Orpheus in the Berlin U-Bahn

“Do not look back.” 

How is this for bizarre? I am scooting along on a bike through the late night streets of Berlin surrounded by laughter. I scoot rather than pedal the bike I ride on because it is intensely painful for me to pedal. It is not however, as painful as bearing weight on my injured foot in a walking step – that is why I am on the bike. Earlier in the day I jumped into the lake to get away from marauding mosquitoes. The broken bottle lay deep in the mud. The water was a metre deep. The broken glass penetrated about a 1 1/2 centimetres deep into the sole of my foot – just at the height of the arch where my skin is the least tough, hard and calloused. Ouch!! The wound is 2 1/2 cm long. The pain is deep, intensely cold and steely.

“Do not look back”. The central theme of Orpheus is in the forefront of my mind because I have been kindly treated by friends to an evening performance of Orpheus by Monteverdi at the Komische Oper in Berlin. It is strange how the throbbing and intense pain in my left foot seems to have intensified and heightened my appreciation of Monteverdi’s great Opera. Right now the theme: “Do not look back” means: no regrets, a complete acceptance of the intense experience of pain.

Ten days later now and it is clear to me that without the experience of a nasty cut in the sole of my foot, I would not now have this wonderful, intense memory of scooting along Friedrich Strasse surrounded by the healing conviviality and laughter of close friends. If you want to be healed by the extraordinary power of human laughter you simply need to hang out with friends that you love. You do not need expensive tickets to a comedy show! My barefooted friend trots alongside the bike and runs a flowing commentary to console me. He tells me about the changing underfoot conditions of the late night Berlin pavements: the warmth; the textures the real stone and the tarmac. For the entire opera that evening the performer who played Orpheus was barefoot. It was an intensely moving performance!

“Do not look back.” I run and I walk everywhere barefoot to promote and develop an awareness of the self-reliance that grows from a foot that can fully function. The night before my injury there had been an intense thunderstorm in Berlin.  A cloudburst soon created huge puddles on the walkway along the banks of the River Sprey. While everybody huddled-up under umbrellas and dodged the deep puddles, I ran full tilt barefoot right through the middle of them. The water was warm. It was so exhilarating – so light like running on the surface tension of the muddy puddles. The next night and here I am on the same pavements: shod and crippled. But somehow it is all the same intense experience. There is something so vitally important to learn about not looking back!

As I scoot along laughing with friends, I have in the back of my mind the powerful words that I had read earlier in the day in the “Body Worlds” Exhibition in Berlin. These are the words of the anatomist/artist Gunther Von Hagens:

“The better off we become the more that we need before we feel good in ourselves.”

 How precisely Von Hagens captures the dynamics of the prevailing neediness of our contemporary age. How graphically in the exhibition, does he portray the toxic and corrupting effects that this can have on our insides and on psyches. The opposite of a state of neediness is self-reliance. To break free of the neediness and the anxieties that feeds it, requires a 360° turnaround from the fragmented and scattered form of attention that perpetually fills the expanding pool of contemporary neurotic anxiety: the driven concerns: that I never have enough; that I’m never good enough and most of – all that I never have enough time.

In pain and injured I might be, but if I do not look back then regretful I do not need to be. This spun- around deep attention has the penetration and the insight to give me a real choice. Out of the effort of not looking back there opens up a choice: an opportunity to let go in this moment, of whatever might stand in the way of the miracle of healing that is still going on in my foot right now. At this moment the cold steely intense pain has moved on to become something closer to pleasant itch. The myth of Orpheus is very much about miracles that happen if only we do not look back. The rapid healing of the wound in my foot is truly an everyday miracle!


John Woodward Berlin June 2017

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