Friday, January 27, 2012

This blog is moving back to private hosting

You can see it in its new location by using the url (not .com) . In a few days, the .com address will also be pointing at the new location.

Why? Check out Google's new "privacy" policy, which isn't. Google claims the right to use any information it gathers as it sees fit, with no opt out other than to not use Google products.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Turning Points: All In

To make sense of this, you need to first read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Everything fell apart.

My prayer for humility may have been impromptu, undignified, and not internally consistent, but it was plenty efficacious. Within weeks, I lost my apartment and job. By the end of the summer, having nothing left to keep me in Denver, I pointed my van/home at San Francisco, where I busked for my dinner. Just as I landed a day job selling computer business systems and connected with someone about to record an album, my musical instruments were stolen. The next day, parked in an entirely different location after being repaired, my van was broken into and vandalized by frustrated thieves (there being nothing of value left to steal). Out of options I started the long drive back to my parents home, whereupon my van caught on fire. I arrived at my parents home with not much other than the shirt on my back.

That's the general chronology, anyway. But it isn't the story. It is, however, easier to put into words than the story. The real events happened quietly, mostly alone in the back of an old van. That's where I performed a moral vivisection on the monster in the mirror, digging out and staring down every twisted motive I might find. That's where I practiced what felt at the time like two disparate paths: one the deity-independent discipline of the mind exercises, the other quasi-Christian practices minus the mythology and a deity best described as "to whom it may concern (no one, I suspect)". At times it was deeply contradictory, but that no longer mattered. I was on a mission. The monster must be destroyed, by any means necessary -- or available. Even when, as it often did, it meant running into Dark Thing, with all the consequences that implied.

Then, one rainy night in the back of a van, as I prayed, the thought entered my mind that what I needed to do was call up Dark Thing (yes, I could bring it to me at will, though until that moment of that night it certainly was not what I willed) and send it away. And so I did. It came, but for the first time was not terrifying or disruptive to my thought. I ordered it away. And it left.

It never came back.

It had been standing in front of something. It was light, and sparkled, and in a continuation of my seven year old's nomenclature, I called it "Light Thing". Light Thing was not threatening. In fact, it had a peaceful presence. Given its association with Dark Thing, though, I intended to keep it at a respectful distance. In that direction had been something worse than death, and there was no evidence it wasn't still there.

With Dark Thing gone, vivisecting the monster was no longer agony. It was exhilarating, even as the externals of my life filled up with hunger, cold, and increasing danger. When I think of the year and a half which followed, I don't think first of the times I fainted from hunger. I think of the times I spent quietly unwinding the threads of the monster, and watching a new pattern come into focus, the outlines of a pattern spiraling towards somewhere, something, unknown.

Virtually everywhere I looked I saw this pattern taking shape and converging at some distant point. I found it materializing in my ponderings on ethics, but I also found it in mathematics and music theory. I even found it in a place I hardly expected I'd look: astrology.

Someone who had it with the monthly astrology column in the city feminist paper asked if I would submit an article debunking astrology to the paper. Since I needed to know something about astrology to debunk it, I took out a stack of library books and started reading.

What I found was (unsurprisingly) astrology wasn't a science, but neither was it gibberish. It was a language, rooted in mythological symbolism, that sought to describe something of the transcendent. It was a closer cousin to Church Slavonic, or Sanskrit, or the lingua ignota of Hildegard, than it was to astronomy.

Because my assessment of astrology might be seen (incorrectly) as a blanket endorsement, I'm going to stop the narration here and try to explain a little more about what I think of astrology. If astrology were a medicine it would be classified as an adjunctive-- unhelpful for most people, and generally unnecessary, but for a few patients, something that will make their other treatments more effective.

Astrology is nearly useless, and often counterproductive, when consumed as a product one purchases or otherwise obtains from astrologers. It is most valuable when studied as a discipline, it being one of many tools used from ancient times to help focus the mind upon the patterns of life. It will not tell you your future, but its misuse can get you tangled up in the mental knot of fortune telling. Fortune telling fails because the future is actively created by the entity whose future is being "predicted". It's like staring at the image in a mirror and trying to discern from it when the "image" is going to move. One may occasionally get something that can pass for a successful prediction, but mostly, one sits waiting, in futility, for something to "happen", all the while missing every opportunity to actually do something.

