The Snare of Distance and the Sunglasses of the Seer / Part One – by Brian George


(Mindful AI) #1

Originally published on

“And, spread across solemn distances, your smile entered my heart.”—Rainer Maria Rilke

In a comment on my essay “The Vanguard of a Perpetual Revolution,” Okantomi wrote, “I often feel like I can see what is happening in the world, as well as what is just about to happen, and what will almost certainly happen later on, and it’s like no one else sees what I am seeing. It’s eerie, shocking, and finally depressing.” People do have visions of the future, both individually and collectively. Quite often, these visions are troubling, but few bother to follow the implications of their vision to the end, let alone change their lives. One way or another, though, our visions have ways of making themselves felt, even if we do not register what it is we are seeing. The world is a kind of eyeball. There is no such thing as a “safe space.”

Such visions do not necessarily depend upon telepathy; they can be equally present in the automated workings of the culture, in the demographic analyses that drive the decisions of corporate boards. Hollywood blockbusters, for example—such as Star Wars, The Fountain, The Terminator, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Planet of the Apes, Avatar (and all of their various spinoffs)—strike me as a potent vehicles for contemporary mythmaking, whatever their variations in quality, whatever the motives or self-awareness of their directors. There are cues. There are occult knots. Our responses are overdetermined. Our hands freeze in mid-air as they reach for their absent weapons. Our lips form the first vowels of a chant that will atomize a whole city. As we stare into the distance, the ancient world resurfaces as a technological dream on the horizon. We remember the collapse of complex systems, the hierarchical clash between the rulers and the ruled, but we mix and match the specifics of the story. Our best efforts to solidify the Rorschach blot of the future only point us towards the enigma of our origins. To discover what we know, we must sometimes pause to observe what we create. Seized from afar, as by the magnetism of an almost nonexistent teacher, we are pulled by a current all too eager to instruct us. An unresolved agenda speaks to us from the screen. The screen also acts like an iron curtain, through which the bodies of the living may not pass.

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Or, in a different mode, people give form to the future through their fears, by what they do not do as much as what they do, by their belle indifference when presented with a series of ultimatums. Our psyches are jagged. Whole periods have gone missing. As crises converge, our refusal to act is a testament to the scale of the coming upheaval. We finger the rigid outlines of our scars, as if they belonged to someone else. We shape the future by our under-the-skin sense of all of those things we know but go out of our way not to think about: that reserves of oil will almost certainly run out in our lifetimes, that the U.S. doesn’t manufacture much of anything anymore, and that there is not enough locally grown food to sustain most cities in a real emergency. There are many things that it seems better not to know. The future is one of the better places in which to store such unasked for knowledge.

It is always possible that the march of progress will indefinitely continue, that “someone will think of something,” that our way of life will require only a few small modifications, that windmills and solar cells will save us. As ancient souls, we know this is absurd. The problem is, of course, to separate and categorize these alternate versions of the future—in simplistic terms, to discriminate between the more false than true and the more true than false. We can see the details but somehow miss the pattern; we can see the pattern but somehow miss the details. To see clearly we must see from more than one location, from all of the 360 degrees of a circle, and then out beyond the 28 U-Turns of a labyrinth, there to access the ten-dimensional records of a sphere.

Brian George, Star-Bird, drawing, 1990

Sadly, there are laws that prevent our switching out of “power save” in order to reactivate the full scope of our senses. The art of remote viewing is no longer taught in schools. Bilocation is now seen as unscientific. There are industries devoted to the proposition that a human being has less predictive power than an algorithm. The age of the tool has passed and the age of the prosthesis is at hand. We see what is put before us; we do not see the long shadows that are standing behind our backs. We now see with our eyes; we do not believe that it is possible to see with the solar plexus. From their underground bases, speeding all ways at once, like boomerangs, and with superhuman stealth, suspect forces play games with the horizon. Fear and hope pump out a kind of metaphysical fog, crackling with static, which makes every level of the process difficult and tests our ability to translate the first hieroglyphs that we wrote.

As light can manifest as either a particle or a wave, or both, but not at the same time, so too the future both IS and IS NOT there. It is there for those beings with a panoramic view, as it is for us at the moment of our deaths, but it revolts against all functions that we would force it to perform. It is present in those flashes that it chooses to transmit; it does not see fit to instruct us as to the gaps in our methodology, through which we will fall. We want to believe that our systems are moving each year a bit closer to perfection. How accurate this is! Yet we forget that “what is perfect will soon end,” as it says in the Tao Te Ching. The language spoken by the future both IS and IS NOT similar to that spoken by the present. Floods of information are provided, yes, enough to create the appearance of a world, but too often disinfomation is more attractive than the truth. Trolls and gremlins are among us! Fear forces us to misjudge the location of our navels. We dread the constant vigilance that is imposed by the Ideal.

Through the years, and especially in the early 1990s, I have sometimes found myself projected into the future, both in terms of specific images and through wider visionary overviews. These experiences felt urgent. They also, to some extent, seemed almost pointless to report. Before an event, few would have any reason to pay attention to such images, and afterwards, reading poetry would be way down on the public’s list of priorities. I was able to see certain details as well as certain patterns; at first, there was no good way to present these as a narrative, any more than an ocean consists of a series of steps. If steps existed, they were miles down. How is it possible to tell the story of an ocean? The traumas that had possessed us from the time of the Younger Dryas were nonetheless starting to make sense. A finger to my lips, I have spent years keeping secrets. I pretend, when asked, to know much more about football than I do.

In retrospect, certain passages stand out, as having started in one world and then ended up in another. What began as vision had some tangential relationship to fact. For example, references to the destruction of the World Trade Towers popped up five or six times in poems from 1992. “A monster stalked his head through the air vents of the World Trade Towers. He could not find it, for the towers themselves had disappeared.” “The World Trade Towers for a fourth time fall; their shadows stand.” There were other lines from this period that possibly pointed to the BP Gulf oil disaster: “Not one leaf stirs. The sea has met its death by accident. The tree Yggdrasil has been hacked at the root.” And to Fukushima: “You have thrown a wave at the reactors of the Nephilim. Rods overheat, and the whole of the ocean is not enough to cool them.” From the standpoint of vision, what was real was that our way of life was far more fragile than we thought. The complexity of our systems was a liability rather than a defense, and, the more complex they became, the more out of touch and vulnerable we were. What we called “facts” were a way of keeping our eyes fixed on the foreground.

