It’s been several weeks since I last sat before the window for morning meditation in the room above the garage, facing outward, to the street to the trees to the sky. Meditation has instead become a yoga integrated into everyday life. This is election season, wealthy billionaire politicians throwing their money around to fill the air with lame signage as our cars and bodies zip around through outer space. Enough is enough! The time has come for change. Jerry Farber spells it out, tells it plain in his essay “The Student and Society: An Annotated Manifesto.” “Students can change things it they want to,” he writes, “because they have the power to say ‘no.’ When you go to school, you’re doing society a favor. And when you say ‘no,’ you withhold much more than your attendance. You deny continuity to the dying society; you put the future on strike. Students can have the kind of school they want — or even something else entirely if they want — because there isn’t going to be any school at all without them” (17). The problem, however, is that students lack consciousness of themselves as a class. They’re divided. Some of them continue to see school as a privilege. Hence the need for teachers — those outside voices who, like the character in Socrates’s cave allegory, return to the cave to free the others. If only I could assign Theodore Roszak’s book Sources, described in its subtitle as “An anthology of contemporary materials useful for preserving personal sanity while braving the great technological wilderness.” Roszak’s introduction points the reader back to Dwight MacDonald’s earlier book The Root is Man. These are important works within a largely forgotten strain of postwar thought: a kind of radical Marxist Humanism.
A crouched cat, rustling leaves, the blinking lights of a distant plane: these I encounter on a chill night as I walk about the earth beneath a large moon. The planet’s surface bathed in its light. I stare up at it in wonder (oh mysterious thing, so lovely!) before returning to the house, baby feeding hungrily at Sarah’s breast. The three of us go on a date: ice cream for mom and dad, while baby sleeps beside us in her car seat. F. wears a hat her aunt knit for her. As she and Sarah quiet and settle down for the evening, I enter the basement and listen to a recording of a guided meditation led by Chuck Pereda & Natalie Szendro, featuring music by Pulse Emitter. Time to practice Yoga Nidra.
I wake in the cabin of my brother-in-law’s boat, docked for the weekend at Watch Hill on Fire Island. It’s still early — not yet dawn, in fact — but I can hear birds chirping outdoors, so I climb aboveboard as silently as I can manage, so as not to disturb my companions, all of whom remain asleep below. A wonderful fog has settled over the bay, a saving grace obscuring from sight the many ugly neighboring yachts, flags already hoisted in preparation for the day’s festivities. I perform morning meditation sitting cross-legged on a cushioned bench. Afterwards I walk the short width of the island from bay to ocean and stare out at the Atlantic. Time dilates, water line waxing and waning with the tides. As the day progresses, I lie on my back, eyes closed, and become one with radiant energy.
I deem it wise to sit outdoors when possible. Pull out a lawn chair, listen to London-based Afrobeat 8-piece KOKOROKO, preferably later in the day, after lazing about dipping in and out of several texts midafternoon, testing the waters of each as if they were pools or oceans.
Perhaps I should jump right in. Practice Svadhyaya. But I prefer to pause now and then, take leave, retire into the alternative fictive domain of a backyard garden where shadows interact with light across bursts of Gaian majesty. Don’t ask me how it happens; I don’t know. The story of the Secret Garden, the story of the expulsion from an ancient leafy bower: these are mythic accounts, folk memories of dispossession, primitive accumulation, forced separation from the land.
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?
Sleepy — inhaling and exhaling in a kind of trance. When I went for a run yesterday evening, same deal. I concentrated my attention upon the timed repetition of the sound and act of breathing. Speculations about AI seem flawed in their ontological assumptions — particularly their dualism. Something else happens when we go nondual and imagine ourselves at one with a stream of becoming. The self-presentation of being depends in such circumstances on an act of hermeneutics. It’s always a movement between dreams and their interpretation. Ease up, I tell myself, take a break, cook dinner for oneself and one’s partner. Time to dip into Lara Lee’s Modulations: Cinema for the Ear. Part of me remains convinced, though, that “to believe in this living,” as John Prine sang, “is just a hard way to go.”
