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Tuesday, 21 June 2022

8pm, Couch Thoughts

clarity of day's end
clarity of all tasks done
clarity of no more asking, what next?

clarity 
of not needing 
to write a poem

clarity of sitting with my back to the window
as cars pass—
one 
two
—but not counting

clarity 
of this blue-grey light 
before it’s gone

ah
clarity 
what questions could possibly be left to ask?

I can see it so clearly now
a dark spot
hovering at the center of my vision
the size of a pea

it pours nourishment, infinite nourishment
outward
into my mind
into this universe
feeding the whole thing

this small node
where clarity 
ends


Saturday, 4 June 2022

Dream Journal as Literary Project

Recently, I was wandering the wastes of Internetland, peeking here and there into reddit forums, stopping by old bookmarked blogs—when I happened on a post at the Teeming Brain titled, A nightmare that was better than the story I made from it.

The post absolutely chilled me. In it, Matt Cardin returns to a dream that gave birth to a short story, and finds, as the title suggests, that despite having the advantage of length and literary technique, the short story did not reach the same uncanny depths as the dream itself, which is related here in just 742 words.

And this makes sense. As someone who has long been fascinated by dreams as aesthetic objects, it’s clear to me that something irreducible is going on, and that any translation of a dream into another medium, any attempt to make use of its parts outside the medium of the dream itself, must suffer loss.

As James Hillman puts it in his unsurpassed classic, The Dream and the Underworld, what matters “is not what is said about the dream after the dream, but the experience of the dream after the dream… For a dream image to work in life it must, like a mystery, be experienced as fully real. Interpretation arises when we have lost touch with the images, when their reality is derivative, so that this reality must be recovered through conceptual translation. Then we try to replace its intelligence with ours instead of speaking to its intelligence with ours.”

In other words, the most fruitful way to engage with dreams is not to regard them as messages from the subconscious, not as noise generated by our nocturnally-recalibrating neurochemistry whose signal can be utilized by a therapist… but as experiences with their own experiential merit.

Maybe I am among the few, but I don’t flinch away when someone says to me, “So last night I had this weird dream.” I seek it out, in fact—bringing up dreams in conversations, following Jennifer Dumpert’s daily dream posts on Twitter (@OneiroFer), and every so often checking the World Dream Atlas. I also love encountering dreams a work of fiction or a movie. That unpopular Sopranos episode devoted to Tony’s coma-dreams? One of my favorites. That chilling dream-like sequence at the diner in David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive? A masterpiece. And Rodney Asher’s documentary about sleep paralysis and its related nocturnal phenomena, The Nightmare? If you know me, I’ve probably already recommended it to you.

But more than this, of course, I have recorded my own dreams.

This project, which I started as a teenager, has evolved over the years as my own writing and my own understanding of dreams has evolved. Once, I had it in mind to make use of some of this content, free gifts from my subconscious, in my fiction; no more. As Cardin discovered, that just goes wrong. In fact, I’ve come to believe that, when it comes to capturing the aesthetic power of dreams, there is simply no more effective medium than the dream journal itself

Let's try a thought-experiment. Let's think of dreams as a literary genre, the way, for example, the American kitchen-sink-realism short story is a genre, or the Eastern European tradition of microfictions is a genre (a la Robert Walser, and Kafka’s parables), or more recently, the autobiographical blog post, or even the Facebook status update (of which people have made stitched-up novels, like David Sauvage). The particular aesthetic advantage of this genre is that it does not need to create a scaffolding, or “frame”, to excuse or explain the content. That is, it doesn’t need to set up the dream via plot mechanisms or even establishing a POV character. It just treats the dream as its own inherently meaningful object. 

In other words, in this “genre,” the container of the dream itself is vital to the particular aesthetic effect. Knowing it is dream, the reader can then willingly enter the particular mode of participation that dreams offer, which is their magic.

“In sleep, I am thoroughly immersed in the dream,” writes James Hillman. “Only on waking do I reverse this fact and believe the dream is in me. At night the dream has me, but in the morning I say, I had a dream. A true subjective level of interpretation would have to keep me subjected to the dream.” 

Of course, there’s one small hitch here. A dream journal entry isn’t the dream. It is words on a page. What makes dreams sui generis is that they are dreams.

Acknowledging this, the goal of the dream journal as a literary project must be, then, to stay as close as possible to the phenomenon. Dreams, after all, bind together multiple dimensions of experience—past, present and future, the known and the unknown, the self and the not-self—into a compact hyper-object which, upon waking, provides a potential for reflection and interpretation vastly asymmetrical to the actually very simple and image-based content of the dream. 

But the point of the dream journal isn’t to spin out into this surrounding hermeneutical territory. It’s to stay with the source. To record what was seen, felt, and understood in the dream in the way it happened, in the sequence in which it happened, without deviating, without interpretation. Without mixing day consciousness into the night.

The following dreams are my attempt to do just this. Please read them the way you might read a small collection of micro-fictions; but read them as dreams.

 

Sept 27th, 2014

(I want to start this series with a dream I had when I was my early twenties. At the time, I was beginning to navigate what would become a lifelong (at least so far) chronic bowel illness. Symptoms included unpredictable flares of inflammation. I nearly had to drop out of university. Dread, frustration, and loneliness charactized my days.)

