Asawa: Looped Wire Sculptures

Wire hangers seem fairly innocuous — a thin line with a lot of space in the middle. If you’ve ever picked up a substantial amount of dry cleaning, however, you know that the weight adds up fairly quickly. I originally thought that Ruth Asawa’s looped wire sculptures would be similar — big, with lots of space, but ultimately heavy.

On her website’s handling instructions, however, Asawa notes that the sculptures are quite light (the largest pieces only 50 pounds). I love this, not because I ever think I’ll be able to afford a Ruth Asawa sculpture, but because it’s a beautiful metaphor for our practice. It can seem heavy, even daunting, but with some porousness we can actually achieve a sense of lightness.

Asawa describes these sculptures as “not unlike medieval mail,” and this deepens the metaphor: The benefit of chainmail was that the weave provides a flexibility, while the metal offers protection against weapons. As (ever-reliable) Wikipedia puts it, “Mail, if a warrior could afford it, provided a significant advantage when combined with competent fighting techniques.” So, too, with a consciousness of practice can the ability to have some openness actually be helpful for our practice.

While remaining in an intentional space of meditation, we can also be flexible with what comes up, allowing it to pass through us without fighting it. We can be with what is, which, in my experience, makes for a much sustainable practice. Rather than think of meditation as a big behemoth of a metal sculpture, it can be a bit more enmeshed with the rest of our days. We can see the shape of our practice, as well as the spaces in between.

Today’s Contemplation: Within a dedicated mental space for practice, can you be completely open to the environment in which you sit? Can you hear the sounds, feel the textures, experience your thoughts and feelings, while simultaneously allowing them to pass through? Consider trying this in a public space, like on the subway or in line at the grocery store. Try leaning into the moments of discomfort that would normally signal “real life” versus “meditation life.” Can you allow the former to coexist with the latter?