Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Folklorist: Space Not Place

On some mornings, the dog and I walk to feel ourselves move.

Well, I don’t know about the dog. I suspect it’s true for her. Sometimes she just walks. Doesn’t bother to sniff.

When I walk to walk, as I did this morning, I allow myself to enroll in the pace of the march, to go forward, and in that way to become entranced by the rhythm of walking, like one of those dancers on the desert. He sang until he lost his mind, or found it.

I suppose sometimes I walk to lose my mind. Or find it.

That’s crazy talk, I know. But walking through space, along streets and lanes, country paths, without aim or destination, is a way of relating to place by annihilating place.

It’s Zen. The place of no-place. Walking for movement, for being.

Movement in space without sense of place. Presumably I’m passing through places. But places themselves require attention, demarcation, here not there. Movement without this sort of attention is different.

A teacher once told me that “awareness” was not the same as “perception.”

That lesson confused me. I’d thought the two words synonyms. I thought that I was cultivating awareness, awakeness, by paying attention to my perceptions: what the eyes saw, the ears heard, the nose detected, the soles of my feet felt.

I thought that these perceptions pulled me into the present. But they also managed to draw me into place and away from space.

I’ve pondered what the teacher said for years. I’m still unsure. But I’ve come to think awareness when sitting is analogous to the trance "awareness" I experience during certain forms of walking.

Space itself becomes the focus rather than the places along the way.

“Place,” like “perception,” involves separation, a pulling something apart from the whole, distinguishing this from that.

Zen on the other hand seems to invite simple awareness of undivided being.

Every perception, every place, involves foregrounding and thus backgrounding. These are conceptual activities, a sort of analysis, requiring cognitive steps, priorities, temporal desires, laser focus.

Sitting, or walking oneself into a trance, involves something more global, awareness of all these things at once without preference, without picking and choosing.

These anyway were the musings of an old man on his return with the dog to the coffee pot this morning.

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