Friday, April 23, 2010

The Elements

You used to find them with your fingers in the electric blanket. The elements, some adult said, preposterously. You knew what the elements were. They lived in the cup of the periodic table, sloshed up on either side. Hydrogen, Helium, Oxygen, Carbon. They were very important, and if you were very good and learned their names you could hold them in your mind's hand, like plus or minus, times or divide, and pre-empt the physical world, and everyone would admire you, would smile at each other over your head, would be amazed at your precocity. The elements. They were the letters the world was written with. You knew them.

But these, these forbidden lines of warmth, these were something else again. You found them with your fingers. They were in the physical world, in the world itself, and they were nameless.

And later you would find them again. They might run from the nipples to the hollows where shoulder, pec, and collarbone converge. They might run down the inner arm from armpit to elbow crease, and on down to the wrist, where they would multiply and blossom, running every which way in the hands. They might run from the tenderest flesh of the genitals, deep under the inguinal ligament, and surface again where the pevic bones give way to the softness of the belly. Different on everyone. Running fast or slow, loud or quiet, warm or cool, following different courses. And colors might spark and flicker, depending on how your own encountered them.

Something analogous to Heisenberg's uncertainty applied to them, you thought. You eyed the meridian charts of Chinese medicine skeptically: it seemed to you that you could either chart them, or feel where they were, but you couldn't do both.

It's easy to get lost. It's always easy to get lost. In the forest paths seem to appear and then vanish. It's like that. But you can always come back to the hands and the feet and pick up the trail. The trail, or another one: it doesn't matter. And if your heart gets lost, as it does, you just hold still a bit until the anxiety, and the wish to prove something, bubbles up and away. You come back -- like coming back to the breath, in shamatha – you come back to the touch, to your hands on their skin. It's always there. You just forget to attend.

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