On my last night on the road, through the auspices of Couchsurfing, I am lucky enough to enjoy the hospitality of Geraldine, in Rhinebeck NY, along with her husband, her two teenaged boys, and her truly magnificent Saint Bernand, Sophie. Geraldine has organized a small gathering at her house, inviting her friends Lise and Lucy to come join us for some meditation and assorted Inner Beauty activities. She has also prepared a glorious spread of tasty things to eat - hummus and chips, baked apples, chocolate cake, jasmine tea - which we ferry downstairs to the rec room, with its lush mermaid-inspired purple velvet armchairs, and its air of a secret gathering place.
I love being with these women - they're brave, and they've owned the versions of A LOT that they've been through. Lucy summarizes these travails as The D's: despair, depression, doom, darkness, divorce, disillusionment, dispossession, dislocation, decay & desiccation. (OK - desiccation is my contribution to the list, meaning the dry sense that nothing again will ever come to nourish the soul's mossy brooks & funky swamps, and refresh its connections with the ocean of being. You've been there, too, right?)
We work through the feet/heart/crown/hands meditation I've been offering all along this trip - entering deeply into the body as a gateway into spacious awareness. I can feel it permeating the room & all of us. Go into the feet & inhabit them completely. What do you feel there? Now imagine there are gates in the soles of the feet. You can choose to open these, coming into deeper contact with the vastness and stability of Earth. Connect your feet & your seat with Earth & feel fully received. My hundreds of miles on wet Poconos back-roads clogged with weekend leaf-peepers fall away. Go into the heart & inhabit it completely. From within the space of your chest, notice that your heart is completely unobstructed in all directions, vast as the earth itself, though different in quality. Our worries about children & health & marriages fall away. Go into the crown of your head, inhabiting the space of your head completely. Now imagine that there is a gate in the crown of your head. You can choose to open this, coming into contact with the spaciousness and luminosity of sky. Connect your whole upper body with Sky, allowing yourself to feel supported from above. Our bodies become places of contact with What Is - not to be fled, but to be entered. Inhabiting your entire body fully, feel how it is permeable to boundless space. Experience your being simultaneously as a body supported by a skeleton & organs & contained in a skin, and as a bridge between the vastnesses of Earth and Sky, with the vastness of Heart at its center. You are here, embodied, inhabiting space.
On this trip, I've been encountering a lot of spiritually-inclined people who report positive experiences of exiting the body altogether, as a method of solace for the pain of being in the world. There are many different versions of this:
That last bit - when I am there, I don't want to come back - is tricky. In her wonderful book, Red Hot & Holy (which I am currently devouring), Sera Beak says that at one point in her life, she seriously thought about creating a new twelve-step program called "Disincarnates Anonymous." Being in the body can feel unbearable. You are a ten-year-old runaway being sexually assaulted. You are a woman suffering from a degenerative disease that is destroying your spine. You are a slave, being whipped. You are a soldier whose leg has just been blown off. The body is the last place you want to be, and so you do your best to become disincarnate, turning to dissociation, alcohol, drugs, meditation, religion, sex, fasting, violence, suicide, or work (or any combination thereof) to exit the suffering body.
It kind of works, but in the long run it's impossible, because the truth is you ARE in a body. You are embodied, and if you believe that the Universe/God/Goddess/Creation is not messing around, you also have to believe there's good reason for this situation. You have no choice but to make your way back into the awkwardness & the pain & the subtlety & darkness & juiciness of the body. That can be a very hard journey indeed (especially in such a disembodied culture as this one), but if it is done with & for & out of love, it can be done. See the body as a beloved animal you are rescuing. Its eyes & ears & nose & skin & feet are incredibly sensitive & intelligent. Feed this body well. Play. Don't drive yourself to exhaustion. Simply wanting to come home more than you want anything else, home comes towards you. Right now, take the steps you know how to take. Stop believing anything that undermines your essential connection to body-heart-mind-home.
So when I wake in the morning, and body-heart-mind-home is saying, Please take me home. I want to go out into this bright morning, and to go home, I gather my Inner Beauty things & my sleeping bag & my little suitcase & make my way quietly out of Geraldine's house before anyone else is awake. I take care of the steps I know how to take.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now