We are serious, like heart attack.
We are serious, like Elliot the dog hurling himself nose-first down the stairs, butt-furs waving wildly.
We are serious, like the river-rock you stub your toe on, like Mirabai, when she says, Try to be serious.
We are serious, like otters face-biting outside time.
We are serious, and serious means: speaking up for What Is.
I’ve been reading about how President Obama’s initial desire to close down Guantánamo Bay prison failed in bipartisan politeness, in not-showing teeth, in trying to find a way to do things without ever seeming to assert unduly, and in wishing for harmony. It failed in not-seeing that others wanted it to fail, or at least, were too busy wanting other things to succeed, to be able to understand that they were scuttling something important.
So the men remain in cells. The men, sold there by people serious about receiving betrayal-money, are still in cells, and no one has figured out how to get them out of there.
My friend writes me a long story about two rapes. Rape number one involves two sex-workers working side by side. One refuses to wake the other while they are being raped, to spare the sleeping friend trauma. The other – I don’t remember how – also winds up raped, taking on all the trauma for themselves. Somehow my friend’s takeaway is that these two people, in their assaults, are acting out of compassion.
I do not think to myself, be careful what you say, there may not be bipartisan agreement on this. I do not think – though maybe I could – about whether my friend is referring to a much earlier part of their life. Maybe that is what is serious, here, like a heart attack. Something happens to us when we are far too young to defend ourselves, and we don’t have any help from those around us who could defend us. They don’t want to know what happened. We don’t know it wasn’t our fault. Whoever hurt us is shielded from having to be serious, by the fact that they are never confronted. Later, we think that being attacked is normal, and maybe even honorable. We don’t think, I do no good by allowing myself to be hurt. When our friends say, You do no good by allowing yourself to be hurt, we only feel attacked. This is no good.
I wonder about the limits of compassion. There’s a passage in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love where she lays down an edict banning the plague ships of her own thoughts from taking harbor in her mind:
The harbor of my mind is an open bay, the only access to the island of my Self (which is a young and volcanic island, yes, but fertile and promising). This island has been through some wars, it is true, but it is now committed to peace, under a new leader (me) who has instituted new policies to protect that place. And now - let the word go out across the seven seas- there are much, much stricter laws on the books about who may enter this harbor.
But even the plague ships need harbor? asks my friend of the rape-fables. Maybe. But first those ships need to know that safe harbor is what they are seeking. They need to break the habit of showing up, raping, pillaging, drowning cats, shitting on beautifully woven blankets, burning everything, and then setting off distractedly for the next place they will despoil. Those ships need to starve a bit. Starve for a long time. Be restrained by their own isolation, and maybe come in to harbor only once the worst motherfuckers have killed one another off. They need to wait until they’ve had time to remember what it is like to hope to be given something that cannot be taken.
Also, they need to be received with wisdom, at several poles’ lengths. They need to be titrated carefully.
We see you are a plague ship.
We see you are hungry.
You cannot all come here at once.
Send us your two hungriest and least blameworthy ones, and we will see what they can tell us of their intentions. Meanwhile, we are catapulting these boxes of Frosted Flakes on board, and some Comet. It looks like your ship could use some cleaning up.
Yes but what if some of them die on board while they are so close?
So be it. If they want something specific that does not involve wholesale taking and owing, they can ask.
Titrating the pirates means that you can be the first one to hang up. It means noticing when someone doesn’t acknowledge you, and letting that knowing inform your next steps. It means learning to be comfortable with not-meeting the needs of others. You need to perform this ritual, but I am not available, neither as sacrifice, nor even as audience.
A small Internet video shows new versions of popular rom-coms, as though the well-being of the woman mattered. The new scene from Knocked Up looks like this:
Woman: I’ve got something to tell you, and it’s why I called you up.
Woman: I’m pregnant, and I am getting an abortion.
Man: I think that’s a great idea! Should we just skip the rest of the movie?
Woman: Yeah, let’s do that.
Not always accommodating. Not assuming that one’s I-can-host-it-all mind is the most appropriate place to be moving from. Not assuming that everyone’s I-can-host-it-all mind is even online for any significant percentage of their daily interactions with the world.
My mother-in-law sends us Shaker paraphernalia. My husband may take a special Shaker Broom class, to make her Christmas present. We decide the broom machine at the museum in Enfield is James Brown's original Shaker Moneymaker.
Ah! Remembering. Rumi writes of having a mind like a guest-house, and that is very beautiful. I also think, especially for women, that it is important to sometimes have a mind like a bear-cave. Do not fuck with the bear-cave while the mother bear and her cubs are in there. You are not welcome. There is deep sleep happening, and everyone here has just exactly the resources we need to get our life-giving nurture done, provided no one comes asking for waffles, or for an admirer to notice their most recent accomplishments.
My former monastery-mate, whose name means something like Holy Death, once went into a bear cave where she wasn’t wanted. The bear grabbed her head in her claws. The nun-to-be went OM, and fainted. When I knew her, you could see the parallel, symmetrical claw marks in her scalp, shining amongst the nun-stubble. I don’t think the bear did a complete job of establishing clear boundaries in that body-mind, but it was a real start.
Some people are underwritten by the sort of fraternity that both gives excuses, and makes it very hard to be honest. Hard to be honest among hyenas who might eat your face. Hard to be honest when you’re thinking you’d just as happily eat the face of the one questioning you, as answer. Then it is important to remember the harbor rules. There is no place here for your bluster, but if you’d like to be clear about your experience, we might have a place to stand together.
Serious like a heart attack.
When am I scoping out the next pleasant or unpleasant thing, and when am I present?
Can all of it be happening at once?
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.