Becoming a Girl-Shaped Tiger

Vivan has been musing about adulthood recently, resulting in some wonderful writings that she has shared with me. She asked me what adulthood means to me and I gave her my stock answer; that adulthood is when you face dire situations wherein you are entirely responsible for your actions and cannot turn to anyone else for help. She then went and posted an amazing summation of what becoming an adult means to her which made me realize that my stock formation is out of date. I’ll re-post her list here for sake of reference (found originally at: http://thecreatureix.tumblr.com/post/14034651291/adulthood):

A woman:

  • Is a chameleon, equally at home on the dusty streets of Nairobi, the dining rooms of French millionaires, the cold mountain passes of Switzerland or the cramped heat of the Cambodian jungle. She can talk to anyone, anywhere.
  • Has knowledge of her fears, inner demons and weaknesses, and has worked to overcome at least some of them. She knows the ways in which she doesn’t have her shit together.
  • Has walked in many worlds: the dream state, the psychic realm, the spirit realm etc. Knows how to deal with energy/ghosts/spirits/gods etc.
  • Has ventured into the dark sides of herself.
  • Understands that some things in this world can destroy her, and has an understanding of those things. 
  • Has a well-developed spirituality.
  • Has a life purpose or at least well-developed ideas about what she is trying to achieve.
  • Is capable of defending herself. She knows how to fight with a knife, gouge out eyes, throw a punch and use a gun. She knows the various ways to kill someone.
  • Is useful in an emergency. She can perform CPR, carry someone out of a burning house, rig a pulley system, hot-wire a car, break open a door and pick someone’s pocket.
  • Can keep herself alive. She knows how to shoot and butcher animals, build shelter, find water, catch fish, start a fire and navigate.
  • Can transport herself. She can run, swim, climb, bike and operate a range of vehicles. She can perform basic maintenance and repairs on motorcycles, cars and bicycles. 
  • Can maintain herself. She has knowledge of wound care, nutrition, fitness and cooking. She knows that her body is the only real home she has.
  • Understands her seductive power, and wields her sexuality like a tool.
  • Understands the psychological and mystical aspects of sex. Knows how to pleasure all kinds of bodies. Knows how to pleasure herself.
  • Understands her privilege.
  • Can effectively navigate the neuroses, shame, mind traps and social conditioning of whatever bullshit culture she finds herself in. (Note: they are all bullshit.)

What I realized after reading the above is that they all add up to a certain type of person. I think part of what adulthood means to her is a person, as Daniel Quinn would say, with a very high survival value i.e. the ability to survive outside of our cultural context. Questions of survival value are in fact what proved the initial insight that got DQ started on his unearthing of the Taker-memetic complex. At the height of the Cold War someone mentioned to him that if nuclear war occurred “we would all be bombed back to the Stone Age”. He realized that that is an odd and patently false statement. It is false because we would in fact be far worse off than if we were bombed back to the Stone Age. If that were literally true we (the survivors) would wake up on The Day After with the ability to forage for ourselves, support our loved ones, and with the skills necessary to live fulfilled lives. In actuality what would happen is that far more people would die in the immediate aftermath of nuclear war than would be killed in the initial blasts. Why? We are so dependent on objects, ideology, and other humans that most of us cannot exist outside of our industrialized culture.

I am not ready yet to make a coherent argument that this is unsustainable. I think it is, and I have my reasons, they just aren’t ready for prime-time yet. I would point you to the works of Willem Larsen, Daniel Quinn, and Derrick Jensen for far far better arguments that I can muster at this time. So assuming that for a while let me proceed.

So what can we do about transitioning to a sustainable culture? We can’t all become survivalists or hunter-gatherers. No matter how bad the consequences I have a hard time imagining a world where EVERYONE decides to stop fighting for the ability to take regular showers. Even if the emotional arguments sound unconvincing there are practical reasons why a mass return to hunter-gathererism would be too difficult. The world might be able to cope with 1 billion hunter gatherers, more is unlikely to work. So how then do people become more sustainable?

First I will briefly touch on what makes our culture unsustainable (an issue I will return to in future posts). The most basic way to phrase the answer to that is that we assume that we should have knowledge and control of life and death. From the fruit of this basic assumption forests of ideas spring. This assumption allows us to justify oppression (which leads to despair, which contributes to consumerism), wars of annihilation (which lead to genocide of our fellow humans and of non-human species and habitats), and the commoditization of effectively everything.

