Monday, September 28, 2009

Breath, Love, Know, & Relate

August 26, 2009 by Malia Burkhart

In this performance, four women walk to the edge of their curiosity, hold hands, and jump. As they fall, they tell stories of their past and present ties to place and family. The stories spin a cord, which winds back and connects them to the great web, which catches and cradles the air behind them as a giant parachute. They fall until the falling begins to seem like just another way of being. Finally the end seems to be drifting closer… and coming into view, they see that at the bottom of their curiosity is a great ocean. It swells and surges with immense power… The four sisters work quickly, to reweave their stories into the shape of a boat.

The vessel carries them, provides a sail for speed and lines with which to navigate their course.

They are seeking new land.

The days on the ocean stretch on and on. The gentle rise and sway of every wave. The sky is looking out for them—providing gentle rains for fresh water and keeping its storms at bay. The sea is also friendly to their mission, and sends schools of fish into their newly-spun nets.

There are hours to each day to fill, and they are very happy to spend the time singing, weaving, dreaming, and dancing.

One day one of them gives voice to a doubt that was growing inside her… a fear that there was no “new” land to be discovered here, in this world of only water.

“We have been sailing for years, now,” she said. “I think it is because of us—there is something we are not doing, to bring the land forth.” She said.

“What else can we possibly do?” asked one of the other sisters. “We have stayed the course, following the stars in a direct line east toward the horizon…”

“But why East?” said another sister. “We could have just as easily chosen West to lead us.”

“Or South,” mumbled the fourth sister, her mouth full of fresh sashimi.

“Yes, North too would have been an option as good as any” said the first sister. “But I don’t think it really matters. I think this world has no land in it at all, or if there is, it lies down. Down under all this water.”

“There you go again with your muskrat and turtle stories…” said the second sister. “We have creation stories about water, too, you know. We should send out a dove to get us an olive branch.”

“Or get a big frog to drink all the water dry” said the third.

“Look,” said the first sister. “I have an idea. We have so many different stories: I don’t think it’s a bad idea to try weaving all these stories together into one rope. We can harness our expectations, cast them forth with this woven story-rope, and see what we can pull up. Maybe, if we catch something, it can offer us some advice about what to do.”

The other three sisters thought this idea sounded interesting, and they agreed to give it a try.

The next morning they created an elaborate ritual of sorting through all their expectations; carefully selecting a few precious ones and letting the rest drift away in the ocean-water. The expectations, the intentions they were keeping they packed tightly together and bound it up in a bundle of story-cloth. They then carefully braided the sinew of their individual truths into one strong rope—a rope stronger than any one strand would have been on its own. It took all four of them to hoist this massive weight over the side of their vessel, nearly tipping over the boat in the process. They kept their feet clear of the rope as it whistled past them and plunged down into the unseen depths beneath the ocean.

The sky became very still, and so did the water—as though they, too, were holding their breath.

“Well,” said the first sister. “I think we have to just let it go. Our expectations are now deep below us, baiting some unknown sea creature or catching some mysterious current. So… let’s keep going and forget that the line is even there.”

“Which way should we sail this time?” asked the fourth sister, as she began unwinding the ropes for the sails.

“I think we should drift,” said the first sister. “Since one direction is as good as any, why not let the sky and sea decide for us, where we should go?”

“I think you are crazy,” said the second sister. “We’re all going to die old ladies out here, and get absolutely nothing done.”

“We’re surviving okay, aren’t we?” said the first sister. “Look, we don’t have to drift forever. Let’s give it a timeline, say, 2 months. If by the end of the 2 months nothing has happened, we can try something else.”


The names of the four sisters are Breath, Love, Know, and Relate. Long ago, in the world before this one, they had each gone on a sacred journey—each in a separate direction. They went away to study the secrets of the elements; to learn from their ways, so that they could return and share with each other the wisdom they had gained.

Breath, she took guardianship of the air. With an easeful curiosity, she took up this task, gathering the wind in her cloak and and her hair. She decided to travel high up to the mountaintops, far to the south. She wanted time to be alone, with herself, with the precious gift of air. Her skin, being closer to the sun, turned tinted yellow, as though she’d been dusted with pollen. The air was thin, up there in the mountains, and the challenge of filling her lungs fully helped her focus on Air’s essence.

Love, she was all about the water. Right away she knew, “The ways of water is what I need.” She was always so passionate. Love always took her time going about her business, and she moved her body in the way of someone who knows it exactly. She took that vessel of water, perched it atop her gorgeous head and went west, swaying solidly and gently with a slow, even step. In this land, it was very dry. Water was easily sacred there. She learned from the lions and the elephants how to be strong, how to be tough, how to tap in to the secrets of her own power. She learned to be fluid; how to move her life in ways according to her heart—constantly shifting and changing so she could become more like herself. Her skin and eyes grew dark like the night sky. Her smile flashed as brilliant white as the crescent moon.

