Look deep in your salad, and you may find a gray-striped cat named Embark. He likes hanging out in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, munching gently on the organic baby greens. He likes sucking on toes and licking stray locks of hair, while a person is trying to sleep. Something went wonky with Embark’s carnivore-conditioning, and so now, if you look deep in your salad, you may see a snow-leopard gazing back up at you with romaine-colored eyes, saying, Mrow?
Look deep in Elliot-the-dog’s eyes, and you will see that he’s really pretty new at being a predator. I mean, he’s spent the past few thousands of years as a rabbit / calf / antelope, and this time around the Wheel of Furry Beings, poof! Out he comes in a whole different kind of suit, one with enormous teeth and claws, and with a thunderous butt suited not only for being chased (the usual) but also for chasing (holy shit! that’s new!) You don’t have to look too deep into your salad to see that a 65-pound rabbit with sharp pointy teeth is – as Monty Python rightly pointed out – a dangerous creature. His old fear can take new forms, besides: run away! freeze! or, make a death-scream! This time around the Wheel of Furry Beings, Elliot has won the teeth-lottery, and he's not yet sure what to do with that bounty.
Yesterday, my friend, Rabbit Pal, came to deliver some lungwort and mint for my garden. Elliot, the aforementioned; Chloe, his commanding officer; and I were all loaded up and zooming downhill to the river for our afternoon expedition, when - flash-flash! - came Rabbit Pal’s little Prius – the smallest kind – the one the Italians would call Topolino. I turned around and followed her back home.
Don’t let her get close to the car, I thought, or Elliot will freak. So I opened the door, and he ambled out, indefinitely. Big mistake! Elliot got within four feet of my friend, who is tiny, and started lunging and barking wildly. Please make him stop, she said, looking ever-tinier. I grabbed his leash, zapped him, no-ed him, sitted him, and stuck him right back in the car.
I am so glad that Elliott didn’t bite my Rabbit Pal. I am so glad his rabbit-nature, or his growing actual confidence as a dog, prevented that. But, shit! I am realizing, in matters of hoping that Elliot won’t be an asshole, that I will need to be pro-active every single time, from now until he realizes that my five-foot gardening Buddhist friend, who loves dogs, has not come for the express purpose of disemboweling the lot of us, and running off with all the kibble. I will need to boss him until he sees that if he looks deep into almost anyone’s salad, there is no stolen kibble in there, and no ripped-out bowels, either.
Of course, easy for me to say. No one took me, as a small soft helpless animal, and stole my testicles. No one left me crated in my poop. Well, maybe they did – cribbed in diapers – but now, autonomy is more the flavor of the day, and I’ve been working hard at not taking sides: not staying stuck in Rabbit. Not staying stuck in Wolf, Angel, or Fiend. Woman seems to be the order of the day, and I am on walkabout within this realm, finding out all that it entails, from past lives, as from the present.
If I look deep into the salad of What Is Up Right Now, I see the ripe middle of summer, and the consistency with which what I need to learn is showing up. Before, I could wolf the salad, think Ew! or Tasty! and move on quickly to wanting something else. But now, things are more insistent, like salad. Salad. SALAD, MOTHERFUCKER, are you paying attention? S – A – L – A – D. We don’t want to have to make it again like this – so, look deep. This tendency to isolate, to disappear, to exceptionalize, to homogenize – whatever. Does that actually taste good to you? Does that actually seem like a real meal?
There’s a man walking to the river with a bird scope, making sneezy-weasel sounds. I think he’s here for Heron Club, and I wish him hearty herons all around. May they emerge from their shy places, remembering they have a right to be here.
Here’s something I’m finding hard to take: I have a friend who’s just undergone complicated elective surgery. Months ago, as a follow-up to going to the psych ER with them, they asked me to accompany them to a shrink-appointment at the hospital. The assigned, generally unprepossessing medical person said, Hold up, my friend! That procedure is damn hard, and if you’re already engaged on a path of anti-depressant suicide attempts, then we are thinking you might want to wait until you are a bit saner, before going through with the surgery. Of all the things the doctor said, this one seemed truest. But it did not land in my friend’s salad, which was already overflowing with a preexisting wild array of ingredients. It just bounced off the glass spittle-guard, and landed on the skeevy Red Lobster carpet.
So, then, still prone to serious episodes of bonkers, still using lots of psychotropic meds, still socially isolated, still not working, still in chronic pain, this friend goes through with the surgery. Guess what? Disaster, followed by abundant abuse for everyone around them, so completely failing to support them in their disability. Did I ask this person to go get ripped seam-to-seam in a bid for happiness? Am I in any position to tell them to stick it, with the nonstop stream of Tragedy Queen? Why, yes, I am. I need to stop pretending to see anything other than what I see.
I find this situation hard to bear because I love this friend, and at the same time, something about their story pulls and tugs at a part of me that misunderstands “Beings are numberless, I vow to free them all” as “It is my job to soothe the crazy of the world.”
Wrong “I.” Wrong “free.”
Friend, I refuse the role of abuser that I perceive you to be offering me. I refuse the role of rescuer that I perceive you to be offering me. I refuse the role of victim that I perceive you to be offering me.
There. Free. What would I see if I looked deep into that salad? What would you see?
Some Buddhists get all smug, saying, What I feel has nothing whatever to do with outside circumstances, and is all to do with my squirrelly, karmically-conditioned perceptions, but I say, Horseshit. There are reasons that we meet as we do, and those reasons are mutual, offering mutual release if we can do the work of finding it. The middle way doesn’t sound like, it is all my fault, and it doesn’t sound like, it is all your fault, either. It is something altogether more improvised and subtler, whose unfurling shows the world as a situation built for enlightenment. Wallace Stevens said, The way through the world is harder to find than the way beyond it. (Given the poet's views on golden birds, I am pretty sure he meant this as an endorsement for the former.)
The way beyond the world says, to hell with you, freaky friend; to hell with you, snapping dog. The way through it doesn’t say anything at all. It is too busy dancing with what is.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now