song

Our walls are blown
We’ve stoked our blood and ditched our phones
Our gypsy home
Is repossessed and crumbling down
It’s never as you expect it to be
In twists of the loom and mystery
When magic re-enchants
Our tired bones

The forest calls
The wires plot and speakers bawl
Our hearts are full
Of drab distraction, meanings null
It’s always deeper than your mind delivers
A wavelet on the skin of the river
And seraphs sing
And dappled leaves applaud

Paint me with your scourging tongue
A million masks but only one
Speechless in our paisley visions
Dancing home
What’s the pattern?
What’s the game?
There’s only madness to reclaim
Strangers we may be
The path we walk is one

Our eyes are wide
We’re drowning in a diamond tide
The other’s face
Is full of bliss and boundless grace
It’s never as you remembered it as
A funhouse mirror, a broken cast
Our love will resurrect
The buried god

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Tzimtzum: The Hidden God, Atheism, Theism, and The Truth

“God is like a person who coughs whilst hidden and so gives himself away.”–Meister Eckhart

This isn’t going to be the promised “synthesis” described at the conclusion of my last post. I won’t beat around the bush: I’ve given that up. And it feels good.

Although I continue to believe that there is truth to the notion of the philosophia perennis, I feel that any academic or, in my case, quasi-academic treatment the subject is bound to be woefully incomplete and inadequate. God is a reality so extraordinarily ordinary that any of the flimsy theorizing, argumentation and rhetoric that I could display here would go too far. “Philosophy is spiritual indigestion,” quipped Iris Murdoch. With that heeded, I’ve decided to take some metaphysical stool-softener and expunge a particularly high-minded–I’m tempted to say Hegelian–brand of systematic theorizing.

It simply isn’t worth it. Why? Life is short. Time is fleeting. Death is real. Confusion is unavoidable. So there it is. Maybe Bertrand Russell got one thing right when he remarked that one’s life must be built on a “firm foundation of unyielding despair.” He neglected to mention, however, that beyond the despair–and the joy–there is a place of a third category that does not rest easily or at all in our theories about it.

Like many of the philosophically-inclined, I am a thinker (for lack of a more nuanced term) and must periodically remind myself that wisdom is accrued in the living, the doing, and not the woolgathering. Thought is insufficient; contemplation is incomplete, until both are thoroughly wedded with a concrete being-in-the-world, and it is in this place that one discovers God. It is also in this place that our theologies shatter, no matter how accurate they may be in the relative sense. I’d wager–no pun intended–that this is what Pascal experienced when he described his encounter with his God, repeating the capitalized word “FIRE” several times. One gets a sense that his calculating, shrewd French mind was somewhat overwhelmed: like Aquinas before him, did he discover that his concepts, for all their elegance and nuance, were “mere straw?” Concepts are useful, but they remain just that: concepts. Consign them to the flames. Iris Murdoch again: “All metaphysics is devilish, devilish.”

In my previous posts I’ve (somewhat pedantically) described some of my own spiritual experiences, ranging from psychedelic trips to spontaneous kundalini/glossolalia episodes. This all reflects that I have at times placed a high premium on pursuing God in exotic, unambiguous and intense ways. Even on a day to day basis, sometimes my only clearly-defined goal is to break through that stale firewall of the aforementioned conceptualization. It’s rough going, for the desire itself can sometimes preclude the attainment of its object (as Buddhism would appreciate). Concepts like “samadhi” and “theophany” have at times become near-idols, somewhat ironically.

Perhaps this just shows how insidious and subtle idolatry can be. Meister Eckhart, in his wisdom, said “I pray God to rid me of God.” He understood the value of heresy: any belief about God is almost always an impediment to knowing Him. The idea of the subject obscures the subject itself. And a subject is not an object, hence the complete irrelevance of religious belief. I’ve met agnostics and atheists who appear closer to Christ than some Christians. When we truly love someone we drop our concepts about them, and often we don’t even think about them in any particular way: if you’re thinking things about a person, i.e. judging/evaluating them, you have removed yourself from love. Simply because this is nearly impossible not to do does not make it any less true. Love is rarer than we think, and consequently God is less real for us.

There is nothing generally wrong with hungering for the transcendent, of “making it a priority.” Indeed, one of the reasonable things we should expect and hope for is periodic (if not necessarily frequent) developments that rock our ontologies. At the risk of sounding stuffy, this often entails novel subjective phenomena: the peak experience, the holy rolling, the mystical dissolution, the good trip. On a more everyday (but more important) level, spiritual growth manifests as the existential crisis, or the development/dissolution of meaningful relationships, or the stripping away of various comforts or securities. We “brush up” against a world that is abrasive and therefore scrapes away at our rough, unfinished contours. Would that I could see this as a blessing more often, and help others to do the same.

Various prerequisites are required to engage this process in fullness–a willingness to be open, silent, and attentive to “what is happening,” both internally and externally, the cultivation of non-attachment, sober-mindedness, and, when the situation calls for it (and it usually does) simple courage. And by courage I do not mean the absence of fear or recklessness. If you’re not afraid you’re a fool or a psychopath: fear is an ingredient indispensable to true courage; only a situation that is recognized as dangerous and/or uncertain will set the precedent for behaving bravely.

If my stomach isn’t crawling and my heart pounding, I feel I’m wasting the moment. When I pray or meditate, if I don’t feel like a captive bird in the claws of a predator, I know I’m doing it wrong. And make no mistake, God, insofar as “He” relates to us in any specific way, is a predator.

This has nothing to do with masochism. Masochism doesn’t exist, anyway (pain to a so-called “masochist” is not pain). Nor does it have anything to do with thrill-seeking, which more often than not is predicated on a misled desire for permanence, and is in fact grounded in boredom, not fear (I would know). Courage is rather about recognizing the simple truth: there is no centre, there is nothing to hold onto, and all things are continuously falling away. There is absolutely no thrill in that, or at least not in the sense that the word typically suggests. It is, rather, too little in its too-muchness.

Yes, someone may say, but where is God in that? Isn’t God the ultimate permanent object?

Heh.

If we think about God in this way, as a sort of changeless substance or solidity to which we can safely cling, we’re in for a world of hurt. I’m tempted to say that this is avoidable and needless pain (and perhaps it is in some cases), but, as Blake observed, often persistent foolishness leads beyond itself to wisdom. Even the pain of pointlessness, of stupidity, contains the secret to its own redemption. Thank goodness for that. Cough.

It is natural, if naive, to want spiritual security. We want a cosmic babysitter; a celestial panic room. How else can we get through the endless burden of existing and the absence of some more perfect reality? But the burden is good and the perfection is an empty image, a mere abstraction. An idol of immense subtlety. And if we knew what “relieving the burden” entails, we would shudder more than we already are.

It is imperfection that we are, in a sense, commanded to embrace and transform. This is what spiritual growth is all about. And if in the process we move an inch towards perfection, inevitably never achieving it, but struggling towards it (like salmon tirelessly swimming upriver), our task is both forever fulfilled and left meaningfully incomplete. Such is the lesson of the human condition.

None of this should imply fruitlessness. Hope has its place, just as true faith does, but it must (and can only be) cultivated in a world in which God’s absence–not presence–is the first and most obvious fact. The Jewish mystics even have a name for this “divine withdrawal”–tzimtzum. As I’ve remarked elsewhere, faith is a hand outstretched in the dark. It is yearning. It is confusion. It is risk. It is trekking through a mountain passage, hearing a distant call from an uncertain person on a far-off peak. It is a sputtering candle. It is the deep and grievous conviction not that “all things will be well,” but that all things, somehow, are already well, and made precisely so. Tom Waits quips in his ominous voice, “God’s away on business.” The humorous overtones aside, this lyric holds more profound truth than he likely intended.

It is easy to get hung up about pain, and to misjudge its function as a simple indication that something is wrong for us. We evaluate discomfort through a lens of selfishness: “This must mean that I’m being attacked, or that God is judging me, or that people dislike me.” What narcissism! What solipsistic drivel! Likewise, we are always hankering for a personal God, a meaningful experience, and a cozy and coherent set of beliefs to soften the edges of the world. What actually happens is nothing compared to the long and self-indulgent tale we tell ourselves about it. Humans pray and God laughs.

Time and time again I catch myself choosing to believe something not because I know it to be true, but because it indulges my egoism and makes me feel special. But “feeling special” is not always about raising one’s profile: even more insidiously, I catch myself believing things because they make me feel pain, because they reduce me. And it is a mistake to think that we’ve discovered truth simply because we’re disappointed, overwhelmed, or intimidated by it. The very essence of a good illusion is that it appears to be real, that it has so thoroughly convinced us we no longer question it. “That’s just the way things are.” “Life isn’t fair.” “The truth hurts.” No, the truth doesn’t hurt: our bad faith, our insincerity, and the lies we tell ourselves are the source of the pain and damage we accrue in life.

So yes, we see our solipsism in our myths about ourselves, our conviction that we’re special, but we see it equally in our cynical, self-satisfied reduction of everything to meaninglessness, materialism, and myopic self-deprecation. “We’re just animated stardust.” Just?!! This is false humility at its most obnoxious. The most pious and self-appointed spokesperson for God has nothing on these so-called realists. And all of them, religious and irreligious alike, are completely missing the point of being alive.

In the excellent movie The Messenger, Dustin Hoffman (playing a stern Abrahamic God) lays waste to this silliness. He interrogates Joan of Arc (played by Milla Jovovich), a medieval schizophrenic who’s tailored herself a prophet for medieval France: “How could God, the creator of the heavens and the earth, the maker of good and evil, possibly? Need? You?”

Blessings.

William.

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Still Seeking, Pt. III: Third Anecdote Of A Sober Spiritual Experience.

Still Seeking, Pt. III: Third Anecdote Of A Sober Spiritual Experience.

