We don’t know much about subways, around here, unless you count the woodchucks’ burrows, and the squirrels’, and that one weird one, I couldn’t figure out who lived there, but whoever it was had three perfect red amanita growing in their front yard. Yes, there are ways under around here, subways among the underbodies of mushrooms and ferns, hemlocks and beech, dogfeet, and the feet of deer.
Elliot finally killed the woodchuck that lived under my studio. I say “the” but probably it’s more like “one of the.” Someone has been gnawing on the siding since this happened, and my guess is that those teeth belong to another member of that clan. Anyway – yes – I let the dogs out that morning, and they ran out, straight to the woodchuck’s corner. Chloe came back when I called to get in the car, but not Elliot. I called again, and he appeared, with the woodchuck’s portly body held in his jaws. “Oh, fuck, dogs!” I exclaimed in shock. “Fuck!” Elliot put the body down and got in the car, like I asked him to. A gift. A surrender. Fuck.
For various reasons, we have about six snow shovels lined up against the house, even though it is August. I picked up two metal ones, and scooped the woodchuck’s body up in one shovel, having first rolled it over with the other. Heavy. Very dead, though intact as far as I could see. I walked over to the sumac at the edge of the garden, carrying the body with the shovel, and then paused. Belly up. Strong teeth, dark whiskers, muscles relaxed. Something released a little more inside his body, and some urine trickled out.
I had a job interview to get to, plus I needed to get the dogs out into the woods beforehand. Having no time for a proper woodchuck funeral, I rolled the body out of the shovel, onto the shady ground under the trees, and walked away.
A grave is a subway.
For the next few days, the woodchuck would often come to mind. Was he really dead? Could’ve been an amazingly strong freeze response? I spotted his grey-brown-white fur among the blackberry leaves. Dead. Should I have buried him? I’d be walking in the woods under bright-blue skies and think, No. Better to have a sky burial and the chance to transform above ground. At night, I would sometimes get a strong sea-miasma smell of decomposing woodchuck. Hello, friend. Who knows what you will be next? You are free.
A diagnosis is a subway.
Right around the time all this was happening with Elliot and the woodchuck and the charnel grounds, my mom was navigating the transition between the initial, urgent manifestation of her cancer, and its subsequent steps. She texted me that her chemo would require “un boîtier” to be implanted in her chest. I freaked out. “Un boîtier”? That could be the size of a Tonka truck. Don’t go cutting up my mom to stick large foreign objects in her body, you disembodied medicine-ghouls! I talked with her. She told me the thing to be subwayed under her skin is the size of a five-franc piece. “It needs to be done,” she told me. It’s okay, insofar as any of this is okay.
Fear is a subway.
All fungal growth is the visible part of endless subways. The night after my mom went in to have her chemo port implanted, I ate black trumpet mushrooms I’d foraged from the top of the hill we live on. I texted my mom a picture of one of these in my hand, telling her that as I harvested them, I thought of her father, dead now some thirty years. “Trompettes de la mort,” she texted me back. Death is a subway leading back into appreciating my ancestors, who spent a lot of time hunting animals and mushrooms, and training dogs to help them do these things.
Memory is a subway.
I eat the dark mushrooms, sautéed in butter, with a single, long green onion from the garden, and mashed potatoes. My mother would’ve used shallots, but I like the double-foraged quality of this improvised recipe. I even like cleaning the black tunnels and shaggy skins off the potatoes before I cook them. Nothing’s perfect here: a meal from the subways. I don’t really taste death’s trumpets as I eat them, but then, isn’t that how it goes?
Transition is a subway.
Job interviews, job letters, speculations and agreements. I am on a train and I’m not sure where it goes, or which station will be the right one at which to disembark. I step off sometimes, run my fingers over the golden mosaic tiles, lapis squares, monuments of what’s above, or what has been. Then I wait for the next train to come along and carry me in its hard, plastic seats, its upholstered velvet seats, its clattering tunnels of connection.
You don’t want to stay in the subway too long, lest your eyes turn red and your skin rabbit-white and transparent. The woodchuck had to leave his borough for dandelion greens and marigolds. Most days, this worked out fine. One day, it didn’t.
From inside the subway, it’s easy to forget the qualities of the above-ground world – its brightness and busyness. It’s easy to get lulled by darkness and endless movement without commitment or stopping and staking a claim. I know the dark-dragon quality of the subway, and its power, but I also know that human life, this human life, can’t be lived there without surfacing.
I make mistakes, screw up the calendar, go into the places that scare me, and meet them. It’s not obvious how these awkward, searching steps add up, only, I know they work better than refraining does. They work better than staying in subways that bar memory, bar mourning, bar the clarity of struggle, and bury the wide-open sky.
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.