I sit listening as a neighbor in an adjoining yard plays an accordion. Hey Mr. Accordion Man, help me remember my dreams. I meditate upon a finely detailed ancient wooden eye staring up into my third eye from my back deck. I appraise it from several scales. Sounds come buzzing, whistling, bowling, crackling: conversations, motors, animals rustling in an underbrush, signal-pulses of birdsong. Seven to ten minutes and then I’m off for an evening of fun with my fellow thirsty nuns and monks.
What is the ontological status of what others call falsehoods? Are they simply inaccurate statements housed in material form? A friend invited Sarah and I to his house the other night to celebrate his fortieth. While there, some comrades and I stood beside a carpeted cat tree drinking beer debating amongst ourselves our beliefs as Marxists. I suppose that what prompted this debate was my desire to defend terms like “wellness” and “mindfulness.” It is by now a common procedure on the Left to show how these ideas have been put to use by neoliberalism. (Barbara Ehrenreich performs this argument, for instance, in her new book Natural Causes.) But to me, some of the practices associated with these ideas, practices like yoga and meditation, provide benefits to practitioners such that they transcend the uses to which they’ve been put. Up with survival strategies. Up with coping mechanisms. Up with the perennial demand, the one demand that class societies can never fully satisfy: collective joy, collective reconciliation with Being.
Days blaze like a road in morning sunlight out in front of me. Car culture limits our ability to merge into larger communist groupings. Yet we’re forced to participate, both because we need to commute to work, and because we need experiences with which to refurnish our supply of concepts. To satisfy this latter need, Sarah and I attend “You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences,” an exhibition currently up at the NC Museum of Art. The show features a number of works of a psychedelic bent, including Yayoi Kusama’s wonderful infinity room, “Light of Life.” Heads peer through portholes into a shadowy antechamber as galaxies of lightbulbs flash in kaleidoscopic profusion across the room’s mirror-box multiverse. Afterwards I attempt to meditate using a mindfulness app on my phone. My “Best Possible Future Self,” to use the name of the thing the app asks me to visualize, is itchy minimal. No, scratch that. Har har, some “uncle” humor. Crash landing. #kneetoface “Come on, Subject — liberate yourself!” coaxes the voice of the revolution. “Come one, come all,” it says. Space Invaders. Critters. Mind at play. During my first pass through the exercise, the antinomian in me imagines the worst. I’m hiding somewhere. It’s chaos. Will they allow me to work (flow, thrive, persist, whatever they call it) if I challenge reason? If, in other words, I question the enterprise of our knowing? How about if I show up to work in a trashcan? My “Best Possible Future Self,” I think to myself as I begin again. What a sad, peculiar exercise! Would live intentionally, in a self-designed home, with nods to Dwell and Nowness and the Whole Earth Catalog. Sarah and I would read, write, cook delicious healthy meals together, raise a brilliant happy child. All of the above, certainly. But what, pray tell, does this Self wish of the world beyond its household? After all, it must wish something, no? Just as it takes a village to raise a child, so too it takes the oikos of an entire planet, a whole integrated system of economy and ecology, to reproduce the oikos of the family. Let us, then, in dreaming our “Best Possible Future Selves,” also imagine our Utopia.
Slow, given to loops and routines, I lay down on a couch, as in a therapist’s office, and allow Jesse Fleming and Electric Sound Bath’s Ataraxia Series #1: Heart and Insight Meditations, a tape released last year on Crash Symbols, guide me to a place of self-questioning.
“When did I start behaving like a jerk?” I wonder quietly, as if for the first time. “Ages 5-10?” Cousins, neighbors, video games. “Why was I sometimes cruel to others?” I was bullied. Just in minor, ordinary ways: small attacks, acts of aggression. But certainly with enough frequency to embitter me. To this day, for instance, I find it hard to forgive some kid who, before gym class one day, pegged me in the face with a basketball, unprovoked, without forewarning, breaking my glasses, blackening my eye. But forgive I must, I suppose, if I’m ever to forgive myself. Ages 10-15. Fears about measuring up, fitting what was expected of me because of body type, gender. Ages 15-20. “I was a nice person at times,” I blubber. Fleming’s words unearth points of pain, but he advises well. Under his direction, I allow myself to ask for forgiveness for the harms that I’ve caused, knowingly or unknowingly, through my thoughts, words, and deeds. Thus we advance toward the extinction of suffering.