“These symptoms included . . . sensations of profound bliss [and] energy, light or heat rising up the spine, all-encompassing love, or overwhelming joy . . . and perceptions of inner sounds described as similar to the buzzing of bees, the dull roar of distant waterfalls, the music of the spheres, etc.”–Yvonne Kason, M.D., in Farther Shores: Exploring How Near Death, Kundalini, and Mystical Experiences Can Transform Inner Lives

“Glossolalia also sometimes refers to xenoglossy, the putative speaking of a natural language previously unknown to the speaker.”–A Dictionary of Psychology, edited by Andrew M. Colman

“Sober: temperate in regard to drink . . . moderate, well-balanced, sane, tranquil.”–The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Sixth Edition, edited H.W. and F.G. Fowler

As a preliminary, I must ask the forgiveness of those who seemingly declined to appreciate my former installment. Like other narcissistic bloggers, I check my stats on a daily basis with predictably disappointing results. I presume I’m not alone here! I also sometimes publish my blog on Facebook, and given my recent struggles with backsliding–of which I’ll elaborate upon in a future post–I guessed that the deficit of Likes had something to do with the content of Still Seeking, Pt. II: Mycosmysticism: Spritual Charlatanism At Its Most Genuine.

(Brief notification, for those “in the know”: former or current Teen Challenge students–whom I admire immensely no matter my religious ambivalence–I may be in need of a refresher for Facebook alone. Heh. Little hyperbole need be used to liken it to crack with its five minutes of diuretic anticipation, brief euphoria, and subsequent crash. Sniff, no likes/messages/compliments, etc.)

Anyway, it seemed that due to the subtitle of the aforementioned post, some people failed to appreciate the subtle cynicism regarding psychedelics scattered throughout it. Nor did they–again, I stress seemingly–appear to read it in its entirety, which I freely admit was bloated and pedantic and could’ve done with further editing. It was, for the most part, a very apophatic mysticism, as in the via negativa. Translation for the eco-fascists and hippies: a bad trip.

Furthermore, I am usually not moronic enough to not acknowledge the internet surveillance that occurs by legal authorities. Or perhaps I am a moron, if we take a quantum leap by equating Einstein’s insight into insanity with idiocy, paraphrasing: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”

Moving right along.

Kundalini is an eastern spiritual experience described by Hindu mystics and New Agers as a “blissful serpentine energy slithering up the spine.” To some Christians this will sound demonic, given the reptilian adjectives. Nevertheless, it is indistinguishable from the charismatic Christian conversion episode in which glossolalia (a.k.a. speaking in tongues), beatific trembling, holy rolling, etc. happens. All of these occur too during an encounter with kundalini energy.

I have had an emphatically sober kundalini episode which occurred in November of 2010, and furthermore, I was with two former acquaintances of mine, whom I will respectfully refer to them henceforth by pseudonyms.

All I will say is that one was an ex-girlfriend of mine whom I wasted a few years on. It was my mistake, not hers. I’ll refer to her as “Irish.” It was co-dependence at its most extreme; we drank like fishes, isolating ourselves in our rooms and having for the most part a wholly unsatisfying relationship, and, in the same setting(s), watching soul-damaging B-movie films. I still haven’t recovered from a viewing of Cannibal Holocaust. Now I watch only beautiful or comedic movies. For beauty, I recommend Terrence Mallick’s visionary epic The New World. And for comedy, well we all can agree Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up is gut-wrenchingly hilarious.

You know it ended badly. I betrayed her trust, spun myself into a convoluted web of Ativan-induced deceit and self-contradiction (if you want to lie well, refrain from requesting your doctor a script for benzodiazepines).

Subsequent to befriending a fellow who specializes in mentoring, “deception training” and “influence and persuasion,” she promptly unspun my contemptible web and broke up with me. In retrospect this was the rational course of action, but for a while I plummeted to suicidal despair. Now all is well and forgiven. 🙂

My second former acquaintance was a lovely, sensitive, sweet fellow. I’ll refer to him as “English.” who was always willing to provide a shoulder or even a man-chest to weep on. I have since lost all contact with him and I blame myself for it. One detail: due to a bad track record commitment-wise, we’d plan hang-outs and my pattern was to opt-out at the last week. A cynical “Heh” seems appropriate here. Or he’d message me and I’d take upwards of a month to respond, if at all. I aspire to re-connect with him at some point down that proverbial road.

On a rather temperate evening in that early November, Irish, English, and I paid a visit to the lovely restaurant Golden Maki located on Leslie St. in Newmarket. It was the late afternoon and the weather was sunny. Although by that time I was a burgeoning alcoholic, I still reserved my boozing and carousing for post-dinner hours. Golden Maki is licensed, but I was fully sober–albeit slightly hungover–during our leisurely dining on all-you-can eat sushi.

It was in the midst of this meal that I began to feel distinctly “expansive.”

First there was a sensuous, tender, distending amplification of emotion, especially my feelings of love towards my two companions. They both seemed to bear the visage of Christ-like innocence. We laughed and I felt a newfound intimacy with their formerly exasperating imperfections. Yes, I’m an asshole. Yet I felt the same grace towards my own.

Then the compact but elegant decor of the restaurant lost its former smallness. The sashimi, the conversation, exploded from its culinary singularity into the Big Bang. I was one with all things. This struck me with an intuitive certainty. It was not doubting–it was knowing, seeing. And moreover, in spite of the (mainly) Western definitions of this type of experience, this oneness was permeated with personality. It was a personality full of humour, grace, and love in every sense that it entails: the love of the mother for her newborn baby, romantic love, the love of a father, the love of Platonic goodness, truth and beauty. I “seized God in all things, as God is in all things,” as a Christian mystic once recommended.

In short, I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus. I fell off my horse, or as a Zen Buddhist would say, “body-mind dropped.”

After paying our bill and leaving, the oneness continued to deepen. It was then that the classical symptoms of kundalini decided to show up. Like a sort of sublimation of sexual energy, blissful waves of euphoria began shooting up my spine from my base chakra. Keeping pace behind my companions, I swayed from side to side and my head rolled back, surrendering to the experience. As we walked, English, Irish and myself fell strangely silent–perhaps because on some level they sensed my shift in consciousness, but more likely because I tend towards introversion, which conduced crickets chirping.

Also, I was preoccupied with strange inner syllables seeming to resound in the center of my head. There was an urge to utter them out loud, but I kept my silence. I should do that more often, hmm?

By the time we arrived at my house, having paid a detour to the LCBO, happy hour was impending with a six-pack of bavaria and a 26er of vodka in tow. Yet for the very first time since discovering a warm affinity for alcohol, I wasn’t feeling particularly eager to drink. Some still, small voice was urging me not to. But as I’ve done with increasing frequency as I’ve grown older and calcified with corruption, I stifled the urge. My reason was a predictable one: peer pressure, not that I excuse my own part in that dynamic.

I am agnostic on matters of the existence of a personal devil (as Hobbes’ response to Calvin was, “I don’t think humanity needs the help.”), but I believe there is an undeniably corrupting force at work in nature, most prominently in Homo sapiens and our closest cousins. I’m not agnostic, however, that this was the force behind the peer pressure. Reinforcing this was a typical rationalization: I thought to myself that if I drink my mood will augment the positivity already felt. Funny, considering that I was feeling the “No High Like The Most High.”

So I started drinking, and by the time I’d consumed my first judicious chug of Bavaria, there began a brisk but not instant implosion of the aforesaid Big Bang. I felt lost, alienated from English and Irish. We viewed Inland Empire, a brilliantly surreal but dark movie directed by David Lynch.

(While we’re at it, check out the Dali-esque filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain.)

The evening wore on. As I banged through the cans and we started on the vodka, I had given in to my limbic reptilian brain. In the years to follow my alcoholism eventually descended into the two ugly stereotypes of the “sad drunk” and “violent drunk.”

Yet in 2011, my drinking was still very much a social and congenial affair, even when watching disturbing cinema. I’d excitedly share eccentric movies with all friends in invariably inebriated contexts. But this time, gaping into the curtain-swaying infernal bunny sit-com aesthetic of Inland Empire, I felt like I was gazing into the abyss of hell. Not some fiery Sheol, mind you, but a black Nietszchean abyss of utter loneliness. Unlike Nietszche’s assertion, though, the abyss wasn’t gazing into me. The night ended with me puking my guts out into the porcelain bowl. The Pollockish-spatter of vomit swirling below me resembled the face of Christ. Extrapolate from that what thou wilt.

This concludes my third installment of Still Seeking.

Coming up: a proposal for a syncretistic integration between Western monotheism and predominantly eastern panentheism (which is distinct from the deluded reductionism of pantheism). I will touch upon the work of the transpersonal author Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, the Christian existentialism of Soren Kierkegaard regarding the relationship between free will and Spirit, and pleasurably continue to shower you with the poetical insights of Meister Eckhart.

The thesis is hopefully simple: God is both immanent, transcendent, personal, impersonal and yet none and all of the above simultaneously. As in Spirit is Just This.

I’ll end with a lovely quote my father shared with me:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” — Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Thank you for reading!

 

 

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Still Seeking, pt. 2: Mycomysticism: Spiritual Charlatanism At Its Most Genuine

Mycomysticism: Spiritual Charlatanism At Its Most Genuine

“My retrospective attitude towards [psychedelics] is that when one has received the message, one hangs up the phone.”–Alan Watts

“A pitiful example of an aging hippie, a gruesome example of how drugs ruin a brilliant mind. A third-rate comic . . . with a routine that invites pity.”–Art Linkletter on Timothy Leary, “High Priest” of LSD

“A fool who persists in his folly will become wise.”–William Blake

It was in a dank disheveled basement redolent with the odours of Bob Marley’s tour bus that “Timothy” presented me with a long-coveted opportunity:

“I’ve got an ounce of shrooms. Wanna do ’em with me tomorrow?”

The question was posed with pot-induced nonchalance, but as a tenderfoot with drugs (or a “dope noob,” to employ the current vernacular), Tim’s invitation was providential and its timing impeccable.

During that summer, when not enduring the monotony of employment or swilling malt liquor at weekend shindigs, my leisure time was spent reading Aldous Huxley, Ralph Metzner, and other proselytizers of drug-induced mysticism.

