Metaballon anapauetai [resting in transition]: the paradox in standing
For me standing practice is an experience which calls into attention the question of being – being human, being me.
By putting my attention on standing as practice I learned something I was not aware of before – the sound fact that a human being is the only true bi-pedal mammal on earth. Other animals may temporarily arrange their body weight centers in a vertical line and balance on their back limbs, but that would never be their neutral resting position; if it became one – the balance would always be supported by one of the front limbs or the tail. Only for us, humans arranging our three body weight centers on top of each other (as if in cylinder) and balancing on our small feet is a constant endeavor. It is into standing up that we develop as humans. In Greek philosophical terms standing as an ultimate form, or the potential, is the telos (end goal) towards which we grow, in the constant process of entelecheia (inner movement towards fulfilling potential). In standing most of our joints assume the neutral position and our spines are (again – uniquely) shaped to accommodate this otherwise challenging position. It is in standing that we can express and use the fullest potential of our spine and thus our axis. By putting my attention on standing as practice I came to realize that to be a human being at least in some sense means being able to stand and to actually use this potential.
Looking at a more symbolic meaning of standing: every time I come to standing still with my feet parallel, facing towards the ground, top of the head reaching towards the sky and my eyes resting on the horizon I am communicating to myself something almost trivial: I am human, I am me. Standing is a physical expression, a metaphor, a silent communication: here is a human being, an individual. The gesture of standing may well be understood as a point of return. A return to the essential zero situation, a possibility to meet oneself before becoming someone specific. In such sense it can also become a point of departure, since one can only really start from the beginning. Starting point is always the essence – the basic nature of something that determines its shape, its activity, its defining characteristics, and possibilities of everyday life. And yet it would be a mistake to think of essence as some static “nature”, depriving us of free will and choice. Standing is both essential and existential. It brings us “back” to what is the essence, what is there before, but in that also catapults us “forward” towards our own possibility of the individualized existence. All the possible futures, or the possibility of free will to create something new, something not predetermined – “the not yet known”, can only happen if there is a possibility to start from zero, or the neutral.
In standing the physical zero and the more symbolic zero of our existential situation potentially coincide. The separation of mind and body (and thus the freedom of the will and the determinism of nature) is useful as a form of communication – “I say: “my body”” , but in terms of what there really is it is misleading. We think and feel through our body and no mind can live its own separate life. It does make sense to separate and isolate the realms of mind versus body as well as me versus Other in language so that we can notice the aspects of reality clearer and in some sense be able to connect rather than divide and separate them. In standing we can observe the thoughts “of the mind” and the sensations “of the body” as well as the landscape “of objects beyond us” and yet we can become aware how these different aspects are connected, how the physical, psychological and even ontological (or philosophical) bound together: how through the forms and limits of my body I understand the landscape beyond it, how the sensation of internal and external movement suggests the corresponding structure of the mind, how the phenomenology of standing experience tells something about life itself and etc. – all being aspects of me, as one standing (human) being. Standing is the practice of the whole.
Zero can only serve as a starting point – the point of departure and the point of return – only by its “internal conflict”. (It makes me remember Heraclitus’ verse, that “war is the father of all”). Zero or essential can be mistaken for simple or “straight forward”. On the contrary, standing can become this neutral starting point (no matter if we talk about movement or standing practice as part of inquiry into our existence) only because it is internally complex, even paradoxical, or conflicting. Its’ structure upholds the opposites of activity and passivity, resting and hard work, change and consistency, being and not being. Thus if we examine standing and therefore our zero existential situation we find ourselves at the strange crossing, on the edge or the in between.
Closer observation will reveal that there is no standing as such, there is only falling…catching the fall before it is final and then falling again… Subtle balancing without ever coming to a stand-still. There is no such thing as standing since standing is manifested in the event or action of constantly losing and reclaiming balance, a constant swaying. And yet whenever we catch ourselves in the event of “loosing balance” we are “correcting” ourselves towards a “sweet spot” we all somehow recognize – to the state of balance. There is this idea, a universal static form of standing towards which we aim and which we paradoxically fulfil by subtle falling and catching. What is standing then – an action or a form? Both, none, or in between? A point of equilibrium? We know this point, because we do correct towards it, but at the same time we can become aware of a strange fact that it does not exist – at least not for a living two legged creature. Not as a definite state. Whenever we would like to fix the definite state of balance – to keep it, to remain balanced – we would fall completely. To keep standing we cannot fall, but we can’t not keep falling if we want to remain standing. A wish for perfect and definite state in an action of standing means rigidity in the form and the destruction of the form altogether, the total collapse. We only “stand still” by means of… allowing movement – a constant self-correction towards non-existent or the impossible middle. The paradox of losing and maintaining the form all happening at once. To maintain we need to remain soft, but at the same time we need rigidity in order for there to be something to maintain. Standing is impossible made possible – by our intention we create the middle, something which is not and (paradoxically) without which we cannot be. At the heart of standing is falling, just like at the heart of being is not being. (And I am aware the latter thesis begs for more elaboration; but let it be for now). Thus we manifest the human existence – overcoming the abyss of Nihil at the core of being. We keep being by losing and keep losing as part of being. Or… adding the perspective of time – we die and are born every second. We overcome death at every instant and thus our mortality is also at the core of being alive. At the core of being (standing is being) is pulsation of coming into existence. Stopping and standing in the midst of ongoing events, the historical time and the predetermined consequences of our past actions allows us to recognize our coming into existence at this very moment and the potential of the new beginning happening.. now. The zero situation is thus our window to the non-historical beginning, freedom, choice, authenticity – a point of return and possibility for departure.
