Friday, February 22, 2013
The gestural nature of Being
Yet this impulse of literalization denies an essential fact of Being: all Being is ultimately gestural. That is, Being consists of an indication, a direction, a movement of subtle form that is constantly changing.
In this way, words are also gestural. A phrase indicates a potential path; it is like the movement of one's hand, gently turning itself over, opening, for example, to a different kind of influence. Or holding fingers together to indicate a certain precision of intimacy and attention. In this way, phrases may allude to things not said, words not spoken; and those unspoken qualities may in fact consist of the essence of the communication... not the words which were conveyed on the surface.
Nuance, gesture, inflection: within this apparent somethingness, we so often point to otherness.
Each arising of expression is gestural; words are gestural, dance is gestural, images are gestural. Each one is not static, but exists within our encounter with it — and each one provides an indication. Oddly, in other words, no thing is the thing itself, but rather an indication of its relationship to other things: or, perhaps even more specifically, a gentle indication of the place from which things arise, a different realm.
In this way, as we move through life, literalism — the assigning of things unto themselves — becomes a form of meaninglessness, a way of stripping context from objects and treating them as independent entities. Lacking the gesture — the indication of the otherness, the movement in the direction of relationship — the object is dead. It doesn't matter whether the object is a word, or the movement of feet in the air across a dance floor, or pigment carefully applied to a canvas. If we assign it unto itself, if we give it a static validity, it loses its innate ability to create relationship. Actually, all of the meaning in any object rests within its relationship; not in the inherent nature of what it is. For example, a gemstone is just a piece of rock to a squirrel, and, according to the squirrel's priorities, utterly useless and uninteresting. It is only in its relationship to man and his ideas that it discovers a quite different value.
To take the analogy further, in the dark, a cabochon and a river pebble of equal size are the same to the hand that holds them. Only a relationship with light reveals a difference.
Perhaps this failure to understand the gestural nature of Being is what causes me to overlook my relationship with others. I am asleep — unaware — and I don't realize that each action that I take is not just an action unto itself, but a gesture, an indicator, a direction. In fact, when I think about this right now, I see how ubiquitously true that is; and I see how unaware I am of that, most of the time.
I am forever, like Lena Dunham's Hannah, missing cues and hence fumbling my life and my relationships. She makes it funny; but she also brings us, in an immediately human way, the deep pathos that each of us confronts within this action of life.
This gestural character of Being is fascinating, because it relates strongly to poetry, the most gestural of the written arts, and the one most closely associated with revealing an inner state. Apparently, we have an instinctive sense of this idea of Being as gesture, even though 99% of our relationship to it is subliminal. Certainly, authors have investigated this question; yet the awareness of the gestural nature of both Being and reality itself remains, within the actual range of immediate experience, theoretical.
The idea of a new kind of attention in the body is related to this question of Being and gesture. Gurdjieff's interest in movements, and in posture, related specifically to this larger question of Being and its action as an indicator, not a state. Being itself is constantly in movement — so if there is a reality of Being within the range of my experience, it is a gestural reality, one composed of an endless series of allusions and relationships, a fluid substance. Perhaps this is why Jeanne de Salzmann constantly refers to it as a kind of freedom.
The mudras of Hinduism and Buddhism appear to be a dictionary of meaning, with each one assigned a specific identity, but perhaps their greatest value lies in their power of suggestion — not their power of definition. And, indeed, in yoga, they are used in conjunction with breathing exercises in pranayama as gestural entities, fluid movements intended to help participate in the flow of inner energy.
Literalism has no room for this kind of understanding. It wants the insects pinned down on a sheet of cardboard so that they can be carefully inspected, not living and in movement from leaf to flower.
The question of what kind of minds produce, and are attached, to literalism is an open question. I think all of us have parts that function in this way. The question is whether we see our relationship with them, or whether they run the show.
May your soul be filled with light.