Unconscionable. A young woman calls Spirit Airlines to double-check that it is OK to bring her miniature hamster on the plane. Sure, sure, whatever, the airline says. Buy your ticket. (Would things have gone down differently on Soul Airlines, if there were such a thing?) On the day of the flight, the young woman arrives at the airport with the hamster, Pebbles. What happens next? Does the young woman good-girl reveal the hamster? Does the hamster peek her nose out of a pocket? Does the hamster squeak out a rendering of La Cucaracha, from inside her tiny carrier? Who knows? The person at the desk says, No hamster. What? No hamster? But I checked. But you said. But I need to go home for surgery. Perhaps you could flush the hamster down the toilet? But this is Pebbles, my friend. Can I rent a car? I am too young, and there are no cars. Can I ride the bus? The bus is slow and scary. Can I retract the hamster-showing? Oh, no. Here I am in this stainless-steel stall, looking at Pebbles in my hand. She is scared. I am scared. My stomach is turning inside out the way it does when I know something really bad is happening but I don’t know how to stop it. I put Pebbles in the toilet, and push the button for an industrial-strength flush. I almost throw up into that same toilet. What have I done? Wanting to get home, I have driven a wedge between myself and any true sense of home I might feel, from now into an unknown future.
Unconscionable: the parts of us that see the use or uselessness of other beings, but not their innate worth. The parts of us that issue death-warrants for the sake of protocol. The parts of us that obey those orders. The parts of us that want to be good, to be praised, to be in line with the laws, and will push the button, pull the trigger, drop the ballot in the box, and make the phone call to keep ourselves clean.
In a culture without Trickster, without Holy Mother Life and Death, we will forget true protection, true refuge, resistance, and the importance of breaking unjust laws. We will become easily cowed. What happens to our young tricksters, our love of all creatures, when we are small? Are they held to be wicked, in need of reform and better manners? Then we wind up working for Spirit. We wind up giving the order to flush the hamster, and obeying.
A client tells me a story of catching butterflies as a boy, loving their beautiful colors and shapes, especially the majesty of Luna moth’s pale green moons and furred feelers. One day, the boy shows his father, who marches him downstairs to the basement workshop, and tells him to put the fluttering creature in a can of acetone, to kill her. (Every father-ogre has a killing can.) The boy obeys, though he doesn’t want to. The father shows his son how to pin the creature’s beautiful corpse for display. At school, at home, the boy is praised for the kill, for the trophy, so he finds more creatures and kills them, even though he still only wants to catch them, look at them, and set them free.
Unconscionable: forcing a child to kill wonder. Praising a child for overriding love into cold use. Unconscionable: the parent knows best, and refuses any knowing that comes from the child. The child’s wish becomes irrelevant, feeble, shameful. Something in the man is stuck at the point of release, and needs help to let go, to run free, to open again into a relationship with life that is not focused on trophy and hidden pain.
Right now I am in the middle of what surely is not, but feels like the longest living stretch of sinus bullshit endured by a human. I wake like a prickly squid, closing my eyes to sunlight, refusing connection with the world or any of its inhabitants. I am a mess, and the goo juddering out of my snout is disgusting. Slowly, slowly, I come back. Could it be that someone else, somewhere, is also feeling ill? Maybe…Shame, shame: I am laying around like an unfresh, prickly squid, when others have cancer-ebola-leprosy-tuberculosis? Could it be that someone else, somewhere, is also feeling shame? Softening. Pain in my head. This also. Every discomfort I can allow, name, and feel, becomes a bridge into the heart of being. Before, I did not know what this is like, but now, through my own experience, I do. May we be well. May this be well.
I remember my dream from last night: I am in Chögyam Trungpa’s office – dark wood, big table. On a page in my dream-notebook, I am drawing the iris of an eye, rendering radiating lines in delicate pencil marks. Meanwhile, running head to toe, beyond, above, and below, are waves and waves of desire, like a magnetic force field. It’s incredibly strong, very uncomfortable, exhilarating, impersonal, and yet very much experienced in this body-mind, right now. I keep drawing the eye, to anchor myself. Unconscionable: to confuse this force with an individual being. To confuse it with myself. This force can be met, enjoyed, and endured in the presence of a carefully drawn “I,” but it is not to be thrown out or splashed around. I can ground it, pay attention to how it moves, feel its arising and passing away, as long as I understand what is showing up, and the risks involved.
To test for the safety of handling another person’s body with your own, use lemon juice to detect minute skin-breaks. To test for the safety of handling another person’s soul with your own, understand that no such safety exists. Understand that, in addition to trickster parts in all of us, there are mean parts, kind parts, awake parts, and unconscionable parts. Know that soul-breaks are inevitable, and that what breaks is not actually all of what we are.
I am in Trungpa’s office in the dream. Is he there? Is he not-there? Yes. I go to sleep reading his wife’s memoir, a book largely bereft of feeling. I did this/that; Rinpoche did this/that. At the point when I am setting the book down, Trungpa is about to administer LSD to his inner council, as part of a late-night meeting to resolve an ugly interpersonal power impasse. Unconscionable? I don’t know. Maybe the LSD is a way of invoking a force-field like the one in my dream, something so overwhelming that careful moment-to-moment attention is the only feasible response.
I am in the midst of a time
Anticipatory grief, anticipatory love, anticipatory awareness of the ways things go. These can help to build conscience, as long as we are aware that none of them are valid maps for what will actually transpire in the powerful field of the moment.
I walk into the airport with Pebbles safely tucked into a pocket of my sweatshirt. I’ve taken care to write her a bulletproof Emotional Support Document, signed by myself as Dr. Harrumph, printed on swanky card stock, with an impressive border. But really, who wants to fuck with all of that? Once we clear TSA, I add alfalfa to the pocket, velcro it shut, and make sure the air-holes are free. I choose an aisle seat, and get up a couple of times during the flight to let Pebbles run around on the small bathroom floor, having first made sure the toilet lid is safely closed. Together, we are flying home. We are always coming home, together.
Julie Püttgen is an artist and meditation teacher.
108 Names of now