So  what does a sustainable society look like? Thankfully we have some answers in the form of existing non-industrialized cultures that have existed for tens of thousands of years. I quickly want to note that I am not saying that these cultures are better or that their lives are easier. I am simply saying that they have models of society which work and have managed not to destroy the entire world’s ecosystem. What lessons can we learn from these cultures that can be applied (although most of them won’t be able to be) to us? Vivian and I have had many conversations about this and I more impressed than I say when I see how penetrating her insight into this has been. She has realized some of the most important capabilities of a person transitioning from our culture to living sustainably.

1. The ability to form intense relationships
One of the hallmarks of sustainable cultures is a facility and context to quickly form intense relationships. Economies are not commercial, they are often gift based. Gift economies require intense bonds in the way that market based ones do not. They would find the idea of a superficial commercial relationships (like between you and your pizza delivery person) profoundly odd. In many economies like this one must be able to give anything you own to a comrade. Among other effects this promotes a lack of attachment to “stuff”. You might think this sounds very 70s hippie-dippy and you would be right, that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to apply it. In addition an ability to form intense relationships with anything can help connect one with the non-human world. Not just in a “so I can love the tree” way but in a “I can track and hunt well” kind of way.

2. They have a high survival value
In our culture the ability of an adult to survive independent of their culture is almost zero. If industrial society vanished overnight there are very few 18 year olds (our technical definition of adulthood) that would be able to survive. In addition the DNA of our society is far to complicated to fit into one individual (or even a thousand individuals) so the survival value of our culture approaches zero as time goes on. If living sustainably means living outside an industrialized culture one goal to consider is improving your survival value. For some that might mean learning how to hunt, forage, and be a survivalist. For others it might be decreasing your dependence on objects and processes that could only exist in an industrialized culture. It might even mean streamlining our memetic heritage down to the point where it could fit in an individual or a small group of individuals.

3. Ideological adaptability
A third factor that even sustainability advocates rarely mention is the ability to easily move into and out of different cultures. In the event of a stress on industrialized culture the ability to quickly identify, travel to, and sincerely join a sustainable culture affords resilience.

I am not advocating that everyone should look to this as “the right way” or that industrialized cultures are bad. Simply that they are maladaptive and the above tools are useful when thinking about how one might become more resilient. Oh, and that I love the way Vivian thinks.

The Sound at the Edge of Endurance

There is a sound that is heard at the edge of endurance. At moments of agony, moments of despair, moments of trancendence. It is the soundtrack to the moment when you say to yourself “this thing I am feeling cannot fit inside me. Either it needs to get smaller, or I will die.” I don’t know what the sound is. It feels haunting, it feels thrumming, it feels powerful, but it’s subtle. I was speculating with Vivian about what the sound is. It could be auditory hallucinations driven by trauma, it could be that our brains need to have auditory components to moments like this, I don’t really know. The current thought I am playing with it is that is the sound of the future collapsing into the present.

Ancient thinkers talked about the metaphysical principle of the music of the spheres. Pythagoras was the first person we know of who pondered this. He measured different strings and noticed that the pitch of the string depended on its’ length. He then applied this to the planets and calculated, based on his understanding of their distance, what they would sound like (incidentally this is what Jupiter sounds like). His intellectual heirs expanded on this theory and transmitted them to European thinkers. Kepler in particular was excited by this idea and using the sun centered theory of planetary motion he calculated what each of the planets would sound like and included the information in his wonderful text Harmonices Mundi.

Modern theories of physics hearken back to the idea of music, postulating that the universe is made up of tiny strings whose oscillation patterns determine the nature of matter. I love the idea that in a sense, existence IS music. Earlier I referred to the sound of Jupiter and I find it fascinating that in a certain way of thinking, our lives -everything we are and will ever be- is a song.

One fascinating little tidbit about the song of our lives and the way we experience time is that we don’t actually live in the present moment. Try this your self: touch something with your foot and with your hand at the same time. You experience the sensation as happening at the same time even though the nerve signal takes slightly longer to get to your brain from your leg. This is because the brain has a lag time that allows signals from all over the body to be experienced at the same time. The lag time is about 80 miliseconds.

