Sarah passes on to me along our walk gleanings from her readings on occult philosophy in Elizabethan England. We pass a bluebird, a cardinal, roses, peonies, neighborhood flora and fauna offering to the senses an abundance of sights and scents and sounds as sunlight yellows the greens of a world ripening its way toward summer. Afterwards I purchase a new shirt for myself in preparation for an upcoming trip to Los Angeles—and for once, I allow myself to disengage a bit from the grudge I usually hold (and thus the tensions I usually bear in my back, chest, and shoulders) in reaction to the wage relation, so as to enjoy for a few moments both the cerebral and the sensorial pleasures, the simple bodily procedures and the imaginative comparison and assessment of potential fashionings of self, involved in the act of shopping. Nonjudgmental receptivity of this sort is essential now and then if one’s hope is to grow, I tell myself. In his essay “Eupsychia—The Good Society,” Abraham Maslow suggests as a guide for this mode of being a book by British psychoanalyst Marion Milner called A Life of One’s Own. Milner’s book is the product of a seven-year experiment in introspective journaling — a technique that resonates, of course, with the one informing these trance-scripts.
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.
I imagine myself as a plant hallucinating itself as a person. The goal is to become a tree among trees. But how quickly the mind turns toward work. I’m reminded of how easy it is to intervene through introduction of minor edits into my self-programming. But even here, my self-conception remains routed through some sort of menu interface of unknowable origin. People’s non-ordinary states of consciousness often utilize either human or non-human guides. Take the plunge, they say, into transpersonal consciousness. Create a climate and a method for healing from within. What is the point of devotion to the roots and the stem if not for the flower? Meaning is lost when we translate “maya” as “illusion.” See, for instance, the 1910 painting “Maya, the Mirror of Illusions” by Arthur Bowen Davies.
Stanislav Grof regards birth as a massive, personality-shaping psychodrama. I’m reminded of the saying, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” So how is Grof useful? He adds to our toolkit enabling integration of further transmissions from beyond. This is how one loses one’s chains and steps outside the construct. I managed to meet and dine with poet-critic Joshua Clover the other night. He’s someone I’ve admired ever since encountering his ideas about “edge-of-the-construct” narratives more than a decade ago in his book The Matrix. The part that isn’t Marx in me, however, is also heartened that increasing numbers of my students are incorporating mindfulness activities into their repertoire of daily practices. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” But fuck that dude — he gives talks to 1 percenters in Davos. “More ice water, please!” DSA’s role on a branch-by-branch basis should be preparation for commune-style declaration of independence from profit-production. If we go down, we go together. Genuine communist praxis involves pulling consciousness out of circulation and production, and directing it instead toward reproduction of oneself and one’s community.