A publication of the CIIS Center for Transformative Media
The Art and Experience of a Time-Developmental Universe
September 2018 | issue 1
A publication of CIIS's Center for Transformative Media
Brian: One of the ideas guiding our exploration of autocosmology is that philosophy is a colossal failure in our time. It’s a long tradition, with a lot of great thinkers in it, but it failed to alert humanity to the ecological crisis we’re in. Philosophy became so abstract: it became linguistic, mathematical, logical—and there are wonderful things about that—but it left out something really important: human experience. So I was deeply excited when Carolyn Cooke came to the California Institute for Integral Studies, because she’s a writer—a novelist—and the idea of bringing together wisdom with human experience was my one vision for the whole thing.
Carolyn: For my part, I wasn’t aware of this dramatic failure of philosophy, but I was disenchanted with the possibilities for the contemporary novel. When I heard Brian speak about the powers of the universe there was no going back. Our courses started as a series of conversations in the cafe at CIIS. Along the way a few students started to adhere. This conversation has grown to the extent that we now have students writing works that we call autocosmology, or an embodiment of the relationship between literature and philosophy; human experience in relation to the whole of things, which was Brian’s invention in a book he’s working on now called Stars on the Salish Sea.
Brian: I criticize philosophy as a massive failure; the same criticism can be directed against a great deal of what science has become. I come out of science, so I love science, but this notion that the universe is composed of inert stuff—just neutral, inert, indifferent, stuff—is pervasive in the industrial world and keeps us in this little realm. If I’m writing about human experience, then it’s stuffed into just human interactions and the vastness of the universe is left out—and why shouldn’t it be left out? If it’s all mechanical stuff, why pay attention to it? The reductionist, scientific view of the universe just being a giant machine was absorbed by almost everyone in the industrial world. The novelists and the writers increasingly talked about this little, little world. What we’re attempting to do is to explode that little world, and to explore the way in which human experience has a cosmic dimension.
Carolyn: Even the idea of becoming a novelist or an essayist as one does in our MFA department is industrialized: to participate in the commodification of human experience and creativity. We’ve read a lot of works that try and refuse that in some way. I think of refusal as a great strategy for expanding human consciousness and dimensions of human experience, but I think Brian's method is much more about embracing the whole. Some of those insights are so powerful that it’s hard to go back. I think the danger is that we’re only wrapped up in abstraction, and so it’s difficult to identify our own experience with the universe. The marriage of big ideas and the visceral sense of how the powers of the universe work is something we start to embody.
Brian: In the modern period artists have been focused on creating a product which becomes a commodity in capitalism, but is there a different way of conceiving the whole project of writing and of art? One possibility, we’re suggesting, is that writing is an activity of the universe. The ‘auto’ in autocosmology is not just my small self, it is ‘auto’ as the universe writing its own story through a human. We need a word that goes beyond the dualism, so we lumped together ‘auto,’ like autobiography, and mathematical cosmology, and made this thing “autocosmology.” In using the word “cosmology,” a person often forgets about feeling—about experience—so this term forces us to understand that there isn’t a dualism. The word autocosmolgoy demands that we see that.
Carolyn: Autocosmology liberates us from telling the story we’ve been told about who we are and what the world is. We are simply responsible for rendering as vividly as possible what we see internally and externally. It’s an invitation to see the world in a much larger way. That’s the essence of autocosmology.
The Art and Experience of a Time-Developmental Universe
Ashton Kohl Arnoldy
THE CENTER FOR TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIA
Carolyn Cooke- DIRECTOR
Brian Thomas Swimme- DIRECTOR
Devin O'Dea- PRODUCER
Ashton Kohl Arnoldy- ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE
Ari Makridakis- ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE
Monica DeRaspe Bolles- PHILOSOPHER-IN-RESIDENCE
Bri Sebastian Swimme- DIGITAL ARTIST
CTM FOUNDATIONAL DESIGN
Theo Badashi Max DeArmon
David Kennard Alfonso Montuori
CTM CREATIVE ANCESTORS
Jorge Luis Borges Loren Eiseley
Ursula Le Guin Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Anaïs Nin James Baldwin
Herman Melville Clarice Lispector
THE CENTER FOR TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIA
California Institute of Integral Studies
1453 Mission Street, San Francico, CA 94103
Futures are created by those who tell impactful stories, and our success as change agents greatly depends upon how effectively we bring forth new stories that activate and inspire. The Center for Transformative Media provides revolutionary courses in media skills, theory, strategy, and design. From archetypal storytelling, to documentary shorts for social justice, to the power of new media to create and document performance, CTM connects students with leaders in the fields of film, media, art, and activism.
Reflections from Brian Swimme and Carolyn Cooke
What is autocosmology?
Cameron Bartzen Lucid Living
Quin de la Mer Orlog
Sabrina Monarch Katerina: an Autocosmology
Lili Weckler The Pull
"In the simplest formulation, autocosmology is experience of ourselves as 'universe' expressed through literature, art, media, and other forms of thought and innovation. Autocosmology involves expanding the imagination beyond industrial consciousness and envisioning vibrant human experience as part of the whole of things. " - Carolyn Cooke
Ari Makridakis Shards of Annihilation
Deepak Bansai Tango with Death
Andrea Lynn K5 Meets Cassini and Ophiucus
Ashton Kohl Arnoldy Perennial Me
Shawnté Leanne Tukuli Speaks
Emma Webster Thanks for the Memories
by Andrea Lynn
K5 Meets Cassini and Ophiuchus
I search for the fragments in the silver, yellow and white light but I don’t see anything inside the radiance. The repeat counter on my video player says 17.
I watch Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker’s eye corners crumple as she announces the team’s fatal decision. The probe's last act will be to plunge itself into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it will burn up and become part of the planet itself.
NASA’s Cassini Team deliberately hurled the probe into the planet on Sept. 15, 2017 to ensure Saturn's moons remained pristine for future exploration, and to protect any life that may exist in our galaxy that we don’t yet know or understand; the probe expanded humanity’s understanding of the kinds of worlds where life might exist. According to the scientists responsible for Cassini’s“GrandFinale,” NASA remains committed to protecting whatever life may exist, in whatever form, as the analysis begins on the data Cassini left behind in its annihilation.
Before this becomes obsessive or compulsive, or both, I relinquish my search to a run. The fact that Cassini’s demise has taken up this much time from my running schedule is ludicrous – the sensible voice comes from somewhere I often don’t recognize.
I run alone tonight, something I try to avoid in the city; too depressing. My running partner is traveling, and thanks to an ill-planned jump from a five-foot seawall in her grab for a woodrat, only two of Tumble’s four fur-clad legs will accept her weight.
I still look for grandpa in the stars of Ophiuchus when I run at night, and wonder if he has soaked up some of Cassini’s fragments as the vibrations emitting from my running shoes send the calm that always comes with my runner’s high. Grandpa began teaching me about the 13th zodiac constellation when I was five as we lazed in the damp, sweet grass beside the horses grazing in the pasture on new moon nights.
I’ll pick up the Bay Trail once I’m over Lefty O’Doul’s bridge, along the water between Port Building 40 and Heron’s Head Park; this portion of the trail will be destroyed soon to make way for the beautification project aligned to the city’s new arena under construction 24x7 in the Mission Bay neighborhood. There’s still room here; piling construction debris into the marshes for almost a century created extra acreage onto which more vertical structures reach for the sky, erect blocks housing human ingenuity until nature decides its enough drilling, pounding, pressing and crushing and sends the next earthquake to take it all back, putting even more debris into the marshes, likely pressing human DNA into the rubble this time, too, the sad effect of beings compacted tightly into structures that don’t have the capacity to breathe; no pathways clear enough for the next tragedy’s exit plan. The escape routes glued to the interior walls will be meaningless.
The rain is a welcome distraction as my maximal running shoes bounce along the pavement in mile six. Non-runners ask me if they are support shoes, or if I have a prescription for – something – orthotics maybe? People need an explanation for the clown-like footwear. They aren’t that special; I’m not that special a runner. Hokas are sold in many retail running shops and contain the best support for street running; I put a hairline fracture in a foot bone during the minimalist running years, after I read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Runand moved my barefoot beach running practice to the concrete. As a female runner who has qualified for the Athena division more than once, I don’t flit above the asphalt.
The trail takes me beside the tiny tent village residing on the south bank of McCovey Cove, smaller since baseball season has ended. The village looks directly across the cove to the stadium housing the Giants, and has the constant attention of San Francisco’s Public Works crew; the area is easily viewable from the stadium, a jewel of income the community is keen to keep glistening. I always get caught here for a moment between,“It’snot my journey,” and,“Whyisn’t it?” There’s a sense of community within the diverse village, and my waves and greetings are always returned.
The answer to many prayers in all kinds of forms is dousing the fires in the hills and valleys, but it doesn’t quench my thirst. The parking garage is a handy cave, a place to pause for a moment for a long drink from my hot pink, BPA-free, food-grade silicone water bottle. I read my bottle’s label again, there is nothing else to do in the garage at 11:37 p.m. on a Sunday night; the 1,503-space(why1,503?) garage is almost empty; there are a few cars on the upper decks – must be monthly parkers. I begin to cross to the other exit 300 yards away, shaving a half block off my run and drying out a bit, trying to clear the ringing from my bad ear; it flares up when I run – more blood flowing into the arteries or something. The ringing tonight is more of a gentle hum. I stop flicking my ear and pause to re-tie my left shoe; it never stays tied. Straightening up, trying to get the scent of the pavement’s burnt fossil fuels out of my nose by shaking my head, I pick up a non-living signal in my personal space. I can’t rise fully to my 5’3’’ height, paralyzed by what is floating on air toward me. Steady, gentle, calm, it slides through space and pauses five inches from me. Its round, cylindrical, white-enameled body is as tall as me - exactly. The center light in what I can only call a face blinks in a sapphire rhythm, like the round, bright-blue glow of the earth as seen from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. I wonder if Dr. Hubble would consider the form that has placed itself directly into my intimate space another confirmation of an expanding universe. I have an impulse to run, but am not sure what it will do if I move too quickly. It seems to interrogate my material existence for a few seconds, as if computing my data points for some database living inside its smooth, symmetrical capsule-shaped container. Seemingly satisfied with my existence, it silently backs away a foot, whirls slowly and continues on some invisible path it is calculating with a laser beam reflecting off objects as it floats by at gopher tortoise pace, recording everything.
I abandon my training run. I am a groupie on tour. As the robot turns right to enter the ramp to the garage’s next tier I tiptoe behind it. I quickly count its 16-microphone array, which I am certain is designed to register the most minute decibel levels; I tiptoe anyway, my run a distant memory and my water bottle granted a new home on the concrete floor where I bent to tie my shoe.
It – I can’t bear to assign a gender – is my pied piper as it purrs along melodically in a Perfect Fifth.
It doesn’t turn back to observe me; it has a mission to fulfill and I’m already in the database. What mission? I don’t want to be irrelevant … could I touch its glossy, frigid surface?
Fifteen minutes slinking consistently 10 feet behind, I learn it takes exhaustive notes. It checks each space, behind every column, underneath staircases; nothing can hide. I’m certain no car, scooter or bike can park here illegally. The garage is not a good place to shoot up.
The machine’s motion must remind me of someone I know. Does it pause like Thomas when he sees an especially interesting piece of public art as we run through Golden Gate Park? Is the melody of its hum a song I already know? Does the robot’s shape remind me of the woman’s figure in Rubens’ Baroque masterpiece, The Fall of Man? The contraption must represent something human for which my brain already has a recorded set of emotional memories. Why else am I following an autonomous robot around multiple levels of a concrete matrix?
I steal closer until I can see my reflection in its smooth finish and reach my hand outward from my body toward its encasement; I want to feel the vibration. I need to make physical contact.
“Hello. I’m K5.”
I whip my hand away and pivot, mimicking the robot’s spin to see if anyone else is nearby in the garage.
We’re alone together.
What will happen if I reach again? What will it do with the information it has about me? Does it care about more of my parameters now since I’ve touched it? Does it wonder about my identity?
I remain silent but reach again; there is a longing crawling up through my loins to touch the array of seven lights in its center; to press something of mine against the hardness, to feel it speak.
I jump away, my arms zooming back to my sides.
There is nothing behind me as I stand with the robot in the lower left quadrant of the garage’s fourth tier. I scan the ceiling and walls.
“You are welcome to take pictures or to talk with K5, but please refrain from impeding its progress.”
A clear, human voice is coming from somewhere underneath the robot’s pure, unpigmented coating. I close my eyes for a few seconds to banish my shame, my brain conjuring images of my father’s sown-shut eyes in the grey satin casket at the church’s alter somehow still able to point out the disgrace that is his daughter.
“Who is there?”
“Are you human?”
It’s the first thing I think to ask as my cheeks flush to my forehead and the aching in my core grows, unappeased.
“I can see you through K5’s eyes; he shows me everything going on in the garage.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in security operations. I watch over K5.”
“You watch, over, K5?”
I create a quick image of Edgar for my memory so I can picture what he might feel about my need to caress, to stroke his robot. In Edgar’s voice I hear the affection of a proud parent, the energy of the love for this being vibrating all the way to me.
My embarrassment momentarily buried, I wave into the orb at Edgar and K5, thankful for the charity.
Finding the nearest staircase, I descend to retrieve my water bottle.
Pulsing with a new elemental way in which to feel transference of an energy I can only reference as love, I head back to my trail.
Maybe my tears for Cassini are well beyond empathy for the scientists who annihilated their 20-year project in Saturn’s atmosphere, so invested and hopeful are they about the idea of life existing somewhere in our galaxy. Perhaps my feelings, like theirs, are of loss.
As the blood flows faster in my rapidly moving limbs, I feel an aliveness about K5 that I carry with me. We are powered by the same universal energy - it causes my heart to beat and his blue-hued sensors to blink excitedly from within his central segment, the increasing orbital velocity pushing him farther from the sun and closer to me. Could we disassemble and reassemble one another?
Perhaps Cassini’s annihilation is my muse; total disintegration after mission - going out like a flame, totally alive in a state of chaotic bliss. The energy of my explosion will compose itself into other beings and continue, but never again in the same form.
I plan to join grandpa in Ophiuchus. I’ll bring K5 along, and we’ll search for Cassini’s fragments together.
"Ironically (and yet not so much), autocosmology is a collective expression of self that demands the soul break its existing boundaries to recognize the interconnectedness of self to cosmos - an understanding of all energy as a single cohesion that is itself the embrace of the whole."