Know was an interesting woman, fast and quick. She was a talker and a thinker. Her mind was an echo of her body, rarely sitting still. Curious as a cat, if something strange or unusual happened she would prod and poke at it until she figured out why, or had invented an explanation based on her previous observations. Bold and experimental, she was quick to challenge the same old way of doing things— she was an inventor, a creator, an artist. She moved north, where she could have plenty of time in the winters, to sit and think, write and read, study and tinker with the ways of things. Over time, Know’s skin turned white, like the snows that covered the land.

Relate was rarely alone. She was friend to plant, to animal, and easily made friends with people of all ages. Her weathered and tanned skin made her eyes look like they were smiling all the time. She had a reassuring and steady presence, able to walk into any situation and calm it down. She naturally took guardianship of the earth, to learn of its ways and share them with her people. Her skin became red like the clay, her eyes brown like the rich dark soil. Relate stayed where she was, in the east, and told the other three sisters that she would keep the fire burning for them, waiting until they returned.


In the world before this one, they had split up, thinking that they could gather information four times as fast in their study, through each one’s specialization. Though the four elements were always present and intermingled, they thought they could separate them, enough to gain the wisdom from listening to one element’s voice over all the others.

Breath, Love, Know, and Relate had agreed that, upon meeting again, they would present a special secret handshake. This way, they would know that they still recognized each other for their true sister selves, and could begin to exchange the information they had gone off to gather.

Generations passed.

Breath, in the thin air of the mountaintops, trained in the ways of disciplining the mind and body, to gain greater access to spirit. Teachers had students, and a lineage of wisdom was born—of the essence of Air.

Love spread into vast, intricate tribes—she and her people learned to dance with fervent joy, to sing and to drum. They were fierce and loyal, protecting their families and honoring the ways of their elders. They grew tough and lean, taking each day as it came; walking in trust and tradition.

Relate, her people were very much like Love’s—They learned the wisdom that sits in places. They related to the plants and animals around them like brothers and sisters. They studied their medicine, they cultivated relationship and community with their surroundings, so the earth would help them when there was a need. They fought to defend the land of their ancestors, and lived with each generation as a continuation from the one before. Unbroken.

Know, on the other hand, had gotten herself into quite a terrible predicament. Her people, in the cold, harsh North, had taken to terrible warfare in order to secure land and resources from neighboring tribes. Kings and Queens had begun unlocking the terrible secrets of fire in warfare, and they also used the fear of the people to turn them toward religion. This made them easier to control, and made it easier to extract resources from the poor. Warfare and Religion were seriously getting in the way of Know’s original intentions in studying the ways of fire. They were burning women and men as witches and heritics, harnessing people’s fear to control their thoughts.

Eventually, Know forgot why she had gone to the north at all. She forgot who she was. She began to wander, thinking that her goal was to create war, get more land, and spread her religion to the rest of the world.

Know went to Love, and enslaved her to do her bidding. She used her fire-war weapons and missionaries to beat down Love’s spirit and passion, chaining her children and leading them away. Love became an object, in the eyes of Know and her people. She existed only to be controlled, and to labor under the harsh whip of Fire.

Know went to Breath, in the mountains, but was more interested in her material treasures and jewels than in her spiritual revelations. Know began a massive trading route, across deserts and mountains, to gain more of this stuff, which impressed the Kings and Queens of the north.

The Kings and Queens were so interested in finding another way to the treasures of Breath’s mountains, that they sent a few boats out west, to see if they would come out the other side. Instead of reaching the mountains with their spices and their jewels, they landed in the place of Relate.

By this time, Know had so thoroughly forgotten herself, that when she strode across the landscape to finally meet Relate, and Relate stretched out her hand for the sacred handshake, Know did not recognize it. She saw an outstretched hand, assumed she was begging, and gave her a trinket.

What began as terrible began to get worse. Know’s people went out and with their warfare and religion very nearly took over the entire planet. Entire tribes began forgetting who they were, and their children began running into the fire. More and more peoples became their slaves, and the Kings and Queens became richer and more powerful.

There was a renaissance of knowing, which bloomed, finally, after the influence of religion began to back away. The Kings and Queens allowed Knowledge and Study to proliferate once more, but made rules about it: “Only this kind of Study is Real, and to gain it you must go through our system, and of course, pay.”