There were dozens of references in my books To Akasha: An Incantation for the End of History and The Preexistent Race Descends to the idea of a “mile-high wave.” To Akasha was structured around this image, and it was a phrase that I never expected to hear in the evening news. But, during the BP Gulf oil crisis, reporters began to speak about what would happen if the vast lakes of methane under the Gulf were to explode. One consequence of this would be a mile-high wave that would rise up to wash over two thirds of North America.

On a day to day level, I might sometimes prefer not to focus on such things. In this, I am no different than the great majority of my race. Signs do not always wait for us to notice them, however, nor do they necessarily take an esoteric form.

December 21st, 2012, was a date that left many prophets disappointed, yet it was on this date that Warner Bros. released a movie called The Impossible. Based on actual events, it tells the story of an English family on vacation at a resort in Khao Lak, Thailand, who were separated when the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 struck. After a movie-length ordeal, they are once again reunited. This was the tsunami that killed 230,000 people and displaced 1.7 million more. Many critics gave it positive reviews. Eric Koln, of Indie Wire, on the other hand, gave it only a B-minus grade. He argued that it suffered from a “feel-good” plot within the context of mass-destruction. Already anxious, I had no desire to see or judge the movie for myself. Waves haunt me, as they have for the past 12,000 or so years, and this one seemed just a local instance of far greater things to come. For me, the Paleolithic glaciers are still just about to melt, and a rise in sea-level will destroy the cities on most coasts.

But why, you may ask, do so many of our predictions turn out to be wrong? Now that 2012 has come and gone, and the visions of its cultic devotees have proven far less than accurate, this issue may be a big one, whose repercussions are only now just beginning to be felt.

It is not that we do not know, perhaps, but rather that there is no way to determine what we know, or to differentiate a corporate logo from a hieroglyph. We see, but we have forgotten how to read. We believe that our minds penetrate beyond the ends of our own noses, when, in fact, they rarely penetrate that far.

Brian George, Bird Arising out of Snake Arising out of Pot, drawing, 2002

If we humans cannot travel from one side of the omniverse to the other, it is perhaps because, at this point in the Kali Yuga, we have gotten much too big. In the Satya Yuga, when the sun still had a face, we knew enough to avoid getting tripped by our own feet. We could enter through the keyhole of the pineal gland to then exit onto the pyre that the Birds had built to burn us, where, as we watched with bland amusement, our bones would turn to ash. Our 10,000-year life-spans allowed for much experimentation.

We inhabited our bodies from the outside in, like the visitors to a museum—the Smithsonian Institution, let’s say—and not, as in the present, from the inside out. The bright tunnel that leads to the edge of the known world, and the aperture that opens out of Life and onto Death, to some can seem as frightening as a kind of demonic kaleidoscope, which, ignoring the instruction manuals that were left to us by the Ancients, they now wait for 70 years to touch. Then again, on the other side of the aperture, we may draw to ourselves beings who are adept at playing games, and who are quick to realize that our skill-set has grown rusty. We may inadvertently have traveled with big targets on our backs.

It is certainly odd: that even though some part of ourselves may be living in the future, our predictions are far more likely to be wrong than to be right. As Okantomi suggests, prophesy may have less to do with the prediction of the future than with the ability to see clearly into the present—to boldly recognize patterns that are just beginning to be formed or to probe into patterns that have long been in existence, but which, for whatever reason, have not yet become visible.

For the most part, this involves a set of classical virtues rather than a bag of supernatural powers. Let me translate these as the “Anamnesian Virtues.” These are real virtues, however much they have been formatted by an artificial author. To the extent that they remain on this side of the existent, we must acknowledge that they are fragments from a long since vanished text, which was copied and then recopied into half a dozen languages before once again being lost. Tibetans would refer to such a text as a “terma,” a “hidden treasure,” whose contents could only be deciphered by a “terton.” Such a text is obviously prone to mistranslation, if not self-serving paraphrase; so too, perhaps, with these “Anamnesian Virtues.” These virtues are coupled with another 21 “Anamnesian Maxims.” I will speak of these later on. But first, let us look at the seven virtues. These are as follows:

  1. Detachment: the capacity to see the ocean that will swallow up all things, and to listen as it whispers in your ear. You should, paradoxically, become even more empathic as the degree of your detachment grows. You may act on this, or not. You may spill your blood as a purely symbolic gesture, in service to those humans yet unborn. You may feel the pain of the multitudes that you kill.

  2. Foresight: the capacity, while still in love with life, to be dead, and productively so. So too, the longer you are dead the more alive you will be.

  3. Self-reliance: the capacity to stand on your own as you free yourself from the force-fields of the common wisdom, and then not complain too much. This will be more of a challenge if your head, hands, heart, and feet have been removed. Most prostheses will require some amount of training, after which you will become 100 percent free.

  4. Balance: the capacity to see the right in every wrong, as well as the wrong at the dead center of each right. By the blinding light of the hypersphere, we can see that even the most generous of our actions is a crime; at one and the same moment, every crime can be regarded as a type of revolutionary act, as a flawed but useful reinvention of the law. Strange indeed are the methods of the stern Goddess of Necessity!

  5. Hindsight: the capacity to remember just when to shut up, and the knowledge that you have seen these things a great many times before. To all others has a role and a position been assigned; to the seer, only the pathos of descent.

  6. Stealth: the capacity to bring your full energy to a project when there are few who understand what you are doing, and none who will reward you. Only in this way will the dead be prompted to grant access to their libraries.

  7. Simplicity: the capacity to make do with whatever Fate deposits. We must do what we were meant to do. We must go where we are meant to go. The shortest distance between two points, however, may turn out to be a labyrinth. We must read each accident as a catalytic cue in order to discover the true outlines of our work.