Fermented pineapple: a blessing, a curse, a favorite snack among the denizens of Hell. All of these, simultaneously true, in the way so many things are. I open up Facebook, and find a post by my friend Andra Rose. It begins with a warning: “If strangeness is not your jam, you should skip this.” Strangeness is most definitely my jam, so I read on, having previously experienced Andra’s knack for primordial wisdom. (Self-Proclaimed job description: comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.) In the following paragraphs, she goes on to describe, quite powerfully, a dream wherein she is forced down into Hell, into the company of monsters. From the story, I picture a monster-wedding, monster-conference, or monster-awards-ceremony. Everyone is sitting around tables, eating fermented pineapple wrapped in prosciutto sliced from the flesh of horribly abused pigs. The drinks are bat-slaying tequila, sweetened with slavers’ syrup. Also, there are Unfair Trade mangoes, with no floss anywhere in fathomless space to relieve your teeth of those mango-strings that feel like they last for days, and cannot be captured by fingernails. The jokes run straight to everyone’s worst fears and most excruciating hangups. There is no doubt that everyone present (except the deluded NIMBY-monster) has done every awful thing that it is possible to do. Voilà! Here we are.
I am sitting at the lunch table with four fellow Buddhist teachers. We are discreetly showing one another a fang here, a devouring belly there. The topic of conversation turns to safety culture, and what place it has when offering the Dharma. Yes, it’s true that there is altogether too much hierarchical, traumatic student-schtupping going on. We shake our heads in sad disapproval. Not us, vile student-schtuppers! But then, what about the more or less explicitly-stated norm that requires all things Dharmic to be safe, tranquil, accessible, and enjoyable? We agree this is sort of meditation’s fault, for showing up with taglines like: Lovingkindness – Better than Xanax, Since 500BCE! It’s hard to magnetize the world with that particular sell, and then turn around snarling, We don’t want to be your Xanax. Deal with it! Hard to have it both ways. And yet: impossible to inhabit the fiery, awake heart of practice, if anything that shows up more Metallica than shakuhachi is automatically exiled from Buddha culture.
A friend describes offering a New Year’s Day retreat to a group that included a certified mindfulness instructor. “That was nice,” she said at the end of a day of inquiry, movement, and other awareness practices, “but I thought you would be offering something a little bit more Buddhist.” What does it mean, to be “Buddhist”? What kinds of experiences lead to the unshakeable insight that monsters - as in my friend’s dream - are sacred beings?
The teacher sitting to my right perks up when I describe my not-infrequent experience of building the Ramones or Rage Against the Machine into a dance playlist, only to have this intensity met with dance-participants' most withdrawn restorative yoga poses. Turns out the man I am talking with is a fellow fan of hard-core music, a former school teacher now working with incarcerated kids. We talk about what intense music – music the doesn’t shy away from the monstrous – does for us. It’s releasing, welcoming in a level of stimulation that resets the nervous system like nothing else will. When I unfurl into sound just at the edge of what I know how to meet, I am reminded of vastness and fearlessness in a way that doesn’t arise otherwise. In my experience, big chaos in sound and movement is a doorway into indescribable, unfabricated order. Warrior energy meets overwhelm and moves through it. I don’t want to be a Valkyrie all the time, but riding the wind, ax drawn, limbs whirling, teeth bared, gives depth and richness to parallel, peaceful states. No work also means no rest. No struggle means no resolution.
Recently, I passed again through what is a very painful gateway for me: a role is ending, and I’m not being offered what small-self feels to be the next role up. This gets right into the immigrant’s pain of not-belonging, the fear that showing up whole means remaining unseen. It fucking burns. It burns hard – harder than any of the hard music I have ever loved, and which has prepared me for just such suffering. I stay in it. I stay with it, I don’t hide it, don’t lash out, or at least try not to. Then a friend asks, How about no-role? How would no-role be? What if no-role, no knowing what comes next, is exactly where I need to be? What if enslaving myself to this-job, or that-job isn’t actually what Being is for, or about? That’s a hard one to settle into, when so much externally is about how to be good at one’s role, and how to move successfully from role to role.
With the help of some monsters I've befriended, I ride this role-wave as I have ridden countless dance-waves, writing-waves, and heart-waves. It begins, it burns, it goes wild, it releases into some spacious gift accessible only through sitting at this table, eating the fermented pineapple, listening to my poet friend tell me a monster-story of abuse and heartbreak, without slipping out the back door of judgment or disconnection. If I go into a restorative yoga pose in the middle of this wave, space out, go passive, I will lose the opportunity to eat poison and turn it into blessings. I will defer a reckoning that wants to be embodied. And of course, I do that. Of course, sometimes the monsters are more than I can meet, and so: bed, advil, food, social media. Sometimes also, the active response is to leave. Someone else’s Metallica might be my there-are-too-many-drunk-people-in-this-room. We do what we can. Bonking out teaches us the growing edge of capacity.