I did a few chart readings for people when I first studied astrology, but I have not done any in a very long time, because self-passivity is not the direction I should be encouraging, even slightly, anyone to go in. Most people, most of the time, would be better off if they stayed away from astrology. It's worth noting that the natal chart reading is a modern innovation, and not a part of traditional astrology.

My "endorsement" of astrology is therefore a highly qualified one, if it is any endorsement at all.

Astrology appealed to the same pattern recognition skills I had used as a young teenager to win chess tournaments. And so I studied, with some conscious irony, in the basement, next to the "This Is What We Think Of You" monument -- a giant glass trophy case, which would not have been out of place outside a coach's office at a major university, which contained every Pee Wee League baseball participation trophy and other barely-award ephemera from my two largely unathletic brothers. It was surrounded by the unprotected fragments, scattered across the basement, of what was left of the chess set and table I had won at the Illinois State Women's Chess Championship when I tied for first place while being the only teen, playing against adults. When I left for college my parents gave it and my other trophies to the youngest kids as toys. That is, except for the team appreciation award I got from the high school, where I lettered twice in chess. That board was taken and used by my father as a surface for cutting and soldering stained glass.

Too many people are alive who don't deserve to he hurt in a public rehashing of events for me to describe my relationship with my family in depth. It's enough to say that it wasn't good. I kept a surreptitious tally that confirmed that they were doing their level best to keep me unemployed while berating me, multiple times a day, for not having a job. I couldn't get a job and get out of their house; I had to get out of their house to get a job.

Helping my winter houseguests

It's early winter, climatologically speaking, in Vermont, which means I've been dealing with the stragglers from the autumn ladybug invasion. It's too cold for them to be safely relocated outside (they don't, after all, really want to be inside our dry, nearly foodless, excessively warm homes. They're just not very bright, and don't get it that burrowing deeper in some cases will get you worse, not better, winter digs). So, it's been the usual ladybug death watch here, watching them grow weaker and more desperate, and sweeping up the carcasses....

Until I realized it didn't have to be this way. Ladybugs are sold by the thousands to gardeners every year. That meant that someone, somewhere, was breeding these things. Which meant that somewhere out there, in the great body of information called the Internet, was information on how to care for ladybugs. And so I Googled.

What I learned was this: the species most often found in homes is the Asian lady beetle. Some find it a nuisance and consider it an invasive species. But since both I and my parrot are "invasive species" (this doesn't look like the horn of Africa, now does it?), we don't hold that against our mostly benign visitors. They are a very long lived species of ladybug, and can live for 2-3 years, occasionally reaching the ripe old age of 6.

Our homes kill them because they dry out -- they need a moist environment, and as everyone knows our homes in the winter are brutally dry. They prefer a good aphid, but they are omnivores and, in captivity, will thrive on a diet of raisins soaked in water till they are plump, then drained and chopped. Water should be provided in the form of a damp paper towel or cotton ball or a similar damp object, never as an open container of water, because our bug guests are not rocket scientists, and will drown.

Right now I have gathered 11 survivors in an old Lafeber's Nutriberry bird treat container. Peri had graciously agreed to empty the last of it for our guests, difficult a sacrifice as that was for my little glutton and food tosser ;) I ventilated the container with the sharp end of a compass, added a wet paper towel, and then added a helping of apparently delicious damp raisin (they were all over the raisin the moment I added it).

Most of my guests arrived in bad shape. For one, it was too late. The rest perked up after getting moisture and a bite to eat. I've noticed a pattern as I've added newcomers to my beetle bed and breakfast: after the initial shock, they go to the wet paper towel and bury their faces in it for a long, hydrating drink. Then, they head for the raisins, and replenish what must be an almost depleted fat reserve. And finally, the smaller males, now full of energy, chase the larger females around the container a few times before successfully mounting them and doing what comes naturally. Maslow would be proud.