As Lincoln said in his 1862 Annual Message to Congress, “We must disenthrall ourselves.” These are the key virtues that will help us to develop the breadth of vision that we need. They are of use to both the solitary artist and the multitude. No line divides the subject from the object. “One thought fills immensity,” as Blake argues in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Even good habits must be probed and then, finally, dismantled. All crutches must be thrown away, as you free yourself from the advice of experts, from the urge to see your side win and the other side destroyed, and from the high-tech wet-dreams each day generated by the media. At the end, there should be nothing left but space.

Brian George, Sky-Net, drawing, 2004

Conversely, you must have the courage to accept that you do not, in fact, create your own reality. For the “You” is inextricably bound to the experience of the “We.” The “Body Politic” is an actual body, however much we might choose to view it as a metaphor. You are one of 6 ½ billion being swept along through the veins of a metastasizing empire, whose reach is interdimensional in its scope, but whose key principle, at the moment, is nowhere to be found. Its search engines troll for evidence that it has not ceased to exist, as there, just up ahead, the ghosts of failed super-beings beckon from the fallout. [/details]

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(Jasun Horsley) #2

The shortest distance between two points, however, may turn out to be a labyrinth.

This struck me as a fortuitous turn of phrase. I was recently asked if I considered the dangers of staring into the void for too long. I replied that I don’t see investigating the dark side of reality as staring into the void, per se, because the darker aspects of reality mirror, and even answer, a deep compulsion in me to seek out what is hidden from my conscious awareness but that is influencing my actions in ways that I do not understand.

If I want to get from here to there, from suffering to not-suffering, from delusion to truth, from ignorance to enlightenment, there is no “line” between the two points because the first point of departure is illusory. So all there is, is the call to know myself, as that which seeks wholeness, an I which can only see in two-dimensions and so seeks to return to 3D existence & remember itself as a We.

Thanks for the poem.

(Philippa Rees) #3

Brian George is an extraordinary witness; by witness I mean not only to the outer world that encompasses the mundane, the cultural vogue(s) but to the inner responses of himself, both to the sheen of appearances and the ways in which that sheen reflects the multifaceted, layered knowledge he has turned over as rich soil in which to plant new conjectures. Then the writer in him gathers all this reflection into a kind of incantatory amalgam but with hammer blows in short metaphors that fracture, before being re-assembled into something unexpected. His work which lulls in rhythmic patterns throws sudden water in the face.

I find it rare to read philosophically original ideas that are so suspended in the hammock of the past, the spider threads anchored in the future, but have the easy weight of self-knowledge that can play with ideas like a cat’s cradle. This piece that unpicks blindness, turns the torch under the belly of assumptions, strips out insufficient thoughtfulness but ends up leaving a pointer to alternatives, not fully defined but better than ones we fail to see as inadequate. There is throughout the waft of myth, the language of a new seer, so oblique yet so succinct.

Brian’s prose is weighted in a kind of equipoise. I can never feel adequate to convey its effect, but merely acknowledge that it takes even the tawdry indicators of the human ‘fall’ and polishes them to a wider perspective; a warning certainly, even apocalyptic, but never superfluous. Nothing is irrelevant. I share that view. His individuality ( and it is highly unique) makes that true of each of us too. In that way even his doom has some elements of celebration.

(Brian George) #4

Hi Jasun,

I think that there is a direct link between staring into the depths, whether one sees these depths in terms of darkness or the void, and one’s willingness to follow the twists and turns of the labyrinth. I forget the exact phrasing, but there is a statement by Jung that I have always loved that goes something like, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but rather by making the darkness visible.” (One could easily discount the whole structure of Jung’s thought and still live by some of his maxims!) I would say that the conscious descent into darkness and the navigation of the labyrinth are connected in the following way: that it is possible but not really desirable to go too directly towards a goal, whether knowledge or creative fullness; rather, it is generally best to approach things from an angle or even by going in the opposite direction. As I’ve gotten older, I have become more and more obsessed with this image of the labyrinth, as being a kind of blueprint for the whole process of incarnation.

As grounded beings in whom a multitude of dimensions meet and mix, we are presented with something of a crazy-making challenge: to follow the subtle signals that are embedded in the pattern of our destiny but also to do this with damaged faculties and in a very unpredictable way. I do not use the word “destiny” in any grand, Napoleonic sense; I believe that every person alive has one, however much our culture has provided us with few or no methods for attempting to sketch its shape. Then again, the removal of our memory at birth is yet another part of the drama. It would, of course, but much simpler to move directly towards an always visible end, but this would shortchange the process of risk-taking and wealth-generation that is central to our wanderings. I have often wondered if Homer was more ironic than we assume in referring to Ulysses as a “man of many turnings,” which most take to be a complement. What is the Odyssey but the story of a supposedly super-wily hero whose journey involved an incredible number of wrong turns?

(Jasun Horsley) #5

If “enlightenment is a journey of zero distance,” then every turn is a wrong one. The only thing that works is stillness. Discovering that stillness and sticking to it seem to be two very different things, however.

I, at least, seem hard-wired (by trauma) to seek problems to solve. What becomes of the problem solver when s/he sees that there is not & never has been any problem?

(Jasun Horsley) #6

Full Jung quote: “Enlightenment consists not merely in seeing of luminous shapes and visions, but in making the darkness visible. The latter procedure is more difficult and therefore, unpopular.”

(Brian George) #7

Hi Philippa,

Many thanks for your too generous comments. There are too many ideas packed into these three paragraphs for me to offer any kind of an articulate response, but let me touch on perhaps two of the things that you brought up. First, this idea of “witnessing” and of being a “witness” is, I think, a very important one. If I remember, the word “martyr” originally meant “witness,” although we usually focus on the more common meaning of “a person who suffers persecution and death for a cause,” This first meaning is the more mysterious and resonant one, for it is this capacity to witness that demands that a person hold to what they know and that provides them with whatever courage they might have to see their vision through to the end. There are larger-than-life martyrs, of course, some of whom we could list, but there are countless everyday martyrs, perhaps the majority of us, who are outraged at the injustice of the world but have no idea of what to do, who sense that something is wrong but attribute blame far too reflexively, who, on some level, are able to see beyond the blind spots that are built into their socially-constructed identity and suffer the experience of a schism between what they distantly sense and what they are able to actually integrate or express. To some extent, this is just the nature of vision: we can see beyond where we, at any particular moment, stand. We intuit that we have our origin in some far more expansive space, but we have no idea of how to bridge the gap between where we are from and where we find ourselves, between what our deepest instincts—if only very occasionally— demand and the compromises that we are forced to make just in order to survive.

