What happens to those initiated into a world of magic, made to embark upon a path or journey by way of psychedelics? More specifically, what happens when this process begins in absence of teachers and institutional containers — when shamans and rituals, in other words, are not part of the initiate’s lifeworld, the initiate stripped of these on account of having rejected the religion of his ancestors in his youth? The search for a new framework becomes part of the initiate’s quest, does it not? One doesn’t even know at first that the process has begun. Advice arrives, though, as one asks around. One learns from fellow heads. Elders pass along teachings by book, by song, by word of mouth. Writings appear on walls, counseling one to pray and meditate. Days fill with makeshift, self-invented rituals — practices adapted to local conditions in the course of one’s travels. We become weird ones — lonely experimentalists sitting Indian-style in the dark. Are our adaptations legitimate ones, or are they products, as René Guénon warns, “of a merely individual caprice” (Perspectives on Initiation, p. 4)? Guénon would call those about whom I speak “mystics” rather than “initiates.” “In the case of mysticism,” he writes, “one never knows just where one is headed” (8). For Guénon, “the mystical path differs from the initiatic path in all its essential characteristics, which difference is such as to render the two truly incompatible” (9). Given subsequent right-wing uses of Guénon’s philosophy by monsters like Steve Bannon, however, we must take care not to place too much stock in this distinction.
We’re seeking new practices, and a proper space in which to meditate, as churches and temples were for our ancestors. My grandmother prayed before statues. She built a stone grotto with a statue of Mary, and across from it a stone bench on which to sit, in a corner of her backyard. Hers was a magical world full of prayer beads, statues, jewelry, and shrines. She attended Catholic masses. I wish to honor her memory by creating a sanctum of some sort — a space akin to the meditation room at my previous home. I should try sitting in the loft above the garage, or outdoors, or in the sun room. Either that or I’ll just continue to recite mantras and prayers silently in bed each morning (as I have each morning since the move). Perhaps I should read some Thomas Merton. Or just observe His Dark Materials, with its magical, pluriversal cosmology mapped out Game of Thrones-style in its opening credits.
What sense might we make of the cover of Ram Dass’s spiritual cookbook, Be Here Now? Twelve satellites poised in a circle, linked to one another in orbit around a sitter, so as to announce, “YOU ARE A TOTALLY DETERMINED BEING.” What matters, the book says, are the vibrations that emanate from us. Owl eyes, islands, stars free like cotton candy. I recall the weight in my arms of my dog Daphne, a neighbor’s dog reminding me again of how it feels to live with an animal companion’s presence. Sarah and I miss that — but there are many narratives, the imagination able to enter and exit vantage points in countless parallel worlds. To write “literature,” however, say the theorists, one has to disguise one’s stake in the story one is unfolding. Shape time, seed dreams with positive vibes.
The mind is, in the words of The Dhammapada, “the beast that draws the cart.” Mind is the primary operator, the seat of agency, occupied simultaneously by self and other. Teaching plays a pivotal role in one day’s shaping of the next. Mind in real-time recreates self and other. Our goal shouldn’t be reason asserting itself over passion. The non-human, daimonic dimension of reality is not to be tampered with. It is a realm of inexhaustible wonder. It is to be revered. A dimension of dynamic unrest: concealment, de-concealment, discovery. Good News. Truth alongside the Mountain of Seven Vultures. Can reverence and wonder co-exist with the kind of wish where you write it down and make it happen? Ralph Waldo Emerson seemed to think so. “Once you make a decision,” he claimed, “the universe conspires to make it happen.” Let us wish for Jubilee. Or whatever leads to Satchidananda. The Dhammapada, however, counsels me to conquer thoughtlessness by watchfulness. “Tell the Truth,” commands a sign on a wall. Speak a few words and then live them.
