I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
By William Carlos Williams
I was reminded of this poem recently when it was recited in the film Paterson, by Jim Jarmusch. The movie is as counter-cultural as it gets: nothing (or almost nothing) more dramatic happens than a bus breaking down. It has no sex in it, but breathes tenderness, right from the starting scene, where you see a couple waking up, entwined in each other’s’ arms; streaks of golden-white morning light playing on their skins. You see this scene repeated throughout the film, with variations in posture and light, as the days of the week unfold. He is a bus driver in Paterson, the town William Carlos Williams lived and wrote in, and also writes poetry, jotted down in spare moments around his shifts. She is a designer/artist in waiting, developing her style at home, by painting every large enough surface: crockery, curtains, clothes and even homemade cupcakes in black and white patterns.
This slow-paced, meditative film has generally been very well received, which, in itself, gives me hope for our media and action saturated world. Paterson, the film’s unpublished “hero,” doesn’t own a mobile phone or other screen device. He still writes everything by hand, into a notebook with un-ruled pages. As the camera bouncily follows the familiar bus route you are impelled to view the scene through a poet’s eye. Ordinary house walls in juxtaposition to other ordinary house walls, the rambling conversation among passengers or with his colleagues are given significance as potential material for poetry. They are worth taking note of.
The film is an unpretentious lesson on how to lead a meaningful life; no need to try and be famous. Just be as present as you can to the detail and beauty in everyday occurrences. The half-guilty taking of plums from the ice-box or a box of matches with “megaphone-shaped” lettering on it become an opportunity to write a love poem, which is also a celebration of the juiciness of any experience. An artist keeps the senses well-tuned; they are the indispensable tools of her trade. She uses the variations within the regularity and predictability of an established timetable to keep a creative edge, thus avoiding dullness. The same skills are necessary for sustained mindfulness practice.
The day after watching the movie I taught one of my “yoga for mindful living” classes. In Yoga you have a relatively limited repertoire of poses and movement sequences and in order to keep the practice fruitful throughout the years, you have to know how to bring it sensuously and imaginatively alive. I read the poem “This is just to say” and encouraged people to give themselves permission to enjoy the sweet juiciness of their bodies in movement. One simple means to contact this inner aliveness is to perform a movement, say, a lying-down twist (where your bent knees point to one direction and outstretched arm and face to the other) on one side only and then rest in a neutral position, before doing it on the other side. When comparing the sensations in the two sides of the body, you inevitably notice certain differences. Maybe the side you have just stretched feels bigger, different in shape, in closer contact with the ground, more tingly and alive. There is some scientific underpinning to this change. During a prolonged stretch, cells in the fascia (the soft tissue that connects bones, organs and muscles) elongate. When they return to neutral, these cells get filled with fluid and their size increases, up to a third. You literally become more plump and juicy.
It could be said that the main character in the film is the town itself, brought to life through the eyes of Paterson, the bus driver, and before him, William Carlos Williams, who wrote an epic poem called “Paterson.” Likewise, in mindful and insightful living, it is this whole, marvellous, interconnected world that we pay attention to. We aim to be a little less ruled by the demands of the restless, craving Self. There can be a gradual maturing of our understanding what it means to really enjoy ourselves.