I found Huxley’s seminal hippie classic The Doors Of Perception particularly enticing for its reasoned idealism and inquiring, sober account of a mescaline experience. In the book’s concluding section Huxley proposed these substances were a “gratuitous grace”; perhaps a tool for artists or a kind of spiritual steroid for the mystically obtuse. He also claimed, perhaps less convincingly, that psychedelic experience was identical to the traditional mysticism of the perennial philosophy.

I was incapable of considering this claim at the time. And as an impatient, sensation-chasing adolescent the purported authenticity of psychedelic mysticism struck me as a stroke of luck, a shortcut to enlightenment. An occasion for optimism; I didn’t need mediation or method to meet God, merely a molecule. Terence McKenna: “Psychedelics work for Joe Ordinary. And I am Joe Ordinary. I can’t sweep up around the ajram for twenty years . . . psychedelics work.”

So, brimming with the Promethean idealism of youth, and due to my extracurricular interests, I accepted Timothy’s invitation. A puerile rationalization lay behind this: the proposed trip would of necessity entail deception of my parents and the breaking of the law. This former rationalization was easy; I agreed with the grandfatherly insistence that we let the “children play” and not parentally pontificate. As for the legalities, I thought it ludicrous for the orthodoxy to forbid the use of “God-releasing” substances. A violation of our religious freedom! I noted the exception made for the Eucharist–perhaps theophagia is acceptable when the substance is human flesh.

Moreover, I found the ambience of pot cozy, and it did occasionally bring me to the margin of a “spiritual” sensation. Having tested the shallows with dope, I reasoned psilocybin would be a natural next step and transition into the deeper waters. I also felt thoroughly prepared given my studied obsession with psychedelic literature, and thus I anticipated a comfortable cruise.

I was wrong, and shortly enough I’d realize this with hellish intensity.

Timothy and I made a plan to rendezvous at my house the following morning. We’d heard the weather would be ideal, and there was the convenience of a tall-grass prairie adjacent to my subdivision. We reckoned its solitude and array of natural scenery would be conducive to the idyllic “good trip.” Timothy and I reciprocated grins, two self-conscious hooligans surveilled on all sides by postered depictions of Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison (all dead by their twenty-seventh year). If our musical idols had explored the antipodes of the mind and returned to tell the tale, why then couldn’t we? Rationalization springs temporal in incorrigible youth, it seems.

The next morning, I arose at ten c’clock. A golf course awash in summer haze greeted me through my windowpanes. Gnarly thickets of trees, bark and leaf and the featureless dome of blue sky mirrored my exuberance. I stumbled into the bathroom, urinated. Glanced in the mirror and winked knowingly. As I dressed, my enthusiasm manifested most prominently: desiring my attire to reflect the day’s adventure, I pulled on a loose-fitting pair of khakis and a t-shirt emblazoned with Paisley patterns. After a moment’s consideration, I also equipped myself with a portable diskman and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I yearned to join Lucy in the Sky with her hallucinatory diamonds, a blind yearning that overlooked the album’s concluding musical mosaic “A Day In The Life” and its drug-despairing paranoia.
When Timothy arrived, we didn’t immediately depart to our chosen trip-setting. As a cover, he’d brought along a guitar; I’d earlier informed my parents we’d be harassing the dog-walkers, infant-boasters and geriatrics at Fairy Lake with borderline-illegal busking (I’ve busked numerous times since and my open case has received everything from a pack of gum to a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet. Once a jogger stopped and insisted on paying me an unheard of sum. May God bless him and keep him.). We hastily hid the guitar in the shadows beneath my deck, knowing full-well we’d be in no condition to be strumming folk-tunes, and then set off.

As we entered the creek Timothy wasted no time in producing a ziplock bag stuffed with the mushrooms. The appearance was not what I’d anticipated; a tangled mishmash of excrescences curiously blue-gold in colour. This was the full ounce that Timothy’d claimed, and he eyeballed out my share and we promptly began eating. I winced at the taste, which was reminiscent of peanuts left to fester in manure. Timothy’s water bottle kept this understandable nausea at bay, but nonetheless our theophagic feast was hard work. It was approximately fifteen minutes before the mushrooms were completely consumed, and by this time our wanderings had led us to a railroad slicing through a sun-dazzling expanse of deciduous trees and tall grass. We chose the railroad.

The initial symptoms arrived with surprising speed and were predominantly psychosomatic in nature: a feeling of restlessness accentuated by a dull glow in my abdominal region. This was not nausea per se, but rather a paradoxical numbness. Shudders of a kundalini-esque energy shot through me. As for my mental state, calmness had unexpectedly replaced the exuberance. It was a quiet headspace lightly tinged with anticipation: a calm before the storm, I supposed.

Our romping accelerated. Psilocybin induces an amenability towards movement, a child-like exploratory momentum. It is adventure-friendly, unlike narcotics or even cannabis, which produce either apathy or laziness respectively.

It is true that some psychedelic advocates tout psilocybin as a meditative drug, a medicine for stationary navel-gazing, but for Timothy and I this advocacy was untrue. Instead, reality was becoming increasingly erratic; Newtonian space-time and its “stubbornly persistent” qualities were dissipating. This was felt subjectively as an expansion and ascension. As it progressed, I began to lapse in and out of my self (“self” denoting the sense of being an interior experiencer). Where I was when outside, I either cannot recall or articulate.

“Man, something’s fucking with me.”

“God?”

“If it’s God, he’s fucking with us.”

I roll my eyes now at this briefest of exchanges, but at the time we laughed giddily.

The world around me was taking on an absurd, almost lampoonish quality. Framing the railroad were two gently sloping hills of sun-dappled grass dotted with golden microcosms of dandelions. This landscape undulated like liquid, reassembling its arbitrary wildness into an ordered arrangement I found breathtaking. Light seared my eyelids not as wave nor particle, but as a shimmering fractal. Timothy’s head, when I dared to look his way, seemed queerly large and beast-like–a cro-magnon beard beneath slitted werewolf eyes and prominent canines. His familiar laughter sounded like elfin prattling, his gait was that of a sugar-addled infant. But these descriptions fail; Timothy was something other than himself, or perhaps more than himself than ever before. We had now left behind Terence McKenna’s “mundane plane”: friends had become demigods.

Notwithstanding the marvels around us, our preoccupations were mainly inward and our meditations were suddenly and shockingly ambushed. The train track had moved beyond the brush and intersected with the margins of a golf course. Moreover, a hodgepodge of its clientele were situated on a patch of green no farther than fifteen feet from us. A fat loaf stared silently at us from his automative perch. A golf cart? If so, the model had a distinctly anthropomorphic quality–like the loaf, the lights stared at us. His compatriots, putters in hand, spouted cliches characteristic of the sport. (I find sports culture contemptible for many reasons, but I’ll address that some other time).

“I’m gonna get this bastard in the hole, just you watch.”

And then, upon noticing our intrusion:

“Hey fellas! Up to no good, eh?”

Timothy and I looked at each other, silently questioning. Was this golfer a cop? The questioning provided an immediate answer: err on the side of caution. We turned, puppeteered by paranoia, and hastily strode back along the way we came. The anxiety receded as we re-entered the comforting canopy of trees and tall grass.

We remained silent, absorbing the photon-drenched world around us. Distant suburbias, as we gaped, metamorphosed into petite hobbit-holes composed of gingerbread. A looming tree bore the semblance of a preying mantis. Down in the bush, sporadic sprays of milkweed became elegant gardens. The earth was ornamented, a self-organizing entity. Tears emerged from my eyes.

The mental lapses began again. For a brief moment I quite literally saw myself from the exterior, a non localized consciousness. Then it ended, and I swivelled with agitation to catch the gnomish doppelgänger evading my vision. Was this myself, or McKenna’s “other”? I was no longer certain I even possessed a self; it was dissolving with alarming momentum into a frothing expanse of phenomena arising as one. With this shift into a monistic ontology, Timothy and I were nonetheless not alone. We had “company,” seemingly beyond worldly categories and classifications. If I could ascribe one quality to this company, it was one of Loki-like mischief. This monism was not serene, as is generally supposed; it was a state of mental, physical and sensory confusion.

“God, man . . . is it God, or the devil?”

“Both.” (I roll my eyes yet again).

My answer seemed like an epiphany of titanic significance. All apparently opposed and disparate forces could be reconciled. The multiplicity is unity, the two is one. Good and evil? Completely interdependent. You affirm or negate one, you inevitably affirm or negate the other. I giggled, prayerfully clasping my hands. With this non-insight, I felt Raymond and I had been officially initiated into the psychedelic esoterica.

“Let’s go into the wild!” I intoned, pointing out an approaching path cleaving through the brush. Scarlet sumac and glistening milkweed waved at us in greeting as we entered the path. Gaia, for the time being, accepted our presence.

Minutes accumulated. We rode the edge of an old farmer’s field; on the opposing side was a lowland of willows, bullrushes, and an eddying river. It was around this point that I pulled the compact disc player from my pocket. Technology, like conversation, was confounding to my stoned brain, and two minutes passed before I managed to adjust the volume and press the applicable button.

A sudden sonic explosion flooded my eardrums, deluging my synapses in synesthetic beauty. I merged with the grinding groove of Sgt. Pepper’s opening track, it and myself arising as singular phenomena. Yet where had my beloved Beatles album gone? It had been replaced by an extraterrestrial klezmer jam. Then the second track began and Ringo’s soothing baritone brought it all back down to earth, relatively speaking.

“I get by with a little help from my friends, ooo, I get high with a little help from my friends.” The Beatles’ most undervalued member was crooning to me in a gesture of psychedelic empathy. He understood, that hound-faced mop top from the past. Timeless, timeless, timeless. I giggled, but had had enough and stuffed the music-contraption back into my shorts.

Once my attention had reverted to the outside world, I noticed that Raymond and I had unknowingly been transported. We were no longer in a garden-variety future construction site. We were in some pre-historic jungle. The day’s humidity was magnifying exponentially, gnats orbited our heads, impish creepers tickled our legs. I gaped as a dragonfly of Cambrian proportions danced by. Incredulous, I glanced at Timothy and wondered if he too had experienced this transportation. It seemed like a millennium since I had last acknowledged him. Guilt flared in my heart.

