We breath. We step. We touch. Ponder these activities. Each is essential to vitality and defines who we are. Breath maintains body function. Steps move us through time and space. We cross thresholds in reach of Other through touch.
Do we breathe within an isolated body separate from other bodies? The very process of breathing reveals us as porous. Air surrounds us. As we inhale, the outside (air, not us) becomes inside (breath, us). Exhaling continues the process. Then there’s the moment in between, the moment of possibility, when the inhale and exhale reach crescendo.
Here is pause or impasse, a tipping point, the body choosing to live or expire. In yoga and other somatic practices, awareness of and prolonging this pause impacts the body and can profoundly shift perception.
With stepping, how influential are our shoes, the lay of the land, gravity, our bones and musculature? Steps may have nothing to do with feet upon earth, but point out instead a sequence of actions, for instance, me deciding, then writing these words.
With touch, my skin reaches the object of my attention, but this object is not static. Visibly or invisibly, it, like myself, is changing. The quality of our touching, the meeting, alters us both.
These three words, “breath,” “step,” and “touch,” taken from the back cover of Somatic Engagement (edited by Petra Kuppers), contribute to the journal’s description as “an exploration of how relations and support play out in breath, steps, and touch” (italics mine). These three words lead to questions of embodiment. What is your experience of yourself, your body, not “the body” as Kuppers writes in her introduction, but as a specific body? Rather than noticing commonalities between bodies, look for the differences, the nuances, the particulars that define you as you.
In reading the diverse essays in this collection, I find myself caught between dualities like us and them, my body and your body, this land and your land, disease and health, blindness and sight. Language works this way. Assign a word to any experience or idea, and diction pushes away other seemingly unrelated words. In Zen nomenclature, it would be described as “this, not that.”
Amy Sara Carroll writes about the peril of border crossing from Mexico into the southwestern desert and the Transborder Immigration Tool, a GPS phone that contains poetry doubling as vital information about water and food. Georgina Kleege, who writes about the paintings of Katherine Sherwood, raises the question of how we experience and claim to know a painting. Many of us stand several inches away and look, however, Kleege, who is blind, runs her hand over the contours of the canvas, knowing coming through her hands’ encounter with paint. Devora Neumark’s essay about washing her hands in Lebanese olive oil as an Israeli protest and Eleni Stecopoulos’ piece on healing and myth show how our every action is political. We learn this truth when we pursue a path or express ourselves in a way that is atypical and goes against mainstream thought and are met with questions or resistance.
These and other essays in the collection look at engaging with breath, steps, and reach as aesthetic and political events. They raise questions about beliefs and practices for which we knowingly or unknowingly have subscribed. Every thought and action brings about change, yet what is possible when we investigate them? I’d like to think that with added attention, a negotiation at the boundaries of skin and thought, the impossible becomes possible.