The question “Where am I?” is probably one of the seven wonders of the intellectual life of mankind. This question is almost always addressed from the outside, beginning from what precedes us and continuing with what follows us. This approach, which starts with presupposing man’s fundamental situated-ness and then tries to elucidate the nature of that situation, has failed to provide a satisfactory answer. There is a presupposition in this approach: it assumes that man is somewhere, inside an enclosure called the world, embedded into a situation that transcends him and extends indefinitely in both space and time.
But let us approach this question from a phenomenological point of view, by simply analyzing our experience of “place” without making assumptions about it: this approach is devoid of assumptions and is accessible to all, and above all arrives at the answer, not in the form of a dogmatic conception but in the form of an astonishing experience of awakening, by realizing that there is no question to begin with, that the question itself had arisen as a result of a flawed perception of reality and a superimposed interpretation.
It starts with a simple observation: I am now perceiving my room from a corner I am sitting at. I perceive the room as an enclosure; I experience it as a space that contains me; even though I experience the objects in my room as a multitude spread out in front of me, as parts within my experience, I do not experience “the being enclosed” as another object in that field. The sense of containment is an essential, and always present, feature of my experience no matter where I am. The objects of sense are there in the field of experience only to give texture to this ever-present background sense of placement or being enclosed; they simply provide a ground for differentiating places in name and form.
I perceive my room as something containing me, a constant perception throughout the entire stream of my experience and present whether or not I make it an explicit theme of attention. This is to say: that which contains me is itself something contained within my experience. Or, something that better expresses the paradox of human existence: I contain that which contains me.
I can extend this particular observation from the corner of my room all the way to the totality of the existing world that appears to surround me: if I can conceive of a totality of existence, then this totality is inevitably encompassed by that conception. If I posit that there is an objective totality outside my conceptions, then this positing itself is still another conception and within the purview of possible experience, whether concrete or abstract.
That I experience myself always in some place, is because experience as such is always experience-of confinement and finitude. The stream of experience that provides this formal structure is itself in no place or time.
There is no place but here, and no time but now. The apparent past and future, the entire history, and the entire cosmos that is seemingly extended in front of us indefinitely, these are all decorative ideas we entertain to make the infinitude of this Living Present more effable and bearable.
In reality, we are contained by nothing but our own conceptions.