What an ending to this piece! I was wondering why I’ve been so bone dry. It was you who swallowed the oceans, leaving me sucking on a grain of sand.
I skimmed the thread over at “What is post-humanism and why does it matter?” and those individuals there (some seriously thought-provoking and well-written comments) appear to be voicing with varying degrees of frustration and futility the same theme, of loss of original language, the uprooting and continual dilution of meaning, and being faced with puzzling out fragments, attempting indeed “reclamation of collective memory”, to recover bits and pieces of a lost history, but with an all too keen awareness of what has led to traps or deadends.
This piece is entitled “The Long Curve of Descent”, but what intrigues me most is the last paragraph. After slithering around with fellow snakes, taking that form to settle accounts at the base, those last words come like an apocalyptic horn blast from atop a mountain after Ascent, where the long curve, after dipping below the horizon, goes around and emerges, coming full circle, and reveals you at the center of the orbit to have undergone a stunning transformation.
“All periods cohere in the one moment of my Memory. With a shock, one notes that the old becomes new. By the power of my austerities I have vacuumed up all of the water from the ocean. Cities shine there. I am Death—the Shatterer of Worlds. My weapon liberates multitudes.”
That ending is extraordinary, with not just the appearance of Death, but the audacious embodying of it by the poet, who perhaps intoxicated by its power dares to proclaim, “I am Death–the Shatterer of Worlds.”
Looking beyond Death and its ominous shadow, and suddenly seeing cities shining is startling, which seems to signal that Death is all-leveling and all-consuming but still finite and limited, and possesses a double movement, not only toppling and killing, bringing to an end, but also clearing and preparing the way for new beginnings.
Something in the rare and strange quality of your voicing in that last paragraph, that Dionysian frenzy sublimated and brought under control, the breathtaking leap from one bold statement to the next from such a dizzying height, dangerously suspended between loss of mind and the embodying of its full potential, and in that state really believing, in the inspired flash of an intensified moment, that what one imagines and names could immediately materialize or spring whole into existence like Minerva fully armed out of the forehead of Jupiter, reminds me of Gerard de Nerval and the kind of syncretic genius at play in his collection of poems The Chimeras. I think of his marvelous poem El Desdichado (the Disinherited) - this translation by Robert Duncan:
I am the dark one, - the widower, - the unconsoled.
The prince of Aquitaine at his stricken tower:
My sole star is dead, - and my constellated lute
Bears the black sun of the Melencolia.
In the night of the tomb, you who consoled me,
Give me back Mount Posilipo and the Italian sea,
The flower which pleased so my desolate heart,
And the trellis where the grape vine unites with the rose.
Am I Amor or Phoebus?.. Lusignan or Biron?
My forehead is still red from the kiss of the queen;
I have dreamd in the grotto where the mermaid swims…
And two times victorious I have crosst the Acheron:
Modulating turn by turn on the lyre of Orpheus
The sighs of the saint and the cries of the fay.
“The Nostalgia of the Infinite”, by De Chirico (click on for full image)
Thank you, Brian, for another sonorous piece–the cadence of your words a reminder of another “long curve of descent” that has resulted in the stunted, reductive language we settle for nowadays that leaves us inevitably failing to convey what we mean and rarely meaning what we convey. How can we conjure worlds old or new if we don’t have the words to describe them?
That leap into an archetypal voice at the end of the piece took me by surprise as well. Since it is a bit grandiose, perhaps, I wondered for a moment if I should keep it. I felt right, though, and I do my best to give full attention and respect to statements that come by themselves. Such statements can, of course, just as easily be gibberish or self-delusion as revelation. A big part of my education as a writer has had to do with learning to decipher who or what is speaking and where an image or intuition comes from. This can take a while, although I am much quicker at such things than I used to be. In the early 1990s, under the influence of a dramatic influx of spiritual energy, I wrote a book called “The Preexistent Race Descends”—about 60 pages or so—that seemed to be dictated by a kind of omniscient voice. This voice turned out to be anything but omniscient, at least in terms of its ability to sense whether or not its statements had any literary value at all.
