…said the Whispers:
“Just give him a chance. He’ll figure it out.”
“It’s been fifty-three years!”
“So… it’s just the very beginning of the fifth cycle…”
Endecay Museladder Jr.
A Slightly Schizophrenic Public Autolysis
Only that day dawns to which we are awake. -Henry David Thoreau
Reason in the context of Infinity will always come to paradox.
How much energy is squandered in hiding Truth— that which cannot remain hidden!
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates
Today’s world is the predictable result of the reasoned machinations of ancient sorcerers.
Reason insists that all of reality must be rational;
And even Eternity must yield to logic.
Is Reason thus reasonable? Or something else entirely?
The whispering of Spirit is a personal affair
And never secondhand.
Freewill among the majority
Is the choice to listen or not.
Few are capable of valuing absurdities.
Fool me once…
Language is the first betrayal—
Words, the cleaver hacking meat from spirit’s formlessness.
Something beyond the tiresome patterns of my thinking
Reaches back, past my first memory,
To the sea before these islands,
When all blended into All… air and sea, mist and fog,
As the sweet chaos of perception lacking time and place,
Baby-smiles and giggles; no concept of future:
Infancy… Infinity… there’s something there,
And oh, how quickly it is lost!
It all started out so normal, so typical. A young couple, mismatched but in love, conceived a child. The boy was born perfect, healthy, energetic, curious. He was named Allister: the ‘defender of man.’ They mostly called him Alis [ay-liss].
The boy was sweet and bright. He entered kindergarten at four, already able to read and write. Alis crafted poems which his mother loved for no reason and which his father scarcely read. He was only seven when he realized that his poetry was really only for himself— a way for him to point at things, ranking them, and finding himself within them. In his way, Alis was keenly devoted to making sense of a confounding world.
In the beginning, it made sense to trust your mother, to trust your father, to trust life’s many expressioned faces, the meandering path, and to trust god— whatever god could possibly be— until you couldn’t anymore. And then only you were left… and you weren’t even sure that you could trust that.
His first friend was Sottie, a plush grey teddybear. Friendship with Sottie was easy; the bear spoke from the boy’s imagination and there was never any purchase for conflict. For a number of years they were inseparable and Alis loved Sottie, and Sottie— as the boy easily imagined— loved Alis right back.
By the time he was three, his father periodically asked Alis if he wasn’t getting a bit old for toy bears. Alis purposefully declined to answer each time, as his mother ran interference for him, defending the friendship whenever she could. “Leave the boy alone,” she would say, as Alis and Sottie would quietly slink away.
Then, as some sort of compromise, Allister’s mom began to teach him how to read. She had always read him stories, and Alis took to reading like it was the easiest thing in the world. Soon he was reading all the books aloud to Sottie, and his father let him be for awhile longer.
And once Alis could read, naturally, he could write too. Well, duh; they were two sides of the same thing. But the few adults who came to visit with his parents from time to time thought that it was just marvellous that Alis could write at four years old. But really, it was easy.
The hardest thing for Alis, it turned out, was making real honest-to-goodness human friends.
One day his mom took him on a playdate to one of the neighbours down the street. They had a boy about his age who seemed to have the same trouble making friends. So his mom dragged Allister by the hand down the back alleyway, and Alis dragged along Sottie just in case things didn’t work out so good.
Jameson was a sickly child, skinny and pale; he wore glasses and coughed a lot, so he was always pushing his glasses up on his nose. They looked kind of big for him. The playdate, as Alis understood it, had been Jameson’s mom’s idea, but as soon as they had arrived at the back door, she had second thoughts written all over her pinchy face. She explained apologetically that Jameson was not well, that he would be undergoing surgery in a few days, to correct a defect in his heart. Mom said something conciliatory; Alis stared blankly and shrugged a little, and somehow the playdate still proceeded as planned.
Once out of earshot, in the sickly boy’s room, Alis wanted to ask Jameson why his mom’s face was so pinchy, but he didn’t get the chance. Jameson already looked like he was about to cry, so instead he asked the other boy, pointing at his chest, “Does it hurt?” Jameson shook his head no, but a few tears fell from his eyes anyway as he pushed out his lower lip. To Alis he just looked really really sad, and Alis didn’t know what to do about that.
“Do you ever get scared?” whispered Jameson, sniffling.
“Sure. Sometimes,” Alis answered, hugging Sottie a little closer. “Sometimes, at night, when there’s a little light shining through the window, or when my mom leaves the door open with the hall light on, it makes shadows. I know there’s monsters in the shadows.” Jameson nodded in agreement; of course there’s monsters in the shadows! Everybody knows that. “But Sottie knows how to keep the monsters away. He would never let them hurt me.”
“Really?” Jameson had perked up at that, and Alis felt immediate relief.
“Oh yeah,” continued Alis, “Sottie knows all sorts of things. He’s like… magic.”
The two boys spent the next hour and a half establishing Sottie’s many virtues and imagining his nearly unlimited abilities. Superman had nothing on that stuffed bear!
“Don’t you have a friend like Sottie?” Alis finally asked, and the mood turned instantly somber again.
“My mom won’t let me.” That didn’t make any sense to Alis, and he said so. “My dad sometimes says she has a stick up her butt,” said Jameson. That made them both giggle. And Alis finally had at least a little understanding of why her face was always so damned pinchy.
Then it was time to go. Allister’s mom called from the back door where their shoes were parked. When he got there, she asked him where Sottie was, and he answered “He’s with Jameson. He needs him more than I do.” Her smile was positively beaming. And Jameson’s mom, well, her face was more pinchy— Alis was quite sure— than any face should ever be allowed to be.
It was a few days later, when Alis was out playing in the neighbourhood by himself, that he got the shock of his young life. It was just so staggeringly unthinkable that he never really knew what to feel about it, but it sure made him cry… a lot.
He was in the back alley, out behind Jameson’s house, incidentally on the very day that Jameson was at the hospital for surgery, when he saw something unbelievable. There, beside the gate, where the garbage cans were lined in a neat row, stuffed to the brim awaiting pickup, he spied unmistakably the eye of his best friend peering out from beneath the lid. He pulled the garbage can from the bin out into the alleyway and lifted the lid in horror. Amongst coffee grounds and potato peels, there lay Sottie, wretched and stained, discarded like common trash.
In Allister’s mind, Sottie was beyond rescue. Over the past few days, the boy had made peace with his sacrifice for Jameson’s sake. He had understood from the very first moment that there was no going back. The decision to leave Sottie with Jameson had been final, irrevocable. And now this!
He shoved the garbage can lid back down, hard, until it snapped shut. He ran as fast as he could all the way home, crying like he’d never cried before. He cried for days, but he never ever told anyone, not even his mother, why.
Who are you?
To tell me about me
And the things that I see?
I don’t know you;
All I know is that you’re not my friend.
He was only in the second grade, still quiet and solitary, when his teacher, Mr. Armitage, squashed his last real chances for making any grade-school friends.
“Allister!” he suddenly yelled, and the whole class jumped in their seats. Alis sat in the back, so maybe there was good reason to raise his voice… but not that much. “What are you doing?”
Alis was amusing himself, fighting that dogged beast, boredom. Same as it ever was, he was writing little poems.
“Bring it here,” Mr. Armitage demanded.
Head down, defeated, among the furtive snickers of his classmates, Alis delivered his private thoughts to the waiting, open, trembling hand at the front of the class. He couldn’t decide whether the hand shook in rage or due to some infirmity. Why was he even angry at all?
Mr. Armitage read the scribbled poems aloud, clumsily, awkwardly mocking. Alis stood bent beneath the shaking page as its recalcitrant author, absorbing scorn, deflecting quiet ridicule by the tightening of all the muscles in his body. When the sneering recitation was finally finished, Alis was covered in cold sweat and his anonymity was ruined forever.
He was thereafter the Second-Grade Poet, a leprous outcast, untouchable, unredeemable. Although Alis consistently demonstrated a real aptitude and genuine love of learning, the boy evermore positively hated school.
Fly me to the moon,
Where I can be king,
Looking down on your troubled ways;
Easily turning my back,
Forgetting your smallness,
As I ponder infinite space.