Andra’s dream-narrative is not a pleasant tale of beautiful, lovable monsters. She sees monsters who know themselves, and accept their roles as purveyors of horror, unfettered agents of the pain that may eventually grow us. She writes:
These monsters know all of the darkness in the cosmos as a function of their being. They are the practitioners and devotees of all that brings us anguish, revulsion, and shame. Like priests, they perform the sacred work of embodying these necessary elements. If you arrive in Hell without a relationship to these aspects of reality, it is… well, Hell. The monsters simply being who they are becomes an agony for you, because you’ve arrived in their territory without any kind of rapport. Naturally you’ll misinterpret howls of laughter for shrieks of rage and grins for predatory grimaces, all directed at you and your wretched personal suffering.
The real challenges we encounter in life are not delivered to us by safety-checked monster-simulators, planes without wings, playacting just the right, calibrated amount of Hell needed to straighten us out. They know, and we know, that we need to be smashed flat under gnarled toenails, without ever losing the thread of wholeness that keeps us all primordially connected, role after role, wave after wave, life after life.
Locked in. So it shall be written, so it shall be done. Yul Brynner thumps his oiled chest, and somehow his Pharaoh’s headdress doesn’t bobble. Decrees made without bobbling are a sign of quality Authority. Maybe Yul Brynner had some sense, even then, of being locked into the decree he would make years later? I’m Yul Brynner, he would say, eyes locked in with the camera lens, and by the time you see this, I’ll be dead from lung cancer. Fierce eyes. Yul Brynner, back from the dead, is telling his viewers that they can unlock themselves from smoking.
You can’t unlock yourself from being born into a vulnerable body, subject to aging, sickness, and death. What may seem a bummer also gives freedom to opt out of a whole lot of expensive and time-consuming shilly-shallying around Atlantis Sea Salts and Unicorn Rainbow Enemas, none of which will in the slightest way alter your root vulnerability. You can skip the Cryonics subscription. Extreme longevity and championship vigor are not the point.
Still, you can nurture life. You can choose to take care of body and mind in ways that open, celebrate, and support the waking-up process. Not because the Buddha loves rosy butt-cheeks, but because, among lives, maybe this one is a miracle. You’re human. You suffer enough to want to wake up, but not so much that you’re constantly overwhelmed. There are little gaps here and there, where pain unlocks into understanding, where spacing-out gives way to focus, where anger turns to wisdom, and compulsive seduction turns to discernment.
You can learn to work with What Is, instead of trying to perfect it all the damn time. Establishing the Right conditions – no matter whose version of Right you might be working with – is a profoundly elitist and ultimately doomed project. Learn, instead, to recognize conditions for what they are.
This weekend, one of my classic wounds came up, the whole pattern unfurling its rich carpets of sorrow. Perhaps you recognize the refrain? There Is No Place for Me in This World, which Is in Any Case Run by Nincompoops of Servile Disposition and Meager Understanding. The whole thing is very intricately woven for me, and not entirely without truth. But still – if I let myself get locked into it, despair is really the only possible outcome. Suicide – a not infrequent event in my family – begins to make a certain amount of sense. If this – this pattern of being unheard, unheeded, and uncelebrated – is the outcome of All My Hard Work (cue violins and sitar), then Fuck It.
Luckily, the truths that resonate most deeply for me are not results-based. They say, Unbind yourself from results. Unlock the report-card mentality that chains your sense of worth to external conditions. You are not what happens to you. Don’t expect applause.
What does that even look like, in daily life, without getting all spooky and dissociated? I remember the intentions that brought me into situations that wind up being harder than I expected. I remember I can know the world, without needing a lollipop from it every five minutes. I remember this one life is not the entire story. There is a context of sufferings and joys of living beings of every description, and I’m here as a student of these. I’m also here clearing tabs left open in half-seen lives. Maybe this perceived slight or setback is connected with those debts? Maybe it’s clearing space for something as yet unseen, unknown? Maybe it’s a reminder not to get too deeply sucked into American entitlement and success theologies, carrying trains of suffering far longer than anything I will allow myself to get locked into.
There is a wheel of life, and we are all on it, somewhere. We have been everywhere on it, and most likely will be, once again. And also, if you look carefully, you will see that every sector of the wheel contains not just its denizens – the Animals, the Hungry Ghosts, the Jealous Gods – but also the self-same smiling Buddha, extending a fear-not mudra into the proceedings. It’s not a different Buddha in each of the different realms. The alpacas down in Sector C are not grooving to a woolier Buddha than the one watching over the cavortings of the A-list in their palaces. Same Buddha. Same compassionate seeing. Same wisdom in all beings, regardless of circumstance and fate. This everywhere-on-the-wheel-at-once Buddha represents a simultaneous, equanimous awareness, needing no preferences met in order to be OK. You’re the boss? Fine. The pipsqueak? Still fine. You’re shrouded by grief, felled by heartbreak, pissed as hell, giddy with success? All knowable. The key to all the locks is the same: Know what this is. Know what is happening, and the impact it is having on you, and all those involved in the situation. Don’t forget that this role-play is unfolding in a way that cannot encompass or crush you. Nothing lasts. Nothing is forever.