Deep space. We travel with the last remnant of humanity in a vast interstellar cruiser. The situation is similar to Battlestar Galactica: in the wake of some nameless disaster, a universal apocalypse, we search for a home. We have gone everywhere, traversed the whole cosmos, and now we are launching into the great Boundless of deepest space, beyond the last stars. Where there is… nothing.

But there is something. Far below our ship, out here in the void, we notice a vast blue wolf’s head. Its presence is immense, the size of a nebula.

What is it doing here? What is it?

I have a horrible feeling then. A shift seems to occur; this thing, we realize, is not friendly, and we need to defend ourselves. Already it is, perhaps, too late. 

The thing turns, raising its snout at our ship.

Before it can make a move, we drop a bomb. It is a powerful nuclear missile, released like a depth charge into the wolf’s face. It explodes, and in its wake there is a window of chance. We can, if we’re fast enough, slip away…

Taxed to its utmost, full speed ahead, the ship gets free. 

Dear god that was close. Very, very close.

We carry on our journey.

Now the dream, or my memory of the dream, slows. We’re on an alien word, with vast fields and blue skies; we have found the paradise we’ve been seeking. 

I’m standing by a river, and I feel the most profound gratitude. But it’s not a new gratitude; I seem to have been there a while, many years have passed since our long dark voyage through the black void. There’s this sense of beauty and infinite potential. All around me I see deep red fruit, endless varieties of novel plants, and these strange airborne jellyfish whose transparent bodies everywhere reflect the clear dusk light. How is it possible we succeeded, and so richly? So luckily? Ah! 

As I stand there, feeling this joy, a figure emerges on the horizon and begins to hobble toward me. It comes slowly at first, then swiftly, and in a moment it stands before me, hunched and intent. There’s a mysterious power in this not-quite-human person that makes me uneasy. It points a finger at me and stares.

And suddenly we are back. Our interstellar ship is hovering over the blue wolf’s head, like a worm on a hook.

For a moment, I think: Oh, the wolf thing has generated an illusion to mock us, that it has submerged us in a long, collective dream of paradise before destroying us utterly. But it’s somehow worse. Its Power has actually reeled us back through time, ripping us from what was a real paradise, one we had really found, to once again lay prostrate before itself.

It’s horrible. It can do this. It can fucking do this.

The fruits of our long-suffering, the escape we made, the striving, the quest, and all love, all joy, all progress along the way—yes, even after reaching heaven itself—

It can just be undone. 

And this is all I can think, over and over again, while we dangle like a grape over a vast maw. 

What the hell is this thing? What the hell is it doing, just brooding here, outside the universe?

 

August 29th, 2018

(Sometimes I remember only an image. But that image seems to contain the story itself.)

A woman is holding a sphere, cupping it with both hands. It is about the size of a child’s head, white-grey, made of a soft, light-giving, permeable substance. I know this sphere is the universe.

Slowly, she begins to peel it apart with her fingers, unfolding it outward.

At its center, when the work is done, there is a key. No, a set of keys; but it’s the one key I notice, because it is the key to the universe, won by this work of careful exposure.

The other keys, I don’t know what they are for. There must be other things which I hadn’t thought to try to unlock. 

 

January 27th, 2020

(Sometimes I take extra melatonin before falling asleep, in order to increase the likelihood of strange dreams. This, it turned out, might not have been the best thing after a day of reading Thomas Ligotti’s horror fiction...)

I am with my family in a kind of Airbnb on the coast. My friend Kaden is here too. They want to watch a movie but I say I won’t join them. In fact, I’m very lonely and hoping to be contradicted. They don’t; they go off to watch the movie without me.

After a time, they come back outside. I am leaning on a railing, weeping. I shout, very earnestly, believing it myself, “I want to die!”

They surround me, and right away it’s clear they do not take me seriously. What happens next is strange. We begin to rough-house, joke around, but slowly it becomes clear that this rough-housing is demented, their laughter is heedless. There are moments in which I seem to suddenly comprehend that I am losing control of something important, that I am desperately alone and in pain, and that I am progressively forgetting this truth in the course of their game.

Now they have pinned me down. Mom, my dear mother, has an axe and she is swinging it here and there, ha ha ha, and the swings are coming ever nearer my face.

“You have to listen to me!” I yell, urgent. I know I could be hit any moment. “You have to listen to me!” But my yell, and within it my desperation, is simply understood according to the rules of the game, i.e. as just more rough-housing and not in earnest.

No matter what I say or do, it’s taken up into the demented game. Cries for help are subverted into play. I make an even greater effort to yell then, the kind of effort one makes in a state of dream paralysis when the terrible silhouette looms over you, an enormous push—and it wakes me.

In bed, I hear the sound of my own strained voice, a weak croak, Aaah, before this is punctuated by the awareness of being awake.

Now, this isn’t a false waking. But something hasn’t ended. I remain perfectly still for a long time before thinking I ought to try to move. I find I’m able to. But there is a heaviness in my body. I go over the dream to figure out how it led me down those strange loops of disintegrating free will. Then I close my eyes again.

Before me, perfectly formed, is an image of an entity. It’s blue, complex face is in profile, looking away. I have the impression of extreme intelligence and utter malice.

Before it can notice me, I opened my eyes.

I am in my bedroom, in Brooklyn, awake.

Okay.

Cautiously, I close my eyes.

Now the entity has turned to face me directly. It takes me a moment to understand what I am seeing; it is so strange and near, closer now than before, and the power of its mind is intense.

