I suspect that one of the primary reasons I so adore the arts of asana and dance is that I find it extremely difficult, on some days bordering on impossible, to live within the confines of the body. On many days, I’d just rather…. not. Whether or not this is a desire for oblivion or a wish for an idealized, simple and purely cerebral existence doesn’t really matter, and might actually be akin to the same thing. The one constant that remains, the vivid thread I can find woven throughout the entirety of my life, from youngest girlhood to the present day, is a fixation, no, an obsession, with skeletal thinness. If I must be embodied, let the quality of that body be one of an etiolated, ethereal phantom, more wave than particle.
I have in my mind right now the image of a painting by Egon Schiele. A self portrait, he has depicted himself from a side angle, with an arm thrown over his furious looking face. His face is demon-dark, his eyes white, hollow. His elbow joint is larger than his shoulder and his ribs jut forward so as form a cliff over the rest of his torso. Most viewers would call it arresting, alarming, interesting, not beautiful. It is an image of rage and isolation, of both eroticism and emptiness. It is, I think, an accurate visual description of conflict: the raised eyebrow beckons the viewer, or engages him; the emaciated body tells the story of corporeal life rejected.
How easily I recognize this conflict, as, of course do many millions of women and men. What does one do with this body, this vessel that creates and receives such ecstasies, all the while containing within itself the timed and concealed ingredients for its own destruction? What does one do with this body that, besides pleasure, also presents a three dimensional roadmap of pains current and remembered, not to mention an always problematic tableau laid out for the gaze and judgment (or worse) of Others?
Thinness as efficiency, as one sees in the grand allegro jumps of a lithe dancer. Thinness as beauty, as one sees… everywhere, but let’s use the photos Irving Penn took of his gazelle-wife Lisa Fonssagrives as an example. Thinness as health, as pathology, as longevity, as youth. But to me, thinness is ambivalence. I’m here, but not here. Perhaps I won’t be for long. Thinness is the borderland between Life (plump babies, sex, joy, community, bright eyed engagement with existence) and death (finally, a rest from it all). The borderlands are the easiest places for me, although my sweet husband just calls it neurosis.
In this borderland, while wondering what to do with an unreliable body that contains within it a constantly moving mind, we find for it things to do, situations to deal with, patterns to create, destroy, create again, purities and impurities to name, get rid of. Place the body here, in this position. We’ll call it padmasana (lotus). Or here, turn the body like this, multiple times. This we’ll call a pirouette.
Done well enough, these positions and placements and contortions might solve the riddle of embodiment, or at least soften that ambivalence into gentle acceptance. Here, we’ll call that enlightenment, or a step toward it.
October 15, 2014