Around Here We Take Our Phenomenology Seriously
"Around here we take our phenomenology seriously." This phrase means something simple: trust what you notice, and trust yourself to be a responsible observer of your own experience. But trusting one's own experience can be an act of rebellion against reflexive modern cultural modes of rational inquiry built to hew experience into shapes appropriate for the realm of the sharp, clean, dry lines of the Western intellect. On the other side is a world wet, grimy, fuzzy, and wild with unclear boundaries--and quite possibly, reconnection with parts of our selves long forgotten.
We are all told, in many ways, by businesses, governments, authoritarians, and their idolaters what to buy, what to say, what to think, even how to perceive the world. An intermediary layer over reality designed to force its interpretation into the narrow channels of the known, verifiable fact. This is our culture. Subjectivity must be disclaimed; anecdote is thrown into doubt; a claim without a source is implicitly false.
This Enlightenment attitude blinds with its blistering gaze. Doctors ignore patients because they obviously know better. The illuminated perspective floods Hollywood, shaping the dreams and even the ideas of what is possible for billions. Slowly, a quiet desperation has emerged in the hearts of those taught exclusively how to use their mind. And with it, a yearning for the fruits of one's own arbitrary experience, off a career track, off an app.
"Phenomenology" is a fancy word for the stuff you experience: the sensations, thoughts, and modes of being which are wholly yours, subjective and internal to your life. This can also include facts, observations, feelings, impulses, desires. Phenomenology is a big word for a big thing: everything that happens in your field of awareness. This includes all of our thoughts but also what the body feels. Not just feels. Speaks. The body speaks its own language which may be talked about, described, gestured at through metaphor, but cannot be understood without actually learning--remembering--the language.
Information lives inside the body. Especially fear, discomfort, pain, anger, old wounds. It's difficult to realize how tight, contorted, and bent over we become with these feelings over time in an environment where our very survival often depends on our ability to subjugate our own internal experience to presentation. The faulty belief that we can somehow "power over" the most flawed, vulnerable, and needing parts of ourselves as if these foundations won't collapse into dust under so much pressure and expectation. As if we weren't merely human beings with bodies which will inevitably meet the earth no matter how much we synergize.
When we unleash these, we change. We transmute. We lighten. We encounter and handle pain in a way that is raw and innate that the brain cannot ever hope to reason its way out of. As the pain goes, pleasure comes in. I realized that I could tune into the moment and instantly observe the almost excruciating joy of what is. The brimmingness of being with oneself in the present moment. Here you may just find an infinite jewel. It's worth knowing your self and your body on your time--even if you have to keep it a secret from your family.
Move Your Finger
So, how do we get at that information? It's simple. We pay attention. Here's an example you can try at home or anywhere you can be uninterrupted for 30 seconds: move your finger. But with a small twist: try to move your index finger finger as slowly as possible.
Wholly consume it in your relaxed attention. Pay attention to the minimum amount of energy it takes to move it. How it feels as the tendons deep within your finger slowly pull. Can you become aware of how your finger muscles feel? Are there moments in between each micro-twitch where you feel subtle pain, pleasure, or something else?
As you notice how intense the experience can become, you may even notice something special: a subtle eroticism, the exquisite vital aliveness of the body's experience that only becomes obvious when you take it seriously enough to pay attention to it. If you're not used to these sorts of sensations, it might even startle you at first. But it's inside of you and always has been. And it's accessible at any time.
Essentially, I am saying that you should "believe" your body. You should engage with your experience not as the byproduct of your mind's perception or something to be repressed and reshaped but as the entire point itself. It is something that manages far more than our conscious minds ever possibly could, yet because we move the arms and legs we think we're the ones with all the answers.
One might wonder what exactly these feelings in the body mean, but in a discursive "OK but how do I translate this into actionable information?" way. I say the feelings are meaning, especially when they bloom into emotions. Fundamentally, we're driven by the desire to experience a satisfying feeling or an emotion no matter how lofty or abstract our goals. It must be the root of meaning itself, a need that goes beyond words.
I've spent a lot of time on the body because for many of us it's the most neglected, but this applies to the things we observe, too. Taking phenomenology seriously means observation as a way of life. Taking in the details of what happens around you and to you, not as the arbitrary end consequence of a hypothetical explosion at the beginning of time but as inherently vital and interesting and worth observing.
Observe keenly enough, and you begin to notice strange things, especially if you dabble in divination.
If you're reading this, you probably know who I am, but if not, I am a formerly-atheist-programmer-skeptic-turned-woo-woo-tarot-card-throwing-astrologer-programmer bowed down by the relentless phenomenology of my experience. I did not particularly enjoy the experience of having my worldview chipped at piece by piece every morning by an uncannily, inexplicably accurate tarot card, but my life is infinitely better for it now.
I can highly recommend tarot as a daily practice in expanding one's understanding of what the universe is capable of, but it requires first and foremost the commitment to believing your own experience. Taking your phenomenology seriously. But observation is not blind acceptance. We might interpret tarot cards, but we still withhold our judgment of the uncanny synchronicity of the card itself. We don't let our intellect be cowed by mysteries but use it to find the fine and very subtle line between genuine magic and self-satisfying bullshit. Yet it was not through a few experiences but dozens and hundreds of tarot readings, astrologically correlated events, confirmations with friends, and having divination tools work over and over again that made me go:
The line grew into a clear and obvious chasm. To deny what I was seeing would be to disrespect my own intellect and neutral (hell, even actively hostile) observation of my experience. As far as I am currently able to tell, reality is a highly symbolic thing that surfaces information in every corner of its being, if you know how to look for it.