Allister’s home life was to all appearances normal and trouble-free. His parents argued quietly at night, after the boy was asleep, out of morbid consideration. But through the course of the week, as his father went to work and his mother watched TV, crying at the soaps, slowly a subtle but palpable tension would build toward the weekend, inexorably. An outsider wouldn’t’ve likely noticed anything at all. But Alis was a keen insider, alert and judicious; although he didn’t really know what was going on, he always knew that something was certainly going on.
Saturday morning breakfast was always unnaturally quiet, and Alis didn’t know how to speak to the tension, or if it was even proper. So he ate his grapefruit and toast in silence, waiting for his dad to make the move. They would either go fishing for the day, Dad grabbing the boy, saying nothing more to Mom than to mention the spot to where they were headed; or else he’d pack up the truck with the tent and a couple of sleeping bags, an axe and a shovel, and they’d go camping for the whole weekend. Mom was never invited; she’d once said that she hated camping, so it seemed alright to Alis. He didn’t much like the quiet tension that piled up during the week, but he liked fishing and camping with his dad well enough.
He was almost eight, and Easter had just passed. They were on the backcountry road to Whitetail— where they’d be both camping and fishing. The lake was known as a trophy lake, well stocked and remote. But despite its out-of-the-way nature, Whitetail had a proper campground with stalls, pads, campfire pits and firewood provided. It was a provincial park; the BC government maintained it pretty well, so the only real drawback was that there were always other people camping there too, even this early in the season.
“Is the Easter Bunny real?” Alis had to nearly shout over the rattle of the truck on the dirt and gravel road and the whine of the engine during the steep parts.
His dad turned a moment to look at the boy, sizing up the situation. “What do you think?”
That’s what Alis had expected. His dad always turned everything back on him. And he was ready. “I don’t think that the Easter Bunny is real.” He was pretty sure.
His dad smiled ever so slightly, the corner of his mouth caught marginally in profile. “How d’ya figure?” He was looking straight ahead, concentrating on the drive.
“Well,” began Alis, laying out his reasoning, “the Easter Bunny has to first get inside the house. And he can’t come down through the chimney. A rabbit’s got no way to get on the roof. So he’s gotta come in through the door. But he’s got no fingers. How can he turn the doorknob without any fingers?” He let the question sit there as the sure indictment it was.
After a momentary pause and a tricky bit of maneuvering around some wide mud puddles, his dad easily confessed— but not in so many words. “You figured that out, huh?”
Alis nodded when his dad looked right at him. Was that a hint of pride? Alis decided that it was.
“So then…” he ventured further, “I’m gonna say that Santa Claus is bullcrap too.” His dad burst out in genuine laughter at that one, and the boy took it as full confirmation for everything he’d been thinking. He just couldn’t understand why the lie in the first place. The whole world was in on it. What for? He couldn’t help but ask.
“Blame your mother,” Dad answered unexpectedly. “If it’d been up to me, I’d’ve never piled that shit on ya. It’s a stupid lie if you ask me. But nice people love stupid lies… more than their own kids.”
Alis didn’t know what to say to that. There was a lot to unpack in those short sentences. Was his mom stupid or nice? Or both? Was his dad more like him, an outsider? Was the whole world stupid? There was a lot to think about, for sure.
His dad was up at the first hint of dawn. He hauled the canoe down to the lake and set out fishing alone, letting the boy sleep awhile longer.
But Alis wasn’t sleeping. He had to piss, and it was cold. He was weighing the merits of relieving his bladder against the abandonment of his toasty warm sleeping bag. In the end, the bladder won out; the bladder always get’s its way.
He pulled on his boots and his sweater, unzipped the tent and stepped outside. It was halfway between light and dark. There was just enough light to see the silhouettes of a handful of campers— mostly RV’s— scattered around. Nobody else seemed to be up yet. He could piss in peace. He selected a nearby tree as the recipient of his warm morning gift…
“Wanna play?” asked the tree with the unmistakable voice of a little girl. That instantly threw Alis off his game, interrupting his stream before he was actually finished. He stood there a moment with his dick in his hand, staring gape-mouthed at the talking tree. When the girl finally emerged from behind it, he scrambled to zip himself up— quickly, without causing himself injury.
She’d seen him in the half-light, his private parts; he was pretty sure. And that was kinda awkward. She was a few years younger than he was. That just wasn’t right. He couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say.
She said again “You wanna play?”
“No,” he blurted out, looking down at his own crotch to make sure all had been properly put away. And once he realized that everything was quite kosher, he said “I mean, yeah… okay. Sorry,” he added for no reason.
“You’re funny,” she giggled. And just like that she took Alis by the hand and led him down the path which encircled the lake. There were still a few patches of snow along the muddy path, which provided the obvious fun of a snowball fight. Alis had the good sense to allow the little girl to win the battle by flubbing his throws intentionally and falling to the ground mortally wounded when one of her feeble attempts finally caught him in the side.
He played dead, expecting to rally her concern, but all was suddenly eerily quiet. He opened his eyes and sat up. She was standing a few yards away, frozen in horror, looking past him. He turned and got to his feet all in one motion. There, crouched in the snow, was a mountain lion, ready to spring.
“Run!” he yelled, and took off like a bat out of hell, slogging determinedly through the mud back to camp. But before he even got there, he looked back, and the little girl was nowhere in sight. There were sounds, unidentifiable sounds to his young mind, coming from the place where he’d left her. “Shit!” He was cursing himself.
Alis grabbed a sturdy stick from the ground, maybe five feet long, and went charging back into battle. There was no thought on his part; it was the only thing to do; there was no choice.
He screamed and growled like an unknown wild thing as he charged straight at the cougar, full tilt. The cat was standing over the little girl who was just a motionless bundle in the snow. The cougar roared but backed off, and Alis just kept right on coming behind the pointed determination of his pathetic spear. In a split-second decision, the cougar turned tail and ran, and Alis charged after it just as fast as he could run, screaming his fool head off. He chased that cat into the forest until it disappeared.
Then he stopped. Thoughts began flooding his mind. He turned and ran as fast as he could back to the little girl, wondering if she was dead… wondering if this whole thing was even real… wondering if he’d honestly just chased off a full-grown lion…
She was still motionless right where he’d left her. He felt wracked with guilt as he knelt beside her. Her jacket was torn in many places. There was blood on her legs, gashes and rips. He scooped her up like she weighed nothing at all and brought her down to the lakeshore.
Quickly, he began to remove her clothes, getting her out of the mangled jacket, her torn jeans; he scooped water onto her wounds to clean them; he washed her muddy face. Her eyes fluttered open. She was alive! She screamed and screamed and screamed.
The whole campground was there suddenly, a dozen adults looking stunned and confused. The little girl’s parents snatched her from Alis, and began shouting and cursing at him. They thought that he had attacked her, had removed her clothes for… for… They shouted the most horrible things, while others grabbed him by the arms and held him fast. Alis was stunned, dumbfounded. He had no idea what to say to defend himself. He had indeed acted shamefully when he had first run away; he felt guilty for that; he deserved their wrath; they were right. He bent his head and accepted it all; he wanted to die right then…
Right then, Allister’s father sprang from the canoe hastily beached, and grabbed his son from the angry mob. He demanded explanations, and couldn’t believe a word of what he was hearing. Finally, he turned to Alis and asked the boy what had happened, and Alis told them all about the lion.
“Show me,” said his father in a tone that permitted no argument… from anyone. Alis led them all to the place where the girl had been attacked. There were prints in the mud and prints in the snow. There was no doubt he was telling the truth. He had saved the little girl. His father had saved him. And from that moment on, the truth always seemed to Alis like a slippery thing, squirming in the spring mud, half frozen in the leftover snow.
“Don’t tell your mother,” was about all his dad wanted to say about the whole affair afterward. Alis didn’t really understand why, but somehow it made sense. It just wasn’t something Mom would appreciate, so they never told her.
Truth is a lion,
Lurking in a forest of lies.
Hunger is not cunning,
Nor predation even wise.
The lion is just a lion,
Not angry, moral, or even free;
And the tall tales of men
Change nothing of what that lion shall ever be.
