I alternate between feeling as though I would like to be completely wrapped in layers and layers of padding, with of course a snorkel and some goggles to see with – and knowing that the very rawness of experience is the precious jewel. Mostly, I’ve moved into the second camp, the one where I look around, seeing the depth of pain and complexity and loss we all live through, and feel, At last! This is living.
In the paper this morning, a front page story about how illegal miners are tearing apart the forests of Madagascar to wrench sapphires from the ground there. Some French gemologist: Now we have all these huge, perfectly clear stones appearing at the gem shows! It’s really exciting. Meanwhile, skulls and bones and nests and feathers and scales, all pulverized into stinking the piles, as the slaves of the gem-seekers dig deeper into ground that, until 12 minutes ago, was Home.
The good news about metaphoric gems – the Jewel of Great Price, the Triple Gem, the Diamond Heart – is that you don't need to go to despoiling lemurs to find them. All the despoiling that anyone could ever wish for has already happened, and all you need to do is to agree to take off the snorkel, goggles, and bubble wrap, and feel what is already there. You want new, clean gems? Look into any place on earth were someone’s agreed to feel what they feel, and agree to feel it yourself. Be one of the nodes. Allow yourself to take ownership of what is most raw in your experience, and voilà! Sapphire. Diamond. Ruby. Don’t hold it too tight, or it will turn back into a pile of corpses.
Renée Daumal knew this. In his Mount Analogue, the only way to find the highest island mountain in the world is to believe that it exists, and set out in a small boat on the open ocean in search of it. Once found, the only way to pay the guides you need to climb the mountain is in the currency of gems that appear spontaneously at times of deep empathy or fellow-feeling. No faith, no mountain. No compassion, no guides.
Asanga learned this. Bubblewraps himself in a cave for 10 years, waiting for the Buddha of the future to come to him. No dice. Disgusted, he storms out of the cave. Then: sees a bird brush the top of his cliff with the edge of her wing, grooving ever so slightly deeper the indent of her ancestors’ flights into stone. Roar! Back to the cave. Patience. Bubble wrap. 10 more years. Fuck it! Leaves the cave. Drop of water falls from the top of the cliff into a deep basin carved into stone and filled with sweet water, over millennia. Noooo! More patience. Back to the cave. 30 years in. Still nothing. Gets a bit further away this time, then, meets a man brushing a huge lodestone of iron with a silk cloth, honing the needle someone someday will have extracted from said giant motherfucking stone. Loses his Buddhist mind. What? No cave, no Buddha, no 401(k), no job, no wings, what? Asanga tears his hair, his sad cave-dweller’s rags. Then comes to a dog in the road. Dog? Charismatic, and also, what’s this? Huge gaping maggoty wound in her side. Oh God! Throws himself to the dusty road, sticks his tongue out, and approaches the wound, hoping to make a bridge so the maggots can parade out, unharmed. Bam! Buddha, right there.
Asanga - good for him - says, Where have you been the last more than a couple decades, O Shiny One?
Buddha, In 30 years, this is the first time you have felt and expressed love for another being. I can't reach you, all bubblewrapped, goggled and snorkeled. But down in the dust, tongue out, maggot-rescuing, I'm right here. Jewels galore.
But don't imagine that everyone will see it that way. Asanga walks into town, overjoyed. Yes! Me and my jewel-Buddha-buddy friend are cruising the main drag in glory! But the Chamber of Commerce, still respectably padded, sees a smelly old dude in a loincloth, plus a medically disreputable canine on his shoulder. Better double-bag that. Better keep that shit away from our vulnerable citizens. Sad.
One little girl’s not fooled. Hey, Mister? What’s your friend’s name? Want a granola bar?
Something I've been feeling into, the last few days: when longing for someone else, somewhere else starts up its siren song of lemur corpses, its strip-mining of the heart’s abundance for some One True Thing, I feel into the back of the neck and shoulders (where Asanga carried his friend) and allow something to open, connect, and deepen. Wanting to bubblewrap and numb is interconnected with finding myself/the present moment/the way things are wanting. But they’re not. I reset the back of my neck, reconnect head and body, and suddenly what is there is the willingness to see and feel abundance as they are, right now and right here. Don’t need to go to Madagascar. Don’t need to extend myself to some other fantasy version of reality. Don’t need to divert the rawness of what I am feeling by spinning it into stories of if then and what if.
I can't say it's easy to do this, but I can say that having the felt sense of broadening my shoulders and opening my crown to enter the body-mind is tremendously helpful. I don't need someone to anoint me. I don't need some showy red-velvet and peeled-weasel coat to acknowledge my viable presence in this world. Body does that. Mind not wandering like a starving exile does that. Discipline and letting go of the thing-making mind does that.
My friend and his family are traveling right now in Cambodia, re-finding the roots of the son he adopted through the intercession of a pair of Canadian women then in their 20s, who simply would not leave the country, no matter how awfully dangerous to themselves, until some government somewhere would issue visas for the two dozen orphans they were keeping alive in the midst of the carnage. At the very last possible moment, the papers came through, and the women and children boarded a plane for North America, where the latter were adopted into new families.
Anyway. This morning my friend posted a photograph from a memorial on the former killing fields outside of Phnom Penh. At the edge of a green field, a tall, narrow pagoda, with glass sides, into which, packed noses-to-glass, a pile of skulls, waiting. Who's going to pick us up? Who’s going to see the maggots in our wounds, the Buddhas in our suffering? We’ve been memorialized, and who will agree now to feel our suffering, from inside the bubble wrap of this respectable casing?
That’s always the question, isn’t it? Who will agree to feel what we feel and know what we know? Who will agree to feel and know the stories of others?
I drive around listening to the Cultural Revolution for a while, then switch to apartheid. I open my heart to miners in Madagascar, and then to a drone pilot. It all feels of a piece: my skin, unwrapped, is touched, and opens.
Julie Püttgen is an artist and meditation teacher.
108 Names of now