Finding peace in colony of our personal spaces

Many people feel dispossessed when they are not in their territories and feel vulnerable when they find someone else has claimed a spot at a place of recreation or in church. Net photo.

There is that place, space or seat that you consider yours even in a public spot; sometimes unconsciously but it feeds into your being at peace and finding comfort

There are small acts that we do which, though at a glance might look insignificant, harbour a meaning hidden both in a metaphorical layer and a realistic one.

There are things we do every day but we do not know why we do them, or have never bothered even to know that we actually do them.

To my eternal consternation, I have noted there are things I do in life that fall within a certain definable habit.

And I am not alone. In the church I normally go to, I noticed even without thinking about it, I sit at the same place always, in the same manner, in the same posture.

Invariably the person next to me turns out to be the very same guy who had sat next to me the previous occasion and who normally always sits next to me.

In short, we have actually arrogated ourselves a special place where we must sit and which makes us feel at home. If we miss that spot, either by an act of absence or lateness, we feel oddly at sea.

It is the same thing when we go to a library or a restaurant, or a bar. There is that place that one loves sitting.

These places become a part of us and they form part of our mannerisms, adopting the same peculiar gestures that each of us has, like passing our hands of our faces, patting our heads or blowing our noses. It is a supremely personal thing.

But what gives us comfort is that this is really not a peculiar thing.

The next person does it and, like you, cannot explain why they do it. If you asked anyone why they prefer sitting at a certain pew in the church or a certain table in a restaurant, you would hear an answer along this line; “I just feel at home sitting here.” Or, “I only feel comfortable when sitting here.”

Certain direction

At a bar or a restaurant, there are those who feel only safe facing a certain direction. I had a friend who would never, no matter what, sit at a restaurant or a bar with his back to the door.

He might have had his own security issues, but this was so ingrained in him that if he got into a facility and found no seat that would allow him to sit facing the door, he would walk out.

And then there are also those who go to particular facilities and no other. To them that is where their hearts feel at ease, the place that of which they have memories, expectations and little, vain comforts.

This petulant possessiveness might even force some people to wait out in the car to ensure that their preferred spot is free and then calmly get in to possess it.

American writer Daniel Serrano called this “the soft colonisation of small territories”. It is our way of bringing out the fact we are colonialists in nature, we like conquering our own small spots and claiming them as our own, that we are not just creatures of habit but that we are all hostages to certain in conquerable habits.

When animals, notably lions, want to mark their territories, they urinate all around the perimeter to ensure, from then henceforth no other lion would dare trespass into their territories. Our acts in the colonisation of small territories is not any different, only that we do it with a measure of civility, and sometimes, decency.

Man may be described as a social animal. A species that finds its own illimitable potential in its own gregariousness. But we are, at heart, supremely territorial.

We feel dispossessed when we are not in our territories, we feel vulnerable when we find someone else has claimed our spot at a place of recreation or in church.
We feel we have conquered when we sit at the same place we do every day and we feel a certain kind of peace when we occupy that personal space into which we admit no other.

Social nature

Yet, as Serrano asks, “why and with what right do we dare to think we can own what is technically for everyone”. The answer probably lies in the fact that by doing so we underline the fact that for our taunted social nature, we are hopelessly so protective of our own personal space we feel threatened when we are not able to occupy it. And as the Caribbean Author, George Lamming aptly puts it, “a place gets into the blood”.

Anthropologists developed the concept of proxemics, which is basically the study of how humans use space and how this affects the way they deal with each other.

They contend that proxemics can speak volumes about the culture of a people and the idiosyncrasies of human beings. For instance, those who like sitting at the corner of church pews could be hiding a certain fear of being squashed within an atmosphere in which they do not rule.

Those who like sitting at the centre may be harbouring an atavistic need for wanting to feel loved and protected. These personal spaces as Serrano, again observed, “permit us to be alone while also being outside.”

And it is entirely possible to experience a certain homesickness when we find that we cannot access our beloved spaces.

The French talk of what they call “Le mal du pays”, which literally translates as homesickness or melancholy. But translated much more finely and accurately is what some authors call “a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape”.

Small spaces

By conquering these small spaces and arrogating them to ourselves, we create some sort of pastoral landscapes that allow us to treat these spaces like projections of our souls, the reflection of our deepest comforts.

One of the authors who have studied and developed the theory of proxemics is Edward Hall. In his book, The Hidden Dimensions, he defined proxemics as “the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space as a specialised elaboration of culture.”

Hall contended we carry our personal spaces wherever we go. Even at home, there are those spots we like sitting at, the chair or seat we like relaxing in.

Curiously we might find this arrangement of things is recognised and acknowledged in the household such that it would be rare to find that one’s favourite space has been taken by another.

And in that arrangement, we find our calm, we reclaim ourselves and in those deeply personal spaces we experience our own peculiar epiphany.

It is our response to our environment, it is our own way of finding some vindicating quiddity or essence in our lives which are, at any one given time, dangerously prey to multiple intrusions.


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