There was yet one more stark utterance before perfidy’s full damning statement on Allister’s young life would be complete. He was still only nine when he began to notice some changes in his dad. His father was carrying a little extra weight, not enough to label him as fat, but noticeable, around his belly and neck. His face had become ruddy, as though he was always holding his breath. And the anger that Alis always knew was there just beneath the surface was beginning to show itself more and more.
His mother seemed the same: quiet, timid, doting; perhaps there was a touch of sadness the boy had scarcely noticed before. It was subtle, and just the sort of thing to be kept hidden anyway.
The nightly arguments finally erupted into full-blown shouting matches whose intensity easily reached to Allister’s bedroom where he lay in the full dark trying not to listen. The only real surprising aspect of it was that his mother was fully capable of dishing venom when pushed too far. That seemed to Alis to be something wholly outside of her character. But the boy’s youth had already been quite the lesson in everything he’d gotten wrong about the world he was expected to inhabit; it was just one more thing…
It was about a week before Christmas. It started at Saturday breakfast. From the moment he sat down with his parents, Alis couldn’t help but notice the thick tension filling the air, making it vibrate. No one said a word until Mom began absentmindedly cutting the sausages on Allister’s plate.
“Leave him alone! Let the boy cut his own damn meat,” his father growled. “He’s nine years old for Christ’s sake! He’s not a baby.” His mother promptly dropped the cutlery, letting it clatter on the plate as her eyes filled with tears. She got up immediately and hurried away— presumably to spare Alis from the spectacle of her pending breakdown. “Fragile bitch,” muttered his dad, just loud enough, deliberately, for Alis to clearly hear. And for some reason, those two words cut enormously deep into the boy’s heart. He’d never heard such a thing from his father before; and he never would again.
His mother took him that afternoon to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Alis was glad to be with his mother on this occasion. They both fully expected his father to be gone camping or fishing, or maybe just out drinking, by the time they returned. But Dad’s truck was still parked out front. Mom pulled the car into the driveway and pressed the button on the garage door opener, and waited…
It is an unfathomable spectacle to see one’s father dangling, lifeless, from the garage rafters. It was something purely inconceivable, yet there it was. Mom gasped and screamed and took her foot off the brake unconsciously. The car idled slowly forward, into the garage, into the hanging corpse. Alis managed to slam the gear shift into park before the car hit the back wall of the garage. He shut off the ignition and forcibly pushed his mother from the car. He shoved her through the door into the house and told her to call the police, while he turned to ponder the undeniable reality of the inconceivable once more.
His father had planned this final statement deliberately— that he and Mom should face this horror together. It was a demonstration… but of what? His dad had been the strong one, the hero, the tough guy— a liar! It didn’t make any sense at all. The only thing that was clear was that his father’s life had been a complete lie. In an instant, Alis could no longer comprehend anything of what he might’ve stood for. And what was this final statement supposed to convey? What was he supposed to learn from this shit?
He still had a lifetime to figure it out… along with everything else that would dramatically punctuate Allister’s unusual life. All he could do was pay attention and struggle not to be hopelessly buried beneath it all.
The light from the automatic door opener suddenly clicked off. Alis whispered to the corpse in the semi-darkness “Fragile bitch,” and went in to find his mother.
“Impeccability is nothing more than the proper use of energy.” -don Juan
meticulously doing the ‘right’ thing,
Irrespective of morality—
Is the only narrow road to freedom.
At any time,
Awareness is free to explore—
by dissipating or conserving energy—
the current confines of perception.
But those confines are expanded
Only by the actions
which handle and exceed
Those expanding confines.
Those actions are impeccable,
and narrowly defined
through personal experience,
and a tight relationship with power;
All others set limits.
Peace and complacency have no part
And compassion is a bugaboo for another day.
The Park Bench Encounters 2
Dodgeball Betty & The Elusive Now
“What are you defending?”
She had snuck up on me again! This time she was actually standing right behind my favourite park bench, where I was busy jotting down a few arguments pertaining to our last encounter. Apparently, she had been quietly reading over my shoulder. I slammed the MacBook shut and turned in my seat. But, once again, I was caught in the indecision of having too many things to say at once, and before I could select one she continued on.
“Do you really think I have any interest in arguing with you?”
From what little I knew of her from that singular previous encounter, I was suddenly and thoroughly sure that she was utterly dispossessed of any desire for argument. And furthermore, I was instantly as certain that I would lose any such argument anyway. I regrouped, gathered my thoughts, flashed my most disarming smile, and abruptly opted for a different tack.
“Won’t you please join me?” I indicated the vacancy beside me on the bench, and added “And for god’s sake, please tell me your name… and a little about yourself.” I was honestly curious who this strange woman was, and I felt a genuine relief and momentary satisfaction as she seemed to accept my offer, skirting the edge of the bench to sit next to me. I was rather pleased… right until the very next second when she spoke again.
Derailed again! Everything this woman said seemed to throw me off my game. “Um… I’m sorry, what?”
“What’s my name matter?” she jabbed. “And knowing any of my particulars won’t change a thing I’ve already said or affect the value of anything I might say today. What’s the point of any of that?”
“Well… well…” I stammered, “I have to call you something.” My insistence was weak and she just stared at me nonplussed and unrelenting. “C’mon, it’s just a name,” I pleaded.
“Exactly my point. Pick a name for me if you feel that you must. I’m a stray dog… gotta have a name.” Wink.
I honestly don’t know why this naming business rankled me so, but it did. In meek tenaciousness bordering on real despair I insisted that she provide me with a suitable name.
She acquiesced with a tiny smile, stared briefly into my eyes as if reading something there, and flatly stated “Betty.” And then she laughed uproariously, joyfully.
And that threw me into utter turmoil!
In my youth, myself and a group of friends referred to every girl we didn’t know personally as Betty: “Hey, check out the rack on that Betty!” or “What did Betty want?” when the cafeteria lady periodically gave us shit. And now, that this woman was able to pluck that singularly generic name from my memory, it thoroughly unnerved me. And I was irrationally sure that she knew exactly what she had accomplished with that little maneuver.
“Okay,” I practically whispered and swallowed hard. “Betty,” I affirmed with a nod. “And what is it that you do, Betty?” In for a penny, in for a pound, right?
“I have righteous conversations with strangers,” she iterated with uncommon force. I could only nod in assent. “Look, let’s get this all straight right now. Who I am isn’t at all relevant to anything I have to say. I’m not speaking from any special authority. I have no desire to ever speak from authority. Authority is for dip-shit kids! And we’re not kids, right?”
I nodded again.
“Judge and evaluate the fuck out of everything I say to you based on what I actually say to you, and nothing else. If the shit I tell you can’t stand on its own in your estimation, then chuck it. Save your arguments for yourself. If something’s bugging you, work it out— silently, internally. But you can be damn sure that it ain’t bugging me or I wouldn’t have said it.
“I’m Betty. Yup. And I’m damn fucking sure of myself!” And then she nearly fell off the bench laughing.
I was completely disarmed, instantly; the authenticity of her mirth— without judgment or accusation— totally put me at ease. I was suddenly in a good frame of mind for a real conversation. So…
“What should we discuss today?” I asked in a mood of surrender.
“I have nothing pending,” answered Betty. And I immediately realized that her answer was the full and final punctuation on the statement of who she was— what she was: she was that which had nothing pending, no agenda, no expectations. I imagined that this must be what it’s like to be fully present, to live in the now… and I said something to that effect.
“Hippy-dippy new-age claptrap!” she spat. “Hardly anyone has any meaningful acquaintance with the present. Everyone’s staring at the backside of the world as it’s rushing past them. Except for in very brief— very rare— moments, no one’s meeting the situation as it comes, as it is. Maybe if you’re driving in your car one night and suddenly there’s headlights right in front of you, coming right at ya, and it’s 50/50 whether you’re about to die or not— yeah, then for a split second, you’re fully in the now, looking honestly at all of the relevant data. But then you go right back to experiencing the world according to whatever description of it you’ve assembled from all your past experiences… and that’s just how it works. We drag the whole past along with us to serve as a lens— like a telescope for viewing the world from way-far-away-reality, or like a microscope for viewing the tiniest speck surrounding our distorted personal obsessions and compulsions. Trying to ‘live in the moment’ is just another unrealistic buzzword catchphrase that doesn’t usually suggest any method or procedure for getting there. Our bodies are always already in the now, while our minds are, well, usually someplace else.”