Yul Brynner speaking to the television camera extends a fear-not mudra towards thirteen-year-old Julie, sitting on the floor of her family’s living room in Atlanta. It’s not like she’s ever going to smoke, but still: this person, this actor who played the Pharaoh without flinching or bobbling, this beautiful man who made Bible class bearable, is reaching out from beyond to say there is an awareness not quelled by illness or by death. Compared with Tony the Tiger telling her gleefully to rot her teeth, this makes a real impression. Pray for us now, and at the hour of our death. Forget the Froot Loops. Forget the pointless biases of all those TV fantasies. Something real is here, child, and you can choose either to be curious about it, or to squander it. Chances are, you’ll choose a little of both, without getting locked into either.
Malcontent or sage, sage or malcontent, goes the ancient refrain from the astrological chart drawn up when I was a newborn. Malcontent: locked into the circumstances of this world as a flawed mirror for the brilliance of What I Am. Sage: recognizing that circumstances cannot for one moment fix the whole of what any of us are, to one another, to ourselves, as interlocking universes.
About to lay out the tarot cards for a reading, I glimpse something scary. I am about to flick the cards at the top of the stack into the unmanifest middle, when I think, No. I am here to learn, to see, to understand. This Celtic cross, this mandala, sure enough has sorrow in it, with the spooky bat of the Hanged Man at its center. But it also has the World in the place representing what I bring to the situation I am exploring. That feels right: a blessing of comprehensive wholeness. Sorrow can be known. Failure can be known. And there is no shame in either of these, honestly come by. I let the cards speak, not with a sense of being locked in, but with gratitude for greater and greater capacity to receive patterns, unfolding.
Inside-out is an invitation to break the rules. Something comes out of the box, and you put it back in. Then you change your mind, crumple it up into your pocket, and choose again. Two come out. Which hand? The one with a colorful bracelet on the outside, and all the ten thousand things on the inside.
Inside-out is encrypting your new hard drive, and then forgetting the password that lets you get inside. Voila! Welcome to the useless plastic thingy, formerly known as a terabyte of storage. Some things are only useful if you can get inside them. Some things are only useful if you can get outside them. Inside, outside. This house only functions as a home if I can leave and come back. I leave and come back. My friend Karen gives me morning glory seedlings, which I’m taking through the inside-outside dance called “hardening off.” Don’t leave them outside overnight – they’ll catch cold. Don’t leave them inside during the day – they’ll never learn how to grow in the blustery, changing world of New England.
The inside is outside, and the outside is inside, say the alchemists. As above, so below, they say. I say, Maybe. I say, that fails to account for just how much there is going on, all in all. This feeling– is it mine, yours, ours? Clenching my teeth and my hands in my sleep, am I letting the outside world too deeply into my dreams? What is too deeply? How could I sleep unclenched, when elsewhere, cynical men are poking sticks at desperate, cornered people, in my name? When elsewhere, Oligarchy Barbie stands next to the cornerstone of an abomination engraved in her father’s name? So, that is what it’s like when the outside is inside.
On a bad day, when the inside is outside, I am cranky from whatever countless causes, looking at Chloe the Pirate Dog with frank annoyance. Dammit, Dog, you breached the fence again. Now, we can’t contain you. Now, we can’t know exactly where you are, when. Now, we’ll have to build a better fortress. In another mood, I can see her defiance in light of my own. I can laugh with her toothy old-dog smile, and have both our insides be outsided in conspiratorial joy. Way to dig out from all obstructions, Big Girl! You show me my own stubborn freedom.
On a good day, inside-out recognizes the wisdom and wonder of What Is, because that’s what I’m carrying around within. Flow-state is inside and outside sitting companionably with one another. Tangoing passionately with one another. Inside-out. I drop my resistance to the forgotten password, the unhired model, the many ways that days and plans go lumpy. I allow surprise, innocence, the unexpected. I play.
Here’s the news: the thing that you crumpled up and put inside your pocket isn’t done yet. It’s coming back. You can’t build a wall around it, and even if you get Ivanka Trump to declare it a victory for insiders everywhere, it won’t last. Something is already digging it out from underneath, with sharp, stubborn black claws. With bolt cutters and shovels, with root refusal to obey your notions of what should rightly be inside, or outside, here, or over there.
The Tao Te Ching is very specific about this sort of thing. No treasure without a thief, it says. No sealed-up space, without the inside and the outside carrying on an illicit affair that you can never stop, no matter how much shooting and gassing, or lying and covering up you do. What Is hates a sealed-up space, will do everything to open it, will insist on the more natural rhythms of breathing in and breathing out, smashing everything in its way to get there, if necessary.
