What if all our ideas about desire are upside-down, pointed the wrong way, picked up by the wrong end, like grabbing a shovel by the blade and trying to dig a hole? What if, by shaping/shoving/pointing desire, splashing and thudding it around, we are failing to see that, all along, desire simply Is, needs no confirmation, no affirmation, no this-job or that-job? Desire can be experienced as a force, a field, moving through, without requiring any particular sort of rite. I lay here with you, eyes focusing only to the very short distance that they can, and I feel how desire animates the spaces through and in these bodies. Doesn’t mean must anything. Doesn’t mean shape up, act out, prove this, deny that. Just: Is. There is more risk in writing about this, than about a banana, or my dogs. My dogs have in some sense been de-sexed, but I have not. Still-sexed, I lay here, and allow desire to flow through without any particular sense of where it ought to go. What form, what rite, what observance? These are all several steps down from the experience I am describing.
In the next room, a bell goes off.
Outside: February fog.
Old pain in the side of my neck, warning, Don’t simplify, don’t pretend, keep finding the voice to say what must be said, upside-down.
I am writing about desire as a force. I am sitting in a body, in a room, in a city I once knew well. Which way is home? I swallow the big white tablet that helps fight off the sinus infection that would otherwise leave me upside-down with fever, chills, desire compressed down to a simple wish not to be so ill anymore.
What happens when you simultaneously decide to follow desire in its course, and to drop the desire-scripts you’ve built and absorbed over lifetimes? Answer: sometimes, not much. Sometimes what Tantra looks like is being able to bear with the uncertainty of how desire interacts with complex, layered beings, once the scripts have all been turned upside-down.
Yesterday, on the skybridge to my flight, I stood in front of a group of college kids. One of them was trying to bully another into coming to his bed that night because she owed him from not having made the effort to go see him the night before. This is some serious bullshit, I was thinking, and dangerous. But the student sort of shook herself off, and said, Brian, you’re being a butt! I thought, Good girl. Then Brian started in again, belittling her and what she said. I turned around. In case you need a voice from the outside to hear this, you ARE being a butt. I smiled. The student was surprised, but not angry. Something in him wanted to let go of the desire to hurt his friend, the desire to make hurtful claims. I turned his butt upside-down, and he settled.
Have you noticed the sometimes very fishy relationship between what we say we want, and what actually turns up? We say we want this experience, this person, this connection, but what we are really saying is we want our idea of these things. When these ideas meet a more unpredictable situation, it can be hard not to feel turned upside-down. I fly far from home, come to a city that used to be home, and find myself taking a shower, eating breakfast, practicing tai chi in the warm, foggy morning air. What need to go to Gaia? When body, speech, and mind are all in accordance, every well will be your Gaia. Waking up is accepting being upside-down, right-side up, wherever you go. Waking up is not minding so much, being upside-down.
Have you ever tried the neti pot? For me, holding a weird teapot upside-down into my stuffy nose feels very much like self-waterboarding. Luckily, there’s another version, a plastic squeeze bottle you fill with saline and squirt up one nostril. If you look down, and keep breathing through your mouth, the water percolates back out the other nostril, minus about 75% of the drowning sensations associated with the neti pot. You’re still upside-down, breathing water, something the body doesn’t like to do, but it’s OK. The water flows in, flows out, taking with it all the muck you’ve been manufacturing up your snout. Goodbye!
Upside-down sometimes leads to rightside-up. With aikido, I am beginning, just barely, to accept how upside down can land you in a place that’s more resilient than anywhere resistance goes. Let the arm be open. Let the weight of the body find ground without stiffening. Here I am, upside-down, but not broken. I still have no idea how experienced students take their enormous flying falls, but that knowing either will, or won’t come. I can’t desire it into being.
Upside-down foggy morning. Three? Four? Hours of sleep, and yet bright, and yet pen moving across paper, and yet purpose, possibility, kindness. How do we shape ourselves to limitations that keep us upside-down? How do we cramp our sense of the possible, the allowable, the fields that hold and underlie all the particulars of our desires? I am traveling in a city that was once my home, and I am at home in this body that is in no way a city. Fields of sound: the sirens we don’t hear in small-town New Hampshire. Trucks rumbling with supplies to keep massive, phantom stores open and humming.
I do not know where this goes, and it is not my responsibility to know. Upside-down means: maybe something strange is happening, but fundamentally you understand bewilderment and how to recover from it. Upside-down means you have some sense of where your axes are, and how to come back into alignment. Eating toast and drinking tea are not upside-down. Tai chi in the fog with sirens is not upside-down, even if you have forgotten some transitional movements between up and down.
I sit here rightside-up, feeling the force of desire, the force of sunlight rising in the east. I feel the way a labyrinth can open either way: masculine or feminine, each one leading curve on curve, inwards, upside-down, rightside-up, towards a core where all journeys meet. I cover a large white sheet of paper with thin black letters made of breath, of being here, of turning inside-out, outside-in, with ease. Pearly grey is not the upside-down of day. It is the core, and I am here to meet it. Desire, end of desire, breathing in, breathing out. Taking in, releasing. Here we are.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.