Once the spell that I was under broke, I looked at what I had done in horror. Out of the whole book, there was barely a line worth saving. I kept the title and very little else. In retrospect, I have come to believe, somewhat paradoxically, that the voice that I heard during the writing of this book was, in fact, the voice of an authentic guide. The problem was that I had no way of knowing that its strategy was that of a trickster, and its goal was to thoroughly embarrass me. To gain the knowledge for which I had asked, it was indeed necessary that I open myself, injudiciously, even recklessly; at the same time, I was being pushed to perfect a kind of interdimensional bullshit detector. When I was studying to be an art teacher at the Massachusetts College of Art, I had a course in which we had to stand in front of the class and make an idiot of ourselves for ten minutes, with the idea of pushing through anxiety and self-consciousness to some sort of an open space beyond. This harsh and quite time-consuming lesson by whatever guide it was also helped to transpose my vantage point, so that, even as I was writing from direct personal experience, I was able to turn this experience to examine it from a multitude of angles.
When I look back at the generation of writers, artists, and composers who came of age in the first decades of the 20th Century—Picasso, Kandinsky, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Joyce, Apollinaire—I never cease to be shocked by the freshness of the work. How was it possible that such radical changes could take place in such a short period of time? If you look at the work produced in the various arts between 1905 and 1925 and compare it to the work produced between 1997 and the present, there is really no comparison in risk-taking and inventiveness. It is certainly possible to trace certain late 19th century lines of development and to examine the particular virtues of the writers, artists, and composers in question, but this will only take you so far, that is to say, not nearly far enough! At the turn of the 20th Century, some sort of a break had taken place.
No purely stylistic analysis is adequate to come to terms with the depth and extent of the discontinuity. The world itself had changed, quite radically. Did this new world find a way to create artists in its image, or were artists force to jettison their normal ways of working in order to create new languages that were adequate to the moment? I believe that we are at a similar turning point, and that we have been for quite a while now, but many forces in the culture work against our rising to the challenge. Among the most important factors may be the concept of the brand and our preoccupation with celebrity, which tempt us to conflate the image of the artist with the mystery of the creative process. While the changes in the first years of the 20th Century happened quickly, and, perhaps, almost by themselves, they would probably not have happened at all if the writers, artists, and composers in question were not more or less indifferent to immediate success.
I really like this reply, Brian. Thank you.
That is the remarkable thing about those last lines of your piece. They strike me too as authentic, not forced or imposed out of the cold and hard, narrow egoistical side of self, desiring only obedience or lusting after praise and accolades, but drawn rather from the deep mystery within, or as you put it, coming from the voice of the guide. Those words are startling but still have the feel and sound that you haven’t breached any law of nature.
Any mortal who tries to carry off this feat I imagine engaged in a kind of high-wire act, standing on the string of a divine instrument stretched across the abyss and attuned to the cosmos, which when both feet are stuck to it like a bird to lime, because at first one is mortified and trying not to fall, is deafeningly silent, but which begins vibrating once one lifts a foot and takes a step. The more confident one becomes moving along and balancing on the string, even daring to dance on it, increasing the odds of a misstep and bad fall, the more that vibration comes alive. In the hum of its music words then elementally materialize and even as if from beyond, shaking us like thunder or quietly appearing to us like a rainbow through mist, and that is the voice of the guide.
The following words in your piece are also striking:
“For me, healing has to do with the discovery of our wholeness, which exists, to some extent, beyond us. This challenge is like the real gesture that we make with our prosthetic hand. There is water in a cup. It waits for centuries for us to drink it. Yet, though broken, we have never ceased to be whole.”
The guide arrives as a shrouded messenger from the outer limits of the wholeness “which exists, to some extent, beyond us”, but of which we are still a part, though we may have amnesia, and desires to report to us how it is going there, what to look for and where there are dangers when we open the gate and venture out. But this guide speaks in such a strange way that at first one may mistake him for an intruder or a madman and kick him out.
With this in mind I have a question for you, Brian: How well have you integrated your everyday self with your artistic and visionary self, weaving both sides together so that the whole for you is increasingly more thoroughly realized? I suppose that’s a difficult question for you to answer briefly. I’ve corresponded with you enough that I myself could probably answer on your behalf.
I have remarked to you before that upon first encounter with your artistic and visionary self in your work, without yet having much familiarity with you in your more down-to-earth and approachable everyday self, one feels not only seriously impressed by the tight-knit artistry of your prose, which in a way one might consider to be like the chainmail worn by a knight, but overwhelmed by all the paradoxes and enigmas you present, feeling quite inadequate to the task of deciphering and productively making use of them. One at first is frankly tongue-tied, as if a cork has risen into one’s throat and gotten lodged there, or a seal of silence has been placed over one’s lips.
