Ha! I must be.
(Thank you, Tim Ferriss).
I had on record last week a near-complete week of ritual and disciplined work. I was excited about the things to come. I was inspired. Most of all, I was productive.
And then, three or four nights of restlessness, barely able to sleep. Getting up at 1200 and going to read or to that delectable real-time strategy game Shogun 2.
Then up till four, five, even seven o’clock in the morning.
Less than ideal way to live. If you ask me.
Thinking about the life of Howard Hughes, the Aviator helps me weather this storm. Looking at the man’s life and productivity, it just goes to show you, that stability doesn’t count for everything. I guess it’s also a burden. Yesterday Maria and I went to the park and recorded some videos of us getting up to some creative stuff. I filmed Maria’s painting. And I filmed myself filming Maria paint. It was fun to do. Fun to be on camera goofing around. There’s a part of my personality that gets a big kick out of being eccentric, mad and off the wall.
Then it came to my turn. And I was hard pushed to be in a spirit to read poetry.
There is a part of me that is solemn and values sanctity; near holiness when it comes to certain ideas, moments, images. Such is the spirit I feel when I am moved to poetry. There are a few things which can do this for me.
I can be moved equally by a war movie showing a band of brothers up against it, to stories of a woman unrequited love. Such as the death of Arwen in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. If I’m being honest, while the first one is what I seek out more often to watch and enjoy. The second moves me sometimes to uncontrollable grief and sadness. Like a great Tsunami whose tectonic source lies deep in recesses of my mind.
I had just such an experience when coming out of the Weald (Kent North Downs) closing in on Rye. I’d been walking for over week through the forest and chalk downs. Alone. Without money. Experiencing bliss and despair in the efforts to reach my goal. It was then that I began to approach that great town where Alfred the Great’s squadrons had finally inflicted a defeat on the Viking longships that had raided for so long with impunity. I was walking along that road towards Rye and, for some reason, I think it was the landscape, I was reminded of Tolkiene. His work and his life. And then I thought of Kingship and Aragorn. And finally, I remembered Arwen, and the moment she dies upon the hill at Cerin Amroth in Loth Lórien. And I wept. I wept all the way from the quay to the town walls of Rye for the love of a woman who’d never existed, except in the dreams and fantasise of us all.
We are such mysteries to ourselves. It seems to me the more I attempt to discover who and what I am, the longer and loner the planes of my dasein (one’s soul) seem to stretch out endlessly before me. I’m thinking again of that early English king, the King of Wessex, Alfred the Great. And how he fell from grace and favour of his people and wandered the moors and straights of Athelney in Somerset. He’d risked the lives of fellow Saxons as hostages and had lost both them and much gold he had given as tribute in an attempt to bribe the Viking and Danish settlers into peace. But under their brutal leader Guthrum, the Vikings had feinted sincerity, taking the gold and slaying the hostages. They had then struck when Alfred thought he was safe.
Afrled was caught at rest in Chippenham by Gurthrum, and almost all of the town’s inhabitants and Alfred’s men were killed. Only Alfred is said to escape. Perhaps it was that time alone, wandering in the moors, destitute and displaced, as John the Baptist and Jesus had also wandered in the desert. Alfred had come up short. That much is clear. And had lost all the made him King.
Perhaps it was that time in utter isolation and powerlessness, that gave him the vision and strength to rise again. Alfred was to return from this defeat. Crush Guthrum’s invasion force. And rather the slew the man who killed his hostages, his retainers and put his city to the sword, he made him kneel. Not before Alfred himself, but before God. Alfred forced Guthrum and his lieutenants to convert to Christianity. Why? I believe because deep inside, he knew that to tie the man to him through bonds of faith and mercy (not without power and force) would make for a long and stable peace. Alfred proved right. And fortifying his own lands against a betrayal, he had Guthrum rise as a king in his own right, renamed through baptism as Aethelstan. He would prove a vital ally in Alfred’s further fight against the Vikings.
Alfred was a truly great king. A man who instituted sweeping and effective military, legal and educational reforms across the south of England. Making it the powerhouse of England for some centuries to come before the Norman conquest. I like to think of him wandering those moors. Planning his ascendence once more, and rueing the day he trusted Guthrum to keep his word. Yet his failure and time alone in the wild gave to him a vision of how peace could be achieved with his implacable foe.
Rather than killing Guthrum, who seemed desperate for lands to settle his people, Alfred found a way to bring him into the fold. Through force of arms and the might of heart combined. When I think about it, and consider his time in the wilderness, I am again reminded of Aragorn, who Tolkien also had in exile in harsh and unforgiving lands. On a pilgrimage of his own making. Such experiences make humble and visionary men. I believe now, having walked but a little of that path, that this is why Alfred rose from the ashes, and became a great king.
But let’s get back to what I was talking about… Reading poetry out loud on camera has never been a favorite activity of mine. In fact, when not taking MDMA (as I did when I began reciting in public at the age of 16), or even when I did, reading poetry aloud to a crowd has always been an experience of deep discomfort and displeasure. I used to have the poems using .txt and scroll wheel on my early iPod nano. And the MDMA, those who have taken it will know, causes the eyes to oscillate wildly when looking at the text. Let alone a backlit text! It was always an endeavor. And while people seemed to enjoy it, asking for encores outside the place, I never could bring myself to love it.
