I’m sitting in stillness. Incense curls in the periphery, music, noises from the street. A mug of potent green tea. My tarot cards, bare on the table in their opaque stack. What kind of magic am I looking for? Say I cut the deck, like so, and turn over the top card: The Seven of Cups. Exactly what I was thinking. Because, what of it? What if I could slip from this dimension into another, if I could step into dream time, if I could construct immersive worlds and be anywhere and everywhere else than here? Would having this ability merely put me deeper to sleep? All the fanfare of the sensory realms, following every pleasure, transforming every pain, confronting fears, discourse with entities or godforms whose very cliches blow my mind with sparkling fresh clarities.
And what of the spiritual bypassing this card may represent? Beyond all this mere gratification of the senses, accomplishments of ego, that I am merely identifying with the thought of transcendence to avoid the disappointment of my impotence in achieving material pleasures. Is that the middle cup, shrouded and spiritual and glowy? Or the shadow appraising them all.
Is magic this ability to experience something special or is it a work of alchemy, knowing how to transmute whatever is at hand into something amazing until the point that whatever is at hand is amazing by itself. If so, and I think it may be, then I have work to do. With this transmutation stuff…
“Maybe all of these different possibilities exist at the same time, like each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different.”
― Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall
A whiff of rosemary to clear the mind. My coffee cup, like lifting a barbell, solid enough to serve as a makeshift weapon should zombies pour over the windowsill next to my desk. Music I’ve never heard flows from tabletop speakers, a compilation somebody made for “Sunday Afternoons” and the first track playing is from Pink Floyd’s album: Endless River.
It’s the third day of the new sleep schedule. Lights out at 11pm. Lights on: whenever. Ten to twelve hours so far, catching up from the trip, perhaps. Or sullen protest to the new regime. Slowly waking up to dream recall, but still missing many an opportunity to record due to laziness and their memories evaporate.
Recently beginning to appreciate the connection between things. Which, at first, I thought only applied to external reality. However, while trying to gain more lucidity in dreams, it appears one must gain more lucidity during the day as well. Dreams are part of the fabric of life. Conversely, I realize, the importance of dreaming more while awake. The conscious mind lives so superficially. A small boy on the corner with a dog. A conscious mind notices just that. Meanwhile, in a larger plane of awareness, which encompasses consciousness but not vice versa, there exists a fabric, rather than a thread, of perceptions. The sad look in the eyes of the dog, the holes in the sweater, the shy fingers poking through and playing with frayed fabric, the red mottled with Rorschach stains, the memories evoked unfold in wisps and strands of unnameable feeling fragments.
Another whiff of rosemary. An interval of quietude within and areas of body checking in. Not with problems or discomfort but with a pleasant fullness, relaxedness that usually comes with a good stretch. I am grateful for this and thankful. It will not always be so.
I didn’t invent this technique, but I’m beginning to understand its potential. Deep, profound relaxation is something I’d like to experience more often.
It’s sometimes hard for me to unwind, so I’ve experimented with a variety of methods: biofeedback, progressive relaxation, yoga nidra, binaurals, float tanks. Probably the most extreme relaxation can be experienced through opioids. They are a powerful introduction to what’s possible, like psychedelics to a rigid belief system, but like psychedelics they are not a sustainable path. Besides, the whole point of relaxing oneself is not to depend on external circumstances (like drugs, alcohol, vacations, quiet neighbors, etc.)
I’ve bottomed out with the “be aware of tension and relax it” approach. Whether I tensed and relaxed muscles or breathed into them, or visualized them melting like a snow cone in Phoenix, whatever, there was a limit to how much response I could get. Relaxed, but not profoundly so. Not ecstatically relaxed where sinking into the sensation was pure bliss. I didn’t have the right key to unlock some ancient and baseline residual tensions in the musculature. Until I remembered something I’d heard and filed away. I don’t know, maybe I tried it half-heartedly once and thought it was cool and promptly forgot about it.
During my last float tank visit, after relaxing as much as possible with the conscious mind cajoling and encouraging and focusing on “letting go”, body scans, etc., I remembered this old idea. I scanned the body again, this time not looking for tension but for some place that felt “pretty good”, better than the rest; it might be a big toe, but there is always somewhere in the body that’s a bit more relaxed and at peace than anywhere else. And when I found this spot, I let that energy flood and inform the rest of the body. I repeated this procedure for wave after wave. Not sure quite how to explain the method… kind of like a tuning fork, finding a vibration and using that pitch to entrain everything to the note, or like unfolding/unpacking a sensation to flood/radiate to the rest of the body, particularly up in the face and scalp area. And there will be one part of the body that learns the vibration and new facility exceptionally quickly and well, and that part is promoted to leader of the next wave. This resulted in a profound unbinding. Exactly what I was looking for. So until this one bottoms out (I suspect relaxation has no limits) I’m happily exploring this new level. Give it a spin sometime.
