altered states

Hard conversations start in silence

I sat with a young person today as they processed what was probably one of the hardest stories I have heard about sexual assault. The young person had the courage to speak up but they are doubtful the offender will plead guilty and they will have to testify in court, reliving the trauma and distress… justice? And after a week of watching the media salivate over the Stanford University – Brock Turner rape case I can’t help wondering if the very systems constructed in deliver ‘justice’ disable rather than enable change, both on a personal, societal and cultural level.

On a more pragmatic level, how is that alcohol is still getting off scot free? Here is a substance that has enabled so much harm to occur and yet it remains somehow immune to suspicion as a mind altering chemical. I’d like to put alcohol on trial. There is so much evidence against it but it must have a pretty good defence team.

It has managed to maintain its innocence while enabling other substances to be demonised, to the point where any conversation that aligns it with non-legal chemicals is ridiculed. Our culture demands the right to intoxication by alcohol. Nearly every event, celebration, social occasion uses it. With its harmless qualities being promoted, accepted and endorsed and sex being such an awkward encounter – thanks to our collective embarrassment, shame and insistence on outdated gendered notions of entitlement around desire, we’ve got the perfect conditions for what occurred. To be clear though, I don’t think alcohol is the reason for what happened, I’m trying to understand the process of normalisation that seems to occur around its use/abuse. I wonder if we treated alcohol in the same way as any other drug – not separating it out for a start, we might be able to ask different kinds of questions about its effects.

And while it might be in another country I don’t think New Zealand should be doing any ‘tut tutting’, Roast Busters anyone? Here is a random thought – what if we had as many drink-sex adds on TV as drink drive ones? Why not? And why not throw condom use in there while we are going with the ‘hard’ topics. The other really difficult conversation is navigating transitional experiences for young people (anyone up to the age of at least 25 I reckon). Teaching sex-sexuality without a context of mediating desire, vulnerability and other expectations or constraints including heteronormative ones will simply drive the same old assumptions along, rehash them and enable justifications based on gendered entitlements to continue.

I’m not holding my breath for change, because we simply refuse to put ourselves on trial, our own attitudes, beliefs and values. Hard conversations with ourselves.

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Taking a trip

It’s New Years Eve and many will be out to celebrate. Some will plan and expect to be in a form of altered state, a buzz, feeling good in some way shape or form. Common combinations or at least socially sanctioned (to a degree) buzzes involve alcohol, dancing and sex, statistics don’t lie just take a look at the number of people who have birthdays on or around September 30th. While moderation will be exercised many will vomit, pass out, coma and all completely legal we see it as a right of passage for mates to have a near death experience consuming alcohol. But anyone caught getting stoned with the potential side effects of scoffing anything they can get their hands on (watch out for your weetbix campers), while giggling at nothing for hours will be deemed a criminal.

Indeed, anyone seeking to enjoy themselves or the world around them through other sensory parameters are deemed irresponsible, selfish, reckless, unstable psychologically, immature or lacking a moral compass. Desire and pleasure seeking for nothing other than the pure experience is a no-no. In fact we police this better than anything and we do it from birth through to death – we can’t even choose how we transition to the after life.

We’re a confused bunch when it comes to the right to experience our embodiment and all the parameters of that, especially the perception of the world and reality. And yet some brave researchers and scientists are asking why the pervasive fear of things like psychedelics. Palliative care has started to go there with LSD and psilocybin. But there is one substance pushing the boundaries from all angles and that is DMT. Ironically it is naturally occurring in our bodies and it has been nick named ‘The Spirit Molecule’ and there is a good documentary about it with real scientists doing actual controlled studies.

What we can and cannot talk about or explore is limited by available knowledge in the public sphere. Schools take an understandably conservative approach and can only teach critical thinking and decision making around notions of legal and illegal substances. Risk and preventing harm dominate with minimal acknowledgement of the reasons why human beings seek connection and sometimes use molecules to achieve this. I say molecules because that is at its most basic, stripped back beyond the paranoia and politics.

