Sunday, September 27, 2015

Looking for some quiet time today (and trying not to fill it with technology)....

I'm thinking today about the ubiquity of technology my quiet spaces as a child in the 1970s were so much more contemplative than my spaces or my 12 year-old's spaces today. I think that the danger lies not in the constant barrage of sounds and images, texts and notifications, but in forgetting that there is goodness in some time away from it all. It is in the quiet where I learn that I have ideas, where I can attempt to make a contribution to my own space. I think the constant noise in our environments can act as a kind of blindfold, causing us to forget that there are other ways to see, and can go so far as to make those paths (that were once sacred paths in childhood) fearful to tread.

From Phenomenology & Practice, Volume 1 (2007), No. 1, pp. 11 – 30. Phenomenology of Practice Max van Manen, University of Alberta Email: [email protected]

 " his text "The Secret Place in the Life of the Child," Langeveld gives the reader a resonating understanding of the "felt meaning" of that special place that young children at times seem to seek out. The "secret place" is the place where the child withdraws from the presence of others. Langeveld sensitively describes what it is like for a child to quietly sit in this place where the adult does not pay attention. This special space experience does not involve the child in activities such as hide and seek, spying on others, doing mischief, or playing with toys. Rather, what we see is that the child just sits there, while perhaps gazing dreamingly into the distance. What is going on here? Langeveld describes this space experience as a place of growth. The child may find such space experience perhaps under a table, behind a heavy curtain, inside a discarded box, or wherever there is a corner where he or she can hide or withdraw. This is where the child may come to "self-understanding," as it were. Langeveld's intention is to show the formative pedagogical value of the experience of the secret place for the growing child. He describes it as "normally an unthreatening place for the young child to withdraw" (1983a, p. 13). Langeveld says things like: "the actual experience of the secret place is always grounded in a mood of tranquility, peacefulness: It is a place where we can feel sheltered, safe, and close to that with which we are intimate and deeply familiar" (1983a, p. 13). He portrays the various modalities in terms of which the secret place may be experienced. Sometimes the child experiences space as something uncomfortable, as looming danger:
The phenomenological analysis of the secret place of the child shows us that the distinctions between the outer and inner world melt into a single, unique, personal world. Space, emptiness, and also darkness reside in the same realm where the soul dwells. They unfold in this realm and give form and sense to it by bringing this domain to life. But sometimes this space around us looks at us with hollow eyes of disappointment; here we experience the dialogue with nothingness; we are sucked into the spell of emptiness, and we experience the loss of a sense of self. This is also where we experience fear and anxiety. The mysterious stillness of the curtain, the enigmatic body of the closed door, the deep blackness of the grotto, the stairway, and the spying window which is placed too high to look through, all these lead to the experience of anxiety. They may seem to guard or cover an entry-way or passage. The endless stairway, the curtains which move by themselves, the door which is suspiciously ajar, or the door which slowly opens, the strange silhouette at the windows are all symbols of fear. In them we discover the humanness of our fears. (1983a, p. 16)
But during the fourth and fifth year of life the "I" gradually begins to assert itself against the world, the anxieties disappear in degrees. These are the beginnings of the initial developments of a unique human personality in which the first opposition between world and "I" becomes conscious and in which the world is experienced as "other," says Langeveld. Now the secret space becomes invitational:
The indeterminate place speaks to us, as it were. In a sense, it makes itself available to us. It offers itself, in that it opens itself. It looks at us in spite of the fact and because of the fact that it is empty. This call and this offering of availability are an appeal to the abilities of the child to make the impersonal space into his very own, very special place. And the secrecy of this place is first of all experienced as the secrecy of "my-own-ness." Thus in this void, in this availability, the child encounters the "world." Such an encounter the child may have experienced before in different situations. But this time it encounters the world in a more addressable form -- everything which can occur in this openness and in this availability, the child must actively fashion or at least actively allow as a possibility. (1983a, p. 17)
In spite of quoting these sentences from Langeveld, it is quite impossible to summarize or paraphrase Langeveld's text since it is precisely the quality of the entire text that leads one to recognize reflectively what the experience may be like for a child. In "The Secret Place in the Life of the Child" we can also observe how Langeveld locates the normative in the phenomenological account of the experience of the secret place. He shows not only what the experience is like he also shows how it is a pedagogically appropriate experience for the child:
In the secret place the child can find solitude. This is also a good pedagogical reason to permit the child his secret place ... something positive grows out of the secret place as well, something which springs from the inner spiritual life of the child. That is why the child may actively long for the secret place. During all the stages leading to adulthood, the secret place remains an asylum in which the personality can mature; this self-creating process of this standing apart from others, this experiment, this growing self-awareness, this creative peace and absolute intimacy demand it -- for they are only possible in alone-ness. (1983a, p. 17)

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