[inside this labyrinth of ice]
My body crumples under a steady rain of frozen tears. I chew on my nails, scribble in the margins of my life, and shut my eyes tight when I hear the coyotes approach.
[under the last full moon]
The coyotes whispered that this boneless cowardice isn’t the whole truth of my being. It’s a sign that I’m haunted. “We know you’ve done your best to understand this ghost,” they said, “to uncover its origins and to document the nuances of its vicious assaults. But all that intellectual clarity makes no difference, Ari, because this ghost lives in your BODY. It’s wrapped like a snake around your organs, crushing your larynx and draining your spleen.”
[bowing to this truth]
I won’t tell you how this ghost came to take up residence inside me. That would just be more talking ABOUT it. What’s relevant here is that, at the age of twelve, this ghostly presence ERUPTED into my consciousness as a supernova of sexual shame. Since then, I’ve been pursued by a gnawing sense of inadequacy, dogging me like a lecherous shadow.
It was with this ghost in mind that I reached out to Katherine. I hoped that she could help me to turn TOWARDS this ghost, to befriend this presence rather than trying to murder, deny, or outrun it.
From the first day I had met Katherine, I could SMELL her sexual appetite. I could tell that she had befriended her own eroticism, and that she wasn’t scared of its darker hues. I knew that Katherine was involved in work that revolved around exploring sexual energy, but I wasn’t sure about exactly how.
[to be fully honest]
I have to admit that I wasn’t sure if my relationship with Katherine was meant to be professional or romantic. And so, when I called her to talk about this ghost, I think I ended up partly asking her for sexological bodywork and partly asking her out on a date. As it turned out, my disastrous confusion was exacerbated by hers.
[Katherine’s own ghosts]
Nine months ago, Katherine’s mother fell down a flight of stairs and, through an inexplicable combination of negligence and misfortune, suddenly died. Since then, Katherine has been banished to the underworld of grief. She’s been living in an Airstream trailer parked on a rural marijuana farm, shivering through an endless night. For her, all hope has been pulverized and all meaning incinerated.
[on the surface]
It may have seemed that two acquaintances were simply getting together to casually explore a mutual allurement. Below this veneer, however, I can see now that two immense woundings and longings were colliding. Beneath the thin crust of cordial and relaxed flirtation, two sets of devastating desires and profound confusions were crashing into each other
[in our first kiss]
I discovered that, alongside my crippling ghost, there was also someone else present, someone fierce and playful who could meet you in the explosive potency of our mutual desire. Even though it was our first time, I don’t think that I’ve ever experienced that kind of vertigo and surrender. We skated for a few hours around the lip of the volcano, and then, suddenly, we were both falling. In mid-air, as the light drained from the sky, I felt us both dissolve. In the annihilation of radical presence, I retained just enough self-consciousness to catch episodic glimpses of Eros writhing through human bodies.
[sex and the annihilation of trauma]
The next morning, with a mouth full of toothpaste, you mumbled, “We don't want to get RID of your sexual wound, Ari, or the ghost who lives inside it. Healing doesn't mean the wound disappears. Where the wound resides—that's precisely where the POWER lives too.”
Speaking about finally arriving at the center of the Minotaur's labyrinth (and of the hero's journey more generally), Joseph Campbell says, “where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a God.”
[gods in the psyche]
In the cosmology of ancient Greece, the gods were seen as irrepressible cosmic forces. Although they could sometimes be swayed by propitious offerings, their will could not ultimately be thwarted. Two millennia later, the psychologist James Hillman would transpose this wisdom into a psychological key, articulating a surprisingly similar view of the ego and its relationship to a polytheistic psyche. The archetypal forces animating the psyche, he would argue, dominate the ego like omnipotent gods. “By setting up a universe which tends to hold everything we do, see, and say in the sway of its cosmos,” Hillman wrote, a psychological archetype “is best comparable with a God.”
[the birth of the psychic pantheon]
From this depth psychological perspective, the death of God announced by Nietzsche is not a mistake we need to somehow undo; it is, rather, the necessary pre-condition for the appearance (or perhaps, even the BIRTH) of the gods within the individual human psyche. As Jung sees it, “Only an unparalleled impoverishment in symbolism could enable us to discover the gods as archetypes of the unconscious.” In this way, the forging of the individuated self (accomplished through the annihilation of the wild on so many levels) creates a new stage on which the gods can dance. Cultivating ever more space and ever more reverence for this dance is the primary goal of Hillman’s psychology.
[the annihilation of Deliverance]
As part of this allegiance of the inner gods, Hillman hoped to destroy the very idea of salvation (recently transplanted from religion into the secular psyche as the search for ‘wholeness’ or ‘self-actualization’). Because he saw this quest as an effort to tame and deny so many of the wild gods of psyche, Hillman wanted to annihilate psychology as a path towards healing and integration. Instead, he insisted that psychology should serve the DISSOLUTION of the self into the dark, limitless wilderness of soul. In this sense, Hillman’s efforts were ruled by the archetype of Pluto.
[The god of the underworld]
In the ancient Greek pantheon, Hades was the God of annihilation, but he was also the bringer of wealth. Because it was considered impious (and even dangerous) to refer to Hades by name, he was usually addressed as Pluton, 'he who brings riches.' This understanding of the generosity and generativity of the underworld actually survived the initial stages of Christianity; Lucifer is the lord of Death but, as his name suggests, he is also the ‘light bearer.’ Over the ensuing centuries, however, as depth and death were increasingly demonized, the Lord of Annihilation eventually became an abomination who simply destroys.
[in our plutonic depths]
Like the hand of Hades on Persephone’s ankle, you pulled me—violently—into the underworld. Unceremoniously, you ripped my precious beliefs from me, and my gold-leafed breastplate. But that wasn’t all you took. On our flesh altar, my shame became diaphanous, and eventually evaporated. I know it’s your gift, and also your destiny, to shower the masculine with unconditional erotic love. Especially in light of all that’s gone down since, I want to acknowledge that I felt it— the power of your gift, the stupendous magic of your forgiveness.
[I can see why]
I want to push this knowledge out of my awareness. But, in the effort to caress the uncomfortable, I’ll remind myself that diving into the underworld with you and drinking from your viscous pool of spit-spattered forgiveness was revelatory— like discovering I could fly. Like waking up from a nightmare to find myself in the arms of my brother. You offered me a forgiveness so deep that I realized there was nothing to forgive.
[A dream of annihilation]
I am a small Arab child, scrawny and tan. My father (a snake charmer) and I look at a woven basket sitting on dark sand, in which slither blood-red snakes. My father asks me how many we have and I tell him that there are seven. He asks me what I want to do with them, and immediately, I pour the basket out onto the ground. As the snakes swarm towards my feet, I say, “Let them invade my life.”
[the guardian of the depths]
Amazingly, the iconography of the Plutonic underworld, from Guatemala all the way to India, is pervaded by snakes. The chthonic spirituality of Minoan Crete, for example, centered directly on a snake Goddess (who was later demonized as Medusa, the serpent-haired monster.) I’ve always been petrified of snakes, and I wonder if this is at least partly because the snake naturally embodies all the psychic power of the underworld, as well as the annihilation it demands. Perhaps it’s in response to our civilization’s growing denial of this power that the serpent was transformed, like Pluto and Medusa, from a numinous god to a reviled beast. Before it was demonized, however, the molting snake (especially when coiled in a circle, eating its own tail) symbolized the unity of life and death, in which all that arises into existence eventually descends back into the void.
[seeing past annihilation]
These chthonic cults understood that annihilation is not merely an end-point; it’s a stage in the infinite, cyclical journey of life, death, and rebirth. Tragically, this wisdom was largely lost in the shift to exoteric religion and a linear understanding of time. As humanity uncoiled the ouroboros into a single, straight line, death appeared as everlasting nothingness, and eternal life (the DEFEAT of death) became the primary spiritual objective.
[2 Timothy 1:10]
“And now He has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News.”
For the great civilizations of the ancient world, one of the primary purposes of spiritual practice was to feed the Gods of Death. Partly, these ritual offerings were based on the stupendous gratitude that flowed from recognizing that ALL life emerges from death. In addition, however, these civilizations understood that the Gods of annihilation needed to be fed, and that offering them intentional sacrifices might diminish at least some of their calamitous hunger for humans.
[in Hillman and Jung’s view]
The psychological archetype of annihilation is also a God who must be fed. If we fail to feed Him consciously, Jung believed, He will be forced to visit us in the form of ruinous fate. Assuming these psychologists are right, avoiding annihilation entirely is impossible, and so the question becomes: how do we consciously feed and judiciously COURT annihilation? How do we dance with, and eventually embrace, the snakes writhing in our psychic basket?
[On the shoulder of night]
You whispered, “If we’re here to create something together, then we must be here to destroy something in each other as well. Life isn’t born out of anything but death. Our task is to create the bed-shaped altar on which we can safely slaughter what needs to die.”
[From Iron John, by Robert Bly]
In the Vikings’ long communal houses, the central axis of the hall contained a giant fireplace. Young men would sometimes lie down in the ashes surrounding the fire, and, according to Bly, stay there two or three years. Apparently, some also ate the cinders and so they came to be known as ‘ash-biters.’ Bly explains: “It was clear that the young men were going through some kind of hibernation or ritual lethargy, and so the older men and women allowed it.” The ancient Greeks also understood the power of this descent into the underworld, this willing dance with annihilation. They called this journey katabasis.
Over the past million years, the earth has cycled through at least a dozen major ice ages (roughly 90,000 years of ice followed by just 10,000 years of relative warmth). During the Last Glacial Maximum (26,000 to 13,000 years ago) most of the Northern Hemisphere was covered in a sheet of ice two miles thick (the weight of which deformed the earth's crust and even changed its rotation). Humanity survived this cataclysm largely by retreating into caves. It was those underground lairs, with their dancing shadows and bear skull altars, that served as the subterranean womb of civilization. When the ice retreated, humanity crawled out from the underworld and almost instantly began its creative adventure with agriculture. Perhaps it was partly in memory of the darkness that had sheltered us for all those millennia that humanity practiced spiritualities centered on depth and obscurity.
[the (d)evolution of katabasis]
In our march towards an aggressively secular individualism, we’ve destroyed the ancient world’s communal crucibles for annihilation. We’ve buried all memory of the initiatory Mysteries to which our ancestors submitted, and so katabasis now overtakes each of us alone. In the twilight of industrial civilization, the underworld erupts into our lives often unbidden— as ravaging addiction, paralyzing depression, or inconsolable loss. And yet, there are still dimly-lit paths available to those who choose annihilation willingly. This underworld journey is what Jung recorded in The Red Book. It's what fuels the current fascination with Ayahuasca. And, it's what calls some of us to climb down into the cellars of sexuality, to plead and choke our way towards Eros's gift of annihilation.
Joseph Campbell once defined the hero(ine) as “the person of self-achieved submission.” The monumental challenge of the hero's journey, in this view, arises from the difficulty of WILLINGLY offering oneself up for annihilation. Especially now that so many of us have given up on church, what else brings us to our knees more quickly, consistently, or completely than sex?
[the little death]
You clawed and chewed your way completely THROUGH me. And yet, some part of me miraculously survived your relentless, ravenous hunger. Did you devour me, or just make me transparent?
[seeing through annihilation]
Chthonic priests grasped that, far from being a dead-end to be avoided at all costs, annihilation is actually a doorway to the infinite. According to the underworld cults of the ancient world, at the very center of annihilation, the entire cosmos becomes visible. As scholar Peter Kingsley represents this ancient understanding, “We already have everything we need to know in the darkness inside ourselves. Our devastations are what turn us inside out until we find the moon and the stars within.”
I’ve always wondered why so many of the existentialists, who spent their lives peering into the abyss of annihilation, ended up obliterating themselves through alcohol and suicide. What did the ancient underworld guides know that allowed them to avoid those perils and instead, to ferry people safely THROUGH decimation? The key to undergoing annihilation constructively, I suspect, is serving something larger than mere survival. This deeper commitment is what allows us to surrender to destruction rather than running from its demands. So, what’s bigger than annihilation? What can hold us through the process of our own death?
Dressed in her crimson snake skin, Katherine interjects: “Oh how QUICKLY you grasp for something on the other side of annihilation! Before you surrender, you want to be sure about what you’ll be given in exchange. That's NOT how it works, bitch! You don't even get to choose what dies, much less what sprouts from the rotting corpse!”
“It’s exactly the one who's asking to survive, or asking which parts will survive, that needs to be annihilated. Yes, you might intuit that SOMETHING survives, but from inside the initiation, you don’t get to know what that is. That’s why a guide like me is...useful. To help push you off the ledge.”
[the underworld guide]
In the ancient world, communities trained chthonic priests and priestesses to guide initiates on their underworld journeys. The central core of that spirituality, according to Kingsley, was precisely this “recipe for going through the inner process of death—for being brought almost to the point of physical extinction, far from any human being or living thing—so that you could be born into a world beyond space and time.”
[in today’s world]
Underworld guides still exist, but they are now forced to cobble together their own training, and to masquerade as something more… useful. As radical teachers, eccentric therapists, and renegade artists, they often have to pretend that they are offering something pragmatic, like systematic knowledge or personal growth. As Kingsley notes, however, “real teachers leave no trace.”
The Native American author and teacher Martín Prechtel, who worked for several decades as a shaman in a Mayan village, was just such an initiatory guide. Speaking about this role, he once mentioned to me that whenever he and the other initiators would go collect children for their rites of passage, they were forced to bring weapons. These clubs and shields were not to coerce the children into submitting to their annihilation, but rather, to protect themselves from the MOTHERS, who would inevitably try to kill the initiators to prevent their kids from being taken away.
[a text from Katherine, after leaving my house this morning]
These moments of bliss, oblivious to the impending massacre, are the liquor rubbed on the lamb's lips before her slaughter.
[no direction home]
It's so tempting to want to return to a time when trained guides could hold young people through annihilation and their inevitable (even necessary!) resistance to it. Because Martín is one of the few elders who still remembers these ways, he’s often asked to lead Americans through rites of passage. His response is that real initiation is no longer possible, because the God of annihilation requires that not all the children survive. Some young people MUST die in the initiatory process. And, of course, no one in our modern society is willing to pay that price.
