I am burning the paper trash that has accumulated in the fireplace. It warms the room for a few minutes and makes me feel cozy. It is cloudy out, dark storm clouds sworled about with lighter clouds with wind that is almost warm. Yellow-beige leaves blow at a slant to the ground, against the barn. It used to be an automotive garage. I’d love to turn it into a neighborhood bar and call it the barrage (a combination of barn, bar and garage). I wait to see drops on my window that will tell me it’s time to bring the dog in. I eat ramen soup with a half-pouch of flavor instead of the full pouch and some mixed veggies to make it seem healthier.
A sense of all the things I’ve told myself I should do fighting against the sense of all the things I actually want to do. What actually interests me. Take a breath and dip under the surface, swim for the sub-basement, no bubbles. I get incredibly violent in my dreams… I shuffle peacefully to the bathroom in the mornings though, and remember that I am going to die someday. I look at headlines and news stories and they push me into an uncomfortable, slightly itchy, bored zone. My fitful attention brings me to them over and over, then gets quietly angry that it’s here again.
Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I am my own attention. I’ve heard it called the ‘monkey mind’ (which I think is an insult to monkeys everywhere); the never-ending brainy search for information, fulfillment, ideas, gossip..
Zen, I suppose, wants you to supplant that search with more ‘here and now-ness’ which is fine. I used to want to be more here and now but I got bored. or busy. I think I grabbed some skills along the way though that help me out. Belonging more to the moment when you can is invaluable. I believe it helps you to see through the bullshit more clearly, to work on your own designs rather than fall into others.’ And to be clear, meditating or ‘being here now’ is not about creating a luminous, peaceful zone inside yourself. It is about noticing your environment as it creates itself, whatever the conditions are. Noticing, combined with sensitivity.
Now, living in the present is a good idea, but don’t worry yourself sick over it. There are other ways to live fully that are not down this path, and it’s good to forget about everything, be mindless, relaxed, let your mind wander. I don’t even think it’s healthy to try to ‘be here now’ all the time- especially if you’re not ready to, or if you approach it as another problem to overanalyze, to solve and get an A+ on. I worry that people who get too into trying to live a mindful lifestyle feel guilty about spending a whole day just vegging out. They forget that being abstract, being richly associative is also important, with insights that are just as valid as active meditation. I know I’ve had a good day when I’ve been able to sit and stare out the window, daydreaming to the point where my body begins to rock back and forth a little – like it’s gotten into a small rhythm of its own, matching my heart rhythm. When I have been swaying gently for ten minutes without even realizing it, lost in thought, I am again in love with life. Not lost actually- just thinking, freewheeling.. That’s not ‘lost’ at all. It’s deeply reflective and healing. This type of relaxation the world does Not foster! It’s messier than meditation and it looks like you’re ‘zoning out’ to other people. It is that childhood act of innocently mulling things over, it is reflective practice; self-discovery misidentified in a country that values busy-work action and inane dialogue more than a deliberate quietude. That inanity is just a cover-up. Boorish. When I’ve had a day so removed from schedule and duty and responsibility that I actually get to become my own person, it is nourishing on a level that I cannot articulate.
“Worry is just meditation on shit.” Heard this in a movie lately- liked how it was phrased b/c it’s a great way to show what an expenditure of time worry is. What a lot of work worrying is when you could be meditating, cogitating on other topics. Maybe that’s something I can remember next time I am worrying and switch that energy to something more productive inside. It’s all the same amount of activity, just put in different places. Worry is fear. Everything that propagates negativity in our lives is fear. Louis Mackey, in the film Waking Life, said “What are these barriers that keep people from reaching anywhere near their real potential? The answer to that can be found in another question and that’s this- which is the most universal human characteristic: fear, or laziness?” and to that i say Noo. Sorry. Laziness is just fear in one of its many forms- fear to actuate, fear to activate. Fear to come out of familiar stasis. It takes a tugging but usually, 5 minutes into whatever it was I was being lazy about the energy has shifted for the better.
I admit though, it is hard to look at worry as simply energy and transmute it somehow into relaxation, or relaxed action. What may be more helpful is a thorough breakdown of what entails the worry. If you do have to spend the energy, then map it. Work it. I have done this before and it truly helps. Sometimes I need to write down the specifics of what I want to tackle but often I can just identify what I’m worried about piece by piece and figure out a game plan for each part so that I can alleviate the anxiety. I don’t do this to be proactive or well prepared or mentally healthy. I do it so this world doesn’t grind me down into a fine fucking powder. Some dude was talking about this same idea regarding base jumping. He looked at each part of his nervousness before a jump, thought about each separate part that scared him and then ran through that scenario in his head and said “Ok, I can do that. Ok, I can do that” until he got to the end. Now, I’m not interested in jumping off tall things, but what he mentioned has a relationship to what I am talking about. I don’t think you conquer your fear, I think you disentangle it.
