Man is a microcosm…an extract from all the stars and planets of the whole firmament, from the earth and the elements; and so he is their quintessence.
The living body is perpetually building, breaking down, & rebuilding anew only to repeat the cycle all over again.
To those who think as we do, all things are dancing,
writes…Nietzsche of course.
All forms of Nature take part in the grand circumambulatory cakewalk of creation. Too much growth suffocates; too little and we wither away to non-being and being appropriates our elements for the creation of new marvels. So we see life as a tango performed between the twin poles of creation and annihilation; an interminable dance of dynamic oscillation. Homeostasis of the living organism represents an equilibrium that is never static. Rather, constant re-calibration characterises this condition. One extreme represents a rigidification into order, the other a dissolution into entropy. Physiologists indicate these processes with the terms anabolism & catabolism. The former builds matter, the latter liberates energy to animate it. Between these two processes, life flows. Metabolism comprehends the interplay of poles. Alchemists called this triad “Salt,” “Sulfur,” and “Mercury,” respectively.
This throbbing equilibrium of which the physical organism is its product furthermore finds colorful expression in general Hindu mythology. Central to this cosmogony is the trimürti, the triple-aspected Godhead. These three faces of the ultimate divinity are called “Brahma,” “Vishnu,” and “Shiva.” A brief account of the role that each plays in the Four Ages of traditional Vedic cosmology can reveal their respective characters.
Brahma creates the universe, generating form from emptiness. Immediately following creation, everything is pristine and immaculate. This is the Golden Age. It is said that of the sacred “Cow of Dharma [that she] stands on four legs.”
Vishnu, president of the grand macrocosmic carnival, preserves the creation. But as anyone who has partaken in life’s revelry will know, it is the nature of such festivities that they simply cannot persist indefinitely. So, “as dawn goes down to day/[and] Nothing gold can stay,” the Silver Age follows soft upon its predecessor. Still, though whispers of discord may be surmised, harmony maintains the better hand. With the advent of the Bronze Age, however, the balance begins to tip, out of perfection’s favor.
In the fourth epoch after creation, called the kali-yuga, the universe deteriorates still further. The Cow of Dharma is said to stand on one leg alone, which is to say that she no longer stands. Wretched traffic, tropical storms, starving children in Somalia—all evidence suggests we’re in the thick of it today. So the kali-yuga approaches its crisis, the culmination of a great decline. The vultures of chaos descend from all quarters and, lo! Shiva emerges onto the cosmic stage, his face the picture of serenity. In the avatar of Nataraja, the third aspect of the Godhead performs the notorious tandava, the “Dance of Destruction.” In a whirl of godly grace and horror, Shiva annihilates the cosmos in flame. A realization of the full catastrophe.
His performance finished, Shiva turns to leave. And on the back of his head, behold the mask of Brahma! Thus the cycle begins anew.
Consider the experience of walking into your typical attic in the kali-yuga: full of clutter, even the empty space is filled with dust and cobwebs. The air itself feels solid. So Chapter xi of the Tao Te Ching expresses the interplay between form and emptiness:
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.
If a room is full of stuff, it is therefore worthless. So much the more so for the entire cosmos.
Today, physicists describe a gradual march towards entropy that is the universe’s ineluctable fate. Just as the modern scientific model postulates, as well as the Hindu cosmology of the four yugas, the human body tends gradually in an analogous direction. (Indeed, this should come as no surprise given that it is the trajectory of the entire cosmos, and we are not separate from it.) In the human being, the process appears as compulsive nervous habits, strains, and chronic muscular tension. Each of us has felt these symptoms of decline. So the multiplying villainies of discord do swarm upon us such that by the time we reach adulthood, most of have accrued such a conditioned surfeit of supererogatory muscular contractions that the mere activity of walking across the parking-lot to get in our cars can start to feel like cleaning the Augean Stables or some other one of Hercules’ Labors. Indeed the amount of strain we sometimes manage to bear around with us is positively mythic.
Contrast this image with that of throwing off a back-pack after a day-hike: pure alleviation. Or the boreal serenity that follows a forest-fire. Destruction clears the space for new growth—like the ecological succession, that finds symbolic expression in the adorable little fernlet that sprouts out of the ashes and scorched earth following the said boreal inferno.
Nature embodies this cycle of destruction and renaissance. Whether we look inwards or outwardly for inspiration, we discover this pulse of existence. Our navels are circles and so are the stars. We also notice that the world is never still, and that if we attempt to hold fast this oscillatory flow at one or the other pole, we burn our hands even as the world slips through our grasp.
In my Rolfing® practice, I do my best to serve my client according to his or her individual needs. Sometimes this dictates that I take Brahma’s work as inspiration—attempting to create new kinetic possibilities for the client, & to instruct him in new patterns of movement. On other occasions, I deem it most effective to channel Vishnu: to preserve the easeful revolution of the somatic microcosm. But often Shiva’s enterprise must be granted temporal priority: all parasitic & problematic muscular tension must be squelched to provide the ground for new possibilities. Ease is primary, life tends to flow—our charge is to create the conditions to allow for it. So, Shiva-like, we must obliterate all obstructions. Then all that remains is the native grace of the human body.