It’s another paradox, perhaps, that you lose the power to dislodge the corks stuck in the throats of others or to break the seal of silence over their lips, getting them to communicate more freely and openly, to the degree that you have created this unusual and formidable body of work, which one looks up at in awe and wonder and tries to interpret like the constellations of stars in the sky. This is perhaps the Achillies’ heal of your entire endeavor?
Or maybe this is the most vulnerable and vital center, the inner sanctum, where the Omphalos is kept.
P. S. Greetings to you, Lauren Byrne. I get where you’re coming from in your comment. Say one thing and the opposite suggests itself, waiting in the wings to spring out and surprise one. I often express something and not long after different sides and shades of meaning are revealed which I hadn’t originally intended, exposing me as the simpleton or naive fellow I quite often am, though I hate to admit it; and I don’t think the problem would be solved if like Argus with his hundred eyes I had a hundred mouths with which to speak!
You wrote, “But this guide speaks in such a strange way that at first one may mistake him for an intruder or a madman and kick him out. With this in mind I have a question for you, Brian: How well have you integrated your everyday self with your artistic and visionary self, weaving both sides together so that the whole for you is increasingly more thoroughly realized?” To answer your question and even partially address the issues that you raise in your comment would mean writing another essay. Let me throw out a few things, more or less at random.
In a society that views human beings as rationally self-interested economic actors—or perhaps “factors” would be a better word—I don’t think that I could ever hope for more than a makeshift integration of self and environment. In his poem “America,” Ginsberg writes, “When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks? America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world. Your machinery is too much for me. You made me want to be a saint.” From the time that I was 18 or so, I have had a visceral sense of the role that I wanted to play, of the way that I wanted to use language, of the type of energy I wanted to embody. Decades later, I feel more or less able to do what I set out to do. Much has come into focus, but the gap between my vision and the society in which I live remains more or less as it was. If only someone would pay me a thousand dollars per paragraph, or even ten cents an hour!
I must content myself with being a good husband and father, a supportive friend, a good listener, a responsible citizen, an attentive partner to the larger aspect of the self, a servant of the cosmos, and a creative catalyst to those who might be open to such input. To recognize what I can and cannot do is important. While I love reading artistic manifestos from the early 20th Century, which give rhetorical form to my urge to leap headfirst into the unknown, to be at all effective in the completion of my projects I have had to learn to think small. I have no desire to be a cult leader, to lecture others on the “shattering of the ego,” to promote myself as an artistic brand, or to inflate my persona with the archetypal energies that I touch. That is to say, for such energies to move through me, if and when they choose, I must make no attempt to contain them. Craft is a separate issue, as is stealth.
For the past six years or so, I have gone out of my way to avoid referring to the “ego,” a term that has become a scapegoat for our stunted relationship with the depths. This is like blaming your dog for eating the homework that you did not bother to do. I will sometimes refer to the “socially constructed self” or the “situated self” or the “persona” or the “self as biological entity” or other similar phrases, but I try to never speak reflexively about the “ego.” Way too much has been said of it already, even by those teachers who argue that such a thing does not exist. If the ego does not exist, then it seems counterproductive to mythologize it and absurd to fight against it. There is an Irish saying that goes, “May you get to heaven before the Devil knows you’re gone.” More and more, I tend to think that this lack of communication is simply a question of habit—well, of habit informed by millennia of unacknowledged and unprocessed trauma.
The smaller and the larger versions of the self are not irreconcilably opposed; rather, the lines of communication have been blocked, which can lead each version to assume the worst about the other. Nine times out of ten, when some trace of the supernatural appears in a Hollywood movie—in this summer’s “The Mummy,” for example—it tends to be associated with horror. Similarly, if we act like disobedient children, the larger aspect of the self may provide us with the punishment we have asked for. Perhaps this punishment is designed to promote our evolution. Perhaps it is just due to annoyance. For the most part, my spiritual method is closer to Aikido than Karate. I do my best to move with rather than against the archetypal forces that present themselves, however dark these may at first appear to be, and only then find some way to transmute and direct them.
The idea that you must walk on a razor’s edge to cross between the worlds is, I think, an accurate one, in that it points to the need for continuous attention. It is also a bit deceptive, however, in that it implies that you should never make a mistake. My own belief is as follows: If we had wanted to avoid mistakes, we should have stayed in the other world. What else are we here for? All of our mistake-prone wanderings bring new worlds into existence. Without our ignorance, the gods would starve. Our spilled blood is the fuel that powers history. My intuition tells me that humans are vast creatures, hard as this is to believe, as well as violent and petty and deluded ones. We are connected, on some bone-deep level, to the origin of things. Wherever we go, there we are—a breath away from the mystery that is waiting for us to express it.