There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophies.
An old man at the restaurant keeps staring at me. Maybe in his late 80’s, early 90’s. Finally, I looked up and held his gaze, smiled and nodded hello. His eyes sparkled. Clear, vividly present, in a manner. He was slight of frame, his pants were too loose, working down a bit in his chair. He wore a soft flannel shirt and directed a stream of rolling mumbles towards me, animated. I caught something about “where are you from” and answered, “Colorado. How about yourself?”
He continued to talk in long rounded, subaudible mumbles, I could barely pick out a word or two. I scooted a little closer and tried to make conversation, asking him about his cane. It had an interesting grain. He was a bit hard of hearing too, so I repeated it louder. He started in on an exposition of its qualities, origin, utility…I think. I caught no words this time. But he seemed to enjoy talking to me, so I decided there was more than one way to have a conversation and smiled, giving him my full attention, just being there with him in the moment as company.
His companion, an older lady, but a decade or so younger than him, got up to pay and he got up to come over to our table, continuing the thread. As he got close to my chair, I apologized, confessing I was having trouble hearing him well due to the noise in the restaurant. His companion approached and helped him pull his pants up high, fixing his shirt. She too was hyper-aware, of his condition, of things going on around them and told me it’s not just that he’s hard to hear and mumbles but that he jumbles words as well. She was from Poland.
While she was explaining and he was talking I noticed he was very aware of Rumiko’s hat that she had hung on a corner of the empty chair he stood at, and was very careful not to bump it or disturb it. I wished them well as they left. Wondering what all he said, but feeling we had a nice conversation, of sorts.
Later, we wandered back home, through street stalls set up with curious wares for Easter. One with a lady from Syria, who looked like she had a lot on her mind, selling sweets and baklava. Another stall run by a happy fellow, not from Ecuador I think, maybe Peru, selling a variety of stones and crystals, little stuffed dolls of witches riding broomsticks and stirring cauldrons and crucifixes of Christ with the words I.N.R.I. engraved.
One booth had samples of coffee. As I sipped, I received a detailed explanation of the magical properties of this elixir. This time the problem wasn’t hearing, but my still rudimentary grasp of the language. It was organic, healthy, had amazing healing properties, you could make just adding hot water or milk, maybe a little sugar. But you needed a monkey. Or something like that. In any case, I dreamed I purchased 4 bags (they are kinda small) last night, so on the way to lunch today I need to make a stop.
With age, a certain rigidity often creeps upon us. A crossroads we meet somewhere in midlife —sometimes much earlier. We start either shutting down ways of seeing and doing things or we start relaxing into new experience and potential. We end up becoming everything figured out/we’ve paid our dues/get-off-our-lawn types or we begin lightening our accumulated baggage to reach something beyond our limited and conditioned selves. And let go of our self-inflicted suffering.
The Bamboo That Bends Is Stronger Than the Oak That Resists.
Regardless of our personal histories, whether flogged with hardship or kissed with fortune, some brace against the world like an oak in a windstorm, defending the turf of their hard-won self, and others flow like bamboo, bending in the wind, retaining only an essence of unshakable being.
If one would be the bamboo, rather then the oak, the two most important life skills to cultivate are:
The ability to fully experience negative and uncomfortable feelings without avoiding, denying or resisting their presence. Without feeling they need to be managed, contained or that they reflect anything in particular about self-worth or capacities. They come and they go.
The ability to keep a separation between identity and beliefs and ideas. What we believe or think is not who we are and doesn’t need to be defended when questioned, slighted or attacked.
Conversely, if we want to be an Oak, fighting for our turf and self-importance, then simply reverse the formula:
Suppress, ignore and avoid any unpleasant feelings with whatever works: alcohol, food, addictions, escape, faith, rationalizing, etc. Keep a lid on them. Deny even having them because admitting, much less experiencing them, is weakness/sin/disaster. Comfort is the highest good. Or revel in them, vent them on others and allow them to define us. Hang on to them and don’t let them go, use them to justify and martyr ourselves. Use them as a barometer of our value as a person and the worth of others.
Take anything anyone says about our beliefs or ideas personally, become offended if they believe differently. Be assured that those not sharing our perspectives on life the universe and everything (i.e. 42) are what’s wrong with the world today and make it our personal mission to fix ALL the things. Or at least, complain about the sheeple that don’t share our illumination and post memes on social media about their ignorance and lack of common sense.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
“When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present, and into the future. You probably did too; you just don’t recall it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.”
Friends and family are busy pursuing careers, preparing for careers, recovering from careers. Some battle vicissitudes of mind and body. Some caught up in travels, causes, or raising families. And some, all the above. I find myself in a singular position among my compadres it seems. A brief hiatus. Or waystation perhaps.