“I think I’m getting the fear, man,” came the dreaded statement. Sweat coated his skin, mingling with a downpour of tears. I attempted to reassure him with an awkward pat on the back, but his consternation seemed inexorable. Now charged with an overdue feeling of empathy, I felt his own fear infecting me. There was no proud ego-barrier behind which I could hide, as the psilocybin had now obliterated any chance of emotional tune-out. Regardless of my preferences, the world as it was insistently thrust itself upon me: Timothy was upset, and his upset was literally my own.

(Some schools of eastern philosophy proclaim the oneness of all things, notwithstanding the apparent fact of separation. Apprehending what may have been this same oneness, Raymond was not an extension of myself, or part of myself, but rather me in the most intimate sense. Yet this was not solipsism but a heart-rending humility to the point of self-negation. As the hippies speculate: was Gotama Buddha a mushroom veteran?)

Timothy: “Let’s go back on the tracks, man, or we’ll get stung.”

Me: “Okay, just, uh, stay calm and . . . stuff.”

As we turned around, a sudden flowering of laughter resounded nearby. This was not physically heard but rather of the hypnagogic variety (i.e. the voices heard whilst falling asleep). Its non-auditory nature didn’t reduce its reality, however: it was like a child’s and emanating from behind me to my right. A pattering of spritely footsteps followed it, echoing as if from out of a huge void. I swivelled wildly, attempting to catch God in the act. For a moment I beheld a runny, quasi-material gray mass, and then it disappeared. I knew then that I’d almost cornered the motherfucker behind all of this. God was a Loki-child, an “Aeon at play with coloured balls (Heraclitus)”–concisely, someone who didn’t know what the hell he was doing. The universe was a manifestation of whimsy. God got bored, I realized with horror. Every “why?” that I threw out was countered with a “why not?” And I intuited that even if there was more to it all, this “more” was the exclusive ownership of God. I felt humiliated, like a paltry plaything or puppet. We would never attain certainty–all striving, all beseeching–fruitless.

Yet I refused the temptation of blind faith, or existential apathy. This left me where I felt I had now always been–an infinitesimal wave adrift on an infinite ocean, fated to drift, destined to drown, condemned to be free (as Sartre said).

As we approached the train tracks, my self tightened into a paralyzed knot. Who am I? The thought pulsed rhythmically. Who’s asking? came the mocking reply. I felt exposed, empty, turned inside out, ensnared in a uroboric loop of madness. Verily, who was asking?

Practical considerations compounded the difficulties. I couldn’t seem to navigate through the foliage, spatiality had imploded and every point seemed connected to every other. Gaia had lured us in; now she wasn’t letting us leave. Paralysis began to set in. Tree stumps shimmied mockingly, wizened faces of bark leered and jeered at our fear. I longingly gazed at the Edenic railroad through the maelstrom.

“Man, come on,” Timothy implored, placing his hand on my shoulder. This human contact broke the paralytic spell and with Herculean intensity we stumbled/ran through the last barrier of demonic flora and out onto the tracks. O, the utter triumph! I felt as if I had overcome the sum of all obstacles. My pride was that of a lofty Mazatecan god, and Timothy’s appearance mirrored this. Unreal feathers encircled his polychromatic countenance. We beheld one another for what felt like an eternity, laughing and carousing over the sheer absurdity of our former fear.

Exhausted, we eventually sat down on the rails. For a moment I closed my eyes and focused on breathing deeply, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine. Then I looked up and surveyed the sun directly, and this brought about the most intense dread I’ve ever experienced. It hadn’t even reached its apogee, and this meant we had only been tripping for an hour. Nauseated, I realized that in the psychological denotation of the word we were “fucked.” Having a relatively low toxicity (lower than that of a Starbucks Americano), there was no risk of overdosing on psilocybin. But in our brazen idiocy we had consumed a half-ounce each, and I knew this “historic dose” would occasion a total severance from reality. And I already felt the severance well at work.

Suffice to say, the Mazatecan deity’s feathers departed as quickly as they had had arrived.

“I’m thirsty,” Timothy gasped. I noted that I was as well; my mouth felt as parched as the serengeti. The lips I licked were sticky, cracked and numb. It seemed a very real possibility that I might die if I didn’t procure a drink. A glass of water reverberated in my mind’s eye like a mirage.

“We should go back to your house.”

“Man, we can’t!” Horrid images of a parental drug bust loomed in my mind. “My mum and dad are at home!”

“I need water.”

“Me too. Let’s go to the convenience store up the road.”

“No fucking way.”

“Then what?”

“We have to go back to your place, man. I’m freaking out here.”

“That makes two of us. Uh, heh, one of us. Okay. Yeah.”

The cliched reply was anything but funny given the direness of the situation. Without further ado we rose to our feet on legs that felt composed of wobbly concrete. With a newfound intensity of appreciation, I understood the burden of having a body; flesh is the source of nearly all of our suffering–physiological, neurological, emotional. In my altered state my body felt like an inconvenient encumbrance my mind had to lug around.

This became even more obvious as we trudged towards my suburbia in the distance, separated from us by an expanse of dirt and construction detritus. Like retarded folk we stumbled over the cracked hills, our sandals snagging on metal wire and tripping over bricks. In order to maintain a sort of balance, Timothy and I had to repeatedly look down. Clownish faces popped out of the beige terra. Nature was laughing at us. Who were we, after all, to eat the sacred children?

I recalled something someone somewhere somewhen had said: “You monkeys only think you’re running the show.”

This, more than ever, was obvious to me. Even as we finally entered the artificiality of the subdivision nature refused to surrender her power. Housefront gardens, hurricanes of gleeful colour, shrieked at us like banshees. A neighbour walking her dog across the road glanced at us. Concealed beneath her grin was a diabolical sneer. And this was only the dog’s smile.

Up ahead I could see my house, bathed in a squalid yellow light. The twin second floor windows, coupled with the gaping open garage beneath, resembled Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream.” As we neared the driveway the house reassumed something of its accustomed familiarity. But my fear remained. Heart beating like a death metal drum, we traversed the pavement and climbed the stairs and I knocked on the door. Ominous footsteps were heard from inside. The door swung open, revealing my father’s face.

I did my very best to sound nonchalant.

“Hey dad.”

“Back so soon?”

“Yeah, it was, um, uh, too hot.”

“Where’s your guitar?”

“Left it outside.”

We had “successfully” arrived, and stepped gingerly inside. Unaware that Timothy had now fully departed from the material plane, I made my way down the tiled hallway that frothed like an opalescent sea. My friend, a motionless savant, remained glued to the indoor mat. My father, his back to me, walked into the living room. As I passed by it I saw him take a seat beside my mother, whose eyes were fixated on the television screen, the morose sounds of Six Feet Under emanating from the speakers. As fast as my appendages could carry me I entered the kitchen. There I poured myself a glass of water and chugged it back, suppressing a sputtering cough. I then turned from the sink, relieved, only to discover Timothy’s absence.

“Uh, Timothy?”

“Come here!”

“No, you come here! Water.”

“Where are you?”

“In the kitchen.”

“I’m going upstairs.”

“What?”

This exchange was inept enough to alert my parents, whom I intuitively knew were now listening to our halted “conversation.” The volume of Six Feet Under had been unmistakably lowered. I rushed through the cluttered dining room and turned the corner to see Timothy loping up the stairway, the hairs on his legs writhing like grubs. I followed, averting my gaze from the living room. There was a perfectly reasonable sense that if I dared a glance, I’d be greeting two wrathful demigods (I’ve had this feeling even when not on psilocybin). Instead I fixed my gaze on Timothy’s melting buttocks. We crested the stairs, and Timothy piled into my room, quietly shutting the door.

Feeling a looseness in my bowels I made my way into the adjacent washroom. More opalescent waves of tile greeted me. Avoiding the horror of the mercury, I pulled down my shorts and collapsed on the latrine. Immediately, what felt like a living creature began writhing its way out of my colon, grunting gasps of excremental gas. I looked down. Two ordinary logs of shit floated in the bowl. A lumber drive, if you will.

The toilet paper was awe-inspiring, but I’d no time for a lingering contemplation of bathroom aesthetics. I put the paper to its good application, flushed, and rose, feeling kilometres tall. Almost helplessly, I now turned to confront myself in the mirror.

Instead I greeted an elfin entity garbed in a swirling toga, its hair shimmering like streams of golden elixir. As I watched, dumbfounded, its head expanded, contracted, morphed into myriad colourful faces both demonic and angelic, bestial and robotic. I knew not whether to laugh or scream upon seeing this buffoonish changeling in the mercury, brazenly taking the place of my familiar self. Resentful, I exited the bathroom.

Timothy was standing by my bed when I entered my room. He gave no sign of my arrival, his mind occupied by the violent onslaught of the psilocybin. As it had been since the onslaught of the trip, there was a pervasive sense of being in two worlds; Plato’s transcendent forms and the shadows on the cave wall had collided. All mundanity was radically cleansed in the light of the experience: my room was no longer a concept, a thought-form. Instead it was as it was as it was, infinitely and terrifyingly. The brushstroked canvases on my wall were microcosms of beauty.

The sense of God’s immanence was overpowering, a mental orgasm of sorts. In spite of my earlier theological pessimism, I now felt beatific, imbued with gratitude. Who was I to interrogate God? It would be as absurd as interrogating oneself, which was precisely the same thing. I knew with glee that philosophy was a fruitless pursuit, “spiritual indigestion” in Gibran’s words. Existence questioning itself? The irony, the absurdity, the sheer obviousness! Ha! God was sustaining, even being, every thought in our heads, and arising equally in all things.

I felt on the verge of laughter when there was a knock on the door, and without waiting for a reply my mother and father leaned into the room, peering at us with quizzical expressions. Stoned on half an ounce of Stropharia cubensis, Timothy and I could do nothing but stare. This silent confrontation seemed to last forever, and upon forever’s denouement, the parental heads withdrew and the door slammed shut.