“So how do we get there? Or… er… rather here? What’s the procedure for getting our minds to the here and now?”
“Phew! That’s a biggie,” she conceded. “Minds like to think. But try this on for size: as long as you’re thinking, you’re not here; you’re not now. Even if you’re thinking exclusively about your current situation, in order to think, you have to evaluate and compare the current situation to everything you think you already know. That automatically puts you a couple of steps behind right there— or here.” Wink.
“So I shouldn’t think?”
“Ha!” she laughed. “Good luck with that. Minds are busy little things; if not thinking— you’re dreaming.”
“Isn’t that what meditation’s for?” I offered, “to quiet the mind?”
“Overrated,” she flatly stated. “Meditation’s good for one or two things: training yourself to be your own witness— so you can watch your own patterns of thinking and behaviour; and relatedly, for sharpening your own attention. If you can learn to pay attention to your own bullshit, you can pay attention to anything… or withdraw it from anything.”
Betty paused there momentarily and became thoughtful (which I thought was kind of ironic) and then she re-engaged the conversation. “Attention’s the thing…” she dangled. And then with ironclad conviction: “Attention is what makes reality real. Personally. Individually.”
I wasn’t prepared to challenge her statement, but I needed more to go on before I could accept it. She obliged, of course.
“Let’s try out a little analogy,” she suggested. “There are uncountable little gods hurling every manner of world views at you constantly, like some cosmic game of dodgeball. Scientists are chucking descriptions of the world at you; TV anchors are updating countless views, tossing them out nightly; teachers are lobbing convincing gobs of curricula; parents, friends, lawmakers, and really everyone you meet are all pelting you with every conceivable description of the world. But you, through the action of placing your attention on various aspects of these myriad depictions, cobble together your own unique description of the world. And then you chuck it back at all of them in one way or another— updated and personalized. And for every one of the players in this cosmic game of dodgeball, it is the specific items in each of their realities to which they agree to pay attention that make up the substance of the rubber ball they’re pitching.
“We tend to pay attention to the things we care about,” she continued, “or, more often, the ones that piss us off. For average everyday people attention gets irretrievably intertwangled with emotion. Throughout our lives we continuously make emotional investments in the world of our perception as directed by our attention. That’s the process, in a nutshell, of how we make reality real. We choose what’s real for us individually, and then we are inextricably bound by those choices.”
“Inextricably..?” I dangled the question playfully.
“For 99.9999% of folks, yeah; there’s no disentangling. And for the other three or four people in the world…” we both smiled; “there’s a minimal chance of gathering up all of the bits of attention we’ve scattered and squandered… and then a whole raft of new possibilities opens up.”
“What kind of possibilities, Betty?”
“Magical ones,” she said. And she couldn’t have been more serious. “Remember when you were just a kid and the whole world was awe-inspiring and filled with wonder? You believed in magic— easily— because you could feel it everywhere. And then your parents, and really every adult you had contact with, conspired to ridicule and root out that belief ruthlessly and permanently. They relentlessly drew your attention to ‘magical’ beings like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth-fucking-Fairy. They played you for an idiot. And when you were finally old enough to see through the con, you and all your peers silently vowed to never fall for such ridiculousness ever again. ‘Of course magic isn’t real. That’s for babies!’”
My automatic reflex was to object, but Betty held up her hand and continued. “I know you want to claim that it’s just a harmless prank, but it’s not. It’s a very callous ruse, and not very well thought out. We live in an infantile culture,” she explained. And I stiffened with the desire to interject with a rebuttal, but she mowed me down. “The proof that we’re living in a thoroughly childish society is that we operate on the principle of authority— exclusively. Authority is the lazy way of raising kids— or civilizations. When the children rebel and refuse to believe what you want them to believe, just smack ‘em around, assert your authority. It doesn’t really matter a whole lot what they actually believe, as long as they learn to respect authority. That’s pretty much society’s only directive for effective parenting: complete, indoctrinated conformity. Our insistence and utter dependence on authority is what keeps modern humans stunted, in a state of arrested development.
“So the whole Santa Claus thing winds up demonstrating to the kids that not only does magic not exist, but that the authorities can’t be trusted either. Sorry kiddies: there’s no real magic; might makes right; and even your own parents can’t be trusted— but obey them anyway, and be prepared to perpetrate the same betrayal when it’s your turn… because, you know, peer pressure is a good way to run a society, right? Confusing, ain’t it?”
I had to admit that I was a bit confused, but in keeping with confusion’s wily nature, it was hard for me to pin down with specificity. I filed the whole Santa-Claus-Tooth-Fairy thing away for future consideration, and figured that the topic of authority would likely come up again of its own accord, but I wanted to return to the topic of attention.
“Earlier you made a statement about attention, and you made it almost sound fantastical or magical itself,” I said. “You said that attention is what makes reality real.”
“It is magical,” replied Betty. “Your whole quality of life, the very meaning of your life, comes down to nothing more than what you place your attention upon. Where you direct your attention charts the course of your life. Lives are made from experiences; experience follows attention; attention selects what’s real to you individually. It’s quite simple and utterly profound. Your attention completely sustains the world of your experience.”
I’m sure that the expression on my face still reflected doubt, so Betty conducted a little experiment with me.
“Get comfortable, relax and close your eyes,” she instructed. I complied, and she continued softly, almost whispering in my ear. “You’re in a lawn chair on a beach. There’s an umbrella shading most of you from the scorching sun, but your bare feet are sticking out into the bright sunshine, so you half bury them in the sand. Feel the warm sand around your toes. Smell the ocean breeze coming off the sea mingling with the smoky subtlety of the single malt scotch on the armrest, by your right hand. There are the distant sounds of children playing, gulls crying, calypso music from the cabana behind you… Are you there?”
I smiled. “I am.”
“That's just little ol’ me whispering in your ear for thirty seconds, and reality gets dislodged and nearly replaced. Now think about the little voice of your internal dialogue— the script constantly running in your head— that won’t shut up during every waking moment. It’s not as crude or as coarse as my little ‘happy place’ experiment; it’s quite subtle and refined by now. But it’s been with you since you began forming your very first memories. That little voice is directing, focusing and reaffirming your attention constantly. And without it, your view of the world would quickly collapse.” She paused a moment for effect. And then, “If you could truly abide in silence, internally, only then would you be occupying the moment and be open to the immense spectrum of perception available. In inner silence, reality expands immeasurably.”
“It sounds simple,” I said, “but I know it’s not.”
“It is simple,” she insisted. “It’s just not easy.”
“Why is that, Betty?”
She smiled as prologue for the ridiculous scope of her reply. “Any and every unresolved issue from a lifetime of accumulated experience is fuel for the internal dialogue. Any place in your past where you’ve invested an iota of real emotion and subsequently felt that you got gypped, where you’ve carried forward a speck of resentment; or conversely, even a reliance on happy memories and nostalgia to force the past into dulling the present pain— anywhere we’re hooked emotionally, right up to the present moment, serves as fuel for the mind’s incessant chatter. The mind loves to talk about injustices its experienced and its surefire solutions for them. It’s almost like that’s all that the mind of ordinary man is— a personal justice warrior… and nothing more. It’s virtually all victimhood, from the undeniable painfully obvious to the finest grades of subtlety. The internal dialogue is the sure indication that the mind is in a passive state. Talking to ourselves places us behind the moment, reacting from the past. Even if we’re giving ourselves pep talks and reciting affirmations, it’s not proactive; it’s not in the moment.”
“So what should we do?”
“Nothing,” she shockingly answered. And then after a dramatic pause, “nothing, if you truly like your life, if you’re mostly content. And this is an important point,” she emphasized, “if you’re mostly okay with the way things are going, why change? You can’t just play around with the things I’ll say to you, out of some idle curiosity. Only if you’re burning for real change, that you know from the depths of your being that there’s more to life than this ordinary existence, then maybe there’s a tiny chance that you can alter your reality in a meaningful way.” She fixed me with a stare that insisted “I know you.” And then she proceeded to finally answer the question.
