The Body as Being & Inter-being

I am dealing with problems in the body where there is never just one cause. I’d like you to have more reality on the circular processes that do not act in the body, but that are the body. The body process is not linear, it is circular; always, it is circular. One thing goes awry, and its effects go on and on and on and on. A body is a web, connecting everything with everything else.
—Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D.

“My neck hurts so you go to my big toe?”

Some clients are (mercifully) too polite to voice such a question. Nevertheless, they likely wonder it with no small amount of incredulity. To see the body as an interconnected whole contradicts our conventional conceptions of the world that embeds us, which we imagine to consist of separate “things.” We all too-readily overlook that just because I can name a thousand & one different muscles plus their insertion points doesn’t mean they actually exist—the body doesn’t know where the crura ends & the psoas starts. Indeed exist means “to stand out of” or “to stand forth from” (ex– & sistere): no body-part actually stands forth from its context as part of the body.

When I speak of erector spinæ & multifidus, this is the language of textbooks & anatomy atlases; it is not the language of the body & the real world. Our language represents what our bodies present in living breathing truth.

Indeed just as no body-part exists independently from its context as part of the body, the body itself does not exist independently of its environment. Consider the tyger-lily: the said blossom depends on its stem, which in turn depends on its roots which in turn depend on the Earth, the rain, the Sun, & generally speaking, the entire cosmos—even you, unless you have no prospects. Just kidding; if you have no prospects, just look more carefully. As Carl Sagan famously enunciated this truth: 

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Buddhist philosophy illustrates this interconnectedness with the metaphor of “Indra’s Net:”
A spider’s web infinite & omni-dimensional,
A dew drop at every intersection between each strand,
Shimmering in the early morning sun
Every single droplet contains the reflection of all other droplets within it
& is itself contained within all other droplets,
Ad infinitum.
This is the universe, mutually inter-dependent.
Therefore, cheer up, even if you feel prospectless.

Buddhist monk & social activist Thích Nhất Hạnh presents basic inter-connectivity in this characteristically exquisite voice (pretend his flower is the tiger-lily):

When we look deeply into a flower, we see the elements that have come together to allow it to manifest. We can see clouds manifesting as rain. Without the rain, nothing can grow. When I touch the flower, I’m touching the cloud and touching the rain. This is not just poetry, it’s reality. If we take the clouds and the rain out of the flower, the flower will not be there. With the eye of the Buddha, we are able to see the clouds and the rain in the flower. We can touch the sun without burning our fingers. Without the sun nothing can grow, so it’s not possible to take the sun out of the flower. The flower cannot be as a separate entity; it has to inter-be with the light, with the clouds, with the rain. The word “interbeing” is closer to reality that the word “being.” Being really means interbeing.
The same is true for me, for you, and for the Buddha.

Therefore, “The Way of the Elbow” doesn’t really mean “the way of the elbow” but rather everything at once & sometimes symptoms belie the deeper cause. When we tend the garden, flowers grow—when we support our bodies, we flourish.

IMG_0525

Advertisements

Atlas & Hercules: Strength as the Result, Ease as the Method

Over and over again, people come to me, and they tell me, ‘You just don’t know how strong I am.’ They say ‘strength’ and I want to hear ‘balance.’ The strength idea has effort in it; this is not what I’m looking for. Strength that has effort in it is not what you need; you need the strength that is the result of ease.

—Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D.

Greek mythology tells of the great hero Hercules & his Twelve (in)Famous Labors. After slaying the Nemean Lion & purging the Augean Stables, among other labors, the hero was faced with yet another seemingly insuperable task: to pluck a golden apple from a magic tree (that Hera had given to Zeus as a wedding gift) & present the aureate fruit to Eurystheus, to whom Heracles was indentured. The apples grew in Garden of the Hesperides, the latter being nymphs who guarded Hera’s gift & who were daughters to Atlas, the Titan whose plight it was to hold the entire Earth and the sky upon his shoulders, lest the waters & the firmament should again into the primordial Chaos. Incidentally, the sayd apples were also guarded by an hundred-headed dragon called Ladon AND Hercules had altogether no idea where to find them.