“Shit, man,” said Timothy.

I nodded in agreement. God, in his infinite nature, is all that exists, but that didn’t mean that this paltry slice of the divine would be exempt from an impending parental ass-whuppin. Was God a masochist? He was punishing himself, just like the day he spent crucified to a tree two millennia ago. A reluctant messiah-complex passed through me, but given the weightiness of the situation, its passing was swift. With anxiety ravaging my body, I surrendered to the inevitable and entered the hallway. Quite predictably, my father was waiting for me by his bedroom door.

With a guilt-inducing look he asked the question: “What’s going on?”

“We ate some magic mushrooms. I’m really regretting it now.” And I was.

“Oh, Will.”

The world collapsed around me. There a few things more painful than disappointing your loved ones–in this case, violating the trust they place in their progeny’s good conduct and sense. My father’s simple utterance of my name seemed to break my heart. Even as the trip continued to intensify, this moment somewhat grounded the experience. This is not to say that it diminished the drug’s subjective intensity, but the trip was sure as hell no longer about spirituality or hedonism–if it ever had been to begin with. I was fettered by the stark reality of my failure as a son. There is no hyperbole or melodrama in this statement; it is a fact that most instances of betrayal are unethical. It manifests in worse forms than my own, of course: suicide, double-crossing, fraud, but this didn’t lessen my guilt.

I was a dishonest delinquent. A contemptible hedonist. No more. Enlightenment for kicks.

As my father disappeared to relay the news to my mother, I heard the mushrooms laughing at me. They’d known all along. In my internal vision they were writhing yellow agarics sneering at me with googly eyes. The little fuckers. How dare they take advantage of me? Yet my anger was ironical. In my arrogance and misled idealism I’d willfully ingested them, willfully chewed, willfully swallowed. Once metabolized, the mushrooms had only performed their inherent purpose–that of utterly stoning the primate brain.

Upon the closure of a century, my father and mother returned, but by now I was incapacitated completely. My mind had disintegrated into a sort of chaotic nothingness–but this state cannot truly be articulated in any qualitative sense. All remaining fragments of the Will identity, holding out against the psilocybin, died. What transpired subsequent to this, extracted from a few remnants of memory, can only be conveyed by the following:

“I’m sorry, man.”

Dropping Timothy off, his mega-mandolin in tow.

“Obviously I wasn’t thinking.”

A melting maternal face, explosive with tears.

“I don’t want you to fuck yourself up!”

Quaking suburban avenues, jabbering domiciles, non-Euclidean cloud fractals.

“I think Timothy was more stoned than you.”

Diesel, the fat feline, slumbering on bricks with lantern green eyes.

Sitting on a crumpet chesterfield, Tibetan mandalas bursting from my hands.

Humanity has no idea!

A dead hockey player’s franchise granting us steaming brews. Driving through, diving deep.

The gargantuan self-assembling factory of the All.

“I’m sorry, guys.”

“We know.”

Was I dead? For that matter, was I alive?

Was I?

ISness.

( )

( )

( )

Somehow Lord Krishna hitched a ride on our steel steed, galloping along an asphalt river.

The Om Ur-language, fully legible, fully incarnate, fully immanent, endlessly emerging from the transcendent. The nihilists are deluded. All is necessity, all is purpose. No more, yet surely no less.

The universe is polyrhythmic, the test is to keep the tempo; this thickens the plot.

Past tense? Future tense? An assured dismissal–all is present.

Eternal sunrise, a majestic magnificent morning glory.

And then, I am not certain precisely when, the peak of the trip subsided. I descended to discover myself slumped in a moving car, puttering through a town bustling with clothed monkeys, wee tykes and corpulent behemoths alike. I gazed through the windows, shuddering in wonder at beauty unclothed.

To ensure I had conscious control of my nervous system–I still felt somewhat dissociated–I took a deep yawning breath, and this brought me deeper into my body and its rhythms. Luminous liquid energy twined its way up my spine and a kind of beatific relief possessed my heart. I glimpsed in the rearview mirror and recognized that I was no longer (just) myself, at least the self I had believed myself exclusively to be prior to that day. All egoic residue, the accumulations of sixteen conditioning years, were cleansed in the cathartic power of the mushrooms. Or so I believed. At the time, however, disbelief seemed not a viable position in light of the apparent validity of my experience.

We pulled into the driveway. I stepped out, calves shaking slightly. I still gripped an empty Tim Hortons cup. I clumsily strode up the asphalt towards my home’s glass-enameled door, accompanied by the two strangers known intimately as mum and dad. We entered a dim household. From the corner of my eye I discerned movements upon the wall, but when I turned to verify the qualia I greeted only stillness. Nonetheless, I acknowledged that I was not yet fully sober. I’d made it through the “worst of it,” however. Despite the traumatizing parental intervention, and all of the hellish emotional regions visited, I was by then feeling the best that I’d ever felt in my life. Due to all that I’d learned, I no longer desired to take tempting refuge in self-pity or excuse-making. I was probably grounded for life and yet a lifetime now seemed like the blink of a cosmic eye. Besides, hadn’t “I” been doing this forever?

Recollecting these events, I find myself in agreement with Jean Paul Sartre’s notion of “bad faith,” the freedom-denying suppression and repression found in most forms of absolutist conviction. It is a pathological denial that we humans often wallow in. Even when we have always known the truth, which is arguably self-evident, out of puerile refusal we do our best to ignore it (there are of course other categories of truth that are relative, or partial, or await discovery, given the limitations of our knowledge). We replace first-hand experience with second-hand myths, fearing a confrontation with the immediacy of facts. We surrender our autonomy to external agents, resenting the responsibility that freedom demands. We even seek ways to be unhappy, fearing the vulnerabilities that await us if we dare be joyful. We adhere to worldviews of either absolutism or relativism, frightened of the truth of what merely is–wonder, doubt, choice. Can these three miraculous conditions be confined to a stale paradigm?

Terence McKenna notes: “I think people are in love with the journey. People love seeking answers. If you were to suggest to people that the time of seeking is over and the chore is now to face the answer, that’s more of a challenge.”

Yet we hold out in bad faith, all the while knowing that its hell is self-chosen. We chastise ourselves for this choice, nonetheless holding out with the conviction that “One day we will be happy, but for now . . .”

That day in August, I temporarily broke free of such a hell. As I sat in my room, slowly returning to the consensual agreement we call “reality,” there was no encumbrance of the past nor dreams of the future. Nothing to disrupt my communion with God. Pulses of kundalini flowed upwards into my cortex and crown.

As I beheld the summer afternoon through my window, all I could say was:

“I am, I am.”

I was overcome with the most lovely, childlike joy imaginable. Nothing was required for me to bask in this happiness. It was completely effortless, and whilst experiencing it, essential to my existence. I could only equate my joy with my being. With trembling hands I flipped through a collection of photographs, eyes hankering to contemplate every iota of their beauty. All faces, all scenes, smiled up at me with divine love. My heart felt primed to overflow with thankfulness. Why had I not seen this before? How could I not have recognized this all-pervading grace? Life was, and is, a blessing, and God no longer seemed like a contingent possibility or a hypothesis; rather, he was a ludicrously obvious given.

I am, and we are.

Thank you for reading.

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My Brief Foray Into Christianity Has Ended: A Confession.

Confession time: I’m hanging onto my “Christian faith,” such as it is, by a thin thread. Teen Challenge was a therapeutically and spiritually illuminating time for me, and I met many wonderful and influential people.

Nonetheless, I have now spent twelve months imploring God for a confirmation; something that would clarify and solidify not just the reality of his existence and nature, but by extension establish that “personal relationship” which is so incessantly flouted by other believers.

These things have not happened. And I have tried goddamned hard, pardon the french. At most I have felt what the poet Goethe eloquently articulated as “blessed longing.” It’s as if this personal God may exist, but he’s calling from far off over a desolate and windswept waste. In times of duress my longing manifests (metaphorically) as a hand outstretched in the darkness. But no one has taken hold. Putting it mildly, this to me is troubling. There seems to be nobody there.

By “confirmation” I do not mean an unambiguous theophany or mystical episode. Indeed, something so overwhelming would eradicate the need for faith altogether.
But given that God is described as personal, and that a relationship with him is presumably possible—provided that one approaches him via channels prescribed by the orthodoxy—is it so unreasonable to expect something that goes beyond a warm fuzzy feeling whilst sitting in a pew? My experiences at church have left me feeling awkward and alienated. My attempts at prayer feel absurd when I reflect upon the logic of petitioning an omnipotent being for personal favours. I am sickened by the hypocrisy I see in myself and others; particularly those who profess an intimate collusion with the all-mighty: “This is God’s opinion on this matter.” Most of all, I cannot help but feel morally outraged when I am told that God loves us—notwithstanding the children born with HIV, the torture, the rape, the genocide, the bigotry and avarice that floods this broken world.

I want to believe that goodness lies at the heart of things. But the Christian explanations I’ve encountered lately have begun to seem merely like filmsy excuses garbed in pseudo-sophisticated theological jargon.

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Still Seeking: Part One

Our Condition:

“Who are you? You whom I so faintly hear. Who calls me ever onwards.”–Terrence Mallick

Cataphatic divinity:

“All that exists rejoices in its existence.”–Meister Eckhart

Apophatic divinity:

“I pray God to rid me of God.”–Meister Eckhart

This is a subject I felt I must inevitably address at some point, especially after my reluctant conversion to Christianity and my now equally reluctant de-conversion. If my readers wish a more in-depth exposition of this, I invite you to read my previous posting.

First off: all of my life I’ve been seeking Spirit. Clumsily, incompetently, and with reprehensible motives (does petitionary prayer count here?), but in earnest.

Now, some of my readers might gawk at my use of such a vague word as “Spirit.” Believe me, I too cringe inwardly when I hear some dewey-eyed kook who claims to be “spiritual but not religious.” It’s kind of like getting Gotama tattooed on your ass, which is hip to your reiki healer, irreverent to a Mahayana Buddhist, and merely silly to the rest of us.