When I listen to the headache I wake up with, most every day, and carry around, sullen but workable, I am aware of a sealed space. It begins in the left side of my skull, travels down through the jaw, neck, and shoulder, and then anchors in my sacrum. When I listen to it, I can open up the top of my skull, and unseal the space. Immediately, relief comes. Good. Now it’s pain with contact, with harmony. I stand taller, and the right side also remembers it can breathe.
But what about when I am asleep? Then, there’s no control over where body-awareness goes. Then, whatever it is that I am clenching against comes into this being, inside-out, outside-in. I am not saying that I think I am being stalked by something sinister, at all. More like: I become permeable in my sleep, susceptible to the ten thousand sorrows of this world, who need someone to acknowledge their existence. This can be Gaza, or it can be down the street. This can be someone seemingly else, or it can be the pains of my own life. I get into my car after aikido practice, one bright Saturday morning, and am momentarily transported back to the parking lot of Kiddie City, in the Sandy Springs suburbs of Atlanta. I am 11 years old, and must, somehow, spend the morning shopping with my mom. We can’t afford anything. Whatever we find will become co-opted as the outside of this very awkward inward being. Time crawls by in a perfect disjointed dance of inside and outside, out of sorts. What can my mother see, in these overpriced eighties clothes? I’m unsuited to them – not blonde, not petite – and what she knows comes from a French girlhood spent in convent schools, wearing gloves on the outside; wearing assumptions about place and class, on the inside. I try on a pair of pale-yellow corduroys, peel them inside-out as I shuck them off. How is this petal-velvet a solution to the armor I instinctively know I need? The outside and the inside are at war. I’m outside my mother’s insides, and her notions of curating me feel desperate, without power to reconcile world and self, self and world.
I come back to this May morning, remember I am on my way to meet my friend, tug the warrior/healer suit I’m wearing back into alignment with this body’s shape. I wear nurse on the outside, because nurse is what I need on the inside. I wear severed heads on the outside, because severed heads are what’s happening on the inside. I slice through old ways of seeing, reacting, assuming, taking a chance that somewhere in all this mayhem, a heart of wholeness cradles the inside, and the outside, without being fooled for one instant that they have ever been other than turning one another inside-out in the ocean’s tides.
Cliffhanger is what prompted my brother and his friend Keith to ninja-rappel down Keith’s mother’s apartment building in Atlanta. They watched the film over and over at the bargain matinée, and then decided they knew enough to do the deed. The deal was, they had to have good timing, because half the façade was glass, and the other half, balconies. Balcony-bounce: good news for young ninjas. Window-bounce: not so much. They cliffhangered their way down successfully, making space for their wildness where others simply saw Home.
Cliffhanger implies just this kind of suspense, suspension, an in-between state that just can’t last, and shouldn’t. Get out of there! Find the secret code, punch it in, and emerge into this May morning, in the company of noisy mockingbirds and feeding bees. Leave the bunker. Ditch the falling tower and rejoin the commonwealth of beings.
Right now, working on my thesis project, I have to remind myself again and again to leave the transcription software, open the door, and go outside. The transcription can wait mid-sentence, if need be, a mini-cliffhanger, while I go out to admire the asparagus shooting up. While I go out to bob around in the warm-water pool with round ladies in sturdy one-piece bathing suits.
The opposite of Cliffhanger is aqua-aerobics. You bounce around in the water, playing its resistance against the strength in your body, realizing there’s absolutely no place to fall, no void, and no drowning. Aqua-aerobics is the underachiever’s dream exercise, and it is also a good way to release all the tension of listening for what comes next, earbuds jammed into my ears, parsing meaning and structure from rivers of words. What did she say? What did she mean? Why did I ask this question, instead of that one?
I am writing about the embodied sexuality of long-term women Buddhist practitioners. I am buzzing with stories. I am listening for the unsaid within the said, for the heart of what it is to be waking up in this world as a woman. What happens? What happened?
The bees know, but they’re not saying. The noisy mockingbird might know, but is speaking in someone else’s voice.
Cliffhanger. Poised between a dilemma and its outcome. This is ending so fast! This is ending so slowly! The crabapple flowers smell of everything lovely and fruitful, honey and wildness pouring over the fence without end. The crabapple is a cliffhanger whose answer is Spring. Later, other answers will come.
I feel, this morning, into the countless generations of women ancestors whose job has been to soften male worlds into beauty and wisdom. Fuck that shit, I think. Fuck being caged and made small, and then asked to make sure things smell nice around the place. Crabapple is planted in one place, and draws the bees, but as far as I can tell, no one’s deeply invested in telling her that Real Trees, Important Trees are essentially different than she is. Cliffhanger: what happens when, age forty-six, functionally before the beginning of some new life, marriage comes to seem a ceremony I’ve been groomed for, and no longer wish to enact? Marriage comes to seem like a tower needing exit, as soon as possible, via ninja-rappel if necessary, but more likely slowly, down the stairs, with frequent stops for aqua-aerobics along the way.