After roving about the Mediterranean & partaking in a merry slew of grappling-bouts with divers opponents, Hercules finally stumbled upon the old titan Prometheus who, as retribution from Zeus for having brought to mankind the knowledge of fire, had been chained to Mount Caucasus in such a vulnerable position that a voracious eagle had free access to his viscera. The demonic bird had established a habit of breaking its fast on the the enchained Titan’s liver, the latter which grew back each night on account of the supernatural regenerative capacity of Prometheus’ organism (some one-hundred & fifty-fold outperforming the commensurate rejuvenation by the body of a mere mortal: to wit, the human livers regenerates itself after 3 months). Given the Titan’s plight, however, this extraordinary corporal vigour was more of a bane than a blessing since the new liver only encouraged an insatiable taste for organ-meat in the voracious bird of prey.

Coming upon the scene, Hercules vanquished the eagle, the latter being no match for the supernatural might of such a demi-god. In appreciation for his deliverance, Prometheus divulged to his rescuer the whereabouts of the Garden of the Hesperides, as well as a surefire tactic to procure its prizèd fruits.

Following Prometheus’ counsel, Hercules then journeyed to the place where Atlas sustained the world on his shoulders. Hercules addressed the Titan & persuaded him to retrieve the golden apples himself, since the nymphs were his daughters & the hundred-headed dragon was his house-cat. Atlas, eager at the opportunity to shirk his burthen, hastily acceded. So Hercules took the load & the Titan went to fetch the fruits.

On his way back, it occurred to Atlas, however, what a welcomed relief it was to have the weight of the world divested from his shoulders. For this reason, upon returning, Atlas declared to Hercules his intention not to fulfill his end of their arrangement. The hero, unsurprised by the Titan’s treachery, nominally capitulated to Altas’ enunciation. Unlike his counterpart, however, Hercules’ brawn did not come at the expense of his brains & Hercules, therefore, petitioned one small request: that he be allowed to adjust his toga before resuming the weighty world on his shoulders for all eternity. Basking in the prospect of having outwitted the toga-clad demi-god, Atlas agreed to Hercules’ entreaty. Atlas took up the world again, the golden apples passed to the hands of Hercules, & with that the hero set off on his return journey. Atlas, meanwhile, could hardly lift a finger to hinder him because all of the Titan’s redoubtable brawn was invested in bearing that colossal terraqueous globe.

In this Greek myth, we observe a scarcely concealed parable of the interplay between tension or force, & potential in body & soul. Whichsoever of these supermen was to bear the world, in spite—& because—of the immensity of the feat, could not concurrently do anything else. Likewise, in a more pedestrian example, if I spend my entire day holding my shoulder-blades up to my head like a pair of ossiferous earrings, not only is it poor taste, but I will also find myself too exhausted to take my pet monkey for a walk in the park in the afternoon, play with my kids after work, write didactic website-posts, or volunteer at the homeless shelter. It’s hardly even a trade-off because I don’t stand to gain anything except a headache. Similarly, many of us work very hard just to stay upright on our two feet. This feat (given the tenuous verticality that bipedalism engenders in the human condition) is not without merit. Nevertheless, there are more & less strenuous ways of managing it.

For this reason, Ida Rolf encourages us to seek a strength that is the result not of effort but of balance; not of brawn but of ease. Through the process of Rolfing® Structural Integration, therefore, we liberate our body’s resources by divesting it of superfluous tension. In the resulting energy, we find the freedom to engage in the pursuits we care about.
IMG_0533

The Parable of the Unclad Kaiser: Rolfing® as Reflection

“The emperor has no clothes!” 

It defines the human condition that one’s gaze orients outwards. The eye sacrifices self-awareness to entertain images of the world. This explains how one can lose one’s sunglasses on one’s own forehead & why the proverbial emperor needed a youth to point out that he was naked. We are, by nature of our perceptual inheritance, invisible to ourselves in a general sense. The critical reader likely feels herself scarcely able to contain the objection: “What about a mirror?”

Indeed through the reflections we cast in the outer world, we can infer our own condition. The emperor didn’t need a mirror because the boy exposed him to himself. The emperor could have made use of a reflective surface, or merely attuned himself to the subtler reflections of his regal nudity in the countenances of his townspeople. In all cases, the essential outcome was the same: that outer events related to this deluded monarch his own doings, erstwhile unbeknownst to him.