Science fiction has gone for example Neromancer, but my favourite is the spice from Dune, talk about a direct, overt reference to mind and body altering substances! I remember stumbling across some incomplete scenes from Avatar and being surprised at one in particular. It involved the ceremony where Jake becomes one of the tribe. We are led to believe this happens through some body paint with swirly patterns. However this couldn’t be further from the truth, the scene is shamanic in context and seems to allude to a serious out of body experience, one that transcends time and space. Jake ‘sees’ the truth. But for reasons unknown it was left incomplete, yet could have shifted the tone of the movie toward a far deeper understanding of why this culture (albeit an fictional one) had a relationship with nature that was profoundly different to the sky people. Back in ‘real world’ I think the Sky People represent the western military industrial complex with its overarching driving force of consumption and competition.

But it’s NYE, its unlikely anyone will read this, and if they do I just hope they read it with the intention it was meant – not as a judgement. So if you are out there tonight enjoying yourself in whatever ‘pop up’ community you join, look after your friends if they have taken on too many molecules of whatever substance. Suspend judgement of others who choose other molecules regardless of their legality, but don’t suspend action of someone is at risk or in danger. Substances and driving or swimming are risky. Being out of it shouldn’t be seen as a crime but simply taking an internal journey, a trip, and Kiwis love a good adventure. Inner space and outer space and spaces in-between are all territories to be explored. Let’s afford ourselves and each other some room to travel differently at different speeds.

 

Broken sleep open mind

I haven’t had a lot of sleep the last few nights and it’s having a curious effect on my body and awareness. My senses seem dulled and strangely sensitive and I’m not sure why I am finding my piles of washing amusing. Noises and smells seem to move through me triggering cascading thoughts memories and ideas that seem impossible to guide or shape into anything coherent. I’m out of it but what is it that I am out of?

Had I taken something to get into this state I might be judged as irresponsible or reckless and warned against the dangers of messing with brain chemistry. We sanction the body and its uses in so many ways including what we are allowed to perceive through our physical and non-physical selves. The policing of consciousness, pleasure and desire is not always obvious and although we might know instinctively that there could be more to experience or want to learn more through experience, the fear of being ostracised, ridiculed, judged or excluded by others pulls us into line and so we publically agree ‘drugs are bad’ or if we want to take up a resisting position we must do it within the acceptable discourses available – such as legitimisation via scientific research or medicine.

I don’t know if I would recommend sleep deprivation, it’s pretty hard to sell. Maybe it could be a gateway phenomenon that leads to other natural highs like laughing lots or taking in a concert or potentially the most dangerous of both dance festivals! Oh what might the world come to if we danced all night outside in limestone sink holes to pumping music and glorious night skies.

Better stick to something safe and legal like alcohol.

Out Of Time

What is time to a fish? How do the seconds pass? If a fish was riding a bike would it notice the relative speed of the vehicles? Was I that fish on a bike today when caught in the headlights of a car at a roundabout that hadn’t been there a moment ago. The honking of a horn indicating the arrival of another stream of time and momentum. The jolt of awareness that signalled a dislocation in the fabric of collectively agreed rights of passage that I seemed to have disrupted or ruptured.

Speed, space, time, distance, colluding to segregate and define who can participate in the flow of life. If you become relocated in this and live somewhere in between there is unease and distrust – a disruption to the flow. The ability to be ‘present’ and ‘here’ ‘now’ communicating in ways that identify and signify we know where we are located defines intimacy. When people are tuned to a different frequency the ability to connect on an intimately personal level shifts and the signals we usually pick up become lost in the static hum of confusion.

Common functioning suggests we all must locate our consciousness and awareness and sense of who we are within a narrowly defined criteria. Those experiencing neurological diversity (ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorders – or – Alternative Sensory Downloads) and other forms of time/space re-location (alzheimer’s, amnesia, altered states of consciousness) highlight the pervasive normalisation of human functioning and fear associated with intentionally attempting to create those conditions – messing with mysterious interactions and perception we can have of reality.