It’s like I’ve joined an academy or monastery on a distant continent. Where the tapestry of my day consists of meditation, exercise, fasts; an immersive study of artificial intelligence, the physics and aesthetics of sound and design of neoteric instruments. The study of foreign language, chess tactics, writing, magic, and art. And the pursuit of 100 designs (#7 currently) —trinkets and wares made to sell, or give away, from the back of a nomadic gypsy junk tacking in the winds and waves of digital seas.
This curriculum is punctuated, during the day, with walks down ancient streets of colonial architecture, laid upon indigenous pathways and cobblestone trails along sacred rivers. Casual lunches and sidewalk cafes. Night time breaks with wine and Netflix, reading on the couch or romantic dinners out.
When I was young, I used to dream of entering such eclectic schools of magic and science (long before Hogwarts.) Be careful what you wish for, you just might end up there.
When we start listening for an inner voice, we need ways to distinguish voices other than our own. But how many of us recognize our own thoughts? Just because a thought is in our head doesn’t mean it’s ours. We’d be much more difficult to manipulate if that were the case. When we try to observe closely though, thoughts seem to scurry away like frightened mice. Test this if you like. Close your eyes and just be aware of your thoughts. The first time, most of us will claim we have no thoughts. Our mind is a blank. This is not the case.
When we turn off the lights it takes our eyes a while to adjust. First, everything is black. Then we may begin to see rough shapes and outlines. After a while, we begin perceiving features of the room. The same with thoughts. Our gross awareness is not subtle enough to catch them at first. Maybe just their tails. But thoughts are there: boiling, rolling, seething in a tumult of dark assemblies.
One would think, after practicing meditation for years, this type of internal vigilance would be easy. Still, for me, it was surprisingly difficult. Although incredibly rewarding once I got the hang of it. Classic meditation teaches how to concentrate. On things like breath. Or to observe thoughts, but only deep enough to label them as thought and then let go. But this meditation, from hermetic yoga, examines thought’s very fabric to understand its essence. There’s no easy way to tell if the nature of thought is the same for everyone, but what follows is what I discovered about my own.
The first curious thing was that thoughts were only partially verbal, at best. A word, or phrase or concatenation and during the word, before or after it, were large sweeps of rotes1 comprising compressed meaning, kinesthetic hooks, sometimes flashes of imagery and a kind of spatial component. Often words and sentences did arise but it seemed their function was shepherding, to suggest thinking down a byway. In response, thoughts rolled after and tripped thoughts of their own in layers and fades and word fragments and the process was a jamboree. An array of body, feeling, short-hand ideas, memory, image and inflection.
This experiment was eye-opening in a few ways. Realizing I’m immersed in this while waking, truly a type of dream-time the Aborigines claim always exists as a second reality. A density of things happening that I just skim the surface of during the day. It seems all sorts of information is constantly streaming internally only to be passed through a tiny sieve of conscious interactions with the external world. That words have a curious, but largely non-linear effect on underlying thought. They function more like kindling. Sometimes, attending this way, I experienced extremely vivid flashes of imagery. A sea, a river. And discovered also that distinguishing inner voices from my own may be missing the point entirely. None of these thoughts may be mine.
In order to keep us obedient, meek and weak, the predators engaged themselves in a stupendous maneuver- stupendous, of course, from the point of view of a fighting strategist; a horrendous maneuver from the point of view of those who suffer it. They gave us their mind! Do you hear me? The predators give us their mind which becomes our mind. The predators’ mind is baroque, contradictory, morose, and filled with the fear of being discovered any minute now.
-The Active Side of Infinity by Carlos Castenada. For more on this.
The cure for sorcerers, according to Don Juan, was to develop their awareness. Most of us only have about a big toe’s worth. (His words, not mine.) The experiments continue…
A term created by Robert Monroe that means “Thought Balls”. R.O.T.E. stands for Related Organized Thought Energy which is transferred from one soul to another. Rotes are similar to something called a felt-sense and here’s a good essay on the technique. Which comes in handy in these excursions. ↩
how do ou heaer us? in a sense ou are letting us use your fingers, sometimes you see a little ahead on the raod a few words down, sometimes it’s all a big ball of yarn you unstring the more ways you learn to play here the more games we can teach you… you havea appointments left today with sundry bugs and cozy things with food for mind and body with spirits to drink and spirits to consider and spirits to appease and those to discover and if you know one thing you probably rthink that it’s worth knowing and we can take it and hide it and change it and make it something else, like a fairy child and you’ll never know it was swapped. But we don’t do that, do Tho maybe sometimes we should, for the fgreater good, but thank you for letting us have at least a part of our say, for this meeting place, for what we can do and create an discover together. Don’t give up on us, or ourself, this is your path. We leove you.