But the knowing was a terrible knowing. They were mainly interested in “Useful” Knowing—that is, Knowing that would help the Kings or Queens keep their power and control. They would sometimes use it for war. The Kings and Queens created ways of becoming richer and more powerful by tearing away great patches of earth, chewing it up, and spitting out toxic substances. The toxins seeped into the ground, poisoned the water, and eventually fell as rain, even on top of the heads of the Kings and Queens. In response, they simply moved to the next clearest patch, and told the poor to live in the most poisoned areas.

With so much fire, of course the world began to heat up.

It was in this strange scene that the four sisters found themselves. See, while the Kings and Queens were distracting themselves with War and Religion, Knowledge and Profit, four young women crept beneath their notice and began talking.

It was their talking that led to their curiosity.

They took the leap, and…


Now, where were we?

Breath, Love, Know, & Relate had braided a cord. They had fallen out of the sky, landed in a boat, and had just taken Breath’s suggestion, to drift without expectation onboard, and see what they would find.

One end twined to their hearts
The other, let go down far into the sea
Letting their expectations trail down
Into the great unknowingness
To search for guidance
To seek an answer.

“Where shall we end?” is what they wanted to know.

They were living on the ocean, you see, and while bountifully provided for by sea and sky,
They were still dissatisfied.

They wanted LAND…
Something upon which to cling their roots
And plant
And grow

This is what they were seeking.


So they drifted. For weeks, they drifted.

Know complained. She was exceedingly bored.
Love began experiments in tantric sexuality with Breath.
Relate was just fine—talking daily to the clouds, the rain, the waves, the stars. They spoke to her, but it was an inside conversation—not an easy one to follow along. Know kept pestering Relate to tell her what they were saying, but Relate was tired of continually interpreting them for her.
“Why don’t you learn to speak to them for yourself!” she would say, exasperated.

One day, Know saw a tiny green fish swim up next to the boat. Finally! Something new! She immediately begain looking in her fish-books to identify the species when suddenly – Whoop!—the cord, with her drifting expectations, suddenly pulled her over the side of the boat and deep into the water, without warning.

The other three sisters got up in alarm and peered over the side of the boat—where had Know gone? Should they swim after her? Would she come back up again? Was she drowning?

They had no way of going after her, without one of them perishing as well—So when Know did not resurface, they waited and wondered, prayed and then, … grieved? Believed she would come back somehow?

“I don’t know,” said Breath, “It’s possible that there’s another world down there, one with air we can breathe.”

“Well, all I can say is at least it was Know who went and not one of you.” Said Love. “I hate to speak like that in case she’s—you know—crossed over— but honestly, she was starting to get on my nerves.”

“To say the least,” said Relate.

“To be fair,” said Breath. “She wasn’t always that bad—she just—gets out of control sometimes. It’s as much our doing as anybody’s that she got so out of hand.”

“What could WE have done?” demanded Love.

“Yes, by the time she got to each of our homes she was pretty much gone. No amount of talking to would have reminded her who she was.” Said Relate.

Breath thought about it, and said, after a pause, “Yes, yes. I see. I really don’t know. I wonder if we could have done more to resist her, more to help her remember herself. But… I suppose everything unfolded the way it was meant to. I just wonder why we had to go through all that.”

Love spoke up – “Well, Know IS gone, and there’s not much we can really do to help her get back, so … Yes. I say let’s go on, as we were doing. Although if I go next I hope you all will say anything you want to say about the way that I am to my face, while I’m still here, and not after I’m under the waves.”

“Hey, you said it first, that you’re glad that she’s gone!” said Relate.

“Why wouldn’t I be,” said Love. “Haven’t I suffered enough?”

“No doubt…” said Relate. “My work will certainly be easier.”

“As will mine,” said Breath.

So Breath, Love, and Relate went on their way. Some part of them knew that Know was still around, though. That her spirit hadn’t quite left them.

See, their heart-strings were still braided together, beneath the ocean… Twined together, and the essence of KNOW went right in to the hearts of Love, Breath, and Relate. She let go of the form of KNOWing that she had been, and began a different kind of journey—one within her sisters’ hearts—to study the ways of Loving, of Breathing, and of Relating.

This is where our story begins.

*Note 1: This story is based upon the Hopi Prophecy
*Note 2: These characters are meant to represent archetypes of the experience of being human, with full acknowledgement that it is not possible to summarize or categorize an entire continent of people. The words “Love, Breath, Know, Relate” are meant to reflect the general experience of being human. We carry each of these four within ourselves. So, in a way, it is less a story about trying to summarize our global situation, as it is a story to guide and inspire an inner conversation.
*Note 3: I have no attachment to whether this Creation Story will be part of this performance, or not. It may serve only as a place to begin, as a background inspiration, or it may be greatly revised and reworked, as part of our creative process, to become a story which all of us can get behind / live in for the duration of this project.