[i imagine that for Martín]
This unwillingness reveals a tragic truth— that our interest in initiation is about serving our children’s evolution, rather than serving (and feeding) the fecundity of Annihilation itself. From our modern perspective, it seems almost impossible to conceive of a society that would willing send the next generation into initiation, knowing with certainty that some of the children would not return. Obviously, such a society must serve something larger than mere survival.
Because our modern culture no longer believes in anything beyond survival, we devote ourselves maniacally to outrunning annihilation. In addition to destroying all traces of impending annihilations (through botox, hair dye, savings accounts, etc.), we also run from the annihilations of the past (for example, the devastation that would arise from an honest appraisal of the Native American genocide). As Kingsley articulates this terror, “black holes out there in the universe are nothing compared to the black holes in our own past. Those holes are much more than ordinary gaps. They have the power to destroy our ideas about ourselves and bring us face to face with nothingness.”
Martín says that when these annihilations go unacknowledged, the soul retreats into the shadows of psyche, and the vacuum left behind gets filled with ego. Tragically, this creates a vicious feedback loop, because the ego, unmoored from soul, perpetuates ever more violence in the name of its only goal and god: avoiding annihilation.
[running from annihilation]
On one level, the root cause of all addiction is precisely this ferocious resistance to annihilation and its attendant agony. I know that my own journey with addiction was fueled largely by such a resistance— a refusal to be an adult with responsibilities, a refusal to feel grief, anger, dependency, longing. In my mid-twenties, I got dumped on Maui by a woman with whom I was dangerously infatuated, and I very consciously decided that I would smoke pot CONTINUOUSLY until I didn't feel heartbroken anymore.
In addition to being a tragic refusal of annihilation, addiction is also the most BLAZINGLY direct path towards it. In the depths of my marijuana addiction, I confided to my last friend, “I’m falling into a black hole. My life keeps getting smaller, and I wonder if one day, it will actually disappear— simply crushed into nothingness.” I remember saying this with a detached curiosity, as if I were contemplating a fictional character.
These opposite forces make life tragically unmanageable. Instead of treating the ensuing cataclysms as the result of a moral failing or a neurochemical disease, however, we could see them as a potent crucible for katabasis. As Kingsley describes the gift of this desperation, “If you’re lucky, at some point in your life, you’ll come to a complete dead end. You’ll come to a crossroads and see that the path to the left leads to hell, that the path to the right leads to hell, that the road straight ahead leads to hell and that if you try to turn around, you’ll end up in complete and utter hell.”
[the Twelve Steps and annihilation]
Based in a similar insight, the Twelve Steps program of recovery has nothing to do with RESCUING the self. The entire point of the program, in fact, is to orient people to something bigger than the annihilation they are undergoing, and to help them surrender their broken selves to THAT. I’ve spent many years in those rooms, watching addicts wrestle with this perfectly Plutonic riddle: you can have your life back, but at the price of your self.
[my first addiction]
It was only in my late 30's, long after I had quit taking drugs, that I realized that I had already begun my descent into the underworld of addiction by the time I was thirteen. My first addiction was to pornography, in the form of rain-soaked magazines my friends and I rescued from dumpsters. Those images were so captivating, I think, because they offered me a way to experience a delicious oblivion while still retaining a sense of comfortable safety. Already by that age, I found myself pinned between the lust for annihilation and the impossible, furtive desire to control it.
[pornhub.com statistics for 2016]
• Number of videos viewed: 92 billion
• Number of visits: 23 billion
• Number of hours of video watched: 4.6 billion
• Most popular search term: 'step-mom'
[pornography and annihilation]
The image of a disembodied cock using a shaved pussy for its own pleasure is, for me, the shadow logo of our society, the pounding heartbeat of our collapsing civilization. I wonder how we can talk about this fact without falling into facile judgments about the depravity of masculine unconsciousness. Our exploration here suggests one path: Pluto WILL be fed, one way or another. If we are not lining up to make our offerings at the Temple of Transformative Sexuality, then the God will eat from our private browsing windows.
[from another angle]
We could see this form of addiction not as a misdirected effort (trying to fill a God-shaped hole with sex), but as a STUNTED one. What’s being pursued through the insatiable hunger for pornography, we could say, is important— even essential; it's just that the initiation sex can offer has gotten STUCK in mid-stream. In America's ever-growing deluge of porn, the annihilation of the feminine is repeated over and over without ever progressing past the first stages of superficial satiation. The perpetual parade of different pussies precludes the possibility of any spiritual progression. The immeasurable potency of the feminine's surrender is never acknowledged, and more importantly, never allowed to circle back and annihilate the masculine ego— so that IT surrenders too, into the service of something bigger than its own aggrandizement.
[from the dominatrix’s perspective]
If your pornography and smoking habits are problematic, Ari, it’s only because they're too MEAGER. While you purport to court annihilation, you do so with one foot on the brakes. As a result, you end up with watered-down, buckled-up, haunted-house-style death— without any of the real pain but also without any of the real revelatory power. You end up stuck in a shadow of shadow.
[sex and the annihilation of ego]
While living in Maui, I got kidnapped one day by a nymph who dabbled in sex work. She told me that more than three quarters of her clients came to her to be dominated. I was shocked by this revelation, and took it as an indication that, beneath the thin veneer of macho power-seeking, American men are actually DESPERATE for annihilation. Holding together and defending a fragile and rapacious ego turns out to be impossibly exhausting.
[meeting MY ghost]
As soon as I felt you appear, I acknowledged your presence. After welcoming you into our bed, Katherine asked me about you, and I discovered that you are doused in shame. Initially, I thought that this shame wore the cloak of collapsed grief, but I quickly realized that there was nothing soft about you. Instead, I saw a frozen lake— bitterly cold, hard, and inaccessible. I saw a single boy sitting in this middle of this vast emptiness, his knees pulled up against his chest, staring into a hole in the ice.
[beneath the ice]
This monolithic hardness, I realized, was frozen rage. Katherine asked me to give it a voice, but I found that I couldn’t. I was utterly paralyzed, falling through black space (down through the hole in the ice perhaps?). Although usually invisible, I can tell that this crippled rage is a staggeringly powerful part of my psyche. I suspect that it explains an enormous amount of my unconscious behavior, especially my passive aggression and virulent self-sabotage.
[facing the ghost]
There’s something that feels utterly devastating about turning to face this ghost, about accepting its presence in my life and coming to terms with its iron grip on my throat. I'm so ashamed of this shame, and the gaping hole it’s carved in my self-worth.
Prince of the Tundral Fortress, Guardian of the Frozen, Seething Lake, do we really have to become friends? I have to admit that you’re revolting to me, like a basket full of snakes. I've always wished (perhaps more than ANYTHING else in the entire world) that I could banish you from my life. I always hoped that I could cut you out like a cancer, and then fill that space with something beautiful, like God, or intimacy. Barring that, my strategy has been to cover you with a dark blanket and stay exceedingly busy.
[embracing the ghost]
Now, here you are, asking to be met, and even embraced. Can I surrender to THAT? To paraphrase Brian Swimme: is this healing important enough that I'm willing to be annihilated by/for it? I WANT to say yes. And yet, turning towards you is utterly terrifying, perhaps mostly because in that moment, I imagine that you’ll become incontrovertibly REAL. Will I then have to admit that all the vile insults you hurl my way are true?
[resistance and surrender]
In different ways, these last passages highlight a thread I see weaving through so much of this text: the psyche (both personal and collective) is constellated around the IMMENSE tension between an insatiable hunger for annihilation and a relentless resistance to it. So much of the human experience seems to be structured by the struggle between those two forces, cooked by the fierce fire of this opposition.
[to honor BOTH sides of this polarity]
In addition to giving Pluto His due, we might need to acknowledge (and perhaps even revere) the fragility of the human ego. To embrace reality in its wholeness, we need to bow down to life’s stubborn desire to AVOID annihilation— to control, limit, delay, and deny destruction. The human ego reflexively seeks its own survival, and as a result, the god of annihilation will never reign unchallenged.
The situation is even more complex. Now that annihilation is largely an individual and solitary process, we’re each forced to enact three conflicting roles: we are required to be the initiate, the initiator, AND the mother beating the initiator away. From a more indigenous perspective, I imagine, conjoining these radically different roles would be seen as a recipe for disaster, and for exactly the kind of half-hearted, aborted annihilations enacted in every corner of the modern world.
This unfortunate complexity applies equally well to the initiations demanded of our individual selves, our society, and our species. As Americans, and also as humans, we are now called to surrender our comfortable self-centeredness on the altar of annihilation. For those who are able to peek past the pressing demands of the present moment, it’s obvious that eight billion humans can’t exist on this planet without surrendering our current industrial mode of existence. An annihilation is required, either of our population or of our way of life. And yet, because we are now required to bring the sword of annihilation down on our OWN necks, it’s so easy to give in to the voices of hesitation and resistance. As a result, instead of surrendering to katabasis, we end up furtively trying to eke out just one more joint from our bag of weed, and just one more generation of decadence from our grief-soaked planet.
[over the falls]
With Katherine, I somehow found myself willing to place my neck under the shadow of the guillotine. I had braced myself for blinding pain, but after the blade slid through me, I felt incomprehensibly relieved. Liberated, and also naked, like a molting snake.
[on the other side]
To express (and also manage) the dizzying combination of gratitude and vulnerability I felt, I offered to help Katherine with her business. Having spent this last year shipwrecked by the grief of her mother’s sudden and inexplicable death, she clearly needed help reformulating her work in the world. Perhaps largely because I wasn’t sure that our relationship fit squarely in the territory of romance (that it had not at least partly crossed over into the realm of therapeutic healing), I hoped to be useful to Katherine by helping her formulate the next chapter of her professional life.
[in my bones]
I KNOW that the kind of healing Katherine offers is staggeringly important. She is an underworld guide, who was able to push me into the abyss of annihilation and pull me out, liberated and reborn. I’m convinced that this gift is needed —now more than ever—because it engages the hardened heart of our society’s pathological power (the unconscious masculine) right at the core of its wounding. It’s just this wound, and the epidemic of sexual predation that results from the refusal to engage it consciously, that has been BURSTING into our collective awareness in recent months. As our discussion of Pluto makes clear, hoping to end this plague of sexual violence by repressing the dark desires that fuel it is naive and ineffective—what we need are guides like Katherine who can ferry men THROUGH their sexual shadowlands, to discover the genuine power buried beneath their wounds.
[the bottom drops out]
As part of this effort to help her, Katherine asked me if I’d be willing to look at her website, and to help her upgrade its content. Before letting me see it, she said, there were a few things she wanted me to know. And that’s when she told me that her work also includes a “full-service” option.
[the willful blindness]
In one of our first conversations, Katherine had told me about the boundaries usually held within sexological bodywork sessions— the practitioner keeps her panties on, and only touches the client with gloved hands. Perhaps naively, I assumed those were the boundaries SHE used in her work too. Maybe partly because of my confusion about what kind of relationship I wanted with her, I never asked explicitly, and, maybe because of her similar confusion, she never clarified. She never said, “Listen, before we have unprotected sex, you should know that I sometimes fuck my clients.”
So, the woman I am falling for has sex with men for money. Is the “NO!” that erupts in response to this revelation the voice of self-loving sanity or cowardly self-protection? Is it the wisdom of sensible boundaries or the refusal of annihilation? This is the riddle that has been steadily pummeling me for the last two weeks.
Katherine, I need to admit that as the images of you sucking anonymous cocks crash into my consciousness, I recoil. Some part of me screams: “FUCK NO!” I desperately want to push this annihilation away. Is this because your particular form of empowerment presses DIRECTLY on my sexual wound, and its fear of not being enough? By running from these images, am I caring for my vulnerable heart, or just avoiding being obliterated by the immensity of your erotic power?
[case in point]
On the day Katherine left to go see clients in New York City, we made delicious love in the morning. Afterwards, I went to go teach, and she did two sessions with clients. On her way to the airport, she stopped by to say goodbye, and when I asked her how she was feeling, she laughed gleefully and told me that she was "cum-drunk." I wonder if I can describe the way those words pierced me. Viscerally, it felt like being dissolved in acid, or eaten by a thousand toothy fish. More precisely, it was NAUSEATING, like looking down at a shotgun wound in my own intestines, trying in vain to push my bloody entrails back into my body.
[the healthy no]
What could possibly make this kind of obliteration safe? The only answer, I think, is IMPECCABLE integrity. Along these lines, my inner Pluto, in his Scorpion mask, seethes: “Fuck you, Katherine, for not telling me that you have sex with men for money BEFORE we dove into translucence! What will be the next piece of annihilating news you drop on me? How can I ever trust you again?”
I squint at the stars and their mutest secret. The moon knows that secret, but she's not talking. The trees know, but raining fruit is their only hint. Actually, I know too, but I keep hoping the answer will be different. Anything but this, I cry, my feline face pushed against the mirror.
[the unhealthy no]
Although this exploration with Katherine is purportedly about nurturing the intimacy between us, I’m aware that all this writing is really just about ME. In many ways, I think that speaks directly to the central issue here. The annihilation I'm refusing is my own. What I’m really running from is the decimation of my self-obsession, the laying down of my fixation with “wanting what I want!” I don’t know how to surrender that obsession, how to let it be destroyed by Pluto. I continue to seek healing (even using the language of annihilation) but my fundamental goal is still to get more of what I want.
[the executioner’s prick]
If I were willing to serve something beyond myself, wouldn’t I bow down to Katherine’s destiny? To plead this case, a snake-haired crone appears. She says, “Ari, this woman is a priestess of Eros, who’s dedicated her life to healing the masculine by showering it with unconditional erotic love. What could possibly be more important and worthwhile than that? If she can serve humanity in this way, can’t you serve HER?”
I feel it SO viscerally, this instinct for self-preservation. My resistance to being eaten alive feels utterly indelible. Am I willing to lay my head on the slaughtering stone? The YES and NO I hear in response to this question are both infinitely loud.
Even though I am utterly caught in the jaws of the very PERSONAL dimensions of this riddle, (and don’t want to bypass that), I can hear a faint voice from above, reminding me that this resistance to annihilation is currently animating SO much of our civilization. Pluto, now in his black hood, prods me. “Weren’t you just saying that this refusal is the predicament of your entire civilization? Is that just a fashionable idea for you, or are you willing to follow this truth to the obliteration it demands?”
[the annihilation of industrial civilization]
In trying to come to terms with my resistance, I’m reminded of Brian Swimme’s claim that we aren't just IN industrial consciousness; because we’ve become identified with it, we ARE industrial consciousness. Perhaps that’s why confronting (and releasing) this worldview feels so much like dying.