I was in my early 20’s when I learned something about time that made me stop, stunned. On my own, in my efficiency apartment on Walker Street in Portland. It wasn’t in school, it wasn’t in a lecture, it wasn’t from a learned adult. Just from a book my aunt lent me. I used to be embarrassed by how obvious it was, and felt weird talking about it because I felt like everyone was smarter than that already, that they would go ‘yeah, duh’ and not be as moved as I was. but now I don’t care. Why hadn’t anyone in my life ever put it like this before? No one talks of time in our adolescent development as an ongoing constant field of energy. Or in our adulthood for that matter. Or rather, the way in which it is talked about is so glossed over and diluted that it falls away into one more listless bit of designer information. It’s just a word we use as a vague explanation as to why things happen. The world does a great job of turning amazing truths into glossy, reductionist soundbites. And this will of course be reductive too, but hopefully in a different sense. What the world does with great information is the same thing that happens to a poster with a cool quote tacked on a wall somewhere that you see every day. It becomes practically invisible.
Once I realized that our notions of time are mostly unreal, mostly fantasy, I couldn’t fully turn the other way ever again. We speak of movies and comics and sci-fi as escapism but our collective view of time is the biggest joke-trap there is. Time is the Keyser Soze of our whole reality. It is the most elaborate fantasy story ever told and it may not be somebody’s master plan. It may simply be how our own minds have come to work. Or rather, what we define as our mind (more on this later). Time, for us, is told mostly through clock faces and appointed schedules. “What time is it?” That’s sort of how we know it, from when we are taught how to ‘tell time’ at an early age on through our lives. It’s mostly just a number that clicks along through the day for us, although sometimes it turns into a terrible sweeping realization when someone’s death touches our lives. That we are victims of time and can do nothing about it.
Anyway, what I learned about time was how, in our heads, we look forward to something or look back on something, almost exclusively. As if we were supposed to look at time through a lens. How our functional thinking is really just engaging the two conceptual phenomena of past and future. We think of time as a road that we follow or trace back and not as a space that accompanies us wherever we go.
“At this moment if you set the alarm to get up at 3:47 this morning and when the alarm rings and you get up and turn it off and say: What time is it? You’d say: NOW — Here! Now, where am I? Here! then go back to sleep. Get up at 9:00 tomorrow. Where am I? Here! What time is it? Now! Try 4:32. three weeks from next Thurs. By god. It is – there’s no getting away from it- that’s the way it is. That’s the eternal present. You finally figure out that it’s only the clock that’s going around…It’s doing its thing but you—You’re sitting HERE RIGHT NOW ALWAYS.
Nobody is going anywhere, nobody is coming from anywhere. We’re all here. In eternal time and space. We’re always going to be here.” -Richard Alpert
It’s like our thinking has been forced down one of two ways, notionally. Like we have parsed the passage of time into an act of unconscious intellection. In other words- we have put time inside our heads!
I think it’s sort of a conditioning process. Mebbe not done on purpose but as a result of following the ideas and modes of thinking that have been laid out for us from early childhood. I talked a bit about spacetime a few issues back, but this is separate. It’s about thinking on time as a substance that moves perpetually with us. But usually when you hear stuff like ‘live in the now’ or ‘live for the moment’ it just trickles away into topical fad-philosophy. I’ve heard it truncated too much, heard this information presented too often in ways that do not do it justice. It’s like when our Grampa shared this little book with the family one christmas called The Precious Present. And it was cute. But the feeling I got was that ‘precious present’ was just a neat play on words. Unwrap it and it means there’s no time like today so gather ye rosebuds while ye may, you know, don’t take it for granted. But that sounds like a damn Hallmark card. And that’s the problem with most of this ‘sibylline’ information. It reads like a dull, positive-because-that’s-what-positive-people-do sort of powerpoint presentation. And it’s more than that. It’s not just ‘today.’ It’s a second, a millisecond, a breath, it’s a mind moment and the weight of that information is as crushing as it is liberating.
Albert Schweitzer said “If man wishes to reach clear notions about himself and his relation to the world, he must ever again and again be looking away from the manifold, which is the product of his thought and knowledge, and reflect upon the first, the most immediate, and the continually given fact of his own consciousness. Only if he starts from this given fact can he achieve a rational view.”
Now, even though he’s using those male pronouns to talk about the entire world, you can extract his meaning- there is no getting away from time and so that is a good way to look at it. Whether time creates our consciousness or our consciousness creates time, or neither, it is constantly unfolding anyhow. The truth is your body is always in the moment. it can’t not be. That’s why noticing the breath is a great way to ground yourself; it is an ongoing, unthinking process, an anchor chain to the true present, when you listen to it. It’s only our brain-mind that conceptually ‘throws us out of time.’ We think we do not fully exist presently, when we really do! And that shows a great schism between our brain and body.
There is an old belief that our mind was in the belly. Ancient cultures and many unrelated modern tribal societies believe the soul resides in the middle of the body. We call it the enteric nervous system. Some scientists recognize this web of neurons lining the gastrointestinal tract as an independent brain. This is the science of ‘gut feeling’ if ever therewas one. Neurogastroenterology.
