Seasonal disturbance. Nice try. As if this season could be saddled with such troubles. It’s especially hard right now in New England to blame the season for anything, other than a generalized sense of gratitude for the beauty and harmonious functioning of the world. Sure, some monumental asshattery is unfolding in our public life. Sure, inequity and callousness, fear and confusion, thump and sneak about. But don’t lay any of that at June’s feet. June’s ticking along, cool nights, sunny mornings, vines growing leaf by leaf and fruit by fruit. It’s dry, and that can be a bit difficult, but it’s really not possible to name this limpid day as a disturbance. I’ve been sleeping nine hours a night – solid, restful sleep, in which I am aware of dreaming hard and working things through, though the stories evanesce on waking. This time of year is an endlessly replenished cycle of beauty. Peony stays the course, and delphinium joins in. Wild anemone grows tall and opens bright-white stars, while marigold keeps watch over new tomatoes. Asparagus goes into its wild fern-jungle phase and flowers madly, while raspberries prepare their fruit in giant, leafy mounds. It is the opposite of disturbance. It is a laissez-faire of keen abundance.
Probably the same can be said of every season. Divided from the burden of personal preference, autumn, winter, and even mud-season all shine forth in their just-rightness. Divided from the burden of personal preference? What kind of a way to live is that? It sounds brown and boring, coming from the lens of consumer society. It sounds dissociative, bleak, and deathly. But is it? (Ha! Rhetorical questions are seasonal disturbances within thought. These arise from the late arrival of half of Notebook Club.)
Anyway: the burden of personal preference. Sometimes not a burden at all, but a revelation. Which one do I want? That one. So it shall be written, so it shall be done, and the ice-cream line can move along smoothly, because I’m not paralyzed over possible losses and missteps. Awesome! This coconut fudge sits just right in the deep nest of this waffle cones, and all is right with the world. Meanwhile, I’m so glad you’re enjoying your cup of orange sherbet with rainbow sprinkles.
But then, as we all know, that’s not the way it always pans out.
An email arrives. It is, I can tell, perfectly well-intentioned. And yet, it lands with a dull ache of I Don’t Like It. I can feel how it fails to meet my preferences. I can feel the hurt rising in myself. That’s not what I ordered. That’s not what I like. How dare she? But then: is there actually anything wrong with this situation? Not really. I am startled. I feel the truth of the hurt I experience, and I can sense the kind of work that would be required to address the email-sender, seek clarification, demand solace, etc. But what for? I can simply step aside, let it go by, and save the energy for something else. Like writing, or stitching fancy skulls onto my nurse hat. Like not doing anything, and letting the world remain undisturbed.
Seasonal disturbance is only disturbing if we have an idea of how things should be. That starts to sound wishy-washy and Yoda-like, but it’s actually fierce. Who do we think we are, to break the world? Who do we think we are, to harm souls, or to save them? Walking around without the burden of personal preference means sometimes we recognize there’s not a damn thing we can do about a situation. Meanwhile, right close, there’s something else we can affect, and should. I am lingering over the day’s report of governmental disturbances. Meanwhile, I really should be scheduling a mammogram, washing out the teapot, and getting back to work on my thesis. Choosing to orient towards disturbance makes sense when there’s some clear way to effect change, but at other times, it’s like refusing to notice all the ripening fruit, because that one weird-looking leaf over there seems more interesting.
Seasonal disturbance: the little green caterpillars and aphids arise on the roses that have never been super-happy, climbing on the trellis below the porch. I decided to Do Something. At the garden center are a whole array of poisons. Organic poisons! Old-fashioned poisons! Poisons never to get anywhere near your eyes, mouth, skin, or dogs. None of it sounds very good to me. I ask one of the employees, and she says she uses Systemic Poisons, but the store doesn’t stock these anymore. Wimps! Disappointed to leave the store poisonless, I walk away determined to shop for Systemic Poisons online. Which is how it comes to my attention that these are the self-same motherfuckers responsible for decimating bee populations. Which is more disturbing – some munched-on roses, or mass-killing of innocent pollinators? I find a garden wizard’s site, which recommends giving your roses a vigorous hose-down to dislodge creatures. I buy some giant fertilizer-suppositories and hammer them into the ground around the roses. Now the munching seems more like, OK, well, not my preference, but those roses aren’t the hardiest, and someone’s got to feed the aphids. I hose them down. In the immediate aftermath, they’re even sadder and more bedraggled, but by morning they look a bit perkier.