“You have to spur yourself to action,” she insisted. “For every little thing you can find from your past that still bugs you in the slightest, you have to devise a plan of action that once carried out will resolve the issue once and for all. Hopefully, for the vast majority, you can simply re-live the memory and bring a wiser more mature perspective to bear and reclaim those spent emotions in the light of a new understanding. But you mustn’t fool yourself. You must develop the honesty to know whether something still bugs you or not. If you’re still feeling irked— and especially if an item is still churning up thoughts and self-talk— then you have to find some other meaningful action to settle the account. Maybe you need to talk with old friends and have it out, or visit grave sites, or god only knows what. Only by settling the past— by having nothing pending— can you truly occupy the present and stand a chance of perceiving what this existence is truly about.”
“And what is it about?” I cautiously inquired, adeptly ignoring the sheer magnitude of the procedure she’d just outlined.
She smiled again and looked at me kinda sideways, seemingly assessing what she should answer to such an impertinent query. “That’s something you can really only find out for yourself; otherwise, I’m just telling you stories. But I will tell you that it’s mainly about becoming acquainted with Spirit— the only legitimate authority there is… as the true Author of reality. And the only other thing I’ll tell you today is that there are no universal steps or surefire procedures for becoming acquainted with Spirit. You can accept guidance,” and here I expected her to wink again, “but you have to devise and implement your own path according to your personal quirks and predilections. And anyone telling you different is full of shit! Or trying to sell you something.”
And abruptly, that seemed to be the end. She stood up and said one last thing in parting: “My shit’s free.” And she strode off into the late morning crowds of shoppers, workers, commuters of the bustling world of ordinary perception.
The Music Archeologist
2: The Black Sun
So now there was just this one thing left to do: end the world. And I was just a spectator.
We had walked some distance away from the car… into a lovely bit of desert nothingness, just sand and small clumps of scrub grass vying for our attention. We three were momentarily pensive, seemingly lost in our private thoughts… until Jay cheerfully smashed the silence.
“I looked high, saw the empty sky.” He was singing the Elton John song again, and it seemed strangely appropriate. “If I could only… could only fly! I’d drift with them in endless space, but no man flies from this place.”
Gord was kneeling now on the ground, inside a finger-drawn circle, further drawing some kabbalistic runes in the sand, muttering quietly to himself in something that seemed to resemble the Yiddish my girlfriend’s grandmother spoke. Figures.
“What’s he doing?” I asked Jay. I wanted him to walk me through our moment of doom— Gord so serious and focused… Jay suddenly carefree, almost happy… I had no idea what to think or feel…
“Him?” Jay seemed surprised that I would ask. “He’s organizing his intent, structuring his dream of destruction, ritualizing.” He said it so casually, like such a thing utterly lacked meaning or consequence. No big deal.
“The circle keeps it in,” he added, and I looked on bewildered. “Oh…” he realized suddenly, “I suppose you’re rather frightened… by all this.”
“Pfft… who me?” Honestly, I was struggling to keep my sense of humour. In the pit of my stomach— the place that really counts— I had accepted that this was the end. But my paranoid brain was still scheming, scrambling, searching for the exit sign.
“It’s nothing,” said Jay with perfect seriousness. Somehow this was meant to be a comfort. “Relax. Enjoy the evening.”
The sun was just beginning to dip toward the horizon. The very first hints of sunset colour were just becoming detectable. There was a promise of beauty coming like coolness to the desert sky… How do you enjoy the death of everything?
Apparently I said it aloud. “How do you enjoy the death of everything?”
“With everything you got,” said Jay. “Until it’s all gone.”
“Will it hurt?”
Jay looked suddenly wounded by the question. “Nah, it’s not really our prerogative to inflict pain… at least, not anymore.” For that last bit he looked directly at Gord, levelling some vague accusation.
I let the insinuation go and continued on more directly. “But we’re gonna die…?” It was half question, half statement.
Jay looked directly at me with soft eyes and smiles, the visage of compassion incarnate as he answered. “Well, I imagine you’ll die… when you lose all context… and there being no sun and all. But me and him, we exist elsewhere, so we’ll just carry on… elsewhere.”
Most of what Jay was saying flew past me as I stared death’s reality in the face, really for the first time in my sixteen years on this planet… er, in this realm, I mean.
“What’s death?” I asked next.
“A very old agreement,” answered Jay quite easily.
“An agreement!” That didn’t sit well with me. “Whose agreement? Who agrees to die!”
“You all did,” answered Jay softly, soothingly. And then he added “It was a good invention. Adopting a strict death policy was the right thing to do.”
“What?!!” Apparently, we earthlings had chosen death for ourselves… and that just didn’t seem at all right to my helpless victim mentality.
“Freewill is the supreme law of the earth realm,” explained Jay. “You’d do well to remember that. Everything under the sun proceeds and develops according to mutual agreement. Y’all agreed to die when you were born here… from the lowliest blade of scrub grass to the mightiest of kings.”
I didn’t doubt in the slightest the veracity of what Jay was explaining. I accepted that it was true, but I just couldn’t fathom the necessity of it. “Why?!” I nearly cried. “Why on earth did we choose death?”
Jay sat down in the sand, getting comfortable before answering. “Have you ever played poker?” he began. I nodded with a look of puzzlement creeping upon my face. I sat down across from him as though we were about to play. I half expected him to pull a deck of cards from the sleeve of his robe. He continued. “And do you play for money?” he asked. Again I nodded. “Why?” he finally asked. “Why not just play for fun?”
“Because… because playing poker isn’t fun if you don’t play for money.”
“Exactly.” Jay elaborated upon my simple declaration. “When there’s nothing at stake, nothing to lose, players are typically reckless. They can bluff without consequence, and they never have a compelling reason to fold. In such circumstances, it’s not much of a game, is it?”
The cutting elegance of Jay’s explanation removed a lifetime of scales from my eyes. It made such simple sense. We made Death the bank, holding the value of our chips for when we eventually cashed them in. And just like the previous one in the car with Gord, I was really warming to this conversation with Jay. However, a definite sense of irony was creeping over me as I realized that I was receiving these kick-ass existential answers right before it was all about to end… forever. Apparently, life loves irony above all else!
Now a million questions were coming to mind! And Jay seemed more than content to answer in his simple and direct way.
“What about reincarnation? What are souls? Does Satan exist? What’s the deal with the moon?” These were the first questions to come to mind, and I felt no hesitation to voice them.
Jay leaned back laughing, truly enjoying the apocalypse. “Where would you like me to start?”
I didn’t know. My thoughts were an enthused jumble. And Jay seemed to understand perfectly. He just jumped right in.
“Hmm…” he pondered and stroked his chin like some wise cliche. “Let’s start with souls.” Okay, I was bright-eyed and attentive. “Souls consist of personal agreements— binding agreements— that carry on beyond the confines of a single lifetime. So yes, reincarnation is real. You can’t just go around making contracts with your fellow earthlings, and then just simply die and have the slate wiped clean. We’d be right back to playing the game without meaningful consequences. Souls are attached to a specific will— a line of choices stretching through time held together by propensity and persistent tendencies. That which survives death is merely the sum of your proclivities in life.”
“We are survived by our habits?” That seemed dire to this little pothead!
“Yes,” Jay agreed, “that’s a very succinct and accurate way to put it. Those habits determine the circumstances of your subsequent incarnation— that, and the outstanding agreements you’ve made. Souls need resolution… and that drives action in life.”
“Karma,” I said to myself.
“I hate that word,” said Jay. “It has way too many stupid connotations… like it’s some kind of tit-for-tat universe based in reward and punishment, balancing good with evil. It’s way simpler than that. Karma is just something outstanding that needs to be resolved— because those involved agreed to eventually resolve it, mostly through experience gained.”
“So… there are no Lords of Karma?”
“No! God no!” spat Jay into the first hints of twilight. And then he quickly added “There are no gods at all.”
I looked at him gape-mouthed. I turned my head to stare at Gord muttering inside his circle. I turned back to Jay, wearing my incredulity conspicuously, like drool running down my chin. “What… what do you mean there are no gods?” I was pinning him with my eyes.