This is the dark intelligence, very real, which has orchestrated my demented dream. I’m not yet in its power, I sense, but at the same time I am at risk of this, and therefore must not indulge the vision. I open my eyes at once.

I stand and turn on the light in the room, to reset things. Then I get back into bed and focus on something else, and eventually fall back asleep.

 

July 26th, 2020

(At the time of this dream, I was reading Carl Jung’s memoirs, and I was deeply impressed by his memory of a dream he had when he was three or four: “In the dream I was in this meadow. Suddenly I discovered a dark, rectangular, stone-lined hole in the ground. I had never seen it before. I ran forward curiously and peered down into it. Then I saw a stone stairway leading down....”)

I’m in a suburb with many old houses. It’s an old wealthy neighborhood, and a crepuscular evening light is falling over the houses.

Someone is guiding me, I don’t remember who, and I’m not even sure there was someone else. Perhaps I am guiding myself.

I hear, or rather I have the impression of hearing, the phrase, “I will show you a secret.”

We go down a street and at certain a point, no more special than any other point, we stop. There’s something that looks like a drainage grate or a manhole but isn’t quite either of these things. It’s by the sidewalk in front of an old house. I am shown how if you put a finger in a small hole and lift with all your might, you will pull out a metal rod, and when that metal rod is released you will be able to lift open a disc. When that disc is open, you can pull aside the grate itself and expose a small cavern or alcove.

We go down. It is very shallow and dirty and I can see the bottom easily. But now I am told to step back and look lower.

In the side of the alcove is a long thin concrete culvert—a tunnel. The more I lower my head, the further I can see down this tunnel. It’s maybe 20 or 30 ft and extends at an angle that doesn’t make sense; it is parallel to the street, but jutting across multiple property lines. The width is just slightly too small to be able to crawl through.

There is a light coming from the other end. It’s a kind of meadow, and in that meadow it seems to be mid-day.

I freeze.

A face is looking at me from the other end. This person is pressing right up to the opening, so that I can see only from the eyebrows to just below the lower lip. For a moment I think it is myself. But something is different. It is a woman.

It was only when I woke that I realized this was me, but as a woman.


October 5th, 2020

(What follows is one of the most powerful dreams I’ve ever had. It left me glowing for days.

The dream takes place at my university campus, which was on the outskirts of Edmonton, Canada. It was not a nice campus, and was surrounded by industry and a train yard. All the same, it being my university, the campus has a magical aura for me. The friend in the dream is an old acquaintance who I will call Colin, who wasn’t even a close friend at the time.)

I was walking along a train yard a few friends from university when I encountered another old friend, Colin, who I hadn’t seen in years. He’s married now in real life, with kids. In the dream, he seemed to be living atop an industrial building just off the train yard. He would scale up to the roof by gripping only the ends of the screws which studded the metal siding. Witnessing this, my friends couldn’t believe it was possible. But I wanted to do it myself, so I followed Colin up to the rooftop. I found that the screw heads were indeed sufficient hand grips.

The rooftop was bare save for skylights and industrial vents. Here, Colin lived a magical existence. He was utterly content. Whatever he wished for would manifest, but he did not wish for much, he simply existed in an eternal glowing ecstatic mood. He had discovered a new way of being, and he undertook the task of showing me what it was like.

The first thing he did was conjure an illuminated blue marble. My friends were roaming around on below us, hopping over railway ties and calling out; they seemed to be looking for me. Colin tossed them this marble. He did so, however, in a strange way: he seemed to extend a hand all the way down to the train tracks while at the same time remaining on the rooftop, so that when my friends caught the marble and tossed it back to us, it was, bizarrely, his own hand that performed this toss. That is to say, my friends didn’t seem to be aware of Colin’s hand; they thought they were tossing the marble back themselves. They weren’t even aware that the marble was glowing. We played a kind of game with my friends, tossing the marble back and forth, which was really a game between Colin and I. Then Colin said, “Why don’t we hide it in the world so that someone can find it.” And he threw the marble so far away it disappeared over the horizon.

I felt ecstatic. We were sharing something intimate and magical that no one else in the world knew about.

Next, we began to make out. I’ve never kissed a guy before, in a dream or otherwise, and I felt neutral about it, or just above neutral; it was kind of nice. We snuggled and kissed. I remember his tongue circling the inside of my lips. This is new, I thought. It was all part of this magical existence: anything could happen, I could even be bisexual.

At last I noticed it was getting late and the night was dark. I asked Colin what we would do about sleep. He seemed surprised. He never slept, he told me, and I didn’t have to either. As he said this I realized I did not feel tired at all. I didn’t need to sleep if I didn’t want to; in fact, I didn’t need to sleep ever again. Realizing this, only then did it occur to me to wonder how all this was possible, this magical existence. I felt incredible awe for what Colin had discovered. But this awe alienated me slightly from the magic and introduced a kind of doubt. Sure, this was all possible. But was it possible for me?

I asked about food. Colin said we could go down to the street. I had very little money on me, and I wanted to see how Colin survived, since he didn’t seem to have any money himself, so I agreed. We found ourselves in a late-night deli picking out a wheel of goat cheese. At the counter, the cashier—a tall man with a huge mustache—looked at us skeptically and said this was very expensive cheese. I told the man to slice it into a fraction of what we’d given him. The cheese, now just a small wedge, was still over twenty dollars. “Well?” he said.

