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Poseidon, the Lion King, the Holographic Dragon, and Me

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Photo credit: Poseidon hanging out at the Trevi Fountain. Shutterstock

There comes a time in every philosopher’s life when they realize that if they're going to insist on making surfing metaphors, they had better get up on a damned board already.

Also I considered myself the last person in the world ever to consider surfing. That was so not me. So not the sort of thing I would ever be good at. So jockey. I wasn't blonde, I wasn't buff, I wasn't athletic, and I thought it would be hard and scary. In a Zen kind of way. Like snowboarding.

Besides, I owed it to femininity. I still had the misconception that surfing was for boys, and if I had it, that meant there were other women out there who also believed this.

So I went surfing. Little Me, I went.

I had a real merman for a teacher. I recognized him instantly from the statues of him I had seen all over Rome and in the Trevi Fountain. This was Poseidon, the impossible artist’s combination of the commanding grizzled weatheredness of a man of kingly years and the impossible physical perfection of an Olympic athlete in his early twenties. He had Poseidon’s total embodiment and emperor-like self-assurance. He made 61 look amazing, like the most perfect and ideal age any man could ever hope to attain, and perfect for being at the height of one’s powers as the King of the Ocean.

It was a dance lesson. We worked on exactly the same things that I work on in my dance and in my life. Don't rush, don't skip steps, where you look is where you go, pause but don't stall, ride the edge instead of relaxing into floppiness, use your whole foot for stability, when you're not busy just relax altogether, seize the moment, don't overthink, be in the moment. Surf the ride.

Dolphins frolicked nearby. He said they were good luck.

He had been born into an ocean family. Fishermen. One brother taught diving. One brother was a boat captain. Their lives all revolved around the ocean and the tides.

To me this seemed a wise way to live.

“I started surfing on this beach in 1972,” he said. He knew that beach. He knew those waves. He had a deep understanding of the ocean that I envied. To know anything so well, how wonderful that must be. “I’ll die in the water,” he said.

He had been married and raised kids. He used the past tense without rancor. Now he lived near the beach and had all his needs a short walk away. He had loved being a professional athlete, and now he loved doing professionally what had always been a fun hobby. His favourite days to go out were the stormy days when the waves were extra high and extra dangerous, because then fewer people were out. Plus he liked the thrill. “I'm an adrenaline junkie,” he said, with an admirable lack of self-condemnation.

If I surfed a lot, maybe one day I would be one with everything and full of peace and acceptance too. Isn't that why people do it? That and the thrills?

I practiced standing on the board in the water while Poseidon balanced its nose on his board. I didn't know this was a hard thing to do until some other surfer paddled over and told me I had very good balance, that it's really hard to balance on a surfboard that isn't moving, even he could not do it. Then when Poseidon explained, dryly, “she's a dancer,” I felt smug. That's me they're talking about, and they think it's cool that I dance.

There were not many waves and the few that did come were tiny. Many of them died before I could get all the way up on my board. But that meant there were fewer people around to distract me. It was hot, it was sunny, there were dolphins, and in truth I would have paid the price of admission just to hang around with Poseidon and soak up his lifetime of grounded embodied mellow energy. He Just Was, in the way one only can be after one has spent decades frittering around wasting energy. His body had so much ground-in wisdom and understanding and roots, nothing extra...he was a sublime achievement of humanity. Godly, even.

I wondered afresh at how my understanding of human conscience had evolved. And how my values had evolved. This man was no intellectual genius, I could see that much in his eyes. But the wisdom of bodily philosophical practices is so great, and so much smarter than the humans that practice them, that it doesn't matter. If you just show up and do the work, you will gain wisdom, which is more valuable than knowledge. Potentially even more valuable than intelligence.

Are you looking for answers, or are you looking for truth?

---

I spent the next evening with the Lion King. “Welcome to Africa,” he said, in the darkest and richest and most impenetrable accent I had ever heard. He held himself so regally, and so leoninely, there was no question in my mind as to his identity. He was splendid, how he held his head and his body so proudly and so presently, the work of a lifetime of self-inhabitation, not even aware because this was just how things were.

We had a mind-blowing West African dance class, we learned a dance from Mali, and there was a fleet of live drummers. The Lion King had the most eloquent body, it spoke perfect fluent body language, loud and clear. The class passed without words verbally spoken aloud but they would have been superfluous. His body showed me that the movements all came from animals and animus, the spirits that animated the land the dance came from, and I understood that if I had been born in Africa, this was how I would naturally move, this would be how one would go about organizing energy into pattern. I felt that this dance came from a land that was much more energetically aware and connected than this country I live in. There's a reason Google programmers don't have their own folk dance.

This dance was so profound, so much about organizing sacred geometry based on the energies and the spirits of the land, the animals, the fates, the stories, and the human bodies that comprise Africa. It was not my dance, but I liked that--I would never have to be good at African or Haitian dance, and therefore, I could just enjoy them, without ego. And if they kept accidentally teaching me about the deeper truths of existence...so be it!

I learned something I already knew, in the presence of the Lion King. I learned that real dances, like Haitian and African and tango and flamenco and so on, reorganize the energy without as well as the energy within. They move the energy around. They degauss the energy. Reshape it into meaningful and powerful shapes. Cast spells. —He was incredible, how clear he was about molding and forming energy into all kinds of things, explosive light bulbs, tigers, juicy chewy gnawing bones, wind, princes, and all of this, his body said, was what it means to be Man. This is Man. It’s all in there and you must be your wild free self on top of a thousand miles of deep roots, you must be at peace and aware and one with everything, and then you can be as animal and human and amoral and true as you want to be.

He was beautiful. And in his company, understanding all that, we were beautiful too.

---

I took Qi Gong the next morning. Unfortunately the teacher was not a great sage. She was no great master. She was a mere human mess, quite unlike Poseidon and the Lion King. She was an ordinary chaos of a woman without deep powerful roots, a flustered woman who spoke from the roof of her mouth up, a woman with papery disorganized energy, a woman who just moved her arms around in space and thought she was doing Qi Gong. She did not understand that Qi Gong is, literally, energy collecting, even though she told us the words. She talked the talk, but she did not walk the tiger walk. After spending glorious time in the presence of the Lion King, moving and changing and defining energy right and left, being around someone who was just waving their arms was...a letdown.

But again, the wisdom of the practices is so much greater than any one practictioner, she was like a post-it note stuck to the fridge saying “buy milk,” which pointed to the milk itself. She was the finger of the zen priest pointing to the moon. I ignored her and tapped back into the handy lessons of priests who had died hundreds of years ago. The glory of bodily practice is that energy and memory gets stored in the physical cells, so if you contact cellular memory, it can tap into a wider family-of-man stored cellular memory. Even if something doesn't come from your own culture, your own immediate neighbourhood.

So even the most disappointing of teachers can still call up a real master on the holodeck. It is just up to us to listen.

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