Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Am Legion

You who read this are accustomed to thinking of yourself a certain way. If you look at your hand or anywhere on your body you think “This is me, this is my body.” If you ask a physicist, she will tell you the hand you’re looking at is mostly made of empty space, atoms with vast distances between them, composing galaxies of molecular chains. If you ask a microbiologist, she’ll tell you, in reality you’re a vast colonial organism, composed by volume of roughly 90% individual bacteria, and only 10% tissue cells. Your body contains an organic world of plants and animals existing in symbiotic and predatory relationships, comparable to a walking rainforest that reads blogs, fucks, cooks meals and raises children and earns a living somehow. And riding on top of it is three pounds of gray delicate protein running complicated storms of chemicals and electricity from which love, hate and desire emerge. As the kaballists propose, you exist on many diverse levels of definition, all at the same time, each unaware of the other.

So what is freedom?

Something happened to me recently, that shook up my ideas.

What happened to me, while sitting in the dark, was this.

A few days ago I went into the chapel across the street from the building where I work. The doors are open or locked almost at random, from time to time you just have to push them and try your luck. The chapel is normally almost abandoned between services except for the occasional Chaplain. This afternoon I was in luck and pushed open the door and stepped into the institutionally pristine, cool dark, found my usual place in the corner in the very back and sat and settled myself in.

As I grow older I become more aware of my interior solitude. I’ve often felt like a prisoner within myself but lately have grown to accept it more. I like people, I like to be around them, but I realize it will always be difficult for me to reach out to them. I always think of this as part of my karma. Its how I’ve turned out up until now. But because of what is about to happen to me in the cool dark room I’m beginning to change my mind about a lot of things. Who is running this show? How do you define that person?

I closed my eyes, the way I had been instructed when I was 18 years old in a small room with incense and flowers in downtown Atlanta and let the internal silence settle in until thoughts began to come. Then I began my mantra as I’ve often done in the many years since. But this time I had a clearer intention of what I wanted to do. My thoughts became reduced and reduced and finally reduced to a single point. And then – at long last – beyond. A perfect silence. A perfectly selfless stillness in which I seemed to disappear. I inhabited that untouchable virgin stillness without ambition, and for a short time I was completely happy.

Sometimes when the subject comes up I say to someone that I have lost faith in God. But the truth is way more complicated than that. I believe in God, but I have lost my faith in a specific definition of god and returned to a different, and far more ancient definition of god.

In my shallow studies of Kaballah and western mysticism, I’ve gradually acquired a better understanding of the eastern mysticism that had caught my imagination as a youth. I’ve lost faith in the theistic God, but in closing that door I found a freedom to restart and re-experiment. What I’ve found and come to believe is that God, reality and the Universe don’t exist at all in the way they appear to us. Everything we think we know about the world and ultimately about ourselves is flawed, and some of it is totally wrong. God, reality and finally even ourselves exist in several interlocking layers of different reality simultaneously. So the person writing this on the fourth of July in his favorite Starbucks, sitting at his customary table, with scrawled notebooks and pens and a couple of books on Carl Jung piled around – who is this person? As the demon said to Jesus “I am legion.” As Walt Whitman wrote “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

There is another way in which your existence exists on multiple levels, like Russian dolls, encased one inside the other. I’ve been reading a book called “Incognito: the Secret Lives of the Brain”.

You can hear an interview about that book here:

The book proposes what Buddhists have proposed for thousands of years, which is that the part of you that you think of as yourself doesn’t actually exist. The Buddhists say the ego and its ravenous desires are an illusion. Scientists express it more prosaically, that the conscious part of the mind, the part of you reading this, is a small artificial construct of a much larger part of the mind, less like a person than like a ventriloquists dummy on the lap of a performer you can’t see but only get occasional glimpses of, whose motives are entirely locked off from you even though they pull your strings. If this is true, and it does seem to me to be, the conscious mind is moved by impulses and currents far out of reach below the surface. To me this raises questions of free will, and how much are we really free? It also means to me that the vast majority of what passes for religion in the part of America where I live is totally bullshit. That would also include what I devoted a good twenty years of my life to.

