Heirs to Still Being or Having? - Expansion-retraction: Physiology

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Expansion-retraction: Physiology

Curiously, there is no need to dwell upon these movements too much: when they are perceived to be normal and harmonious, this indicates that life is able to manifest ease fully. In this case, the living system needs no help from us. What we will dwell upon, however, is non-movement. Indeed, non-movement is a sign that life is struggling to manifest. Non-movement creates distortions in the intimate mechanics, or primary micro-mechanics, of the body as a whole, thereby causing distortions in the body system’s secondary macro-mechanics. This point of view is very much in alignment with how Still viewed small packages: “My aim is to carefully explore all, and never leave until I find the cause and use that Nature’s hand has placed in its workings, never overlooking small packages, as they often contain precious gems.” (Still, 1902, 162).

So, basically, we might think of the body as a jellyfish. This image may not seem very appealing at first, because of what we associate with jellyfish. Yet, to me, jellyfish are a beautiful image of the motion of fluids within fluid. The simple separation of internal and external fluids bestows identity and mechanical organization to the system, while its deepest - fluid - nature remains intact.

Of course, it is through our palpation of this system that the fluidity of the structures may be accessed. And, in relation to human organisms, it is wiser to speak of plasticity rather than fluidity, since the physicality of certain human structures, bone in particular, brings them closer to the physical universe.


In order to preserve an awareness of its own existence, a living organism must exchange with its environment. Therefore, it is logical to consider living organisms as relational systems by nature, constantly faced with the dilemma of exchanging with the external environment (maintaining the sensation of existence) and preserving their identity (maintaining separation). This duality makes living organisms vulnerable, and leads to specific behavioral responses. Therefore, what is important is how the body system reacts to the difficulties that it encounters in its life relationships “[The body] is in constant interchange with its external environment physically, mentally, and emotionally. This external environment extends from the person’s immediate surroundings to the farthest reaches of the universe. Why, then, separate them, the internal and external environments? Instead of the terminology, man and his environment, these can be jointed in one term—biosphere.” (Wales ed., 1990, 204).

The tissular approach assumes that prior even to the physiological function that it must fulfill, the primary concern of any living system is to perpetuate its existence. In other words, to survive. Only once the tissular structure’s survival is ensured, are its attributed function(s) then secondarily and automatically fulfilled. This point of view is in alignment with Becker and his universality/specificity dichotomy.

Withdrawing into Isolation

Given, then, that survival is its primary preoccupation, how does a living system behave when it feels threatened? Is not the most logical solution to attempt to isolate itself, to decrease its exchange with an environment now considered hostile, i.e. to individuate even further? Reducing membrane permeability is an excellent way to withdraw into isolation. And how is this achieved, if not by tightening, by increasing the membrane’s tautness? And doesn’t this mean withholding energy?

Therefore, it is possible to predict the behavior of a living system when it is confronted with an identified threat in its environment. It individuates. So that now, we are no longer only interested in the agent of aggression, but in the aggressed entity’s behavior in the face of aggression. And here, relativity reigns. In every situation, we must evaluate both the objective factors (energetic and otherwise) and the subjective factors (acceptance or refusal) which modify the relationship, thereby generating - or not - resistance or refusal to communicate, and as a result energy retention.