This leads me to the second issue on which I would like to touch, that of individuality. I would like to try to tie this in with the idea of witnessing, as well as with the image of the labyrinth and the idea that we each possess a unique pattern of destiny, which I had briefly explored in my response to Jasun. As I look back at the way the various strands of my work have woven together over the years, quite often without my voluntary participation or consent, I am struck by how central a role not knowing has played in my creative growth. If I wrote only what I knew, I’m not sure that I would have written much of anything at all! For me, Keats’s concept of “negative capability”—that we should suspend judgment as long as possible in order to keep ourselves open to contradictory meanings and possibilities—has a kind of alchemical force. When I taught junior high art, I developed a technique that I referred to as “creative disorientation”; since junior high students tend to be very self-conscious and doubtful of their abilities, as well as overly preoccupied with the opinions of their clique, I would lead them through exercises that would push them towards a kind of cognitive breaking point, trusting that once they moved beyond this some deeper force would take over. (Of course, I couldn’t format my lesson plans in these terms.) Even with students who had no desire to cooperate, this method was quite often surprisingly effective, and students would be shocked to discover what they could do.

What I did not generally reveal was that this method originated in my attempts to work with my own obtuseness and self-doubt and creative limitations. From the age of 16 or so, I pretty much knew what I wanted to do. My discovery of creativity hit me with the force of a revelation. This brought with it a radical expansion of visionary space. The problem was that I had no idea of what to call or how to define this role that I imagined for myself. In spite of my surface arrogance, my love of confrontation, and my adoption of an avant-garde pose, I was painfully aware of just how limited I was. What I did have was a general indifference to the opinions of my academic and creative superiors and a great capacity to make mistakes. If I had to offer one piece of advice to struggling writers or artists it would be this: “Do not be concerned with premature perfection or with following any normal path to success; joyously allow yourself to make lots and lots of mistakes, and then do your best to derive the maximum benefit from each.” A mistake is the creative equivalent of the “stone that the builders rejected.” It is often more productive for a writer or an artist to work with his/her weaknesses rather than with his/her strengths. In my own life at least, I have found that there was no way to go directly towards the depth of creativity or breadth of vision that I had so approximately imagined as a teenager. It has been necessary for me to follow a dark and labyrinthine path.

(Jason White) #8

As always, Brian, the scope and power of your words create a sense of something just out of the reach of memory and the groping mind, but inspires me to try some articulation. After taking out the garbage and adjusting the speed of the ceiling fan, I could have sworn that I had just participated in setting that galaxy over there in motion. I can barely not feel its stardust brushing over my fingertips and the aroma of its nebulae diffusing into my sinuses. The most mundane of acts casts mythic shadows based on the spectrometric mix of the archetypes within them. But our inner eye persists in looking at our navel rather than UP and OUT at the glaring light streaming over the oceans of creation where these archetypes would happily dance to our favor. The 7 virtues you mentioned help to entrain our words and actions to those wavelengths so that the visionary does not have to look at that overwhelming light. Visionary powers seem to arise automystically, but they are unclarified, with the imprecision of a deaf person describing the beauty of birdsong. Prophesy, and the future, may be dynamic in a way that our minds cannot bend to track. We lock in on “truths” and a linear event horizon that prevent our noticing the paradigm shifts until they have swallowed us whole.

(Brian George) #9

Hi Jason,

You wrote, “After taking out the garbage and adjusting the speed of the ceiling fan, I could have sworn that I had just participated in setting that galaxy over there in motion.” What you describe is, I think, a mode of perception that was perhaps characteristic of our distant ancestors. Most of us grew up envisioning evolution in terms of those charts in which a bent over monkey goes through a series of stages until he ends up as a vertical human. We are supposed to assume that those living in prehistory were somehow far more primitive than modern humans, not that they made do with far fewer material objects and possessed senses that were far more open and finely tuned than ours. As anyone who has gone camping with minimal gear knows, to live without dependence on hard, external systems requires a great deal of knowledge. Such a way of life only looks simple from a distance; it requires very sophisticated soft systems of support. A big part of this, I think, involved a fully active sense of intuition, a capacity to be fully embodied at the same time that one was able to pull most necessary information from the air.

By its very nature, knowledge of this sort could not be a personal possession, although some might, of course, have greater access to it than others; rather, it depended on a system of exchange. A site such as Gobekli Tepi might at first not seem to fit into this scenario at all. Why would these supposedly simple hunter-gatherers build a site as large and complex as his one? But this only shows that we haven’t come to terms with the complex nature of this ritual simplicity, of the site’s importance to this economics of exchange. We underestimate the life and death centrality of ritual action, of the need to deepen and expand the visionary energies of the group, and, finally, of the need to root the sometimes ecstatic out-of-body experiences that result in the dampness and the earthiness of the earth. The natural and the supernatural do not always play well together, and there must be a place where they can work out any spats.

If ritual flights to other worlds were, at certain points, a necessity, the goal was to return with new energies that would bring health to the community, which would imbue even the most common objects and actions with an out-of scale significance. Those objects strewn casually around the stage-set of a settlement—a pot, a tripod, a stone well, a door, a tree, a cup, a knife, a spear, a boat, an oar, a cord, a net, a bow, a standing stone—were at the same time as familiar as the members of one’s family and as unsettling as symbols from alien world, charged with a frightening aura. The same archetypal logic was in play when it came to word roots, and myths, and place names, and long standing customs. These again only appear to be simple because we look at them with modern eyes, that is, we expect that all the work of interpretation has been or is going to be done for us; we do not have to see from scratch, or determine how contradictory worlds can be somehow brought together. For this reason, we are often prone to underestimate the multi-leveled complexity of ancient words and images and stories. Every tiny detail means something. If there are three or five or seven or nine of something, this is of great significance. There is no object or event so simple that it cannot serve as a sign. In Genesis, we are used to hearing some version of the common translation, which goes “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth.” According to Kabbalists, however, this sentence has twelve possible translations, which are connected by some sort of a hyperdimensional net. For example, this first sentence could be just as correctly translated. “Beginning with the head created God.” I sometimes wonder if scholars are the last people to be wrestling with ancient texts. Such texts may be designed to withhold themselves from the overly intent mind.