I can feel old stories rousing themselves in the cellar. Go out alone, and who will keep you safe? Go out alone, and who will pay the bills? Give up this perfectly reasonable, kind man, and enter the territory of loose witches beyond the edges of things. There’s a mighty chorus whose job it is to keep me on the safe side, away from the cliff, up the tower, in place, rooted like the crabapple tree, though not a tree by nature.
Cliffhanger: what to do with the buzzing, wild energy of Spring, when at least overtly, not much in the world seems to want it? Wild doesn’t get shit transcribed. Wild crashes in to old ladies in the aqua-aerobics pool. Wild rejoices with unleashed skinny mutts exploding from the trailhead, running pell-mell, and laying down in every mud-puddle between here and home, twice if possible. Wild’s not necessarily who you want to meet at the bend in the path, and wild may not settle down to dinnertime like a good girl. Wild might smell like crabapple one minute, and fox turds the next. What to do?
Well, get up early, make a list. Squander as little time on nonsense as possible. Keep connected to wild in ways that don’t tear the tower down while you’re still living in it. Find a place to build a dwelling that’s not a tower, and keep adding to it, day by day. If you are the tree, you can’t fall out of it.
Cliffhanger is a way of forcing all of everything into some will she/won’t she funnel, when actually, maybe Her Hasty Escape isn’t the best plan, after all. Ground and roots; tower and pool; crown and all the new leaves that can only come in their own time. One day, there is absolutely nothing at all showing on the surface, and the next, purple-tipped asparagus wands are vying with each other to see who can penis out the furthest in the space of one afternoon.
Do we believe – do I believe – that there’s actual work to be done in this world, and the Universe would like me to please keep getting my shit together, because it’s actually kind of pressing? Yes. Yes I do. Well then, fuck the chorus in the cellar. It’s important to keep coming back to whatever supports real growth, and not to get distracted by cliffhangers with names like I cannot bear this for another moment or Not this crap again. It is important to stay connected with path, allowing only a minimum daily allotment for eye-rolling, or wishing the kitchen cupboards contained something more snackable than a hand-me-down bag of panko crumbs, an ancient can of cherry pie filling, and some vinegar. Cookies would be great, but it’s not much of a cliffhanger to imagine how fast I would try to use them to muffle the voices in the cellar, all to no avail.
No, there really is no solution here, other than to keep doing the work I know I need to do, to build the space I will live in, and to understand that cliffhanger is a construct that makes no sense, in light of how long we’ve all been at this. Beginningless time does not allow for narrow funnels, only steady work, with a sense of possibility opening around every tight corner.
Falling doesn’t sound so appealing, in general. It sounds dangerous, inconvenient, painful, and potentially injurious. It sounds out-of-control and embarrassing. Falling sounds like things winding up not at all precisely where we’d like them. Like drool on our shirt. Like mud on the seat of our pants. Like affection or hatred, landing in places we really wish they wouldn’t. Falling sounds like every pain in the ass we’ve ever encountered, and so, no thanks, really. We’ll take climbing, or sashaying along, or even boring old sitting, any day.
This preference for control over wild wipeout is pretty much what the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta seeks to dismantle, relentlessly, and possibly for our own good. It goes piece by piece, in a way I’ve heard described as a side effect of the oral tradition through which it has been transmitted, and which also happens to be necessary, to get through the armoring we carry around.
Form is not self. If form were self, then form would not be accompanied by affliction, and it would be possible to say of form, ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.’
That’s pretty clear, already, but just to make sure, the Sutta continues:
Just so, since form is not self, form is accompanied by affliction, and it is not possible to say of form, ‘Let my form be thus, let my form be not-thus.’
Whap! We fall into some alternate reality, where toning and trimming, waxing and tucking, shaping and exercising make no sense at all in any of the old ways. Sure – go to yoga class, keep your nose-hairs from growing down into your mustache. But also, realize that none of these things can really be filed in the self-improvement drawer. They can be considered in the same general framework as keeping the sink free of dirty dishes, or picking up stray lube-packets from the edge of the woods, but they cannot be seen truthfully as I Am Improving My Self. They can’t fall into that category and stick, with any degree of truthfulness.
What do you think? Is form permanent or impermanent? Impermanent. And things that are impermanent, can they be considered reliably satisfying? No. And of something that is unreliable, impermanent, and subject to decay, can we say, ‘This is mine, this is me, this is my self?’ Nope.