A pleasant visual metaphor (although the physics could easily be wrong) comes out of these tidbits. Normally we stand in the center of the vehicle that is our relationSHIP with Samsara. Maybe in moments of intensity we struggle forward to the bow of our SHIP, look over the edge, and watch the wave function collapse the future into the present. The unearthly keening we hear is the the sound of our consciousness crushing the possible into the actual.

Processing

The last few weekends studying hook suspension with Evil Sensei (who shall remain temporarily nameless until our dynamic settles a bit) have been amazing. He is competence incarnate while at work. Off work he is like a satanic 15 year old boy, dick jokes included. We are very different but I like him and his family. I really hope this works. So far I have assisted in three events and I have learned so much in each one. Things that stick with me:
1. Facilitating hook suspensions feels profoundly right to me.
2. I can do this.
3. I have so much to learn.

Scenes that pop out to me:
1. An event in the woods. There is a huge fire in the center of a circle with mystical-seeming designs drawn in the sand around it. Drums make the air shiver. The sound of whale song plays in the background both oddly discordant and ineffably right. The scene is lit by firelight while the stars watch. Dozens of people surround the fire, watching, writhing, dancing, loving. Covered in sweat. Covered in body paint. Covered in tattoos. Off to the side there is a line of people who have decided to be suspended. Sensei, sempai, tetsudaite, and I arrive late from our previous engagement. Awesomenamelessperson is already there and has been piercing for a while. Sempai and I begin setting up to take the first seeker while Sensei and Tetsudaite get the lay of the land. There is a wildness in the air. It is the wildness I strive for. The air crackles and tastes like a place where I can activate the energetic cycle that my name bespeaks. My memories blur a bit at this point. We crewed for several seekers, each experience was unique. What stuck with me was the rawness, the sweat, the dark, the power, the beauty.

2. An event in studio in a big city. The space is tight. The crowd is packed together, watching the majesty of suspension. There are drummers, chanters, an electric drum in the background. The giant white walls catch the sound and the dim colored lights. Green laser lights move around like the movement of the stars in the cycle of the year. A seeker is suspended. He is flying but struggling, the spinning is difficult for him. You can see how hard this is for him. The pain, the nausea combating the amazing intensity of the experience. He requests water and I run to get it for him. Tetsudaite stills him and a friend gives it to him. He drinks it quickly, too quickly. A minute after he goes back up he needs to come down again to allow him to vomit the water. A quick breather and he wants to go back up again. Sweat pours from him, hinting at diaphoresis. To my (inexperienced) eyes it looks like he is riding an edge. Tetsudaite takes a hard look at him and pulls him up again. And he flies. He is in so much pain but also so much joy-intensity (there’s no word in English I’ve found to describe the experience). In that moment the words tattooed on The Poppy Daughter’s chest create the boundaries my world. I thought about the seekers agony, his joy in the experience, watching him vomit, and I felt profoundly and deeply at peace with where I was.
3. In the middle of a rural mid-Atlantic state park. I am helping sensei, he is short staffed and asks me to step up. I am very nervous but feel ready. My task is mostly set up and clean up. Primarily I am milking the air out of the seekers. For those who are unfamiliar with hook suspension this means that I am massaging their backs to move the air that gets trapped under their skin while they are flying to the surface. Some don’t bleed, some do. Frankly I appreciate the bleeders more. I can spread the blood over their backs and use it as lubricant in my massaging. I get lost in the task. I talk with the seeker, giving them what seems most appropriate, for some it’s listening, for some it’s praise, for some it’s encouragement. I also get lost in the ritual of staying hygienic. Even if sensei hadn’t made terrible horrific threats about avoiding cross-contamination my personal preference is to engage in the rituals. These rituals make my obsessive-compulsive tendencies purr. I find myself thinking, not for the first time, “I could do this forever.”

In reflecting on my activities of the past few weeks I have found an interesting thread connecting them with my past experiences in possessory work. As a member of Tashlin, active in the Church of Asphodel, and in private I have become familiar with horsings. For years a big part of my spooky work was spent ground crewing possessions. I just realized this evening that the set up of a hook suspension is similar to the set up of a horsing. Both experiences are designed to allow the seeker to experience an alterted state of consciousness so as to bring back lessons either to themselves or to the audience. In a horsing there is commonly a catalyzing event or person that begins the experience and allows the horse to open up to the deity. In a suspension there is a piercing. In a horsing there is often a handperson that helps the deity, provides for their needs, and talks with them. In a suspension there are riggers who hold the person up and do basically the same thing. Last but certainly not least in a horsing there is a deity. In a suspension there are hooks.

