Monday, August 14, 2006

Who The Bleep Are They Kidding?
Recent stomach troubles have dictated a strict diet with very few of the foods I most enjoy permitted. Primary among these is, that old English staple, bread and cheese. Like Wallace, I am a cheese-eater through and through, and could happily have it with every meal if not for digestive considerations. No more. In the past month, the only cheese I have been enjoying has been at the movies, most copiously at the What the Bleep Do We Know? sequel, Down the Rabbit Hole, a movie that ought to carry a warning to lactose- (and lachrymose-) intolerant viewers: “Contains potentially dangerous levels of cheese.”
A quasi-documentary about “the fundamental truth of unity,” Bleep 2 is more New Age physics for lazy laypeople to ooh and ah over. In fact, it is more of a remake than a sequel, a compendium of stuff left out of the first movie, perhaps, and with nothing at all by way of upgrading in evidence. 2½ hours of ineptly staged dramatizations and waffling interviews with self-satisfied “experts,” and perhaps a half hour of original material to justify, however limply, its existence, Bleep 2 is a shameless cash-in on the first film’s success that suffers from all the failings of the original. Despite the larger budget and longer running time, the filmmakers have chosen not to develop their technique in any significant ways, revealing their utter complacency as “artists,” and betraying a smug simple-mindedness and appalling lack of imagination completely at odds with the “ground-breaking” nature of their material. I can only presume they considered the original formula to be already perfect and that, since it wasn’t broken, why fix it?

The first movie made money and seemed to spark interest and excitement in the most unlikely of viewers, viewers perhaps grateful that such ideas were getting air-time at all in a popular movie. Yet it’s hard to imagine a work whose style is so profoundly in conflict with its content, that juxtaposes such profound, challenging ideas with so daffy and clich├ęd an execution. The expressed end of the Bleep films appears diametrically opposed to the means employed. They propose to present a whole new paradigm by which to interpret our reality (and live our lives), a quantum weltanschauung if you will; yet the methods employed are so profane and uninspired that the result is rather to discredit (if not actually debase) the awesome concepts which these films are so gleeful to bandy about. By endeavoring to deliver the findings of cutting edge physics to the mass consciousness, the Bleep films are the quintessence of New Age reductionism. They present a lowest common denominated version of the Mysteries, selling audiences life-changing ideas in cozy, non-threatening forms, so that the masses can have their manna and eat it, feel “enlightened” without having to change in any meaningful way.

In a quantum Universe in which information determines the spin of each and every particle, the Bleep movies spin their information into one big, dull, self-satisfied blah. As with all things New Age, by focusing exclusively on a positive “spin,” they render the subject flat, two-dimensional. Throwing around words like God, eternal, absolute, infinite energy, consciousness, etc, with so little force or precision saps not only the words but the concepts behind them of power and vitality. The concepts may reach more people by being so diluted—thinned out—but at what price? This user-friendly, multiplex-tailored view of occult realities is as far from shamanism as art from kitsch (and kitsch is what the Bleep movies are).

Fuzzy-headed professionals talking about the power of the brain? People we would avoid like the plague at a dinner party holding forth on “avenues of reality, unborn” and “infinite tomorrows.” Please.

Words, words, words, but where is the spirit? Images that belong in a Gatorade commercial not in a movie about time and space. The magical Universe seen through the lens of the Bleep movies becomes the asinine universe. A supremely patronizing experience.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Some comments from the filmmaker Keith Gordon (Mother Night, The Singing Detective on my blue pill piece; for more on his work, check out www.divinevirus.com/muse.html)

KG:

I found (the piece) very moving. And it echoed deeply with some of my own thoughts and experiences (including some recent health problems involving food and craving).To me, I don't see the spiritual path as one of perfection as a goal. Sometimes it sounds like you still see the world in terms of duality (blue pill OR red pill). But the wisest and best Buddhist teachers I've had emphasize that it's all about integrating the spiritual and the mundane. Merging, not dividing. (blue pill AND red pill, particle and wave, craving and letting go of craving). That even Buddha was human, and not 'perfect'. That he too was subject to craving, aversion, anger, greed and all the rest. All he had done was learn to deal with it in a very profound way.The Buddha himself talked about both relative reality (where we all live) as well as absolute reality (the more 'perfected' spiritual realm), and saw both as real or true (and of value), depending on what one's point of view at that moment was.

There's a great book by Jack Kornfield called, 'After the Ecstasy, The Laundry'. He spoke to highly advanced spiritual practitioners in many traditions, and almost to a person they noted that even after 'enlightenment' experiences, they were still human, still vulnerable to all the same stuff, still got mad at their kids, or impatient in traffic. They just had new options on how to deal with those things when they manifested.'Perfection' to me is an illusion in itself. The universe could only form because of 'imperfections' in how primal matter initially spread out from the big bang. Most art is made meaningful by it's 'imperfections'. A 'perfect' world (or person) would be unchanging, cold, dead.Indeed, craving 'perfection' on the spiritual path seems to me just as destructive a craving as those for food or money or power. It's still a craving. But craving ('I can only be happy when...') is very different than a healthy impulse to grow spiritually, and open our hearts and minds to knowing and enjoying both the 'illusion' and 'the truth' - and remembering that neither is as neatly pure of the other as our craving (for order and answers) minds might desire.

