transcendence

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.

 

Shelf Life

Book cases are snapshots of who we are have been or wish to become. Mine is a curious mix ranging from childhood favourites, various interests and fields of study. They aren’t particularly well organised, like the messiness of life and the multiplicities, intersections we live. I have one exception, my complete collection of Frank Herberts Dune. Each copy dog eared as I have worked my way through it at least a couple of times. There are numerous gaps however, books that have been borrowed and stayed borrowed or given away as gifts to those who need them more than I do. I’ve been thinking about some of those books I hoped would return but haven’t and whether or not to seek new copies. But there are two in particular that I miss.

First there is Stranger In A Strange Land. I’ve read a lot of science fiction and I know when it was first released in the early 1960’s it was provocative and much like 1984 by George Orwell (although less widely known) the questions it raises about what it actually means to be human are no less relevant today. I love the word ‘grok’ and it is a bit like saying ‘take the red pill’ as a way to strike a chord of recognition and connection with others. The second is Skallagrigg by William Horwood. Perhaps one of the few books that had me from page one and kept me on an emotional roller coaster, cleaver and intense. I’m surprised so few people know about it. It’s a bit like the Tardis of books – infinitely more expansive than the title or plot summary describe. Once you open it you are in for an amazing journey.

These two books fill more than two slots. It is something about what they provoke and stir and I suppose it is the thrill of the creative force they contain that spills through my memories or at least my recollection of how I felt reading them. Even in their absence they maintain a strong presence. Both seek out something beyond the threshold of the familiar, unravelling and splintering linearity and the comfortable containers we prefer to give shape to meaning and materiality.

When we are deeply affected, touched, moved and inspired there is a simultaneous collapsing and expanding of spacetimematter, it is sublime. To share a book is to share life, passion and indeed love.

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.

Humour Me

When I started running a diversity inquiry group with my friend Philip 8 years ago it never occurred to me that having serious conversations could be so entertaining, or that laughing didn’t necessarily mean losing the threads of meaning. A classic example was a recent meeting when we’d decided to talk about voluntary euthanasia given its topical relevance in the media and the fact that Philip was directly involved. The two of us spent time planning the facilitation, by planning I mean considering the alternative ways to approach the delicate edges of ethical and moral dilemmas without plunging into the pendulum of ‘for and against’ like some Newton’s cradle with the energy passing directly through and simply knocking backwards and forwards.

So lunch time came and I’d scrambled to get the list of words together – not bothering to check my spelling and being more concerned that having this conversation on a mufti day where the theme was pyjamas could seem a little trivialising. Although a panda onesie could almost pass for a suit. When students arrived and started looking at the words there the usual questions began. Starting with the Hippocratic oath. But for some reason I had typed ‘hypo’cratic. Goodness knows where my head had been, but to their credit they wondered about the meaning given hypo as a prefix meant something under. This signalled my awareness to the error so quick correction to hippo and more wondering about hippopotamus until we finally got to Hippocrates the Greek ‘father’ of medicine. The group scooted into a robust discussion about ‘preserving life’ and ‘doing no harm’ and quickly gathered some strands to anchor ideas. As we delicately stepped through the web of sticky questions the weight of some ideas required lighter approaches and at each point someone seemed to pick a moment to bring humour in.

But nothing could prepare us for what happened next. A new person joined 10 minutes in, she had been invited by a friend. The intensity had built and there was a moment of pausing to introduce people before launching back into it. A perplexed look fell over her face as we continued until she piped up ‘I thought you were talking about ‘youth in Asia’” and there it was – the irresistible and contagious explosion of tension which spiralled into a temporary mingling of strands into some bizarre hybrid that allowed us to hold both contradictions. Voluntary youth in Asia and coercion mixed briefly with choice and control and then dissipated. Picking up some dropped lines and sticking them back, the shape of ideas changed as the synergy and balance returned. As we turned toward emotional pain there was another language twist where sanatorium and sanitarium were interchangeable and a momentary picture was painted of mental illness and being treated with cornflakes and weetbix. Ironically the terms can be used interchangeably depending on where you are in the world but in NZ Sanitarium produces the breakfast of champions.

While we all regained our composure and recognised the heavier strands that could scaffold some future thinking it seemed what mattered is it didn’t matter what the law was, or who’s beliefs were right or what evidence was presented. It seemed in the moment that pleasure and pain can only exist because of the presence of the other. That without some medium from which tension can arise there can be no release. In fact if we look at the original meaning of humour it derives from Greek medicine, where the balance of bodily fluids or humours was essential for good health.

Laugher is not trivial or trivialising, in fact it recognises the pain, and dis-ease and makes it bearable for a moment just enough to give space to think the unthinkable and stretch our capacity to hang over the edge and search the face of the void rather than shrinking away in fear.

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.

