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.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.