Waking pre-dawn, new bed, maybe nine hours off my body-clock, maybe three, maybe just right. I roll over, limpet myself onto Timothy, start laughing about last night’s adventures – the vaudeville of the way things are. Increasingly, I find I have a choice. Some position presents itself, such as: I can’t stand this, I am wronged, this is my enemy – and I find I can choose either to settle into this position with the satisfactions it proposes, or decline, settling instead into the basic quality of refuge just underneath – vast, unflashy, and as visceral as the sigh releasing itself at the end of any cycle.
Last night: The Bathroom Fan Is My Enemy. Fucker won’t turn off! Humming at my airplane-aggravated soul, buzzing its stupid self all around without cease, while I, exhausted I, stuff earplugs ever deeper, clench my teeth, and try to settle into this unknown bed. Even so, I know: Bullshit, Baby. You’re just fine. You’ll go to sleep soon. You’re not shivering under some sleety tarp. There, there.
This morning, waking, I wrestle with my love, roll out of bed, find my woolies, sense that it is time to sit. Where? Strange space. I turn on no light, walk towards the door, become aware of the mirror in the corner – large, square, reaching to the floor. Stop my restlessness, sit down, right there. No more seeking for me.
In the mirror I see a black space where this body blocks what little light the windows seep. An oval, paler, for the face. Sit eyes open, gaze focusing somewhere in the belly-void. Sit in twofold experience: body-as-world, void-as-world. Carrying them both. Alive. Nothing. Alive. Enormous. Some choice arises: this could be an excuse to freak out. But why? Keeping the gaze soft, settling into the shoulders, the neck, the un-impinged darkness in the mirror. What does this feel like at heart-level? A different interstellar space, warmer. I settle there. I settle down, in, out, widening circles of awareness. Alive. Then body says, enough. Time to shit oreos, fritos, bad falafel from the Pegasus place in Midway, lasagna leftovers, several handfuls of tamari almonds eaten while sitting on the Manchester airport concourse floor reading Zadie Smith.
Something not-finished. Shitting is finished, but my appointment with What-Is, is not. Go back to the bedroom? Why? Sitting on the edge of the tub, looking into the sink mirror at this tousle-haired person, I chant the seven-branch prayer, four great vows, smiling at the literalness of everyplace-is-sacred, everyplace suitable. You can get pretty cute with this, and in my day I have, but it’s also a great relief. No need to schlep through the rain to some temple. Right here in this queasily painted bathroom on the edge of the continent. Right here. No Pope, no altar. Mirror, mirror. Someone dug it into the wood trim. Someone painted the top drawer purple, changed their mind, painted the rest of the drawers puce.
I pin up, sling up, fold the whole array of plastic sheeting suspended from a PVC pipe frame over the tub, octopus out the pebble-patterned slip-mat, unfurl the purple shag bathmat, agree to the twee heart-shaped mini-soap, grab hold of the bath-plug, and determine that my seldom-washed hair can last another day or so. I open the tumbling hot water spout, climb in, and lay down.
Here in the heart of the world. Here in the heart of the body. Right here. As another cycle sighs free, I remember mantra-ing my way up an icy hill, and that memory becomes a song of the here and now. Om mani padme hum, listening to the room, the rogue bathroom fan, the shape of this wet morning forming itself. The fan, my enemy of last night, becomes a harmonium, becomes the voicebox of the world, Dolly to my Kenny, Sonny to my Cher. We sing our way through open endings and through closed, tuning one another. I start off rusty and become smooth. The room starts off musty and becomes divine. Mirror, mirror. We sing one another whole.
Now I am sitting in a fancy coffee house, and I notice the whale-song electronica is putting out a familiar invitation: you can resist this space or be seduced by it, its hipsters and tattoos, or you can recognize its beauty without sticking to it. Sure, it's a bit pretentious, running a furniture business alongside a café, so that customers must pass the test of discerning which tables are for sitting, and which for admiration only. At the same time: the whole thing works. There is a duet. I am writing the space into harmony, and it is singing me into congruence.
This, I think, is what we are here for. To listen. To knit together. To sing the 108 names of everything, and be sung by them, day in, day out, allowing the body to be the resonator it has always been. Otherwise, where is the sigh of letting go? Where is the real moment of discovery, where yesterday’s enemy reveals itself as true love?
It is hard to describe this without sounding a bit like an advocate for jellyfish-hood, and yet that is not what I mean at all. There is effort here – effort of maintaining attention. Effort of choosing wisely where attention enters and rests. Effort of rising both to the intentions that present themselves, and to the surprising forms their fulfillment takes.
Mirror, mirror. Show me. Show me, in this vast grey rain-field, where shall my steps land? In this world of birth, aging, and death, show me the next lines of this song we are improvising together out of cell phones, lattes, rogue fans and rescue dogs, family ties and the intimacy of everything with everything else. Make me an instrument of the peace beyond and within ideas, inside the vast open space of pre-dawn shadow, the drone of electronic instruments, and the hum of jet-engines circling the planet without ever leaving center.
Soon this writing ends – I know this from my mother-in-law’s cell phone, which I am using as a time-keeper, and from the way the edges of my underwear press into my sit-bones. I know it from the rumbling of a bus on wet Grand Avenue, and from the slightly glassy chill of my big toes in the warm winter boots I am so glad I brought. Eyelid-twitch. In-breath. Fingers working to hold the pen, to keep it moving. Eyes scanning this page and multiple shadows, all at once.
It is, after all, hard to keep settling into the truth of this perpetual wedding with the world, within which nothing is missing and all is constantly unfolding, ever-present. What if there is something better? What if it is all here? Shifting shapes like kaleidoscopic shards, tumbling and contained, together. The breath catches and releases. The body-mind sings a duet with the world, as best it can. Silence between drones, voices calling. I am at home here, sending love. May all beings everywhere, in the concourses that we move through, be well. In the ruined cities and in the marketplaces, in the empty houses and the full ones, in the schools and the abattoirs. May we all be well, and know for ourselves this wakeful resting, this laughter that refuses the fixity of position, and settles into the mirror’s surface, as into its depths, without cease.
Julie Püttgen is an artist and meditation teacher.
108 Names of now