"And the freedom
Scatter your fog."
-The I-Ching, Hexagram 29, K'an (The Abyss)
"We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people."
There was pain before I was fully conscious, it seemed to settle in the middle of my skull and then travel around from front to back. I didn't want to open my eyes, I squinted over at the alarm clock and saw that it was 9 o'clock on the dot. I still had 15 minutes before it went off, that grating sound would shake and rattle me like it always did, the steady screech reverberating down to my bones. I hated that sound even when I heard it in movies or on TV, it always made me wince. My biological clock had actually calibrated itself at one time to wake up 5, 10 minutes, sometimes even as much as a half-hour, before it was set to go off. I remember closing my eyes and falling back to sleep, I told myself I'd just rest them, pull the blanket up around my neck and nestle my face in the pillow for a few facile minutes more of lazy comfort. It never really works out like that.
And then, like in the opening lines of Thomas Pychon's 1973 novel Gravity's Rainbow, a screaming came across the sky of my dreaming mind. That insular, ceilinged place behind my closed eye lids, deep inside of my skull. Which is exactly where the ache was coming from, the ache that I was now aware of again that the alarm clock had woken me back up from a light sleep and I'd slapped it off. I curled in my blankets and opened my eyes, a bit wider this time, glancing at the hands of the mock Dali melting clock hanging off of my bookshelf. The distorted, elongating numerals read that it was just past 9:15. I started negotiations with myself, trying to bargain in increments with my very logical sense of responsibility and my basic animal need for more REM sleep.
I could lay there a bit longer, not sleeping, but dozing, half-conscious, as long as I didn't pass out. I'd still have plenty of time to get changed, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, and get gas and pump my tires before work. That's what I needed to take care of, which wouldn't have been a problem at all if I'd just gone to sleep straight away after getting home from Colorado at close to 9, this time in the PM, the previous night. Instead I found myself filled with a weird new energy after having come down from the mountain, and I stayed up well past midnight, listening to classical piano music and David Bowie, cleaning my room and doing the long delayed job of decorating it. Something I'd been meaning to do, but kept procrastinating since we'd moved into the new apartment in late May.
I did a pretty good job of cultivating it into a new nest, putting my paintings and paintings of my friends, given to me as gifts, up on the walls along with some pen-and-ink prints—one of a palmistry diagram and the other of the Hindu deity, Krishna. Now that I'm sitting here, writing and listening to music, I find that it's the most comfortable work space I've had since I still lived with my parents and did all of my writing in the den at their house. Somehow in the move I lost all of my old band posters. Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, I was conflicted because didn't want my walls to be covered in posters again, I wanted something a little bit nicer, a bit classier. Then I remembered the framed Basquiat print that hung above my bed all throughout High School, and I decided I'd surround myself with things that I loved. I'll get prints of Dali, Picasso, Ernst, and Chagall, maybe a few Basquiats, De Koonings, a Van Gogh, a Cezanne, and have them framed and hung on my walls. That would mesh much better with my now matching furniture, a total coincidence occurring in items given to me in the course of a few years, my black globe with the dream-catcher haphazardly tossed over it, the net landing purely by chance over North America, and my Buddhist prayer flags, multi-colored and rustling with the turns of the fan, strung from an uppermost corner to the wall above my dresser.
My eyes peered out and rolled around at the room, at my new space, my new nest, as I struggled with my own exhaustion and the pain in my head. I'd slept 7 hours, but it hadn't been enough, I'm not sure 8 or 9 would've been either. What I had was a high-elevation hangover, the effects of waking up after 5 days of hiking, mountain biking, and walking everywhere at an elevation of 8,750 ft in Telluride, Colorado. The weird thing was that, physical discomfort aside, I actually felt great. I spent about 15 minutes negotiating, dozing, fading in and out from that partially conscious daze of pre-dreaming, where images strike vividly towards the eyes from the occipital lobe of the brain, attempting to crack the surface of awareness with repeated strikes, but remaining in the limbo of mind's eye. When I finally slipped out of bed, I realized that I felt about 10 pounds lighter from all of the activity in the mountains.
It had been one of those trips, a stretch of no more than 5 days, where I felt like I'd acquired 5 months worth of knowledge. When I think back to the beginning of the trip, it seems so distant, so long ago. And now, coming to awareness, with this ache in my head, I felt like a completely new person. Like the pain, and the sort of tired listlessness that accompanied it, were a kind of cocoon that I was inside of for this day, the first day back. I'd emerge from it at sundown, after I was done with all of my chores and responsibilities, after I'd finished another day of work, my first day back in what deceptively felt like forever, and after my mind was done processing and putting itself back together from within the tightly wrapped confines of the ache. At the end of the day, after I worked in a haze, a strangely chipper haze in which the hours flew by and I was very sociable and upbeat, I sat in my new nest and wrote and wrote and wrote to my favorite music.
