Either I’m noting and observing happenings and surroundings, exercising awareness, asking questions, entertaining thoughts — or what? Gardening, cooking, napping, hugging my daughter, texting with friends, reading, traveling, collaborating and conversing with others. The work of each day is to write and do all of the above. According to Black Herman, though, or the Black Herman who appears in Ishmael Reed’s novel Mumbo Jumbo, “Doing The Work is not like taking inventory” (130). To PaPa LaBas, he says, “You ought to relax. […]. Improvise some. Open up, PaPa. Stretch on out with It” (130). Perhaps I should heed his advice.
What does it mean to become mindful of a practice? Take my use of language in combination with my use of cannabis. What enters my awareness, what happens to my consciousness (and is there even still an “I” to whom these properties belong), once I’ve allied myself with a plant? Does becoming mindful mean observing language use, moving recursively through the parts of sentences, sounding them out, testing their properties, aligning them into sequences that please an inner judge? Does it mean editing in accordance with a previously taken-for-granted Reason, or Substance, or Preestablished Essence? Is this latter equivalent to what the ancients used to call Logos? And where does the “I” sit in all of this? Does choice of words have an impact on Being? Is the metabolism that emerges from this impact a healthy one? Let us relinquish the question-form and see. A kind of “angel” arrives here speaking to me from the pages of a book. It claims to be a messenger—though what it wishes to share with me, it says, is not information so much as a “language of transformation” — words “capable of renewing those to whom they are addressed” (Latour, as quoted in High Weirdness, p. 156). Earlier in the day, a friend posted a favorite passage of his from Frank Herbert’s Dune — a “Litany Against Fear” that seems apropos given the tightrope I walk. “I must not fear,” says the novel’s hero Paul Atreides. “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” This passage seems to favor action — but some fears are warranted, I tell myself. Afterwards I catch myself humming “Knock Three Times,” a hit song released in 1970 by Tony Orlando and Dawn. The unprompted strangeness of this song, the way it rose to mind without any clear catalyst, causes me to reflect for a moment on its lyrics. Noting a correspondence, I decide against a second hit.
Outside our office windows — outside, inside, everywhere: a world of vibrant matter, leaves and branches rippling with waves of energy. And in the air, in transit, birds whistling, gestures of benevolence. A tiny person opens a gate and invites us to continue on our way. A short hike along a mountain trail and suddenly we’re feeling it: eased, relaxed, quiet, meditative. Awareness is different from its objects — different from both its thoughts and its senses. Those are transmissions, messages received and refashioned. Awareness can focus into a pair of hands as they wash dishes. It can focus on a sunlit fairy garden footpath. Passages which seem either obscure or obvious are often illuminated when observed with care. It is this observing with care that matters in determining the quality of each moment. Like a Rapunzel, the world lets down its hair, allowing us to ascend. When the world acts this way and speaks its mind, says what it wants, let us heed it.
Whatever the merits of my academic training, it certainly didn’t inspire confidence in my performance as a writer. Instilled instead were a series of neuroses. Paralyzing self-questioning of consciousness, of inner speech. Steps toward an ecology of fear. To treat these neuroses, I smoke some weed and play John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Born in a Prison,” the song that follows their revolutionary blues number, “Attica State.”
I blast these tracks from the pair’s saxophone-haunted Acid Communist masterpiece Some Time in New York while stomping atop the sidewalks of my sadly city-less, corporation-occupied late-capitalist abode. All of that a linguistic distraction, though, I remind myself, from direct contact with being. Literary self-consciousness of this sort — the sentencing of experience, in other words, for the sake of this blog — remains premised upon a daily act of will to seek and accept flow-like absorption in conditions of solitude. Better, perhaps, to set one’s phone in one’s pocket and zoom back down into the path, hand extended to caress the railing. I observe for a moment even in the pavement itself patterns of kissing, connection, embrace. Leafy profusion, surfaces heavy with seed. Tantra unleashes the imaginal into all realms of embodied practice. One lives it, in other words, in each and every moment of encounter as a joyful pairing of self and other through underutilized modes of sensation. Thumbing through Frederick Perls, Ralph F. Hefferline, and Paul Goodman’s Gestalt Therapy, I recall to myself entire systems of thought that used to exist to promote this kind of awareness-expansion. To what extent, though, the academic in me knows to wonder, is this latter expression synonymous with what writers like Marx and Lukács called “the raising of consciousness”? If one speaks in the old base-superstructure register, agency is left largely to an airy though somehow simultaneously heavy, coercive abstraction known as “material conditions”; whereas in Gestalt terms, agency to love is there for the subject’s taking. Nothing to lose but unconscious chains of reified, habit-encrusted behavior. What I prefer by far, though, as the synthesis of these goals of consciousness-raising and awareness-expansion, is the practice of “Psychedelic Utopianism,” or the belief, as articulated by figures like Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Allen Ginsberg, that mass ingestion of mind-altering substances can change society for the good.
My levels of awareness and self-awareness fluctuate, just as consciousness reforms depending on pronouns and word order. As a dog barks, my mother calls my name, shouts “Come home, dinner’s ready!” I’m down at the end of the block, venturing into the unknown, trying to suppress fear. What am I afraid of? Those are the kinds of archetypal scenarios that I encounter on occasion when stoned. Some endlessly replayable memoryless emotion. I imagined my neighbor, the rarely-seen Mr. Belcher, as one who would point a shotgun at me if I trespassed on his property. The world thus ended, forming a false totality, for beyond it lay lands unknown, lands weird enough to warrant as their soundtrack David Bowie’s “Subterraneans.”
A psychic separation occurred there, a forced compartmentalization of consciousness. When we shift to a lower level, we forget who we were before. What remains is hidden, stunted, disconnected. To confuse the issue, remarks Curle, “the visions of mystics frequently resemble the visions of psychotics” (21). I stare ponderously, try to reestablish the sense of things. I find pleasure in this mental exercise. Pig stands alongside the road staring me down with his speed-gun directed at my face. We are made to accept such behavior with nary a complaint in this backward country, as we must the billboards strewn along the highways advertising firearms as Christmas gifts. I took comfort, dislocating myself from the above, by listening to Neil Young’s “On the Beach” while driving to visit friends yesterday. But the universe fired back with “Frightened” by The Fall. Such is our present reality.