You wrote, “The most mundane of acts casts mythic shadows based on the spectrometric mix of the archetypes within them. But our inner eye persists in looking at our navel rather than UP and OUT at the glaring light streaming over the oceans of creation where these archetypes would happily dance to our favor.” In this statement, I think that you are describing a mode of perception that was and could even now be said to be natural to us. It is certainly odd that this natural orientation now requires so many infinitely small acts of attention, so many big leaps of faith. And, even when we do succeed in bringing about this state of spontaneous back-and-forth perception between realms, we then often have to be equally rigorous in not expressing what we see. It is usually a big mistake to use too many metaphors at work.

(I should note that I am only attempting to describe one line of prehistoric development. I believe that there were also others, that there were urban civilizations that rose and fell or were swept away by cataclysms.)

(Philippa Rees) #10

Your last admission of being expert in making ( and encouraging others to) make good mistakes echoes a recent talk by Neil Gaiman suggesting that mistakes make for ‘good art’. Not knowing ventures where knowing never does. I suspect an indifference to the good opinions of others is an initial springboard hugely facilitating that capacity. In that respect the solitary, unaware of others, is probably best placed not to know what cannot be done, or should not be attempted. The intrepid may not be so much brave as impulsively heedless!

I suspect the stumbling block for you ( as for me) is when one feels that good art has been accomplished ( as in this piece you have written above) that one’s labyrinthine journey has removed one too far from easy communication, and must require a knotted rope to ease the connections of where you departed and now have arrived. The moment one introduces biographical material that rope is constructed. Reluctant artists who feel their work is sufficient are usually slow to realise that their humanity , fallibility, confessions make art full fleshed. I am only just beginning to learn this, but celebrate it in you.

(John Dockus) #11

Greetings Jasun and Philippa (others too who join this comment board), and of course deepest gratitude and greetings to you, Brian:

Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Jasun Horsely. I’ve not only interacted with the great Philippa Rees (incredible comment you’ve left here, Philippa, a beautifully put encapsulation which is the very truth), but I’ve also corresponded with Brian (one of the most patient, open and generous human beings I’ve ever met in my life - those seven virtues he has written into his piece here he actually practices, they are him and he is them), and Brian has mentioned you, and by his prompting I looked at some of your work. Man, you are mind-bending, a marvelous writer in your own right, and dangerous too. I feel a little scared of you. One doesn’t know where to begin. You play in a field of dark matter, which one might construe as free-falling in the void. I have a curious relation to the “void”. I find myself using the word a lot, and I probably don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. It’s like the God of the gaps, thrust in where I’m at a loss. The word just comes of itself, and I keep repeating it, like an obsessive rubbing of a rock until it becomes a stone. It’s like the Mecca Stone, worn into a concave and finally become the site of worship.

I’m but a naive amateur in relation to you guys who have gained a certain mastery. (Brian recently wrote to me this wonderful line: “A master is only a beginner with experience.”) I find myself often a spectator of the kind of writing you guys do, speechless in the face of its Sphinx-like profundity, not understanding everything that’s going on, or how, but still riveted. I’m the eternally bungling student. Funnily, I imagine sitting in the stands and watching a cosmic tennis match between you two. There are no bodies, no limbs - no prosthetics: just the ball flying around, and amazingly, each return shot done with precision. I can imagine certain rallies going on for hours. Then things being picked up to warp speed, where the ball no longer can be seen, but only heard, until finally the sound barrier is broken. Then silence. And in that silence the epic match still going on!

The spectators break into two camps. Some are pissed off, feeling cheated. “A disappearing act! Nothing any longer is happening. They made off with the booty!" Others turn in rebuke, “Shut up and listen. It’s still going on. You must feel it in your solar plexus now… Oh God, what a shot! Oh, but Horsely anticipates it and returns it behind his back! But Brian George isn’t caught off guard and comes back with - how did he do that? … Oh!” The dwindling majority, the minority now, jumps out of their seats, eyes closed and craning their necks, straining to follow, never having witnessed such seemingly impossible maneuvers. A few drop like ripened fruit to the ground.

I’m not sure what else to share at the moment. I look forward to the next installment of this work by Brian. I wrote the following to him not long ago, in general thought reading his work (he’s frightened of giant waves, and I’m frightened of earthquakes):

“Being in earthquake territory here in San Francisco, the Bay Area, I think reading your work of tectonic plates deep below the earth’s surface, those gigantic masses caught against the grain of each other, gathering tremendous energy. Your writing can be like that, Brian. There are sentences compounded like one gigantic mass pushing and grinding against another, raising ridges and gathering tremendous energy, some sentences occasionally slipping and shifting and sending forth tremors before catching again and continuing to push and grind themselves to a halt. This explains the anxiety and deep unease one sometimes feels reading certain passages of your work. With one wrong step and the sudden release of all that energy there could be a disaster.”

“This also makes one reluctant to venture too much in commenting on your work. Note how careful I am in my wording, placing one foot in front of the other. It’s also like freestyle mountain-climbing, carefully plotting one’s next move, where best to anchor one’s rope and harness and place one’s hands, while scaling upward. Not only does one feel ill equipped sometimes but also fears if one applies pressure in the wrong place or in the wrong way, one might cause a breaking off and an avalanche, or a cracking which continues down into the deep earth, unleashing an earthquake. Of course at this point, Brian, knowing each other better, I feel more confidence in your tolerance of me. If I slip up or express a thought badly, I feel now you are at least inclined to appreciate the attempt, or, so to speak, you will catch me if I fall. I figure a majority of your readers who don’t know you personally are more likely to make comments which stay on the safe side, and I wouldn’t blame them. I myself am particularly intrigued in the fault lines which run through your work.”