At the same time that I have always allowed myself to make mistakes—if not in the moment, then at least in retrospect—I have also felt the force of some sort of gravitation, of a presence or an absence that somehow pulls me towards itself. This has been true on a small scale, in terms of an individual poem or essay or artwork. It has also been true on a larger scale, in terms of the abstract shape of my life-story. Some might argue that we have a natural tendency to impose a narrative arc on the random flow of events, that it is not events but rather our stories that cohere. This may true, as far as it goes, yet there is also a reason that we are drawn to telling stories. Just as small and large are not necessarily opposed, so too, randomness and pattern may conspire in ways that we have yet to understand. Beyond the flux of my biography, beyond my personal weaknesses, beyond the frustrations of working in a job I do not love and trying to fix a house that is forever falling apart, I can sense the field of a hyperobject, which some might call the “Philosopher’s Stone.” This is not to say that I am special in any way, only that I have done my best to become aware of its pull. A key principle of alchemy, as I understand it, is that there is no experience so trivial that it should not be seen as a form of wealth.
“In my patience is my soul.” I have always loved this alchemical saying. If time does not heal all wounds, it does, perhaps, transpose the context of the wound, just as it turns blunders into breakthroughs. If such breakthroughs are always waiting for their moment to occur, we quite often cannot be bothered to embrace them. We would much prefer to be happy, that things should happen as we plan. With a few more weekend seminars, we will at last be able to “create our own reality.” This is one form of happiness, that of getting what we want. There is another form, a less familiar one, which has to do with wanting what we get, with discovering those things that we are specifically meant to do. The world is very noisy. Each leap in technology provides us with new distractions. Listening can be difficult, to say the least. Even if we succeed, there may be no one around to acknowledge our success, and even the attentive listener may feel that he has failed. No “reward” should be expected. Like Cezanne, Van Gogh—whose painting “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82,500,000. in 1992—was not an impressive art student, and few would have predicted that he would amount to much of anything. He sold only two paintings in his lifetime. He was, however, persistent.
Image: Adolph Gottlieb, “The Seer”
When Brian bares himself there is always an out-breath, a yes, yes. Having him offer a declared self knowledge makes his sometimes obtuse writings much less obtuse- more merely playful, adventurous. Then there is more: the portrait of the artist as a young dog, reconciled to himself, panting with eagerness in the game. It helps us understand him but equally understand ourselves.
I find Dave Hanson’s point of view rather intriguing. It is as though he deliberately plays at being oblivious of the very burdens he signed for, whose benefit already accrues to the other versions of himself.
I sense a certain carelessness, maybe selfishness, or even irritation, underlying Dave’s comment, the very same irritation that must have issued forth from him when being cautioned at the emporium of predestination: there the gold is pain and suffering, not healing, there the treasure is confusion and want, not wellbeing. There, souls would do anything to experience broken legs not to talk of crutches pretending to support the broken legs. In his greed, he fell to, perhaps along with the rest of us, and bit more than he could chew.
He will require that same self-abandon to begin to appreciate and perhaps allow his psyche to benefit from the gift of your writing. All he has to do is soak the nous in, live long enough and die: it is self-activating. In his deathless psyche, the nous in your writing would ignite itself like a driver-less vehicle and sort him out.
we waited intently for the herald
the pines the shore and the stars.
One with the plough’s blade or the keel of the ship,
we were searching to rediscover the first seed
so that the ancient drama could begin again.
"We returned to our homes broken,
limbs incapable, mouths cracked
by the taste of rust and brine.
When we woke we travelled towards the north, strangers
plunged into mists by the spotless wings of swans that
On winter nights the strong wind from the east maddened
in the summers we were lost in the agony of the day that
"We brought back
these carved reliefs of a humble art.”
–George Seferis, from Mythistorema
Many thanks for your perceptive comment, which shows a grasp of the deeper aspects of my methods. I sense that your vision is very naturally in alignment with my own. This is a rare thing. I certainly cannot blame Dave Hanson for asking the questions and making the suggestions that he did. If I am going to persist, against much well-intentioned advice, in writing in my trademark oblique style, I had better be prepared to address whatever misunderstandings arise! I was, in fact, very grateful for Dave’s comment. It was beautifully written, in a radiantly spare and tactile prose style—something like that of Shaker furniture—and he pushed me to more carefully define my spiritual role, to clarify the differences between the roles of the catalyst and the healer. I was very much aware of these differences, yes, but, until Dave asked “Can your visions help heal another?” I don’t know that I had ever spelled out my understanding for others, at least not in this degree of detail.
