On Madness • 8 December 2008

I wanted to keep myself sane in my practice. Like in Solaris, the Tarkovsky film, wherein a cosmonaut journeys far to a planet where something has gone very wrong among a crew of explorer-scientists. A mysterious presence, some animus in the planet’s living ocean, has driven them mad; and our new explorer must find the reason while himself withstanding the hallucinatory pulsing of that ocean.

I had seen the advanced windmill-tilter ashtangis, longtime in league with durvasa and the nataraj, lose their shit in a variety of ways. (How many not-crazy advanced practitioners do you know?) So I think that is what I was doing here all summer: charting a course through third series that would allow me to stay grounded and rational, capable of taking others’ perspectives, emotionally even keeled. I wanted a firm-enough reign on my unconscious that its contents would not populate my everyday experience unbidden, would not run rough-shod over my conversations in the ways that freak out the rationalists. (I love free-associators and intuitives, but post-rationalism doesn’t play in social science cocktail parties at all.) I also wanted to push back the veil into my shadow on my own time, rather than forcibly unifying the known and unknown only to have the latter take over the show like it has among the many egomaniac-libertine "gurus" of this world.

I did find a few techniques in my effort to keep it together. Little practices for counterbalancing the aggressive nature of this programme, for grounding myself in the midst of a growing dis-position toward wild-eyed, hypervata butterfly-sage. Envelope breathing, various embraces of earthen feminity, a focus on the roots in the feet and pelvis, self-cuddling. These are very good. I will write about them if others would find them useful. But they’re nothing more than sandbags against the tide of the Solaris sea.

What I’m seeing more clearly now is that practice creates personal insanities—there’s no  intensive practice disorder we can write up for the DSM. There is just a systematic removal of your defenses, a revealing of sharper parts of the personality and darker parts of the shadow. People who claim practice makes a person angry are mistaken: practice simply tends to remove barriers to the expression of buried anger. Same for terror, narcissism, vanity, whatever. Don’t tell people practice will make them feel a certain way: experience is specific.

On Solaris, what ultimately drives you mad is the way the universe reflects back to you your own desires. The planet knows your neuroses and projects them right into three dimensions.

I see now how it is Quixote upon Quixote to try to save myself via technique from the 3S Crazy. Serious crazy is in more or less in you, though perhaps the greater proportion of those who self-select into this practice do have copious serious crazy latent. Removing defenses isn’t necessarily a good idea: often, it is functional to leave them in place. In removing them, I feel it’s more urgent than ever that I care for my psyche as more of it comes in to view. I want to say that this is enough, but it seems like there is another small thing.

Solaris comes from Stanislaw Lem’s story about humankind’s two-sided inadequacy: both to understand the human heart and to understand the universe.

It seems something happens as you become very aware with the body. The physical does not always require full attention as you go on, so you learn to follow other trails of experience in the breath and the subtle body (&c.). As you do this, the subtle body techniques that never made sense physically start to yield new experiences. They’re still just techniques, but as the body itself becomes refined the techniques start to engage something… else. You almost don't have a choice about this happening, if you're advanced contorting every day with a refined, fluid exterior and the mind focused if not clear. My guess is that this is how people become not little-kuckoo crazy but instead go knocking on the door of the Universal-Kuckoo. I have no idea what it’s about. Do we need a modern wizard school where we can learn to integrate the mystical stuff back in to the constant stream of experience? Cervantes meets Tarkovsky and Philip K. Dick. It’s such camp, this third-eye-gazing, spinal-breathing, psychic mula-jalandhara connecting nonsense. And I guess that’s why it’s safe to have it out here, because it’s just pre-modern nintendo for people in caves with nothing to entertain themselves but the stringy little muscles in their underfed bellies. It’s not dangerous or esoteric so much as it’s useless. And then suddenly it might not be useless. Without Hogwarts or spaceships I don’t know how to keep it from turning me weird other than to normalize it, laugh with the experience. And ultimately, again and again, come back to relationship as the true ground of practice.

Here is the Doctor, now resident on Solaris and cautioning the arriviste savior-scientist:

Science? It's a fraud! No one will ever resolve this problem, neither genius, nor idiot! We [space explorers] have no ambition to conquer any cosmos. We just want to extend Earth up to the Cosmos's borders. We don't want any more worlds. Only a mirror to see our own in. We try so hard to make contact, but we're doomed to failure. We look ridiculous pursuing a goal we fear, and that we really don't need. Man needs man! [sic]