Anyway, rest assured my use of the word “Spirit” serves a practical purpose: I would posit that all of us, atheist, agnostic, holy roller and existentialist alike, seek the numinous in some form. It is this transcendent “something” that I choose to name, and I refer to it henceforth as Spirit.

It was during my adolescent years that intimations of it first struck me. I recall a painful yearning–the desiderio domini–and this yearning deepened as I neared adulthood and its accompanying existential crises. Later I will share some salient episodes in which this deepening “bottomed out,” but before I do some technicalities must be addressed. My ineptitude in the following section will be clear to most and I invite my readers to criticize and correct me.

Some Perspectives on Spirituality In The Modern World

“The explanatory arrow points downwards.”–Steven Weinberg, physicist

“Reductionism has left us in a cold, hard world of fact. A world without a scientific place for values.”–Stuart Kauffman

“It is the rehabilitation of the interior in general that opens the possibility of reconciling science and religion.”–Ken Wilber

In his breezy blue book on meditation, Waking Up, the neuroscientist Sam Harris argues for an exclusively naturalistic explanation for spiritual experience. It is worth mentioning that he himself is a practitioner of meditation, and whilst being somewhat cold when playing the neuroscientist, his occasional asides about his Tibetan teachers and LSD voyages are nothing if not tacitly proselytizing in their nostalgic tone. Ironic, considering the book’s otherwise clinical ambience. I highly recommend it.

Now, Harris’ argument contains a partial (and I should say rather obvious) truth. All of us, with the exception of creationists, do indeed possess brains. Our survival somewhat depends on their proper functioning, both in the biological and various pragmatic senses.

My contention is that, given the self-evident immateriality of consciousness, Harris’s a priori commitment to reductionism prevents him from seeing the obvious. One cannot locate consciousness spatially, i.e. materially.

I invite you to conduct an experiment: think a thought. Note its spaceless yet immediately present quality. It is immaterial yet its reality is beyond question. Now, I invite you to re-consider the claim that minds are merely “meat computers,” Richard Dawkins’ excepting, and that thoughts are just the neural equivalent of a firing Turing machine.

I find this hard to swallow on purely rational grounds, and it doesn’t seem irrational to postulate the reality of something like a soul.

In spite of these objections, most contemporary philosophers defer to the scientist’s “meat computer” stance. We are told by the bearded sage Daniel Dennett that consciousness is “illusory” and religion a “meme,” evolutionarily beneficial phenotypes which aid us in proliferating our genes. As Darwin saith: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

So it turns out that religiosity is sexy. I’ve heard Pastor Ted Haggard is something of a sex symbol amongst the gay community, and as for myself I swoon over women in hijabs who immolate themselves.

Moving on.

The philosopher Ken Wilber, aptly described as a “thinking person’s spiritual author,” is a staunch proponent of science but asserts, as I would, that scientific inquiry has been severely compromised by reductionism. Calling it “flatland,” he notes its limited explanatory power and repeated failures to account for the remarkable complexity and behaviour of physical systems, from fluid dynamics to abiogenesis.

Rather than appealing to a God of the gaps, Wilber invites the dour reductionists to acknowledge alternative “quadrants” that may provide otherwise unobtainable explications. Bertrand Russell once described the human body as a “random collocation of atoms.” Ken Wilber agrees, but his point is that all things are more than the sum of their parts–and more than that, as well. Furthermore, empirical/exterior truth must acknowledge its necessary correlate, the experiential/interior. I quote: “It is the rehabilitation of the interior in general that opens the possibility of reconciling science and religion.”

The complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman in his book Reinventing The Sacred describes a universe in which “value, agency, creativity, sacredness and meaning” are non-reducible, emergent and even necessary. This is not the pseudoscience of Intelligent Design; Kauffman’s theory of autocatalytic biogenesis is especially compelling and happily falsifiable: it’s been demonstrated mathematically and, given the current exponential advancements made in molecular technologies, will soon be testable in the laboratory. Far from disproving Spirit, this success will vindicate the presence of the sacredness and creativity Kauffman posits.

(Yet you see the problem here: Wilber and Kauffman have committed the egregious sin of inviting metaphysics to the philosophical party, insisting that it too can provide evidence. Evidence of a less empirical sort, perhaps, but this hardly disqualifies metaphysics. Very little can be empirically verified, empiricism included.)

If one wants to determine the existence of a microbe, one’s tool is a microscope. If one wants to experience satori, one’s prescription is intensive meditation in a community of peers. In the case of Zen, critical peer review takes the form of a smart whack with a bamboo cane.

Given that all experience is subjective, whether in the laboratory or the monastery, the dismissal of spirituality on the grounds that it’s “subjective” betrays a troubling double standard pervading scientific thought. After all, the dismissal itself is a subjective event. And while many religious beliefs fail to demonstrate a connection to objective facts, this is not due to their subjectivity but rather the solipsism of a mythic worldview.

And yet underneath all religions and their staggering diversity of beliefs, we consistently uncover accounts of a subjective experience striking in its universality and invariability. Buddha spoke of it, and St John Of The Cross poeticized it. I refer here to what Aldous Huxley called the perennial philosophy, and propose as he did that although subjective, the experience’s universality suggests its basis in objective fact. More on this later.

In the following two sections I recount two anecdotes to reconnoiter the terra of Spirit from a personal standpoint. I’ll devote the later sections to a more nuanced reflection upon Spirit and the methodologies employed in pursuing it. I’d advise you to keep an open mind, but that’s always struck me as a covert request to suspend one’s skepticism.

“Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect,” Santayana declared. So a) keep a guarded mind and b) don’t cuckold poor Santayana.

Goderich Gloria

“Why is there something rather than nothing?”–Friedrich Schelling

As a twelve year old, not yet subsumed in the hormonal flood of teenhood, I remained very much a boy. In most respects I was pretty “normal,” albeit more disposed to creative endeavours than most of my peers. Mine was a weird family. I took dance class while other boys my age kicked balls around. Mind you, this did not make me a becoming outcast. (Back in my day, nerds were not cool. They’re still not. “Sucks to be you, nerd.”). I was bullied by schoolyard sadists whom I now feel only condescending pity for.

For the most part I abided by the cliquey conformity of others, in the schoolyard or the homestead. I periodically threw pre-teen tantrums, I discovered what those carnal French dub la petite mort (a.k.a. the orgasm), I pretended to dig Ja Rule’s canine rap, I coveted the brands of clothing that I believed would win the approbation of so-called “popular kids.” Needless to say, wonder and philosophical curiosity had not yet chosen me as a vessel.

Yet in spite of these prepubescent embarrassments, I can’t help but look back on it all as a time of innocence. The young are in some ways like animals–innocent of guilt, innocent of that self-fortifying aloneness that haunts adult life and is itself a sort of sin.

It was during this twelfth year that my family paid a visit to Goderich (situated by Lake Huron) to visit our delightfully hot-blooded extended family and attend the annual Celtic Festival held on the town’s bluffy outskirts.

Goderich is your typical mini-metroplis; its centre square is populated with trinket/oddment emporiums, used book stores, and–due to the fact that small town life can be breathtakingly banal–your token seedy bar. In a gas-wasting display, restless young males repeatedly circle the square in trucks paying small-brained homage to Albert Einstein. He had an excuse, bro. (If you don’t get the joke, fret not and move on.)

I remember the Celtic Festival that year with a surprising degree of vividness. Due to my age I found most of its features–artisans peddling trinkets, geezers fingering bandoneons–to be insufferably boring. When one’s musical taste has not yet evolved past Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, subdued folk music seems insufficiently “heavy,” and far too melodic.

(How times have changed. By my own free will, I performed a slew of Scottish ballads at a Robbie Burns fiesta not too long ago. With my parents, no less, which would have been the sine que non of embarrassment not too long ago).

After a time of aimless wandering I chose to make my way from the epicentre of the bartering and music towards the bluffs nearby. The festival was situated on a grassy expanse overlooking the glittering waters of Lake Huron. From my elevated vantage point the ugly monolith of the town’s salt mine was visible and the vacant harbour resting in its shadow.

Beyond that, however, was an unutterably gorgeous dome of dusky sky. The sun was descending. It must have been fairly late in the afternoon, being summertime–and its light smeared the clouds with profusions of gold, pink, orange. The open blue of the sky above, featureless yet potent, was breathtaking.

And for a moment, THAT happened. I need not–and probably should not–elaborate upon this “THAT” with too much descriptive fervour. There’s a kind of promiscuity that develops with the overuse of adjectives, and this in turn foments inaccuracy and embellishment. Guilty as charged, your honour. 😉

Yet I feel compelled to say this: THAT involved a shocking, explosive shift in consciousness. It was as if my finite ego/self dissolved into infinitude. This was accompanied by a sense of joyful awe and an almost painful existential gratitude.

As I continued to develop (I don’t say “grow,” because in my experience an individual’s life unfolds less like a blossom than a thorny bramble requiring regular pruning, and, on occasion, consignment to those flames John the Baptist spoke of) these moments of ITness visited regularly, catalyzed not exclusively but predominantly by the aesthetic.

The contemplation of a starry night is a gold standard, but lucid dreams, moments of resonance between friends, Bach, and even–I can’t help sounding tasteless here–sex, too, was prime fodder for me: that palpable knowing that one is in the very heart of the world, and in the heart of another.

Intuitively I knew that these experiences were “signposts,” and whilst I sought them out regularly, they came most often when I set my questing aside and simply waited. To this day I can attest that waiting is indispensable.

I must also confess that, being a limbic-addled primate, I am at times restless to “get on with it.” Which leads us seamlessly to the contents of my upcoming post and second story, involving a sixteen year-old fools’ encounter with the funky fungus known as Stropharia cubensis, colloquially known as magic mushrooms.

Also coming up: A modest proposal for a new mysticism-centered syncretism, and a pot-stirring polemic on the copious idiocies of organized religion. Stay tuned, friends.