This well known statement by 9th Century master Ch’ing-yuan on the three stages of his understanding of the Dharma is, I think, central to Dave’s argument. It reads, “Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.” Who am I to disagree? It is important to simplify, and to focus, with all of one’s attention, on the task at hand. And, for the person who would define himself as a “healer,” it is essential that he be able to heal. All of this seems simple enough.
I would argue, though, that neither Ch’ing-yuan’s statement nor the traditional injunction that the shaman must go out and heal are quite as straightforward as they seem. First, in Ch’ing-yuan’s description of the three stages of the Dharma, the mountains and waters at the end are not the same as the mountains and waters at the beginning. The mysterious more-than-mountainness of the mountains and more-than-wateriness of the waters has in no way disappeared. Rather, this dimension of volatile energetic flux has come to exist in a state of dynamic tension with the day to day actions of the explorer. At the end of one installment of a journey, it is possible to grasp how one’s responsibility to the whole, the Dharma, is not different from one’s scrupulous attention to the part. This is one reason that I respond to comments on my essays in as much detail as I do. “The Long Curve of Descent” is itself an attempt to bring the best of my energies to what might have been written off as a passing exchange.
As Dave has pointed out, of course, my way of moving is not a simple thing to grasp, and my concept of what constitutes “healing” may well strike some as bizarre. Like Dave, I would prefer to be healthy and happy. I would like all of my family and friends and casual acquaintances to be healthy and happy. I would like the whole of the human race and, in certain moments at least, even my worst enemies to be healthy and happy. In contemporary society, however, happiness is too often seen as the immediate fulfillment of a desire, a desire that is itself very often manufactured. Health is too often understood as the absence of disease. To even begin to probe into what these concepts mean would require that we let go of many comfortable preconceptions. It would demand a leap through the dark, a radical shift of focus.
Aristotle speaks of “eudaimonia,” of a form of happiness that is neither a goal nor an emotion; rather, it is aftereffect, a sign that a person’s actions are in alignment with his/her nature. The Yoruba, as you know, speak more specifically of the “Ori,” which means both “destiny” and “head.” In this tradition, as in Aristotle, both health and happiness are signs, not ends in themselves. We have put on physical bodies for a reason. Each person has a destiny and each life-story a shape, however difficult such patterns might be to interpret, however much the artificial light of our culture might obscure them. If health and happiness are desirable, disease and suffering are unavoidable. Our natural tendency is to hold tight to the one and to let go of the other. This works well enough, for certain people, for some of the time! As a catalyst, I am driven to point out that such actions are not adequate, that writing wish-lists in the sand will not hold back the ocean.
There are moments when my intuition seems to reach out beyond space, when I can just begin to sense how health and disease, happiness and suffering are connected. I do not write many haikus. While I do my best to be clear, I have not found any simple means for describing the more-than-mountainness of the mountains and the more-than-wateriness of the waters. To even begin to express the alchemical mystery of how each thing is intimately connected to its opposite is to stretch the possibilities of language to their breaking point. I can only bring back a few souvenirs.
Illustration: Brian George, Ships on a Violent Sea
The “Brian” that you encounter in these forum comments is probably not too different from the person with whom you would interact during a long conversation over dinner, so long as this person were allowed to take notes and revise all of his comments numerous times. This person would not always, of course, speak in complete paragraphs, he would not have every reference immediately available, and he would probably say quite a number of stupid and trivial and opinionated things. This is certainly one version of “Brian”; he is real, yet I don’t know that he is any realer than the version that appears in “The Long Curve of Descent” and in other essays and poems. Unlike you, I have to actually live with this more limited version of Brian, and I am often bored and impatient with his quirks. Nietzsche wrote, “I was surprised by Zarathustra.” Like Nietzsche, I very much like to be surprised. I do not object to sharing space with other versions of myself, and I write to try to begin to figure out what I know.
Illustration: Max Beckman, “Man on a Trapeze”
For me, healing has to do with the discovery of our wholeness, which exists, to some extent, beyond us.