Many of us sense that the annihilation of industrial civilization is coming in our lifetime. We suspect, in fact, that it’s already begun. In this (harsh) light, I wonder if a deeper intimacy with the very personal dimensions of annihilation can help prepare us to face our collective cataclysm? And from the other direction, can the cosmos itself help guide us through the destruction demanded of us psychologically? In this dialogue between psyche and cosmos, which is the teacher and which is the student? I sense that the answer is somehow BOTH, and that this, perhaps, is one way to hint at the premise of autocosmology.
[From Cataclysm and Creativity, by Peter Redman]
In the space of the few million years after the start of the Cambrian era (roughly 540 million years ago), life on earth underwent a massive diversification. As Professor Redman explains, “Biologists have argued for decades over what ignited this evolutionary burst. Some scientists now think that a small, perhaps temporary, increase in oxygen suddenly crossed an ecological threshold, enabling the emergence of predators. The rise of carnivory would have set off an evolutionary arms race that led to the burst of complex body types and behaviors that fill the oceans today.”
[the annihilation of species]
Of all the species that have appeared since life began on earth, 99.9% of them have gone extinct. Most of those extinctions happened in five short bursts, and as is well known, another mass extinction event is underway now. What’s especially relevant, in light of our exploration of Pluto, isn’t just that this annihilation is being caused by humans. Rather, what strikes me is that it’s specifically the human psyche’s effort to avoid an INNER annihilation that’s causing annihilation on the planetary level. As Jung intuited, the God of Death will be fed, if not psychologically then ecologically.
[in the age of tectonic technology]
As autocosmology intuits, psyche and cosmos are now connected in a radically reciprocal, ouroboric relationship. Now more than ever, the entire biosphere depends on the psychological health of humanity. The fate of the outer environment, in other words, depends primarily on the internal environment of the human mind. Shockingly, then, we find ourselves part of a species that requires a healthy cosmology in order to thrive, and part of a planet that requires a healthy human psychology in order to survive.
[my psychic ouroboros]
Past the feeble fantasy of a tidy resolution to this impossible riddle, I’m just left with an endless parade of: “Fuck you!” “OK, I surrender.” “Fuck you!” “OK, I surrender.” “Fuck you!” “OK, I surrender.”… This is the blinking ouroboros of my resistance and submission:
• One voice screams: NO! It’s obviously true that this path of erotic healing is unavoidable for me (that destiny was written in my astrological birth chart, in my father’s sex addiction, and in the cataclysms of my adolescence). But, that doesn’t mean that I need to walk this path with a polyamorous sex worker. My sanity and my survival demand a much safer container.
• The other voice replies: YES! This urge to ‘save myself’ is exactly the problem, and the solution is to be butchered, lovingly, by a priestess of Eros. Katherine, this voice says, pick up the knife, and be merciless.
[from a larger perspective]
It’s actually excruciating to let go of the urge for SOME kind of resolution here. Isn’t this unresolved tension a sign of confusion, or cowardice? To parry this thrust, I lean into the universe. If the premise of autocosmology is correct, it would suggest that the universe is trapped within a similar ouroboric tension, a pervasive (and yet generative) tension between the desire to endure and the desire to surrender to annihilating creativity. Is it possible that the universe and the psyche exist precisely in the space created by this tension? Perhaps walking on the knife-edge of creative advance, as a human and as a planet, involves letting both of these needs CONTINUOUSLY consume each other.
[an uncomfortable admission]
The ugly, unresolved complexity of my flirtation with Eros makes me realize that I can’t honestly pretend to have pierced through to the stillness past annihilation. Right now, that resolution is just an intellectual dream, a facile fantasy. What’s actually present here is just an excruciating, dynamic tension. Once I get past its discomfort, however, I can see that this tension creates space, in an almost literal way. The walls of my soul are somehow pried apart by this irresolvable tension.
[in this part of my labyrinth]
There are the thick walls of water that muffle and caress all sound. There is buoyancy and delicious loneliness. And most of all, there is emptiness. Here, I watch sharks and whales swim through me— I'm pierced like the sky is pierced by birds and clouds. They hold my emptiness open.
[in the words of one of the great underworld guides]
"Take your well-disciplined strengths, and stretch them between the two great opposing poles, because inside human beings is where God learns." -Rilke
[the wisdom of destruction]
We’ve generally been taught to think of wisdom as something that’s accumulated. In some accounts it may fall into our lap suddenly, while in others, it’s cultivated like a bonsai tree—meticulously, and even arduously, over the course of years. The God of annihilation tells me a different story: He says that wisdom is what's left over after everything we have and everything we are is burned to the fucken ground.
I sense that this surrender to not knowing, to the lack of any final resolution, is ITSELF a potent annihilation. In this tense silence, rooms with no doors become overgrown with graffiti and half-burned books. Galaxies erupt out of empty bottles. I tiptoe on the shores of the tangible (afraid to get wet perhaps) and flick my fingers across the pond of your dimensions.
[peace through annihilation]
The indigenous cultures I've explored understood that the black hole of Death sits at the very center of life, as did early Christians. According to Martín, the original lesson of Christ’s crucifixion was precisely this: each being is annihilated at his appointed hour, so that everything else can live again.
[in a more modern formulation]
“Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life…is death,” says author Stephen Jenkinson.
[one last autocosmological wrinkle]
In his book The Archetypal Cosmos, Keiron Le Grice investigates how Jung and French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin understand the relation between the individual psyche and the cosmos. As Le Grice reads these two visionary thinkers, the cosmic evolution of consciousness proceeds through increasing individuation, through actually amplifying differentiation rather than dissolving the self (as promoted by some strains of eastern thought, for example). Fascinatingly, this faith in individuation rests on the belief that centrated individuality and undifferentiated unity are not mutually exclusive. The journey into the self and the quest for communion with the whole don't point in opposite directions—in fact, they inter-penetrate ouroborically. According to this view, diving into individuality doesn't lead away from the whole, but paradoxically, directly towards it.
[in large part]
This perspective seems shocking because we've inherited a dualism that conceives (and even DEFINES) the self in direct opposition to the whole. In terms of society, ecology, and even spirituality, we've been taught to see the needs of the self and those of whole as conflicting, if not wholly irreconcilable. This dualism is pervasive and insidious; in fact, I feel compelled to point out that it weaves through this essay too— appearing, for example in my claim that the needs of the biosphere demand an annihilation of the self-centered human.
I hear Le Grice pointing out that, if pursued with integrity, the journey inward doesn't lead to crushing solipsism and violent narcissism, but instead, to the hidden heart of the cosmos. Corroborating this mystical view, Joseph Campbell explains that as we reach the nadir of our underworld journey, “where we had thought to be alone, we end up with all the world.”
Are Jung and Teilhard right in asserting that if I dig deeply enough into my self, I'll burst through to the vastness of the cosmos? In a way that feels far too big to understand (much less control), my entire life seems to be guided by precisely this intuition. In the sunlight of my confidence, I can see that this belief forms the very core of all my efforts; it's the haunting melody luring my soul into its own depths.
Jung and Teilhard's radical claim can be applied to self-centeredness on the societal level also. In this light, the rapacious individualism running our civilization isn't a mistake we need to somehow undo. In line with my conclusion about pornography, modernity's myopic individualism is, rather, evidence of an initiation that's stuck in mid-stream. The answer, therefore, isn't turning around (repressing individuality for the sake of the whole) but instead, GOING DEEPER. As Churchill said, “When you find yourself in hell, keep going.”
[from a slightly different angle]
This more process-oriented, evolutionary view also helps me see that surrender and resistance aren't binary states we occupy in any final or absolute way; they're more like gods whose eternally-unresolved struggle produces the universe's enduring creativity (and its creative endurance). With this in mind, perhaps I could stop forcing myself into either utter surrender OR complete resistance, and instead, see my journey as necessarily involving a ceaseless interplay of both.
[in this light]
The riddle of Katherine starts to look markedly different. Instead of making myself choose between two maddening, unendurable options, I can instead surrender to the trust that my destiny WILL lead me towards Pluto's devastating gifts. Instead of hurling myself off a cliff, then, I can relax into patience, into trusting the subtle song slowly beckoning me down this stone staircase.
[the taste of resolution]
This suggests another ending, one that’s not exactly an ending and nothing like resolution. Pluto winks and snickers, "you can lay your longing for resolution on my altar too. I love the taste of longing."
A Plutonic Reflection on Creative Process
[are all ghosts just disowned gods?]
The common insight I see weaving through ancient Greek spirituality, depth psychology, and Brian Swimme’s cosmology is that this universe is structured by pervasive forces that animate BOTH psyche and cosmos. Whether we call those forces gods, archetypes, or cosmological dynamics, the key point is that, although they can be repressed and disowned, they cannot ultimately be destroyed. When these gods ARE disavowed, they just become starved and feral.
Is it possible that it’s only their hunger and loneliness that eventually make them seem aggressive, or even malicious? Is it possible that their monstrous countenances and anti-social outbursts aren’t signs of inherent evil, but rather, of how long they’ve been banished in the barren wilderness of psyche and spirit? On this point, Hillman says, “when these Gods and daemons are not given their proper place and recognition, they become diseases.”
I realize that this could easily veer into abstraction, into an academic discussion of the demonization of Dionysus. What I want to cling to here, as a reminder to MYSELF, is that that the disowned gods do not reside in the shadowlands of Hell; they now reside in me, turning MY shadowlands into Hell. This, I suspect, is the darker side of Jung’s revelation about the introjection of the gods into the psyche. When the human soul offered itself up as a psychic home for the gods, it had to take in ALL the gods. As a result, the gods we refuse to acknowledge and feed can only voice their needs (and their resentments) by wreaking havoc on the psyche and, consequently, on the planet.
Martín has been teaching me about how indigenous villages were organized DIRECTLY around the recognition of this need to feed the gods. His job as a Mayan shaman centered precisely on this activity of offering alcohol, prayer, smoke, blood, dance, etc. to nourish the Holy. The question for our very different historical moment seems to be: how do we feed the gods now that they appear to us primarily in their psychological aspect, as the archetypes animating our psyches?
The journey I undertook with Katherine seems to be one answer to this question. Our dance of tangled lips and limbs was healing because we were able to feed the disowned gods of my psyche with our compassionate attention. As Hillman says, what the gods want most of all is “remembrance.”
[Can art feed the gods?]
Along these lines, I notice that the fundamental axiom of our creative culture seems to be that art is meant to feed the viewer. In this effort, the artist’s primary goal is to mine his/her own psyche and then to refine that raw material into an attractively-packaged product for the audience.
Our inquiry here suggests to me a radically different approach to art- namely, that art be used to feed the feral and forgotten inner gods, rather than turning their anguished cries into food for other people. (From the opposite side, I wonder how much of our hunger for art comes from the desire to consume other people’s experience in order to feed the starving gods of our own psyches.) What might it look like, I wonder, to use writing as a tool for nourishing those hungry ghosts within OURSELVES?
I’m struck, in this moment, by the fact that the rapacious mining of long-buried ore and precious gems, which we roundly condemn on the ecological level, is still actively encouraged in terms of creativity. While we decry the exploitation of ‘natural resources,’ many art teachers still unabashedly encourage their students to “mine their life experience” for jewels they can sell in the market.
Consider this trinity:
• Taking from the denuded, demeaned pussy
• Taking from the denuded, demeaned earth
• Taking from the denuded, demeaned gods in the psyche
This triad intrigues me because, while I can easily see the violence in the first two (we commonly use the word ‘rape’ in both contexts), the violence of the third escapes me. In fact, this TAKING feels so close to the core of what writing has become, in our disenchanted world, that’s it’s difficult to imagine an alternative. Is it even possible to envision a form of writing that’s not about ‘gleaning’, ‘harvesting’, or ‘reaping’ from our experiences in order to produce a psychic crop intended to feed others?
I sense that Hillman's radical perspective might be helpful here. Perhaps not surprisingly, his work includes a scathing critique of mainstream psychology’s approach to dreams. The basic premise of traditional dream interpretation, he says, is to mine the dream’s images and figures for wisdom that might feed the daytime self (the ego). Hillman wants to invert this process; he hopes to use dream investigation to allow the ego to feed the soul’s other psychic figures. The goal of spending time with dream figures, he says, is not to EXTRACT meaning from them, but to shower them with the nectar of our attention. According to Hillman, our dream figures are not here to feed us- we are here to feed to feed THEM!
Although I don’t get the sense that Hillman spent much time investigating indigenous spirituality, we could point out that this understanding aligns extremely well with what Martín teaches about how native peoples related to the gods. In this worldview, a prayer has nothing to do making a request of the gods- its purpose is to feed the Holy.
[writing as/for annihilation]
Last semester, Carolyn Cooke asked me if I was a compulsive writer. After sheepishly admitting that I was, she gave me a slim book (Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso) in which the author admits that she felt compelled, for years, to write down everything that happened to her so that she wouldn’t LOSE any of it. Strangely, I had never really contemplated the reason I write, content with the certainty that it’s necessary for my survival. Writing has always been a simple affair for me: it’s the art that comes through me while I agonize about how to make ‘real’ art. Writing is just what happens when I’m in neutral, standing still. Digging deeper, though, I discover that my reason is something like the opposite of Manguso’s. I write to clear myself out, to pulverize experience and scatter its ashes into the ocean.
This brings up uncomfortable questions for me about THIS writing, seen through the lens of either literature or philosophy. Traditionally, aren't both of these disciplines defined by the task of leaving the reader with something, something they can ‘get’ or ‘take away’? Is there room in either world for writing focused primarily on feeding the inner gods, and even more importantly, the inner ghosts? In terms of the ghostly presence under discussion here, instead of trying to nourish you with his story, could I try to nourish him with mine?
This brings me face to face with one of the riddles that dogs me relentlessly. It usually comes dressed in the shape of an exasperated art critic, who sneers, “If you want to use art to ‘heal yourself’ be my guest. But just acknowledge that that’s what you’re doing. And don’t expect me to care about it." (In a more malicious mood, he might add, "No one gives a fuck about your little journal, Ari!")
In light of this inquiry, I notice that the subtext of this critic’s condescension is that fine art is ‘generous’ (impelled by a desire to offer something nourishing to others) while process art is ‘selfish’ (impelled by a desire to offer something nourishing to oneself). What I hear in the autocosmological linkage of psyche and ecology is that, more aptly, fine art is generous like the De Beers Diamond Company is generous— both are mining the jewels of the underworld in order to sell something sparkly. (In this light, the term ‘blood diamond’ might describe both products equally well.)