Jay fell over backward laughing. “There are no gods!” he cackled. “Trust me,” he gasped, “we’re all the same… you… me… him…”
“But… but… he’s the creator,” I insisted, jutting a thumb toward Gord.
“Indeed he is… of a sort,” said Jay, returning himself to an upright position. “But do you really think that he created you? Really?”
The question was just so blunt it knocked me upside the head. I’d had this idea what a creator was, what a god might be. And then I’d met these two jokers… and certain ideas began to coalesce and congeal in my brain as we’d progressed in these conversations. But now as Jay asked me pointblank whether I really thought that Gord, or someone like him, had “created” me, it seemed pathetically absurd.
“No,” I whispered. And for a timeless moment I was utterly adrift in immeasurable confusion. And Jay, of course— my hero— came immediately to my rescue.
“The only thing he ever created here,” he said nodding toward Gord, “was the opportunity for you to create yourself… for me to create me… for everything to create itself, along with its own parameters of existence. He’s the God of Opportunity, nothing more, nothing less. You, me, him… we’re all exactly equal. I’m no higher than you. Gord’s no higher than me. We’re all made of exactly the same stuff. And in terms of potential, we’re identical.”
Now that’s what I call revelation! It cut through eons of bullshit and baggage with the simple ring of truth. But there were things still unreconciled, habits of thought and being that couldn’t be so completely and easily undone.
“But he’s about to kill us all!” I insisted. “And there’s really nothing I can do about it,” I argued. That smacked of inequality to me!
“He’s not killing anyone,” answered Jay calmly. “He’s simply removing the sun.”
“Now you’re splitting hairs!” I shouted.
“He is the one who put it there in the first place,” answered Jay with perfect grace and ease. “And that created the opportunity for all this.” He stretched his arms wide as though embracing all eternity. “Things didn’t work out. The self-directed creatures of earth forgot themselves and became lost… despite the revealing light of the sun. It’s time to pull the plug. Nothing has been lost. Everything has been gained.” Whatever Jay was telling me, he, himself, believed it. But I was still having a hard time.
“He’s dooming us all to oblivion!” I insisted, though I hardly even knew what I was saying.
In that most infuriatingly calm manner of his, Jay gently elaborated. “If you were caught in the throes of a terrible nightmare and I looked on, would you want me to wake you?”
“Well, I suppose. But…”
“And when you awaken from a dream, whether fearsome or sweet, has anything been lost? No,” he immediately answered, “on the contrary, you have gained the experience of the dream to carry with you in your newly awakened state… to dream again, as you so choose.”
“Really?” I was somewhat mollified, but not wholly convinced. “That’s all this is… the ending of one dream so another can begin? A cosmic do-over?”
“Verily.” He said it. And I believed it. But there was something lurking in his eyes suggesting that things were just slightly more complicated or impactful than what he’d just described. I let it go though, choosing instead the obvious peace of mind he offered. I relaxed into the dusky quiet and mulled things over for a bit… while Gord muttered and gestured inside his magic circle and Jay hummed the refrains he remembered from the car ride here.
In my quiet rumination, I convinced myself that the end of the world really wasn’t a big deal after all. Shortly, I’d be dead… just like I’d been supposedly thousands of times before— each lifetime a new self-created dream. Dreaming… waking… dying… just consciousness at play. But why didn’t I have any memory of dying before? Thousands of times before? You’d think it might just be the sort of traumatic event one would surely remember. I was just about to ask Jay about that when I suddenly realized that no, I can work this out on my own. And so I did.
The idea of past-life memories had always been intriguing but controversial. But suddenly, now with my new insight, I had it figured pretty damn quick. We couldn’t be allowed to retain clear memories from past lives. Who wouldn’t allow it? We— ourselves— couldn’t allow it. If we permitted ourselves to remember our deaths and the past lives we’d lived, we’d be right back at square one again, playing poker for nothing. Remembering our many deaths would negate death, rendering it— and life— meaningless once again. Our constant reoccurring amnesia was necessary. It made the game possible. Remembering our past lives would be like being able to see all of the cards all of the time. The fun of the game always lies in its secrets, the things we don’t know, can’t know. How boring and pointless would poker be if all the cards were always dealt face up?
And just like that, I suddenly understood the meaning of life!
We were here to create unsolvable mysteries for ourselves… and spend eternity trying to solve them. Why? Because it was the best fucking game in town! Could there be a better reason?
I let that question hang in my mind like my best Sunday suit from when I was a kid and my mom dragged me to church every week. Just having a once-a-week suit to sit among once-a-week friends worshipping a once-a-week god begged an unending litany of unanswerable questions… and suddenly I had outgrown them all! Just like that!
God! Had there ever been an evening more beautiful than this!
The sun was beginning to get kinda low on the horizon. I knew that Gord would have to make his move soon. I was actually looking forward to it. Go figure.
To pass the remaining time, I re-engaged Jay in conversation. “So what’s with all the muttering in Yiddish?” I asked, glancing at Gord.
“It’s not exactly Yiddish,” Jay explained. “It’s the root language. There’s power and inherent meaning in sounds— their placement, repetition and patterning. It’s why we love music. A well composed tune can bring a brute to his knees or lift the darkest heart.”
I liked where his explanation was leading and I told him so. He took that as an excuse to continue.
“Sound is a correlate of light.” He paused to let that sink in a bit. “Is it mere coincidence that there are seven colours of visible light in the rainbow and seven whole notes in the western musical scale? Of course not,” he answered. “Sound is merely light stepped down to the languid pace of everyday life. Sound is a tool for creators inside the creation. Light is a tool generally wielded from the outside. Well, no, that’s not exactly right. Gord can explain it better.”
And at that very moment Gord turned to us and spoke.
“It’s time,” is all he said, standing there with a strange fire in his eyes.
Jay sprang into action and helped me to my feet. Then we both flanked Gord outside his circle, and turned toward the setting sun.
“With your left hand point at the sun,” he instructed Jay. “And you with your right,” he said to me. “When I grab each of your free hands, the circle will be broken, the deed done… untied the Gordian knot, the Seal of the Sun.”
And that was it. Without any further preamble or explanation, Gord grabbed both our free hands. A jolt of ecstatic electricity shot through our trinity and flew like a deranged lightning bolt from earth to sun…
…demolishing it in an instant.
The sun winked out. It vanished from the sky. And darkness swallowed everything…
…except that I could still see the spot where the sun had been just a second before. I thought it was something akin to an after-image burned onto my retina. But what was I doing still standing here, witnessing anything, still having retinas at all? And I knew for certain that something was amiss when I heard Gord curse into the darkness.
To say that the ride home in the car was weird would be a bit of an understatement, but perfectly understandable… even if nothing else at the moment was— perfectly understandable.
It was a waxing gibbous moon that night. Gord was pensive and tight-lipped. Jay seemed typically unconcerned, calling from the back seat for “More tunes, man!” I obliged.
“And the Tyne God has arrived,” sang Ginhouse from the car speakers. Finally, Jay thought it prudent to break the ice with the obvious question. But first I gotta say that it was both nice and wholly unnerving to have someone else asking the questions for once!
“So… what was that?”
“Black Sun,” is all Gord offered. Apparently that meant something to Jay. It was gibberish to me. After a moment, Jay sighed, and did what Jay does.
“You might as well talk it through,” he said to Gord. And it was Gord’s turn to sigh. And then Gord began to babble… and that was perhaps the most disconcerting thing of all!
“The rumours were true after all… The Black Sun is real… The council tried to warn me… I thought it inconsequential, even if true… Now, I don’t know… Those fuckers! Grey traitors! This changes everything!”
I waited for an explanation, but instinctively I knew that the preceding events hadn’t been fully digested yet. Jay’s calm demeanour must have rubbed off on me. I kept quiet while Jay gently prodded.
“Who’s behind it?” he asked.
“The Grey Men.”
“I see,” said Jay, but I didn’t.
“Who are the Grey Men?” I queried the darkness and the silence once I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Dream-stealers,” said Gord.
