The tower stands at the edge of the lake is the I Ching's way of saying Yes, yes - there's the quality of uprightness, and also the quality of sinking. Perhaps you've encountered these in the body? Perhaps you've noticed, in these last few days of taking steroids while also attempting to remain sane?
I flick the little apricot pill out of the child not-safe bottle, and notice its bitterness under my tongue. Please help me, I think. Hives on the soles of my feet and palms of my hands is no way to be. The pill goes somewhere and the prayer goes with it. The hives stick around.
Repeat, day and night. Morning of the fourth day, wake up wired. Something has to happen, now. Rise sure in the dark, shower the hives, sink into meditation. Morning of the fifth day, the Something is now huge. It's towering inside my body like the outer hives have come inside, becoming a kind of rage-spine that doesn't want to hear about sinking, ever. Breathe. Rage swirling. Still clean the stove, metal scraping metal, scraping the other irritants too. Laugh with rage.
On steroids, I am impossible, says my Buddhist friend. My husband almost sent me home on a bus from Baltimore one time, because there was no dealing with me. Another time, we had spaghetti for Christmas dinner. Steroids are not for me, she says.
I think steroids can be for me. The hives are gone, and on Saturday I experience a bout of whole-body stomp-dancing such as I haven't experienced since college. Pure power, leaping discharge, the whole weight of being, being met. Being, here. Stomping, stomping, stomping for an hour means: no antidepressants for me, and even if I may have startled some children, absolutely no one was harmed. Prison doors unlocking. The tower's not for holding in - it's for seeing far.
I am listening to Tsultrim Allione teach the Mandala of the Enlightened Feminine, walking the landscape of the five wrathful dancing dakinis. Each of them carries her own tower: a staff of protection and grounding, an inner consort. Walk in female form, carry your masculine side always, though not in such an obvious form. The clarity of uprightness, the unobstructed channel, the pole that needs no stripping.
trident of the deep
chicken of the sea
nine-story tower holding birthright for whomsoever will dare to dance it
My student, Hayley, from Atlanta days, turned to art after falling from the top of a stripper's pole straight onto her head. Whole body weight, young woman, full height, bad concussion. She's the one who taught me about Skype - how to scry into the world for free. She made beautiful paintings, and hopefully in the course of her art and her love, she found a way to carry her staff so that it never killed her again. I heard she was doing well, after I left that money-sucking school of debts.
Atlanta at that time and probably still now was a hub for stripping, a misnomered mecca for Adult Entertainment. The clubs boomed and busted, and new ones rose up. You didn't have to go to them to know about them. I knew through Hayley, healing her head, and I knew through Lisa Marie, who showed up at my house the night she finally did the obvious, going from money-at-the-pole to fucking someone for money. It didn't sit well with her. I know in the abstract that sex work is something people can do responsibly and consensually, but in practice, I think it can be really, really hard to pull off. Some things' shadow is so vast, and you are so young, and so close to off your rocker anyway, and so few people seem to see your worth on any other terms than tits and ass, that you are going to fall off that tower, or be crushed under it, without the chance to see it's been your dakini staff all along. That's what happened with Lisa Marie, or what was happening seventeen years ago. I wish, that night, I'd known better what to say, and what to see in her.
I taught a night class in those years - beginning acrylic painting, to a friend's mother and her fellow real-estate agents. They didn't love the class - so much mucking around trying to see the ordinary, when what they wanted was something pretty for over the couch. Anyway, one night, they started telling me how, if you wanted to clinch a commercial real estate deal these days, you just had to take the client to a strip club.
Really, I asked. Isn't that weird?
No, it's just like that.
That was their ordinary, and my wanting something pretty for over the couch.
Then they started telling me about this one girl, she'd been a mortgage banker? a member of the Junior League. Her husband thought she was hot enough to try the Amateur Night at the Cheetah, and since (maybe) she was there all the time anyway with clients, and he was so turned on by this idea, she eventually said, Why not?
The ladies' eyes gleamed.
She LOVED it!
She kept going back!
Then her colleagues saw her and they said, You have to choose! You can't be a banker and a stripper.
So she got a boob job, and a Role in Striptease.
She divorced her husband and left the bank!
Made a billion dollars, got her boobs deflated so she could sleep on her belly again,
and lived happily
And she had a chicken recipe in the Junior League Cookbook, and everything!
So. The tower. The lake. Eating the tower in prednisone pills, and finding the staff through the soles of my feet. Thumping out the contact of sky and earth and water and fire and space for myself as for all, dancing trapped and untapped through the variations of what we all must do.
Lisa Marie's crystal hangs from the curtain rod in my bedroom, and I think of her stories of walking around barefoot in southern California, eating sun-warmed avocados right off the ground. Releasing the lazy mind of stripper's chicken and painters' triumph, I wish, May Lisa Marie and all beings find their way to safety. May our uncanny voices sound into the most impenetrable layers of the world's wantings. May we open, dance, and join, knowing inner consort, always here, everywhere.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now