The process of Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) represents an analogy to this parable in that much of our bodies’ physiological & kinetic activities are invisible to us. If these processes were immediately apparent, we would have no trouble in the first place since we would immediately perceive & rectify any deviant activity. An example may clarify this phenomenon: suppose my should hurts any time I try to start a chainsaw. Initially I experience only an inconvenient symptom. Though I may intuit a cause, yet I fail to perceive it, oblivious as I am to my own inner proceedings just like the unclad kaiser. In the case of such shoulder-pain, however, a mere mirror will will not provide me with sufficient insight into the cause of my affliction; only the crooked grin of a sweaty-toothed bedlamite will confront me. I must, therefore, seek subtler reflectors. If I thence proceed to the local office of the worldwide The Way of the Elbow franchise (which makes no discrimination against sweaty-toothed madmen) I may find myself usefully reflected by a Rolfer™. She may demonstrate to me kinesthetically, through direct experience, the cascade of surreptitious muscle-firings & internal sequences whose final expression is my symptom. Having thus identified the origin, in mutual interest we then hold both cause & consequence in our consideration as we attempt to ameliorate the symptom and eradicate its seed. 

By revealing to me an aspect of myself that was hidden from my awareness, my Rolfer served as a mirror of sorts. In this hypothetical case study, she reflected to my that my shoulder-blade was fixed immobile by an overlusty rhomboid. Dereliction at one joint will place excessive demands on another to compensate for the former’s malfeasance; demands which easily surpass the latter’s natural design. In such a discrepancy we find the optimal preconditions for injury. In enabling me to perceive & rectify such a surreptitious postural habit (which erstwhile eluded my apprehension for the mere fact that it was “behind my eyes”), my Rolfer provided me with the self-apprehension necessary for my own recovery: I can consciously begin to emancipate my shoulder-blade from the tyranny of my spine. I might then persist in my inspired chainsaw escapades without scapular let or hindrance, or maybe I’ll become an artist. As the late Carl Jung so eloquently expressed it, albeit in a slightly different context, “Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will rule our lives & we will call it ‘fate.'” In Rolfing SI, we discover a method to bring the light of our attention to the shadowy recesses of our own subliminal movement-patterns. Only with such awareness can we hope eventually to exorcise any disorderly elements a-dwelling therein. All this so that we can live in ease, unencumbered by inconvenient aches & tensions.
image

Joy, Springtime, & Stewardship 

If you ask where the flowers come from, even the God of Spring doesn’t know.

Over a third of the year has passed since New Year’s Day. Now that Tax Day is finally behind us with ides of April, what better time than to revisit one’s resolutions for wellbeing of body & soul?

Let us begin by framing such (hypothetical) resolutions in a proper perspective: suppose a young woman in a minivan practically runs me over because her smartphone was more interesting than cyclists & pedestrians. Such an event would naturally be quite inconvenient for both parties. Let us further suppose everyone survived & nothing was compromised except the rectitude of the front wheel of the said bike. If the bicycle were my own, I would probably limp around like Captain Ahab until the next New Year. If, however, it were on loan from a neighbor, my response would have to be entirely different: as the vehicle’s steward, & in honor of my neighbor, I would be compelled to take immediate responsibility for the damages. I could not look my neighbor in the eye & return a crippled bicycle. So I would hobble over to the bike-shop for repairs or something.

Often we relate to our bodies in a manner much like the former. “My body is my own,” we say, at times to rationalize our apathy or neglect. We often consider hedonism or laziness as sufficient justification for compromising our bodies’ health. Nevertheless, this view unravels under any scrutiny. What is my actual relationship to my body? What role did I play in its formation? Did I, for example, supply the materials? No: the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, & innumerable cell salts are on loan from the Earth & from the unfathomable cosmos. Every atom in my body preceded me by countless aeons. Every one of these atoms will also endure long after my specious claim over them has been exposed. Furthermore, these atoms constantly recycle through me. After seven years every cell in my body will have been replaced with a new one—if it’s a liver-cell, its turnover is a mere three months. I am more like an eddy in a stream than a self-contained entity.

I can hardly even take credit for the blueprint for my organism, which demonstrates such extraordinary intelligence in constellating the sundry elements into a cohesive whole. My form, rather, was encoded in nucleotide sequences in innumerable double-helices of DNA.

Such a deconstruction of selfhood leaves one feeling empty. Emptiness, however, represents not despair but potential—the happy consequence of having removed conceptual clutter. Emptiness provides clarity. Only in emptiness does one discover the space for joy, ease, love, & wellbeing. Whatever the “I am” is, it is neither atoms nor the information of nucleotide sequences.