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Shocked Into Sense, Loved Into Gratitude: A Journey In Recovery

“Some people can be reasoned into sense, and others must be shocked into it.”–Thomas Paine

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”–Eleanor Roosevelt

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. This is my first blog post in quite some time, as I’m sure all one of you are aware. Heh. A surprising amount of insight and understanding has germinated in me during this hiatus, and, in my own never-to-be-grandiose fashion, I now feel compelled to selflessly disseminate some of this wisdom to the blog community.

Two recurring subjects that I’ve explored in my writings are spirituality and substance abuse. This is due to no mere academic interest; both have played very formative and transformative roles in my life thus far, often operating in an ironically simultaneous (if not always collaborative) fashion. Other addicts surely can empathize with this curious and counterintuitive dynamic, as summarized in the following statement: “Destruction can bring healing, and sin can lead us to God.”

In less metaphysical terms, fucking up horribly can be a profoundly educational experience.

(Spoiler alert: while I haven’t exactly become an acolyte of orthodox religion, I’m no longer an atheist either. If you find this aesthetically unappealing or philosophically troubling, know that I did too. At first.)

It is the fascinating interlocution–or should I say dialectic?–between spirit and substance, wisdom and ignorance, freedom and addiction, that I wish to describe here. It will, out of necessity, be constrained primarily to the personal and anecdotal level. I am not qualified, in experience or education, to go beyond the most basic, limited and tentative of extrapolations (then again, is anyone really qualified in the greater sense? But possibly spurious notions about expertise/experts is a topic for another blog post). Mainly, the following serves simply as a cathartic confessional of sorts, and, on a practical level, an exercise in the ongoing refinement of my writing.

Since the age of seventeen I have suffered from the deleterious condition known as alcoholism. My earliest experiments with booze, in which I consistently outdrank my peers (and consequently earned their acclamation and approbation), served as the first warning signs that something was detrimentally awry in my genetic and/or psychological make-up. To this day I’m not entirely sure what the underlying, a.k.a. foundational, cause(s) of my weakness is, but the weakness itself has been unambiguously present from my adolescence onward. The cliched adage states that denial “springs eternal.” This endless capacity for repressing the truth–especially the truth about myself–coupled with a limbic lust for pleasure, quickly destroyed any inclination towards temperance that I might’ve possessed.

Also: due to an arguably exceptional sensory/emotional sensitivity, I have a tendency to be reserved, skittish and even downright shy in social situations. Contexts in which the more extroverted average person thrives–i.e. bowling alleys and Sunday socials–are, for me, distillations of a perfect hell on earth. More often than not, I often feel like an overwhelmed and resentfully self-conscious spectator of tasteless and even obscene inanities. There is an ongoing philosophical frustration to augment this anxiety: why, after all, is the quality of a social environment so often equated with its intensity? i.e. its level of unceasing noise, its Dionysian barbarism, the presence of various forms of savage sensory bombardment? Why the incessant need to “chat” and “rave” and “gossip”? Who decided that a good time is a matter of exorbitant overstimulation? Why, in other words, is Chucky Cheese considered to be a fun place?

But I digress. Needless to say, my historical way of coping with these situations–when I chose not to avoid them entirely–was to fortify myself with liberal quantities of alcohol and drugs. They reliably dulled my overly acute senses and created a false sense of ease, security and confidence. By the age of eighteen, I’d reached a point where I felt incapable of socializing at all without the anesthetizing influence of spirits. This vague feeling, due to habituation, gradually became a very specific and self-fulfilling belief about myself, and although my physical addiction to alcohol in particular did not develop until later, my psychological addiction was present from practically the get-go. My easily bored, sensitive, shy personality proved the perfect predisposition towards substance misuse. There was an immediate “hand-in-glove” fit.

I’ve learned that it’s possible to reach a point where one has lost all contact with the moderating influence of reason and good sense, and it is on this dark outer rim of human experience that all drunks and drug users eventually find themselves. Take note, all ye fledgling addicts: contrary to the contemporary treatment models, there is absolutely no such thing as “harm reduction.” It is a flimsy rationalization to say “I can still party on the weekends” or “I will only drink beer from now on.” You abstain–or you die. Half-measures are not measures at all. Acknowledging the truth of this apparently extreme viewpoint is the first and most important step. Nip it in the friggin’ bud.

The mind that says “I MUST have this at any cost . . .” is a mind that has utterly forsaken its spiritual sanctity (not to mention its self-respect). It is insanity in the most extreme and literal sense of that word: at the expense of one’s physical and mental health, one’s finances, one’s dignity and one’s social standing, the substance is worshipped, idolized and otherwise pursued to the point of breakdown, incarceration or death, and, after a certain juncture, no amount of external persuasion or intervention (short of coercion) will save the afflicted party, or convince them that recovery is even possible, let alone desirable.

Am I painting too melodramatic a picture? Am I employing hyperbole? No. I am being soberly objective, because–to my shame–I have chosen to experience every intricacy and nuance of the insanity described above. At the risk of sounding histrionic, I have obstinately danced on death’s precipice and, in the fall of 2013, almost took the final, mortal plunge. This close-call proved to be less comfortable than I convinced myself it would be (in my reflexive masochism and knee-jerk, manic suicidality). But it was precisely this quality that made it yet another type of call; namely, one that would finally wake me up from my spiritual malaise.

When the addict discovers, in an unavoidable and immediate way, that he is not in control (and never was), that stubbornly persistent phenomenon known as “reality” (or God, if you like) is able to penetrate the wall of wicked falsity that he has erected around himself. In my own particular case, a traumatizing overdose on what is colloquially known as “bath salts” occasioned this breakthrough. I have described these drugs in previous posts, so I won’t reiterate irrelevant details here, but suffice it to say that they are quasi-legal mail-order chemicals that are incredibly potent, addictive and dangerous. In the summer of 2013 I intermittently abused them, leading to a rapid deterioration in my mental and physical state. I plummeted to an emaciated 140 pounds, suffered a number of seizures, and experienced oppressive auditory hallucinations.

The worst part about all this, however, was how I freely and repeatedly chose to return to these drugs, even though I knew full well that they were killing me. Therein lies the insanity that, to a non-addict, seems completely inexplicable. The sick, sinful human mind is capable of a dishonesty so complete it eradicates all traces of itself: I found ways to justify my most flagrantly unethical actions, and, through various forms of self-trickery, actually made reality conform smoothly to my jagged and self-destructive delusions for a time. Yet it was precisely this state of deludedness that made the overdose such an (ironically) sobering and shocking experience.

In early September 2013, having freshly fetched a parcel of “bath salts” from my semi-secret Canada Post mailbox, I proceeded to go home and promptly began dosing myself. For a day or so this newest bender proceeded relatively “smoothly” and according to junkie plan; I can’t claim to remember much of it, but I was doubtlessly functional in the sense that all my vital systems were still operating at sufficient capacity. This wasn’t bound to last, however. Previous abuses had taken their physiological toll (weight loss, seizures), and this, coupled with an increasingly nonexistent short-term memory, eventuated in me accidentally double-dosing on the second or third day of my binge. Later it was suggested that perhaps this wasn’t accidental. It is true that I was severely depressed and in a prolonged and burnt-out state of self-indifference, but I tend to doubt that I was actually (a.k.a. consciously) trying to kill myself. Even at my worst I retained a normative and even healthy fear of death. Yet I was killing myself nonetheless.

I dimly recall being in my washroom, “tripping balls” and generally exhibiting space-cadet-like attributes, when a brief seizure struck me. I momentarily blacked out, but to my knowledge I didn’t collapse entirely. (For those of you who have never experienced a convulsion, I don’t recommend it: they make panic attacks seem like a watery appetizer at the banquet table of suffering).

To this day, I owe my life to the random intervention that occurred next: my mother, who was asleep, was jolted awake by what she later referred to as a “simple intuition.” After discovering that I was high and in obvious need of medical aid, she roused my father, who drove me to the hospital. By the time I was in the car, my father says that I was so disoriented I attempted to immolate one of my fingers with a bic lighter (evidently I mistook it for a cigarette). After this, I remember nothing for a period of time.

And then I returned to consciousness in the hospital, utterly disoriented and helpless, as my body convulsed involuntarily.

Pain, by its very nature, is inevitably unpleasant, but pain that is self-chosen can be the very apotheosis of hell. I cannot fully convey the stark feeling of finality, the horrible knowledge that “This is it”–and that, moreover, I had brought it all upon myself. This was not one of those blissful, edifying near-death experiences, in other words. I was no longer “making things happen.” My pride had been stripped bare and my illusions utterly dispelled. Instead, something was happening TO me, something fundamentally beyond my control. It could’ve very easily been beyond the hospital staff’s control as well, but through either sheer luck or subtle providence they managed to stabilize me. I don’t know the technical name for the procedure they performed on me afterwards, but I do know it involved intubating my lungs and cleansing my system with activated charcoal. This entire time, of course, I was rendered unconscious by anesthesia.

After a day or so in the intensive care unit, and for all intents and purposes “dead” as a sentient being, I groggily returned to a mind utterly ravaged by psychotic symptoms. Put simply, I was convinced I had died and gone to hell. The nurses and security personnel seemed to gibber maniacally at me, mocking my manhood, my fears and my tears, my skinny body. A woman in the room next to me, whom I could only hear (to this day I’m not sure whether she existed or not), continuously referred to me as a “bug” and told me she was going to “squash” me. The most unnerving phenomenon was the illusion of time repeating itself, an almost physical sensation of the same five minutes continuously bombarding me, over and over and over.

This more pronounced mental torment did eventually dissipate, but the hospital certainly wasn’t the end of my well-deserved ordeal. At the cold prompting of a Mengele-esque psychiatrist, I “voluntarily” transferred myself from Southlake Regional to an inpatient facility in Whitby called Ontario Shores. There I spent four gruelling months of hall-pacing, boredom, and mind-numbing fellowship with a predominantly schizophrenic population of fellow patients.

