On learning through Rorschach tests (or a meditation on walking sticks and tapestries)

What is a 5′ long x 1″ diameter PVC pipe to you?

Many walks between campus and my apartment have been filled with the gentle swing of this PVC— primarily, this partnership started because I love romping through nature with a found walking stick (if you’ve never used one, try it! You are missing out on an incredibly meditative aspect of walking and trekking long distance: the slow, steady rhythm stamped out by a walking stick). The secondary reason is that I found it odd that the infirm and elderly can use a cane or walking aide while going on a stroll without raising an eyebrow, but the healthy cannot. And thirdly, because my volume of walking in a week’s time is about fifteen miles; adding a toy to play with helps pass the time.

I’ve started a number of delightful conversations because of this walking stick. I’ve been asked if it’s used to beat people up! Or if I use it for stretches. Each inquiry tells more about the person asking than my response about me— it’s simply a bare piece of PVC that I use for my movement practice, a tool from my time in crossfit gyms. Half of the fun with my walking stick now derives from the variety of street-level Rorschach answers.

There’s a similar experimental set-up in my Tampa apartment: a tapestry hanging between my kitchen and living room, from the ceiling to about knee height, which leaves a barely translucent obstacle with a very squat opening at the floor. A lovely design of the Om symbol circling itself, you must somehow navigate this intentionally-created situation in order to access the kitchen.

Originally, I wanted a reason to squat or lunge every single day. I’m incredibly lazy and easily distracted, necessitating easily executable goals or nothing gets done. Placing the tapestry as a soft obstacle accomplishes this goal quite elegantly: every time I pass through my kitchen and into my living room, I must drop low to the ground and shimmy underneath. Sometimes, I try to avoid touching it at all— belly on tile, crocodile-style. Most of the time, I use one hand to lift the tapestry out of my face while in a squat and pop the opposite leg out in order to lunge through the threshold.

It’s an interesting game I play every single day: how will I do it this time? More interesting is that this play leads to a conscious movement decision, which can be observed and quantified through time: this time a squat, next time the lunge, sometimes a lizard-slide, and rarely the side approach. The most interesting is playing with others.

Watching how a new person deals with this obstacle is a treat: an opportunity to observe people interacting with the world via a repeatable and novel phenomenon. When someone attempts a new task, you are given a peek into their deeper subconscious: do they smile with every failed attempt, or do they grimace while succeeding? Are they confident in the approach, or do they timidly ask for permission and look to you for approval? How stiff are their movements, or how graceful is their execution?

I’ve seen some interesting approaches, from a biomechanical perspective. Some really goofy ones, too. I’ve noticed that everything changes if they’ve seen someone else do it, which seems to imprint and anchor their movement choice. With the PVC pipe, I love handing it over to a friend to see how they stand, talk, walk, run, and play with it. Each new pairing of task + person is a very special glimpse, and I cherish each and every one.

If I show you an inkblot, you will respond with words and likely hedge your answers. This is relatively familiar territory so you might know a few tricks to avoid getting stung. If I put you on a slackline, tell you to shimmy up a tree, or ask you to jump a fence, then you’ll show a trained eye more than you ever expected. Consider building Rorschach tests into your life, one that suits your personality naturally, and see how the diversity of the world unfurls itself to you.

9 thoughts on “On learning through Rorschach tests (or a meditation on walking sticks and tapestries)

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