Jay seemed to feel that a slight elaboration was in order. “Power and energy are the basis for the dynamism of the many realms of existence. Every sentient being has power, and spends that power as energy investments, most often through emotions. Emotion— as the base energy of all power— is the thing that turns ordinary dreams into proper dreaming. Emotions can be manipulated; dreams can be altered and stolen; reality can be tightly controlled— even through freewill.”
“The Grey Men are stalkers,” added Gord. “They stalk power for their own ends and means.”
“It’s all part of the game,” resumed Jay. “Stalking and dreaming occur in every realm. They are the two obvious means to power. The Grey Men are consummate stalkers, making their bid for power.
“Usually, it’s not a big deal,” he continued, but Gord cut him off.
“There’s something more going on here… And I don’t understand it… yet. The Black Sun is stealing attention. But even I didn’t know that the Black Sun truly exists. How is it being accomplished? How do you capture someone’s attention without anyone having a clue how it’s being done? It doesn’t make any sense!”
I was understanding really very little of this. I just wanted to keep the conversation going. “But why?” I asked. “What’s the purpose of stealing attention?”
“Part of its purpose was fulfilled tonight,” replied Gord ominously. “The Black Sun was created and hidden behind the real sun precisely for the purpose of thwarting my world-ending intention on this very eve. They will not allow the dream to end. And they will do everything in their power to ensure that the dreamers never awaken again.”
Hmm, that didn’t sound very good!
And Jay added for clarity: “Attention is a very special aspect of awareness. All life is aware. But awareness is subtle and diffuse, whereas attention is focused— especially among earth humans. Within an incomprehensibly immense field of data, it is attention which selects what is to be made real in any realm through choice and focus. But what is the object of focus in this case…?” The question hung there in the darkness, begging to be answered somewhere down the road…
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and I was thinking it too— all of it. Gord and Jay answered all of my immediate concerns, and what you need to know, before I resume the full telling of this tale, is that yes, the real sun came up the very next day right on schedule. And yeah, for awhile there back in ’72 folks talked in whispers about the day the sun winked out for a moment. And even though millions of people around the world witnessed the sun blink, they eventually talked themselves out of believing that it had really happened… because… how could it?
But it did. You know it did.
[Soundtrack to The Black Sun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XroGv4LVIjE&t=1050s]
As a youngster I did impressions: several characters from “Welcome Back Kotter,” Disney’s Goofy, Gomer Pyle, Fozzie Bear, Alfred Hitchcock, Snagglepuss, Walter Cronkite, among others. In those days, it was just me imitating voices. That’s how it was done.
As I got older, I noticed that when I dreamt at night, I wasn’t always me in my dreams. Sometimes— and more frequently as I got older— I was utterly and completely other people in my first-person dream experiences.
Then, one day, I was talking face-to-face with a friend about another mutual friend who was absent. At one point in the conversation it was most appropriate to answer a query in our friend’s own voice. Automatically, and without thinking about it, I also instantaneously slipped into his posture and mannerisms. And suddenly I was him.
The friend with whom I was conversing gaped at me quite freaked out and she said something like “Holy shit! You were him!” The thing is… yes, I was. And I was a bit freaked out too, but surprisingly unsurprised.
I always knew we could be other people.
Tales From My Crazy Uncle Nilly
Obviously, the stories my crazy Uncle Nilly told us when we were young children were not at all suitable bedtime stories. They were far beyond our abilities to fully comprehend, but somehow we enjoyed them anyway. There weren’t really that many stories, and my uncle had no problem telling them over and over again. We heard them all perhaps a dozen times each, and each telling was slightly different from the last. They were always ‘off-the-cuff’ but marvellously consistent.
We interrupted frequently; we asked many questions. My retelling of these stories here is a composite of all of the variations of each tale to the best of my recollection. My sister Cassy, who had only turned five during that magical summer, has affirmed that this recollection is fundamentally correct. And she has supplied me with additional details from her own memory.
Uncle Nilly treated us both as eager and capable students, even though we had no idea in general about the education we were receiving. It was all just fun and easy, despite the many challenges we faced and overcame. It wasn’t until many years later that we both realized the tremendous advantage we’d received during those two summer months.
“Only the strong survive,” Uncle Nilly told us. Back in the seventies you could still say stuff like that and not be scolded by the prissy Fairness Police. “I won’t bait it for you. You’ll have to do it yourself… if you want to eat.”
He was talking to me. We were on the lake in the rowboat, fishing. I had my back to Uncle Nilly, and Cassy was facing him from the bow. I was holding a bare hook in my left hand as I poked a finger with my right into the container full of dirt and worms. I scooped up a fat wriggling earthworm held between my thumb and index finger and then looked at the hook horrified. Uncle Nilly had just shown us how to properly bait the hook, pushing it through the worm’s body past the barb every inch or so, doubling or tripling up on the squirmy torture, pinning it alive again and again. If worms could scream…!
I couldn’t do it. After a half-minute of vacillation, Cassy held out her open palm for the worm, and I gladly gave it up. She then took the hook from my grasp and without a second’s hesitation shoved it through the creature’s tiny body. She poked it through two more times to really fix him in place and said “There.”
I’d always suspected that Cassy was the brave one. Now all I had to do was cast it in the water like we’d been shown. I was all too glad to get the wriggly thing out of my sight.
We caught four fish that afternoon and I easily aged several years in the process.
In case you don’t know, when you land a fish, the next thing you do is grab it and smash it over the head with a special fish-beating stick until blood spurts out its eyes— that way you know it’s really dead. Then you can safely remove the nasty barbed hook from its mouth, occasionally tearing its lip off in the process. Uncle Nilly agreed to handle that part. But then there was the gutting and cleaning part. Uncle Nilly did two, Cassy did one, and so did I. It wasn’t that bad; they were dead; no squirming. We threw the guts into the lake to feed the fish we didn’t catch.
I guess that was our initiation from being pampered city kids into a world of self-reliant adventure. We handled it so unexpectedly well precisely because we were both so young.
The Grey Men
Part 2: Grey’s Apprentice
After Hala’s death, as I already told you, Alexander was rarely if ever seen again in the company of ordinary men. As a result, the bits and pieces of his later life are sketchy and incomplete.
After his departure into The Grey, a notebook turned up among the things he supposedly left behind. It was unknown, however, if Alexander had ever properly learned to read and write— as that sort of thing wasn’t at all common in those days. So some speculated that the notebook’s author might’ve been the young apprentice who accompanied Alexander in the last years of his time on earth.
Before we can properly speak of the apprentice though, we must cobble together the few fragments we have about Alexander’s existence immediately after Hala’s death.
The one thing that Alexander was sure of as he fled from that awful day was that his new path would be the direct result of Hala’s choice: she had decided to die that day to shake her one true love from his life of ease and complacency and to place him squarely in the teeth of adventure again. Her love had been transformed into this extreme expectation for his non-ordinary existence, and Alexander dedicated the totality of himself to fulfilling it.
The first thing he did was to reverse the pattern of his waking life so that he slept in caves and deeply shaded grottoes by day and roamed only at night. He saw the sun only briefly during the hour of dawn or at twilight. At first it was only to conceal his deeply morose mood caused by Hala’s departure, but quickly he learned that the darkness of the night held secrets and teachings of uncommon worth. So it essentially became the pattern for the rest of his days.
From the notebook (by Alexander’s own hand, or, more likely, as spoken to his apprentice):
There are two distinct worlds in parallel. The one, most familiar, is organized by light and is a description of light’s reflection. The other, brushed softly by our dreams on occasion, is of the dark: chaotic and volatile. Both worlds exist, whole and complete, in man. But memory favours the light, and the dark potential is rarely recognized or realized.
Man is a composite of two unmixable halves. Though both operate equally within him, he pours nearly all of his energetic resources into organizing and describing the light which thoroughly captures his attention and presses his dark half into obscurity and forgotten myth.
The ‘White’ world is populated with inept Black Magicians, almost exclusively. And nearly all of them are pretenders for the Light. They think themselves good, but in the meantime they keep the entirety of their fellow men in tight and secret bondage (their only real magic)… allowing for no deviation and no consideration for the value of the awesome potential ever lurking in the Dark.