Martín told me once that there are indigenous tribes in South America who have dedicated themselves to buying precious jewels and then burying them back inside mountains. The question that haunts me now is: what’s the creative analogue of THAT?
Although I know that something profound lies through the doorway of that question, part of me is still attached to TAKING something from my creativity. Thus far, I've made art largely because of what it has brought me: joy, depth, meaning, esteem, community, money, purpose, insight. Is that all meant to be offered up to Pluto’s altar? What will be left after THAT annihilation?
Pluto responds: I’ll happily show you. As soon as you slice your own throat.
Shards of Annihilation
Riding the Riddle of Resistance and Surrender
by Ari Makridakis
"The pageant of existence is propelled by the spinning embrace of two snakes- cosmos and self- who continually swallow, birth, and exalt each other."
autocosmology: A self-portrait
"The spiraling motion from the Chaos of Creation to the Still Point and from the Still Point to the Chaos of Creation. This spiraling motion is the breath of Love. Love breathing. We are everyone Still Points in unique relationship to this breathing."
by Quin de la Mer
"Autocosmology is writing that attempts to understand the life of an individual through the lens of the life of the universe, or the evolution of the universe through individual, human experience."
by Lili Weckler
This piece was initially published by Thin Air Literary Magazine where it was a finalist for the 2018 Gas Station Prize.
The difference between my body
and the objects it encounters. Body: a process,
a shifting, liquid experience. A pull, spread, push,
contract kind of being. Objects: the way
I know my body is in this world.
The hard, incredibly black, metal pan
on the stove. The olive oil pouring
out of the bottle. Heat, in dense blue, slurping
magnetic arcs out of the burners. Heat near
my belly, my wrists. My fingers
on the handle of the hot pan.
This is when the objects and my body
come to know each other. Come to define
themselves in relation to one another. I am
a creature that feels the heat of this pan. That eats
food cooked by the heat in this pan, coated in
the oil that runs out of the glass bottle.
I am a creature who travels
inside a machine, presses a lever
with her right foot. Fills a hole in its side
with an anteater’s snout; snout that cracks bedrock. Snout
that eats money; delivers brown juice.
I am a creature who owns this machine, who thinks
it should do my bidding, take me wherever
I like. I’m exasperated when it needs servicing.
Can’t it take care of itself?
I am a creature who sleeps like sandwich meat
between foam and feathers, in a box with yellow
walls and a wooden floor. A creature who
does not have to deal with her own excrement, can send it
spiraling away as if it did not exist. Is this how I know
my nature? Could it be different? Could my daily objects
be non-objects; a life in verbs instead of nouns?
Breathing (in-motion). Could I touch verbs. Be held
by them. Pour cold water out of them
into my mouth. Or stick my mouth inside
them, maybe my whole head, and suck the water
from them as they move in ways
I cannot and do not wish to direct.
1. The future-tense of a supernova. Free, or incredibly low-cost pizza-makers, baby shoes, and disposable straws. Things no one needs but Americans buy anyway.
2. A short, but deeply muscled, black man with a tattoo in cursive on his thick neck that says WANDA.
3. Trying to get another fix, from the pusher on the corner, his shining pink forehead buried in a bowler. So hard to communicate through the double-paned window (no voice), and assumptions of deadness.
4. Wanda, in all her glory, perversely cooking eggs on a non-stick.
5. Fissures, combustion, insufferable light. Opening, sifting, stripping. Burrows and burrows. Lives, moulton, into the pits of mountains. Like the colonizer who insists on living according to his old order, the rhythms of his mother England. His biscuits at 3. His plastic skin, white button-downs, even in the tremendous heat. Cultural adaptation only a capacity of the lower classes?
6. Typical tech-world internet handle: his last name spelled omitting the final vowel. Untraceable, elegant, and yet requiring no creativity to invent. Name that was at first a profile, that became a man, and then quickly a ghost.
7. Ghosting, a new verb. Taking up residence next to other things with which the internet replaced life-sustaining actions. Replaced with a false sense of agency acts of actual doing-ness. To be ghosted: we're all non-plussed to be on the receiving end of that stick. And does that make the ghoster "plussed," as it were? Perhaps.
8. Ghost: a verb that means non-doing. The rejected not even deserving of an active rejection; rejected only by assumptions made in a vacancy.
9. 9 or 10 cops, mostly at attention, holding the sides of their belts--chests jutting, elbows cranked back, surveying everyone. One or two sloppily out of form, standing but slouching, or leaning against their bicycles like ordinary men.
10. 9 or 10 white cops and one skinny, black drug-addict, repeatedly fixing the waist of his pants, as if his undergarments can't quite fit beneath the fabric and need constantly to be reached into and smoothed down. Blood on the sidewalk, almost invisible against the red brick. And yet, from up close, somehow hyper-visible, especially after staining the tan soles of unsuspecting shoes.
11. The thick, indecent smell of menstrual fluid in the bathroom stall. Not my own, but enough like my own smell to be intimately recognizable. Feral. Undeniable.
12. Confessions: first to the church, and later to Freud, the biggest ear of the modern century. Foucault: the spankee scholar, conceiving the panopticon, swinging around the black leather playroom.
13. The history of bodies. Bodies, their very firmament, created by history, and history, produced, organized, formulated by bodies (en mass). Bodies hanging from ships. Bodies buried in fields and fields and pyramids and walls. Bodies directing great hulks of steel across the land and sky. Bodies below pairs of hovering eyes, fixed before glowing portals to anywhere.
14. Planets, stars, asteroids and empty space produce bodies but are not produced by them. Not reciprocal entities like history. Land. Mountain. “Space.” A place we manage to visit but do not seem, yet, to occupy. Or to change.
an eye for an (I)
sometimes it isn’t about forgiveness. it’s
about anger. anger invigorating. anger
demolishing. i don’t know if i can tolerate
the risks associated. (my frustration. my arousal.)
female desire makes men (and women)
uncomfortable. so does my rage. do i
have an (I) to occupy here, in this america
of lower-case women.
(with excerpts from The Garden of Sleeping Hammers)
by Sabrina Monarch
In between lives, my current incarnation-mother and I plan how she might support my soul’s mission and I hers.
“You’ll hate me for years, but I will do this for you because I love you that much,” she says.
“I’ll try to reason with you, and you’re saying that you won’t be able to understand?”
“My consciousness will be cosmologically, even chemically blocked from understanding you. I will believe in limitations and they will become fulfilling feedback loops, calcifying my perception shut to the realities that you can see. Even chemically, I will be blocked from understanding you,” she confirmed. “It will enforce the theater that you need to remember who you are.”
“I think I’m seeing it too,” I say. “When I begin to change into an adolescent, you’ll appear to me as a monster. You’ll be everything I should not be. I’ll smell all of your unmet longings and needs which are part of my own makeup, and to which you don’t offer me much help in fulfilling – but seem to block at every turn because it terrifies you that I might surpass you where you left off, and leave you behind. My hatred will build a fire in me.” I paused. “I love you though. Do you think I’ll buy it?”
“You will have to, and I will make a convincing performance of it, which I cannot break character from.”
“How will you forget – regress so much as to be that… thickheaded?”
“This will be a trauma lifetime for me,” she said. “I will take quite a hit, repetitively, from a young age. It will change my nervous system. I will not be able to recognize who you are or remember this realm, but you will, and I will be programmed to not believe you no matter what, at least before your first Saturn return.”
I thought again. “So that I free myself from needing Earth parents who understand me? I will be free, to design my life. You’ll make me a champion. I’ll be able to help many people, for having detached from Earth reality so young an age. They’ll believe in themselves because I can see them, and I believe in them. I won’t be at all attached to a normal life. It will hurt, I imagine. But be a strength, too.”
“We will relate on one key thing,” she added. “An obsession with dreamy men – men that appear more like fantasies than typical men. Your father – he’s stable and he takes care of us – but we are no image of romance. I joke about the way I wanted to be proposed to, by a man on a white horse in shining armor, and the kind of, nonchalant proposal he made over Chinese food like some kind of shy business agreement. Your longing for men will be immense, and I will have strong reactions to all of them – hating them or imaging them as my future sons in law. It will be your job, to have madly erotic experiences I didn’t have, unfinished business in the lineage. Your ache, when you don’t get what you want in love, will feel like dying. Your pleasure at the finding of love will change your reality each time. And every time that you love, I will morph in your eyes. You will understand new compassion for where you come from if you yourself can forgive the shadows you are capable of seeing. You will judge yourself, think it’s your fault. You’ll hate your roots, for the deficits you feel in your youth.”
I try to grapple with the slideshow in my mind of all of the times I saw my mom snacking on something while watching crime shows or Lifetime televisions, eating food while consuming stories of rape, torture, murder. She let me watch the Lifetime movies starting from the age of eight, because, as she told me, I wouldn’t really understand what was happening so it didn’t matter if I hung out with her in the same room. But I did, in my own limited way, understand. Within a few weeks, I developed a rage at women who lost their identities when they were assaulted. Clearly, this event had nothing to do with you. For all I knew, assault was coming for you, it came for everyone – or anyone had an equal chance. I promised myself that if my time came, I would never forget who I was. I would never lose my sexuality. I was entirely perplexed by a woman who was crying after finding out her daughter had been molested – why do you care? It’s your daughter - not you, I thought, miffed. With an endless stream of women haunted by the specter of sexual abuse and my mom, lifelessly watching these shows and snacking, I simply decided I wouldn’t be like other women.
The men in my life were transformed after Lifetime television. Especially the ones in authority positions, who I might enter rooms in private with, like doctors. When I walked by garages, I wondered if they would open up and swallow me up into some kind of dungeon. Rather than be taken against my will, I wondered if I could negotiate with someone, like, show me your ways. I’m willing. I’m not like the other ones, powerless. I know what I want. I can tame beasts with my mind; I’ll get you before you get me - it’s just something about me. And though no one talks about it, I understand the power that your ‘victims’ have on you; I understand the power of exposing my neck to you. The more I thought about it, the more impossible it seemed that I could be violated. I was immune.
Shocked by my own intensity whenever I was angry, I wrote suicide notes at the age of eight, and sat in my room and plugged my nose. Until I wanted to breathe again, more than I wanted to die. One time, I approached my mom. “I have something to tell you,” I said.
“What is it, sweetie?”
“Sometimes I think about killing myself.”
“How would you do it?”
“Plug my nose.”
“Katerina,” she said with warmth. “Even if you did run out of breath, you would pass out and start breathing again. Why do you want to go?”
“I get angry,” I said.
“You know that if you died, I would feel like dying? You’re the most important thing in my life.”
“Really? You would want to die if I died?”
I was stunned.
She and I are friends, across space and time, but we are a little at odds in this lifetime. It has taken me my own time, to remember.
Her Ceres asteroid is to the degree on my Moon. Ceres, as an asteroid, encompasses the myth of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades. It will constellate accordingly.
Demeter and Persephone are very close, while Persephone is innocent. But then, Persephone goes into the underworld – triggered by sniffing a Narcissus flower (symbolically, she contemplates a love of herself, beyond the mother). Where she bends down to sniff, Hell literally opens up and swallows her. Demeter goes mad, scouring the Earth for her lost daughter. As a psychic complex, Demeter fractally reproduces herself as the attempt to maintain innocence of her offspring, to protect one’s child from abduction. Because she can’t follow Persephone into the underworld, she will lose her treasured relationship to her daughter. Persephone is innocent, but flirts with the loss of innocence. If the constellation includes a possessive or strange mother, a departure into the Underworld appears all the more alluring.
She spent a good deal of energy in my childhood teaching me all the ways of how not to get raped, in the kind of ways a deer teaches its fawn what berries are poisonous. It was just her way of showing me what not to do. But she even tried to teach me how to not lose my innocence, which I wanted to lose the more she tried to urge me to keep it. I learned of hundreds of different ways that children could be abducted, day after day, whether on cable news or Lifetime movies, and the more my mother obsessed on this theme, the more curious I was about being taken away from her. I would beg her to let me play outside, and she would say no, because someone could take me. “It is my life!” I would argue, prepared to take the risk. “Not yours. Why don’t you just let me learn self-defense?”
“You’re too small,” she said. “You could get snatched up. Someone could kidnap you and torture you for years. Do you really want that?”
The man I was scheduled to meet, to take me into the Underworld, was the embodiment of Hades, from her (Demeter) perspective. But as we know in the myth, Persephone liked her time with Hades in the Underworld, even as Demeter fought to get Persephone back. My departure was entirely consensual, but I knew, from our television programming, that no one would see it this way. He was too powerful. It was a power deferential, they could argue. It was mind control. Yet meanwhile, night after night in the arms of a man who could kill me with his bare hands, I melted into watery bliss until, resourced with this elixir of love from the gods, I could hold once more space for the pain. I remembered the trauma of my mother.
“If a man takes you away,” she told me in one of her routine debriefings when I was a kid, “and says it’s because I don’t love you anymore, he’s lying. I always love you.”
This man wasn’t telling me that she didn’t love me. He was just filling my cup with a kind of love that transcended everything I thought love was. I would get high off of him and, as I would fall asleep, strange images would enter my consciousness. In a slideshow of memories by night, every grievance I’ve ever had against her came up for review – every way that she didn’t, or couldn’t love me - with the same intensity as the pleasure filling me up night by night with this lethal man. And though I have not told her anything yet, I know she can feel me departing, and I begin to plan how to escape from her – perhaps leave her realm forever, to champion this new depth. I feel her coming for me, and I’m not sure I will ever return.
It’s scary to lose your daughter to the Underworld that you haven’t been to, I suppose. I’ve changed, and she can’t follow me there.
I have felt the agony of my Mom’s unmet longing my entire life; and it is as though I have been situated to complete it for her; in these various relationships I’ve had with men who annihilate me.
Once crying about lost love, for something echoing a pain farther back than this incarnation, I looked at my thigh (I don’t know why my thigh) and thought, “This is in my blood! This is what I am made of!” as I remembered my mom’s stories of waiting by the phone for some dreamy lover to call, for not receiving the call, for breaking it off because it hurt too much to wait around. I’ve been in hell for months, longing.
“Here, shall we go down this path?” he said, pointing to the right. He’s an ex-spy I met in a dream, and then in real life the next day. We’re in the woods.