Seasonal disturbance is a tool for blaming the world. Seasonal disturbance is a way of alienating certain perfectly whole states. The state where all you can think about is soaking your feet in a bucket of hot water. The state where if you don’t find a river to jump in (or a potato chip) in the next 36 seconds, you are going to scream. The state where you honestly don’t give a fuck about anything, but a nap sounds nice. The state where everything has ended, and it’s impossible to know where-from anything new might arise. All, if unresisted and uncollapsed-into, no problem.
Seasonal disturbance. I refuse, actually, to sign on to the version of events where we are catapulting ourselves into oblivion. Who’s “we”? Awake awareness has been here since beginningless time, and no number of cow-farts or flights to Geneva can alter the fact that it will persevere. Will there be more Julie Püttgens? Choosing not to have children, I’ve declined certain versions of future personal preference. Spending time watching my dogs’ faces interpreting and scanning the world, I’ve let go of special preference for humans of any lineage. Awake awareness in the form of squirrels, as clouds, as sumac flowers ripening on their own wisdom, is fine with me. I refuse the disturbance of apocalypse-season, not because I don’t think humans are capable of destroying one another, but because I think it’s irrelevant. What Is, knows. I spend time in devotion to the ground of being, without fearing stories that make no sense on its terms.
The opposite of seasonal disturbance is seasonal exuberance. Inuberance? Not everything has to be yellow petals dancing in peals of sunlight. Beauty can be that huge, dead hemlock, suddenly sporting lacquered tree-ears. It can be the slow-moving orange efts waking up along the path. It can be the natural order of this body-mind, placing one word, then the next; one breath, then the next. Just like this.
What is my story about the Inquisition and its blandishments? So reasonable. So much for our own good and the good of the One True Faith. Tight band at my neck, tight feeling in my stomach. The Inquisition will put me against the wall in chains, naked, whipped, and walk on by in clean white vestments. There is nothing to see here. This is nothing. This is not worth knowing. What, this? There is nothing here.
But there is something here. Round bottom, strong legs open at the hips, warm lap, hand writing, mind knowing. Fuck you, Inquisition. Fuck you, horrible childhood disguised as expertise. I see you, and know that your balance is terrible. I see your spite come dark-dragoning up from underneath that sensible helmet of grey hair, exactly as you fear. My hair is a dark dragon dakini-dancing up from between the shoulder blades I remember to unstick. My neck is long and dragon-supple. My pelvis grounds the base of a cliff, and the air swirls in through June-bright windows to caress my cheek.
I am not stuck. I am not full of self-judgment. Your judgment-stories – stuck in delusion, vomit, rank, and report-cards – are yours. This body knows I can endure a few more minutes of being narrated by the Inquisition. Your narration will end for me soon, and someday maybe, it will end for you, too.
Cheek tight. Flinching at the sound of your so-reasonable, slaughtering voice. The Inquisitor’s white hands, and the terrible mess the witch’s body makes under the lash. Writing is clean – no mess, nothing for the inquisitor to mind –and so writing gets to happen in the Dharma hall, while messy drawing and clay are sequestered elsewhere. The bare Dharma hall is the Inquisitor’s garden, but outside, glossy peonies spend themselves in scarlet abandon. In the garden the old lilac’s broken limb survives. In the kitchen the marriage of art and ground cooks slowly, to fill our empty bellies.
I know, as wolf, as bear, as horse, I’ve broken your brittle bones. I know you ride badly and taste worse. I know, for food and comfort and love, not to turn to you.
Space Cadet Julie Püttgen, reporting for duty, once again, as ever, ad infinitum, et cetera, et cetera, a-cha-cha-cha, Amen. Space Cadet Julie Püttgen assuming responsibility for this tomato plant in a too-small pot, this bumblebee stuck against the mudroom window, this mummified parsnip at the back of the refrigerator drawer. Space Cadet Julie Püttgen accompanying Space Monster One and Space Monster Two for their morning sortie into the woods. Monsters accompanying the Space Cadet, barring any unanticipated deer encounters. Space Cadet Julie Püttgen learning what it truly means to be a cadet of space, a devotee of space, an explorer of the spaces between, around, and through everything. Space Cadet Julie Püttgen Learning that to be a consort of space is to be at home anywhere there’s space, i.e., anywhere. At least in theory.
