The song is “Born Under Punches” by the deeply intuitive and timelessly inimitable Talking Heads. This 34-year-old piece is as modern and up-to-date as the Upanishads or the I Ching or the Milky Way Galaxy. The beat, composition, instrumentation, and vocal urgency speak for themselves, but the lyrics require interpretation. That interpretation is up to you.
I personally have wondered and speculated and meditated about the deeper meaning of this dance/ponder/journey poem since 1980, when it burst forth at us on vinyl. Last night, thanks to a group member who brought us a dream about hands, I got a new perspective.
To me, hands are the symbol of sensuality, communication, and agency. We put our hands up to surrender. We can give someone a hand, or lend a hand, or agree hands-down. We can hand something in or over, unless we are empty-handed. The best products are handmade, by someone who is handy. We can have someone eating out of the palm of our hand, or give them a knuckle sandwich. The hand is quicker than the eye, but idle hands are the devil’s workshop. When we add in all the expressions about fingers and thumbs, we've got a lot of imagery to deal with when it comes to this amazingly versatile and evocative tool at the end of each arm.
What do hands mean to you on a conscious level? What about to your psyche? When you’re presented with a dream whose focal point is your hands, what message does that signal? Is it a plea to reconsider an imagined or learned powerlessness? Is it about where on the ladder of success you find yourself clinging? Is the executive living in your head being asked by your heart to consider your significant talents, gifts, and purpose in the face of some unresolved conflict from long ago? Do my comments seem off-handed? Do they make you want to throw your hands up?
Believe it or not, I was a hand model in 1980. Here is an example of my handiwork:
The writer of this song, David Byrne, is doing what our poets are called to do. He’s drawing our attention to the ignored or disowned corners of our souls. He has obviously contemplated his purpose and his efficacy in this world. By examining the tools of his craft—the symbolic representation of not taking what the world gives you lying down—he decides to take hold of his own destiny. There's a lot more going on in this song, symbolically, thematically, and certainly stylistically. It's as much about the mood and driving-forward rhythm as about the questions he asks. At the same time, he asks us to breathe with him. Is it a meditation about the dance of life? I will point out the subtitle of this song is “The Heat Goes On.” Is that a reference to dragging our traumatic histories around with us, and being surprised when we see them "passing in between us?" Does it have to do with an inner passion that can either set us on fire or overwhelm and drown us? He sings about "the hand of the government man." Is he referring to our inner general?
What can you do with your own hands to make change a reality? There are so many choices. Can you pick yourself up (rather than put yourself down)? Can you take matters into your own hands? Can you reach out? Are you "a tumbler?"
Thanks, all of you for your being part of this humbling group experience. For all the ways you see and use your hands, the ones you can see in front of your face, and the ones you can only see in dreams, I salute you.