplin's Great Dictator may come to mind when Hynkel is competing for a “superior” position in relation to Napaloni by always being able to look down on his fellow politician and by forcing him to look up at all times.

But we also position ourselves across spiritual space. By accepting to get married for example, one ventures into a new spiritual or psychological territory. One shifts then from being single to being married along with its future potential plan of starting a family with children.

These are decisions that often change the emotional landscapes of the projection of our own life; how we used to live and what we used to do may change due to this commitment to another lifestyle. Goodbye to binge drinking and scouting for dating partners and much more, and hello to the joys and pains of married and family life!

Positioning may also be a mix of both physical and spiritual dimensions, in terms of shifting positions. We might shift positions when it comes to our jobs. That could be the acquisition of a higher position within the company due to a promotion alongside with a host of responsibilities and a higher salary. Or we may simply choose to work at another place because it suits and satisfies certain needs better; in some cases, we even need to physically relocate.

We may also position ourselves on political and / or controversial issues, and even there we can have both shifts and ruptures with possible implications. We might question or doubt our previous stance on abortion and shift positions as a result of experiences or particular insights. Or others may persuade us with reasons or arguments to adopt another stance, for example.

Some shifts may be dramatic, such as embracing a new religion that might have a drastic adjustment or effect on lifestyle, for example joining the Mormon Church and giving up sex, drugs, rock' n' roll and coffee as a result. Or becoming a vegetarian due to one's Buddhist beliefs. In these cases again, spiritual space may strongly affect our physical space and surroundings, such as the evident Crucifix on the wall or around the neck of certain Christian believers.

We have moved through space from simple physical movements, in this case, me getting some coffee to spiritual decisions that affect our lives in particular ways. Some of these physical or spiritual shifts of positioning are in our control and are conscious choices; others are thrust upon us as unexpected surprises, for better or for worse, such as "shotgun" weddings or changing perspectives on life and death. But it is these constant tectonic shifts of our life base that keep us on our toes on the constantly changing streams of life.

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