By Jed McKenna
(This article may be freely reprinted, reposted, translated, etc.)
Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick
“Am I an asshole?”
Lisa doesn’t answer right away, which might be answer enough. We’re sitting in Adirondack chairs at the formal firepit, feet up, drinking a good white wine in her case and a peasant red in mine. Her stemware could cut diamonds, mine could pound nails. I started the fire an hour earlier so it would be settled by the time we sat down.
“A bit of a curmudgeon, maybe.”
“Ouch. That’s how mommy calls grandpa an asshole in front of the kids.”
“Why do you ask? It’s all this truck business, isn’t it? You’re not used to all that facetime, are you?”
“Thirty seconds is about my limit, and this was almost thirty days.”
It was probably only fifteen, but it felt like a lot more.
About a month ago, a storm knocked a tree onto my truck and I spent a very unpleasant period in something like 25% outward, worldly, hylotropic, character-animating mode; living and interacting at the waterline between worlds, dealing with insurance and banks and the body shop and the car rental place, buying and using a disposable phone, finding and buying another truck, being lied to and manipulated from behind smiling faces and friendly voices, dealing with notaries and documents and overnight couriers, and all sorts of tiresome little activities that normal people consider normal. It’s not the activities that tire me, it’s being in the waterline environment.
A person swimming in the ocean far from the shore deals exclusively with the world of waves and does not get into trouble no matter how big they are. If the same individual climbs up high on the shore and is facing only the world of solid forms, there is again no problem. It is the waterline, where the two worlds mix and neither of them can be experienced in its own right that presents the difficulties.
-Dr. Stanislav Grof, The Adventure of Self-Discovery
It was a very fortuitous accident, as accidents tend to be when one lives in alignment with energetic pattern. It put me into an ideal truck at an auspicious time so I was grateful for it, but the time I had to spend in character among characters took a toll. The universe seems so accommodating in so many respects that I’m surprised it didn’t spare me this experience, but I’m sure it has its reasons. You don’t just wave a wand every time you need a nose job, there’s still an actual surgery to undergo.
“You’re not an asshole,” says Lisa, “you’re a sigma male.”
“Is that the Jeremiah Johnson thing or the Great Pumpkin thing?”
I was trying to make wine come out her nose but all I get is a smirk.
“Self-sufficient, independent. not caring how you’re perceived; a lone wolf, not running with the pack. You said in one of your books that if you needed anyone else’s respect, you wouldn’t have your own. That’s pure sigma.”
“Well, that’s better than asshole, I guess.”
“Let’s not rule anything out,” she says, making me laugh in mid-sip with unsightly results.
So a tree fell on my nice old truck and totaled it. That made me sad, but endings are beginnings so I stiffened my resolve, girded my loins, hardened my… Okay, yeah, I see how that sounds. Anyway, I braced myself for a period of time spent downhill dealing with people in their various workplaces full of bad air, bad light and bad energy; my senses and personal energetics under constant assault and no one to complain to because it’s all just so damn normal.
My solution to dealing with people in their workplace is to minimize contact when I can and retreat behind a dull, glassy-eyed facade when I can’t. It’s not an act. The only reason I usually deal with people at all anymore is in the context of their job, so I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and let them do it.
The term uncanny valley refers to the point on a graph at which our upward-trending reaction to humanoid robots spikes suddenly downward. Before this point, we find them appealing, beyond this point, appalling. The more real they seem, the more we’re skeezed out by them. How much skeezier when the humanoid robots are actually human? That’s how most people appear to me. I believe that they must be thinking, feeling, fully aware beings no different from myself, but up close they seem more like life-sized animatronic dolls or computer-generated non-player characters, and I get caught in that uncanny valley where I am disturbed by their artificial resemblance to authentic humans.
The deeper revelation of Grof’s waterline metaphor is that there is no land, there is only water. On the shoreless sea of the infinite dreamstate, land is invariably a mirage or an artificial construct. In this case, the illusion of a continental landmass is created by the tightly-packed herdmass held together and afloat by fear. In my natural environment I’m a dolphin, but on land I’m fish out of water. I am out of my natural element; weak and awkward. It’s like the gravity of an alien world. It would be nice if it differed in my favor so I could run like a gazelle and drive a golfball half a mile, but it goes the other way. It oppresses me, makes me tired and wobbly and doltish, which is not a good look for me.