In the realm of symbolic thinkers you hear a lot of strange things and tall claims, many unverified. My personal philosophy is to take their phenomenology seriously, too. You spoke to a spirit from the Andromeda galaxy? Cool, what'd it tell you? Did it help? I might not understand how it could possibly true, or I might even personally disbelieve it, but the fact that this person is telling me this is important for some reason, and I want to know why. It's interesting, and the answer is rarely as simple as "they're crazy". Every now and then and I'll accidentally confirm a piece of information that exists in the external, "real" world. Small hints at the possibility of an entire plane of experience I may never have.
The major barriers to being able to open one's experience up to the possibility of a even slightly ordered (or at least synchronous) universe tend to be the fear of being shamed by one's community for being weird, the fear of being wrong and feeling stupid, and the fear of a "slippery slope", of a horrible fall from grace into gullibility and superstition. A personal "age of darkness", as it were. These were certainly my personal stumbling blocks, and I'd like to share some tips for dealing with them.
When it comes to your community, I have already alluded to this: you may have to keep your honesty and trust in your experience a secret. Exploration is often a solitary venture. If you're lucky, you have people you can confide in or even start the journey with. But sadly, mainstream culture is set against weird stuff like daring to propose that an event could possibly have meaning outside of random happenstance. That's what the "Around here" part is about--there's a growing community of people on Twitter into various ways of taking their phenomenology seriously whether that's Internal Family Systems, Gendlin focusing, the Alexander method, introspection, spiritual practice, divination, or channeling friendly extradimensional entities that you can join. They don't all intersect and they don't all agree but broadly speaking the Twitter Phenomenology Project is well underway.
My fear of being wrong and feeling stupid were intense. I was frankly amazed at how reluctant I felt to do things, like say an affirmation aloud or make a gesture as part of a ritual. Alone. In my own apartment, where no one could see. I could rationalize feeling stupid waving my arms around but I remained spellbound watching the evidence of a magical, synchronistic universe piling up, in a simultaneous fascination with the possibilities and a horrible fear I would fall through it headfirst like smoke. Ultimately, a pessimist's fear--the fear of being disappointed, yet again. That may be something you have to struggle with: the fear to hope.
Somebody once told me they wanted to get into astrology but they were afraid to take the leap of faith. I told them: no faith required. You can look every way and take small steps the whole way in and jump back out at any time. There is no "slippery slope", unless you are the type of person who tends to hurl themselves down psychological Slip N Slides in general. With divination tools there is evidence every step of the way, and you can also back out at any time if you aren't convinced or if it gets too weird, because you're an intelligent human being. There seems to be this strange conception among many people I talk to about anything Weird that if they even entertain the idea of something Weird, or think about pretending to think about imagining that something Weird could possibly be involved, they would in a matter of hours turn into a shawl-wearing crystal-adorned shaman prophesying the next doomsday.
I think the fear is often not so much that of intellectual failure as it is of a moral failure amongst one's tribe. One who lives amongst the rational can't admit that being hurled out for looking closely is irrational. The safest option is to project onto others what they fear for themselves: instantaneous exile, to the only (mostly rather incorrectly) imagined alternative.
By the way, have you noticed the trick yet? How in all of these scenarios seem to imply that you cannot be trusted without the guiding light of capital R Reason? That you are lost without it, and nothing else can give you as much value and you are condemned, cursed to have that one Carl Sagan passage quoted at you by random strangers on Twitter for the rest of time?
I eventually realized that this view of what the truth is wasn't my friend. A culture that believes there is no inherent potency to the universe extracts everything from the world and from its own people while glorifying it because to contemplate anything else is too painful--and to grieve is to grind capital to a halt.
I want to cast my net a little bit wider. I was full of fear and insecurity and wrath before and now I am full of joy and love and wonder. The more I have paid attention to the evidence of my experience, the more I have gained and the richer it has been for it. I keep my observations to myself when necessary, but I can no longer commit violence against my own psyche to performatively comfort others'.
I've shifted to a much more personal perspective throughout this writing because that's what it's about. You can't reproduce this in a study. It evades grasping but invites caressing. You open up to the universe and it opens up to you. And while I'd certainly recommend you try the things I try because I think the things I see are exciting, I simply hope that this might encourage you to see, listen, sense, move a little differently, a little wider.
The hardest part is giving yourself permission to believe yourself. Nobody else will.
I'd like to thank the incredible people in my Around Here, and the Moon for inspiring me to write this piece. And I'd like to thank you for your time and for reading this. If you're interested in exploring some ways you can take your phenomenology seriously, I share links to many of my experiences and writing in my personal index.
Great thinking. I’m sure provocative for many and affirming to us eh, higher consciousness peeps. Regarding phenomenology, would be interested in your thoughts of “background emotions” - unconscious emotions and feelings, creating milieu and viscera, before I actually feel the feeling, neuroscience.