Up to this point, the mood had been playful and light, since I was waiting for something magical to happen, something that would take care of us the way everything had been taken care of before. Now, with the cashier waiting on my decision—would I buy the cheese or not?—I felt a sudden pressure. Something was up to me now. I was being asked for an act of faith. I felt the way Peter must have felt when, walking on the water towards Jesus, the moment of fear came and his feet grew wet for the first time. I could not sustain this, I realized. I was sinking. What had gone wrong? By my side, Colin wasn’t explaining anything.

I turned away without buying the cheese. Leaving the deli and walking out into the night, I knew that I’d broken it. If only I had agreed to buy the cheese despite the expense, something would have happened. That had been the moment. And now it was too late. 

I’d lost it.


April 20th, 2021

(At the time of this dream, I was attending an MFA program at NYU, in creative writing. All my classes were moved online, and Zoom was the tyrant of my days. David Lipsky, who appears in this dream, was one of my professors.)

I am sitting in a windowless classroom. The chairs are arranged in a circle, and some friends from home in British Columbia are there, along with maybe half a dozen NYU students. David Lispky is present on a large screen that leers down from a ceiling corner at the front of the room. I don’t know if we are all just chatting or if we are going through some specific curriculum. It feels like we are all sort of just waiting.

Some shadowy people enter the room now. They chose me and take me away. I don’t remember what they do to me, but I know it is very, very bad. I feel raped. Utterly violated. They take me into a side room I hadn’t known about in order to do it. The side room is huge; it’s a dark, swampy, cellar-like world. I’m not sure if my inability to remember is part of the dream itself, and a reflection on how deep the violation went, or if I just can’t remember. When the bad thing is over, they sort of toss me aside, and I’m able to escape back to the classroom.

Here, I see something so much worse than I could have expected. Everyone already knows what has happened to me. In fact they knew while it was happening, but no one tried to stop it. They’d just gone on with the class.

Now that I have returned, however, they realize what they’ve done. They have all done something very wrong.

I go around the circle, punching everyone in the face. I am so mad. Some accept it meekly, as their due. Others fight back. It doesn’t matter, I know I am in the right, nothing could be clearer. I make sure that everyone gets punched, hard, in the face. The only person I spare is David Lipsky, since he is on the television screen, and I have the sense that he maybe tried to stop it, maybe tried to raise the class’s attention at some point.

In the end, after I’ve punched everyone, I still want more. It burns, a bottomless rage. I realize that I have to cut them all out of my life. How could I continue to be friends with any of them after they have knowingly let those dark things rape me? My friends understand this then, too, and they are very sorry, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t really have a choice. Something has been ruined, and we are all, all of us, horribly sad about it.

 

April 22nd, 2022

(As context for this dream, it’s important to know that over the last year, I’ve been exploring various psychedelic substances, mostly ceremonial or highly intentional contexts, including 5-MeO-DMT, N,N-DMT, psilocybin mushrooms, and Ayahuasca. These substances can induce radical shifts in subjectivity and, outwardly, one’s personality.)

At a cabin in the woods with the family. It’s night. I stand looking out the window at the dark forest, where a massive tree grows at the edge, five times as thick as the others but only just as tall. A Baobob-Pine: that’s what I call it, and that’s what it is. “Hey Dad, do you see the Baobob-Pine?” A large, curly-haired dog is out there, watching the trees attentively. After a time we end up just watching the dog. Its behaviour is ever-so-slightly strange, since there is no one around and even trained guard dogs know they can relax in these conditions. We wonder at this. What is it like to be the dog, what does it think is happening?

Suddenly there erupts a loud wail. From deep in the woods a fire truck comes hurtling down the road just beyond the trees. Its entire right side is engulfed in flames.  

The fire truck is on fire!

This seems very serious. Whether out of curiosity, or a need to help, or simply to track a disaster that could very well become our own (we are, after all, in the middle of the woods, a tinderbox), I hop in the car with Dad and follow it to the ocean, where we understand it is headed. (Will it plunge in directly, I wonder?) We don’t get very far. The fire truck is stuck in traffic. We pull up behind it, realizing we are now part of the problem: here we are clogging up the road with everyone else. We pull away further, off the curb, and park in a field to wait things out.

Outside the car, I make a discovery. We have parked right next to the gravesite of someone significant. In fact—I know this intuitively—this someone is my grandma. But not Grandma Readel, not Grandma Doerksen, a third grandma. This woman seems to be somehow related to Katrina’s family, though she isn’t Katrina’s grandma, more a kind of grandma generated by the mingling of families. I feel a profound connection to her. I understand that she represents a lineage from deep in the past that used visionary drugs. This woman had deeply explored her own consciousness.

Oh, the incredible solace I feel at this discovery! This is part of my heritage!  

Dad is elsewhere, checking on the fire truck. I get him and explain what I’ve found. We stand by the car, in a nondescript field. There is no indication of a grave, and Dad doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

“Watch,” I say.

I step onto the site of the grave and immediately become someone else. This new person is filled with a kind of unhinged, demonic energy. This seems to be proof: it is nothing serious, nothing scary, this is just what happens when you get very near a special grave. I linger in it for a moment, then step back again. I can do so because this “new entity” seems to be a kind of controlled persona: I am both wholly this new thing and also myself watching from the outside, able to intervene when needed.

 

May 15th, 2022

(No context required. Except for that this dream occurred the same week I watched Rodney Asher’s documentary on simulation theory, A Glitch in the Matrix.)

