ON CARPETS AS FLOATING ISLANDS
May the road rise to meet you, and the wind always be at your back – traditional Irish blessing
I am a floor-based person. Maybe it comes from the East; maybe it comes from living alone for years; maybe some people are just built to sprawl. I love to live on the floor. I love to do everything on a clean floor – painting, working, eating, tea-drinking, playing, sitting, reading, meditating, exercising, napping, dreaming. It is when I am at my most relaxed. I can melt into the floor, wallow in it; it is one of the safest places. One cannot fall from the floor.
Beanbags help with comfort for my back when needed; I am cross-legged with a woven band around my knees to ensure my back stays upright with correct posture in my favourite photo. A meditation cushion sometimes helps ease my lotus position into classic Buddha pose for quiet reflective times. As a child, given a choice and a chair, I would gradually recede and succumb to gravity – I always ended up on the floor. Slumping and sliding until I finally folded over and curled up to concentrate on whatever I was doing. I am happiest and at my most comfortable when I’m sitting on the floor cross-legged.
Being grounded keeps you connected to the earth; yogis and monks both practise on the floor. If you feel lost, hold your ear to the ground and feel the earth’s ancient heart beating. Traditional societies lived on the floor. Architect Witold Rybczynski divides humans into those that are chair-based, and those that are floor-based. Anthropologists remind us that it’s most natural to sit on the floor, and it is seemingly unrelated to climate and culture – you find a mix of both floor and chair people across the globe. Miniature painters work on the floor. Being of either persuasion influences your whole life – how you dress (loose clothes for ease of slinking down), what shoes you wear (slippers vs lace-up boots), whether you take them off when you enter your house, the height of your shelves, the rest of your furniture (if necessary at all)… I dream of Mediterranean marble, or underfloor heating in England. I compensate with a beautiful carpet.
A carpet is like a little island – a whole world encapsulated symbolically in the pattern and physically within the borders. But carpets are not always on the ground – they are portable floors that can be rolled up and removed to wherever they are needed. They can even lift off and fly. And then they become floating islands…
I imagine that the boundaries of my carpet are the edges of my little island. There I am, firmly in the centre of my world, calm and in control with everything I need to hand. It’s all I need, my little piece of the world. My space has a shape and a frame. The 360 degree vision all around me is echoed by the pattern of the carpet, repeating outwards from the centre until it reaches its borders. Whatever doesn’t fit on my carpet, I sometimes imagine, isn’t necessary.
So my rug of choice is a flying carpet, floating serenely through the sky while I sit cross-legged, bum firmly planted in the middle. The cross-legged position, based as it is on a triangle, is a very grounded, stable position. 3 is the geometric minimum number for 3-dimensional stability like a tripod, since 2 collapses. It is a position that, if done correctly, can be upheld for hours on end with only minimal shifting; there is a reason that it is the basis for the classic meditation posture. The following structure is also triangular in form and is always true; everyone on earth shares this same basic design (siblings are a bonus):
The Russian word for family is семья – семь-я. 7 x ‘me’. Here is a basic diagram:
дедушка – бабушка дедушка – бабушка
отец – мать
Grandmother – Grandfather Grandmother – Grandfather
Father – Mother
These are your roots. Visually your roots are triangular and stable in form. Your background is distilled to a fine point, the tip of the triangle – you. The future may be behind you, as it is for the Maoris, always mindful of their forefathers. The future may also be ahead. Both are correct. Inverted, your family tree becomes a pyramid – or a mountain. At the top of the triangle-mountain, you can fly. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a pyramid, starting with the physiological, moving through safety, love and belonging and esteem and peaking in self-actualization – the flight of the soul.
One needs to plumb the depths of one’s roots before one can soar. To be secure. To feel the ground under your feet as a springboard from which to fly. Then the world becomes yours. Take your roots with you. Floating islands always have dangling roots – they are memories of places left behind, ready to be planted again wherever the wind takes them. Pandora’s floating islands in the film Avatar are as realistic and plausible as a moviemaker could design and the attention to detail is minute – I always watch out for the trailing roots. Roots absolutely uprooted, all the better to be immersed in new soil.
I have moved across cities, moved across continents. Moving has eroded my island – and therefore shaped my life. A rock, subject to the elements. A lump of clay, handled. They have indeed lost part of their material selves – but they are also refined. They have been formed. They are defined by what has been taken away. I sometimes get the feeling that one must be light: lightweight; spiritually light; made of light; not eating meat; not consuming too much and ready when the wind changes direction. Roll up your carpet and move on to the next pasture. Bring only your stories. Tell only your tales. I don’t believe you must lose your roots if you move. Be like a floating island, and take them with you ~