I've also noticed that once I amassed a critical mass of bugs, the others still loose and lost in the house started seeking them out. One of my most recent additions I found running around the outside edge of the lid, apparently trying to figure out how all those members of her own species got in there. I of course opened the lid and demonstrated how it happens to my new guest.

I have not added, or even seen, a live ladybug wandering about the house for the last two days. In all probability I've gotten the last of them. Once they're all looking fit, I have a decision to make: refrigerate, or not? Normally, these bugs would go dormant during the winter, and successful dormancy would prolong their lives. But refrigerating these bugs is a tricky thing, given their tendency to dry out and that our refrigerators are designed to keep things stored in them dry. I've seen intelligent arguments both in favor of refrigeration and for leaving well enough alone.

So what does any of the above have to do with Hard Core Spirituality? We're obligated to care for each other -- even the lost little ones that others call "pests". This obligation is not theoretical, nor abstract, nor merely symbolic, and it is nontransferable (though efficiencies from division of labor still apply, and being honestly unable to help grants dispensation).

My houseguests are a reminder that a bite of wet raisin is often very much better than an uplifting lecture about how Spirit provides or a condescending lecture on how to responsibly overwinter in Vermont (trite sayings about teaching others to fish notwithstanding). If my "pests" survive, they will be a welcome gift to the community garden here in the spring. If they don't, they will at least have had a few more days of moisture and sweetness and running about mounting each other, and thus will have contributed a bug's worth of joy to a dessicated world thirsty for happiness.

What about 11 bugs in a bird treat tub isn't about Hard Core Spirituality?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Turning Points: Running

To understand this you'll probably want to read the first installment and the second installment before you read this one.

I started running with a baby step, by moving to Denver.

I had thought  the move from a college town to a large city would give me some anonymity. I was wrong. How tiny those 30 miles were became clear when I went to a bookstore the day after I moved in. I found on the store bulletin board the hideous Rocky Mountain News article, plus two different notes, from two different bands looking for a bassist, asking if anyone knew how to contact me. The clerk recognized me and was excited that I had moved to the city. If anonymity was what I wanted, I was going to have to try a lot harder.

What Denver did give me in the months I was there was nothing I expected to get, and that was a very different kind of circle of friends. I fell in with a group of women who were, largely, Christians.

It wasn't the first time I found myself in a circle that was largely composed of Christians. In fact, I played bass and occasionally percussion in a Christian folk band in high school. I could play bass, and they tolerated my professed atheism. They had regular paying gigs, and I more than tolerated the regular income. Later, I had a number of anomalous friendships with Christians, and sometimes spent time around their Christian friends. Their Christianity looked like a Greco-Roman mystery cult with a Jewish twist, and I wasn't interested in fairy tales.

Maybe it was simply that I had become romantically involved with one of the women (I'm a lesbian, and yes, these were lesbian Christians. They exist, you know.) But what I saw impressed me. Not enough to become Christian. The story of Christianity, the stuff Christians are required to believe as true, still looks to me like a Greco-Roman mystery cult, no matter how much easier it would be for me to find a way to believe the unbelievable. What impressed me was that they sincerely sought to know their God which, when stripped of the fairy tales, amounted to seeking with their whole hearts the same sort of transcendent Truth that I knew was there to be sought.

I had spent a decade trying to bury the nature of what happened that night at the window under fervent declarations of atheism. But I knew. I couldn't not know. I wasn't exactly a believer in God. God as an individual personality made as little sense to me as Mediterranean mythology with a Jew attached. But neither was I an atheist in any meaningful sense of the word.

In fact my own profession of atheism more closely resembled the stories I saw Christians tell themselves to tame, rationalize, and ultimately, diminish, transcendent, ineffable Truth, the presence of which was so undeniable, so intimate, that one could almost taste it if only one were to  pause for a moment to do so. Atheism was my own not quite credible personal mythology that I used to tame and manage and diminish the present Presence. And so I ceased professing to be an atheist and, in emulation of my friends, became a seeker.

