Wrong envelope. Wrong clock, wrong interpretive frame. Wrongety wrong wrong. It's actually a wonderful word to say – and even better as a Mandarin syllable. Ni rong bu rong? Can you deal with it, or not? There's a retroflex French-Russian twist to this Chinese sound, and to this sentiment.
I’ve been reading up on dreamwork, of late, and it’s been bringing up some feelings about the nature of the wrong envelope. This Western Buddhist dude whose book I’ve been reading is a perfect example of Team It’s All An Illusion. He talks about removing the superficial mind, rejecting superficial dreams, and seeing through to the Clear Light. This thing's been working him for decades, making him call his dog “it,” when he knows better; making him unable to deal with meeting the eye of the camera recording his Deep Teachings on dreams. It’s painful. Painful, any way. I know what I choose is the way of no wrong envelope, nothing to remove, no place to look that isn’t holy. Oh, and, respectful pronouns for all sentient beings, up to and including “they,” for our gender-fluid furry pals.
Here’s how it is. You open a jar of natural peanut butter that's been sitting in your basement for months. The oil and the nut-stuff don't really want to mix. It's easier to keep them separate, but then, what have you got? Oil that won't sit on toast, followed by dry nut-stuff that gives you the hiccups, guaranteed. So you grab a silver-handled knife with a steel blade, which you stab into the jar a bunch of times, to prime the mixing. And then, patiently, like nothing else matters in that moment (which, it doesn't), you start stirring, careful to keep all the oil in the jar, and to reach all the dried patches deep inside. You mix the above and the below, and in so doing you wind up with something marvelous: sticky, firm, fluid, delicious. You bring the opposites together, and you dedicate yourself to doing this process over, and over, and over, like breathing, sleeping, waking, dying, and being born again. You accept that being alive is a process of enlivening matter, and enmattering spirit. You quit weh-weh wishing for unicorns and rainbows everywhere. Unicorns and rainbows insofar as they naturally occur: Super! All about that! But you don’t waste time dismissing perfectly good shitpiles, and you don’t call your dog (or anyone else’s) “it.” You wipe the knife-blade with your fingers, and share the results with the dogs: Chronic Interspecies Sticky-Snout Syndrome.
Buddhist Dream Man lives in a world of yearning only to interact with Awakened Beings in ethereal, noncorporeal, deathless ways. He wants very much not to see All the Other Crap: noisy lawnmowers, anxiety dreams, community cafés turned into snooty restaurants, rescue dogs with obdurately wild edges. He wants to avoid the taint of the wrong envelope altogether. I know I'm harshing on this guy, but I believe that his biases are a source of real, unnecessary, and widespread suffering. My dancing friend takes the awesome Finger-Gun Mudra that I learned from a client last week, points it in at his own belly, and pulls the triggers. “I’m killing my ego,” he says proudly. Really, Friend? And what will happen then? You think you’ll be well-equipped for this world if you succeed in cutting off your personality? I think you’ll just slide off toast. I think you’ll give everyone the hiccups, yourself included.
Who says personality is the wrong envelope? Lots of people, actually, but I think they're not giving the ground of being credit for it for its full reach and range of fabulousness. Are hands wrong? Noses? Knees? Why, then, personalities? Can't it better be said that the work we have to do is a process of integration? I look with serious skepticism at any tradition that requires me to remove a body part in order to succeed within it. (Luckily, it turns out the original Amazons didn’t lop off their breasts.) I feel just the same about lopping off a psychic part. I will stir the oil and the solids together. I will refuse to abandon any level of being, or any of my dreams, even the squirreliest-seeming ones.
Yesterday I dreamed I was telling an old kitchen-boss of mine all about a favorite dessert of my childhood. I had just walked into her kitchen, where she was slicing a large, flat, round bread at its equator. I asked her if it was a Tarte Tropézienne, and she said no, but I told her all about it anyway: the soft brioche, the silky, fluffy orange-flower cream in the middle, the pellet-sugar sprinkled onto the egg-wash before baking. In the morning, this is the only dream I could remember. It seemed kind of pointless, but I wrote it down anyway: no wrong envelope.
Then, moseying around Facebook, a post from my writing friend Ann caught my eye – Anne Dufourmantelle, the French philosopher and psychoanalyst, had just died, trying to rescue some children. I clicked through. It turned out that she had drowned just around the corner from Saint Tropez, off the coast of the Plage de Pampelonne, where my family used to boat on windless days. (The currents there could be very strong, so you had to choose carefully when you went.) Apparently, she had seen the warning flag on the beach go from orange to red, and instead of heading straight for shore, she had tried to reach some children whom she had spotted nearby, to bring them to safety. She drowned, and they didn’t.
I'm guessing it was mistral weather – the fierce wind that blows dark, freezing water up from the deep, and pulls everything in that part of the Mediterranean out "au large" – into the greatness of the sea, and away from shore. She took a risk – just the kind of courageous behavior she espoused in her writing – and she was pulled out into mystery.
Mixing matter and spirit brings us into the neighborhood of death, again and again, until the balance becomes more than matter can integrate. This is true whether we choose to be aware of our frequent contacts with death-energy, whether choose to accept our predicament, whether we choose to live lives of integration, or not. The De La Soul line You are living in a full-time era comes to visit from the deep. Exactly. Living in a full-time era means responding to every aspect of life as though nothing is beneath notice and attention. It means living as though there were no such thing as the wrong envelope.
Julie Püttgen is an artist and meditation teacher.
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