Yes, and perhaps, first, where the hole is…as we can never heal self or others without understanding the hole. This place is where we feel disordered and even broken. Also, we must know the whole. Knowing the whole is knowing not only self but the other: the other person beside you and then “beyond us.” Inevitably, the other person is involved with our feeling disordered and broken. Recognition makes for healing. “Beyond us” cannot be experienced before this in my opinion. God and the spirit realm will not visit someone who has not taken the time to understand how their identity relates to consciousness and association and how feeling is often dissociated. One must be awakened to the fact that pain is self-created as is anger, fear, compassion and joy…and this is given in any relationship. To know this is to then to heal. To make proper decisions and love at the Christ level. Christ being received within, makes way for the universal God and the “beyond us.” Then the intuitive/psychic capacity of the divine appears and accurately. All shamans must have this vision first before they can shamanize and no one can heal themselves properly without this. Once achieved, cohesion and integration occurs. The soul is no longer fragmented and tumultuous.
Since the end of the Paleolithic Era, it is possible that we have been riding a long curve of descent, in which all things once transparent have become more and more opaque. We do not remember what our hands are for. Our speech is inert. Our intelligence cannot exit from the top part of the skull, a door whose key has been broken off in its keyhole, an aperture that lacks oil. Once, our story had been written on the leaves of a great tree. The leaves have been torn off. The glyphs on them are illegible, and the tree is now a stump. Preprogrammed from beyond the clockwork of the stars, the decline that we have experienced does not appear as such; no, some trick of perspective causes us to hallucinate an ascent.
Archetypes break like toys, left over from a childhood that never did exist. We discard them. We ask, “Why is it so difficult for us to see into the cosmos?” We speak loudly. We do not hear the response. The cultures that we dismembered have been sucked into a cloud. Their outcries circle, and then fall like rain. The last civic structures are consumed by a decentralized plutocracy. “Who put you in charge?” we demand. “Do you have any vision at all?”
Excellent, and thought-provoking ideas. Maybe their will be an ascent? Maybe man will refine at the pace we are at. Refine so much that the flesh and blood existence won’t be necessary. A strange thought…but maybe. And only some of us in that refinement will be “refined.” As in healed and completely whole.
Many thanks for your comment. Let me respond somewhat circuitously.
When the first presence moved across the surface of the waters, it is possible that even he/she/ it could not do more than dimly sense what was beneath. To learn more, this omnipotent presence would have to choose to become less. To exist in one place, it would have to withdraw itself from other places. To become more perfect, it would have to become flawed. To experience what it was, it would have to learn to enter into others, to let go of all previous concepts of its image. To return, with deeper knowledge, to the place from which it came, it would have to go, like Inanna, by the “way that does not turn back.” The challenge posed by the other is not only social, not only ethical or emotional or psychological; it is, I think, a mystery that precedes the existence of the world. To confront the other is to wrestle with a “koan.” It is to try to answer a question that is not meant to be answered; rather, the whole context of the question must be shifted, even as the questioner must be opened and transformed.
You write, “Knowing the whole is knowing not only self but the other: the other person beside you and then ‘beyond us.’ Inevitably, the other person is involved with our feeling disordered and broken. Recognition makes for healing. ‘Beyond us’ cannot be experienced before this in my opinion.” To me, empathy and generosity are among the most important virtues, signs that one may have reached some tactile sense of interconnectedness, some intuitive breadth of understanding. When a psychonaut or a writer or a teacher claims to have had a life-changing mystical experience, the first thing that I look for is generosity, for some evidence that this is a person who overflows. Beyond this, I would look to see if the person was willing to carry the world on his/her back, to suffer, whether physically or psychically, what the least fortunate of human beings must suffer. Sadly, I do not see this orientation nearly as often as I would like. Too many New Age teachers, for example, tend to view their own enlightenment as a marketing opportunity; they sell instead of give. At the same time, to think of openness to the other only in terms of other people and g-d may be to set limits on an exchange that is, by its very nature, unpredictable.
There are a great many ways to approach the mystery of the Other. There are many others, just as there are many ways that these others can be experienced and understood. There are mystics who do not like humans beings at all, who would prefer, let’s say, to celebrate the perfection of the five Platonic solids. There are others who would prefer to dwell in the depths of the unmanifest, to contemplate how formlessness is not different from form. An artist might define the other as his daimon, as the presence that hovers on the edge of his subconscious, who gives access to knowledge that would not be otherwise in reach. Some psychonauts may think of themselves primarily as cartographers, whose job is to map the presences that work and play in the subtle realms. There are mystics who are hermits and mystics who see their body as the body of the Earth. There are Nazi mystics, who believe that Hitler was an avatar of Vishnu. There are mystics who think that humans are far inferior to bees.