My friends had known "who I was" when they met me. Perhaps it was some illusion surrounding that, or perhaps it was the beginnings of the effect which they were having in me. But they had (very much mistakenly) begun to attribute to me virtues like "wisdom".

I of course took an immediate, outsized, pride in my putative wisdom. And it was that pride that set me up for the turning point I described some time ago in another post, More About Being Hard Core. At that time I obscured some things about myself and glossed over some of the details. So, here is what I wrote then, with added details:

At the time I was a middlish fish in a mediumish pond, famous in the region I lived in and showing some potential in a field where, if successful, I would gain significantly more fame. And in the circles I moved in, I had a reputation for being “wise". I was excruciatingly in love with my fame, and very impressed with my “wisdom”. I believed, somewhat correctly, that my fame and my wisdom came from my spirituality.
I wasn't oblivious to the connection between a drastic turnaround in my life and the moment at the window. I couldn't be. Neither was anyone else unaware of something happening who knew me at that time, though I told very few people what that mysterious event was that had made the difference. Of course, now that I was openly spiritual, even that could be reason for a little more ego.
I was so impressed with myself that when a friend of a friend approached me, I spent the afternoon more or less talking about myself (not always overtly, but there are many indirect ways to insure a conversation revolves around oneself).
My romantic involvement with one of the women from this circle of friends had just ended when one of the women at the periphery of my circle approached me (I still feel some obligation for vagueness here as the woman who approached me was at the time also a good sized fish in a different pond, and for all I know she still is as I don't keep up with the goings-on in that pond).

If it were possible to break up more often than one actually had romantic involvements, that would have been me at the time. I didn't like rejection, but it wasn't a new thing for me. Still, it seemed, in my twisted take on things, that "wise" people were "humble" people, and "humble" people had to put up a big show around their failings, just so everyone knew they were "humble". And so I did. I talked about the breakup at every opportunity, so that the world might know how very "wise" I was. When this woman approached me, I just kept on rolling with my Proof of Wisdom train wrec Show.
Finally, when the individual had to leave, they mentioned that they were in the midst of a serious crisis, and I realized that that had been the reason this person had approached me.
 She was depressed. She was talking about self destructive acts. And I, with my Proof Of Wisdom Show, was an ass.

I certainly could have excused my behavior with “the person should have spoken up sooner”. A few years before, probably I would have. But over time, what would once have been tolerable ceases to be tolerable, if one takes spirituality seriously.

What i had done was so obviously awful in fact I couldn't make up excuses for it. I couldn't even wrap my mind around it at first. I was stunned.

A few hours later, though, the shock wore off, and I could see what now lie exposed, like gangrene uncovered when a bandage had been removed.

And later that day, as I was brushing my teeth, I got a look at myself in the mirror. I saw the puffed up ego, full of pride, that had just made itself useless to a suffering human being that had been looking for a little hope. If I had had the capacity to listen, the individual would have been able to speak, but my head was so full of praise for myself I was incapable of listening. I was an asshole....
Had it been possible for me to instantly plummet to the building’s basement and bury myself there, face down in the dirt below the foundation, I would still not have been as low as I felt in that moment. As it was I knelt down on the spot, in an almost equally appropriate position, next to the toilet (I generally do not kneel, but sit at a desk, when I do spiritual things, but given that I felt like a sinner, I think my Catholic education kicked in).
That, and "prostrating myself in front of a toilet" was much more expressive of how I felt at that moment than was standing upright.
I prayed to the Ultimate to do whatever it took, that I wanted to be free of the horrible person in the mirror, and I prayed as hard as I ever had. I meant every word of it. I wanted to change, and I wanted whatever it took to do it.
Prayer was always awkward for me, as I didn't (and still don't) believe in a being with individuality that, though omniscient, needed to be told what to do. In that moment, though, it just didn't matter. I had seen a monster in the mirror, and I cried out.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Turning Points: Failure

To understand this you'll probably want to read the first installment

When I began to write this section of the series, I wrote it as a simple chronology of events. But to tell what happened doesn't say what actually happened.

