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.
Some dude gets on a mic and introduces my city to Schrödinger’s Cat and theories of parallel worlds as we gather for an outdoor screening of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Downtown appears thoroughly transformed by gentrification, landscaping, redevelopment. But there’s still the excitement, the unrealized potential of the assembly of a local, democratic multitude, one that embraces and tolerates its self-constitution through dance, performance, and play. Man-in-the-Moon arrives as Gwen Stacy reviews her origin story. I imagine myself a moonlit Silver Surfer listening to “Lonely Surf Guitar” by the Surfaris.
“By cutting a pentagram into the air or dancing a wild spiral dance,” writes Erik Davis in his account of Pagan ritual, “the self submits to the designs of human and cosmic powers on a more visceral plane than philosophical conceptions or sermons allow” (TechGnosis, p. 192). Davis stresses, though, that this Pagan use of ritual instrumentalizes the latter’s transformative potential, raising worrying questions when what this “technology of the sacred” operates upon and instrumentalizes is imagination and the unconscious. What ritual possesses, however, and what reason lacks, is fidelity to wonder, reverence, and awe. Pagans, for instance, “seek sacred communion” with Nature. Theirs is a “visionary materialism” (194). I can also relate, though, to the “will to utilize” informing the magical practices of figures like Genesis P-Orridge and his group Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth. Their aim is to use magic to disrupt the spell of the global totalitarian society of the spectacle.
Timothy Leary, ever the magician, pinches together his thumbs and forefingers to form a symbol of infinity, an eye out of which stream prismatic beams of light. Sarah and I sit on a blanket in a park reading beside a tree. Afterwards, on Erik Davis’s recommendation, I turn on and watch “Tones, Drones, and Arpeggios,” a BBC documentary on the birth of minimalism featuring LaMonte Young and Terry Riley in counterculture California.
[And here’s Episode 2.]
I learn about time-lag accumulation, weird spells, past dragged into the future. Interesting things start happening. A universe of cycles rather than arrows. The revolution of Terry Riley’s “In C.” Communism in action. Couple that with Steve Reich’s “Music as a Gradual Process,” and doors begin to open. (By the way, Erik Davis is the real deal. He’s been walking the freak beat for decades, his senses and inclinations honed by years of practice. I remain awed by his sharp analysis and critical takedown of the 1960s/1970s counterculture’s fetish for “consciousness tools” and “technologies of transformation”  in his book TechGnosis.)
I sit with squirrels on a November afternoon absorbing golden rays of sunlight. ‘Tis given freely. Our mutual inheritance. The squirrels jump and scurry among branches of trees. Where shall we place our attention, if not on speaking squirrels? The one above me, in its lovely ahhs, its lusty cries, its squaws, its pleas, sounds like a tearful Donald Duck. Through our stillness, we allow others space and time to be. A lawnmower supplies a buzz to compete with a leafblower’s roar. The neighborhood performs itself as would an orchestra for an audience of one. This is what I want as a communist: control enough of means of production so as to live free, our days, mine and yours, always occasions for pleasure and growth. Michael Davidson’s The Karma Machine reads like a prearranged signal, alerting those who read it of the planet’s wish to mutate-convert into a crystalline “ecstosphere” (162). How do we get there in the midst of what Erik Davis calls “reality meltdown”? Mass media’s programming of listeners and viewers to spur mass consumption gives way to the absence of shared points of reference. Today’s competing news agencies tell competing stories, thus creating competing consensus realities: a plurality of maps, all jostling for control of territory in the Desert of the Real. Against this, argues Davis, rise forces of re-enchantment. Movies of future disasters, journeys through the cosmos. Let us attend to the truth of experience, he cries, and carry stories lightly! “Doubt is a medicine! Skepticism is a medicine!” Always inquiring, always probing amid a totality filled with human and non-human persons. By way of the imagination, he suggests, we can interface with the non-human, the alien Other. “Let myriad things come forth and illuminate the self.”
