Thursday, December 31, 2009
Two Late Feet
Drawn to the banks of the river of truth…observation can tell only so much…to watch the rapids, to find the pools of stillness….. one must jump in and merge with it and become it to truly know it. I want to write about feet, and history… not necessarily the history of feet, but exploring how symbolically one stands in ‘reality.’
First these terms, as I understand them:
Reality…this seamless shared perception experienced and interpreted by the sense organs and the brain, which is an ever-flowing trinity (ripening arising, fresh now, rotting passing).
History…subjective record of rotten now moments.
Feet…our rivers of action and stability/stillness.
So then, most of us are victimized by our perception of reality, and the limitations we unknowingly place on ourselves, which have been handed down quite naturally over time. Mimicking and shadowing those who have happened to come before. This is a faultless non-conspiracy view of what is. Of course its easy to suggest that there are powers that be that want to suppress natural intelligence, but in this story one imagines themselves as the victim, a dualistic role which defeats the purpose of higher intelligence whose goal is unity (awareness of self as Self and the subsequent natural merger which takes place).
There is a comfort one falls into through a life time of patterns reinforced and therefore expected, and when the pattern breaks one goes through a mini crisis, needing to mend their reality into an understandable shape (like trying to turn a Jackson Pollok into a Mondrian). But this Mondrian-esque life of knowns becomes a labyrinth of yeses and nos. Operating with a limited interface system closes one of to the dynamism of what is. Maybe it is too radical and too uncomfortable for people to completely throw out their concept or view of what life is. After all, they are happy (or are they?) to continue with their 90degree lifestyle. And maybe that’s fine. In fact, it’s perfect.
I often try to interpret my understanding of philosophical concepts as visual forms. For instance, I wrote a short story about how each one of us is like a thread woven in a giant quilt through time and space. Our actions and personalities can be imagined as a particular ‘design’ and ‘color.’ So let’s say the creator of the quilt would enjoy a portion with red roses against a black background. The few roses would be dependant on the mass of black threads that they need to define their edges and give them support to exist.
So this quilt of life, like a river treadmill, forever being created from our actions and inactions, appears underfoot out of no where, and then disappears behind us into ‘history.’ Logic would suggest that if one examines the pattern of the past, one should be able to predict the coming pattern. Lets say there is a pattern of: fire rows of red roses, one row of yellow roses, a fire truck, 40 days of rain, and 333 humming birds, then when the next row of five roses appears, one could assume the yellow rose/fire truck/rain/bird scenario would follow. But here’s where I believe we get the whole learning from history wrong: maybe where I’m standing on the river/quilt of unfolding time and space it looks like a fire truck to me, but my neighbor sees a roller-skate, and someone down the block knows for sure it’s a t-bone steak in a doggie bag. Through time these subjective interpretations of truth are passed down as history. Edited, revised, disseminated, taught, and called fact.
This collective history is some sort of conceptual framework that creates the illusion of structure. Us, them, that, there, here, etc. Of course it can be comforting if one identifies with the ‘victorious’ and ‘advanced’ heroes of history, and it can be oppressive and unsettling if one identifies with the marginalized (of course the trick is to liberate yourself through non-identification). So should history be scrapped, especially since we can’t seem to learn from it anyway (Holocaust/Rwanda)? Perhaps it’s a rash idea because it suggests we would loose so much knowledge as well, so only on a personal level should one experiment with moving beyond the trappings of history (personal and otherwise).
Since I have returned from India 1 month ago I can help but notice the love affair Americans are having with their hand held portals to the virtual WWWorld, the Jungian collective consciousness, the tower of babble, connecting us all, from home made porn to Iranian street demonstrations caught on mobile phones. What is to become of history as we conceive it? Will a clean objective narrative still be created and attempted to be passed on, or is it just too over whelming at this point? Too many voices?