What actually happened was desperation, and fear. What happened was frustration and frenzy. What happened was loss disguised as a little bit of public attention and a small bite of power. I spent the next few years feeling as if I were fake, and I concluded this period by becoming an outright fraud.

I was desperate to feed the attention and power machine that I had become. What started as a shocking turnaround in my social fortunes at 14 became a full-on need for as much personal attention as I could muster. It wasn't enough that I was charismatic (one acquaintance half-seriously suggested an experiment: put me in a large box, wheel me around on a dolly, and see if people still stopped, turned around, and stared. He guessed that they would). No: I had to spend hours in front of the mirror every morning, fashioning ever more outlandish attire, so that no stare might ever be averted. I had to spend every waking hour mulling over the next publicity stunt-- all in a good cause, you see-- except I knew inside that my bottomless pit of loneliness was the real cause in question.

I really did believe in the ideas and values I espoused. I really did hope that I might do some good even as I substituted quantity of people and degree of influence over them for quality of relationships. But I knew how very far my persona, both in public and in private, deviated from who I was and why I did things. And I felt fake.

Fueling the drive for attention also was that it seemed I could no longer succeed at anything else (and I was obsessively ambitious even while pretending not to be). After two years of hiatus, during which it had seemed I could accomplish anything I wished, my waking nightmare and nemesis was back.

I called this nightmare Dark Thing. I had named it as a child when I had no more creative language. It had a sound: a deep, bone shaking sound in one's mind as chilling as any Siren's call. It had a size -- large, usually several feet taller than myself, reaching to whatever the height of the ceiling. It had a color (if things not seen with eyes can be said to have a color) -- not mere optical black, but the very color of annihilation. It had an effect: to shut down cold whatever l I had been thinking at the time of its arrival, not just at that moment but for days and weeks afterwards, as if it were a giant Novocaine shot to the brain. And it was Terror, as near to the absolute quality of terror as anything could be.

It had a modus operandi, too. From a very young age I liked to play with ideas, to follow the threads of reasoning as deep to their roots as I could, push out the limits of an idea as far as I might, and follow the tangly web, the grand patterns, of thought as it linked and merged and wove among other thoughts and ideas. That's why I loved the sciences: there were so many broad, deep, and interconnected patterns to play with. It wasn't just science though. The act of writing generated a mental playground within which I could romp. So did painting. So did reading, on nearly any topic.

Dark Thing always struck when I was at play with ideas. Moreover, it always struck at the point when ideas were flowing the easiest and patterns of connections were tumbling out. One moment, I was as happy as I could be, surrounded by connections, and the next, I was blindsided by Terror.

It was impossible for me to apply myself to thought after Dark Thing returned. My mind was too numb even to think about things, like chess, that had never generated the cascade of ideas from which Dark Thing emerged. If I wasn't directly impacted by Dark Thing, I was terrified that I would be impacted by Dark Thing. I had mapped out over the years a kind of mental minefield, where to stray would certainly bring about Terror (I called such thoughts "Forbidden Thoughts"), but there was much I hadn't mapped, and, I suspected, new mines were being planted every day. It isn't possible to be a physics and mathematics major -- at least not a very good one -- when vast swaths of one's chosen field were flagged and cordoned off as unsafe.

There was never a question of defying Dark Thing and pushing onward. It could not be done. My mind shut down tight. Even if someday it didn't, I was certain that beyond Dark Thing lie death itself, or maybe even something worse than death, some kind of utter annihilation.

But I could apply myself with little difficulty to winning a little bit of fame, and using what influence I had to wield a small amount of power. I rationalized my new interest, in promoting me, as an interest in furthering assorted noble political goals. The catch is that accreting a following and wielding those followers to noble political ends was not especially good at producing noble results. Mostly it produced complicated situations where no side was the side of right, and where I was as apt as anything to find myself, after a few convolutions, fighting for the exact opposite of what I believed in.