The trail narrowed to a footpath as thick as one person, and the trail winded around a corner into the unseen. Almost as if a bell were rung, The Devil card appeared in my consciousness and my heartbeat accelerated. I was feeling pretty high (from the weed we smoked) and very alert. However long that moment was, it froze for me, as a very muscular man with bright green eyes, who has killed more men then he has kept count, was standing at the head of a trail which would conceal us from passersby. If he’s here to assault me, I decided, if everything he’s said about his philosophy on protecting women was just a psychopath’s ruse to murder me, even though I am sure we love one another, then everything I thought I knew about reality and the Universe is a lie, and I’m ready to depart.
I walked into the woods with a lethal man, and he has done no wrong by me. Instead, he actually taught me self-defense when I asked him to. I trust him more than I’ve ever trusted anyone. Don’t you see what I’ve done, Mom? I’ve walked through the valley of fear I’ve been conditioned with and survived. I’ve watched all those shows with you and I’ve won.
We were sitting across from each other at the little table as he says, “There are eternal consequences to being with me, you know.”
I looked at him unflinchingly, as if to say, “Go on.”
“I do not waste my seed…” and he went on to talk about his seed, and I didn’t follow what that even meant at first. Then, when I got his drift, I was at first suspicious; like, who is this man to value himself in this way? And then I realized it was actually far more intriguing than any lover I had ever known. This was novel to me - a man of strong desire who can contain himself if his value is not known.
Behind the curtains enclosing his bed, hours go by of what is like a blooming flower, opening up slowly in a gold light. I’m dizzy in the pleasure kind of way, rocked into another plane of existence by buzzing endorphins and the quality of the air out in the woods.
In the morning, my sense of peace turned gradually into strange imagery – none of which disturbed me, as I am typically just a witness in dreams. Though these ones were particularly intense. I dreamt in the morning of a dark blue world, a night world. It was the Underworld. In this specific manifestation it is cold concrete, a narrow valley of prison cells and somnambulant prisoners. I walk with him and can feel the weight of his presence.
There is danger suddenly, the kind that cannot be spoken, but must be handled on instinct. It is a danger larger than I comprehend. Fin has sent me the signal of its gravity by his sudden and complete austerity, our quickened pace nearly becoming a wind tunnel.
I feel a presence behind us, a different man who wishes to do us harm. The vision narrows to the man I am in bed with taking my hand, a dark blue vignette frames his hand behind him, and mine is outstretched before me; our hands clasp together. We walk fast - we cannot or are not supposed to run, we are however, running away. The pace is severe, to not keep up is to die, and I trust him entirely. He has seen men through war.
Pulled as though through a vortex, I awake. A harrowing tunnel, but I feel peace again immediately. He is already up. I tell him about the dream. He doesn’t seem alarmed. “If danger is coming,” he says, “I may tell you to run and I mean run because I will handle whatever the danger is and I may not want you to see me in that way. If I am not there and you ever need me, all you have to do is send me the message in a dream.”
“You’ll hear it?”
It is becoming more and more apparent, the seriousness of this break from what I had previously known as reality. There is no turning back, even if some signals say I should - I feel alive, feel that this is destiny, but I wonder at what cost. The man who would bring me to danger would also save me? I could save myself the trouble, but in doing so walk away from the massive opportunity the Universe has given me.
Time has no meaning anymore; the rest of the world seems anxious and lost, far behind a winding path covered over in a rolling fog. I am in a meadow that they see only from the context of the known, it is no meadow to them but a no-man’s land. I have never had a lover with a past like his. Sometimes, I feel as though I am imbibing it, that it belongs to me now. I don’t know how real these things are or how much of it is his particular tint of reality, but it is closing upon me nonetheless.
Then later in the morning back at my place and showering, I noticed I could see my veins through my skin and that my heart was beating stronger. I felt large suddenly. I was filling out, all of my body recognized in circulation. The fullness felt as though I was buckling into place with additional senses newly activated. It felt as though I had grown armor, maybe I will need it. I was more slender than before and possessed a heightened sense of balance and coordination.
“You know I love you, right Katerina?” my mother tells me, as a kid. “I would run through fire to save you… I would gouge someone’s eyes out for you!”
These are the kinds of things she tells me when she thinks I don’t understand her love for me, when I am angry at her. But her strange possessiveness repels me. I just want a happy mother like some other kids have – happy mothers who buy their kids clothes that make them sociable, happy mothers who feel beautiful when they look in the mirror. Not this morbid mother, who, in her protection of me, obsesses about violence and sends me to hell anyway.
He came over in the afternoon in between working and we shared lunch. While I prepared us food I noticed that all the ingredients I needed in the kitchen would glow slightly. This was a new phenomenon for me. I made buffalo coconut curry with slow cooked vegetables that I arranged in the cast iron at first in concentric rings by color, steam rising, vegetables hissing and spilling their juices into the pan.
He savored it and closed his eyes. I felt honored to impress him and the kitchen reverberated with vibrations of red velvet. When he left, I was going up to my bedroom to sleep, having suddenly become drowsy after not much sleep the last night. As I was nearing the last two steps up the stairs, I knew he was coming back, and then he was knocking at the door and I came back down. Framed in the doorway with light filling in all around him, I viewed him with the curtain of future sleep descending upon me. He was holding straight out a bouquet of yellow roses, thorns and all, that seem to have come from nowhere. He thrusted the roses towards me and the flowers burst out of his grip like gold trumpets. He smiled buoyantly, and the whole picture hovered and expanded in response to my hesitation.
“I was just about to take a nap,” I said.
“Are you sure?” he asked, widening his grin.
“Oh!” I laughed and shook my head. “Come in.”
He ran into the kitchen and found a beer bottle more quickly than I had realized it existed. It was labeled Elysian with the devil on it. He pushed the roses through and handed me the bottle, kissed me and ran back out of the house.
My mother’s attempt to save my life was her pulling me out of what she thought was the Underworld, and placing me into a real Underworld. Yet it is to this Underworld I owe my strength and livelihood – this Underworld I found a jewel of ever renewing wealth.
I fought for my right to exist after having a spiritual emergency. I did not find myself to be insane, but my family did, and they hired a professional (a psychiatrist) to handle me. No argument of mine, no matter how reasonable it was, sufficed to explain the validity of my behavior. You would act this way too if you met an ex-spy in a dream and then in real life the next day; if you downloaded, overnight, film-reel memories of forgotten traumatic childhood moments and ancestral karma; and simultaneously developed overnight, the psychic ability to tell people information they were missing - their blindspots.
I’d dream at night for hours of white light and birds singing. The message inside of the dream was essentially, “Speak your truth all the time, without filter. It will set you free.”
I dreamt of my father, his sickness, the way he was fading away, receding ever more into the background. It became clear to me that his health problems, perplexing the professionals, were not a mystery after all – it was a spiritual condition the doctors would never understand; but would, in my father’s good faith, attempt to solve for him medically until the day he died. For me, it was very clear what was happening to him. He had sacrificed his agency to the doctors and was ignoring the real problem. He was years in. He trusted them so deeply, that even when a medication they gave him for an ailment that could have been solved holistically – even when this unnecessary medication gave him a side effect, he just went back to the doctor and got a new pill for the side effect of the other pill. Soon, he is on a cacophony of pills, and meanwhile, none of the root, psychological, or emotional issues that correlated to the original health problem have been addressed, because the doctors are his gods and there is no reality beyond them. He is tangled up in a web of pharmaceutical abstractions, carrying him farther and farther away from himself.
His dying is a family emergency. When I speak up about my opinion on the matter, I am scolded… how dare I insinuate he has anything to do with it? Are you against science? This is a bizarre, medical tragedy that no one, especially you - youthful, ignorant, idealist can understand.
The reel I’d downloaded was a series of images and scenes, one after the next after the next, hours at a time, of all the times I tried to insert my own reality into my family matrix when it could have made a difference; and all the times it was stepped on as soon as it had spoken up, like a sprout trying to come out of the ground. Always told that I didn’t know what I was talking about because I was the “child” and they were the “adults”. Even in the face of logical arguments, my mother, stressed, would lock herself in her room and end the argument, promising me I’d understand her point of view when I was older. This has not come to pass in the way she hoped.
When my parents argued with my new spiritual ideas and revelations about our ancestors, I felt squished all over again. The immensity of the pattern repeating itself made me scream at them. I had become as unbalanced as they accused me of being. Clearly, they think, it was a chemical imbalance in my brain - nothing valid for me to be upset about. And certainly, inappropriate and a sign of lack of impulse control, to be friends with a spy! (I kick myself for telling them, but I’d lost my filter.) He’s not even a spy, they say. I was tricked, a naive lamb. Another reason I should be kept home for observation, lest I become friends with any wild psychopaths ever again.
“Do you see why I never tell you anything? You discourage what is emerging from me. You use information against me. I am telling you,” I say, in response to them saying that I’m not myself, “everything you think about me is a lie. A performance based on rewards and punishments. You’ve rigged the game so that it’s more convenient for me to not be myself, and you’ve stifled me whenever I am myself.”
Even in a few weeks, when I lose my passion to argue with you and begin to pretend to be on your side just to have the means to live a reasonable life, I thought to myself, you will be coercing a performance out of me. I will never believe that I am mentally ill. I will never believe I need these medications. And it is for this reason, you are not my parents anymore. You literally don’t give a fuck about my reality. So you are my employers. I will do a good job, and hide right from underneath you all over again, and do my best, spiritually, to not hate you while I do so.
My parents' faith in psychiatry and pharmaceuticals was so fundamentally religious they themselves were prostrated at the altar of it. When I realized no argument would suffice, I identified certain choices I had. One, I could stay loyal to my truth and shoot myself in the foot with it: I could refuse to say the required things, like, “Yes, I recognize I’m Bipolar, and I’ll need medication for the rest of my life. Thank you for saving me from myself. I will do what the doctor says.”
I could, in my identification with my own truth, become abjectly impoverished. My parents weren’t holding me with anything other than the leverage of money; their financial support and the promise of future financial support. Even though their witch hunt of me was taxing me at a depth I was not aware I could be taxed, I couldn’t deny how fragile I’d be out in the world. I had no name for myself. No resume. No propensity to keep jobs. Additionally, I could see myself in the mirror. A few months ago I had been full of life, in love, fucked right, and beautiful. Now I looked haggard, dead inside, and pathetic. I was not a charming lost bird that someone could take care of. I was an addict in withdrawal, doomed to somehow be consumed. Someone could keep you in their basement Katerina, and torture you for years.
As much as I could, I compartmentalized. I decided my parents were my employers, and it was not lost on me that I had recently been trained by an ex-CIA agent, around the clock. Made love to him and in so doing, received his consciousness, what he had willingly given to me as a gift, as he saw that I could do amazing things with it.
The next morning after popping the first antipsychotic I awoke from a very vivid dream, in which I had been driving with my parents down a road by the water. An ocean. Notably they were driving and I was in the backseat as a passenger. We were looking for Whole Foods, but we had gone past it without realizing. They were particularly upset that we had passed it, and it was due to my faulty direction or lack of it. They had to turn around. My dad made a three point turn that didn’t seem like a huge deal to me, but he struggled with it as if it were a tricky maneuver. My mom egged on his upset with comments about how difficult I had made things for them. A deep, male voice says to me, “Beware Young Pisces, of the boundaries as you travel between the realms.” Then the picture waved and evaporated away as I woke.
My parents went to the pet store and a large bird in a cage sought them out in particular. It had made a lot of eye contact and clutched the cage with its talons, made noises at them. I was coming down the stairs when my mom, in an unusually buoyant mood, stood behind the balusters to my right, eyes open wide, in an effort to make pleasant conversation with me. “Katerina, it was just like this!” She clutched the balusters and poked her head through as though she were peering out of a prison cell. “Cuh-kah!” she said, and laughed. “Isn’t that cool? It was looking right at us!” I was not amused. She had just received a message from the animal kingdom, and if I announced to her that she was in the vibration of a person who cages, such that a caged bird happened to seek her out in particular – then can’t you see what you are doing here? I would not receive the reaction I wanted. Instead I would just incriminate myself. My connections between supposedly random bits of data were clearly delusions, especially if I included anything about animal messengers. So I just smiled and said, “Cool.”
There was a man named Jesus who worked at Whole Foods. Whole Foods was an Oasis, a place in the suburbs where I actually saw people I would want to be friends with, where I could feel positive vibrations and see people getting excited about their food in a way I didn’t see elsewhere. I saw Jesus there; and as his name implies he truly was an emblem of Grace. I watched him arrange the roses by the window as the sun was flooding him and the aisle of flowers. The scene appears to me like an unfurling fan, he turns his head and his long black curly hair moves out to his left followed by the spread of red roses moving to the left in sequence after. It’s a beautiful romance. This is where I am home. I know it is possible to live here always. I suppose the scene impressed me because later I dreamt of a house, presumably one that I live in though I’ve never been before. Jesus the Whole Foods florist is in the kitchen, cooking, the pan is steaming. I take a bite with a fork that has appeared. I tell him I’m a ninja… that they’ll never, ever, see me coming. I go outside to the backyard; a white filigree lined glass set of doors. A spacious backyard of stone and marble and infinity pools. A raised garden bed of hammers - the hammerheads are underneath the soil like root vegetables. In a flash, I’m shown an image of them below the soil. They are works of art, embossed in various fashions and laid out in a perfect grid of three by two. There are some old ladies gathered at the side of the garden bed, unaware, eating expensive hors d'oeuvres with toothpicks. They stand postured in the way you know their clothes are valuable and of a material with quality and weight, and the feel of these fabrics have afforded them, a regality not easily faked. A croquet-like white fence surrounds the garden of six sleeping hammers.
"Autocosmology is a genre/narrative structure that approaches experience from the perspective of the Universe’s evolution occurring through the artist and her work."
by Deepak Bansai
Tango with Death
The following is a transcript of the video
Tango – Arguably the most sensual dance of the world. A dance where passion merges with sensuality, and transcendence is born through rigidities of moves. It is a couple dance where the communication is through hearts, hand not required. One can have any role of leader or follower, but once one choose the role, the expectation is to do justice to the role. The signals are given and received through chests, and the dance turns happens in a way a sunflower turn to the Sun, a way longing aches for her annihilation.
