Images of Our Sitting Selves

Over on the One City Blog, Ethan Nichtern promotes the upcoming 24- hour Meditation Marathon in the window displays of ABC Carpet & Home.It is accompanied by the following picture, which first struck me as odd.

Why is the meditator sitting with her legs crossed like that? The graphic represents a beautiful symbolic ambiguity between either the lotus style or the agura style. This detail is small and for the most part insignificant, but the way we depict ourselves says a lot about our culture. Years ago I made a similar graphic, but with the meditator’s legs represented by a flat bar. I grew up learning to sit flat on the ground—“flat like a chair” as my brother describes it. “Flat” applies to the angle of your legs relative to your hips, regardless of whether you sit with both legs to the side, one leg in front of the other, one leg over the other, or both legs folded into padmasana. In contrast, our chair culture is much more conducive to people sitting in the X-style when they plop on the floor. I cannot understate how much I love the wonderful ambiguity in that design, and yet at the same time it leaves some of us out is something I couldn’t draw myself.

One thought on “Images of Our Sitting Selves

  1. Archivist’s Note: Comments have been preserved from the original website for archival purposes; however, comments are now closed.

    atlasienSeptember 24, 2009 at 5:22 PM
    Interesting detail, I would not have thought of it. I don’t meditate, but when I do sit cross-legged, my legs are also flat on the ground.

    But I can’t sit like this for more than a few minutes. It’s very painful!

    AnonymousSeptember 24, 2009 at 7:08 PM
    I know, I mean, it’s kind of like seeing a flyer for a picnic and the only condiments shown on the flyer is mustard. They are totally leaving out those of us who love ketchup. It really is insensative.

    ArunSeptember 24, 2009 at 11:20 PM
    @Jamie G.: I think I’ve gotten too used to using fist in the air language. I don’t think it’s insensitive, it’s really just a very different perspective. If I were to draw a cross-legged logo, I would feel as though I were pointing out people who couldn’t sit flat. Symbols often express inherent ideals (i.e. two arms, two legs, straight posture, etc.) and I grew up with the understanding that sitting flat is the ideal standard for sitting on the ground. So in a way, I am very glad they drew what I couldn’t. Even when it makes me feel strange to see it. Our community is certainly richer for this diversity.

    AnonymousSeptember 25, 2009 at 2:54 AM
    At least you have a sense of humor. I don’t think that you are “that mean ‘ol Asian with a chip on her shoulder” that some would try to picture you as. I assume you are female based on your cartoon character in your sidebar. Of course guys are wearing skirts these days too, I guess.

    Richard HarroldSeptember 25, 2009 at 4:30 AM
    I have a small foot stool that I sit on when meditating, as I cannot sit on the floor cross-legged without a lot of pain. Having said that, the picture I have in my mind is that of one who sits with legs flat.

    What really intrigues me about the graphic is that the message I get is that meditation somehow leads to an overt action of resistance to some oppressive force. The “rise up” figure with arm raised to me links the activity of meditation to an aggressive act of resistance. Is not the intention of meditation to calm and bring focus to the mind so that we are able to see phenomena as they really are? And through that, gain wisdom.

    The message implied in the graphic, to me at least, is that meditation leads to personal power.

    Perhaps I analyze too much.


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