So suppose we go play with this sort of deterministic way of looking at ourselves. What are the moral consequences in the real world?

In the questionable corner of the literary world we erotica writers inhabit (if not lurk), it seems to confirm the moral position many of us including me, take towards same sex orientation. It’s not a matter of moral choice, but of genetic disposition. An electro-chemical switch that points this way instead of that way. Who would ever choose voluntarily to be gay if such a choice were even possible? I never chose to be heterosexual. I just grew up knowing even as a young boy that girls were fascinating and there was something exciting and primitive far beyond kissing I wanted to do with them that a hidden part of me knew exactly how to do, and the conscious part of me didn’t. But it was never a practical choice. A practical choice might have been to fall in love with myself, since it wouldn’t cost me money or expose me to rejection. But how dull to be in love only with yourself. When we fall in love with other people, we make an effort to cross the mystery that exists between people, and it’s the exploration of this mystery that the best erotica tries to probe. When we fall in love with someone, we fall at least partly in love with our illusions about them, the same as we might fall in love with our illusions about God. But those illusions – what power they have. They give us wings. They wound us beyond all healing. They make us larger, they stretch the soul. The attachments to our lovers, to our children, to our art, those are the threads and fabric of soul. In the last moments of our lives they might be all we have to show that we can be proud of.

What I saw in the dark convinces me that there is more than meets the eye. Even if what I think of as myself is only a mask that the bigger part of me wears, I feel a strong sense that under girding that part is a person that never dies. Even as a wave washes the shore and returns to the ocean, still it returns. There is eternity and we are eternity’s children. Even if we remain constantly strangers to ourselves.


  1. Hello, Garce,

    There's an awful lot here, wisdom and wild speculation intermingled. I'll focus on this wonderful comment:

    "When we fall in love with other people, we make an effort to cross the mystery that exists between people, and it’s the exploration of this mystery that the best erotica tries to probe."

    I think this may be the essence of erotica, distilled.

  2. Hi Lisabet!

    That's how I see it too. I think erotica is potentially the greatest of literary genres. I'm reading a book called "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" which I want to discuss with you sometime, its a really interesting read for someone in our field.


  3. Ah, Garce, you think so eloquently. What a gift you have that you can then write it as well. Most people go through life never thinking because it's work. They never question anything and parrot ideas they've heard others speak as if they were original thoughts of their own. But the hard work of thinking is the work of philosophers and fools, and you are both, in the ancient sense of both words. A philosopher because you study knowledge itself, seeking wisdom through rational logical thinking, which is very hard work indeed. And a fool because you could make the king laugh while pointing out to everyone else that he is an idiot, while not getting yourself killed for being so much smarter than him.

    I'm so glad you always post your subjects where I can find them. I love the way you make me think deeply just to keep up with your thoughts.

  4. was just involved in a discussion like this here:

    you might enjoy his questions. i certainly enjoyed your answers and am hungry for more. i would love to read this thrashed out at greater length but i have the feeling you are very actively living inside of your exploration. perhaps you can share as you go along.

    and yes, i too loved this, "When we fall in love with other people, we make an effort to cross the mystery that exists between people..." and laughed so hard at the loving of the boring self. wonderful post, Garceus. forgive me for intruding but it was too valuable to not.


  5. Hi Catherine!

    I'm sorry I'm getting to back this so late. I like this expression you use, it sounds like something a guy might say. Sexy.


  6. Hi Fiona!

    Well, thank YOU for coming by and reading my stuff. I'm very glad you find something in it. Its a lonesome week when you don;t drop by.


  7. Hi Erin!

    So good to have you here, please come a lot. But how can you think you;re intruding by leaving a comment? All of us here love to get comments. Writing is a lonely thing, you throw these stories out like little rocks in a pond, they fly out they sink and there's no answer. So when someone like you and the others comes by and reads my stuff or anyone else here, its means a lot. By all means come by and read our stuff and say what you think. If you like our stuff we have books on the sidebar with even more.

    That's an interesting link, especially the image of "Thor's Gate". I've been reading a book of Norse mythology these days trying to get an idea for a story. I've been thinking about Thor and Sif.


  8. Great post, Garce. You are the resident philosopher. :)