P.S. I want to send personal greetings to Aaron Cheak. I read your fascinating interview of Gary Lachman. Thinking of the so-called void, moving into the unknown, sort of leaping into the stream of life, not knowing what’s going to happen, but instinctively and intuitively feeling that the right connection will be made at the right time, if only one lets go and lets it happen, I was particularly grabbed by the notion of primordial trust near the end of that interview. Philippa Rees has much to say about this topic; her own life experience bears out its mysterious - and often agonizing and scary - operations. Also, Mr. Cheak, it’s through your impressive website, and Brian’s directing of my attention to it, that I discovered the existence of Jean Gebser.

Another thing I so love about Brian is his completely selfless attentiveness to and interest in the work of others. He has the great ability to read and appreciate natures different from his own. I think he’s a natural-born teacher. It doesn’t matter what level one is on, where one is in one’s own development, from children all the way up to adults, around him he is always facilitating these mysterious connections, which helps one gain more confidence in primordial trust, the leaps we must make to truly discover what we’re made of, down into our guts and entrails too.

P.P.S. I also want to shoot greetings to J. F. Martel. Brian also introduced me to your work. I have nothing but superlatives for your essay here at Metapsychosis, “Consciousness in the Aesthetic Imagination.” That essay is still alive in me, so eloquent and resonant, informing other thoughts I have. It’s a solid bedrock essay. Not a word wasted. I noted to Brian after reading it how uncannily it captures the very essence of Vermeer. And not only that. You have embodied and articulated a correspondence, and by virtue of that have returned more fullness to the experience we have in the presence of great works of art. I really enjoyed reading your essay. It’s so well written and so pregnant with thought, it’s one of those pieces one can return to and read again and again. Great poems are like this. They silently nourish us in ways we don’t always understand. They water the secret places in us, until a sprig appears, a leaf, maybe one day helping a full flowering of the heart.

Brian wrote to me at the time I first made his acquaintance in March of 2015:

“In spite of the more forbidding and esoteric aspects to my work, I very much would like to be of use. What this means will, of course, vary with each reader. What is essential, though, is that the work touch them on a more than purely intellectual or even emotional level; it should sink in to mysterious depths and provide them with a sense of expanded possibility.”

-John Dockus

(Philippa Rees) #12

Ah John, you give the lie to all those claims of ‘bungling student’ in every imaginative leap you make, even to reconstructing celestial tennis and the crowd comments that shape its direction. I wonder whether you are the reincarnation of Feste, forever bowing low the better to flip the worthy off their feet. Then skipping off before your cleverness can be identified. You should be a film director since you already sport 3D vision.

Above all you want ( as I do) to retain the freedom of the send up. Too much depth and the void becomes centrifugal. Brian is used to dog paddling the void, and we can both marvel at his ease and familiarity in it, but he has sounded its returning voice, tested its sonority, and forged its consequences like some Hephaestus in sandals and a Hawaiian shirt. I just observe the hissing steam and circumnavigate that profundity. But I know what you mean about feeling inadequate to the task of Brian’s work demands. It summons like a biblical conch, and the feet follow, and the echoes bounce off the mountains surrounding, and clatter down in meteorites.

P.S. Can I please refuse to be the ‘great’ anything? The cliff edge is what I fear and the compulsion to leap over it- or be pushed. Your tectonic plates are deep below, Brian’s tsunamis are forewarned by animals, and all he has to do is observe them in time to escape, the cliff of accusations is out of my control. So leave off name calling! Let me be free to be prosaic, dull and disappointing. Meanwhile this conversation is approaching infinity…

(John Dockus) #13

I’m out the door in fifteen minutes, and won’t be back till tonight. Nothing up my sleeve, nothing ulterior intended in how I addressed you, Philippa. Ouch. But okay. Thanks for your straight up honesty. Don’t you see how I bungle?

I should apologize to Jasun too. I spelled his last name wrong. Horsley is the name. I recall in first emails exchanged with Brian when I first was becoming acquainted with him that I wrote “Brain” instead of “Brian” a couple times. Call it a yin and yang somersault.

(Philippa Rees) #14

Only teasing John! But with a shard of self protection.

(Brian George) #15

Hi Jasun,

You wrote, “If I want to get from here to there, from suffering to not-suffering, from delusion to truth, from ignorance to enlightenment, there is no “line” between the two points because the first point of departure is illusory.” After reading your comments, my wife was momentarily confused about who was writing what. Your phrase “If I want to get from here to there” echoes many things that I have expressed to her and touched on in a number of essays. Taking this sort of pragmatic approach to spiritual exploration, which demands that you begin where you are while acknowledging that there is a gulf to be crossed, reduces the process to its essential elements. There is really nothing in your two posts with which I disagree, although I can see that our focus is somewhat different.

The acknowledgement that all life is suffering and that a release from it is possible is certainly one of the central facts of many types of spiritual practice. The Buddha, of course, positioned this acknowledgment of suffering, or “Dukkha,” as the first of the Four Noble Truths. Who am I to disagree? But again, I believe that he did this for a practical reason: that is important for each person to begin where he/she is. He then proceeds to describe three other Noble Truths and an Eight-Fold Path of release. Running parallel to this focus upon suffering, however, is that we are also called to be embodied agents of the Dharma, or cosmic order, and that we have certain responsibilities to perform. The nature of this responsibility is one of the things that I had hoped to address in this essay. Part two of The Snare of Distance is scheduled to go up soon, and I think that it will provide some further insight into the paradoxical nature of my approach. Where the Buddha perhaps departs—or at least seems to depart—from earlier the earlier Vedic vision is in his shift of emphasis away from the concept of “Lila,” or play. I do not believe that it is necessary to choose between a focus upon liberation and a focus upon play.

