Designs on emptiness • 17 July 2010

Yesterday morning, taking a cup for tea, I’m standing by recycle bins where the old-man-ghost floats at night. It’s warm and still, windows open to natural light and a little breeze.

And I’m playing the kitchen sink transcendence game: leaning on the meaning of life like a stuck baddha konasana, until it goes crack and cavitates down, squishing the immanent and the transcendent right into one long quivering moment. Yesssss…….

There I am adjusting reality when the 30-year-old toaster goes buZZZZZZzzz–pop, the stereo ticks on-off-on-off, and the kettle I haven’t yet touched spikes straight to boiling. I run to the living room, hair standing on end, skin trilling like hummingbird flesh. All the furniture is charged to the touch, maybe because of the water molecules fritzing out in my fingertips.

At eight in the evening, the Editor and I come home from campus and I lie out on the sofa for email-relaxation. A moment before in the yard, it was just another summer night in the Endor village – neighbors creaking in hammocks, fireflies ready to helicopter the flower gardens, plants and mist emanating a slightly otherworldly atmosphere. Then he points out the window and says, “What the hell?” The outside has turned dark orange. “We have to go!” Out in the street, everything is orange and frozen still, there is a rainbow, and at the same time it’s lightly raining. It’s not even planet Earth out there, for a few minutes… then the sky goes back to blue.

Then last night I dreamed that my ida and my pingala decided to make body-doubles. Nestled against each other all over me and twirled together on the double helix of the spine, they are nothing without each other. But in the dream they faced off and showed the right side of my face a sharper and older personality than the left, the left ACL more vulnerable, the right hand more dextrous, the left sacrum-foot always drifting portside on its own. Ida split off and copied itself, so that it could be all ida; and pingala did the same thing. I am not making this up.

Then the two of me turned to my dream and said: We’ve forgotten about Cormack McCarthy for awhile. There are too many butterflies and rainbows here. We need to dream Cormack’s dreams.

No really, I am not making this up. McCarthy is dimestore Elijah—screaming from some hilltop outside of town about how we’re all going to burn. Except Elijah didn’t get his prophecies made in to Viggo Mortenson movies. Last night I saw the two terror images he’s dropped right in the back of my mind forever: humans as braying livestock, locked in a basement in some post-apocalypse future, then slaughtered (fresh, local and organic). And a founding myth even more horrible than the future: corpses skinned and hanging in Texas trees, a warning to new settlers by white men determined to own the West.

So, just for the night, the immanent-historical-ida and transcendent-futuristic-pingala tried out autonomy. They conspired to throw someone else’s nightmares into their breach and expected me not to mind. I minded. At least until I backed all the way out of spirit-space, through liminal half-wakefulness, and entirely in to rational-mind. When rational, I can somewhat decline to host the metanarrative template that is the backboard of all horror and myth.

But yeah. This kind of thing is always going on now; and I guess it’s why my experience here is so intense and interesting. Reality is acting indecisive: it can’t decide where to build its house. Is the foundation going to be made of material (the scientist MO)? Does the whole edifice depend on my mind-knowing (as Owl Whisperer would have it)? Is it all just sunstorms on the surface of Spirit? I don’t mind if it’s all of the above, but the channel keeps changing, and when it does I get these shocks to the system.

This is uncanniness, but nothing like the first round in which I OD’d on continental philosophy at a tender age, losing most of my religion and embracing the void conceptually—with belief and identity. That too was a relaxation process. Even if some days I felt like one of those disfigured old philosophers with their wall-eyes, tangled beards and syphlitic rages, usually at the time I felt liberated by uncertainty, emptiness, and impermanence (the existentialists’ way of talking about the the Buddha's three characteristics of experience – impermanence, non-satisfaction, no-self). Platonists and moral philosophers extol the “consolations of philosophy,” but the payoff for me was disenchantment and bliss, and after that a bit of release from the need to keep theorizing.

The past decade, I have become a sucker for strong method: now this is a comfort. Statistics, comparative-historical inquiry, ashtanga vinyasa, psychoanalysis. It’s clear that they are just cave paintings on the outside of emptiness. Statistics encircles chance and probability; ashtanga is the play of Samadhi; and psychoanalysis… I think of a game of ring-around-the-rosy with the grim reaper in the middle.

Anyway, the comfort is that method solves the immediate mini-problem of action. What do I do with the data? What do I do with my body? What do I do with my ego? But now the shiftyness of reality is physical and mundane: the groundlessness of being isn’t the solution to an analytical problem: it’s the condition of having a self, loving, using the toaster. No wonder all this imagery of ghosts and corpses, dreams that turn dark and leave me for dead. Repetition goes in to the microfears of death and uncertainty—accepted in the abstract but still alive in every refusal of endpoints and silences.

Here’s my sense of it, though I could still be chasing ghosts. Strong method has taken the groundlessness of being, deitalicized it, and is now threading it through my lived experience. Humdrum, humdrum, here we go again today. Losing the hard core of your religion is nice. It makes everything much easier, more honest, spontaneous, and dear. Just between us, I wonder if it’s like that, losing your reality.