Saṃsāra

Repost from: http://thecreatureix.tumblr.com/post/9889479210/samsara

Saṃsāra, this reality, this world, can be seen as a relationship. She’s the romance of your life, the first and last woman you’ll ever love. You can only leave her through death or enlightenment. Most of us have a bipolar relationship with her, loving her at her best and scorning her when she shows her dark sides.

We have all marvelled at her beauty. Words fail to describe her magnificence. She floors us with the things she shows us: mountains and stars and great sweeping plains. We fall down in front of her, weeping, professing our love, vowing to spend more time with her and less time in our houses and in front of our screens.

I felt this way the night the sand lit up under our footsteps, mirroring the million stars in the moonless sky above us. We ran down the beach leaving footprints of blue phosphor behind us. She was magnificent that night.


Likewise, words fail to describe the divine beauty of watching the sun set the evening sky ablaze over a purple sea. For 5 days we sailed on indigo before reaching azure coastal waters. Great behemoths of tankers and cruise liners silently slipped past us in the twilight in the great shipping lanes of the Gulf of Mexico.

Like the body of a lover, afterwards we spit adjectives and flail our arms to try to express the beauty we have seen, but none of it comes close to describing her. Even though we cannot describe our experiences, they can be understood by others because we have all had indescribable experiences of this sort.

Our affections are soon forgotten when she shows her other sides: death, brutality and suffering. When she causes us pain, anger or sadness we forsake her, scorning her existence.

This analogy serves to illustrate that our relationship with this world is unhealthy. If we are to love Saṃsāra we must embrace all aspects of her and love her at her worst, not just when she is good to us.

Our fear of losing her also needs analysis. Yes, to lose her means to die. However, our fear of death destroys our ability to experience her fully. Like an insecure lover, if we spend our time trying to hold on to her we will create a relationship based on fear. She is a gift. We can never control her. We must not be needy or fearful.

PS The Sanskrit word “Samsara” is the root for the Malay word “sengsara”, which means suffering.

Why The Snake Eats Its’ Tail

I always had difficulty with story of the Ouroboros. The idea of something devouring itself seemed profoundly odd to me. Why would anything do that? During one of my conversations with my brother the answer came to me.

The snake wants to know itself.

One of the primary ways we experience the world is through taste. We taste objects because we want to understand what they are. We want to find out what nourishes us, what poisons us, what excites us. Taste, smell, and touch are the sappers of our sensory experience. They dig under the walls created by our frontal lobes to protect us from naked instinct. But we still need them, desperately. We need them because the rational part of our brains is still not very good at knowing what we truelly want.

There are certain people who have brain injuries that have caused the rational parts of their brain to gain absolute supremacy. “How wonderful” a rationalist might say, “they can make decisions unclouded by emotion and instinct!” Fascinatingly, exactly the opposite happens; they have a far more difficult time making decisions and often end up paralyzed, under fire, and out numbered by the constant onslaught of overwhelming choice. The world is

BIG.

Far to big for our rational minds to grasp a billionth of the possible consequences of our actions. We need instinct, we need emotion, we need messiness, we need The Mystery. Without them we are frozen shells that shatter in the storm of time.

If so then what is taste if we look it as a tool for map making?

It is a tool for self-actualization. We use taste to find out what we want to become. Our bodies tell us that we need nutrient x, so our taste searches the world for it and bring it into us so we may become it. When we want to feel a certain way we allow our sense of taste to guide us. We want happiness so we eat chocolate, we want stimulation so we drink caffine, we want home so we eat the food our parents made for us as children.

How does this relate to the Ouroboros? By eating itself the snake is saying

“I love myself,

I need myself,

I become myself.”

This is an important realization for me because if you take it a bit further, it works beautifully as a metaphor for love. Say instead of one snake eating itself you have two snakes/beings devouring one another in an infinite circle. These beings are saying:

“I taste you and I want to know more of you.

I consume you to know you and I never want to stop.

I feel us inside each other and all I want to do is have me become you and you become me, forever.”

That, to me, is love.