I share my couch with my friend’s dog, a cute half-lamb, half-poodle puffball named Stevie. Out in the yard across the street fly a pair of bluejays. Perhaps I should listen again to the birds. Everything else just looks like hype seeking freedom to spend. I wonder which version of London will appear in my coming journey. Will it be one I’ve read about, one I remember? Or will it be a visionary London, an occult London? Will the corporate pentagon of power sour the hour, or will we ascend, rise up, learn about heikhalot literature and Merkabah? For now, let’s assume the “latter” is above our pay grade and seek a third option. As Teilhard de Chardin reminds us, “The outcome of the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the super-human — these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged nor to one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will open only to an advance of all together, in a direction in which all together can join and find completion in a spiritual regeneration of the earth” (The Phenomenology of Man, p. 244). Soon I’m coasting along, Erik Davis serving again as guide, recounting for me the account of Indra’s Net from the Flower Garland Sutra — a “cognitive map” if ever there was one! Reading it makes me think for a moment of the here and now, the ground of Being. We are all sustaining and defining one another — so we might as well get good at it. Sunlight, birdsong, subreddits full of horse girls and rats that wash themselves with soap — find room for it, get it in there. Everything in a blog post. Everything on a sheet of paper. Evoke the world as a bird that flies over and tweets. Followed by another, followed by another. Davis explains it well. “Indra’s net is an image of totality,” he writes, “but unlike Teilhard’s vision of the Omega point [the moment when matter evolves into convergence with mind], this holism does not depend upon some apocalyptic moment of future synthesis. In the Hua-yen view, reality is already a totally interdependent matrix, and this unity does not and cannot cancel out difference, the blooming multiplicities that compose each individual event” (TechGnosis, p. 339). With this image of totality set as our map, we become more mindful of our angelic companions. “Buzz, buzz” go the bumblebees. “Buzz, buzz” go birds, cars, pedestrians as we attend to our craft: Self as it attempts to voice, sound, and sense the multitude.
I begin today’s phenomenological experiment by learning seven magic words and settling into the echo chamber of harpist Sarah Pagé’s Dose Curves.
Next I read Sofia Samatar’s “An Account of the Land of Witches,” in anticipation of my trip to London. “The Mountaineer is for going on,” Samatar writes, “the Harpist for exploring the rooms” (164). I search for my relationships to the figures in Samatar’s tale, self-identifying in turn as both the Navigator and the Scribe. The story is an enchanting one, leaving unclosed the doors it opens.
Charles Perry’s history of the Haight-Ashbury, published by Rolling Stone Press in 1984, is definitely a product of its time, hopes dashed and tone soured by the experience of Reaganism. But it’s the best, most comprehensive, research-intensive book of its kind. If you wanna know what happened in the Haight, the epicenter of 1960s psychedelic utopianism, this and Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test are where to begin. After which point I suggest walking, sitting in a park. Imagine wind patterns, encounters with butterflies. A squirrel sits on a branch. A motorcyclist buzzes past. And on the bench beside us, a lovely ladybug. She crawls across my finger, my leg, my wrist-band. She hitches a ride, climbs aboard as I walk home to order a copy of Alexandra Jacopetti’s Native Funk & Flash.
My eyes pass along the spines of mountainous rows of books. A small portion of my home library. Because of its size, much of the collection will go unread. Each book represents a kind of journey out of body. Yet I often prefer to remain in my body, walking through my neighborhood soaking in and re-transmitting positive vibes. It is here on the streets, or sitting at tables in parks, out and about, where I practice my “secret philosophy,” with its hints and codes. In the mutability of the day-to-day I find revealed to me a unity. Grand syntheses of ideas, even amid birdsong and crying children.
My, my, hey, hey — what a difference a difference makes! My intuiting self longs like a shadow toward Rob Young’s book Electric Eden, at the top of my list of summer reads. Like Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, Young’s book tracks and reveals a “secret history” spoken across the ages by musicians and poets, transmitters of an occult folk wisdom tradition. Nature, Earth, the ground of being transubstantiated into song and verse. As Peter Murphy wrote, the book “constructs a new mythography out of old threads, making antiquity glow with an eerie hue.” All I can do for now, however, is anticipate what lies ahead. My mind scans its environment searching for a clue. Somewhere amid these texts and artifacts, I think to myself, lies a key to unlock growth or expansion of the gameworld, and thus an altered state of being. Clouds that open and show riches. Before I read further, however, I need acclimate myself to the indecision of the moment. Existential indirection. Toward who, what, when, and where should I orient myself, and why? Toward love, toward counterculture through the ages, toward reconciliation of self and world — love everywhere. Another task of mine this summer is to read and write about Antonin Artaud as translated by Black Mountain potter and poet M.C. Richards. My hope is that this will lead me to a theory of happenings and participatory theater of the kind practiced by groups like the Merry Pranksters and the Diggers. (Charles Perry, by the way, provides an insightful account of psychedelic experience — one of the better “general theories” in the style of Huxley. For Perry, “LSD and mescaline suppress the mind’s ability to discriminate according to levels of importance…and to form persisting notions about reality based on them” [The Haight-Ashbury, p. 253]. Perry’s take on the Diggers informs my ongoing study of psychedelic utopianism, another of the projects I’m working on this summer. Among the Diggers themselves, the ones to research are Emmett Grogan, Peter Coyote, and Peter Berg.)
Time to go somewhere and sit beside a tree. Tomorrow if possible — perhaps in a calm, relatively secluded part of campus. Imagine oneself, however, in one of the campuses of yore, where students lounged among trees strumming guitars and tapping bongos. “Peace, brothers and sisters. Anyone wanna join me in some fugitive study on spontaneous theater?” That used to be a thing: people gathering, barbecuing, chilling, passing a frisbee back and forth. Back before the privatization of cultural memory. Perhaps I should settle in and read Hardt and Negri’s Assembly. Despite its flaws, their earlier book Empire contributed mightily to my formation and development. The question they attempt to answer is similar to the question posed for us by Hippie Modernism: how do we assemble in ways that endure while rejecting traditional, centralized forms of political organization?
If I were an animal among animals, I imagine I’d be a seagull. But alas, I’m not. Instead, I’m the landlocked proprietor of a botched life, hours passing unheeded. What dreams I once had of rising from this wretched state! Of course, it isn’t always wretched. I text with friends and find a book on Tai Chi in the Goodwill bins. I meet the day’s paper-grading quota and go for a run midafternoon. Alan Watts coaches me in the Taoist principle of wu-wei, which he defines as acting without forcing, “in accordance with the flow of nature’s course which is signified by the word Tao, and is best understood from watching the dynamics of water” (Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, p. 2). My reading for class teaches a similar lesson. We act, say the Palanese of Huxley’s Island, “to make the me more conscious of what the not-me is up to” (243). The day ends with a minor life achievement: I prepare a biga so that tomorrow I can bake my first loaf of Italian bread.