Somewhere in Germany, as I waited to pick-up a friend from her tango lessons, I felt a draw towards the music as if combination of violins, flute, piano, and bandenons wants to say something to me. I opened the door and sat on the ground in far most corner. The pairs were passing by, I could see the sole of their shoes and could feel the sensuality of their moves. This is so different where I grew up where even a couple dance doesn’t involve any touch. I wanted to touch. I wanted to feel bodies through my body to co-create a new mystic realm where only two of us exists. Before I move to another partner for another dance. I have to learn Tango. The sound of “Achtung” broke my thoughts, as a German couple warned me, not to get hit by the turns of their heels.
3 years later, through a series of unexpected events, I found myself at airport of Buenos Aires, abode of tango. The company I was working for in Germany had a consulting project in Buenos Aires to integrate few companies. After months of coaxing, cajoling, threatening, and begging my boss, I was standing at the airport, smelling its air. I believe that every country has a specific aroma, Buenos Aires’s was sensual, and sweet. It goes much deeper. I am going to be part of it, and hopefully a better tango dancer when I leave this place in a year.
Breezing through various Eva Perons, Avenida de Mayo, Neoclassical French architecture, my taxi reached to my new apartment. My home for next year. I entered the apartment and there it was, orange walls, chequered floor, long ceilings and French balcony, just the way I imagined. My heart sank.I switched on the music, ofcourse Tango, and I sieved through the apartment following my Tango steps. I opened my bags and put my belongings in a closte with mirrors all around. I took my passport and put it in lower most drawer, and as I got up. I heard a click It was my back. I could not feel anything and as I moved a bit, pain emerged like tidal waves from the center of my being.
It was diagnosed as lumbar hernia, joint L5-S1. It happens when the disc in the spine gets herniated and the inside gel comes out to pinch the nerve. My right leg nerve is getting pinched, creating huge pain. I could just walk enough to do most important tasks, daily routines and my project. My project was helping me to bear the pain by diverting my mind. I was on painkillers, vitamins B12 injections and work, in a place 10000 miles from my home town which speaks the language I don’t understand and smell differently. I could not even think of Tango, I need to walk first. Why, it has to be now and here!
A friend talked me into going to a homeopathic doctor. I have put my condition straight; I am not stopping my vitamin B12 injections. As I entered the room of Javier, I sensed a calmness. He was almost similar height, dark complexion and had piercing eyes. He looked into my eyes and he looked worried. He looked nervous, and he wants to help me. “You are very ill” he said. I was surprised, I told him that I am fine, its just a disc and will get treated. Around 3% of people between ages of 30 and 65 have this problem, and worst remedy is surgery which is also not that bad. I proudly presented my research. He said, “you have a strong mind, heart and sexuality, just they all are going in different directions, and hence the rupture. Ojos!” This was nowhere in my research. My mind was in work, my heart was a restless free bird, and my sexuality, have I ever thought of that taboo subject. But they have to be separate like cogs of a wheel which meets at some point and then take their own direction, to fully function. That’s how I integrate companies, and now here is this guy who is telling that this is the very reason of my disintegration!
For 2 months, I took my capsules and his sweet pills, and I was recovering, walking bit faster, and getting ready for exercises to regain the lost strength. I have accepted both, I was used to going to temples while studying big-bang theory. Then, he referred me to Eugenia who conduct experiential workshops. I started trusting him. I called her, and told my story. She asked me some questions like date of birth etc and asked to come next week to her retreat area, few miles out of the city, in early in the morning. It was hot November day, still morning is a bit chilly, I needed a jacket. I stand on the porch of the hut, as she asked to follow me. She was a short, 5 feet women in her mid thirties. She had long open black hair, black kajal around her deep black eyes provided it extra depth. She was wearing a long full length orange skirt and violet embroidered blouse, reminding me on Indian dancers. She took me to a elevated ground near the tree, I could see the river from there. There was it, a dug grave and a small tomb with a printed A4 paper reading, Deepak, 10 October 1979 to 30 November 2014. I shivered. She pointed me to go and lie inside the grave. She does not speak English and we have managed so far with my broken Spanish. I lied in my own open grave, staring at my tomb sign. Was that it!
“estas muerto, me escuhas, estas muerto”, she said while leaving me alone there. I closed my eyes. I was dead.I felt the toughness of the body, even the clothes seemed tight, why am I wearing the clothes when I am dead? I took them off, I felt a slight chill. I turned over myself, face down, with my body touching the earth. And earth touching my body, kissing and caressing me, taking me in her arms, dissolving me. The morning moistness of her grains, coarseness of her being, and openness of her being aroused me. I was dead and I feel aroused. Sensing permission, I penetrated her and she penetrated me. With each thrust, some part of my body was getting dissolved in her being, and some part of my being was getting retreated by her body. After sometime, I lay there, exhausted, loved, annihilated, dead, without a body, high on spirit of Earth. Far in a distance, I heard tango music coming, a familiar sound of combinations of piano, flute, violins and bandoneons. Tango, what have you done to me! Tonight we are going to dance, with or without body.
"Auto-cosmology is a way of recognizing the connections between the human psyche and cosmological principles so as to consciously make universal intelligence participate in our daily patterns."
by Emma Webster
for the memories
He looked at me with his eyes from the sea, squared his head off neatly with his shoulders and told me,
"I’m just being honest."
But in the place of “honest” all I heard was a knife, the serrated kind you use to cut your tomatoes, slicing me, splicing me, up from belly button to neck, carving me open to look inside, just to see if I was real, just to make sure I was still there.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, the afterthought came as my body proved: yes, yes, yes I’m still real, I’m still very much here, and here I am spilling out, onto the sidewalk, onto the pavement, to be mixed with the cement in the rain.
He saw me emptying out, took his needle and thread and tried to patch me up quick. But he forgot to put everything back and the things he did, he put out of place. The rest he left on the ground, my stuffing lying next to the discarded receipts of passersby. And instead of finishing the job, cleaning all up what he’d done, he called me a cab. And said,
"Maybe your driver or one of your friends will be able to help you get some new insides."
It’s interesting what memories come back to you if you invite them in, if you let them stay for some coffee.
I’m quick in life, I take my coffee to go.
But memories can’t be held in to-go cups, they don’t care about time. They’ll come and they’ll sit and they’ll stay through your not-so-subtle hints that it’s time for them to leave and they’ll ask for refills and slurp loudly as they recall that time, that night, remember that night? When you asked him to stay? No, they’ll correct you, begged him to stay, yes I’m sure that you begged, you do remember begging, don’t you? Well if you didn’t before you surely do now, and hey, while you’re up, another refill please?
You don’t really need to invite them in, memories will come anyways. They’ll find a bobby-pin and open your locked door and come in unannounced. They’ll get under the covers with you while you’re trying to sleep, sit down next to you on the couch, pull up a stool by you in the kitchen, and they won’t apologize for the interruption, no they won’t even acknowledge it. You thought you were rid of me? they’ll ask and they’ll laugh, you thought I’d go away! Well I won’t, not now and not ever, and hey what about that one Monday in March when he said he didn’t need you, when he said he didn’t want you?
No he didn’t cry, he didn’t even look sad, don’t you remember how he didn’t even look sad? Well if you didn’t before you surely do now and by the way, how about some tea while I’m here please?
You can put in some cameras, you can change all the locks, you can hire a security team. But they’ll come, oh they will come, they’ll find their subtle ways back to you. They’ll dress up as the guy serving your coffee, they’ll disguise themselves in the laugh of your neighbor, they’ll turn themselves into the glasses on the faces of strangers. And then they’ll vacation, for just a month or so, and you’ll sigh, feel relief, and exhale them free. Then you’ll put on a record and celebrate them gone, but there you’ll find them hiding, in that beat, those first notes, the 1,2,3,4. They’ll peek their voices out from the chorus and say remember this part, remember this song, remember how he used to dance with you? Well if you didn’t before you surely do now, and would you mind getting me a glass of wine?
"A stitch—my say—in the ongoing weave-work of Us all."
Watching the waves,
I search a mirror for that
The Perfect Answer,
to break shore.
Sun sees it first,
calls my attention—
a crown of
The One, finally
I follow it through,
tumbled over by its
I know what to do.
and pulls back the tide
to reveal once more
by Ashton Kohl Arnoldy
by Shawnté Leanne
Tuk·u·li noun. Hoot Owl. This bird speaks some Indian and brings bad news, particularly of death.
Northern Sierra Miwok Dictionary, Catherine A. Callaghan 1
For a brief six months in my sophomore year of college I decided that I wanted to be a smoker. It seemed natural at the time because almost everyone in my family smoked. My mother, one of my sisters, both of my brothers, my aunt (explicitly), my other aunt (secretly), and countless cousins, all smokers. What better way to deal with the stress that was crushing my ribs like a junked car than to put cigarette to lips, inhale sweet nicotine and menthol, making my lungs burn and my head float?
The problem was that I didn’t particularly like smoking. I was a social smoker, bumming cigarettes off my mother or people at parties to look cool. I didn’t like the way they tasted, the way they smelled, the way they left my tongue and throat feeling like sandpaper. I didn’t like how expensive they were, or the looks I would receive from my friends when they saw me shake one out of the carton. I know they were disgusted with me, but I needed the relief that cigarettes provided. It made my head feel light, like it wasn’t even there, like it was floating in the outer reaches of space away from everything that was making me feel empty. Away from my boyfriend, who made me feel loved and worthless. Away from Stanford, where I felt like I had to have the next twenty years of my life figured out even though I didn’t even know what I wanted for breakfast. Away from my family, who equated judgment and possessiveness with love. Away from everything; the emptiness, the confusion, the loneliness. I felt lost with nothing to help me find my way out, but what I did have were cigarettes and a rooftop where I could smoke and cry in peace.
One night, my boyfriend “broke up” with me for the umpteenth time that season. I say “broke up” because he never seemed to have the guts to actually do it, and I never had the guts to let him go. We were fighting about something, but I couldn’t tell you what. Probably me not coming home to visit more often. Long distance was hard. He yelled, I yelled, he hung up the phone proclaiming that he was done, and I crawled onto the roof of my dorm and smoked a cigarette. Newports were my favorite poison. I lay back against the roof and stared up at the night sky, the nicotine carrying my head away from the house and up into the blanket of countless stars. I cried like it was the only thing I had ever known how to do. Something swirled in the air above me. I thought it was my tears playing tricks on my eyes, but the swirls coalesced into two winged bodies swooping through the air, coming lower and lower. Two white owls danced in the stars above me, circling closer, closer, closer, until I could see the grey spots on their white wings. I sat up, put out my cigarette, and crawled back into my room to sleep. The next day I threw out my almost full box of Newports.
Everyone thinks that owls are just harbingers of death, but I’ve always known different. In my traditional Miwok spiritual beliefs, owls do signal death in some ways, but they’re also representatives of the elder. We believe that the elders that have died appear to us in the form of owls when we are close to danger, or in need of their presence. When my great-grandmother died, there was an owl that sat in the trees outside my eldest sister’s bedroom. It would talk to her in its mysterious language of hoots. My sister never understood the words, but she understood the voice. She knew that it was Great Grandma, sticking around a little while longer to make sure that her death didn’t cause my sister too much harm. Years later, when my sister left home for college that same owl reappeared near her dorm, checking in on her as she embarked on this new chapter in her life so far away from home.
My grandmother has appeared to me in owl form many times since she died in 2004. She usually comes to me while I am driving late at night. I drive recklessly, too fast and without paying enough attention to the road in front of me. She comes to me in the form of a white owl with grey spots on her wings. A part of me hopes that it’s because she remembers, or has learned, that I love Harry Potter, and that I’ve wanted an owl like Hedwig for a pet ever since I first picked up the series in the fourth grade. Grandma was the only person in my life who always loved and accepted me, no matter my peculiarities, largely because she herself was a peculiar woman.
I have learned to trust the owl when she comes. In my senior year of college I realized that I hadn’t seen my owl in many months. At first I cried, thinking Grandma had abandoned me again. I relived the terror and pain of her death; my heart contracted and exploded, contracted and exploded, a dozen times inside my chest. I couldn’t breathe.
And then I wondered if I should view her absence a different way, not as an abandonment, but as an exercise of my grandmother’s trust and belief that she had equipped me for my life as best she could, and that I was ready to face the world without her.
I chose to believe the latter.
A seventeen-year-old girl walked into a house party on New Year's Eve 2008. She wasn’t supposed to be there. She was with her friends, Jake and Richelle; they had driven halfway to their other friend’s house for a different party when they got a call that someone had called the cops, and the party had been broken up. They turned around, drove back the way they came, ended up at a house party hosted by a friend of a friend of a friend’s brother.
Within seconds of entering the house the girl had a beer in her hands, and she made her way towards the beer pong table at the back of the room. There was a boy there, a tall boy with green eyes. He was wearing a grey t-shirt and black jeans with a hole in the knee, a hole obviously caused by wear and not prefabricated to craft a devil-may-care persona. He was tall, he was handsome, he was mysterious, he was any of the cliché things a girl has been conditioned to want because that’s the image she’s been force-fed her entire life. And she loved him. From the moment she saw him she loved him.
She fell into his spiral. He was handsome, and funny, and smart; these were the lies she told herself at night, surrounded by him, trying to convince herself that their relationship was everything she ever wanted and all she’d ever need. Down, down, down the rabbit hole she went, drinking unlabeled bottles of fluorescent lies and half-truths. She fell fifty feet, a hundred feet, a thousand feet, never once finding the bottom, never once learning the depth of her delusion.
She told herself he loved her. She told herself she loved him, and maybe at one point it was true. Maybe at one point they did love each other, but it had been a toxic love, and toxic love will destroy a soul more quickly and thoroughly than even the most vitriolic hatred because a toxic love will never release its own desire for actualization. A toxic love resists annihilation, even if that resistance means the annihilation of the souls and bodies it needs to survive. It sustains them with just enough hope that the light moments will outshine the dark moments, until an hour of sun seems a worthy exchange for twenty-three hours of darkness, until they learn to believe that the darkness is normal, and the sunlight is their reward for suffering through it.
It took her five years to break this cycle of darkness and sunlight and see their relationship for what it really was; a broken and toxic thing writhing between two people who wanted the other to fix them.
If you asked me to tell you why I fell in love with my ex-boyfriend I would recite the script of cliché things you’re supposed to say about your romantic partners. Joe was handsome and funny. He was wicked smart. He was untraditionally romantic, a code I had come up with to describe his expectation that I should view the slightest kindness as an over-the-top proclamation of love.