Free from conventional prejudice & preconception, we perceive our true role as caretakers of our bodies. It’s a sorry steward who returns a decimated kingdom upon the return of the emperor. I oughtn’t to go trashing a bicycle that was lent to me out of generosity—how much less ought I to underappreciate the marvel that is my body! Devotion to this living gift is its own reward; its care is my joyful responsibility. To provide my body with any less than it deserves will disturb natural harmony. Disregard for its welfare will generate tension in my body & do injury to my soul.

As the merry month of May approaches, let us channel the vital energy of Spring to (re)establish the resolutions of Midwinter to strive towards individual & collective flourishing. Each of us is a microcosm of the microcosm that is our family, our community, the world, & the universe. Let us beautify our own entrusted spheres of influence! Drink water, walk on grass, & get Rolfed! Call The Way of the Elbow today!

 

 

The Rites of Spring from Four Corners

The Vernal Equinox (in the Northern Hemisphere) heralds the advent of Spring & indicates that we have prevailed over another winter. This most invigorating of holidays vivifies our souls, imbuing us with the sprightly energy of the season. While one outlet for this energy might be the garage, we need not limit our activity of “Spring Cleaning” to dusty floors & squeaky bicycles. Rather the Spring Equinox presents the perfect opportunity to order aspects dearer to us even than our own homes: namely our selves.

To guide us in this project, we can employ a framework from the four natural elements, each of which will lead us to consider a particular aspect of ourselves. An approach from four cardinal directions will ensure a more complete inquiry than would be possible from any single perspective.

The element of Earth provides a foundation for this project. Earth, as the element of structure, bears an intimate affinity to the enterprise of Rolfing® Structural Integration. When I stand to hail the springtime sun, is my stance perpendicular to the horizon? Are my knees above my feet & my eyes above my ankles? Am I supported by a solid skeletal frame? Or am I totally knock-kneed, crooked, & askant, like a gear-shed after one too-many winters? The answer to these telluric inquiries will inform my campaign of “spring cleaning.”

Our consideration can continue with the question of fluidity. The Water element encourages us to consider our inborn capacity to adapt to our ever-changing environment. Water, when poured into a goblet, becomes the goblet—can I claim such protean capacity? Or do I conduct my affairs like a wooden effigy, hobbling around like a silly caricature of Captain Ahab? If my sinews are stiff & my joints creaky, my responses will be brittle and for me, the cultivation of Water qualities will serve the highest good.

Air, the third element, represents motion. Like the energetic activity of songbirds & spring breezes, our bodies contain an inherent impulse to movement. Nevertheless, causes & conditions at times conspire to stifle this native dynamism. Adhesions in the body’s fascia & connective tissue, or trauma in the nervous system, represent obstructions to the free flow of life-force through our energy channels & meridians. We experience such hindrances as pain, dullness, stiffness, limps, & lethargy. Often, all it requires is the judicious application of a (more or less) gentle elbow to resolve these blockages & coax the body back into its natural motion. Full & unrestricted respiration is a hallmark of Structural Integration, considered from the Air element.

Having progressed from structure, to function, we move now in the fourth element to a still more subtle consideration which nevertheless fuels the entire process. Through Fire, the element of joy, passion, & transformation, we encounter the spirit behind the entire enterprise; the flame to which our bodies are the candles. Earth provides our foundation, Water our resilience, Air our life-energy, & Fire imbues us with the spark of conscious human experience—the sound, the fury, the passionate intensity. In this way, Fire is the first & the last of elements. The fiery joie de vivre incites the process of “spring cleaning,” & the unmitigated expression of Fire is also its result.

Having considered ourselves from the four different perspectives that each of elements represents, we have identified & removed all impediments to our psychosomatic flourishing. With our completion of this spiraling traverse, we may suddenly intimate a further quality, which was there all along only we never noticed it before. This is the fifth element, or quintessence: Space. The negative space to which all lesser elements were positives, Space connects, divides, & contains all of them. We begin to experience the freedom, spaciousness, ease, & possibility that this element represents only when all others are in balance. We feel ourselves as empty vessels for the season to fill until we can finally say “my cup runneth over” with white sunlight & springtime breeze.

A Fable of the Forest’s Fauna: Featuring the Dancing Millipede & Karma Incorporal as the Oliphant, but not Descartes…

A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
Which threw her mind in such a pitch,
She laid bewildered in the ditch
Considering how to run.

