Saturday, December 05, 2009


The blizzard started, as forecasted, just about suppertime last night and is roaring today. It roared all night. Now the world is submarine and somehow subconscious, altered and blurred as in a dream. When I woke up the second time, I spent a long time slipping back and forth into and out of a hypnogogic state. The forecast for Wednesday is forty below, unreal. I haven’t finished winterizing.

The hypnogogic state is when you’re halfway between dreams and consciousness, in a sort of amphibian place on the shores of sleep. Often people report access to solutions they had been seeking or awareness they don’t usually have. Hypnotism, extreme stress or injury, drugs, certain yogic techniques, and staring at the road through falling snow can put a mind into this state without quite entering sleep.

Consciousness appears to be in four parts like the Johari window. One of the four panes is the kind of sensory world that every fully-equipped and normally functioning person inhabits, though there are more than the traditional five senses to consider. Some will identify as many as twenty or more: things like kinesthesia, the sense of moving, or propriocentric, the sense of where your body is. As soon as they are named and described, we recognize them and realize that simply by paying attention we can make them conscious. We just can’t pay attention to everything all the time so translate them into habits, taken-for-granted.

The second pane is sensations and consciousness that is available through equipment, the sort of thing that we know is there but can’t access though sometimes other creatures can. Sounds too high to hear, ultraviolet, radioactivity, very low grade seismic events -- that sort of thing.

The third pane might be our unconscious senses, the things that go on in our bodies without us perceiving them: we don’t watch the insides of our stomachs, but digestion continues. We don’t control our heart beats or breathing but they pulse away dependably. (Hopefully!) We forget that we have two nervous systems, one that serves the conscious and the voluntary daily activity with striated muscles and the other that controls the smooth muscles of the intestines, the dilation of eyes. It appears that emotions and aesthetics are largely located in this submerged consciousness. Some will even propose that our thoughts are rooted in our whole bodies, not just our brains.

Others suggest that since brains evolved from gut cells (remember that when animals develop they start from two merged DNA blueprints in one cell that splits into two, then four, then . . .the usual progression . . . until they are a ball (the blastosphere), then a ball with a dent or groove in the side (groovy!), and then they differentiate into three kinds of cells. Brains’ and guts’ basic OS (operating system) code is the same reciprocating molecules, so naturally when you’re mad, you think differently. When you’re starving, you think differently. But you don’t really know it. Except that if you reflect, you’ll know that your food digests much better if you’re in a good mood.

So that’s three of the quadrants: conscious, what we might call “augmented conscious,” and bodily unconscious. There is a fourth quadrant that we only keep reserved and open for what we consciously reason has to be there: things that are totally unknown and, in fact, UNKNOWABLE. This is the real shore on which the amphibian brainy human lives. I’m not talking about cosmic forces sweeping through the universe. We know about them. I’m not talking about infinity and eternity, which we use as markers for things totally unknowable but at least conceivable. I’m talking about the mysterious inconceivable that we must only feel in some unconscious way. Anyone who says they know all about this inconceivable world is deluded. Yet it haunts us all. I think Hillman and Moore would say “soul” is the organ with which we listen for it.

My chosen quadrant is the emotional and aesthetic, my method is narration which is a time art, working the differential between the chronology of actual events (maybe not actual) and the constructed time-line of memory and hope. We make our hope largely from the substance of memory. For a few years I’ve been aware of friends, mostly male, who have taken hard blows in the last few years. They built their lives on assumptions that disappeared, their constituencies changed demographics, increasing age began to limit what they can do and how much time there is left. The arts and the ministry are particularly vulnerable to all these earth-bound and limiting factors. Humanities should value age, experience, skill. But the culture is impatient with humanities. More, faster, higher, younger!!!

Living on land is best done with clarity in goals and hopes. One friend imagines a society of old men of thoughtful and respected status which he can join. What matters is not whether there is such a society (doubtful, I am) or whether he really qualifies for it, or what the signs are that one is really part of it (dialogue? conferences? books? awards?). What matters is the continuing aspiration to a worthy goal. A process.

What I’ll call a Taoist solution might be the declaration that I’m already at the goal. Now the task is maintenance, higher consciousness, daily gratitude and humility, and the sharing of fruits -- very carefully -- with others who understand or need to understand. It’s also a process but not so accessible to commercial interests, other people’s directions, limitations from the larger society. It’s self-protective in a special way: quiet, disciplined, vivid. It means regular dips into the water below consciousness at the dusky bedtime and the brightening dawn.

This is the life represented by Vesta. Not that Vesta doesn’t much appreciate those flashing fishes and salamanders called boys. And not that she doesn’t welcome Odysseus when he passes by with his walking staff. Not that she doesn’t, like any Blackfeet woman even now, feed him and mend his moccasins.

Remember the film of “Out of Africa,” how Dinesen and her friends (between safaris) sat at the hearth to hear stories? They brought stories in from the veldt and she made new stories for them to take away. Campfire to campfire we share our hearts. How or why is part of that fourth quadrant.

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