Retreat 2018: Influence & Ear Feet
One evening, near the end of the 2018 Movement Monastery retreat, we did Witnessed Self-witness. It yielded for me what our minds might consider a surrealistic episode, yet for the body this is a normal perceptual way.
The exercise: Witnessed Self-witness. Couples sat cross-legged, facing one another murmuring. One person spoke with eyes closed, tracking sensation in the body and speaking out loud these self-witnessings while the partner listened. In this retreat, we have explored listening, or visually witnessing, in a new way. We moved beyond responsibility for and guardianship of our partner, and opened to being influenced. In the Old French and Old English, the meaning of ‘influence’ was “the flowing in of ethereal fluid affecting human destiny.” More mysterious and less controlled than being receptive, we stopped knowing how to gage and assess and file and anticipate and extrapolate, and opened to the other’s being eddying out and flowing into us. We tried the ‘I don’t know of’ in flowing.
The couples lean toward one another, one whispering confidences, the partner’s spine curved like a bow catching their sounds, a sounding board humming back and humming in, invisible strings plucked by the flow of words from the whisperer’s softening lips. Murmured words rush then pause, waiting for a thought to form around a feeling. The fog of sensation rounds and billows. Utterances step on sensation. Words weave and dart, not quite right, seeking to drift on streams of inner motion like a petal revealing the water’s twists and whorls.
I sit on the platform at one end. In my dim vision through half-closed eyes, the couples are stone humps in an endless twilight. My feet rest on the floor, on a rug, both foot soles wide open to the wooly nap, the left perpendicularly under the knee, the right foot a few inches father back toward me with that ankle bent at a sharp angle. Air eases out of my parting lips carrying a phrase of shapeless words I have not thought, a phrase so distant it seems to have only grazed my throat and tongue as it passed across on an in-breath. A phrase not made by my mind but from somewhere in the room, like an aroma or flavor one tastes then breathes out. I close my eyes…
I notice the spaces under my arches and the tiny arcs under my toes like little caves where a small iridescent green beetle, like the one I discovered in the forest the day before, might sequester. The two inches in different placement makes the feet into two different worlds. I slide the right foot two inches forward to rest evenly with the left, and in a whoosh, my entire body wakes as if opening a dam. Planted, enormous, eternal, solid. An ancient sphinx. And my ears flare. The two wide shells flanking my skull detach a replica of themselves, as if sending a representative to journey out from their fixed station on my head to a new world. They float down and lay along my foot soles. The earlobe, the lobule, lands in my heel; the rubbery outer curve, the helix, along the meaty outer curve of my foot; and the top of the ear curve, the scaphoid fossa, fits neatly beneath the metatarsal. My arches sequester my ear’s inward spiraling trumpet of concha, acoustic meatus, tragus, and intertragic notch. The ears in my feet. With my foot ears, my ear feet, I hear the ground, the deep rocks, the deep time, the beginning.
I remember the day before. I stood on the rim gazing at rocks scarred with fossils. In the Jurassic period, this land to which I possess a deed which means not only the bounded perimeter but the time’s backward reach before courthouses and documents, to that warm, soft, mushy ocean of shellfish and aquatic plants and phytoplankton. I knelt down, ran fingers into an indentation that had been a small oyster, a striated ammonite shell, a leaf, a reedy stalk grooved into limestone. Standing on rigid remnants, I wanted to simultaneously feel the obdurate desert and the primordial murk. I wanted to know slow monolithic time. I wanted the calm terror of human inconsequence. I wanted, wanted, wanted, but could not find.
And now my feet listen to deep time. I stop speaking. I breathe. The murmuring in the room peters out.
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