The challenge posed by the Other remains much as it was: It is a mystery to be entered, a question whose answer is more ambiguous than the question, a way of letting go of any fixed system of belief. As it was when the first presence became conscious of its breath, it is a call to explore beneath the surface of the waters. There, one must define oneself by all those things that one may instinctively be driven to reject, by those things that, in the end, will only become more familiar, not less strange.
In a Maori creation myth, we hear, “Darkness, become a light-possessing darkness. Light, become a darkness-possessing light.”
For many years now, I have done my best to rest my attention on the outer edge of awareness, in a liminal zone where the self and certain aspects of the other blur. I begin with the assumption that I do not know what I know. In this way, I have hoped to use my writing as a forum, as a place where contradictory forces can fight it out and/or play. Almost full access must be given to the other, and then to the other other, and then to the other after that. The tricky part is to be both open to suggestion and detached, to abandon oneself and to wield a sharp editorial pen, to take reckless chances and to keep one’s gyroscopic center, to be willing to be an idiot , and proud of it, while one industriously extracts the seeds of insight from one’s actions. One must be willing to admit that one is broken, a doll without a head, a pair of feet without a continent to stand on, a puzzle that is missing most of its parts, even as a voice, against all evidence, insists that one is somehow being led and reconfigured by the whole.
In 2009, I took part in a conversation prompted by Jasun Horsley’s “Owning the Apocalypse: The Up Side of Annihilation.” My comments eventually grew into an essay called “Transparency is the Only Shield Against Disaster.” One excerpt may be relevant to this exchange about wholeness. You wrote, “Maybe there will be an ascent? Maybe man will refine at the pace we are at. Refine so much that the flesh and blood existence won’t be necessary.” That is certainly possible. Many people share this belief. Biologically, socially, technologically, and spiritually, it is difficult for us to set aside the idea that we are collectively evolving. Most in the ancient world thought differently; they thought in terms of the rising and falling of vast cycles, within which, at key moments, some individuals or small groups might be able to become more fully conscious of their roles. Radiant bodies were/are waiting for their inhabitants to put them on. The excerpt reads as follows:
“I would argue, based first and foremost on my own experience, that the Shadow, the Double, the Inner Teacher, and the Preexistent Guide are all aspects of one single presence. Its energy is explosive, and it has the power to obliterate or to transform what it touches.
“Contracted, this presence appears to be one’s enemy; expanded, it appears to be one’s friend. Quite strangely, it is neither of the above. If its agenda overlaps, in many ways and at certain times, with our own, it would nonetheless be a mistake, on this side of the experience of death, to jump to any conclusions about which side of the light/dark opposition we are on. Luck overtakes us, but perhaps we are being set up for the kill. Has the shadow become more user-friendly? No. Whether now or 2,000 or 10,000 years ago, the shared identity of the Shadow and the Guide has always presented itself in the form of an ultimatum, which we must torture our minds and bodies to interpret. ‘Abandon hope, all you who enter here.’ ‘Live free, and/ or die.’ ‘These, your relatives, are already dead, and so press on in the fight.’ True ecstasy necessitates the removal of one’s skin. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge have never been two different trees. Our Guardians lie; it is the Serpent who instructs us. What we hear, however, will determine the breadth and depth of our transport, as well as the effect of the fruit that we have eaten. To misinterpret a metaphor will be to contemplate mass murder.”
To my way of thinking, an experience of the whole is not something to be achieved; rather, it is something of which it is important to let go. An umbilicus connects us to the breath of the first presence, to some infinitely dense point of origin. There is no way to count the number of times it has been cut.
Illustration: Max Ernst, Surrealism and Painting
Thank you for your insightful response.
“To exist in one place, it would have to withdraw itself from other places. To become more perfect, it would have to become flawed. To experience what it was, it would have to learn to enter into others, it let go of all previous concepts of its image. To return with deeper knowledge, to the place where it came, it would have to go, like Inanna, by “the way does not turn back.”
“I would argue, based first and foremost on my own experience, that the Shadow, the Double, the Inner Teacher, and the Preexistent Guide are all aspects of one single presence. Its energy is explosive, and it has the power to obliterate or to transform what it touches. Contracted, this presence appears to be one’s enemy; expanded, it appears to be one’s friend.”
There is physics in this description. The matter you are relating is in relation to the matter of creation and cosmology.
Contracted is the inversion, and introspection. This can be construed as enemy. For example: the introverted person. They appear self-absorbed and even cold.