I was living in a world which seemed to be on a lower level, ontologically-speaking, the way a virtual reality is on a lower level, or a video game, though it presented as real. I was there voluntarily, and I think I could have even withdrawn from it, though the process must not have been easy because I never once thought of doing so when things got dangerous.

Which they did.

It happened in a field.

I had been making myself some food—a cod fillet and a few carrots fried in butter on a skillet—when I realized I was missing a key ingredient. I went out, leaving the food on a low temperature. I had to extract myself from the compound in which I was cooking, and cross a grassy plain. There were people all around. The sky above me was dark, though I could see just fine. Much more came before all this, but this is what I remember, because this is the important part.

Some distance away, to the side, a man stood very still, looking at me. There was a power about him, an unnerving intensity. I met his gaze, and in an instant I realized that, like me, he was not from this world. He was in some sense “really elsewhere.” And, realizing this, I realized that he had just seen the same about me—and he wasn’t pleased. 

This was his turf. 

Imagine you’re wandering around an MMORPG, slaying monsters, undertaking quests, and suddenly in the middle of nowhere you run into a player whose levels are so, so much higher than yours, and who, out of meanness, out of that blind alpha-male need to dominate, decides to go after you.

It was like that.

I ran. I can’t remember all the zigs and zags I took, just that I ended up clambering along a rickety log path which was suspended between a massive and heavily trafficked highway far below, and the ridiculously high chain link fence that circumscribed the compound I had originally come from, where my cod fillet was cooking. It was a peculiar “in-between” place: the log path was concealed in a long strip of evergreen trees on the slope, and it had about it that very particular “public-but-secret” feel you get when you’re concealed on the side of a very busy road.

With this man behind me, I climbed as fast as I could over logs and rope ladders. I was carrying a bunch of random things, like an extra set of clothes, and a bag, and at some point I realized I could solve the problem of having to climb and balance with only one arm if I consolidated all the stuff in the bag, then slung that bag around my neck.

Soon after, just as I began to climb the chain link fence, I woke.

 

May 24th, 2022

(What can I say about this to prepare a reader? Perhaps only that I am a male who has been single for over three years.)

I was in a high school building somewhere in Portland, Oregon, though I’ve never been. I was there as my adult self; I felt old and out of place, but I was careful not to let that awkwardness come through. If I had, I was sure the teenagers would sniff it out like wolves. The architecture was full of inefficiencies, which I thought fascinating and romantic and which caused me to explore the building. There were staircases that ended in long passages that opened out into rooms, and a general vibe of “old manor home.”

I ended up in an indoor auditorium. There seemed to be some kind of knick-knack store on the auditorium room floor, which I perused, but everywhere I went this pair of teenage girls went also, and fearing that they would accuse me of stalking them, I ended my search. It seemed we were both hoping to come across a magical object.

I went to a bleacher stand, where students had gathered. I made friends with a few kids who seemed amused by me and indulged my questions. Then a large man came into the room, a kind of Hagrid-like half-giant.

The auditorium went hush. He came around the room and let the students smell his hand. 

Why are you doing that? I asked my friends in the bleachers, who had leaned in eagerly to take a whiff. 

Because, they said, he’s with her.

Into the room walked a tall, long haired woman in white. She was beautiful. Not supernaturally beautiful, just a beautiful woman; but at the same time there was something about her that was just too much, too elevated above everyone else. Then the whole situation became clear in this one image, the way it does in dreams.

I was in a world in which women were almost all “de-sexed.” Looking around the room, the girls barely registered as girls: they were plain, square shouldered, round faced, not ugly but not feminine either, just dwarf-like. The whole mass of humanity had lost that feminine presence, that spark.

Except just a very, very few.

And how these few stood out. They appeared, like this woman who had now entered the room, almost god-like. All the charms and attractions of that sex were theirs alone. Between the homely and square-bodied masses and these rare birds there was no one; they were so different from the common female, in fact, that it felt like a three-species situation. People worshipped them. They ruled the world. And this Hagrid-like man was one of the lucky ones, he’d been paired with one of these few women and was sharing his good fortune by allowing people to smell the hand which had held hers.


Thursday, 24 February 2022

It Wants to Happen

I wrote up my experience smoking the 5-MeO-DMT-containing Bufo alvarius venom for an anthology: The Toad in Me: Psychedelic Experiences with Bufo. It will be published October 1, 2022.

Special Note: due to ongoing conservation issues, it is now recommended that those seeking to sit with Bufo (an experience that itself is certainly not recommended for everyone) find a practitioner who uses synthetic 5-MeO-DMT. 
 

To some degree, I sought out Bufo from sheer philosophical interest. I was looking to experience what, all my life, I had reasoned and intuited my way towards—namely, the knowing that exists above the mind’s knowing. The only knowing adequate to the infinite source of Being. I’d read Plotinus, Ibn Arabi, and other mystical texts. Now I wanted to see for myself. 

But there was another way of putting this. Some weeks before I sat in ceremony, a friend asked me why I wanted to do it. Not knowing at the time George Mallory’s quip about why he’d climbed Mount Everest, I replied seriously: “Because it’s there.”

That was all. 

If there was a limit, I had to touch it. 

I wanted to put my hand on the ceiling of the universe.

*

I can’t recall precisely when I first heard of Bufo. I’d been using mushrooms for years and was curious about other psychedelics, and at some point it must have come onto my radar. Despite my best efforts, however, I was unable to find a connection. 

