Athanasius Kircher's 17th century treatise unlocking the mystery of hieroglyphics. He was totally wrong, but maybe in his misinterpretation he felt a fantastical lightness of being.
The signalman drives his machine fast, heels well back, elbows bent, wrists relaxed, midriff against the tank. Perhaps the early sunlight gives an edge to his vision which encourages speed. Yet as I picture him, I see that just as it's in the nature of rivers to arrive at the sea, it's in the nature of men to dream of speed. Speed is one of the first attributes they accredited to the gods. And here in the sunlit morning before the heavy traffic has begun, beside the great river, Jean Ferrero is driving like a god. The slightest shift of his gaze or touch of his fingers or movement of a shoulder is effortlessly, without any human delay, transmitted into effect. ~John Berger, To the Wedding (53).
I love the description of effortless flowing speed and feel satisfaction as I read it. It is one of my very favorite ways to feel, the speed of being; speed in balance. The love of speed, or rather unimpeded flow, is in my nature, as it is in Jean Ferrero's and all humans'. But then I think of a list--a revolving door of irritating uncertainties that I would like to resolve so I can get on with that speed again. But I know I cannot both wish to hurry up and feel dreamy speed at once; they are mutually exclusive. Grasping at rapid resolution I envision myself on a platform staring hard down a dingy NYC subway tunnel for a train that has been held up indefinitely. Flowing speed glitters, and the glittering satiates. How to choose to glitter once and for all and ignore the uncertainty?
I did ride a motorcycle once in my life. I held my breath and thought about my dad who warned me to never, ever get on a motorcycle--and then I thought just this once. It was 26 years ago--because I was 19 years old in the hills outside Florence. It was evening and the sky was peach and plum after a rain and my friend from Argentina offered me a ride straight to my doorstep in the center of town on his beautiful BMW bike. The ride was a sustained flash of dark, wet color. Exquisite. The next time I was offered a motorbike ride was several years on when someone invited me to a concert outside Rome, but I would have had to ride with him on his motorbike going and coming. No thank you, I said thinking a concert definitely didn't merit the risk-- because I had time to think.
I love watching skillful people use instruments with mastery. I love feeling skillful with an instrument, when a tooth brush or my favorite cooking instrument becomes an extension of my hand. Or when I whip up a cleanser just so.
I love watching how people who draw well hold a pencil. I used to marvel at kids tapping out messages on their cell phones in the early 2000s. I like watching my friend Karina and my old friend Rose handle their fork and knife with subtle, nonchalant precision, their postures perfect. I don't think either one of them ever cared about how others perceived them at the table--if they had, it might have ruined the effect. Karina has her mother's skillful hands and Rose loved her food and accepted each meal as an event.
As I feel my body to be an instrument, I have been thinking about those health related habits I cultivate that support flow and feel beneficial, and those that veer into the direction of too much control, rigidity, and wind up breaking the balance--as if someone is watching my table manners. Sometimes I think, maybe I am on the wrong track; what worked for another body is not always going to work for mine. So I wonder: how do I maintain an energetic lightness so as not to sacrifice too much for the sake of a perceived health improvement, creating problems where there are none, focusing on something that didn't need monitoring. This energetic balance accepts uncertainty and is the speed of Berger's signalman that doesn't tip into obsession, brute force. He floats even as he shoulders an unspeakable tragedy and yet he doesn't falter; the way he drives breathes a life line into the novel.
I think of another story that my husband reminds me of from time to time--the tale of Richard I and Saladin. Richard I attempts to impress Saladin with his sword by hacking an iron rod in half. In response Saladin removes a piece of silk from his turban, turns the blade of his scimitar upward and drops the piece silk on it so that it softly splits into two.
What if, somewhere in all the routines and all the decisions to improve, I start with the premise that all is actually fine, more or less. And what if I first decided to feel like the piece of silk as it becomes two or like the precision and confidence of Saladin's scimitar as it needs do nothing at all.