Here’s a list of questions a good lawyer would never let her client get tangled up in. For starters, who said we should be able to depend on any external thing for satisfaction? Precisely. That’s where this whole thing is going. It’s pointing the spear back at us. We can sort of see, once the package has been opened, and the thin layer of tissue paper has fallen out, that these new swim trunks aren’t going to be the salvation of us, after all. But it’s harder to see that about our minds, bodies, perceptions, feelings, and thoughts. We want very much to be able to improve those into some state where they won’t fall or fail, and what this series of questions is trying to get us to do, is to receive all of these with the same degree of not-grasping that we can sometimes muster for seemingly lesser things. Sometimes. Those swim trunks? In the first few seconds of maybe-ownership, they look pretty grand. Soft, stylish, promising to cover our rumps and new squidgy bits with grace and aplomb. It’s only later we find out the velcro is in a stupid place, and the zipper’s not going to last long, in ocean saltwater. We send them back, feeling virtuous.
What happens next? What happens if we can learn to work with all the components of our constructed selves in a way that falls open a little bit, or a lot?
Honestly, part of what happens is: we feel queasy, seasick, and like we might throw up if everything doesn’t fall back together right away into a shape that might be wildly uncomfortable, but at least has a shape. In the beginning drawing classes I teach, the time we spend learning to look at negative shape is very difficult for some people. There’s a visceral aversion to focusing on not-things, on space, on the unknown, unfelt matrix, within which all the stuff that preoccupies us is unfolding. People get angry; people get fearful. It can feel like I am the mean witch, stealing everyone’s binky, over and over again. If I let go of looking at that jar/chair/basket, how will I possibly be able to see? Where will I be? If I let go of me and my opinions, where will I fall through to? It’s not at all appealing.
And it’s also not at all the whole story. Many us have received such strong, painful training in overriding what we feel, think, and want that we first need to become quite ferocious in expressing these human impulses. We need to know them, before we can honestly make space around them. The point of learning how to see and draw negative shape is not to make weird flat drawings of the gaps between things, forever. Instead, with much time, patience, and training, we become able to switch back and forth at will, to come closer to an accounting of reality that weds the impermanent and the deathless, the thing-view and the space-view, without fixed preference for either.
Falling into relationship with Being Itself is an ideal for which there are lots of skilled ad-reps loose in the world, making it sound like bliss, blue sky, realization, hoorah! Don’t believe them. The more space intensifies, the more things do, as well. There’s a kind of interrelationship at work. More seeing means also becoming more aware of not-seeing. More rising means more falling.
Thus, with wise discernment of things as they are, a practitioner comes to see: for any form, past, present, or future, refined or coarse, internal or external, better or worse, far or near, ‘This is not mine, this is not me, this is not my self.’
Is that our big invitation to the Depersonalization Ball, where we wind up with all our tendencies to dissociate validated, once and for all? I don’t think so. I don’t live so. What actually seems to happen is something more like compassionate curiosity. Wow. I really went for it, in this morning’s argument over the hot-water kettle. That came together in a way that makes divorce over beverage-habits feel like a real possibility. I wonder what is happening here? I wonder if divorce is where the story of these two people is actually inclining? I wonder how the spaces between and inside this situation are influencing each other?
I don’t need to manifest a nicer self. I don’t need to pussyfoot around this uncomfortable pattern. I don’t need to fall into the idea that It Will Always Be Like This. But I do wonder: is it helpful, to keep sharing these spaces?
Falling is also falling into the possibility of walking away. What is this like right now? What would not-this be like? What have I been telling myself about the way things are, the way I am, the way we are, the way you are, that keeps generating these particular shapes? What limits me to perceive space, but not shape; shape, but not space?
Depending on whose translation you are reading, the denouement (literally, unbinding) of the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta can sound like a clinically-inadvisable total bummer, in which the Mary Kay pink Cadillac reward for hard practice is “estrangement” or “weariness” towards form, self, other, and every possible anything. To me, that language reeks of ill-humor, bad breath, and eyebrow-stubble. More promising is “disenchantment.” What is it like to let go of our illusions about ourselves and others, and as a result, love more deeply, not less? What is it like to fall out of infatuation, and into something that depends less on frantic editing?
Falling can be unbinding, and unbinding, love.
Vacuum cleaner? Whatever. Don’t talk to me about household maintenance – just trying to crack the code of how not to be numb in this world, is about all I can do right now.
Things it is very hard to get people to be sorry for you about:
It’s hard to know where to take the sorrow of having gone ahead and done the thing you weren’t supposed to do - having flown some mad and gorgeous flag of freedom, and then had it all fall apart. What else was going to happen? Well, but it still needed to happen. Well, but it still hurts. So.
There is this truth of suffering.
Here, let it be known that future vacuum cleaner references may be sparse indeed. If you are looking for a personal essay about vacuum cleaners, you may want to look somewhere else. If you are looking for a personal essay about love, complexity, delusion, wholeness, and how answers in dreams show up in weird ways, this might be an OK choice for you. You might also want to just put down the vacuum cleaner and write your own version. Nothing beats that.
There is this truth of suffering.
There is this truth of the origin of suffering.
There is this truth of the end of suffering.
There is this truth of the path leading to the end of suffering.