Of course I know you already knew what I was saying from your piece (I have the feeling you are far more well read and deeply educated in these areas than I). But there was so much pain in what you were writing that I wondered if your heart and soul could hear what your brain 'knew'. So I was really reflecting back your own ideas.To me, that's always one of the trickiest part of any spiritual path. Getting the heart and soul to really take in a concept the brain 'knows', or just the opposite - getting the brain to really digest something that's already part of the wisdom of the body or heart.

One other, random comment on the piece - re the starving man vs. the glutton. My take would be that either one might 'enjoy' the meal more. It would depend who could eat it with mindfulness and awareness.The starving man would likely find more relief in the meal from his pain - but that's not the same as enjoyment. If that was the secret to enjoying life, then we should constantly be starving ourselves (literally and figuratively) so we could enjoy things. But that was the path the Buddha rejected (along with gluttony). Neither extreme allowed balance. Those that would torture themselves into truth seemed to find it no easier than those that tried to pamper themselves into it.Besides, if the glutton was truly obsessed with food, he might, subjectively, feel just as much relief, even if his body didn't really need it.

Just a thought...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Why Oh Why Didn’t I Take the Blue Pill?
Meditations on the “Spiritual” Life


“The bright and morning star that fell did not fall alone, it tore down everything else with it, including me. Part of my own being fell with it, and I am that fallen being now.”
—Philip K. Dick, The Divine Invasion

Two days ago I saw an inverted rainbow. Naturally I wondered what it meant, as signs go. The first thought that occurred to me, besides that it was beautiful, was that I had been seeing the world upside down, and that it was time to correct my perspective. Like a living paradox, I had been standing on my head to get God’s attention. Now God was doing the same. If we create our reality, that includes God, right?

We never left the Garden. We polluted it with our garbage and turned it into a Swamp. Good fruit still grows here, we just have to find it. Seek, you will find, knock and it will be opened unto you. Don’t seek, and you won’t find. If you don’t knock, the door will stay forever closed.

We have to take the initiative, here and now. God doesn’t come looking for us. Only the devil does that.

Some of the profoundest words I ever heard, I heard in a song, Leonard Cohen’s “Stories of the Street”: “You are locked into your suffering and your pleasures are the seal.”

There is a Buddhist hell, called the Hungry Ghost realm, in which the damned soul is surrounded by food, an enormous stomach and a pin hole for a mouth. These souls “can never fulfill their hunger, so they are always filled with craving and desire. They can never be satisfied.” My situation feels like the reverse, a tiny stomach that will not allow food to enter, and a vast, gaping mouth that wants only to devour but cannot; not, at least, without suffering the torments of the damned as a result. But in either case, the hell is a hell of craving. According to Buddhists, the source of all suffering. I can definitely vouch for that.

For those of you unfamiliar with my predicament, I was recently infiltrated by hookworm, microscopic razor-fanged worms that gnaw into the intestines and drink the blood. The prescription medicine I took seems to have killed the critters, but in the process done untold damage to my intestines. The result is a continuous sensation of being blocked, sometimes all the way up to my throat, whenever I try to eat something (and sometimes even when I don’t). I am currently confined to fruit, porridge, soups and purees, which as you can imagine, leaves a lot of room for craving. This is a situation that may continue indefinitely, depending as it does upon factors beyond my control or even understanding. Hence, I have no choice but to accept the suffering and try to find the “lesson” in it; to use this affliction as a means to confront and overcome whatever psychological/emotional tendencies have caused it.

What this means in practical terms is that, for the first time in my life, mediation has become necessary to my survival. I have to get my energy somewhere, and without a couple of hours a day meditating and deep breathing, I appear to be wasting away to nothing. With it, however, I am slowly returning to life. Of course, never has the idea of meditation been so utterly, profoundly filled with dread as when the body feels like this. I am discovering the power of true will.

None of this is half so grim as it sounds at first glance. In fact, it is a source of joy. By entering bodily into the private hell of my mind to confront my demons, I am becoming free. This way lies freedom.

I am sharing some of these mediations with you, for no good reason save that I felt like it. Actually, there’s more to it than that. I am reaching out to you all, from deep inside my private hell, because I feel so horribly alone here.

Lucifer’s temptation, they say, was that of spiritual pride. I can vouch for this. Lucifer whispers in our ears that we can be as gods, that we may overcome our lower natures, our petty, grubbing selves, through nothing but our own efforts.

As most of you probably know, this is a “party line” I have long advocated. But no more.

The truth is, our grubby lower selves can never hope to overcome themselves, no matter how much they may simulate their desire to do so. Can a man lift himself up by his bootstraps? This is the essence, not of the impossible (nothing is that), but of the absurd.

The inhuman efforts of such unwitting spiritual clowning have killed many a noble soul, tricked by the serpent’s whisper into aspiring after the unattainable. I have been in danger of becoming one of them.