In a way, the brain colludes with time, pulling us out and away from the natural flow of the world, making ‘separateness’ happen. There are ways to think more with this belly brain, which is naturally connected to the moment, connected unconsciously and without ego. Tracing, or following your breathing slowly settles you into your belly. Not forcing it more into your belly through comprehensive practice, but by simply attaching a sensitivity onto your breathing (this is, in part, the abstraction, the staring out the window until you begin to sway a little). Philip Shepherd says “The precondition to sensitivity is stillness.” He speaks on the similarity and difference between intellect (or intelligence) and sensitivity. “At this point in our culture we have been taught to mistrust our bodies, to mistrust our intuition, to mistrust any information that is not analytical. This head-based perspective gives rise to three serious misunderstandings that drive our culture: we misunderstand what intelligence is, what information is, and what thinking is. Take our understanding of intelligence. We think it’s the ability to reason in an abstract fashion, something you can measure with an IQ test. So we remain blind to the impotence of reason in areas of vital concern to us. You cannot reason your way into being present. You cannot reason your way into love. You cannot reason your way into fulfillment.” I would say also that we misunderstand Where thinking happens. We sort of relegate thinking to the cranium, instead of a body-wide phenomenon.
So, if you can’t get to here and now-ness through reason, then how?
“It’s sensitivity,” says Shepherd. “Specifically a grounded sensitivity, because a reactive sensitivity isn’t able to integrate information. A sensitivity to music, to the flight of a swallow, to arithmetic relationship, to a child’s tears — all of these are forms of intelligence. And your sensitivity isn’t a static, permanent condition. Anything that increases it increases your ability to live more intelligently.”
So part of the answer in loosening time’s traditional grip on ourselves is through empathic processes and responses. Looking at the world without paying attention to class, without paying attention to economics, without paying attention to politics. Focusing up on the true worldly condition. The world that was always here, the world that was here before us. Begin to think of intelligence not as intellect but as sensitivity. Then we start to look at ‘us’ differently. Don’t start anywhere but inside yourself. Don’t help others. Don’t help the world. Help yourself. At first. It’s not selfish. When you begin to understand what you need and want, you will naturally help others without even trying. You will be operating within empathic body intelligence, not academic intellect.
“Your insides are more important, if you can understand it, because they support everything that you radiate towards, everybody that you come into contact with can feel that. I’m saying that, people who spend a lot time looking in the mirror, they know how they look– sort of. But the way you know how you look really is in the expressions on other peoples’ faces when you say something. And how you look is on the expressions of these other peoples’ faces, on the smile they give you when you play a song for them or you give them an idea they can go do something with.”
This is not to say that brain-thinking isn’t valid or important. Of course it is. But it sort of rules the roost. It would be nice to mesh the two, with the heart as the mediator.
“As you bring [brain] ideas down to the belly and let them settle there, they sensitize you to who you are and eventually give birth to insight. The heart is where the two poles of our consciousness meet; it’s the point of balance between the two. In our culture we hear that it’s important to open the heart and live from the heart — which is true — but unless the heart is rooted in the ground of your being, it’s not going to be supported. It’s like a cut flower as opposed to one that’s growing in the earth. So the emphasis on the heart puts the cart before the horse. [But if we are to integrate] the two poles of consciousness we need to experience our intelligence not as a uni-polar phenomenon — all head or all belly — but as an axis. In the same way that a bar magnet has an axis with positive and negative poles that sustain the field around it, our integrated intelligence is an axis through which all these exchanges between the cranial brain and the pelvic brain occur, and its field is our sensitivity.”
Sometimes I carry the weight of the smack of my hand. The weight of how hard I want to smack the whole modern world in the face for how false it’s been, how everyone has led me from childhood down a path that is completely fake and wrong. It’s like I had to start over around 22 and figure it all out for myself. And now I will smack the person who says wisely “that’s how it goes for everyone,” because the whole world should be smarter than that. The world should be talking about the reality of time.
Time literally stops when you are here and now. You can run it right off its tracks and see it for what it is. Not a concept, not a stressor, but a place of recognition that holds no fear or worry, no uncertainty, no narcissistic identity. I’ve sat and noticed my breath and been ‘here and now’ and worry and fear just strip away. Anxiety literally cannot exist while you are in that state. I dunno, mebbe if you’re in a life or death situation it can, but you know what I mean. You feel it. ‘Cause anxiety fucking rules our lives. Perhaps another way to beat worry, to beat fear is best stated by audre lorde: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether i am afraid.” Maybe this is the most important piece, really. To be ‘here and now’ naturally, you need to have something in your life that you believe in, that truly focuses you. It could be a religion, but maybe more like a cause or a philosophy or a way of being that instinctively places you in the path of the moment. Something that interests you so much that when you engage in it there is nothing that can stop or sway you. But what is that for most people?
Listening to: Mazzy Star, Skinny Puppy, soundtrack to the movie Chef, Van Morrison’s Poetic Champions Compose
(#124, October’s issue, was a collection of poems, mail-art and images from a host of characters from the underground press and is only available in print. Hit me up if you want a copy sent to you via the post..)