Lisa has provided a warm brie with cranberry chutney with chopped walnuts, sliced apples and pears, and crackers. She forgot the little napkins and doesn’t want to go back to her house for them. She asks if, just this once, we can lick our fingers between helpings, but I can tell she doesn’t like the idea. She’s wearing a nice dress and a sweater but I’m wearing grungy work clothes, so every time she takes a bite I extend my leg so she can wipe her fingers on the cuff of my pants, and every time she says thank you.
In the entire world, the only thing that can be considered not-right is ego; the false self. This is the single source of all not-rightness in the universe and the sole obstruction to spiritual progress. The society of ego-bound human juveniles is so unnatural that it defies comprehension, even for one who has spent decades in that state and decades more studying it. I can handle it from afar as a sort of abstraction, and I can watch it on screens like a movie or TV show, but up close and personal it discombobulates me. I am rendered semi-catatonic by prolonged exposure to eyes-closed, fear-based, ego-clad juveniles. Fatigue sets in and my brain fogs over as if exposed to radioactive materials. I don’t know if I’d start losing my hair in clumps or bleeding from my eyes because I’ve never stayed long enough to find out, but it feels like it’s going in that direction.
I try to explain all this to Lisa but, despite my super-awesome communication skills, I still sound like a pathetic whiner.
“Maybe instead of a waterline between land and sea,” I suggest, “we’d do better to think in terms of a skirmish-line between humans and zombies. Sometimes, a former zombie like myself has to smear himself in zombie goo and make his way back into the horde; to replace a totaled truck, for instance.”
“What the hell is zombie goo?” asks Lisa.
“It’s their scent. You smear handfuls of their blood and guts on yourself so you can walk among them without being detected and eaten. Didn’t they teach you anything in law school?”
“I guess I was out that day.”
So why are we talking about me? We’re not. This is all about you and what might lie ahead for you. I spent thirty years as a land-based creature just like you, but now my former environment is chaotic and disruptive to my subtle energy system. This fragility and discomfort is not unique to me, this is how your current world will affect you after you’ve transitioned out of it. Right now you’re a normal person in a normal world, but if you manage to resuscitate your aborted development and transition into adulthood, you’ll find that normal is not so damn normal after all.
If you don’t like the Zombie Horde metaphor, the Borg Collective metaphor works just as well. Maybe, whether zombie or Borg, you have some vestigial awareness of your core humanity. Maybe you’re reading this because you want to know if your condition can be reversed, if you can undo the damage and reclaim your full humanity. You can. It’s your dreamstate, you can do whatever you want, but what do you really want?
Asking if you want to open your eyes and see isn’t incidental, it’s the single defining question of your existence. How much do you want to know and understand? What price are you willing to pay for that level of awareness? How much emotional ballast are you willing to cut away to achieve that level of perspective? Do you want to know who and what and where you really are, or are you content to stay who and what and where you currently are? Despite the confusion we all experience at the waterline, land and sea are different paradigms and you can’t inhabit both.
There is no mystery. Nothing is hidden or withheld. Everything is just sitting right out in the open, but you can’t see it through closed eyes. If you want to know you have to look, and if you want to look you have to open your eyes. If you do open your eyes you will see, but by seeing what is you destroy the illusion of what’s not. Do you really want to set yourself apart by awakening from the shared dream of the collective? Do you really want to be mocked and scorned and banished by your tribe? Not until your answer is an emphatic and unequivocal yes, that you’d rather die than continue life as a zomborg, is your head really in the game.
What we’re looking at now is this confusing waterline area where the personal and transpersonal paradigms meet and overlap. Right now, you’re wondering if and how you can make the leap from one to the other, but your head is full of all sorts of whackadoodle spiritual bullshit that’s calling you back to the comforting illusion of land.
But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God – so better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land!
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick