I would describe myself as kind of a master of sitting, if pure experience brings expertise. Imagine me, if you will, on the peak of a dusty hill in rural China. Craggy rocks and twisted, vicious, boreal coniferous trees line the path up to my windy throne. There are mountains and there is grass, great pagodas, old brick walls. A solitary eagle soars overhead, spying field mice and the great spread of the earth below his wings. Civilizations have risen and fallen around me in the centuries, in the millennia. I have sat here through the ages, never moving, never getting up to go to the bathroom, eating only whatever cubes of heinous airplane food are brought as offerings to me, at this lonely apex. I am the sensei of sedentary, I am the bodhisattva of buttocks, I am the guru of gluteus. I have always been sitting. The world exists through my sitting.
Korea acted as my proving ground, the quiet monastery of my youth, the place where I learned the quiet art of the sittery. Twice yearly my children would be set loose upon the landscape for seasonal vacations, while I would be dismissed to toil in the stolid, dire cave of my office. Due to the vagaries of my contract and someone at the education office hating fun, it was deemed that foreign English teachers should probably have very stringent vacation rules and should spend at least 5 weeks of every year inside empty schools. Ice clung to the windows and my breath escaped past my lips in willowy steam as I considered my fate.
At first I roared and rampaged. That first winter, confronted by the frosty prospect of sitting upright for 8 consecutive hours in sub-zero temperatures for 4 weeks, I went a little insane. I would pace the halls of the school, shaking with both anger and actual, probably very dangerous hypothermia. I would lie on our hardened English Zone couches staring forlornly at the ceiling, allowing my brain to simply drift, for prolonged-boredom hallucinations to skitter across my vision like liquid purple insects. I would roll across the floors. I did jumping jacks, and push-ups, and found the slickest parts of the mock-hardwood and tried to pretend I was drifting around an abandoned roller rink. For about three full days I spread the desks and chairs across my mighty classroom landscape and decided that the floor was lava, that I couldn’t touch the lava, and never let my feet, never mind my buttocks, meet the ground.
But in time I ran out of things to do, and the cold sapped all of my vigour, all of my resistance. I couldn’t will myself to walk, to read, to jump. The lava cooled. My limbs grew weak and heavy, and the very core of my being was gripped of winter. I began to sit.
My back soon ached, my spine flaring and writhing under my skin. I felt the meat of my behind cramp and sizzle and chafe and snap. For hours every day I would sit on my petty throne, my plastic and metal pedestal, before a computer. I tried to think of myself as defiant, as resistant. My sitting was a protest, my sitting was movement against the system that kept me locked in that classroom. The message I had received was that I should do something productive maybe, but I had completed all of the productivity possible, and left to my own devices, trapped in the cold, I had little to do. By sitting, I was raging against the machine.
And after months of sitting, after months of running out of productive activities and through every book I possessed and every creative endeavour I could generate, I started to gain some sense of peace with my sitting. It was, at this point, my greatest hobby. It was all that I knew of myself, really, in the deepest core of my soul. Sitting was my family, my friends, my lover. Sitting was me.
I thought back to my previous dalliances with sitting, my flirtations with sedation. Measly car-rides across Canada, the back of a sports vehicle packed full with sleeping bags. A train ripping across Korea or India or under the sea towards France. A bus. A plane. My desk as a child.
Such petty bouts of sitting grew to seem like pittances, like minor annoyances, like hilarious vacations. I hear strangers complain about arduous four hour flights and my ribs nearly explode out of my abdomen as laughter overtakes me. I laugh the laugh of the ages, the laugh of the dark depths of the soul, the laugh of a man who has seen the other side of eternity, has sat upon it stilly, and come through to an inverted sense of consciousness. Four hours is like a fraction of a second to my mighty buttocks. I sit for four hours in the instant before I wake up in the morning.
I remember being a child enduring long car rides, or our occasionally annual trips to Florida. Sitting on a plane for three hours seemed like the most torturous, unimaginable horror I could concoct as a seven year-old, even if Disneyworld and Universal Studios were at the other end of the bedsores and bad food. Nothing seemed worth that much discomfort, that much boredom, that much lower back pain.
But as an adult, three hours seems incomprehensibly short. In three hours I can barely watch two movies, can’t even listen to a few albums, can’t write the great Canadian novel. Of course, as my training has gone on, even greater spans of time seem pitiful and beyond my scope of understanding. When we planned our initial flight from Korea into Malaysia, we found our best option was a direct passage to KL, totally around seven hours. We noted the cost was just right, that the departure and arrival were pleasantly scheduled. And we noted that seven hours was practically nothing.
As we limbered up in the Mumbai airport, we considered the particular sitting challenge before us. We had two back-to-back flights each entailing nine consecutive hours of sitting, and I had chosen window seats for both. I had locked myself into my seat, and did not plan to rise. If they could simply carry me, still in sitting posture, from one plane to the next, never rising, it would be all the better. I’m never not sitting, really. It’s all that I am.