Prideathlon

In the half light, music blaring, a sea of flags, rubber and lycra, nervous energy and cameras flashing. Crowds lean against barriers but there are no police and no parade here, just thousands of 7-15 year olds participating in the Weetbix Tryathlon. There was another sort of pride parade happening last night in Ponsonby but this experience of pride was equally worth celebrating. The way these children and young people coped with such a huge occasion, feeling the fear and mixed emotions but managing to get to the start line shouldn’t be underestimated. Not to mention the navigating of three different physical activities and managing to put up with their sleep deprived, stressed and anxious parents who might also be suffering caffeine withdrawal, then they are all legends before even starting the event.

I’d like to suggest that everyone who took part have the curriculum ticked off for the key competencies demonstrated. This was nothing less than experiential learning, schools could do more to recognise and integrate these kinds of activities. There were some unofficial events worthy of note, for example the tree climbing and patience required to cue up for a bounce on a trampoline and also the bravery of those needing to use the port-a-loos. Then there is the ability to negotiate with tetchy adults and create a reasonable argument for the earning of a slushy. I was moved by an amazing display of leadership and natural mentoring from the young volunteers. I watched them channel the energy of tiny bodies into confidence and enthusiasm. This again is something missing from schools due to their segregation by age of such opportunities. They are artificially created from time to time but I wonder about what relationships and power dynamics might shift if this was a more common phenomenon.

One of the things I have enjoyed about multisport and triathlon is the across age level participation, bringing people together with a shared interest and enjoying the diversity this brings. There is nothing like the feeling of crossing the finish line – the distance is irrelevant as the sense of achievement is exactly that – a sense, lived through the body and in ways that transcend overworn success rhetoric that sports apparel companies flog.

Seeing so many bikes lined up in one area was a delight however I have a sense we are still moving in the wrong direction when it comes to physical activity being something integrated as a way of life, such as transport. If the bike goes back in the shed until next year what is the point? Nevertheless it cannot take away from the joy and pleasure I saw on so many faces today.

So many Kodak moments – good grief, now I am really showing my age.

Shifty Greys Of Shade

I scowl with frustration in the mirrored lenses of my glasses that are smeared with sweat and sun tan lotion. Damp patches growing as the summer heat refuses to surrender its suffocating mask of humidity. My hair pulled back in a pony tail does little to alleviate this. Crawling under the nearest Pohutukawa the dappled light offering a temporary reprieve but my skin aches for the cool caress of a delicate breeze. The temporary disorientation gives way to annoyance as a picnic blanket occupies the private space I had hoped to accommodate. Carnal urges to kick sand all over the place are pushed aside as I move toward another tantalising dark corner of the beach. Fingers already reaching deep inside my bag to fondle the corners of my book in anticipation. I duck under the low slung branches, thick matted aerial roots like hair brush my cheek. The blazing glare behind me I take a moment to orientate myself in the strobing shadows. There it is, the solid outline of sand untouched by the blowtorch outside. The cool sand pushing between my toes and the loamy smells beckoning I need no more seduction. I throw myself onto my towel and grasp the generous mass of literary flesh that is The Luminaries and devour every word. My quiet ecstasy as the words penetrate layers of my consciousness pulling me into a void filled with imagery and mystery. I am between worlds now and letting go, surrendering to the pleasure and delight of my heart and mind no longer being caged. My lips curled in a half smile and a tear of joy moves to the corner of my eye, lashes holding it until the surface tension gives way.

My neck aches, I reach inside for something to rest my head on. There is another book that might do the trick. Fifty…

Less abrasive is sharper

Bare foot on the beach. Sand and shells in various stages of decay, broken and beautiful. Beautifully broken. Hidden amongst the spiral cores and splintered fans a glint of green. Most likely this was once a bottle, now shattered and exposed to the elements. A hazard for the soft flesh, the original shape making way for razor sharp edges, ready to pierce any unsuspecting skin and inflict shock, pain and confusion. But not this piece, it is barely recognisable as a vitreous substance its edges pose no threat to delicate tissues.

Turning it over in my hand I wondered about the vessels of ourselves, those pieces of identity that we hold and contain beliefs, values our sense of truth, justice, right and wrong. When dropped or shaken we might crack or even break, exposing harsh edges, newly formed opinions, and ideas become weapons of self-defence and others might tread more carefully around. But if moved by the sea, through tides and storms it will be tumbled in amongst other abrasive surfaces the gritty friction of tumbling chips away. Smoothing and remoulding until it is unique perhaps broken again a single edge becomes clear and transparent. The uniformity of it’s original form forgotten, liberated from the need to maintain perfection and clarity.

May I continue to fracture and roll in the coarse moments that I may smooth and reshape in an endless dance with entropy.

Going To Great Depths

Dark, silent, alone, de-pressed, it might sound like the start of a story about depression but William Trubridge is man who took himself intentionally into a deep dark hole, on a single breath of air. Not just any hole, a yawning orifice in the Bahamas over 200m deep. Looking down through the crystal clear blue waters I had the impression of him entering the pupil of a giant eye. Watching him pack air into his lungs, like some poor fish gasping for air before he attempted the world record immediately sent shivers down my spine, this was a huge physical and mental challenge. We are mammals and our physiology is definitely not adequately designed to cope with the immense hydrostatic pressure water packs on the body, whilst starving your brain of oxygen.

