Motion sickness is the feeling that arises when, on a very balmy November morning, you are driving somewhere, and you suddenly realize how much you desperately need to be parented: to be championed, understood, encouraged, and loved. You see this kind of parenting is not forthcoming from any external direction. You see how what is good about you, what is brave, what stands up for the dignity of life, and for the possibility of freedom, is not likely to get a big raise, or a lot of votes from the world, anytime soon. Then you notice what Leonard Cohen is singing:
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
And your motion sickness becomes a motion sickness for us all. For how, given all we've been given, we choose squalor and fear. We choose to trap the beautiful wild creatures for their fur, bewildering them into things, just as we mistake ourselves and others. And now, at last, you are crying. Before, fierceness was the forefront –thundercloud of defiance, but this morning, this motion sickness is about seeing how desecration happens, how you’ve been doing it all along, and how it’s being done to you.
You show up for coffee on Saturday at midday, and just as you're reaching the café door, the Dartmouth Asshat Team shows up. Four of them. Tall, taller than you, yet still, if you look closely, pups. Soft faces, awkward bones not yet knit into manhood. They lay claim of the door, push by you, make a block at the counter, ordering $18 worth of lattes and blah blah each, on mommy and daddy’s credit cards, taking their time deciding, while you wait for a decaf coffee. To them, you don’t exist. They are the victors, after all, loudly celebrating the previous night’s conquests, while you sit in tweed and sunglasses, reading at the bright edge of the terrace.
I should have stomped on their feet. I did not. Instead, turning from the counter with my coffee, I see one of my students from last summer, someone in many ways like the Asshat Team (and perhaps even their colleague). I've never been so glad to hear “Hey, Professor!” Bright face, glad of his studies, glad to tell me of his work. So, this is important.
The parenting that I desperately feel I need, I must give myself, find through benefactors, and then beam forward onto others, as I did with this kid, last summer and now. I tell him I'm glad he's drawing; I tell him I'm so glad to see him well. Not because he is a victor, but because he is a beautiful wild creature, who deserves to be free, to know the world through his own capacities, and thus to love it, and in turn to parent it, and be parented by it.
I know we can do this. I know it's not easy. I know there is no choice. I know it's important to feel the full depth of grief and anger, because otherwise, we run around "there, there-ing" one another, and being conciliatory in ways that only keep injuring what is holy in the world.
My/our assholery is coming back to greet me/us in a big way. My/our willingness to fudge the details, take the costs out on others, invent beautiful stories that make it all into Science, Defense, Economics, the Arts, and Education – all of that is showing up now. Hello! You would rather diddle around on Facebook, than do something meaningful in the studio, or in your town? Congratulations! Here is your future. You would rather pursue the Spiritual Life, than go find out why your $12-an-hour neighbors are beating the shit out of each other in their driveway, just below your window? Good news! Here’s your president. You would rather pull in this fat salary made of student debt, than inquire what other, less ruinous, forms of training we might make available to one another? Well, here’s Planet Greed, and have we ever got a spot for you at the table!
The magic is running out, and we know this because now the spinning of the wheel is making itself more apparent, wobblier, way more likely to result in motion sickness. Pretty much this is what the wheel of life says: when you are in the upper reaches of the cycle, it is very easy to get supremely comfortable, and assume that your excellent qualities of judgment and hard work have got you, at last, to your just and final reward. It’s easy not to notice the tiny incremental shifts, the way the moon is getting slimmer, or fatter, day by day; the way the anemone leaves curl at the edges, getting brittle and brown. The truth is, the wheel is turning, and if you identify with your place on it, and not with the space all around it, you’re going to have a shock when it turns you towards the animal realms, or the hungry ghosts. Shit! Now it’s my pelt they’re after for their stupid Canada Goose parkas – my under-feathers they’re going to pull out while holding me down, so they can do it all over again, in four months. Shit! Now it’s me making $12 an hour and giving some rich asshole the finger, as he drives by in armored splendor. I feel sick. I think I might throw up. I need my mommy.
OK, so that's kind of a Versailles perspective. What about if you're already among the hungry ghosts? What about if you're already among the animals? There, I don't know. The Jataka stories are all about animals who decide spontaneously to manifest generosity. The gorilla saves the hunter who’s fallen into a hole, and then collapses, exhausted. The hunter takes a rock and brains her, planning to eat this dumb animal before resuming the hunt. “Oh, poor Man,” she says, “Now you’ll never be happy.”
Here’s a big round of applause, gratitude, and tears, for all the animals out there who are giving themselves to us, every day, quite possibly saying, "Oh, poor Humans, now you'll never be happy." Chloe and Elliot, deeply beloved animals, are right now sitting indoors on a sunny day while I write. That’s definitely fucked up, and it’s definitely the best I’ve allowed myself to think of, in part because I haven’t thought about it all that deeply. What else would I do, if I made it a priority to figure out a way to live that valued their happiness as the highest good? Dog lives are short. How could they be better? Out of boredom, Elliot munches on an old Morton’s salt box . This is not the best use of his wild-deer leaping body, or his bright eyes. Chloe lays in her crate. Why?
We are told: self-care. We are told not to burn ourselves out, to avoid motion sickness, to be reasonable. But, I am pretty sure we're capable of better than this. I'm pretty sure we're capable of moving through the discomfort of motion sickness, the wild Technicolor yawn of change, and finding new ground.
Julie Püttgen is an artist and meditation teacher.
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