“He is, of course, attempting the impossible—to describe in words (which always lie) that which is beyond words.”—Timothy Leary, forward to Alan Watts’ The Joyous Cosmology.
“My wife and I were looking at your blog,” the man said.
“Uh-oh,” I replied, “that can’t be a good thing.”
I was picking up the meat scraps from a Safeway and the man is a cutter. Once a week we chat about all sorts of things, family, kids, holidays and what not.
“It’s pretty deep,” he went on. “My wife was asking what kind of schooling you have. She reads books. I don’t. It was above me.”
Reminds me—very loosely that is—about an encounter between Mordecai Richler, Montreal born novelist, satirist, and humorist and former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
“Hey Trudeau,” Richler quipped, “hear your memoirs are coming out. Where will I be able to find them, in fiction or non-fiction?”
Trudeau, no slouch in the repartee department, replied: “Poetry!”
We read newspapers to stay current with happenings in the world; we discuss events obsessively, scrutinizing motives and analyzing decisions or policies taken, and then when our brains are sufficiently exercised we watch a little television or read a book to cool down. We are all more or less educated, informed…but there is always a line we shy away—consciously or not—from crossing.
Why do we balk at the line? It is dangerous, that’s why. Terrifying. We experience the threat intuitively, viscerally. Our very identities are imperiled. What are we without our identities? It’s who we are!
And the line? Pushed to the margins for sure, but still all around us. Waiting. It is the taboo.
Listen to the words of a man who has crossed the line, in this case sixties Zen Buddhism interpreter Alan Watts experimenting with the mind altering effects of LSD.
“In the type of experience I am describing, it seems that the superconscious method of thinking becomes conscious. We see the world as the whole body sees it, and for this very reason there is the greatest difficulty in attempting to translate this mode of vision into a form of language that is based on contrast and classification. To the extent, then, that man has become a being centered in consciousness, he has become centered in clash, conflict, and discord. He ignores, as beneath notice, the astounding perfection of his organism as a whole, and this is why, in most people, there is such a deplorable disparity between the intelligent and marvelous order of their bodies and the trivial occupations of their consciousness. But in this other world the situation is reversed. Ordinary people look like gods because the values of the organism are uppermost, and the concerns of consciousness fall back into the subordinate position which they should properly hold. Love, unity, harmony, and relationship therefore take precedence over war and division.”—Alan Watts, tripping on acid in The Joyous Cosmology
LSD? Never tried it. The closest I’ve come is naively shelling out five bucks for a tab of dried sugar water from a total stranger on a bus in Montreal many years ago. What a doofus!
But you could say I began a long slow mind blow the day I first crossed the threshold into the Omphalos Cafe.
Watts finishes: “Love, unity, harmony, and relationship therefore take precedence over war and division.”
Isn’t that just a learned, literary way of saying…
Life is ALL there is?
I read Watts (and Leary,Ginsberg, Huxley’s “Doors,”) in my early 20s. I remember thinking how beautifully they all tried to express the ineffable, often succeeding to communicate just how their myriad experiences fundamentally changed them and their understandings and perceptions of the world around them. They all still occupy a pretty significant place in both my past and my library, and the many insights they shared and prompted me to discover are still very much a part of me. A wonderful post.
In a very early post I put what you say this way. It was a late night encounter many years ago, where, arms loaded with books and records and belly full of beer I fell into conversation with a woman. At one point she said: ‘Sounds like you’ve fucked up you mind on drugs.’ ‘No,’ I responded, ‘I fucked up my mind on literature.’
William Lawson said:
Watts describes drug-induced ‘perception’ in terms of conscious vs. superconscious. Others, who seem to have a similar experience (without drugs) generally tag it as spiritual vs. physical. But in both cases the distinction is culture based; i.e., that broader vision is always there, and doesn’t exist as a function of being produced or induced.
In other words, ‘mind-altering’ drugs don’t induce a ‘vision’ that doesn’t exist, but rather confuse–and to some extent disconnect–hard-wired filters that define, ‘tag’ and organize all incoming information that is culturally defined and recognized. When those filters quit functioning, for whatever reason, not only does the ‘tagging’ system break down, but much more of what’s always ‘out there’ finds its way past the filters and is seen (mentally registered), as though for the first time. And, of course, typically presents a vision that is understandably disorganized and thus almost impossible to comprehend.
But every child has seen that ‘vision’ in its entirety from the moment of birth…into a totally ‘tagless’, unfiltered, ‘unrecognizable’ world. What it sees makes no sense at all (like the ultimate drug trip). But then the conditioning begins, filters begin to grow, and more and more of their unculturated vision of the world fades from view. Of course Its still there. And our eyes see all that’s within view. But if it doesn’t fit into one’s cultural paradigm, it typically can’t be seen…much less understood.
All of which to say…it ain’t easy to see or comprehend life as it exists beyond the bounds of one’s culturally conditioned identity.
There’s a lot of words here, and valid ideas well put; I suppose the humble song that is the Omphalos Cafe as a whole is my response to what you say.
Beverly Penn said:
Great post! I too am an avid Watts reader and have been fascinated by his exploration of the human consciousness. Ideas and books have always been my only “drug” and I’ve always felt one needs not religion or drugs to experience a sense of spirituality and wholeness. Although I have to say, if there is any single religion/ philosophy which is at least partially alluring to me, it would definitely be Buddhism.
Thanks for that, Bev,
I cannot help think that the LSD helped clarify what Watts had already worked so hard to achieve, so absolutely, at the heart of that post was a book and idea paved path to self-awareness. I’m with you on the Buddhism business, but one of the driving motivations on my journey of inquiry has been around the ‘why we feel the need to pull away from whatever route was ours’ culturally and move toward an outgrowth of another culture’s.’ Why the move toward eastern mysticism? What went wrong with our own heritage?