—Katherine Craster

In Sherwood Forest there lived a millipede who was the most beautiful dancer. At the gatherings of the forest’s fauna, she was always the center of attraction—her myriad appendages all in step, a picture of exquisite coordination. So graceful was her tarantella that the toad began to envy her.

“I could gobble her up,” he mused, in tantalising toadlike fantasy, “but everyone would notice she were missing.” Then the clever amphibian hatched the meanest mischief that had thitherto transpired under Sherwood’s boughs…

At the festival of Midsummer, the grandest of the year, the pretty millipede danced, sure as day, in all her wonted grace. And sure as the night that follows, the toad stalked her every step. Finally when she paused to enjoy some of the festivities herself, the toad saw his opportunity…

“Madam le millipede–” he addressed her, “I am your toad-alest admirer. Indeed my admiration waxeth such that it becometh unbearable & I cannot help but inquire: when the music achieve its climax, what sequence of steps do you employ? Do you lift first leg number two-hundred and twenty-seven & then volteface back to the contralateral appendage number 666? Or is it with number two-hundred twenty-one that you begin? I eagerly await your kind response…”

The poor millipede, confronted with such a question, found herself confounded. “I don’t know,” she confessed completely to the smiling amphibian. “Let me try—”

But alas, something in the circumstances left her incapacitated. Before, her thousand feet had frolicked, lifted not by her volition, but as if born by the music itself. But when she sought to recreate this magical choreography on demand, she faltered. “I-I can’t an-answer,” she stuttered, & crept away into the sylvan shadows in sheer misery, never to be seen again at any forest festival.

The toad watched her every hesitant step. Pleased with himself by the part he had played in another’s demise, he made the most wicked grin. And he was to be found so grinning right up until the instant he was squished by the Oliphant, who had observed the entire exchange and had dutifully lumbered over to do his duty as Karma’s minion and step on the evil creature. The festival continued afterwards, but all were deeply saddened by the whole affair. They greatly missed the millipede & her graceful gamboling. They even came to miss the toad, but not so much.

What’s the moral of this fable? Whatever it is, the good posture from a Rolfing® session won’t hurt…

Epilogue
In the fable, the Oliphant stepped on the toad & all lived happily ever after. This was the end of this particular storyline. But when the millipede crept away into the gloom, she initiated her own divergent storyline, which we will forthwith pluck up and follow. It was recounted in the fable that the millipede wandered off into the shadows never to be seen again in Sherwood’s glades. This is because she left Sherwood. Greatly troubled by her confounded dancing, the millipede journeyed far & wide in search of something that would allow her to regain her former grace. After many months of hopeless wandering, she stumbled into The Way of the Elbow’s office in downtown Anchorage. Here she discovered Rolfing® SI & after only three sessions was once again the gracefullest jitterbug West of the Mississippi. That’s because through the Rolfing process, we help to differentiate not only the various layers of soft tissue so that each unit can function with autonomy, but also develop differentiation in the various strata of the psyche. We discover harmony when every aspect functions according to its design. Then the thinking brain can think, the emotional brain can feel, and the dancing brain can…

  DANCE

The Serious People

Posture can start to feel like serious business. “I used to know how to stand,” is the sore lament of many a fellow, “…before I started getting Rolfed.”

Such a statement seems to express regress instead of the progress one might expect. Naturally we take this to be a bad thing. But I’m not so sure it is. Perhaps a condition to be psycho-somatical confoundedness is a healthy experience, from time to time. Socrates revealed himself to be the wisest man in Athens when he ackowledged how little he knew.

Socrates
Socrates (Photo credit: Ian W Scott) Socrates: Father of Modern Philosophy & One serious dude. It’s in our heritage…
Where the former claimant to that title had flattered himself with delusions of unfathomable knowledge, Socrates recognised his own intellectual shortcomings & this recognition itself demonstrated a wisdom that the so-called wiseman lacked. In a sort of intellectual judo, Socrates demonstrated his apphrehnsion by apprehending his own ignoracnce. Perhaps a state of postural confusion is analogous to Socrates’ wisdom. I never said I was the wisest man in Athens so I certainly don’t pretend to know, but I could speculate that the Father of Philosphy himself would struggle to describe the myriad physical processes & complex biomechanical orchestration behind lifting his little finger. And chances are that his disciple Plato would run out of ink trying to record such an exhortation.