Losing someone in time is hard. They can be physically present but elsewhere, they are not ‘around’ and the grief associated can be experienced in the same way as death. Let’s acknowledge this more instead of brushing over the obvious that they are carrying on regular metabolic functioning – AKA alive, and require people to be grateful for this experience. However my heart tells me love transcends the limits of 3rd dimensional space, we might never truly know how someone experiences the warmth of our caring but to quote Carl Sagan, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

If you do see a fish on a bike, you just might want to check what is in your ‘special’ coffee. And just be a bit patient – no need to get into a flap about it and watch out for those red herrings aye.

Happy new yeah…nah

I’ve been out running this afternoon. Winding my way along the Manukau harbour, observing people starting their new years eve celebrations. Over the next 24hrs people all over the world join in one of the few celebrations that are not tied to any particular religion or historical event. The right to celebrate isn’t limited or restricted to any particular group and there are no set traditions, although many would say that drinking, dancing, and other shenanigans most certainly seem pretty well established.

I find the ritual of setting new year resolutions curious. I’m not ‘for’ or ‘against’ that would be too easy. Instead I wonder about why we feel the compulsion to do it at all. I don’t know if it has to do with the altered states of consciousness people are in but declarations and commitments fill the ether. It is like a contractual agreement made stronger sometimes by collective witnessing even joining with others in similar states of intoxication to monitor and cheer each other on. These contracts are made spontaneously usually or perhaps there had been some prior thought but there is nothing like a NY resolution – they just seem more binding.

But the irony is no-one would EVER consider a contract signed under these conditions as valid in the real world. Yet we hold ourselves and sometimes others to account – that is if we can remember what was said. So here is some ‘fine print’ I would be mindful of if I was tempted (which I not – and tea and gingernuts are not likely to open the wrath of my subconscious) to make a NYR.

• All declarations of love are subject to confirmation upon sobriety
• Promises made under influence of substances are not binding
• If found praying while emptying stomach contents – all utterances are null and void
• Actions cannot be considered in character unless the behaviour is consistent outside of the 24hrs
• Kissing is not considered binding
• Recollection of events might be subject to impairment – in light of new information the holder of this contract has the right to edit, censor or remain silent
• It is advisable to wait at least a week – in which time negotiation with your past, present and future self is warranted
• Awkward and embarrassing feelings may be rescinded

Whether you do or don’t make a resolution remember you can change your mind at any time. Don’t wait a whole year.

Less visibility means you might see more

Fog doesn’t conjure up warm images or seem to offer much to those seeking motivating imagery. I’d go as far to suggest the ‘fog’ metaphor is probably more frequently applied negatively to imply a block or barrier to seeing clearly, or being able to operate at full capacity (whatever that is) such as the term ‘mental fog’. It’s also wet and cold – like rain – only much more stealthy and an umbrella won’t help.

It occurred to me that fog is a wonderful phenomenon that provides a useful opportunity to slow down both literally and metaphorically, take a different sensory lens to the world and ‘see’ what we might not have observed before. Fog reduces visibility or more accurately optical (visual) acuity, you lose the ability to pick up fine detail or the ‘sh*^t I can’t see anything’ factor. Driving is probably the activity most people would associate with impairment due to fog. What is immediately in front of you becomes lost in the murky soup of condensation and should mean an adjustment in awareness or at least some modification of speed and following distance. More often than not I suspect it is met with gritted teeth, reluctant braking and the dilemma of whether to have your lights dipped or on full. People rarely embrace the opportunity to focus in a new way or even notice how things appear in this new ‘muted’ light. They just want to get through it and out the other side.

I’ve noticed when running just how often I expect to get to the top of Mt Eden and look out over the city. My expectation is based on a preference for the view being panoramic but I have come to appreciate the beauty and contrast foggy mornings bring. Trees become silhouettes and lights become orbs and it always feels like I hear more. Breaking through at the summit, the city makes noise beneath the fleece of white cloud and other landmarks form a temporary new perspective of ‘ground level’.

So whether your are driving or just going about life generally if ‘fog’ appears either metaphorically or literally – take a moment to adjust and see what appears to emerge that might have come forward for noticing now that the usual background detail has blurred.

But if you are on a bike in the fog – just get over the ego and go high viz – become a Dutch football fan if you need an excuse, or go all the way and get a vest – embody Emmet from The Lego Movie…either way there are times when it pays to stand out and not blend into the background.