Re-reading Plato’s “cave allegory” from The Republic in preparation for tomorrow’s class, I’m struck again by the distinction drawn by Socrates between “that which is coming into being” and “that which is” (Bloom translation, p. 197). Because of what I’ve been reading lately, however, (especially various mystical texts, including Ram Dass’s Be Here Now), I’m tempted to interpret “that which is” as another name for what Terence McKenna called “the transcendental object at the end of time.” As I imagine it, this object or divine being would possess the power to operate upon the dimension or construct we call “time,” pulling toward it those who allow themselves to be pulled. The spiritual journey, then — the climbing of the Holy Mountain, the ascent toward the true and the just and the good — all of this would involve the rediscovery of what we once knew and will come to know again. Plato, of course, refers to this process as “anamnesis.”
Notes diminish slowly, like particles falling through space across brief durations. A friend’s voice, heavily masked, brings light. Does my focus increase or diminish when I convince myself that the object-world is no more than a single, alien form of consciousness: one, however, that will grant me the power to decode the messages it sends me, so long as I let it? And say this conviction were a fiction, however much the external world might seem to confirm it. Would that in any way lessen its therapeutic validity as an orientation toward being? Experience is often like a pull toward a hesitant positivity — until something terrible gets in the way. Let us turn our gaze toward the means of worship pioneered by Akhenaten. As if in reply, Alfred Bruneau performs Verdi’s “Requiem: Dies Irae & Tuba Mirum.”
How much do I wish to read into that? Is it wrong to think that Rochester has become a fun place to visit while stoned? Bars, bookstores, restaurants. Diverse neighborhoods. Homes and storefronts lit for the holidays. But I worry — albeit only in a distant, abstracted way — that I’ve become the kind of person who prefers to withdraw, to subtract from extended community with others. Perhaps this is the lesson one learns when visiting with family under capitalism. Dull, shiftless, emptied of concern: these are words I project preemptively into the thought bubbles of others. My sensitivity to a certain kind of anxiety leads me to imagine those around me acting the part of the killjoy, the spoilsport, the moralist. In thinking this, I grow cold, I go brittle. Morals are not the rules we invent by which to live; nor are they the rules we obey simply so as to attend to the cares of others. Rather, they’re the rules we follow for no reason other than that some part of us desires to uphold tradition — traditional biases, traditional prejudices — as lifestyle, as aesthetic. Thinking this strips me of volume and capacity. “Step back,” I say, ears awakened by fireworks. “Get up and try again.”
Will this become in thought and thus in practice a grace that, like an invisible hand, gently guides us toward our destiny? Picture Mazdaism’s Angel, the Fravarti — one’s tutelary transcendent counterpart, one’s better self — leaving clues for us along our way. Mine steps in, for instance, and walks with me hand in hand to an anti-‘present reality’ rally. Headlights reflect garishly off the backs of cars downtown. Drug use becomes more prevalent in our Republican-controlled republic, a coping mechanism for a public seeking serotonin supplements to correct the collective mood. Afterwards some friends and I retire to a bar to discuss the concerns of the day. One friend recommends a comedian named Nate Bargatze and a Jim Carrey movie called Jim & Andy. I rail throughout the night against the procedurally generated fiction known as debt, the latter just as arbitrary in my view as the obstacles the NES generation used to install when custom-designing tracks in Excitebike. Must we toil? Must we busy ourselves because born dispossessed? My mind chases after itself, representing itself doing so across a succession of fleeting images. A montage sequence from an imaginary film noir.
Break out the sugary drinks! I have a mystical treatise I wish to deliver via PowerPoint. All is wondrous and large and unnameable. Is it possible that the narrator is constructed by the language he speaks? Or is that to confuse the self with its externalizations? Action becomes introspection, and plot evolves into spiritual adventure. The self moved by something other. The invisible hand, or whatever god it is that allows itself to be “chosen” by the other pole of its dyad. The mouse that steps atop the keyboard of consciousness. Perhaps there’s some place in this altered state that can fit Sam Harris’s book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion — though I doubt it. That dude strikes me as entirely too sober and arrogant. I prefer my sermon in the form of Andy Holden’s “Chewy Cosmos (Panels to the Walls of Heaven).”
