Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Turning Points: The Decision

I've, since the beginning of this blog, sought to keep as much of me out of my blog posts as I could, lest I, and not the subject matter, become the topic. I'd say I am about to go out on a limb with this next series of posts on the stages of mysticism, but that would exaggerate the size of the twig I find myself standing on :)

Every mystic's journey begins with a decision, though it isn't always seen as one at the time. Sometimes its something they read in a book. Sometimes it's something they hear at their place of worship. Sometimes  it is even something they experience during drug use that makes them want the real thing. Often it is at the turning point of a personal crisis. That's what happened to me.

I was fourteen. And my life was hell.

I wonder about the adults who insist no child's life can be hellish. Have they forgotten what it was like to have a child's inability to escape or significantly alter one's circumstances? Have they forgotten a child's presumed lack of credibility? Or how a child's underdeveloped brain and limited experience impact's one's ability to solve problems which adults themselves find difficult to handle?  Or maybe those adults who insist childhood is a never-ending stream of ice cream, rainbows, and unicorns are the very adults who think so little of the young that they can't even imagine that the victims of their thoughtlessness experience harm.

My world at fourteen was a friendless one of bullying and abuse. Recent events had only escalated the helplessness and brutality. I was without hope. I had come to a decision a week or two before: I was going to steal a gun from where I knew one was hidden, and I was going to bring it to school, and I was going to kill everyone I could before I turned the gun on myself. This was decades before Columbine, or even before Columbine's immediate predecessors. I would have been the pioneer of this species of killing, if it were not for what happened that night.

I was standing at my bedroom window, looking at the stars and working out the fine details in my head of how to smuggle the gun into the building undetected. It was at that moment that the deep blackness that filled and surrounded me broke, and in an instant I saw... information. A lot of information.

The information could be divided into three broad categories. The first category might be described as "how to think." The object was to empty out the crud in my head so that I could think clearly, and the immediate task was to stop daydreaming. The primary method was to continuously observe my own thoughts and throw out the unwanted ones. When solving problems, the approach was to clear out the crud -- in essence, to stop grinding away at a problem -- and then take a clean, clear look at the situation. There were tricks for breaking mental ruts so that one could think more clearly. I dubbed all this the "mind exercises".

This first category of information had immediate appeal. I likened it to the idealized form of the scientific method, where the object of the researcher is to clear away biases so as to arrive at conclusions supported by fact. To see clearly was an irresistible goal.

The second category might be described as behavioral. I could see, in that instant of information, how this second category functioned to support the first category, but that did not make this second category any more appealing. I was to avoid anything that addled the mind, whether it was drugs and drink (as someone who was at that age already drinking, this had precisely zero appeal to me), or whether it involved other techniques, such as the hypnosis games some girls had been playing around with in eighth grade. I was to maintain simplicity in all things-- for example, in my attire. I was a teenager, and I loved flamboyancy, and it was the early '70's: this was not what I wanted, either. The third point, which straddled the behavioral category and the third category, was that I needed to maintain my fitness and my survival skills, because there would come a time when I needed both. All in all I accepted the logic of this category: I simply wasn't going to do much of it.

The third broad category was the category I categorically rejected. It contained a promise of what would happen if I followed the previous directions. As an atheist I had no use for the supernatural (never mind that the moment, in its entirety, had a decidedly supernatural quality). This part just reeked of Too Much Imagination. I put it out of my mind, or at least as far out of my mind as any component of a moment of this magnitude can be put (it had the quality of being the Monolith in the living room, to mix metaphors about elephants and images from science fiction).

I was still a mess the moment after the moment. But I was a mess with a spark of hope. People who have hope do not commit murder-suicide. I dropped my plans after that, and I started to play with the mind exercises.

When I got back to school (I had been on one of my many school suspensions when the moment by the window happened), some very odd things occurred. I was suddenly befriended by a popular girl in my school, and soon afterwards found myself firmly ensconced in the theater, music, and creative writing clique. I was suddenly popular for the first time in my life-- in fact, I seemed to attract people to me (the bullies were still out there, too, but their bullying became far less effective-- almost pathetic, really). For the next two years I experienced a string of inexplicable successes, personal accomplishments (some in the "adult" world that won me a mild fame), and extraordinary connections. Two years and some change later, despite the year I spent largely on suspension, I stood, at sixteen, with a high school diploma in my hands and a ticket out of my circumstances to a major university to study physics.

I also stood on the verge of several years worth of learning why treating portions of the directions as if they were optional wasn't going to work. And why all that apparent success was a double edged sword, one that would drive me inexorably to listen and to do what I had not wanted to do. But that's another post.

Part 2 is now available, and you can read it here

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