I admit it!…I love to get things done. My brain – and my ego – derive enormous satisfaction from finishing tasks and projects, and completing the simple minutiae of daily living. I often find myself tidying up – sometimes obsessively — making sure I cross all t’s and dot all i’s. I’m unduly frustrated by the feeling of incompleteness. Things left unfinished fragment my sense of purpose, leaving me with an itch that never gets scratched to my satisfaction. On a deeper behavioral level, the unfinished leaves me with an incessant yearning, a neurological undercurrent that drives my productivity. Such a demand interferes with my sense of presence. More than merely irritating, the undone primes my nervous system to act. The cap left off the toothpaste tube, the dregs left in the coffee cup, the not-quite-dry laundry – these sharpen my attention and my bodily attitudes.
This is why I practice human origami. It’s a reminder that life is not about endless productivity and accomplished goals. Life is a work-in-progress. Control lies not in the product, but in the process.
Folding can open many truths about the nature of control of human action. Control is fraught with paradox – where frontal lobe decision-making meets up with the uncertainty of life’s conditions. Here’s where human origami becomes my personal guru. Through movement exploration, I discover the endless continuum of folding. A fold never fully arrives, nor finishes. It is a mini example of cyclical patterning. Flexing the body (enfolding) leads into extending (unfolding). But folding and unfolding are not merely reciprocal. Each moment of attention is a transient pause in space-time. No matter how I might to catch hold of a folding pattern, it eludes my grasp. I can never repeat its exact flavor or its frequency.
The fold also teaches us another lesson in control – about letting go of the tyrannical need to nail down a situation. The fold dances on the threshold of the unknown, strangely free of the tensions that are associated with goal-directed movement. Here, control lies in the moment-by-moment experience of movement. You are at once fully immersed in the fold and, at the same time, consciously aware of your role as a witness to your own experience. You can enter into this liminal state by simply pausing and attending to slowly enfolding and unfolding your body. Here, you can feel the pleasure that comes with true presence, when the mind-body is free of goal-dependent anticipation and prediction. You can let your senses lead the movement, rather being directed and driven by goals. The result clearly differentiates ritual, from task.
Embryonic development is one of my favorite movement themes in human origami. The embryo is an agent of uncertainty. At once, it is programed to become a human being. But in the process of growth, the embryo plays the edge between genetic determinism and improvisation. The plan can only become human through encountering multiple forces in the nested environments of its existence. In each moment, the embryo faces the chasm of what next? In this critical phase of life, humans are free of forebrain control, since there’s no functioning nervous system to speak of.
Instead, the embryo encounters the flurry of life-in-the-making within and around it’s developing body: the internal cellular fluids, the forces associated with systems-in-the-making, the buoyancy of the extra-cellular matrix, the mother’s womb, and the mother’s life. Folding is the movement repertoire. These patterns lay in a geographical imprint of structure. At the same time, the fold acts like a palimpsest, written in delible ink – mercurial, erasable, vanishing into the depth of our biological history, forgotten in the flow of daily living.
Human Origami offers an embodied experience that blurs our usual notions of control – a field of play where neither the beginning nor the end of folding are predicted or predictable. The game of life continues free of imposition. Take the cue from Baseball hero Yogi Berra: When asked at what point the game might finish, he quipped: ‘It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’