How's Your Posture?

Exerpt from The Enthusiast

We live in sedentary times. As I write I am sitting in an orthopaedically approved office chair. It is anticipated that, with time, this will improve my posture, correct me, render me more upright—from the Greek orthos meaning 'straight', or 'straighten out'.

The chair is spring-loaded so that I can adjust myself to the height of my desk—or rather, to the height of the retractable keyboard shelf on my pine-effect workstation. The back of the chair tilts and can be fixed at the angle of my choice, the armrests swivel, and offer variable heights. The whole chair is on wheels, which sit at the end of five plastic spokes, so that if I push hard enough I can slide the length of my workroom to my window. On the roof outside a starling is serenading his mate. He is noted for his imitations. It is Valentine’s Day after all.

You are sitting too. I like to think of you in the middle of a cinema, a small independent, before the lights go down, or at the back of lecture hall, one ear on the speaker’s progress, poised in case anything purposeful should be said; on a bus, or on a train, or on a long, green leather bench, in a café in Bolton discussing the benefits of immigration, on a beach watching dolphins sport towards evening, in a pub with a friend recalling re-runs of Morecambe and Wise.

Or maybe you’re in a detention centre, or you’re on a long-haul flight, or you’re at the bar of an over-night cross-channel ferry, or you’re in a queue, or a canteen, or you’re sitting on the side of the mountain, on a parkbench maintained by a local authority franchise. I imagine you sitting there, unperturbed by details of the tender, contemplating crocuses. The chances are you’re on a sofa. Sitting can be good. Much has been achieved by the human seated.

The Buddha, son of the king of Kapilavatsu (at the foot of the mountains of Nepal), finding salvation neither in the teaching nor in the austerities of the Brahmans, developed by long meditations his own religion, which he expounded in various places in India, making many disciples.

Suffering, he preached, is inseparable from existence, which is an evil; the principal cause of suffering is desire; the suppression of suffering can be obtained by the suppression of desire. And so the Buddha sat, and has ever since been depicted sitting, serene in the face of worldly promptings.

Kant sat also, and we are wise to sit with him. Karl Marx sat in the Reading Room of the British Museum. Lenin sat for a while and pondered ‘What is to be done’. Socrates walked, asking questions as he went. Emily Dickinson sat.

Emily Pankhurst stood. Philip Roth writes while standing. He composes at a lectern and paces the room restlessly between sentences.

There are reasons to be suspicious of our seated self.

‘To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.’ (Luke, 1:79). And Luke is right, surely, that when we sit we do so in darkness, for in our sedentary self is our sedate self. It is by our feet and in their appropriate exercise that we make our way serenely towards the light. Amen.

There is, perhaps, an image in modern culture more obscene than that of the British Prime Minister seated on the couch chatting to camera with two fabulous personalities, whose capital is their representativeness which they communicate chiefly by their posture, answering enquiries in a mock self-deprecating mode. Perhaps.

And perhaps there is something we should be more repulsed by than the sight of a Labour leader, arse tightly wedged between the foam-filled cushions, fielding questions on his private life and the state of the
knowledge economy, coyly making himself available to our collective assent. Maybe.

The contrast is, of course, stark—‘Now, Prime Minister, if we could turn for a moment to foreign policy ...’ But the meaning of this particular tableau is not to be found in the contrast; the meaning is in the appeal, and the appeal is directly to our seated selves. Sit down, pull up a chair, settle back, have a seat. Anything we can get you? Postal vote? ‘To give them light that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.’ Again, from Luke, we receive wisdom and truth.

When I was a child I spake as child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child and every night on television there were large groups of men, wearing T-shirts and baseball caps, standing up.
They stood for months, years it seemed to me, and then every so often people would address them standing up, and then others would stand to support their standing until all across the country whole areas were standing up. Many have stood.

Simon Stylites stood up for his God. Martin Luther King. Aneurin Bevin. Odysseus, strapped against the mast, ears blocked against the sirens. Rosa Luxemburg. Rosa Parks.

‘Then on the shore/ Of the wide world I stand alone.’ ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.’ ‘Yea,’ said he, ‘that I do: that you stand out of my sun a little.’

Policy Initiative no 4: On the correct bearing for the citizenry, whether to be sitting or to be standing, The Enthusiast says, ‘Stand Up!’

B. Anmer (Peterborough)

This article first appeared in The Enthusiast.