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.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now