North Atlantic Books, 1994
From my first chapter, “Points of View”
My path out of a dogmatic monism involved learning the full implications of the obvious but usually taken for granted fact that each of us has a different point of view. I mean that literally. Becoming familiar with my walking, breathing and gestures, along with associated impulses, thoughts and images, dissolved the tenacity of the dogmatic beliefs in which I had been schooled. As I came to feel, not just acknowledge philosophically, the uniqueness of how and where I stand on my uniquely shaped feet, I came to realize that my more abstract ideas about such exalted matters as morality and death bore the idiosyncratic marks of my high-arched feet and hummingbird-like hormonal rhythms.
At the same time, I began to feel that other points of view contributed perspectives that I could never reach from the narrow peninsula on which I stand. Any literal point of view represents the crystallization at a unique moment and place of a wide variety of factors. Some reflect the stances which populations are prompted to take from such primordial forces as religion, biological or social evolution. Others are idiosyncratic, like the peculiar ways the vertebral bones in each of our spinal columns are differently arranged.
I know that it is an unfamiliar line of reasoning to argue that we perceive the world differently because I stand or sit in a place that you do not, on feet or buttocks with different shapes than yours, innervated by a somewhat unique nervous and hormonal system, with a different metabolism, shaped by the peculiar events of my history and ideologies. Yet, I believe there is an elaborate web of intimate connections among seemingly ethereal notions about reality, narrow-minded attitudes towards other people and very fleshy postures and emotional reactions.
It is precisely the literalness of points of view that distinguishes a healthy pluralism from widely discredited amoral relativisms which argue that any set of values has equal status with any other. There are some metaphorical points of view which would obliterate the literal. The abusive parent and the political torturer would destroy the other person’s standing, moving and speaking. The colonialist would uproot ancient communities from the lands which make sense of their spiritualities and healing practices. Religious, philosophical and therapeutic ideologies would have people believe that the way they stand in their peculiar space is a source of error to be corrected by reliance on officially sanctioned perspectives. There are some points of view which are more healing than others.
For many of us, with our varying histories of infant terrors and childhood obedience-training, it is the task of a lifetime to gain a truly healing point of view. The fear that shapes our flesh in those early years situates us within an enclosed region from which it is difficult to realize that what we see from here is so little of what is. Such a perspective is typically narrow in feeling, often mean-spirited, making it hard for us to appreciate both ourselves and others. A point of view is healing when it gives a panorama spacious enough to make it obvious that my particular location gives access only to a limited region; without information from people situated on those far distant mountains, valleys, and coasts, I and those near me are condemned to make sense of life with the merest fragments of truth. . . .
This book is offered as a modest contribution to those many efforts to preserve our richly nuanced world with its proliferation of many exotic species and human cultures against the onslaught of both violent and non-violent homogenization.
“Don Hanlon Johnson here brings together his rich history as a philosopher, ex-Jesuit, and leading Somatics scholar to address some of the major issues facing America today. In the face of the many sad commentaries on our times, this incisive, deeply felt book gives us a solid basis for hope.”
— Michael Murphy, founder of the Esalen Institute and author of The Future of the Body
“This important book arrives at a pivotal moment in American history. Perhaps because it is conceived through an honestly told story, embodied and located, Everyday Hopes, Utopian Dreams finds a way past the cynicism so many feel today to give us a grounded vision of what a good society is and how we might best accomplish it. Placed in the Sacramento Valley and the northern coast of California, Johnson’s book regards the modern agricultural and industrial practices that are ruining the earth in the light of the religious philosophies that dominated European thought for centuries, philosophies that also separate us from our own bodies. Exploring the way these ideas, including rigid concepts about masculinity, have shaped his own life and the life of his family, he also invokes realms of human pleasure and creativity, the real sources of hope among us. And in fact, the book is a pleasure to read.”
— Susan Griffin, author of A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War
“In this wise and intimate reflection, Don Johnson weds personal and universal, philosophy and family, his own life and the great dance of our times. He retrieves hidden gems from his Jesuit training, reworks his own and our shared sorrows, and reimagines how we can live with the sacredness of the body. He offers us perspective, and hope.”
— Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart
“Don Johnson’s touching and often profound memoir lets us not only remember what once was and the world as he and we came to know it over past decades, but also traces the threads connecting his lifetime of quests after vision and truth to the shattered and sullied present tense that confounds so many of our current hopes and aspirations. Immersion in this plain and simple life spent taking turns never quite anticipated in advance has a lot to teach and inspire us. Always, Johnson’s vitality wins out over the despair that is never too far away. And always, there is so much more to life than it seemed at the moment it passed under the bridge. The result is a refreshing fragment of the holy, fashioned out of what might have otherwise seemed mundane.”
— David Harris, author of Crisis.