The other thing that we know of Alexander’s activities at that time is that he returned for a period to his own people, to the tribe of his parents. He took up residence with an elder shaman, a healer and teacher. Alexander learned all that he could about the deep secrets of the tribal spirit and all of the falsehoods long nurtured in man.
I have lost my self. The ordinary desires and pursuits of men hold none of my interest. Their world is as empty as I am hollowed out. Still, I am all that I ever was and all that I ever shall be. In losing my self I have lost nothing; I have gained my Will, but recognize that it is not my own. All of the falseness I called ‘myself’ amounted to nothing else but a distortion and disablement of Will.
Will is grey and centric, seeking to balance the awareness of both worlds. And more besides…
The strange ‘civilized’ life of the men of the East had always befuddled Alexander’s sensibilities. Even living among them for so long, he had never understood their easy carelessness and their secret desire to be deceived. How could they ever have come to choose lives fundamentally separated from the living world that had birthed them and promised to sustain them forevermore, he wondered.
He had stayed among them because their strange choices had made it convenient for Alexander to exploit their shallow comfort and seeming ease, by playing simple tricks and betting on their greed. But it took this whole new perspective, gained among the wisest of his own people afterward, to finally realize that those men had never been free to choose anything else. Their choices had been captured and stolen from them already generations ago. But captured and stolen by whom, he queried.
And finally, Alexander came to realize that there really were wizards and sorcerer’s in the world, those who wielded the true magic. And long already had there been a faction of them who whispered quietly from the shadows into the ears of men, bending their perception. They whispered of conquest and riches; they had surreptitiously taught agriculture and finance, and the institution of civilization; they were the controlling hand… the hidden, choking hand.
Alexander secretly named them The Grey Men.
Awareness can be manipulated; awareness, among men, is conditioned.
Reality itself, in its entirety, is a masterful manipulation of awareness; it is difficult, but not impossible, to become aware of the manipulation— how it functions, where it leads…
The fundamental struggle is for power and is an affair of personal energy and pressing the parameters of perception until they yield.
The Grey Men were a fraternity of seers and sorcerers whose names were effectively erased from the common history books. They slipped one-by-one into obscurity, shrouding themselves in the very secrets they’d learned in lives of conquest and battle, politics and intrigue. Their special art, wielded from fog and shadows, was a skillful rendering of continued manipulation in the affairs of ordinary men. And the result of their careful machinations was the accumulation of power— temporal and earthly, but also the subtle life-energy bestowed by Spirit to every living creature as its gift of perception in the worlds of Spirit’s original intent.
The Grey Men thought and schemed in terms of centuries, even millennia. By removing themselves bodily from the worlds of ordinary pursuit, by degrees, they extracted the inherent magic sewn into reality’s many guises, and prolonged and preserved their own magical awareness indefinitely. They effectively curbed the reach of man’s dreaming, relegating him to a mundane world of material pursuit. It had begun with the inexplicable rise of agriculture, and the foundation of a hierarchical civilization built thereon. In so doing, the Grey Men demonstrated their aptitude for bringing seeming boons to mankind which in truth were the very agents of their enslavement. It was a strategy they employed again and again.
Once understood, it was easy for Alexander to affirm the existence and resilient persistence of the Grey Men and the general means of their self-serving manipulations. And he could readily admit that in having attained the loss of his own selfhood, the dropping of his common human form, with its consequential access to redeployed energy and reclaimed power, he felt a strong temptation to throw his lot in with the designs of the ancient sorcerer’s, to become a Grey Man himself, for morality truly belonged only to that discarded form. But Alexander saw something that the Grey Men seemed to have overlooked:
Spirit has its own designs and intents… and is the ultimate source of all power. The chief concern of Spirit’s intent is the exploration, expansion and development of awareness/perception. In universes ruled by balance, the apparent gains accrued through the manipulation and outright theft of awareness/perception of others can only lead to an eventual dead end.
The ultimate goals of immortality and supremacy will eventually fail among the cruel designs of the fraternity of Grey Men. So Alexander vowed to keep himself apart from the ancient brotherhood of seers and wizards, and like he’d always done as a man of keen interest, he would chart his own way forward… even as his peers might often mistake his conjurings as the very same dark artistry of vile intent that he would finally seek to thwart. The uncharted worlds of the Unknown Alexander entered into were obviously ripe with illusion, deception and misdirection. And for such as that, his life had served as a supreme training ground. And finally, by the designs of Spirit’s own intent, Alexander was presented with the unique opportunity to pass along the best of all the knowledge he’d gained… to his apprentice.
How the solitary and aged Alexander even acquired an apprentice is a sad tale however. It was a truly tragic occurrence at the very end of his time spent with the tribal shaman, where he and the shaman lived apart from the kin of his ancestral tribe, as was suitable for the acquisition and practice of the specialized knowledge involved.
The day had been unsettling, even jagged. There was a strange vibratory force piling over the mountains, filling the valley with a jangling energy. That strange force, only felt by the most sensitive, was the collective intent of an army amassed in secret just beyond the sight and reach of the people of the valley. The army’s plan that day was to massacre every man, woman and child of Alexander’s tribe for reasons utterly unknown to Alexander— and whose true reasons were unknown even to the massacring army.
When in the evening Alexander and the old shaman ambled into the tribal village under a subtle pall of fear and suspicion, they found that it was now nothing more than a smouldering heap of dwellings, belongings and bodies… so many bodies. There was no life left; even the conquering army was gone. All was a raw and exposed graveyard as far as one could see.
The old shaman fell to his knees and wept in utter defeat and shame. But inside Alexander, deep within his core, something coalesced and became galvanized in that field of destruction. He found himself to be incapable of expressing the overwhelming magnitude of what he was there to witness. It was utterly beyond the last shreds of his human facility to measure such profound grief. But instead of allowing himself to be crushed by the weight of the moment, he shifted inwardly to sidestep the very last of his humanity completely, irrevocably, to become something inexpressible, undefined… not something new, but something truly ancient.
Just then a deep shiver from the unmeasurable depths of the earth arose and sliced through him, shook him, rearranged him. It was a shiver of emotion, a cry far beyond the spectrum of any human possibility. It was a weeping and a grief, as well as the glory and the celebration for the capacity to feel all that a man can feel, and beyond, so poignant in its intensity as to challenge the very life within him. In that moment, its imperative was to surrender to it completely, merge with it, or die. He shivered with the earth in communion with a vibration as old as life itself.
And as the very spirit of infinity, Alexander then reached out with a knowing beyond his senses, to fill the whole breadth of the valley of death with the unlimited essence of this ancient awakened being, as an honouring, a consolation, and a promise. And in that moment of reaching beyond all limits of the dissolved vestiges of self, he detected the unmistakable stirrings of life, resilient and persistent. In that perception of sure silent knowing, he regathered himself and marched his body to the sight of a smoking corpse lying face-down and broken in the dirt. It was the body of a young mother, and beneath her, her newborn infant was still strapped to her belly. And the child was alive! The child still lived!
We don’t even know whether it was a boy or a girl, but Alexander had an apprentice; and the child had Alexander. When he looked upon the infant, his wise and aged eyes saw a smiling bundle of exuberant awareness. The child, like all children everywhere, was a pure vessel of nearly-unlimited perceptive faculty, shining with the spirit’s own hunger for experience and adventure. It was Alexander’s determination that his task was one of preserving the purity of that unbridled receptiveness. For he easily saw that in all his long life, this child was surely his own greatest opportunity for the finest refinements of his lifelong learning. The child would teach him just as surely as he would teach the child; the greatest secrets of life, Alexander had already learned well, are wrapped tightly in the mysteries of perception and awareness… and every child is born a master of just that.
We are all children of the Dark Sea of Awareness, born into the blinding light as we live. In our rearing, we receive only the layerings of limitation piled upon limitation, sold to each as knowledge. As units of socialization we must be rendered small and ineffectual, so as to not upset the social order. We, the Grey Children, belong to no social order.
That was the full extent of the credo under which the child was reared, as an apprentice to the Will of Awareness itself. Awareness is the bridge and the access among all worlds, the Black and the White, the Dark and the Light… and all shades in between. And in that framework, Alexander and the child, were each, equally, Grey’s apprentice.
Niels Dennis Kunze, November 8, 2019