Then, at twenty-nine years old, I moved to New York.

I came to attend grad school, which was an adventure in its own right. I mean, I was writing fiction and reading books all day, the two activities I loved most—and getting paid for it. My life was lonely, but stable and relatively fulfilling. In short, I didn’t need this. This was entirely extra.

But I was in New York! You could find anything in this city!

I went looking. 

This part wasn’t exactly easy, but I’ll skip the details. It involved a lot of hanging out at meet-up groups and a kind of pre-ceremony initiation: before agreeing to connect me with a Bufo practitioner, my contact asked that I first undergo a “heart-opening” ceremony with him, using psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA. We did this at night in a hotel room on Long Island. 

It was fantastic. 

About a week before the ceremony, I found myself trying to explain to someone else, my roommate this time—a nurse practitioner with no psychedelic experience—what I was about to do. She was alarmed. I wanted to smoke toad venom? Because I was curious? She couldn’t understand it. “Your motives seem too pure,” she actually said to me. “I’m skeptical that there’s nothing else behind it.” I fudged some other reasons, including the intention to seek “healing,” and at this she was satisfied.

Only, now I wasn’t. The conversation had left me uneasy, and I went for a walk to be alone with my thoughts. 

What were my intentions, really? 

Was it really as simple as curiosity? 

But why was I so curious? Why did I want to know so badly, and where did that come from?

I found an oak tree to lean against and looked out at all the people on Prospect Park’s north meadow enjoying the October warmth. The sun was perched just over the treetops. Close by, a young man was talking on his phone, but the wind was so strong that I couldn’t hear a word he said. 

Then a strange thing happened. A moment later the wind died, and I heard him say loud and clear: “So my intention...” 

Immediately the wind returned.

I stared at him. Leaning closer, I tried to pick up more of his words, but his voice was completely muffled. 

Okay, I thought, a little stunned. So, I’d gone to the park to think about my intention, and I’d heard this. Of course, the coincidence was rather low-level. But it stirred something in me. Suppose a genuine, full-fledged synchronicity was possible? At the time, I was working on a novel for my MFA thesis, and the plot turned on such an event: one of the characters comes across the phrase, It wants to happen, which he later learns several other characters had also independently come across, leading them into the deeps of a metaphysical mystery beneath the surface of New York City. 

In short, synchronicities were on my mind.
 
I’d never really wanted to experience a synchronicity before; I didn’t need to feel that I was at the center of a cosmic attention. In fact, cultivating this desire seemed vaguely problematic, as though it was wanting too much, somehow egotistical, even straying into the territory of madness and schizophrenia—or worse, stupidity.
 
But why not? I said to myself. Why not set that intention? 

So I did.

Let me, I said to myself, receive a communication from something Other. Something that’s not me.

*

The ceremony was held in a little apartment in Chelsea. It was full urban fantasy: on my way to the secret sanctuary, I walked past outdoor patios where restaurant-goers finished their lunch, entirely unsuspecting that just above them existed a portal where twenty-first century shamans regularly sent journeyers off into the boundless deeps of cosmic consciousness. Was I really doing this?

Inside, the practitioner (who I’ll call Eva) greeted me with a warmth that put me at ease. The apartment had simple furniture and white curtains and varnished softwood flooring. She took me up one floor to the ceremonial space, which was surrounded by more white curtains, and talked me through how it would go. 

I was nervous, of course. But it was more than the natural anxiety that precedes any psychedelic experience. The night before, a friend—the man who’d vetted me with a heart-opening ceremony—had called. In describing what I ought to prepare myself for, he’d said, “This is a very powerful medicine. Your ego may snap.”

That word had unnerved me.

Snap?
Yeats has a story called “The Sorcerers” which always sends chills down my spine. In it, a group of underground sorcerers invite the author to observe the invocation of a spirit. During the ceremony, Yeats senses waves of darkness covering him. It’s all he can do to resist. At last, when the ordeal is over, he asks: “What would have happened if your spirit had overpowered me?” 

“You would go out of this room,” the sorcerer replies, “with his character added to your own.”

I was afraid. Not of dying—I’d done my research, I knew this was physiologically safe—but of something scarier. I was afraid my personality, “who I was,” would be irrevocably damaged. 

Curiously, I didn’t truly understand the nature of this fear until Eva gave me the introductory dose. 

She called it the “kiss.” She offered it to all first-timers before the full dose, and I accepted gratefully. I watched her hold a light to the glass bowl, invoking those mysterious white vapors. Then, as she had instructed, I forced out all the air in my lungs.

And inhaled. 

In the last several weeks, I had done all I could to be ready for this moment. I had read Rick Strassman’s DMT research, I had browed online forums, I had met people who’d sat with Bufo and had heard their stories. But all that was a joke. The effect of this first hit was so unexpected that it was impossible to prepare for. Time just stopped, and there was this feeling of: “Oh.”

Oh. That’s what this is.

I was in a space infinitely removed from all that I had known—and it was trying to pull me deeper. 

I fought back. I had, it was true, wanted a no-going-back moment, but not like this. I didn’t want to snap! I could feel it as a possibility, and I sensed it would break my ties to everyone I loved. My family, my friends, we’d no longer be on the same wavelength, I’d permanently lose whatever true and living connection I had with them. This feeling was concentrated especially on my father. For his sake alone it felt crucial not to go further lest I end up in an alien realm he couldn’t fathom.