The zero situation, no matter how far we depart is always there. And for those of us with huge projects and projections, expectations and “the knowledge” it may reveal itself as destructive daunting and negative – expressing the absurdity of life itself. One may think of Sisyphus’ tragic existence as a metaphor for the structure of standing and existence itself. Camus argues that life is essentially meaningless, although humans continue to try to impose order on existence and to look for answers to unanswerable questions. Camus uses the Greek legend of Sisyphus, who is condemned by the gods for eternity to repeatedly roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again once he got it to the top, as a metaphor for the individual’s persistent struggle against the essential absurdity of life. According to Camus, the first step an individual must take is to accept the fact of this situation which he sees as absurdity. To notice, that falling is constant and an attempt to fix it is actually a source of suffering. The only alternative is to rebel by rejoicing in the act of rolling the boulder up the hill. Standing in the midst of falling and changing life, as well as in the midst of falling within standing itself, the joyful acceptance of the struggle against defeat is what gives individual the new definition and identity.
Another metaphor on the structure of standing comes from the life of Socrates, by some described as the midwife at the birth of philosophy itself. There is a story being told that one soldier who served with Socrates said: “He started wrestling with some problem or other about sunrise one morning, and stood there lost in thought, and when the answer would not come he still stood there thinking and refused to give it up. Time went on, and by about midday the troops… began telling each other how Socrates had been standing there thinking ever since daybreak.”
Socrates is considered to have been mainly concerned with the starting point of knowledge. Standing and “wrestling with a problem” may be understood as not yet knowing for certain, swaying between possible points of view and refusing to admit any of them as ultimate answer. Socrates holds a question dearer than the answer. He remains standing in the moment of suspended knowledge, standing still in the observation of dynamics of thought. Plato described Socrates as being wise in knowing the limits to his knowing, or that he was aware of his limited knowledge. Putting this into perspective of standing – the fixed knowledge is the fixation of balance, and thus destruction of standing itself. The ultimate knowing from a philosophical perspective is a destructive attitude, or an attitude which violates the principle of peiros (the limit). We are meant to sway and balance between the knowing and not being able to know for certain; asking a question, aiming for answer, being thrown in to the next question again by the complexity of reality itself – slowly developing Socratic wisdom. But, as Heidegger puts it, as humans we are so limited that even our sense of finitude is often limited by us forgetting about it – we live as if immortal, forgetting about the essence of finite existence. Standing is thus remembering. Remembering the limits to our knowing, remembering our mortality and finitude in every respect.
At the core of standing (as of existence) there is this strange core – a bundle of opposites, logically inexplicable, but practically working. For me this strange principle is best described in the words of Heraclitus: Metaballon anapauetai – roughly translated as „resting in transition“, or „remaining while changing“. To rest, or to be, speaks of principle of being, something which is ever present, unchanging, indestructible. The principle of change, or the transition, represents decay and destruction. Such principle can‘t come from being, it must be outside the realm of being, the Nothing. The question of being against nothing is at the core of Western philosophy. It triggers it. It seems it has been the main preoccupation of Heracleitus, Parmenides and other “presocratic” philosophers. The question of to on (being) was also central to Aristotle. He considered the interplay of form and matter to be at the core of alive substantial individual. The question of non-being, the Nothing, since Parmenides presented his indestructible logic in Western philosophical thought was to large extent out of consideration, but at the same time in some philosophers writings the “qualities” of nothing, as “passing away”, “changing”, “chaos” etc. penetrated into the internal structure of being itself. To be an alive substantial individual at least in ancient Greek philosophy would have meant to be in the fine balance of coming into being and passing away. Losing this balance would have meant becoming god or dying. The principle of metaballon anapaeutai would represent the principle of being alive as a constant ongoing struggle of being and being not.
However for the most part of Western philosophy after Aristotle this principle has been forgotten. Being was detached from that whose being it was (from particular beings), it became “otherworldly”, the absolute transcendence, God. Later, beginning with Descartes, it was (very roughly) replaced by subjectivism and began to evaporate. At some point Nietzsche had to say: “God has died”. It is Heidegger who now invites us to be once again on the quest for Being. But this time not as something out there as a major Being among or beyond beings (this is what happened in the tradition – being became substantialized and transcendent), but a process of revealing of things as they appear to a limited mortal being which is human. The Being in his philosophy was no more detached from things nor from a mortal human being. Being (DaSein) as the revealing of things was now considered as part of our own individual human existence.
For me standing is a great metaphor for my own being, my mortality, spatial and temporal finitude, my coming into existence and passing away at each instance. At the same time standing is process of Being by which the things are revealed, or, as Heidegger puts it – “called into the open”. Through my open eyes, my suspended knowledge, the humble non-intrusive observation the things are given opportunity to reveal themselves as they are. Coming into my own zero situation allows the showing of things as Others rather than shadows of my own subjective practical projections and illusions. Through there being Others, as things in themselves – simply standing in front of them – I have an opportunity to recognize my own self. That way in standing I am aware of being just me.
author of text – Justas Kučinskas