Jean Cocteau once prophetically said filmmaking would only become an art form when the tools are as inexpensive as pencil and paper. Perhaps the same can be said about history. While major corporate networks subservient to corporate advertisers still have the largest broadcast scope, the web becomes the medium of the next millennium, but in the process creates a navel gazing culture, where all feel more comfortable looking into their palm portal instead of the mystery of a stranger’s eyes. What this means for culture is a question whose answer we all get to live and help form.
This brings me to the subject I really want to talk about, the phrase found in businesses all over the country “No shoes, No shirt, No service.” I noticed in my most recent art exhibition at Gallery Mary Smith & Friends that I had grouped a bunch of paintings and drawings together because they all suggested feet in some literal or abstract form. This work was created during my year in India where not only did I see a lot of bare feet, read about the foot in yogic texts, made sure I didn’t point my feet directly at anyone which is a sign of disrespect, but I also enjoyed feeling the earth under my own feet. Raymond Duncan (brother of modern dance inventor Isadora Duncan) once said something to the effect of: intelligence begins with the foot. Reflexologists can tell you that the many nerve endings on the sole correspond to internal organs, and a palm reader I met was convinced that by doing a series of exercises he showed me (which stimulated the foot’s nerves) one could grow new lines on your palm, which reflect growth in your brain as well. There are also many sculptures of feet in relief at Hindu shrines which represent the feet of god one is supposed to bow down and humble him/herself before. Feet also come up in Buddhist texts as a place to look for symbols that identify reincarnated lamas. And then there is dance, of which I am happy to surrender to and allow my feet to take over for a change. As I found a richness of foot culture in the East, I couldn’t help remember a phrase branded in my sub-consciousness: “No shoes, No shirt, No service.”
Now I don’t know the history of this concept, but at first glance is seems to be based on two ideas: cleanliness and economic elitism. What it creates in its wake is a sort of shame or judgment about being shoe-less. It’s not hard to see how obsessed shoe/boot/sneaker as accessory our western culture has become. The shoe is no longer just for function, now it’s almost exclusively about form. It’s become a symbol of individuality and economic success. No judgment, but lets take a broad look at some of the results of an anti bare foot culture. My first impulse is to talk about litter, and imagine that if we were all bare footed people would be more conscious and aware about disposing of garbage (broken bottles for instance), but just having returned from India, despite the bare feet, it would seem people do not consider this when they choose to litter, as many glass shards and other dangerous garbage could unfortunately be found just about everywhere. But, as a barefooted walker I was forced to become more aware of each step I took, so I didn’t mindlessly walk into glass or cow patties. This slowing down is a meditative technique as well, which brings your awareness out of the whirlpools of the past and the hot tubs of the future. So, litter aside, lets look at our relation to nature here in America. Could this sign, which is found at most gas station convenience shops and fast food restaurants, have created an environment where grass and woods have been replaced by concrete and pavement?
Ever unfolding nature will eventually reclaim the lost land, Which can already be observed as weeds break out of deserted strip mall parking lots like a 5’o-clock shadow. But, can we reclaim our personal nature? I feel the foot is a good place to start. In this constant race from experience to experience, the image that manifested itself to me which demonstrate the alternative, was that of a young sadhu (renunciate/ascetic) in Omkareshwar doing morning yoga standing for long periods balancing on one foot. Yes, the world and experiences will be eternally spinning from unripe to rotten, but if we can find our inner flamingo, and plant ourselves to the earth and breathe then we begin the shift back to our inner nature that has been buried beneath the distractions of this modern world. As our physical foot becomes rooted and more sensitive, the mind falls into place, and we can root our mind in the subtle fields of ‘what is’. Here is where the desired union can begin to first hold hands and go to the movies together. As the practice develops one begins to see the joy in surrender, and how energy had formerly been exerted in chasing fantasies. With nothing to achieve, or desire for success, there is an overwhelming feeling of contentment as you have found your way back to your natural path. Now if this path is to find a cure for cancer, invent the light bulb, or compose music then the energy put into these tasks is coming from the pure source of universal wisdom. Good luck!
Oliver Halsman Rosenberg
Dec 30, 2009