He was attempting a world record, most of us in NZ will have seen the Steinlager Pure advertisements over the last month or so, giving us a sense of what he would be putting himself through. Somehow, I don’t think he would be reaching for a Steiny after holding his breath for nearly four minutes, more like ‘pass me that regulator’ and sucking on some sweet air. He was oh so close to making it. I watched live this morning and seemed to hold my breath…well…at least for 5 seconds at a time just mesmerised by the slow, graceful descent into darkness. I admired his beautiful technique and for a moment it seemed like maybe he was an aquatic mammal. At 102m he had made it, but like those who climb mountains (only in reverse) the ascent was yet to be completed. With 20m to go, he made the call to his support crew – a simple shake of the head, the grabbed him and assisted him to the surface, the record missed.

It was the perfect miss. I was quietly celebrating this courageous surrender. Here was a man who did not ‘macho’ it through to unconsciousness. When thinking about the relationship between masculinity, and sport this could be seen as refreshing alternative, a new relationship with physicality, risk and a strength that comes from respecting limits, and leaving ego at the surface to get to the deeper qualities of being that invite patient, gentle wisdom, and confidence to let go.

As for Steinlager being the sponsor for William, I don’t think the need to worry about their product image being diminished, if anything they got a pure result – and it isn’t always perfect. I hope William doesn’t suck on any of their product unless it’s the pure version, not unless he wants some dry land practice at having his head crushed in a vice. Anyone else experienced the ‘Steingrenade’ effect? Hangover doesn’t even begin to describe the pain and suffering…

You might want to climb into a dark hole after a night on those.

Lego of me

Plastic is an environmental disaster – unless it is in the form of Lego. My love for brightly coloured bricks began in the 70’s, but Lego has been around since the late 1940’s. Lego has stuck around since then and instead of being pushed aside with technology, has grown in popularity with the digital age adding to its cultural mystique.

Parents might have a different view – particularly if building kit sets with instruction manuals the size of telephone books. Thousands of tiny bits of plastic mathematically also work out to a large surface area of mess and potential soft tissue injury, anyone who has knelt on a piece of Lego will know what I mean.

When I visit my parents I still get a kick out of getting out my old Lego. It really is different to the new stuff. The people were featureless and genderless. Back then the neutrality and ambiguity of Lego wasn’t anything intentional but looking back – especially with ‘overtly gendered’ generation of toys (including new kits), it seems revolutionary and forward thinking. Others have already commented extensively on this change including the facial expressions of Lego people, but I don’t think we need to be panicking about the psychological damage, even the angriest Lego faces are kind of funny looking.

For those of you who ‘don’t get the Lego thing’ and are even more baffled by those Adults who dive into it as much as children do let me share my experience – don’t worry – its not contagious.
When I sit down with a pile of bricks it is like the world disappears. All I am thinking about is what I am building. It’s this effect and the challenge of creating as many cars, planes and space ships with ever decreasing pieces that is satisfying and strangely rewarding perhaps best summed up in a statement like, ‘ha! see – I made the millennium falcon out of just 15 pieces – I don’t need the 800 piece kit!’

But its ok if you still don’t get it. Lego has transcended itself, it is no longer inanimate – IT LIVES. Yes thanks to stop motion camera work Lego has made it to moving pictures. Things are funnier when done with Lego, even those who are already funny such as comedians can have their work lifted to another dimension with plastic bricks and people. Probably better to give an example:

And there is of course The Lego Movie! I have just one warning about this movie, the theme song will get stuck in your head and one word will be the trigger for full replay whenever you hear it. I’ll let Batman convince you its ‘awesome.’

There are so many reasons to love Lego, except when you get bits stuck together and you really need that one piece then it is all out frustration and broken nails. That aside, the simplicity of Lego is it’s success. I think it has its own wisdom so I’m going to have a crack at writing my own Tao of Lego – not being an expert in Taoism I realise this might be considered an act of hubris rather than humility. So I will tread lightly and hope the essence comes through.

1: Each block has a purpose a place everything fits
2: There are as many ways to build a space ship as there are blocks
3: The best way to build is without the instruction manual, it limits the natural expression of creativity
4: If you desire the perfect end product at least enjoy the process as much as the end result
5: Let go the need for comparing your space ship to others – they are all cool
6: The perfect state of Lego is broken, building moves away from the natural state – small children are masters of returning Lego to this
7: Don’t look for the right piece – reach into the pile and allow the piece to find you
8: It is what it is – whatever it is
9: We are all made of the same stuff – trees, people, spaceships
10: A thing of beauty does not need to be complex and detailed, there is wonder in a single geometric shape joined with one other.

Piece be with you all.