What I did love was to read to an individual or one or two people, in an intimate setting. Perhaps I could do that and film or record it. But the crowd is far too anonymous and amorphous for me to feel I can reach them. The poetry I seek to share is not for entertainment. Though some of the sounds and images may be pleasing. For me, art has a purpose. And much of that purpose in my work is edification. Is to uplift, or wrestle down, the other human beings’ attention into a moment of transcendence. A moment in which the limits of themselves are found to be an illusion.
Instead, they find themselves free-falling into the beauty or violent wonder of the now. And in that place — if they get there — it is hoped, that their true self may be found. That some insight or reckoning with their soul. That poor, starved and half-blinded beast we keep with draconian effect chained away… it is hoped that some word or phrase may just slip a link in that chain, and allow the spirit to wander out from the cave. Into a new light, that is the old light. That light has been with us since the beginning of time. The light of reality as she is. In her true glory and nature.
It is a feeling that I have sought and found not only in poetry, at the right moment. But also having starved and killed my persona, my ego, my separate sense of self, through vision quests or pilgrimage. Through challenge and desperate self-confided heroism. Heroism for oneself. The determined and doomed effort to save oneself from ignorance through enlightenment. After some 48–72 or more hours fasting and not moving from the same spot, you will have had your fair share of edge experiences.
While signing up for Ranger or SAS Selection training may well make you a hard motherfucker. One of the ‘best of the best’. And while I admire and bow to those men, like David Goggins and Ant Middleton, who take on such trials of fire and hell and who place their lives in mortal danger to defend and protect. There are few greater tests for a human than the sacrifice themselves for the betterment of another.
It is, for me, but the beginning of the willingness.
And while such men might look at my efforts with a paternal pat on the back or dismissive shake of their heads… Going to war with an enemy outside ourselves is at one end of the spectrum: going to war with the enemy within is at the other.
Sitting and doing nothing will strip you of all the trappings of who and what you are.
And I believe, bring you closer to the betterment of all.
The boredom, the precisely designed, brute force ennui of utter isolation will bore a hole into your head until everything you thought you were comes pouring out.
And you left with the Now.
And nothing more.
Yet this is — in truth — everything.
It is all we will ever have.
To lose oneself to the now, is to find the truth of all existence.
The vision of what you are and what you must become is revealed to you.
Few men have the willingness to truly lose themselves in this way. And the loss of the self is the ultimate test and realisation.
It is why Jesus is remembered more than any Special Forces Operator.
More than any Roman legion or Caesar. He had reached a place where achievement and the personality no longer had any hold on his giving. He had reached a place of higher than any Trident insignia or bank account figure can give you. The dissolution of the self. The utter bliss of being given.
When reaching this place, a sensation of bliss or agony may meet you. It depends upon the person and the time. The intended effect, however, is the same.
To release a person from the constraints and chains with which they keep themselves a slave. Be that a slave to success, or failure, to their past or parents’ expectations. To the loss of a child or the glittering dreams of a multi-million dollar empire. The boredom and emptiness will strip you of all your well-armoured assumptions. Your rationalisations are utterly without effect after so long a period alone, without food and without any form of distraction. This is the cave of which Plato spoke.
I first began to muse over such a process after reading Aldous Huxley’s prophetic, yet less well know novel, Island. For me, it’s a more important book than Brave New World. Because it sets out Huxley’s alternative. Which many people simply don’t know exists. In it, he envisions a world where a small nation in South America has created a near-utopian state. It’s not perfect. People still die. Some resources are scarce. War, be it an armed or economic invasion, threatens from powerful neighbours. And the leader of the state has sadly succumbed to the temptations of great promise and splendour of materialist free-market economics.
Yet, for time, it is good. What pulled me into the book (I was dead bored the first 30 pages) was a scene where the local youth are preparing for their rite of passage into adulthood. They must climb a large cliff face together. Facing danger and death. They must collaborate and take care of one another in order to reach the top and claim their place in society and large.
And yet after this feat of arms and demonstration of courage, they are taken into a temple at the top of the cliff, and there, under supervision, undergo a ritual of Moksha. A name Aldous Huxley gave the novels psychedelic substance that is almost identical in effect to psilocybin. And so begins the adult live of the citizens of the Island. Having proved their competence, willingness to face physical death, and capacity for cooperation, now they must face having all of that persona, all of the achievement, stripped from them by a high concentration dose of psilocybin. At about 400mg of this substance, humans almost always have what is known as a mystical experience.
A similar experience to what one can find on a Vision Quest.
It Huxley’s illustration of these types of tests and rituals which led me to face my fear of heights and take up climbing. I had dismissed the sport for years as a singularly stupid and reckless activity. Huxley showed me the point of such dangers. It can, if used properly, (just like mushrooms, or any ritual) reveal to a human being or group of people, the essence of what human life and consciousness has arisen for. The essential blocks which constitute our highest legacy and inheritance. An indomitable spirit, the need to care for and carry each of us together, the perils and intimacy of death, the preciousness of life and above all the oneness which permeates us all.
That’s it for today.
Strength and courage,
Love and Chi