September 28, 2010

Plug in your fetish, get a spiritual a-ha!

You know those big bronze statues of Shiva where amid a halo of fire, the multiple-armed god dances with one foot resting on a child?

Traditionally, it’s not a child, but a little man with rapt attention on a leaf he’s holding. If I were to design that statue for modern times and for my own needs, the little man would be holding a sleek computer keyboard or some other piece of geeky electronics.

Let me explain.

I was out walking during what I call my “poet time” — no direction, no destination, no time constraints, walking till I didn’t feel like walking anymore or till I felt called to do something else. I found a second-hand store. I went in, trying to keep my mindset of discovery that characterizes my poet time. And there, amid the section of discarded electronics, I found the sleek computer keyboard.

I don’t need an external computer keyboard. I already have one, and I seldom use it. It’s just the fetish factor: so sleek, so beautifully designed, so appealing to my technological and esthetic tastes. Where did this fetish come from, and why does it hold me so much in its thrall? And what’s the spiritual lesson to be gained by a sexy, sleek computer keyboard?

Before I had a fetish for electronics, I had a fetish for many other things: my earliest would be comic books, published weekly and purchased weekly, and action figures named Madelman, back in the Spain of my childhood. Then it was swords: swords of all types and from all historical times: from Roman swords to Middle Ages Viking fare; from scimitars to rapiers, but especially 16th-century type dueling swords. There was no limit to how many I could have or want. This was concurrent with a fetish for 16th- and 17th-century type guns, and was followed by the fixation on owning a parrot and then by pocket calculators. Don’t ask. Fetishes don’t have a good explanation, although I suspect the genesis of my long-standing love affair with electronics stems from the computer I really, really wanted when I was 13, and had to wait 8 years before I could afford. It seems like through all this, the object of the fetish varies, but the essential illusion lingers: the illusion that through the rush of acquiring something and the pleasure of owning it, there’s a sense of renewal, of growing larger than I was before. Who hasn’t fallen prey to this? Whether it’s a new outfit, a new car, a new house or a new lover, we all know that this sense of enlargement only lasts until the mind gets accustomed to it and then starts searching again. And let me tell you: whether you’re talking things, animals, or people, when the high fades, your fetish needs to be looked after — and if it’s no longer the source of pleasure it once was, it can turn into a burden.

The only fetish that delivers on its promise of making the ego feel a little larger is the one my beloved has: she gets excited about the ways in which she can grow or the inner skills she can acquire. While ultimately the high we’re looking for is the undivided sense of connectedness to the moment, I’ll take my beloved’s approach: even if the ego is involved, at least it’s a highly portable fetish.

So I realized I didn’t really need that keyboard. I could just admire it there, appreciate it for its beauty, and let someone else enjoy it. Now this doesn’t mean that I won’t be seduced by the next encounter with an item of sleek sophisticated electronics. But I just hope to graduate over time to my beloved’s approach. In the meantime, remember the statue of Shiva? The little man with rapt attention on a leaf he’s holding symbolizes those of us who are so enamored of the physical world that we forget that we have the universe dancing on our back.

Yep, if I were designing that statue myself and for my own purposes, he definitely would be holding a really cool, sleek keyboard… or one of those new Android phones… or… or…

Or I could look up. I could notice how the universe dances on my back each second.

What would the little man be holding for you if it were you designing the statue?

Photo Credit: Cornelia Kopp

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