We actually kneel rather rarely. Maybe when we want to find out where the oil stain on our driveway comes from. Then we kneel down next to our car. Or when a euro has rolled under our kitchen cupboard. Then we also kneel down once and investigate the coin. The reference is usually rather worldly material and has nothing in common with the characteristic of kneeling as a posture of humility. On the contrary, when we are forced to kneel down, we are rather annoyed and displeased that circumstances force us into such an uncomfortable position.
Kneeling out of an attitude of humility or as a sign of voluntary willingness to submit or even subordinate ourselves – to take a small role in a large community – is foreign to us. We are individualized, democratic, equally entitled, enlightened – – and so alone and left to ourselves; so without guidance and support; so perplexed and bashful in our search for direction and leadership and community and meaning in a cold world of individualized lone wolves who, out of deep inner fear, prefer to remain alone and dare not ask – – but kneel: It will come to that! There I am socially nevertheless really at the end! How should I assert myself there in the career and consumption competition?
Occasionally I get down on my knees. In nature. Where no one is. Perhaps there is also a certain shame involved. How does it look, if someone happens to pass by and I kneel there abruptly in the middle of the area? But maybe only the places are right, where you are alone and only with nature as a witness. Probably it is both.
The first time I knelt behind our house. At the edge of the forest on a sandy path. I had gone out the door with our dog once again. It was a summer evening. The air was still and tepid. The sun was mild and low, casting long shadows on the trees. A moment when everything was in the middle. Light and shadow, warm and cool, day and night – sky and earth. I bent down to pick up a stone, and then all at once I knelt to scrape a little further in the dry sand to see if there were any other treasures buried there. I straightened my upper body and it took my breath away for a moment when I felt, completely unprepared, the indescribable effect that this physical gesture of kneeling on the bare earth had on me. It was a surrender of myself. The conscious surrender to all that is animate – to all brothers and sisters – in one visible sacred act! It felt so good not to have to stand upright, not to have to stand my ground bolt upright (Child, stand up straight! Don’t slump your shoulders like that!). To get down on my knees in the soft sand. To humbly say, „Your will be done!“ and „I am sheltered!“ Not to be individualized and democratic and equal – and alone. But to be ordered in the unity of things. In the counsel of destiny. Protected by the forces of the beyond and still beyond.
Voltaire said sarcastically about Rousseau’s writings on the return to nature that reading them almost makes you want to walk on all fours again. – I think it is good not to be enthroned so far above. If one observes four-legged creatures in their grace and beauty, then one can already get the thought that this could be the more appropriate posture (physically as well as mentally). With four limbs on the ground. Senses very close to the earth. And not wobbly and staggering with the big head flapping in airy heights. Most primitive peoples are also rather small tots.
So this kneeling is also in connection with the hands on the earth a posture which can trigger peculiar things. At that time I had to think abruptly of a situation in my youth in which I – rather involuntarily – also went to my knees. Also in connection with holding my breath: When I was 14 years old in karate training, a somewhat impetuous boy, who apparently had not yet fully internalized the desired control of mind and body (which results in not touching his training partner), delivered a fist punch to the middle of my solar plexus. PAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The air is rushing out of my lungs! Soul gives way to much too much of my body! Darkness! Stars! Pain! Oh, pain! Stars! Oh, darkness! Close to fainting! — Slumped! On its knees! – The body in its posture of humility! Partially disembodied! „I am defenseless! I surrender! I surrender!„
The soul leaves the body in pieces in case of great pain. The body collapses. It goes back to the earth. Down from its much too high throne. So I realized – at the moment when I voluntarily knelt behind my house decades later – that it is also the other way around: If I slump down, I kneel, then my soul sense opens and I perceive the world with it. It is a physical mechanism that has an effect on the level of the soul. It is probably for this reason that kneeling is more or less common in most religions. It is not just an outdated ritual of submission to an imperious and perhaps capricious God. It is a posture that makes our soul fly. It lets us come closer to God.