Co-Created Movement

The soles of my leather shoes are thin, allowing me to feel the contours of the path with each step. The thick layer of redwood leaves that slowly disintegrates into the rich canyon soil, soften the sounds of all the footsteps being taken around me. A meandering line of people are wending their quiet way along this forest path, each connected to one another, yet simultaneously enclosed in their own imagination-suffused worlds. The path bends to the right, taking a steep dive toward the clear, spring-fed creek. This is the place we cross, leaving the soft path momentarily, to leap from rock to rock, staying precariously above the chill waters below.

Photo by Matthew David Segall
Photo by Matthew David Segall

I watch as the first person in this line of individuals begins to descend. Her arms flail slightly, not reaching for an object to steady her, yet monitoring her balance nonetheless. It seems she is about to fall and a ripple of concern echoes back through the group of waiting walkers, some expressed verbally, others merely in a position of body or facial expression. No, she assures us. She often can look as though she is about to topple off her feet, but this is just how she finds her balance. She apologizes for worrying anyone, and continues to make her wavering descent.

The next person, who is walking directly before me, begins to take careful steps down the winding way, with a greater steadiness in his footfall, but still with arms out to balance his movement. No one is concerned for his safety, however. His is not a gait that inspires uncertainty.

Without thinking I begin to move next along the trail. In a state of reflective curiosity I observe my own movement, fascinated by how the way I move might differ from those ahead of me now stepping or leaping from boulder to boulder over the cold stream. My arms are relaxed by my side, and I feel my footsteps fall evenly forward, one after the other. I find my balance like a line within myself. Why do I not use my arms? What is giving me this sense of stability? I recognize that I know this path, having walked it countless times from childhood into adulthood, and wonder if that history is built into my sense of balance now. My feet, my legs, the whole length of my body knows the placement of this path before my mind has a chance to reflect on it.

What, I ask myself, is movement? One usually thinks of movement as arising from the body of a person or other being who is moving with agency through the world. The uniqueness of movement seems to arise from the body and personality of the individual. Yet in this moment, as I watch myself and others navigate the winding, steep path by the stream, I realize how all movement is really a co-creation. Movement arises not from the individual’s agency but rather in the intermediate place between the individual—with all her history, personality, unconscious material, physical qualities, and so forth—and the dynamic contours of the surrounding world. The movement itself, although I might call it mine, is rather both mine and the world’s as we press into each other with each passing moment.

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