All the world's a stage.
I am standing on the rocky shore of the Pacific. Behind me, a shallow cave, surrounded by steep canyon walls and barnacle-covered rocks. When the tide comes in, the access route to the cave closes, teeming with waves. I have not looked at the tide calendar. All the more urgent that I do what I came here to do, and soon: find out if “All the world’s a stage.”
Why here? Because of my need for space. For breath and width. For scope. I wanted to leave the little rooms of darkened theaters despite the great reckonings that may be happening there because, for some time now, I wanted to leave any confined space, finding my world tiny, overwrought, enclosed in a bleeping gadget such as an I-Phone or a computer screen, the space around it shrinking to the size of my own obsession with clicks. These days, in everyday speech at least, when we say “the world” we often mean a prison of sorts, a tight enclosure, a hermetic social conglomerate that is secular, materialistic, ridden with conflict, turbulent, on the verge—a cluster of personal, socio-political and economic variables about which we fret, born into the existential condition of care and governed by time with its pressures.
However, even within this intense involvement with the world as a collection of complicated things permeated by time, something else opens to us when we say "world." By the ocean, the world reveals its inner, secret dimension of space. And that is why I'm here. To soak in the vastness. The vastness which, despite the contemporary ethos of rush, speed an care, is still our domain.
Despite its limited perceptual field locked in technological gadgets - screens and the like - the world of the 21st century has expanded in other significant ways. The territories of the non-human have grown dramatically due to the relatively recent and groundbreaking developments in science and mathematics. Our non-human sphere includes now not only the raging winds and ominous celestial bodies like it did in centuries past, but also the enigmatic particles of the subatomic realm, which are so unpredictable as to appear almost human, not to mention the ever-expanding galaxies, the supernovas and the dark matter, all threatening to unseat the hegemony of a narrowly defined horizon, regularly assaulting the rational mind. These vertiginous phenomena do constitute our world whether we think of them daily or not, manifesting in popular culture as fantasies of humanity’s evolutionary expansion or as hyper-vigilant, apocalyptic anxieties and visions of cosmic doom.
Finally, when we do think about it, despite being locked into a "small room" of much of our contemporary theater, the stage itself is all-encompassing. It welcomes—and thrives on—vastness. From Sanskrit and Greek dramas to contemporary performance art, it embraces celestial and archetypal realms. Even during the period of 19th century realism it managed to attract the otherworldly into the confines of the little rooms, scattering seagull feathers in gardens and vine leaves in living quarters illuminated by the sacrificial flames of the fireplace. As a comprehensive—but open-ended—phenomenon, the stage itself calls for that which is not only narrowly human but also non-human and cosmic.
So here, at the shore of the Pacific, I remember that the world is mysterious, complex, vast, and that it may be a stage. And so I begin. Feeling the winds moving the waters into ever-changing configurations of shape and motion, I focus on the experience of the wind, its sensation on my skin. Here, at the ocean’s shore, the world ‘worlds’ in its most elemental, direct way. And so I ask: are you the stage, the earth upon which I stand? If so, how do you summon vastness? I close my eyes, trying to feel my way through the surface of the rock, down to its core. Granite. Hard. Not much coming back. I open my eyes again. The flowing mist speeds up, and, like an unfurling banner, brushes across my face. A solitary pelican emerges from behind the craggy peaks, swooping across the horizon. I follow its flight, listening to the heavy wings swooshing in the air. I turn to the left as it passes me by. And then I realize that that is what it means to follow a bird. It means to move while it moves, to incline, to sway, me and the bird, together. The mist speeds up its advance, flowing towards the pelican from the opposite direction, forming, where I stand, a momentary crosscurrent with the bird’s flight. I flow into that. One arm leans into the misty current and turns my body to the right; the other still traces the bird—which by now started to buoy itself up towards the rocky spires—and moves to the left. I expand into that cross-movement. Although the mist subsides soon after, scattered by the gusts of air, the movement continues. One arm circles above the head, the other dives beneath, their gestures opposing, continuous in the shifting currents of the wind.
And then I remember. Or rather, my body does. Or they remember me, perhaps. The Five Dakinis. I learned this crisscrossing movement of the arms during rehearsals for Kalachakra puja at the local Buddhist center, training to take part in the dance of the elemental female deities representing earth, water, fire, air and space—and five aspects of enlightened wisdom. Their dance was all about the arms, their cross-motion, not unlike that of the wafting mist and the pelican’s flight, both arms undulating in the opposite direction from one another. It took me hours to master it. But now I am finding it again, or it is waking itself up in my body. The right arm dives more sharply under the left arm’s more rounded undulation. I seem to be following the Dakinis, swept and swayed by the wind in the open mouth of the cave. Am I dancing a recent memory of a rehearsal or has my body tapped directly into the expressive potential of the elements themselves? I think more the latter, for isn’t that how the Tibetans themselves came up with these movements, exposed as they were to the interplay of elemental forces atop the high Himalayan plateaus? This movement originated in close proximity to the overwhelming void of the space shooting up from the mountains and gathering under the wings of condors. But I don’t need to determine any of this right now. Only the movement matters for it is fun, engrossing. In one way or another, I am present and alive in the in-between spaces of dramatic elemental encounters. I lift up and join the flow of what feels like a primordial experience, unfolding within nature-as-play.
The wind shifts. A dragonfly passes by, struggling with the turbulent air; a slick head of a seal emerges from the waters and disappears, lapped back down by the waves. I move with each creature in turn, but not, I realize, in an imitation of their movement but in its improvisatory continuation. I do not mimic. I simply take what’s given and move within it. Unlike the actors who strive to identify with their roles, I cannot say that I am, or would even want to be, the pelican’s flight, the seal’s dive, the dragonfly’s flutter. Much too interesting to be in this hybrid place of the human and elemental in-between, as an unfolding of energy, of motion. And it is where I am, after all, standing on the shore and moving with the wind as myself, whatever or whoever that is, my orange parka opening and closing with the gusts of wind. I am located in the participatory world as the indeterminate substratum of its elemental and animal movements and transformations. I am their becoming - but not being - human, if being means accomplishment and stasis. They are my becoming - but never being - bird, seal, ocean.
Again, something else happens, like that time in an empty auditorium: performance wakes. Moving with the wind, I feel prompted to give the next moment a twist, as if to say: “here, watch that!” to the sky and the waves. And so I turn, bend and twirl. I hop and skip. I make faces at the wind. Who is doing all that? There is someone here that is doing that. Here, at the shore of the Pacific, facing the the ocean, I am the earth-becoming-me, for this is where I sand, on the floor of the world, inclining towards turbulent waters. And that is why I want to move, to become her, the earth, for it is she who moves in me, who turns and jumps and twirls in me.
I stand on the rocky shore as if on the primordial stage facing the misty sky and tumultuous ocean, performing the earth’s desire for movement and expression. My arms reach out and play, creating half geometric and half zoetic shapes frolicking with seagulls, casting faint shadows onto the vaporous mists. I move, dancing myself out of the slow spirals of geological time, the dead limbs of ancient dancers and deities intertwined in mine. In that moment of the return of that dance I am freed from the singularity of my being, involved in the dramatic event staged - or so it feels - by the earth herself. My feet, sinking into sand and pebbles, create a cleft that appears like a birth canal out of which the body lifts itself up as I move through the earth’s desire to proliferate as one, two and ten thousand things, unfurling themselves into a curve of my arm, flying into the undulating wrist and twirling fingers, which can reach for a top hat and a cane, a veil and a mask, if I so desire and if it pleases you.
Aleksandra Wolska authored the articles in this blog. And to that, she says, "Meow."