Actually the introvert is insecure and in (secure). They are first in (secure) security because they are comfortable with their central lotus. They are rooted in the shadow, the double, the inner teacher and the preexistent guide you speak of. This is the unconscious made conscious, the darkness of the earth, its materiality, and the void.
Many introspective people often have more difficulties in life than the extrovert because they work at this level. Initially it is often unpleasant work…questioning existence and growing cognition, cogs in the clock, layers building flesh on the seed in the womb, from nothing into something. The other you and I speak of is here. And it is first this ghost that haunts, but does not taunt. The introvert is the philosopher who constantly questions but they are still. There is God in their every questioning: Who besides I? They are unlike the scientists who claim they are the I : omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscience (interestingly, there is science in this word but also “OM”… the scientists need God).
Physics and math? There is heart math. There is the word and physics without language could not even understand the number…therefore the scientists are wrong.
Physics must exist first in feeling or the word before the number or math. Physics can be explained in words as I’m discussing now. Physics is of the physical world, energy and how it works, but there in this word is the psyche, the soul, the psychic who senses beyond the physical to aid as you’ve stated: The true physicist is that person you speak of. The New Age teacher or shaman who is empathetic and generous. Who is interconnected, and gives.
The introvert deals their cards, and this is to say they deal with them and they present them. They are configurations, numbers and figures. They are past, present and future. They are horizontal and vertical. They are the entirety, the framework and the oracle. But they question the stillness. They question the frame and how it works. As philosophers and physicists also, they are aware that there is a touch reaching them from some place and they are humble. Therefore they are never God but feeling God. They are comfortable, as I’ve said, with their central lotus. This central lotus blooms when they work with this matter: from the contraction (this void) to the expansion (the creation) or lotus opening. If the introspect remains in this void without the expansion (the creation) they will go insane.
Where is the introvert insecure? For the extrovert, not with them. The introvert perhaps senses the insecurity of the extrovert. Their actions, identity and temperament are the cast. These persons are cast from the source. They work on a movie set. They are the actresses and actors with their roles, mingling with their scripts and searching for a character. They are in need of validation through interaction and this is seeking their void, other and central lotus. The introvert already has theirs. They are the void, other and central lotus. They are character. They do not need the set, role and performance. They are direction at all levels, contracting and expanding cosmology. But God is always there. He is the director.
A question for you: Why is an experience of the whole not something to be achieved, but something of which it is important to let go?
Many thanks for your thought provoking comments. I had intended to respond a few weeks back, but I unexpectedly found myself in a very painful kidney stone crisis. I am now on the mend and will get back to you soon.
Brian, I hope you’re feeling better after your kidney stone experience. It sounded terribly unpleasant, and I suspected you might be putting a sanguine mask on something slightly more excruciating. I hope that was only my projection.
You have been on my mind recently, and I have been meaning to come back to this piece, which I read prior to publishing, but didn’t feel fully had the space to land in me at the time. The autumnal season at these latitudes makes it feel more timely; and I’m also reminded of your wonderful piece Autumnal Fallout, published one year ago, which I believe has also acquired a new relevance, as once again the world contemplates the creative possibilities (or entertainment value—or return on investment, at the very least!) of WW3.
The replies from @JDockus, @Philippa, @soulnavigatour, @jidebegun, and @LMCB—and your replies in turn—add filaments and folds of richness to the original text, and perform some of the leaping of gaps which you ask of your readers.
I confess: when I first read that last paragraph, I heard an undertone that John didn’t mention (though his later question about how you integrate your visionary artistry with your personal life points in this direction). The “I am Death” line seemed almost self-consciously (and meta-ironically) to be obviously (transparently) a flash of bravado, from the perspective of the nervous, naked child of a few lines above. Your confession to just beginning to figure out your “public role,” as well as your invocation of Whitman’s “Do I contradict myself?,” betray a vulnerability in this sudden, almost abrupt, and unexpected utterance—which doesn’t take away from the objective drama of its imagery, but rather humanizes it.
Your project involving a “reclamation of collective memory” (which in some sense, you suggest or hypothesize) has been shattered or scattered, seeks to convey wholeness not through asserting a total interpretive framework, but rather by showing the ambiguity, many-sidedness, and malleability of manifest reality—even when your powers to act on it (i.e., the objective world) seem like those of a child relative to what you intuit is possible.
I, for one, would fully testify to your efficacy as a creative catalyst—even and especially at a distance. The WE that you speak of, as vehicle for the unheard, forgotten Voice of Self, remains elusive, of course. But this is why leaps must be dared. Thank you for the reminder that there is nothing to break our fall.