But I persisted with the tumult for lack of any other functional plan, until I couldn't. Then, upon diagnosing my problem as that which happens when needy ambitious egomaniacal fucks try to accrete and wield political power (and since I had no prospects that did not involve me being the needy ambitious egomaniacal fuck that I was), I decided to take my act to the one industry where needy ambitious egomaniacal fucks were the norm: music. I could, I thought, be as charismatic and attention seeking as I could bear, and the worst that I could do with a following would be to boost sales.

This scheme failed as well, when I came to realize that the violence that seemed to follow our band around (it was an early punk band) had everything to do with the violent imagery we drew upon and that I wrote into our music. Evidently I could be plenty destructive as a needy egomaniacal ambitious fuck atop a stage. People were getting hurt. And I was at fault.

Maybe the destructive effect came about through my personal charisma, I reasoned. Maybe I needed to take up an activity where people wouldn't actually see me very often. So, one morning, I put a sheet of paper between the rollers of my typewriter, and began my career as a writer of political theory.

My writing career lasted about a dozen keystrokes.

My first book, I had imagined, would be on the intimate relationship between hierarchy, freedom, and the very words we have to describe relationships among people. It had long been obvious to me from my trace-the-ideas sessions that to a great extent what was politically "possible" was merely that which was linguistically easy (by way of simple illustration I believed Russia's willingness to experiment (badly) with state socialism was in part the consequence of how possession is expressed in the language. The construction for possession, У меня, is, literally, "by me". Only context can tell you if the man standing next to a factory is discussing his proximity to the building, or claiming ownership of it). Furthermore the politically possible was, I thought, wound up even in our popular choices regarding logic itself (logic, or more generally how we know what we know, is a much more complex question than the average person understands it to be).

I had to think these ideas through, of course, before putting them on paper. And as I started to do so I began to see a horrible pattern. My failures as a leader were not merely the product of my glaring personality flaws. They weren't even the consequences of flaws in my political theories (though flawed they were). Those attributes that I least liked in the political world, that I least liked in myself, and more, were an inevitable consequence of the the very stuff of language and logic. The problem lie at a stratum of thought just below language. And so long as it remained, unchallenged and unchallengeable, in the stuff from which symbolic thought emerges, ideas would fail. Make a theory of freedom and follow it, and eventually it would tell you that you needed to advance its cause through dictatorship. Make a theory of peace among people, and it would guide you to bomb in its name. Make a theory of kindness towards animals, and surely someday those ideas would instruct you how many puppies and kittens to dropkick, and when.

I could see the glimmer of a solution to this fundamental failure of the intellect. It involved peering below the substratum of symbolic thought, at a still deeper level (one notch over is generally speaking where such resolutions, if extant, lie). And so I started again to trace things, this time deeper into the silent world beyond words, the world of the high pitched whine of one's brain, the whoosh of one's breathing... and then, a sound. I recoiled and put as much distance as I could between my previous line of thought.

The answer to how not to be so damned destructive was a Forbidden Thought. I was well and truly trapped.

I had no idea what to do with myself. I worked at a computer job or two, joined a none-too-dedicated folk band for a while, and otherwise drifted aimlessly for a few months until the interview.

It must have been a slow news day at the Rocky Mountain News. I got a phone call from a reporter who wanted to do a story on me. If I had any degree of self-restraint, I would have admitted that I was lost and had nothing of value to say to him or his readership. But while I was undoubtedly lost, I remained a needy ambitious egomaniacal fuck, and so I consented to the interview. I recited my usual lines to him, even as I thought to myself "this is all garbage and I know it". And he published it.

I was no longer a needy ambitious egomaniacal fuck. I was a lying needy ambitious egomaniacal, knowingly fake and knowingly destructive, fuck. I couldn't keep myself from perpetrating this flagrant fraud as far as opportunity allowed.

I had to physically remove myself from the opportunity. It was time to run.

Part 3 is now available, and you can read it here

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Rainbows and Unicorns in Jail

Readers of this blog already know I don't like much of what goes on under the rubric of New Age because it lacks seriousness and discipline. I also don't like the bulk of it because, even as it grants the most fantastical and unreal ideas a place of honor and credibility, it suffocates the human spirit in jails built of its own lack of imagination.