And this was only a “kiss?” 

When I came down, I was not at all sure that I wanted the full dose, and I asked for five minutes to decide. I couldn’t believe it. Had I really come here only to stop short of the real deal?

After a moment, I realized I needed to tell Eva what was going on. I was holding way too much in my head and the fear just keep churning around with nowhere to go. 

After I explained, she smiled warmly.

“Snap? I don’t know why your friend told you that.” 

Encouraged, I asked Eva for a different image, one less violent. She didn’t need to think. 

“You’ll be embraced.”

This was what I needed. Holding that image, I agreed to the full dose. 

As she prepared the pipe, I wrote a word on a piece of paper: Connection. I put it in my pocket. This word felt like an anchor: it would be there when I returned, reminding me of what I cared about most. Meanwhile, I could let go and just experience whatever it was I needed to experience. 
When I took up the pipe again, Eva told me to hold the vapour longer this time. “Your body will take care of breathing when it needs to.” Easier said than done: as the effect intensified, time and matter became like a tide receding out from me in all directions. Still, I remained intellectually aware of a responsibility to make sure my body got oxygen, and that worry preoccupied me until I simply had to breath. I did.
There was a stutter, a moment of exhilarating terror—and then I was outside the fear. I was outside my mind, my body, my history. There was nothing I could hold on to. Nothing. Who was I? I genuinely didn’t know. At the same time, I did. I was this. An immense power had reached in, pulled me outside of the universe and shown me, plain as day: I was this. All along, I’d been this. Not Patrick, not really, not in the way I’d thought. 

This.

I felt eternal. But what do I mean by that? When I think back to the moment it happened, it wasn’t that I felt I’d “always existed;” rather, I was shown what it was like to exist in a dimension without change, a peculiarity quality of which is that even outside this dimension, while I lived my life, I existed here. 

Time didn’t stir. There was an intense pressure all around me, and yet I felt intensely and perfectly open. I felt utterly decontextualized. 
What was this?

I can give it many names now, but while I was in it, neck-deep, it was simply Openness.

This Openeness was the ground of Being capable of holding anything. It astonished me utterly, and yet it made perfect sense: of course there had to be a place like this. Of course. Otherwise, how could anything else be? How could there be matter or mind or time or selves? All the different religious ends, Hindu bhakti, Buddhist parinirvana, the Christian beatific vision, Taoist nonduality—they were all possible because of this place. I thought of my father’s idea of spirituality, which he calls the search for coherence—surely it ended here, surely this place was the answer. In the world of form there are such a vast multitude of compelling perspectives. But this was how it could all cohere. 

An intense energy was coursing through me. The experience was so deeply strange that my body, which generally knows how to behave in any given context or state, simply didn’t know what to do. It was impossible to just sit there: I breathed heavily and swayed around and felt my hair and face. At times I laughed and grinned. Other times I moaned and cried. But these were merely bodily postures. I didn’t feel humor, I didn’t feel sorrow. I felt something far beyond these narrow emotions, something that was all these things, but in its raw, undifferentiated form. It was like I sat at the center of the power we experience only once it has been translated into feelings. In fact, this was what emotions were: they were a choice this power had made to become this or that. I could laugh or weep or snort or groan or just sway around and breath heavily, and all these things were merely specific incarnations of a greater, irreducible source, and all were good.

In the end, I came down laughing. 

“I didn’t snap!” 

*

Eva offered me the Bufo twice more, at slightly smaller doses. I just couldn’t get enough. It was incredible. Three and half hours later, having smoked it four times, we ended the ceremony. Eva had me read aloud a closing blessing. It concluded:

I will look inside and welcome what I see,
Opening ever deeper day after day,
With gentle effort,
With sweet effort,
Allowing the spiritual unfolding that wants to happen and is ready to occur.

And here was the last extraordinary event. As I came to this final line, I paused. Those words, “that wants to happen”—they were like the synchronicity I’d written about in my novel.

It wants to happen

Was I really seeing this? Yes. The words were right there. The universe was speaking to me. Oh! Oh! 

This was my synchronicity. 

I can’t describe the emotion I felt at this moment. I know that were I to rate this coincidence on an objective scale of likelihood, it wouldn’t rank that high. And yet there I was, coming down from the most extraordinary and sacred experience of my life, and here, as though I hadn’t already been given everything that anyone could want, was another gift. This little phrase. The communication I had asked for. It was too much.

I wept.

*

It has now been a year and half since I was baptized in Source. In the weeks following, I found myself pondering what had happened almost constantly. I even experienced that Source in my dreams. 

Then one day, while sitting on the toilet and reading a post on Reddit about someone’s experience with Bufo (as one does), I had a spontaneous flashback. The words in the post triggered me, I closed my eyes—and I was back.

I was there.

Gooseflesh rose up and down my arms, but I barely felt it. There was only awe. I stayed in this state, nearly disembodied, for more than a minute. Then my roommate tested the bathroom door and I opened my eyes.

But here’s the thing: this occurred over a year since my Bufo ceremony, too distant to be considered a reactivation.

So what am I to think?
 
I’m left in wonder. How near to us is the Mystery. There is nowhere it can’t meet you. It’s here even now.