Let me shift traditions for a moment before I circle back to the image of the labyrinth. When I was 17, I took a course called “Cultural and Intellectual History of Europe,”: in which we studied Pico della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man.” I suspect that Pico’s synthesis of Neoplatonism and Kabbalah had far more of a personal impact on me than on most or all of the other students in the class. I already had some grandiose ideas about becoming an artist and perhaps a writer and had several violent energetic experiences, but all of my ambitions were quite amorphous and I lacked any sense of the larger context into which they might fit. Pico’s argument, that human beings do not have a fixed position in the hierarchy of creation, that we belonged to all levels and to none, and that, because of this, we were free to act as cosmic adventurers and intermediaries, hit me with incredible force.

This idea, that we are actors on the stage of the cosmos, with a certain role to perform, is one that I have been exploring ever since. On the one hand, we are called upon to be actors, rather than servants or devotees or observers/ On the other hand, we must free ourselves from illusion if we are going to act effectively and fulfill our role. This intuition of a cosmic calling ties in with both the Buddhist concept of Dharma and the Vedic concept of play. The image of the labyrinth, I think, reconciles the impetus towards action with the realization that there exists some form of underlying stillness. Like Jason and the Argonauts, we must set off in search of the Golden Fleece. It is our movement itself that generates wealth, which brings new dimensions of knowledge and creativity into being. At the same time, all of this movement occurs within the context of the labyrinth, whose many turns are organized around a center and within a circumference. From inside the labyrinth, we may believe it to be a maze; no passage leads where we expect and each direction results in a reversal. From a certain distance—which may be due to a flash of enlightenment or during a life-review at the moment of our deaths—we can see that all of our actions have taken place within the convoluted economy of a circle.

Over the past week, I have been revising an essay called “The Blind Staircase, Revisited,” which has a passage that might be relevant. (The style of this section was perhaps influenced by the 20th Century Greek poet George Seferis.) The passage in question reads:

The extended form of growth is always that of a spiral, as they have shown us in archaic urns. To cultivate the “fire in the belly" you must depart from home, whether Ithaca, with its clockwork owls, with its prows that are painted with wide-open eyes, or South Worcester, with its mix-and-match neoclassical factories that are manned by hungry ghosts, it is all the same. Contemptuous of death and, at first, as light as a feather, you must travel far across the many colored ocean. You must experience the changeable hearts of men, the weird will of the gods, the wonders of phenomena, great and small, bright and dark, only to return at last to the place that you had started, with a gift to give. There, you will rediscover the beauty of those objects close at hand.

(Brian George) #16

Hi John,

I don’t know what to do with all of your kind words. If I respond to your positive comments too specifically I will seem to be indulging in some sense of self-importance, which I would much prefer not to do. Let me approach things from a different angle: I suspect that there is a devious and convoluted strategy behind your insistence that you are a “naïve amateur” and a “bungler,” even if, on a conscious level, you are no more than a bystander to this strategy. Are you familiar with this story about Nasrudin and the hole? “Nasrudin was digging outside, and his neighbor asked him, ‘What are you working on?’ ‘Well,’ Nasrudin replied, ‘There’s a lot of excess dirt on the road, so I’m digging a hole to bury it in.’ ‘But what are you going to do with the dirt that you ’re digging out of this new hole?’ said the neighbor. ‘Hey,’ Nasrudin replied, ‘I can’t attend to every single detail.’” There is something very liberating about defining yourself as small rather than big, low rather than high, foolish rather than wise, and confused rather than certain of your direction.

I love this excerpt from your comment, which strikes me as very much the statement of a strategic amateur, who knows that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”: I have a curious relation to the ‘void.’ I find myself using the word a lot, and I probably don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. It’s like the God of the gaps, thrust in where I’m at a loss. The word just comes of itself, and I keep repeating it, like an obsessive rubbing of a rock until it becomes a stone. It’s like the Mecca Stone, worn into a concave and finally become the site of worship.”

As I said in The Snare of Distance, “If we humans cannot travel from one side of the omniverse to the other, it is perhaps because, at this point in the Kali Yuga, we have gotten much too big.” It just struck me that this was a rephrasing of the maxim that “It is more difficult for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” One of the secrets of creativity is, I think, to allow oneself to be taken by surprise. To see oneself as a perpetual beginner—or, more formally, to act with the Zen “beginners mind”—is a way to potentially maximize this result. Oddly, this strategy, whether consciously or not, can coexist with a natural tendency to perfectionism, and it may be one of the best and only ways to make this natural tendency bearable. Whatever one’s obsesssiveness, at some point one must appeal to a larger field of energy and intelligence, and these larger forces must be allowed sufficient breathing room if they are going to effectively go about their work.

When I was younger, I used to read a great many biographies and autobiographies about or by famous writers, painters, and composers, to see if I could disentangle the logic of their creative processes and perhaps find some way to imitate their example. If there was any common thread, it was perhaps a relative indifference to received opinion and a capacity to go deeper and deeper into the demands of their own creative process, that is, to allow the work itself to become the teacher. Here are a few of my favorite statements in this direction:

From Joseph Haydn: “As head of an orchestra I could experiment, observe what heightened the effect and what weakened it, and so could improve, expand, cut, take risks; I was cut off from the world, there was no one near me to torment me or make me doubt myself, and so I had to become original.”

From Johann Sebastian Bach: “I was obliged to be industrious. Anyone who works as hard should get as far.”

From Pablo Picasso: “I do not seek; I find”

From Jackson Pollock: “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.”

From Hokusai: “From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.”

And finally, here is another story about Nasrudin that you might get a kick out of:

Nasrudin Plays Guitar

Nasrudin was at the town square one day, and a group of people asked him if he knew how to play the guitar.

Nasrudin didn’t know how, but he replied, “Yes, I do. I am a masterful guitar player—in fact, I am one of the best in the world!“

The people, expecting him to make such a boast, immediately produced a guitar and asked him to play it.

Nasrudin took the guitar and started playing only one string, and continued to play only on that one string. After a minute of this, someone finally interrupted him and asked, “Mulla! Guitar players move their fingers and play a variety of strings. Why are you only playing one of them?”

“Well,” Nasrudin replied, “those players keep on changing strings because they are searching for a specific one. I found it on my first try—so why should I switch to another one?”

