Vortex and Vacuum • 31 August 2017

Feels like we’re in a vacuum. Of power. Of structure. What an open moment.

Glaciers and nation states going down. There is no strong vision-logic holding things together.

For August I went home to the west. I love the way my mind feels inside Cascadia’s interlinked lifeworlds, even now when funneled in a massive updraft of fire. BC, Washington, Oregon; and later Montana. It’s all burning. Sunset and moonrise are red. The fires have names like storms. Crews are working on containment; some of these forests will burn until it snows. At the same time, so much water is surging in the wrong places. Another Category 3 on the make, right now, in the mid-Atlantic.

This is a super dangerous, creative time. Between realities. Between toolboxes. I feel it on the level of countries, cultures, practice communities, families and my day-to-day being. Cognitive dissonance that slides into aporia, and then just empty-mind and wide open eyes.

But vacuums favor the canny mind. They’re non-normative. Creative as HELL. This is where big ideas come to life.

There’s a place offworld I call the vortex. It’s freaky, and it should not be talked about. But everything feels unusual just now, with the qualities of this vortex surging forth into more minds, egging on a cascading change of view. Even though it is or was wrong to talk about it, I’m going to throw some words over the vortex like a sheet over a ghost.

This cascade coming down could be beautiful or violent. The vortex doesn’t care which. It’s just an address in consciousness where everything is chaos and void. Simultaneously. Tohubohu. It was Shinzen, when I phoned him about it, who gave me the word, probably building from Descartes, who theorized the motion of the planets as “vortices” of spinning bits of matter.

The vortex is a real place. Inside, it sounds like the womb – that safe rocking chaos of white noise – noise that that evokes no images nor need to understand. You’re post-cognitive, floating in static. (It’s not pre-cognitive: primal, pre-differentiated blob consciousness is different from the vortex.) Visually, it’s like the space between old TV channels, if you were INSIDE the TV. The play of light on the backs of the eyelids feels like it’s happening in every cell of a body that has broken to bits. In every little light-sensitive mitochondrion. It’s like the Magic Mountain ride, but instead of hugging the edge of your roller coaster seat you get to draft up and down (simultaneously) as specks of conscious stardust. You can get on this ride at least three ways: by luck, a shit-ton of practice, or with a psychotic break.

The light-play aspect of the vortex is very Wind in the Door (Madame L’Engle in her obsession with mitochondria being waaaay out ahead of the bulletproof guy Dave Asprey, whose new book is on hacking the light in the cells). What the vortex feels like is teleporting: sometimes in an elevator or airplane the body pixellates, you know? And then you blink and put your feet down and you’re back in a world somewhere shifted.

I wonder if Descartes came up with his vortex theory of the planets because he had direct experience of the swirling column of consciousness (weirdly, the father of western rationality did base his reasoning in subjective, mystical experience.) For Shinzen, the power of the vortex is best described in Eliot’s Little Gidding, an epic written in a moment like our own. Ash covered Eliot’s world, as power sucked up and out of the polity like oxygen up a flue. His response to the earthly vacuum and the bombs was to give us a poetry of the vortex, one of the most meaningful scriptures I know. The “cleft” in consciousness, the “still point” between wave and undertow. The fire and the rose becoming one. Read from the right angle, the words take you inside the empty float between expansion and contraction. If you’re in the vortex, it’s because your self has been blown to smithereens. Great, but how you re-constitute is a crapshoot. Freedom’s tricky.

So the vortex is a room, somewhere in mansion of consciousness, and it’s a place the writer of Genesis, Descartes, Eliot, and lots and lots of other humans visit. The reason to point to this is that the movement of creative chaos in the vortex is what makes me feel the unscripted nature of our socio-political-environmental moment. There is this roaring, sucking updraft-downdraft behind everyday life now. It’s not the exact woo-woo vortex, but an almost physical vacuum. Destruction + mild anarchy + un-writtenness.

Anything can happen.

In the early 2000s, I’d sit on a cushon and sometimes see the vortex through a pinhole between my eyebrows. Last Saturday on Georgian Bay, Jeff Warren – brilliant and hilarious— described this to me as “tunneling to freedom.” Yes. Consciousness mining is a thing. That tingle it gives you is more than nerve endings electrified.

In 2010, I landed in Michigan and at almost the exact same time, fell far down in to this tunnel between the eyebrows. There was a column of chaotic void, with no end and no beginning. I’d sit on a cushion, straighten my back, stay a while. Then the column would open and consume me. It’s not something to understand, but to be understood by. Being known, it was better than sugar, better than viparita chakrasana, better than whatever else I was using to get my thrills at the time.

You just pixellate. Vaporize, even.

This how meditators depersonalize, have energetic crises, undergo psychotic breaks or otherwise go pathological. Great reason not to meditate. Psychotic break is real, and that’s where it goes down if you don’t have the ego strength, or luck, or teacher backup to find a rudder in the pixel storm. You can speak ill of the vortex, but it’s real. I don’t think it’s good or bad anymore than the airspace at 40,000 feet is neither good nor bad.

The point here is that without some stabilizing tools, a feel for the primal empty chaos is useless or even harmful in everyday life. The void is a bunch of nothingness and non-determinancy. Roiling spacetime. Strong discernment and ego boundaries can turn it from a mind-scramble into a source of ideas and freedom. I’ve had extremely good guidance and extremely sound methodologies for practice; probably I’d be terrified by the vortex without those supports. Even with those supports, the worldly vacuum of power and logic that’s upon us does scare me. I have to remind myself that this new chaos, too, can be navigated. C

With every new disaster in the world, I feel us moving more deeply into this socio-political-economic-envorinmental vacuum, which itself feels like it is shaped by the wildness of the vortex. Fire, and water, and air are moving in extremely dramatic ways. Power works differently. History moves differently. My mind feels different.

I’m anchoring my awareness in beautiful kindred and super-clear minds, the above-mentioned and others. Thank good for good books at the right time. Adrienne Maree Brown’s, for example. In Emergent Strategy, she says to navigate the moving edge of creative activism with this question:

What is the most elegant next step?

What is the most elegant next thought, next opening, next understanding? There’s so much creative energy now, and urgency towards acting well and caring more deeply. Here are some new starts, flying up in my mind from out of the chaos-void. My journals from this month are bursting, so for tonight in the last hour of August I’ll just get some of the pixels on the page.

-This is the time for a few strong ideas. We’re so hungry psychically, epistemically.
-Yoga was made for these times. These times.
-Own your work and do not be owned by anything.
-Build a better bullshit filter.
-Interrogate spiritual repression.
-Do the hard things already.
-Cognitive dissonance can be a point of strength.
-Cults fill the void in uncertain times – so discernment has to strengthen too.
-Exorcism for a world without demons.
-How easy it is for a human mind to hold lies. Stories are false-true. How easily they narrow us down. Or take us down.
-In a power vacuum, language is a primary form of magic.
-Security is from community, for worse and for better.
-The company you keep is most key when chaos reigns
-Epistemological generosity: how many paradigms can one hold without going to pieces?

I don’t know what will take shape next. But combining ways-of-knowing, towards an unknown-emerging strong idea, is my most elegant next step. Or if not elegant, at least a little more free, to see – and move through – the chaotic empty aspects of this world.

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