Throughout a day of rich, heady conversations, students waking up section by section, the parts of my course finally begin to click. Texts and lives start to resonate into lightly held rhymes and refrains, an allegorical epic poem of many dimensions, a song of consciousness across time, conjuring the universe within. I celebrate, too, throughout the evening, walking outdoors, ears attentive to the system of systems, joyful, knowing that we read tales of beatnik glory in the weeks ahead. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done, papers to grade, learning and growth on my end as well as theirs. Shared labor, shared power — that’s how we make space for change.
Students and I have been tracking vast allegorical systems as they’ve developed in parallel with historical transformations across centuries. The texts we read contain banners on behalf of consciousness raised by philosophers, poets, bards, prophets, visionaries. Descriptions of the macrocosm shift with great suddenness and power into descriptions of the microcosm and vice versa once we learn to read allegorically. Through it all, a sense of the Mind’s evolving sense of itself. When I return from work, I honor Robert Hunter, who died the other day, by contemplating a song of his that a student mentioned after class. The student wondered if there might be a bit of Blake’s “voice of the devil” in Hunter’s “Friend of the Devil.”
Another student inquired after the Holy Spirit, prompting me to investigate pneumatology. Mightn’t we interpret altered states of consciousness as charismata? Gifts, powers, inspired forms of being, with or without psychoactive sacrament?
Students and I grow together as heads by reading and discussing literature about consciousness. Minds throughout the ages trying to know themselves. This is literature about education and enlightenment, minds as they undergo alteration and metamorphosis. Patterns disclose themselves, meaningful coincidences compound over time — formal and thematic resonances that defy existing paradigms. By attempting to interpret these, we arrive at new conceptions, new understandings beyond existing enclosures of possibility.
“Spiral Dynamics” comes to mind as I listen to “Beautiful Crystals” by Sunwatchers.
The band takes its name from a song by Albert Ayler. Guitars interplay with horns, drums, and synths to form complex patterns. Concentrating on the band’s epic prog-psychedelic freak-outs, consciousness can float around a bit in a wild, hypnotic trance-state, reflections on sound and language intersecting to form brief synesthetic plateau-experiences. Life is mysterious, a bubbly, frothy, rococo garden of love, as one listens. Ever-changing, too—in constant surplus of itself. The band operates in a variety of modes: cosmic-archetypal in their aspirations one minute, urgently political the next. I look forward to seeing them when they play in town next month. Spiral Dynamics, meanwhile, seems to be some sort of West Coast “theory of everything,” popularized by the consciousness theorist Ken Wilber. Abraham Maslow fits in there somewhere in the movement’s origins, his “Hierarchy of Needs” adapted into a full-blown “tiered,” “evolutionary” theory of consciousness. It hasn’t been clear to me upon initial perusal whether or not this theory proposes a corollary ethics or practice, though I assume so. At times it sounds hyper control-oriented and egoic, encouraging practitioners to “sweep away objects” and focus on a prior “I Am,” consciousness in its most abstract and deracinated form—an ever-present, transhistorical “One,” divorced from the particulars of any thought, emotion, or object. Within short order, one finds oneself wondering, “Where is the Other in this model?” Reduced, it seems, to pure Becoming, known only through its momentary modifications, ripples, and arisings. The Other is that which encircles “I Am” as the latter spirals through states of distraction and re-cognition.
Maslow’s prose is dry and scientific. I keep having to take breaks while reading his book Toward a Psychology of Being. Parts of it seem wrong-headed, presumptuous; I’d rather be reading the poet Robert Duncan. Works of Duncan’s like “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” evoke Neoplatonic realms, scenes made up by powers of consciousness. A force of gravity pulls us near. Duncan calls this force the “Queen Under the Hill.” Her binding us to her in loving embrace allows us to be both one and other. Being self-divides into temporary autonomous zones so as to become that way, consciousness rising up into matter, probing itself with language before returning from which it came. Each being bears witness, Duncan says, before itself standing in judgment. But why judgment, I wonder. Let us resolve to live well, thanking the world for providing us a loving home by providing one in return. Let these trance-scripts be ways of advancing that cause. Let them be merciful rather than cruel. Let us not condemn in our attempt to improve.
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.