The snake Lucifer, in the present context, is the intellect. The intellect has a special gift: it can “prove” anything to itself, no matter how absurd. Mathematically, for example, it may be “proven” that an elephant can hang from a cliff with its tail fastened to a daisy. Once all the equations are formulated, however, reality is still there. The daisy breaks, the elephant falls.

There is no way out of the prison-hell of self save by accepting, once and for all, that there is no way out. Spirit can only take over when self surrenders. Only when we are completely emptied of the world can we be filled by spirit.

In Tales of Power, don Juan tells Carlos that a warrior is a slave of power. He uses don Genaro as an example, stating that, since Genaro has surrendered to the design of power, he has no choice but to serve the spirit through his actions, for the rest of his life. If he tries to live like an ordinary schmuck, he will waste away and die in no time.

It is time for a confession. My friends, had I known beforehand what the warrior’s path (the so-called “spiritual life”) entailed, I would never have embarked upon it. Not in a million years. In the words of my friend and fellow sufferer, Lyn Birkbeck, “It is hard beyond our dreams.”

I was tricked. I tricked myself, and now it is too late. There is no “Cypher option,” no blue pill, unless it be suicide: another absurdity, since we all know, deep down, that there is no such escape clause. We take our personal hells with us, wherever we go.

Although I still only have red pills to peddle, my advice to you all now is this: if at all possible, take the blue pill! The empty pleasures of our illusory personalities and tawdry desires offer sweet solace indeed, solace that is forever left behind once we embark on the warrior’s way. All that is then left are the obscene challenges of erasing the self, and of “serving spirit.” We become slaves to power.

Yet serving the spirit does not mean grandiose acts of selflessness. It is not what we do but how. And it all comes down to one simple feat: getting wholly into the moment, and staying there. The holy moment. Contemplate the boundless mystery of creation, every moment, and live, and do what thou wilt, and enjoy it to the full.

Give a starving man a bowl of rice. Invite a wealthy glutton to a ten-course meal made up of every imaginable delicacy. Who will enjoy his food more?

The simple life is the good life. The more we have, the less we appreciate what we have.

We can learn to enjoy what is there in front of us, however much it falls short of our desires. Or we can get everything we desire, and be unable to really enjoy it. Which is better?

Another wise trickster (A. Crowley) once wrote, “Only those are happy who have desired the unattainable.” I cannot vouch for this. Some day, perhaps. But not today.

I have for many long, hard years desired the unattainable, in the form of spiritual perfection, and mostly, it has made me miserable at the inescapability of my rank imperfections. It is far too late for me to go back, however. My yearning after abstracts has taken me so far from the ordinary, everyday pleasures of animal existence that I no longer find much solace within them (though God knows I try).

So be it. I accept my fate. I accept the indigestion, the craving, the daily torment, as necessary and true to the path I have chosen. But to wish it on another, to encourage it as The Way? This can only be basest folly. I begin to fathom poor Lucifer’s secret intent, the reason behind all the subterfuge. Is it anything else but sad desire for some company in His misery?

Here is the simple truth. The higher we aspire to “spiritual” goals, the harder we strive after them, the greater the toll will be upon our all-too-human selves, the worse the wear and tear on our lives.

There is no red pill. There is no blue pill. Such simplistic dualities only exist in movies.

There is no spirit. There is no matter. Such simplistic dualities only exist in books.

The means to attain joy in this life cannot possibly be by striving for another life that is “beyond.” More bootstrap pulling.

The pleasures of this world in front of us, the many-colored fruit for the picking, are pleasures that nourish the body and enliven the soul. They are here in the moment, where we belong, ever inviting us to partake of the Garden. This is not a test, this is a gift.

The pleasures of this world that are out of reach, the shiny baubles of success and happiness, satisfaction and spiritual perfection, our fond and endless anticipation of every next meal, next perk, next acquisition, these are but distractions. They are not promises, they are temptations, chimera to confuse the mind and keep it from focusing on the task at hand: cleaning up that swamp, and finding what fruit is still left, in our poor, neglected Garden of Delight.

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, unto God what is God’s. Man does not live by spirit alone. Bread is also life.

If you honor the body, you serve the spirit. Neglect the spirit and the body will pay the price.

There is no “War of Opposites,” between light and darkness, body and soul, good and evil, warrior and gatekeeper. All just tricks of the imagination.

There is only a confused mind that has forgotten how to dance. Forgotten how to let the body do its thing, forgotten to enjoy life as it once did: as children at play in the Garden. Here in this Garden where there is only one thing God or Goddess ever wanted from us.

Our delight.

Go ahead and take the blue pill if you want to. Just be sure and enjoy the illusion.

“How you have fallen from heaven, bright morning star,
Felled to the earth, sprawling helpless across the nations!
You thought in you own mind,
I will scale the heavens;
I will set my throne high above the stars of God,
I will sit on the mountain where the gods meet
In the far recesses of the north.
I will rise high above the cloud banks
And make myself like the Most High
Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the depths of the abyss.
Those who see you will stare at you,
They will look at you and ponder.”
(Isaiah 14:12)