The need to collect nuts and berries lingers. Collection involves giving oneself over to luck. Infinite reverie.
Equally impressive is Holden’s video, “Prelude (A Pilot).” It, too, can point us on our course. Allegorical or archetypal landscapes poached from old Roadrunner cartoons. The artist imagines himself operating in the Romantic tradition, mining points of intensity from domains native to everyday life. And from Holden’s work, I’m led to the work of filmmaker James Benning. The path thus creates itself under the feet that tread it. Sarah and I granted ourselves a brief respite from the book edits and grading, walking in the sun yesterday midday along snow-covered streets, water melting, dripping from trees and branches. “Ptarmigans” emerged at one point as a topic of conversation: birds whose feathers change colors every year with the seasons. Upon my return from the walk, I watched Benning’s One Way Boogie Woogie (1977), reminded while watching of industrial landscapes I observed as a kid. Like songs that build in volume, signs begin to speak to me. Stubbornly persistent illusions give way to the conviction that everything is connected. “Let’s glitch the matrix and reorganize the gameboard,” I add, knowing not how or why.
Prayer will take us there. We might as well call it that, this act of turning inward, even if there aren’t any mantras involved or words addressed to a higher power. Much of my learning occurs these days through concentration on letting the mind go where it may. I hang back a bit and wait to see what stirs. Hands meet with fingers and thumbs arranged to form a triangle. I hold up to my eyes an inverted, upward-pointed Merkel-Raute or Triangle of Power, tolerating it the right to expand slowly across my field of vision, the gesture crossing outward beyond my peripherals. No more aristocracy of moneyed corporations, I declare to potential comrades. But few heed the call. They look at me askance, shake their heads reprovingly, and return to their sullen pursuit of property, most of them declaring themselves for business, without ever having been taught how else one can be. The Real is that which one feels deeply in one’s mind. Let’s do it, sings the chorus. Now is the time for love. The world has never felt itself so much a totality as it does today — so let us raise glasses instead to the visions in our minds. Let us imagine for one another how else the world may be. We have become more or less completely, more or less obviously, more or less miserably, the dependents of capital — so let us change that. Wildlife, like wildfires, rise up and appropriate thy appropriators! Humanity’s running down the clock, one way of being having come to dominate all the rest. And there’s no longer any imagined purpose to any of it. One is tempted to wish for some chance intervention, some upwelling of otherness. Cast over the soul a luminous spell, craft for it a key that opens doors onto possible worlds. Passion destines its victim, writes de Rougemont, “to contest with every breath everything that officially regulates social life” (73). Weed grants me such a passion; it fills me with words and metaphors, interlacing symbols through which to enunciate a mind in its refusal to adhere to the as-is.
Boards of wood warp beneath my feet as I stare up at the night sky. Paranoia tugs at me, and I know that’s just the weed becoming manifest — but I also hear the world telling me, “All symptoms are purposeful.” Upon observing this, my reality fast-forwards. I live my life as Providence decrees, dipping into and reading snippets on occasion from St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul. Sarah and I shared a mystical experience, a moment of sublimity, while sitting on a bench, staring up at a play of sunlight and wind among the tops of a patch of trees. It is only in retrospect that I see ahead a way to retain the habits of the child, while standing upright. St. John scolds me here, though, for my vanity. Don’t speak proudly or boastfully of spiritual things in the presence of others, he warns. What, then, of these trance-scripts, I wonder. Is it, perhaps, time to take a break? Can’t I pull a Bartleby and say, “I’d prefer not to?” Why am I even considering obedience to what feels like an ultimatum? Are these the first signs, perhaps, of a crisis of faith in my crisis of faith? Nay, it angers me; I resent the imposition. Grace is not a gift if it requires something in return. Utopia ain’t utopia if reserved only for a deserving few. Perhaps I’m too patient, though, with regard to my progress. Let it thus be resolved: for purposes of experiment, I shall assent to a few days off.