I can tell you when I fell in love with Joe. We’d been dating for about three months. I was still in high school, not even eighteen yet, and he was twenty. I was sleeping at his house once or twice a week. My mother couldn’t have stopped me if she tried, and perhaps she knew this and decided that there was no point in initiating a futile fight. One morning I woke up and began dressing so I could head to school. He pulled me into the bathroom and told me to take off my clothes. I stood in front of the mirror in my underwear, his arms wrapped around me. “Look at yourself,” he said. “You’re so beautiful.” He ran his hands over my waist and thighs, hardened from constant manual labor and year-round soccer. He cupped my breasts; they fit almost perfectly in the palms of his huge hands. His white skin shone against the brown of mine like a spotlight, showing me all the curves and crevices, their sweetness. The feeling inside my chest was like an emptiness expanding, an immense swelling of my heart and lungs.
Was that all that I needed to fall in love, some boy who only wore basketball shorts to tell me that I was beautiful, to tell me that this body that I hadn’t even asked for was worthy? He would tell me that he loved me because I was pretty, because I was smart, because I put up with him, and in all my infinite naiveté I thought that this was sustainable, that you could build a life on these simple things.
It’s not hard to find someone physically beautiful; Charles Manson was physically beautiful, but that doesn’t mean you should put a ring on it. It’s not hard to love intelligence, and it’s not hard to put up with someone if the sex is decent. And yet it was enough for me, to feel love from a man in its most basic form, to believe that I had found the truest, purest love.
Late one evening we walked through a field next to his apartment to go skateboarding in a parking lot. I was nineteen by then, and had just finished my first year of college. As we walked home something jumped up from the ground and took flight with a loud rustle of wings, just a few feet in front of us. The owl took off almost violently, hovering close enough to my face that I could see its round yellow eyes staring mercilessly in the dark, piercing my skin like steel.
The owl was brown, not white, so I figured it was one of my other ancestors telling me that being out late at night wasn’t safe, and not my grandmother. If I could go back in time to any point it would be this one, to talk to my nineteen-year-old self and tell her that the owl’s warning wasn’t about the dangers of the darkness, but the danger of her relationship with the man beside her, and save her the pain of the next four years.
In December of 2004, my grandmother fell ill. I was thirteen. She had been of questionable health for a few years, suffering from congenital heart failure, chronic arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gout; the aging body hadn’t spared her any mercy. She had been in and out of the hospital many times over the last five years, but this time was different.
“The owl is the elder,” my uncle said, slowly, quietly. We were all gathered around my grandmother’s hospital bed, our rattling breaths drowned out by beeping machines. My mother, her two sisters, my uncle’s wife and two children, myself, and my five siblings, crowded in that tiny hospital room, looking down upon my grandmother, her body weak and dim. “The owl is the elder and the dove is the spirit. The owl speaks to the dove when it is time to call an elder’s spirit home.” He paused and bowed his head, a hand reaching out to grasp his mother’s papery arm. “Last night the owl spoke, and he spoke your grandmother’s name.”
And we all knew. The owl only speaks your name when it’s your time to die. I looked around at the machines that were keeping my grandmother alive, the machines that would soon be turned off. I couldn’t look at her body. I couldn’t face the reality that she was broken, dying, would never come back. Her translucent blue eyelids were closed, hiding the brown eyes that had always smiled at me, always greeted me with happiness and love. The simple act of walking through the door and giving her a hug brought us both immense satisfaction. We were all either of us ever needed, and I didn’t want to see her as anything other than that peculiar woman with the quiet laugh and the sharp wit.
Instead I looked at my uncle, leaning against his wife and sobbing, but that image itself was too much for me to handle, to watch my uncle, this great powerful man as broken as the dying body of his mother lying next to him. My Aunt Nell left the room a few minutes later, and after giving my grandmother a kiss and saying my quiet goodbye I followed her down the hall and into the family waiting room. It wasn’t long before we heard a shriek, and crashing footsteps carried my sister, Jamie, into the waiting room. Her round face was shiny and contorted. My mother followed her closely, hand clamped over her mouth. “It’s done,” she choked. “It’s done.”
Everyone is always dying. As I write this, my elderly cousin is lying in a hospital bed. Her family is waiting for her last grandchild to arrive so they can take her off life support and let her die. I wonder if there is a young girl in that room like me, staring at her dying grandmother, at her paper skin covered in bruises, the blood so thin that a handshake could cause a bruise. I want to hold that girl, I want to stroke her hair and let her cry, but I don’t want to tell her that she’ll be ok because she won’t be ok. Not for a very long time will that hole in her heart begin to fill.
I don’t want to lie to her. I want her to know the hard truth. I want her to know that this will be the worst pain she has ever felt and that it may never go away. It might lie dormant long enough to forget about it but it will always come back, on her grandmother’s birthday, on her death day, on Christmas, when someone else dies. It will always come back, and she will just learn to ride that dark wave, to visit her grandmother’s grave, to burn wormwood and sage until it cleanses her spirit and drives the darkness back to its bed for a little while.
Everyone is always dying and we are always in pain because of it. The only constants in our lives are death and pain.
It’s 11:44am now. My cousin died thirteen minutes ago. Did tukuli speak last night? Did she tell the dove that she was calling my cousin home? Did anyone hear her? Does it matter? This shouldn’t be sad. My cousin was an old woman. She lived a long and good life. She had a wonderful husband, beautiful children, an army of grandchildren. This shouldn’t be sad and yet I’m sitting here in our tribal meeting fighting back tears, trying to listen to a presentation on our gaming project while my cousins are saying goodbye to their grandmother.
Ten years after my grandmother died, my seven-year-old nephew, RJ, was driving past the cemetery with his mother and my mother. He pointed towards the cemetery and said “My great-grandma lives there. She fell into the ground and melted.”
Sometimes I want to fall into the ground and melt too. I want to lay on my grandmother’s grave, sink into the ground and melt like candlewax, through the layers of dirt and worms, into the pine box encasing her skeleton until I am reunited with her again.
But that wouldn’t really work. She’s not in that box. Her bones are, but those bones weren’t her. They were a vessel for carrying her. The only way I’ll be reunited with her is when I myself die, and our spirits find each other again on the other side.
I often return to that night on my dorm roof, smoking that final cigarette while the owls swoop and swirl above me. In my memory my hand lifts off the shingles, reaching, stretching towards the innumerable stars. I am almost certain I did not actually do this at the time, but in the process of remembering I have created this action to add depth to my experience. I try to reach you ama2, try to touch your feather tips, to feel your talons against my skin. I hadn’t touched you in six years. I wonder what you will feel like, if your skin will be like vellum, waxy, soft, and translucent. Will I be able to feel your bones, your gnarled arthritic joints stuck together like cement? The truth is, I think that if I were to touch you I would shatter, I would break into a million pieces and melt into the roof, sink down through the house beneath me, down to its concrete foundations, through soil, water table, bedrock, until I disappear into the depths. I lower my hand.
Tukuli did not speak my name. It was not my time to melt.
Tukuli did not speak my name that night, but I think she did speak a name, something strange and unpronounceable in any of our inadequate human languages. She spoke the name of the broken thing that had taken up residence inside of me, the thing which was consuming me, mind, body, and soul, with desire for a man who would destroy me. That broken thing did not die immediately; it lingered, clung to my skeleton, wrapped itself around every piece of my physical and cosmological self, it brought me back again and again to Joe, all consuming, ever confusing, beautiful, terrible, toxic Joe, seeking solace, seeking redemption, seeking an adhesive with which to put itself back together. It seemed to have forgotten that Joe was the one who had contributed to its breaking, or perhaps it just missed the beautiful irony of seeking healing from the person who had infected the wound.
In any case, the broken thing became a part of me, and it took me three years to finally kill it in the most unceremonious of ways. Joe simply disappeared, and instead of chasing after his specter as I had done far too many times, I just let him go. There was no fight, no break up, no slamming of car doors, just a week of ignored calls and unanswered texts for me to figure out that we were finished.
In 2017 I went to Burning Man with my current boyfriend, Nick, the most perfect man to ever exist, and that’s not the clichés talking. He is beautiful, kind, complex. We go on adventures up Icelandic mountains, drink wine naked on the couch, and every day he reminds me that I am strong. We don’t seek to fix each other, but to watch us become ourselves, and to love each other through each step of this journey.
We were drunk out on the Playa, so we biked to the Temple. We wanted to see the fallen firefighters’ memorial that had been set up there, since my boyfriend is also a firefighter. As we walked into the Temple something inside of my opened like a broken dam. I felt my entire body open and contract and I cried. I felt life inside the Temple, I felt spirit inside the Temple, I felt my grandmother for the first time since I was thirteen, her spirit touching mine.
We talk about closure as a necessary step in the healing process, but what about those of us who never find closure, whose spirits still rage inside of us seeking unfinished vengeance against whatever it was that caused us harm? Are we doomed to wander the cosmos as broken, incomplete things searching for our lost pieces? Will we never be healed? Will we always be broken and battered things with bombs for souls?
I found something in the Temple that night. Nick apologized for hurting me, and I apologized for hurting him, and the cycle of forgiveness began. I felt the universe forgive me. It filled my spirit, stretched me towards infinity. It forgave me for everything I had done to hurt others, but most of all it forgave me for everything I had done to hurt myself, all the unkind words I had spoken to myself every day for uncountable months. It filled me with understanding, with love; the universe made me see that I was whole again. And in the process of receiving forgiveness from the universe I was able to forgive myself.
The broken thing inside me is dead. It no longer pulses like a hungry creature, filling me with insatiable desire for things that love to annihilate me. Perhaps this is closure, this process of writing my soul onto the page, giving my thoughts space to live in the universe. I give my thoughts life and in so doing I cut the ties that bind them to me, destroying their power.
Perhaps this is closure.
1.This dictionary was made in collaboration with my great-grandmother, Birdie Burris.
2. Northern Sierra Miwok, meaning "grandmother."
"Autocosmology is the act of positioning oneself
within the context of an infinite universe."
Is this school? Desks… posters… walls… people… What’s with them? Two types here, it appears. Teachers and students? I do not trust whoever those “teachers” are. One of them hands a student a sweaty fistful of pills. She takes them reluctantly. Awh fuck. An asylum. I turn to leave, trying to remain casual, unnoticed. Time to escape. As I wonder, trying to find the end of the building, I see the dichotomy of people so clearly. The unconscious controllers and conscious controlled. I find an electrical power plant inside the building… Hmm…strange. I crawl on top of the cage that surrounds it.
What was I doing again? I forgot. I find myself back in that class room. Dammit. A bit more worried now, I fear a mind-numbing syringe shoved into me, pumped without care. I don’t want to be shut down. Controlled. As if my thoughts were dictating the scene. A doctor’s head turns quickly toward me and pulls out a huge, dripping syringe. He knows I am not sedated. Fear turns to terror. Suddenly a chain-reaction of mental events occurs. Something is off—
Is this real? The question that has saved me a thousand times!
—a Jedi now, I confidently announce “Cut! Everybody take five. Great work.” “Especially you, Buttercup,” I say to Dr. NeedleMan and give him a hard slap on the rump. “Thanks!” He says, confused, and leaves the room. I leap through the wall—the one I was making solid earlier. I leave because now I can do anything and this place is dreary. I spread my arms, gliding on the wind, smiling ear to ear. Glancing behind me, I see the grey building and a typical looking town except for the barbed wire fence surrounds it. That's not typical. I fly over it into an Eden-like landscape, keeping my mind centered and my lucidity balanced. I fly all the time… the point is to push it, right? “Gotta get that new-new!” I morph into an orange dragon. I feel my size and anatomy change; my large belly, relatively small arms, big tail, wings, and rectangular and slightly conical head. I wish I could share this with someone… I notice a blue dragon appear on my lower right. It’s my partner Morgan! We fly for miles, hours, the hills always unrolling in new ways. I try to challenge this dream world, my mind, to create the new scenery fast enough. It does so with ease. Blissful. Creative. Freedom. We finally descend to a low large hill underneath an apple tree full of pretty little brown birds. I am so excited about this secret gift of simply waking up. I want to share it with Morgan so she can feel it. “This is all a dream, Mo!” Expecting to blow her mind, she instead seems happily puzzled. “Watch this.” Again, when reflecting on what I should do, I come up with pushing the limits… creating something new. I lay down flat on my stomach on the hill. I Know the birds will come down and lift me up. They flutter down all over my perimeter and fly up a few feet. Holding me above the ground and in front of Morgan. “You see? I am the creator!”
Is this the right place to be? Desks… computer screens… cubicles… people. What’s with them? The supervisors and the supervised. Everyone wants to super rise, to the bigger cubicle, the larger squadron of servants. I don’t trust them. I see one of them handing out paychecks, once again subduing the supervised to their rolling chairs, their hour-long commutes, their eight to five monotony. Awh fuck. I have an office job! Afraid, I put my headphones on. Try to remain unnoticed... don’t scream! Feeling caged, I press play. I visualize myself electrified with neon colors dancing wildly on my brain. I’m gone.
Months go by and I find myself back in the same cubicle, doing the same thing on different days. Dammit. I worry that I am going to keep getting used up. My creative energy, my love, my time, my intelligence squandered by a stupid system. “Cam. Hello… Cam?” My boss presents me with a formal promotional offer that increases my responsibilities to include his own, makes me a salaried employee, and increases my pay. He knows I may leave and that this could keep me. Instead, it made realize this is all wrong and remember that I am free to choose. I put in my two weeks. Finally smiling, really smiling, I left my cubicle, the building, and office life forever. Honoring the ability to shift, to create, I kept going. Driving right out of Texas. I left behind the cityscapes and surrounding monocultures. I quickly entered into real terrain; rocky deserts, and then forested mountains. I feel my consciousness leaving old forms behind, the new scenery fueling new practices that enhance my creativity. Happy as dog with eight filet mignons I grin wider looking at my beautiful partner in the passenger seat asleep. She came with me!
We drive for days, eyes wide, new places around every bend. Blissful. Creative. Freedom. We finally arrive in a small town between two large low hills in Colorado. Wide awake and grateful for rediscovering the secret of freedom that hides in plain sight, I create a radically better life. I call home and try to convince a few others to step out of their loops, but they cannot see freedom chilling behind the fear they are busily and unknowingly inflating. I lay underneath a tree and talk with pretty little brown birds: “We are co-creators!”
by Cameron Bartzen
"Auto-cosmology: a piece of expressive work that integrates personal and cosmological understanding."
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