The pain subsided and consciousness cracked through it's shell in a renewed outpouring, like the gentle light that bled through the blinds over my window when I woke up that morning. I can't really even describe what happened, or point to a single event that served as the turning point. My best theory is that I reached some sort of critical mass, that I'd gone along shattering and creating different illusions in my mind for as long as I possibly could. The kind of thing we all do, our defenses, our goals and aims, our wants and desires, building them up and breaking them down. Rising and falling, build-up and collapse. I'd gone through this many, many times, darting back and fourth in my life, steady on the surface but frantic inside. I'd jumped forward and backpedaled, forward and back. A sense of restlessness driving me everywhere, while a tension inside tightened and compressed my ability to do anything with all of my nervous energy. I remember going over in my head again and again that I must've taken some kind of wrong turn in life. That I was far gone, that my potential was waning and my value depreciating rapidly. That whatever tact and maneuverability that was available to everyone else, to succeed, to thrive, had completely bypassed me. But at the same time thinking that there's nowhere else I'd rather be in life right now than exactly where I am, that all of the decisions that I've made have led me right here and I couldn't imagine changing any of them.
Finally everything burst, every comparison I've ever made between myself and another person, every lie I've ever told myself about my own worthlessness and ugliness, every false ambition, every fear, every anxiety, and scattered in every direction. And what remained was myself, something inside that served as the real motivation. It wasn't a member of the opposite sex or the promise of money or admiration, it was an internal compass, a center. And with that, everything is so much easier. The negative thoughts that would bubble up and cripple me for a few hours, a few days, seemed to have vanished utterly. The motivation is myself, my own way of doing things, my own sense of purpose. You know what you want, you know what's right and true, so do it. There are these periods in life where we feel completely lost, like there's no momentum behind anything, like it's not going to move an inch. In those times you should put all of your energy into building yourself as much as you possibly can, choose something important to you, something beneficial and just do it. Improve, strive. Surround yourself with things that you love and that energize you, find the charge that will blow apart all of your painful illusions.
I could tell you who I'm reading right now, I could tell you what music I'm listening to. But I don't think I'll do that this time. I don't think I'll subject you to another of these stiff little lists of my influences, hashed and rehashed. What I will do is tell you that I have a renewed interest in talking and writing about us, this generation, my people. The broken people, the fragmented people. Subjected through information and technology to thousands of contradicting ideas and narratives, no main thread of consensus, no guiding principle or system of values. So many options and yet so few, left crippled in indecision by information and stimulation overload. Hung out on a limb by previous generations whose incentives were things; economic stability, financial comfort, jobs, college. Things which are in shorter and shorter supply, and are of less apparent intrinsic value. Everything is chaos now, fact is fiction, fiction is fact, the overwhelming urge is toward peace and understanding but what's manifesting in the world is destruction and ignorance. More and more people are suffering from depression, anxiety, and mental illness, as they struggle to articulate themselves socially, intellectually, and emotionally in an increasingly confusing and disorientating environment. I've decided I'll try and do something to address this. This terminally paralyzed and frantic generation, of which I am very much apart. The aspiring artists and entrepreneurs who've spent the first quarters and thirds of their lives reading book after book about their craft and trade, trying to learn how to live through the buffers of instruction manuals, without having taken a single step. The children of online self-help and routine inspiration—Echo and Narcissus made one.
In Colorado, just a few days ago, after Telluride, in Montrose, I sat at the counter in a kitchen and consulted the I-Ching. An ancient Taoist fortune telling text, one of the oldest of it's kind. It's been a curiosity of mine ever since I was a teenager and I'd read that Philip K Dick consulted it while he was writing The Man in the High Castle. Apparently he consulted it whenever he got stuck to decide how to advance the plot along. The book makes use of the 8 Taoist elements, each made up of three lines, Yin and Yang lines respectively, which express themselves as combinations of 2 in 64 hexagrams describing different states of energy. You build a hexagram from the bottom up by casting 3 coins a total of 6 times and adding their values, heads is 3, tails 2, and determining whether they are Old Yin, Young Ying, Old Yang, or Young Yang. Old lines change, young ones do not. If your hexagram is made up of all young lines, like mine was, you are left only with the present position, if they change you are given another hexagram which represents the future.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing to me about the I-Ching is how it operates like a computer in rudiment, utilizing an algorithm which allows for changes in variables introduced by way of user-based interface. Of course if you read far enough into any tool of divination used over the centuries, they all operate according to some kind of mathematical logic which could be described in broad strokes as operating in the same way. But as far as I know, none of them are so mathematical as the I-Ching, the way in which the elements scramble themselves and join into unique patterns in interlocking variables. I'd even heard that Philip Glass recorded an album in which the musical composition was patterned after consultations with the I-Ching.