It appears that confusion can be a perfect boon or a perfect bane to our progress. The benefit of confusion depends, methinks, on the manner that we approach it withal. Provided we sustain a playful mindset around the overwhelming uncertainty, it can become a learning experience. If we approach alignment as a matter of life or death, conversely, that must be fully apprehended on an intellectual level, the body responds as if we were attempting to slay the Nemean Lion. The flood of stress hormones that pours through our veins before this Herculean task is tantamount to watering the seeds of somatic learning with salt & vinegar. Bare-handed grappling with great cats is serious business; a degree of gravitas is therefore fitting (exception made for my reader who happens to belong to the pantheon of Aegean heros & demi-gods). In secure environments, however, seriousness is usually counterproductive; play is the most effective learning tool that evolution has invented.

 

The Father of the Other Modern Philosophy

Triangles, Trapezoids, & the Fanfare of Entropy

There is comfort & beauty in symmetry; the balance of an ordered form. From the yoga of three lines, suddenly emerges the triangle, a portal into an Euclidian infinity. Geometry is a projection of this psychological Platonism.

Triangles,
trapezoids & an hundred other quadrilaterals,
dodecahedrons,
hecatonicosachorons,
dragon curves,
& Mandelbrot sets—

the myriad ministers of Apollo march forth in perfect legions, the latter whose flourishes & fanfares proclaim the plenum of our pleasant dream: the vision of a spherical universe, expanding all around in concentric circles, the uniform brilliance of radial symmetry. It is pornography for our left-brains.

As a counterpart, we find the shapes of nature: the world as it is. Where the former impulse imposes outside Euclidian order on experience, the latter receives organic form. We might conceive of expressive & a receptive poles to our psyches; a yang & a yin, Plato & Aristotle, Apollo & Dionysus personified. When we

experience a cloud,
a tree,
cherry blossoms,
a splash of water,
the lines in marble,
or the grain in wood,

we sense a harmony to it. And yet we could never put this into words. The order is ultimately ineffable. Nature transcends our capacity to translate her marvels into the rude symbols of our alphabet, or hieroglyphs. She teases us out of thought with her delicate complexity. We can only quantify her forms after we have first reduced them to caricatures or mere abstractions from the real thing.

One or the other conception is not wrong. Instead they serve distinct functions. Rather than right & wrong, these two understandings represent left & right. We create trouble, however, when their relationship goes out of balance. If you put all your chips on one side of the bucket, the whole vessel will topple over, spilling your winnings all over the linoleum. We do, however, have a tendency today to over-emphasize left-brain Euclidian understanding at the expense of its counterpart. Nietzsche diagnosed this imbalance in “The Birth of Tragedy” when he pointed to the tyranny of Apollo in our culture. It is our prerogative to delude ourselves; as free individuals, we are free to make such mistakes. In the illusory fog, we drift off into an interminable ocean of numbers. The shore isn’t going anywhere, we are.

The way in which we approach our own bodies often reflects this prejudice towards conceptual relationship with the world, as distinct from a direct one. If we wish to bring right understanding to our lives, we must be willing to suspend this sinister impulse to interminable codification, quantification, ordering. The latter strives to fit the world into its preconception, the former receives the world just as it arises.

We have a certain experience of our bodies. The question is:

do our standards precede this experience, or do they develop as a living response to it?

In the former case, we measure the body against a preconceived ideal. In the latter, we form our understanding from direct experience.

In my practice, I have found that measuring the body against any ideal or preconception often perpetuates the strain we are attempting to remedy. The very act of comparison generates psychological tension as we attempt to reconcile our models with reality; our ideas about the world with the world itself—forcing round pegs into square holes, as it were. Such psychological striving invariably finds expression in the physical structure. It is not necessarily causal; it is rather two expressions of a single event. One might compare it to a streak of lightning & the concomitant clap of thunder: the thunder doesn’t cause the lighting, the lightning doesn’t cause the thunder; they are different yet the same, not one, not two…. Just so with mind & body.

If I measure myself against an Apollonian ideal, I will generate chronic tension in my neck & shoulders. This represents an active approach—a deliberate striving towards a fixed standard. A receptive approach to the experience of our embodiment, conversely, does not agitate the psyche. When we are willing to receive all experience as it arise, nothing is a problem. We don’t, as it were, try to fit the pegs into any holes at all. Where before we lived as mere sleepwalkers,
Stumbling through streets of illusion,
Tripping on conceptual cobblestones,
Drunk on the stuff of dreams,
In this way, we live in the world, as a part of it.