Are you envisioning a delightfully dramatic environ a la One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest? Wrong. I confidently attest that mental illness is not pretty, interesting or “literary.” It is chaotic, debilitating and, for the most part, stultifyingly dull (fat, gossipy, inattentive nurses don’t help to jazz up the environment either). These four months were, without a doubt, the most challenging period of my life up until that point. In the traumatized wake of my overdose I was left to “pick up the pieces” of myself. The fact that my brain was severely depleted of neurotransmitters and recuperating from neuronal damage didn’t make this first step any less challenging. I had not just a psychological but physiological incapacity to produce happiness. Even worse, I had to face all of this in stone-cold sobriety and in a monotonous, distraction-free environment. I felt worthless, a failure, a useless chunk of protoplasm. To a certain extent, I was. I had made myself that way.

It is easy to go too far with the New Age-y proposition that we “make our own reality.” Nonetheless, it contains a kernel of truth insofar as it acknowledges the power and centrality of choice. A series of small things–everyday decisions and habits–inevitably exert an accumulative affect on the quality of our life in its entirety. Small things, in other words, add up to one big thing. This is doubtlessly obvious to any discerning human being, but I’ve learned that there is a remarkable difference between knowing the truth and pragmatically implementing it in our lives. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is what we choose to do with what we know. My stupidity lay in the fact that I deliberately chose not to act on my repository of knowledge.

My repeated decisions to give into fear, to take the easy way out, to hide in intoxication, to indulge in self-pity and cynicism, had created for me a reality of slavery, failure, entrapment and misery. My world, subjectively speaking, was coloured and formed by these principalities. It was so complete and felt so final that I could no longer see any way out. Even worse, I no longer desired a way out–the will to rehabilitate myself and my situation seemed gone forever. This late into the game, too, drugs and alcohol still held a seemingly ineradicable appeal. Why would I desire sobriety, after all? I knew first-hand that sobriety held nothing worth desiring.

Yet here’s the kicker: in spite of my self-loathing and hopelessness, in spite of the utterly bleak situation in which I had placed myself, I didn’t want to die. I wanted the continuation of my story; I wanted to live. This wanting, mind you, was an impulse bereft of all naiveté and optimism. If anything, it was cold and bleak, yet also stubborn, persistent and strong. To discover something so uncompromisingly life-affirming inside the smouldering ruin of myself struck me absurd. It seemed contrary to all reason. Why should I want to live anymore? At the time, I was convinced that no proper help was available.

In a sense I was correct. Human help is tepid at best. Our institutions, with their technological limitations, blundering diagnostics and reductionistic treatment models, are ill-equipped to contend with the problem of addiction. One of the reasons for this is the secular world’s refusal to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of human beings, and, by extension, recognize that addiction is symptomatic not just of a physiological defect but a deeper spiritual imbalance. Treatment, no matter how sophisticated or purportedly scientific, is ludicrous if we don’t know what it is we are treating. None of this, mind you, is to downplay, discredit or otherwise deny the hard work that doctors, nurses and other professionals undertake on behalf of those of us who suffer. But other facts must not be denied either: something is wrong when success rates post-rehab rise no higher than ten to twenty percent.

(I mean nothing woo-woo when I invoke “spirituality”; I am simply referring to the ontological fact that as finite, fragile and fundamentally powerless creatures, humans must, in the final evaluation, call upon something outside of themselves and other persons for meaning and justification. Classically, this “something” has been called God, and because subsequent names and descriptions have generally not improved our understanding, I am content to use that word. Some might see this as a rather vague and impersonal once-over on the subject of deity. That is not my intention. I’ve discovered things about God that I didn’t know previously, and with greater particularity and nuance, but it isn’t my principal aim nor is it necessary to discuss those things here. Suffice to say: as far as I can see, God’s existence is a self-evident fact, even when plenty of room remains to quibble about God’s particular nature and character. I’d even go so far as to say that everyone knows God exists, whether they care to admit it or not. Existence demands explanation.)

It was during my time at Ontario Shores, a time of joyless self-examination and restlessness, that my parents, having dutifully paid me a visit, began to tell me about a one-year rehab awkwardly named Teen Challenge. I received this information passively at first. Then they mentioned that it was, of all things, a Christian program with a treatment model founded entirely on Biblical precepts. As a Richard Dawkins-revering atheist, the prospect of committing myself to a twelve-month faith-based rehab struck me as rather disagreeable, and in no uncertain terms did I make this clear to my parents. Having not issued me a full-blown ultimatum, they chose not to pursue the matter any further at that time–but the subject of Teen Challenge was not to go away. Later, after my discharge and a banal return to my suburban homestead, I finally and grudgingly conceded that yes, I would go. The alternative was to sit in my room, sober or otherwise, and continue to atrophy.

On March 10th, 2014 I arrived at the gates of the Teen Challenge farm in Lambeth, Ontario, a very “bitter, angry and broken man.” (These are the memorable words of a fellow former student of the program). Months of inactivity and a calorific diet had restored me to a relatively healthy weight, but I was still in terrible shape, physically and mentally, and my intake photograph conveys this clearly: a hollow-eyed, pale-cheeked wraith with a bad haircut and an atrophied frame.

Initially, my environment was almost surreally alien to my socially-deprived and drug-blunted senses. At home, I had grown used to sleeping in until one or two in the afternoon, moping, snacking, and pacifying myself with a never-ending stream of Netflix and Facebook during my waking hours. To go from this to a 6:15 AM wake-up call, followed by a half-hour of silent meditation/prayer before breakfast, and then a twelve-hour “workday” crammed with menial activity, Bible study, counselling and incessant socializing with forty-or-so other addicts was absolutely overwhelming. The environment was highly-structured, almost militaristic, and the rules were numerous. One coffee a day. No swearing. No smoking. No gossiping. No facial hair. No cell phones. No internet. No messiness, tardiness or general slack-ness.

Was it fun? No. But Teen Challenge gave me the jolt to my system that I badly needed–something that a dithering, lukewarm, government-funded rehab would never have been able to provide. It was during my first week or so that a fellow student, who was nearing his date of graduation, gave me a bit of advice that I would carry with me during my ten-month stay at the farm: “Take the meat and leave the bones.” I can’t say with certitude how skillfully I followed this advice, only that I took conscious pains to do so. The dogmatism and air of cultism that (perhaps inevitably) perfumed the atmosphere of the farm was thankfully not enough to turn me off from the genuine spiritual wisdom to be discovered in its monastic disciplines–the morning silence, the time reserved for contemplation and prayer, the emphasis on surrender, humility and integrity, the earnest sense of brotherhood that I came to experience with my fellow students. In other ways, of course, it was a perfectly wretched environment. I have never heard so much gossip, heard so much creationist drivel or encountered so much Pharisaical bullshit and hypocrisy as I did there. Heh.

Yet it is through imperfect circumstances that we begin to learn to cultivate perfect peace of mind. I also discovered that my flaws, far from being “unacceptable,” could be effectively engaged and even embraced–not in some pathological or masochistic way, but in the sober recognition that they are friendly markers on the road to deeper growth and understanding. After all, life consists in moving towards what troubles us, not away from it, and courage is not the eradication of fear but the mastery of it. Time and time again, such truths became clear for me in a way that they never had previously–practically, vividly and viscerally. I had grown so used to denying and avoiding, renouncing and rejecting, that at first this new engagement with life seemed almost frightening. Most disorienting of all was that, at long last, I was choosing to acknowledge God in ALL of God’s dimensions: not as a vague life-force to be manipulated for my ego’s ends, but as an ineffably holy, mysterious and super-personal consciousness in whom I “live, move and have [my] being.”

God’s eminence, it turns out, bypasses and possibly negates my own. The truth, the facts, and God, above all, do not change or cease to exist simply because we’re in the mood to whine, slack off or otherwise comport ourselves like thankless cretins. It was never in our power to name the rules, set the stakes, or make the facts.

G.K. Chesterton said it with perfect eloquence: “Gratitude is the mother of all virtues.” And Meister Eckhart put it equally well: “If the only prayer you ever said in your life was ‘Thank you,’ that would be enough.” The more we recognize that all we are and possess is given to us by the Other, by God, the more joy we experience. The instant we perceive that we are quite literally nothing and God is everything, the struggle ends–if only temporarily. The sinful ego is a hard habit to kick. Yet all that is required of us is receptivity, a willingness to rest in the presence of the divine. Or, as the Psalms say: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It is apparently not required that we possess even a rudimentary understanding of God–as if that were even within the scope of our ambitions–yet this is also what allows us to strive and yearn for greater knowledge of what and who “He” is. Grace empowers growth; it doesn’t enable stagnancy. And Socrates: “Philosophy begins in wonder.” Wonder–not doubt–is where the journey starts. This is a profundity that I failed to grasp in my former pathological skepticism and anti-theism. I equated belief in God with a promiscuous embrace of wish-thinking and willful ignorance, when in fact it is precisely the opposite. To profess belief in God is, in one sense, just the humbling (and sometimes humiliating) admission that I cannot account for nor justify myself. The entity who does is, well, by very definition, God.

Theological woolgathering aside: I made the decision to leave Teen Challenge a few weeks ago. It was a premature departure and something of a gamble, but there was an intuitive coherence about the decision and, after I had made it, a sense of peace (I have come to recognize that this peace is an indication that one’s decision-making operates through the proper channels). It is, in its own lofty way, highly addictive to continuously “do the right thing.” I have certainly not been adept at this historically, but the longer I am sober, grateful, and healthy, the more resolved I become to continue along this path. The transformation cannot be more stark: from a cynical, depressed and drug-addicted drunk to a grateful, peace-filled fitness freak. My brain is back online, I’ve acquired forty pounds of lean muscle, I run forty kilometres a week, I have confidence, clarity and direction, and will be attending university in the fall. But most importantly, I have hope: I have God.

You always know the right thing to do. So choose to do it!

Doubt is not an excuse to persist in stupidity.

Uncertainty is not an excuse for inaction.

Harness your will, and yoke it to truth, goodness and love.

Love is there–but it must be received.

Faith is a hand extended in the darkness.

Faith is: “Blessed longing.”–Goethe

Faith is to trust that goodness and love reside at the center of all things.

“My sheep know my voice.”–Jesus.

If I am not willing to change, I have no business asking God or the world to.

Am I willing?

Yes. God, yes.

Thank You.

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