The book is ever alluring, in it's elegant complexity. Terence McKenna described it, in perhaps my favorite characterization so far, as a periodic table of elements which describe the fractal phases of time. That is to say, if time is not cyclical but fractal, which exists on a good possibility because near everything in the universe as far as we can tell is, then the I-Ching represents a periodic table of elements, not of chemicals or matter, but time itself. The Book of Changes—time, energy, life. Fascinating. He described it as such in a lecture of his concerning James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, which through psychedelia and altered states of consciousness he made more sense out of than Joseph Campbell or Anthony Burgess combined. This is just my opinion though. Even if you're not taken with the heady cosmic or fortune telling angles of the book, there still exists within it's pages an apt table of elements. 64 hexagrams describing 64 different phases of energy that our lives pass through between death and birth—though those are described too. And each hexagram is matched with Taoist poems, describing the situation and imparting simple but resonate wisdom. One could consult it for mere wisdom or guidance in the very same way one would the Tao Te Ching, the central book of Taoist philosophy containing the sayings of Laozi. Simply turn to the page of the hexagram which best describes your present predicament, the thing you need help or guidance with, and read.
For example, I found mine particularly helpful, even more so after coming back to Phoenix from my vacation and having to deal with life. Going up to Colorado had offered me a reprieve, a moment to really pause and catch my breath, and then to reflect on things. At first I felt extremely relieved and then I felt much more centered and balanced. My question to the I-Ching, after living through cycles of behavior of build-up and breakdown, anxiety, depression, and sometimes even anger, was "How do I best maintain my center in day-to-day life?". And being a creature of ritual, and one whose generally enjoyed weirdness in all it's forms, I focused myself and cast the coins 6 times. Building the hexagram from the bottom up, assuming that the seemingly random variables of 6's, 7's, 8's, and 9's, were the whims of the universe. Finally I was left with K'an, unchanging, the element of water over water, rushing tumultuously into deep unfathomable depths. K'an is the 29th hexagram in the I-Ching, and it is also known as the Abyss.
So how, you might ask, does something that sounds so foreboding and Lovecraftean contain anything approaching an encouraging message for me? Well, it's simple. First of all, it would be deeply mistaken to see any of the hexagrams as being intrinsically negative. There is after all something to be learned from everything. The Abyss is essentially a restless and uncomfortable time, a time in which something has thrown you into turmoil, like a rag-doll swirling through rushing waters. The waters seem to stretch endless all around you, the pit bottomless beneath you. Water over water. However you can use this time to your advantage, you can learn a great deal about yourself and the world through it. You just have to be willing to dive into the Abyss itself, you have to embrace the situation and reconcile yourself with it. And if you go into it's depths without fear, you have the opportunity to recover an integral part of yourself from it. Use this time to go deep inside and build from the center. Whatever else is not essential, whatever else you're holding onto, will be whisked away in the rushing water. I cast this hexagram the morning before heading back and it was like the last piece in a puzzle I'd been putting together over the course of my stay. As if I'd had all of the necessary information and this one last thing brought it all into focus and made sense of it. The name put to a face, which I'd been tracing the contours of during my stay.
The first day back everything was sort of fuzzy, as I worked and struggled to stay awake. My headache had gone dull in the last few hours of my shift at the bookstore, not any less painful but I'd simply grown used to it being there. And I stood at the front information desk, watching people coming and going as I quietly sipped my coffee. Around that time I noticed that the event in the back had begun clearing out, it was a Tibetan Buddhist monk, an acquaintance of the Dalai Lama, who was doing a speaking tour for his book which advocated meditation for self-healing. In his book he claimed that he had healed himself of a near mortal injury through meditation, in effect saving his outward, physical life by going deep within his interior world. As the crowd was clearing I saw a man approaching, he smiled and thanked me, he was the monk's handler. And behind him was the monk himself, dressed in his traditional red and yellow robes, in spite of the 100-plus degree desert heat outside. As the monk passed he acknowledged me, just as he had everyone else in the store, every person who he crossed paths with, and he waved at me with a warm, genuine smile.
And somewhere deep in the back of my head, deep inside of the ache, wrapped like a cocoon of physical pain, there came the slightest tingling, like a buzz in my brain stem. A man who had literally transformed himself through his meditations, like the fluttering of a pair of butterfly wings from out of a dark silence, a sudden symphony from out of pregnant pause. From the abyss of the mind, a deep dark place, swirling with anxieties and negative thoughts, delusions, depressions, there bursts a sudden wellspring of inspiration. All of this may very well mean nothing, it may be a series of total coincidences completely subject to individual perspective and interpretation. But my life has always seemed to pivot on a strong heel of coincidence, a lot of ours probably seem too, I'm not particularly special in that. But perhaps with the right outlook even a seemingly random string of events can have cosmic meaning, which we can use to literally and figuratively transform ourselves if we are only willing to listen.
This is what art is in essence, isn't it? In all of it's forms. An organizing of the external world in a framework that inspires a feeling of beauty or awe, a movement of seeming truth or narrative running through an existential fog of otherwise disarray and confusion. Making sense of things. It's only appropriate that I would use my perspective to make a piece of art out of my own life. In any event, the headache finally subsided and when it did I felt completely new. In the past I've started up and winded down, I was never particularly consistent in anything, it was like that over and over again. Well, suffice to say, you can expect to be hearing a lot more from me now. I couldn't stop writing if I wanted to.