20140404-140036.jpg

The Wedding of Success & Failure…And they Begot Curly-Headed Glories!

When we confront a given challenge, it is not uncommon that we experience some level of anxiety.

If we investigate this experience, we generally find its source to be a fear failure. I would like to provide a different perspective for such cases: 

 The point of practice is to fail. 

 It is precisely through the process of committing & subsequently correcting mistakes that we develop any skill at all. Through repeated recognition of success & failure, we become familiar with the contrast between them, not conceptually, but in a living way. This is the method by which we develop true expertise. If, by sheer fluke of statistics & probability, I happened to succeed in every one of my attempts, as attractive as such an outcome might seem, in truth this would be a pity. I might be called “cursèd” & spat upon withal. Why? Because it would altogether deprive me of the possibility to master the skill in question. Success is born of failure; failure begets success. They are related as the chicken to her egg—and what is a chicken but one egg’s way of becoming another?

Once we have accepted this paradigm of mutual dependence & polarity, our fears dissolve. Our onetime anxiety naturally dissipates with the dissolution of its cause. Ironically, by embracing failure, we ensure success—erstwhile opposites now nuptially conjoined. The alchemical wedding of success with failure is the first taste freedom.

The consummation comes when we allow the perspective of practice to permeate all aspects of our lives.

20140314-145812.jpg

The Gospel According to The Way of the Elbow

“No news is good news.”

This statement articulates the relationship that most of have with our bodies. So long as nothing hurts, then good enough. Whether or not we realise it, most of us experience life like talking heads; “immortal souls” ensconced in little orbs, roving around atop teetering bipedal locomotives. This is sinful. Just kidding. But it certainly represents a terribly limited way to experience the world.

It is somewhat predictable that we should have come to this condition of relative blindness. Indeed the very survival of our organism depends on our brains’ ability to triage the innumerable sensory impulses that present themselves in every instant—to notice that which seems noteworthy & to condemn all the rest into the dustbin of unworthy sensory impressions. This capacity is expedient & essential: imagine if we were to assign no more attention to the stripèd tiger than the intricately hanging orchid behind its ear, or the smell of the rain. If the beast were hungry, we wouldn’t have the chance to make such a mistake again no matter how pleasing the petrichor. And neither would posterity: there are few sensual-ecstatics swimming in our human gene pool. Pool air is obnoxious anyway—it smells like chlorine & sounds like echoes. Rather most of us have learned to filter, triage, to discriminate our experience—winnowing away everything that is not useful & profitable.

Tradition as well as biology biases us against sensual ecstasy. As Westerners, we find ourselves born into a tradition that exalts rational processes as the plenum of human existence; “cogito ergo sum:” the simultaneous enunciation of the birth of he Western man, & his doom to a disembodied wandering through interminable labyrinths of his own intellect. And so, a very small sliver of the brain—this grand presiding ganglion behind our foreheads—becomes the extent of our identities: the neo-cortex, the center of conscious thought.

But we restrict ourselves in the most tragic way when we forget Einstein’s counsel:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

We overlook that rational thought is foremost a problem-solver. Our bellies evolved brains to outwit the vicissitudes of nature. If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So likewise if we identify with his cluster of thinking neurons just behind the forehead, the world becomes an endless weft of problems. And if we can’t find any, the we will just invent them.

So what’s the answer?

First we must be fundamentally clear that that’s the wrong question. This is for the simple reason that seeking an answer presupposes a problem in the first place. It plays into the hands of the devil of intellect in its prejudice towards the old dichotomy of thinking. We perpetuate the attitude we are trying to escape if we attempt to approach the issue in these dusty terms. Einstein perceived this human tendency as well when he cautioned:

We will not solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.

Once we have relinquished the old dualistic framework, all that is left to do is enjoy it.

Only when we have stopped trying to get somewhere else can we even open to what is actually here. Grace is a result & not a method; grace is the canvas itself, not the apocalyptic scenes painted on it.

We must empty our inboxes so we can we receive the good news, like National Geographic, for instance. Or the tickle of the sun on naked skin. “I read quality periodicals in the sunshine therefore I am.”

20140329-154010.jpg

The one with the wings is Descartes.