For the record, that’s the actual deal around suffering that often gets translated as “Buddhists believe that life is suffering.” Not the same thing, right? Anyway, even though I know what the Four Noble Truths are, I still give in to the mistaken idea that the whole point is not to suffer.
As in: Why start with that, when it’s just going to hurt?
But I don’t think avoiding suffering is the point – or at least for me, right now, it’s not the point. Better to say: here is a field guide to what hurts, and how to understand it, and how to notice when it doesn’t hurt anymore.
For the last month, since a beloved semi-sexual friendship froze out into painful misunderstanding, rights and duties, and other assorted shadows of intimacy, my body has been a mess. Low back pulling hard to the left. Left jaw clamping like a motherfucker in my sleep. General feeling of being trapped in the hall of mirrors of my own hard clench against some overwhelming grief that is always just about to break through the surface of a consciousness grown dull and tired with resistance. Hinge of the neck and head stuck fast, also on the left side. Basically: anxiety, depression, inability to connect deeply with others, because what’s deep feels too dangerous. Sound familiar? I am not going to quote any mental health statistics here, but I’m pretty sure that what I’m describing has a lot in common with states that drive many of the phenomena we love to bemoan publicly, while furtively experiencing them for ourselves.
So whose is this? At some level, obviously, mine. I reached a point where I had traveled through pacify, enrich, and magnetize, in my relationship with my friend, and the only possibility left was destroy. Destroy left a huge gap: where to find the intimacy of the conversations we had? Where to find the buffer that took pressure off my marriage? I had no answers, only loss and confusion.
I think this is also ours. Growing close to someone means allowing some of their energy, their habits, to permeate mine. When there’s pain in any part of that field (there always is), there’s also pain in the shared field, and in its aftermath. I knew this going in. I knew this going in, and yet I didn’t know how intense it would be. Junot Diaz, in his beautiful recent essay, talks about patterns of trauma-influenced relationships, as they showed up for him: approach, distance, approach, distance – disconnect. What he describes reminds me of what I experienced in the connection my friend and I nurtured but could not sustain. When two people who’ve been hurt a lot try to grow close, even the magnetic quality of their attraction becomes an obstacle. The poles flip. The attraction becomes an actualization of what is most feared. There is this truth of suffering.
What then? Bear with this. Know where I am. Know this is hard. Know my teeth are literally on edge. Remember: this is part of being human. Don’t try to figure out the future from within a body-mind in pain. Don’t rewrite the past.
I dreamed last night about a movie poster with a picture of a family on it. Mom’s face had come off, and inside the slightly bloody socket (as where a tooth has been extracted) was a younger, frightened-looking face, peering out. A movie voiceover said, “A self-rebirthing and a brownie-eating festival, all in one!” I can feel these things in my body – the less-painful right side coming back to life and feeling. Then, still in the dream, I saw a trailer for a different movie. A man and a woman sit on a couch next to one another. Gradually another woman emerges from the body of the first. The man grows transparent and disappears. Children appear. I feel deep compassion for these beings, in their changes, and maybe especially the disappeared man. I leave the dream-space where I have seen these things. Outside along the curb, there’s an old cop car or taxi waiting, with keys in the trunk lock. In the body, this is: activating the base of the spine, unlocking what’s held there, keeping attention low in the body – and not thinking so much about driving, for a while.
I can’t blame everything about this odd, uncomfortable time on the end of that very particular intimacy – there are a lot of things happening in my life right now that incline towards feeling unsettled. At some deep level, while I am choosing aikido training, it is also literally kicking my ass. Effecting a turnaround from victim stance, entanglement, or habitual disengagement, to something else, takes real work. I go into practice, and meet everything I’d like to avoid. Incompetence. Ceding ground when I should stand it. Lifelong dislike for organized sports and going upside-down.
I grieve work; I grieve workers hauled off from jobs no one else will do, milking cows no one else ever sees. I grieve cooped-up animal lives, cooped-up human lives. Sitting on a New Hampshire ridge looking out over unbroken forest as far as the eye can see, I grieve wild creatures disappearing.
Here’s where a vacuum cleaner would come in handy, as a way of clearing cobwebs, or at least sucking this whole thing together into a single bag. But those aren’t really the rules around here. As Julia Butterfly Hill asks, when we say “away,” as in “throw away,” where is that? It’s always still here, in our shared world, in the shape of our unruly hearts, in the work left to be done, some of it pleasurable and easy, and some of it bewildering, some of it impossible.
So be it. So be it with the rich layers of mud that come with the thaw – the places that look dry, till the surface cedes and you find yourself ankle-deep in the spaces the ice opened up between stones, over all those cold months. So be it with the blue jay greeting the evening, and the woodpecker’s shrill call to seeking. So be it with the keys in the trunk, the work still to be done, and the losses that are not gaps in the path, but its every step.
Julie Püttgen is an artist and meditation teacher.
108 Names of now