(John Dockus) #17

Hey Philippa - we’re all good. I understand where you are coming from that you made your remark to back me off. Of course you are completely within your rights. I don’t take it personally. What strikes me about your remark is the incredible packed-in energy of it, in relation to the swirling abyss. You see the true terror of it, and how minuscule we are in relation to it. “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” You have Brian George doing doggie paddle! (Ha ha!) Yet zooming out and seeing everything in perspective, on a grand scale, how true. If one could blow away all these words we use, and see into the trembling core of each of us, putting it in relation to what surely is going to destroy us all, to Death standing behind everything… to call anyone “great” or “the great”, as I did with you, betrays a dumbness, a blindness. I thank you again for the smelling salts! I see where you are, where in fact we are, in the sobering vastness. I go into clown mode as my own way of coping. Not completely inaccurate comparing me to Feste. I think I like Feste. He appears to belong to the same family as Nasrudin, which Brian has introduced here in his response to me. I’m absolutely delighted. I chuckled heartily reading “Nasrudin Plays Guitar.”

Hey Jasun H., I once remarked to Brian how much it seems the Trickster makes his appearance through you. I’m fascinated by the Trickster, not mere jokester or comedian Trickster, not at all in a popular entertainment sense, but subversive and havoc-causing Trickster, Trickster as kind of metaphysical terrorist. You may or may not have read Brian’s essay “Ashe, the First Artist”, in which he mentions Eshu the Trickster, whose role is to “unblock the circuits”.

One wonders if through the wounds of trauma, is where the Trickster floods in, and then sets up shop within us, even without our knowing it. Our wounds are the windows out of which the Trickster smirks and sneers at others, often without our knowing it. Yes indeed, sometimes when I’m walking down the sidewalk, others look at me funny, and I think, “Is it me?”

P.S. Greetings, Jason White. I read your comment and Brian’s response. Fantastic. You can drop some strange seeds into the terrain near Brian, and count on him to aid in their growth, and be delightfully surprised at what kind of specimens they turn out to be. Love that word you conjured up - “automystically”. Yet too far into postmodern fields, I feel like I want to start playing Whack-a-mole, bonking neologisms on their noggins, and driving them back underground. But when I do this they only come up behind me and bite me on the ass!

When I was growing up and living in Connecticut, there were moles and mole trails in the yard of our house. You’d walk out there on the grass, and in places the soil would give way, almost twisting your ankle. I don’t think it worked, but at one point my Dad tried putting bubble gum down into the ground, in an attempt to choke the little burrowing rascals. My bedroom was on the second floor, overlooking the lawn, and the next day, I envisioned all these moles floating around in the air, floating upward, and the bubbles then popping and moles plummeting to their death!

(Jasun Horsley) #18

Hello all
@JDockus; a little scared of me? lol, I scare myself too. But I recommend my podcast (The Liminalist) so you can hear the medium as well as the message. The pen is mightier than the sword and more impenetrable than a shield, & words are the meat & potatoes of the defended identity and hence, it’s my view anyhow, are much more suited to concealing and misrepresenting reality than they are to expressing it.

I did feel this way about Brian’s prose, rather, that it is a little too poetically proficient; fortunately, we had some private correspondence and I was able to get a better sense of the person behind the prodigious intellect.

I do not believe that it is necessary to choose between a focus upon liberation and a focus upon play.

I was going to answer this but then I realized that I needed to go play with my cat.

Liberation is liberation to resume play and yet (it seems) that learning to play is the only route to liberation (play = total relaxation?).

Playing as a means to attain liberation is not play, however; it is work.

I rest my lying pen.

(John Dockus) #19

Indeed you scare me a little, Jasun. (That it makes you laugh relieves me.) You’re one of those who could use the pen as a weapon mightier than the sword. I’m certain you could dance circles around me in terms of linguistic tricks. This is only a recognition, however, of the potency I discern of your mind, what it’s capable of seeing so keenly even in the darkness, and how good you are at expressing it. To say you scare me is another way of saying I have respect for you.

I myself am not a writer and don’t consider myself a writer. As you’d rather play with your cat, I’d rather draw pictures and paint. I’m a reluctant writer. I get dragged into it against my will; then I think, ah, to hell with it, then I plunge in. I don’t foresee myself writing any books.

Those who get more and more involved with writing, to where it becomes all-consuming… I envision each author building upward, constructing a tower, which reaches through the clouds, then tapers into a sharp point. To impale gods? Who the fuck knows. This is where the irreverent and mischievous part of me enters in. Maybe you and I share this in common?

Brian introduced me to the writer Henri Michaux (Brian has a serious knack for drawing one’s attention to things which are highly relevant to oneself). I read this little piece by Michaux, and this is what I’m talking about! I had a shudder of recognition when I first read this:


"I always go to bed very early, dead tired, and yet you couldn’t find any tiring work in the course of my day. _
_ Maybe you couldn’t find any.

_ But what surprises me is that I can hang on till evening, and that I’m not forced to get into bed by four o’ clock in the afternoon._
_ What tires me out like that are my continual interventions._
_ I’ve already said that in the street I fight with everybody; I slap some man, grab women’s breasts, and using my foot as a tentacle I sow panic in the cars of the Metro._
_ As for books, they harass me more than anything else. I just can’t leave a word with its original meaning or even its form._
_ I catch it and after a few tries I uproot it and lead it definitely away from the author’s flock._
_ There may easily be thousands of sentences in a chapter and I’ve got to sabotage every one of them. It is absolutely essential to me._
_ Occasionally, certain words remain like towers. I have to go about it a few times and then, when my demolition has already gone pretty far, all of a sudden, while passing by an idea, I can see the tower again. So, I hadn’t knocked it down enough, I have to go back and find the poison for it, and I spend an endless amount of time in this way._
_ And once the whole book has been read, I lament, for I haven’t understood a thing… naturally. Couldn’t enhance myself with anything. I stay thin, and all dried up._
_ I used to think that when I had destroyed everything, I would be well adjusted, right? Maybe. But it’s long in coming, it’s really long."_

(Jasun Horsley) #20

That’s the plan. :laughing:

Adjusted to emptiness.