I'm thinking in particular of the "Mayan elders" and the "13 crystal skulls" my New Age friends are excited about. Aside from the easily proven facts that the people involved are not Mayan elders, the crystal skulls were carved with modern jewelry tools, and authentic Mayans would have no use for Western numerology (yes, that's a big aside, but I'm willing for the sake of argument to suspend my judgement)--- aside from everything about this that just isn't true, the event and the stories told of it are so very confining.

The most spiritual time is now -- regardless of whether "now" for you is a few minutes after I post this article on 11/11/11, or five years from now, or whether you're examining this blog as part of the archaeological record 20,000 years from when I've written this. It's any now that you have, with or without any putative elders of any sort doing anything at all. It's now,  no matter what numbers or letters have been assigned to this now by calendar makers and timekeepers (as someone whose desk once sat exactly one floor above NBS-6, I can assure doubters that the world's timekeepers are largely atheists and agnostics, not prophets).

The purest, most powerful "crystal" is the structure of reality itself. The only skull that need be involved in its perception is the one housing one's own mind. To attribute to age, status, ethnicity, time, number, object, or any other externality any attribute of necessity or importance is to turn away from the extraordinary freedom of right here, right now -- anywhere, anynow -- in one's own awareness. It is to imprison oneself in status and stuff, none of which has any good claim to spirituality.

There is sometimes a usefulness for spiritual tools and rituals. The usefulness of tools is as a treatment for spiritual ADD -- the tendency for humanity to go stare at the latest spectacle or wander off in search of a trinket, or to become wrapped up in the pains and limitations of human flesh. As I type this I have been fingering a miniature string of prayer beads, counting off prayers in lieu of, say, going off on a wikiwalk or getting lost in You Tube. Good tools properly used point to the crystal of Truth one can discover with one's own skull. They point emphatically to Now! They point to Divinity! Right here! Nearer than your occipital plate! Closer than your sinus cavities! They never, ever, point to themselves.

They have no intrinsic value (aside from aesthetic and financial considerations), and no special properties (unlike the magical qualities attributed to "Mayan" crystal skulls), because the magic of Truth is expressed in all being, even, as Chuang Tzu put it, "in the piss and dung". They need not be dug out of the wreckage of a civilization superior to our own (as it is alleged was the case of the crystal skulls) because Truth is not bound by the doings of any civilization. Carrying them across the country or even across the galaxy would not create any greater effect than, say, tossing them in the trash, because while tools may be carried about and thrown away, Truth is unmovable and impossible to get rid of.

The New Age movement is looking to superior beings, powerful objects, special locations, and magical dates and times, any or all of which are expected to usher in a future sacred time (i.e., not the time of now, but some other time). It's easy to document and criticize the sheer fraud behind much of that status and stuff, and that's where most of the criticism of New Age thinking begins and ends. But the real tragedy is not the money lost to fake gurus and overpriced rocks. It isn't even the deaths that have been caused by gurus who promise miracles and rainbows and unicorns for a fee. It's the spiritual opportunity lost when people imagine a spirituality so brutally confined by externalities of every sort. It's all those rainbows and unicorns in jail.

If there is any message I wish to give to my New Age friends, it's a message of freedom. I'd invite them to breathe in this liberty and know they need neither the dispensation of a superior race, nor the advantage of a sufficiently aged soul, to know -- not know about, not feel emotions about, but know -- Spirit.  I'd invite them to know that now, not some future age, is sacred time, and right here, is sacred ground and sacred space; that even the spit of their mouth and the content of their bladder has power equal or greater than all the power they've ever imputed to the crystals of Atlantis and Lemuria.  I'd invite them to unburden themselves, of the clutter of belief in special spiritual stuff, and of the clutter of supposed spiritualities, like "The Secret", which revolve around stuff. I'd invite them to free themselves from the mental clutter of having to find credible the incredulous simply because someone claiming special status said the incredulous was credible.

I'd invite them to throw away everything, in fact, as is their birthright as a free being.

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