The prana body, the zoomies, and trying to pin the mystic in place


At the Fluidity Forum in 2023, there had been a structure of presentations where many speakers had been placed in competing time slots, so it was nearly assured that most attendees were not able to attend all of the presentations which interested them. This structure led participants to gossip about the substance of previous talks with some urgency. As Fluidity proceeded, even these episodes of huddled recollection began to become topics of further social coordination, which brings us to the campfire conversation on effability, trumpet embouchure, and the prana-maya.

The conversation playing out at the campfire was precipitated by Matt Arnold, the forum’s organizer, commenting on the challenges they felt in making sense of a brief woo exercise in a past Fluidity Forum session. The session gave an exposition of the subtle body’ in the terms of the ancients, and ultimately led the participants through a breathing exercise where they sought to breathe from’ different parts of their body in directed ways. However, for Matt, it was very hard to determine what it felt like to breathe or move energy through their body, leaving Matt uncertain as to whether or not he had participated in the session in the same way as the others in the session.

I (SQCU) had attended the same session, and had found myself feeling less confused by the experience than Matt. I began to wonder if everyone, including Matt, might have experienced the same bodily sensations, but did not have enough shared context to connect the mystic/occult language describing the prana body to specific referents in the body. I suggested that the senses described by prana-maya’ might correspond neatly to zoomies’. (The memorable way in which small children, cats several hours past sunset, and athletes in the minutes before starting a jog all seem to be filled with an irrepressable motion.)

The woo-minded practitioners present and Matt were both taken with this metaphor, finding it to neatly match their internalizations of life histories as excitable children and also their history with yogic breathwork. This turned the conversations towards the challenges of building shared metaphors for embodied sensations, with the example of {prana-maya->zoomies} serving as a metaphor for communicating knowledge and experiences which relate to internal features of our body.

As addressed in Collin’s excellent Fluidity talk on environmental cognition, it can be difficult to know precisely what we know about our own bodies. Being able to use our own bodies to accomplish a specific goal, such as breathing from’ our left hand into’ our right hand, or how to shape our faces so that we can whistle a clear note, does not necessarily let us bestow that action to other humans around us. Even if we breathe very deliberately, forming characteristic signatures in a cardiogram, or whistle a very precise and mutually observable song for an audience.

However, just as the interiority of the jhanas might have a congruent we can see in ourselves and others, Collin’s example of environmental cognition in whistling presents another congruent: trumpet embouchure. Trumpets are hard. A novice trumpeter must tighten their face, screw their lips together, and then force a powerful flatulence of air between them, all at once, to activate the latent potential of their horn to make a clear note. Fortunately, as with Collin’s example of whistling as environmental knowledge, once the nascent brassist has discovered the right pose for their face, even for a brief moment, there is an unmistakeable and clear feedback as the trumpet vibrates in kind with the brassist’s face.

Considered as a tool for communication, the trumpet can be transformed from a musical tool to make clear notes (through the right pose and set of mouth) into a didactic tool for the discovery of what it feels like to carry the right-pose in the face and mouth. This metaphor, of ((prana->zoomies)->(whistling->embouchure)), suggests that while some forms of environmental knowledge might be extremely difficult to transfer, other kinds of environmental knowledge could be shared by modifying the shared environment instead of trying to directly speak the senses.