The practice I am doing these days involves learning to be a Space Cadet, and also a Water Cadet, an Earth Cadet, a Fire Cadet, and an Air Cadet. It involves inviting all the wisdom beings of each of these families to come transform me into a fierce, dancing, flaming, westernized embodiment of what they know, and what I have been struggling to learn. I call out the sound of each family – Yoo hoo! I’m here! I’m here with all my strength and all my crazy, and I could sure benefit from the wisdom of all Space everywhere, all Water everywhere, all Earth everywhere, all Fire everywhere, and all Air everywhere, as I attempt to transition into being part of the solutions around here. As I attempt to see what’s real in beings. As I attempt to turn said crazy into compassion and wisdom.
Space Cadet Julie Püttgen has been up to all kinds of stuff that’s looked a little bit like, What...? Because there’s not been one clear aggregate to emerge from it. Chaplain-painter-meditator-therapist-dog wrangler-teacher… what? It takes a long time to we’ve a lot of complexity together, there’s always the possibility that the whole thing will fray and collapse into a pile of knots and burrs. The Hasidic story of the Clever Man and the Simple Man used to haunt me. Clever Man learns metalsmithing, dressage, weaving, and beagle-ballet, and in each case excels beyond what anyone could possibly imagine. Then he moves on to something else. Who cares if I can engrave the entire Torah on the back of this topaz? I’m out of here, and it’s on to Acro-Yoga training in Costa Rica for me. Simple Man, meanwhile, is a terrible cobbler. You can’t count on him to make a flip-flop, let alone a pair of them, but he’s delighted for everything he does, and by the scrapey poverty he and his wife and their sixteen-going-on-seventeen children live in together. I could be wrong, but my memory of the moral of the story is that while Clever Man has it all wrong, Simple Man has it going on.
I don’t actually buy either of these dudes as a model. Simple Man’s delusion doesn’t appeal or resonate, and Clever Man’s A-type dissatisfaction feels like a bitter motivation. When I move from one thing to another, delusion and dissatisfactions are certainly somewhere in the mix, so also are curiosity and a sense of deep calling. I have no idea why I have to do this, but I have to do this. Not to be the best at it, but to let whatever it is enter into this Space Cadet and work its changes. I didn’t used to know this, but it can be very liberating to be bad at something, and stick with it. Aikido training brings this possibility to me, over and over again. Who knows if I’ll ever earn the medieval skirt that comes with the first grade above Total Pipsqueak? Who knows if I’ll ever go beyond that? Just showing up to see how that practice works its changes on me is enough. Just learning not to fear failure, Learning how to show up with the possibility of success, and also the great likelihood of winding up yet again in a self-confused tangle of limbs.
“Space Cadet” has a connotation of cluelessness and confusion, of groundlessness and lack of a plan. We here in the USA frown upon that sort of thing, think it weak, see only contemptible, effeminate lack of rigid strength. But Buddha family, whose element is space, is anything but weak in its liberated form. Its motto might be, Less prep, more presence. In the absence of a super-detailed plan, space knows it’s possible to respond clearly, to initiate appropriately, to turn confusion into panoramic understanding of a whole situation. Space Cadet doesn’t attach fixed names or qualities to itself or others. It sees the balance of things, stacks them just so, and sends them flying on to their next destinations. Space Cadet can’t fail, because there’s no task available for evaluation. Process keeps rolling, and Space Cadet rolls with it.
There’s a point in psychodrama work where each of the players de-roles from whatever they’ve been carrying in the group dynamic. I am no longer Your Mean Mom, I am Julie! The director flutters a scarf overhead, and the spell is dissolved. I am no longer Mindfulness, I am Fred! Whoosh! The role goes with the ritual, and we find ourselves clean again, and stronger for having been able to hold a particular energy without becoming it in any fixed way. I think this ritual would be a valuable addition to any household or workplace. Okay, I’ll be your Adversary, That Bitch, for just the time it takes to work through this dance in this safe space… And now, whoosh! I am no longer That Bitch, I am Julie. We could let each other off the hook so beautifully: from pretending that we should refrain from the dramas that arise in us; from disowning them; from staying caught in the roles we need each other to schlep along, year after year.
Space Cadet Julie Püttgen delights in opening the cages of so many roles that might otherwise have languished in the dungeons of the unallowed.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.