Here we are, coasting along on this lovely planet, sharing in its seasons and cycles. I sit in a room lined with pine as day turns to night, and work relents and so begins that week of utopia known among academics as “Thanksgiving Break.” Erik Davis says the “breakdown of consensus reality,” which he believes is occurring in our current moment, “pulls out of us” a desire to engage the world as “an enchanted, magical place…where practices of awareness are practical survival necessities.” He traces the origins of the phrase “consensus reality” to Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s book The Social Construction of Reality. Davis’s talk brilliantly captures the as-yet-unnamed structure of feeling governing the current moment in the phrase “reality meltdown.” People dropping out and declaring psychedelic independence. This way of looking has made me judgmental, as if speciation occurred and one can only look back and laugh.
What are the main differences in terms of form or orientation that distinguish the psychedelic from the weird? Both refer to anomalous modes of experience—but the psychedelic is the more utopian of the two sensibilities, is it not? Let us pursue this as our working hypothesis. Where the weird ruptures the circular selfsameness of consensus reality in a way that generates, as Erik Davis says, “a highly ambivalent blend of wonder and horror,” the psychedelic skews instead toward a more fully joyous cosmology, one that allows for ecstatic realization in the unconcealed immediacy of the here and now of what others might call the utopian, the eudaimonic, and the sacred. Speaking of which: The universe tosses me multiple 23s as Sarah and I drive with a friend of ours to visit an iris farm. So many varieties: Shaman, Catalyst, Closed Circuit, Lime Fizz, Desert Thistle. Petals hang in the sun, fluttering gently in the breeze. Before leaving, I’m drawn to a final flower. “Hidden Message,” reads the placard on the ground beside it. “How appropriate a name,” I think to myself, despite a certain skepticism, a reluctance to trust the world’s signage, not least because of a painful self-consciousness regarding the partiality, the incompleteness, and thus the potential incorrectness, of my conceptual inheritance. “By what means might we seek to inquire? And if hidden, by whom?”
It is for declaring their difference, their exceptionalism, that selves are punished. That is the Law, my friend, from here unto forever. I’m all about sensing, having an awareness of my body, but only in a fleeting way, feeling — but I rarely know my wants and needs enough to go after them. Perhaps I should teach myself Socionics. Anything to avoid living at a lower level of consciousness. Rabbit holes, rabbit holes. Optical illusions. (Just kidding, by the way, about Socionics. Though I like for use in a piece of fiction the idea of a psychedelic autodidact survivalist character obsessed with Socionics, seeking relationship advice from its teachings, classifying personalities of customers in terms of its typology at the convenience store where she works.) Here I am, traveling around stoned while reading Lindsey Michael Banco’s Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature. The world’s about to get a whole lot warmer. Beams of light shining through windows strike the narrator, prompting momentary blindness. Freezer joint, meat monstrosity. The jerk trail beckons. An article on Bandcamp points me to some really cool head music out of Mexico City: netlabel releases like Outworld Music by RITUALZ, HYPNOSYS by Upgrayedd Smurphy, and Desterritorialización by AASSP.
After listening to a recent episode about it on Erik Davis’s podcast Expanding Mind, I’m hoping to grab a copy of Rachel Nagelberg‘s debut novel, The Fifth Wall. While reading an excerpt from Nagelberg’s book in 3:AM Magazine, I stumble upon a scholar named Lindsay Jordan, who it just so happens (in classic synchronistic fashion) delivered a talk at the Breaking Convention conference last month titled “‘Unprofessional’… ‘Irrelevant’… “Fascinating’: A Story of Academia and Psychedelic Pride.” It’s as if the totality wants me to happen upon this stuff. As for instance the other night, when I settled into the futon in my “meditation room” (that’s right — I have a “meditation room”) and began listening to an 8-cassette recording of a lecture delivered at Naropa in the early 2000s featuring LSD researcher Dr. Stanislav Grof. Show of hands: how many of you have experienced “non-ordinary” states of consciousness? The room laughs when it sees hands up among nearly everyone. The tapes had washed up in the bins at Goodwill earlier that day, like gifts willed to me by the universe. I suppose I’m being guided toward Grof’s book Psychology of the Future. “We shall find there the answers we seek,” says a self-created mentor or guide. For native people, Grof claims, these states of consciousness are just accepted parts of the spectrum of human experience. One person’s mystical psychosis is another person’s holotropic episode.