Sunday, 19 September 2021

Sometimes I Would Sit

sometimes I would sit 
out in the field
in early autumn
and for a long while
not do anything
except imagine her walking 
towards me 
tall and sure and gentle
my eye’s closed
I’d see her at the field’s edge 
drawing near, intent
crossing the tall grass without a sound
approaching
standing over me
her presence
just two, three feet away
her shadow on my cheek
her eyes on my eyelids
she’s found me
she’s brought nothing but herself
and we are silent together
really here
until even opening my eyes
would not send her away


Monday, 6 September 2021

Hurricane Ida, 2021

Autumn. The waterfall
in Prospect Park I sometimes
can’t find. The pond
like a drain stopped 
with leaves and branches.
Tu Fu’s poems open
on my lap, but I read only
three or four at a time.
Why do I ration?
There is infinite hope
and infinite despair.
Last week a hurricane
tore through here,
drowning dozens in
basements and cars.
The waters have receded,
but they will come again
worse. I sit for a long 
while on this stone.
I’m already tired, and things 
have just begun.
Below me, a turtle 
sends up bubbles. 
Sunlight strikes the water. 
Shadows deepen, and 
that glow lifts 
that makes me yearn 
for the kingdom of heaven.


Thursday, 26 August 2021

I Snuck Into the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

snuck into the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
again
I hope I’ll be forgiven 
I did not ask to be poor

or to want so badly to gaze 
on the wet galaxy of spiderwebs 
atop the Heart-leaved Groundsel
by the brook

there’s a mystery here
I’m not even trying to solve

the Shining Sumac
the Gray Goldenrod
the Toadshade
and the Pawpaw tree’s stiff fruit

nothing here has eyes
no face to turn toward me
and no face to turn away 

the Great Blue Lobelia
tall as a woman giving orders
is perfectly silent
a mouth closed tight on the key

hard to believe 
but the Long-stalked Astor
really wants nothing 
I could empty my bank account 
and still 
it wouldn’t be 
any more or less my friend 

we’re just here 
unable to fuck it up

and ah this Scarlet Oak
with its kingdom 
of Virginia ryegrass
tell me the truth now 

the summer is hot
the city is loud
and I know you can’t free me from pain
but tell me, Scarlet Oak

I can take it

tell me the reason
I do not shine with a love 
so unconditional 
it draws hordes into my orbit
to bask


Pact

How about this. How about you live, and I live, and you let me get obsessed with God and I let you get obsessed with this universe and the extraordinary god-sized explanation you’re always on about. And how about you never mock me for my obsession, and I never pooh-pooh yours. How about we just see what happens. Just live and see. Even double-down on it, like some sort of crazy experiment. And, years from now, when we’ve both really entered our lives, let’s not just forget each other. Let’s keep an eye out. Who knows, maybe we’ll catch a tantalizing glimpse from afar. I’m serious. If you see me doing something that makes you stop and go, What now?, in a way that makes you just a little more awake, I want to know. Ask me about it! Promise you’ll ask and not just shrug and make something up in your head. And I promise the same thing: if you do something that stirs my depths, something that makes me go, Ah! Ah!, then—I swear it—I’ll get up from wherever I am, go over to you and say, Tell me. Agreed? This may never happen of course. It’s just as possible the two of us never again enter the slim bright circle of each others’ attention, and we have to account for that. Maybe, even, we end up longing for each other, looking high and low, only to find that our paths have brought us so far apart we are practically at separate ends of the universe and there’s no hope of contact. Wouldn’t that be just too terribly sad? They say all seekers are climbing different sides of the same mountain, but we just don’t know. Well. If one moonless night you or I look up from a hungering solitude and begin to bleat like lost sheep for a way out, a way to undo the whole huge implacable work of time, remember: we wanted to give each other something. A gift of morning hope. We wanted to share honey of the spirit, we wanted to lead to each others’ doorsteps whole cavalcades of beautiful monsters praising the midnight sun. That’s right. We wanted to show everyone how in the heart lives a gratitude the exact shape of the shapeless world, and so we made a pact. A pact that would run deeper than all loneliness, a pact that would bring us back from even the farthest reaches of the fifth dimension, this pact, this one awesome ongoing madness that we share.



Thursday, 30 July 2020

Climbing the Holy Mountains

i.
these are the mountains 
so holy
their slopes are felt
as the difficulty of our days

ii.
near base camp
never straying far  
Wang Wei enjoys the sun’s color
cooling 
on the larches

it is peaceful
from far off you can hear
Rilke
restling his great lifelong angel

but I am looking for Traherne

Traherne?
likely off in some meadow
rolling around

I climb

iii.
what strange hills 
you can watch Tranströmer
despite everyone telling him not to
trade everything 
for a stone

and who is this anonymous
female poet
keeping a bird
in her pocket
made of ruby
o my god

I’m not sure how far it’s safe to go

iv.
half-way up
Bukowski’s eating roses
Hölderlin is piss-drunk
and Keats and Shelley are whistling
over top each other 

while Bashō
calmly watches from his hut,
playing his game of don’t-blink-first
with the world

I think

o Traherne! where are you?
suddenly Jack Gilbert 
steps out of the shadows 
challenges Bashō to a fight and
immediately begins
to weep

v.
turns out
it was Rumi 
hiding as a bird in her pocket 
whispering

ah!
don’t you know?
don’t you know it yet?

vi.
higher 
Emily Dickinson,
muttering secrets into the ears
of tulips

higher 
Ammons, struggling to make himself
a colon

higher still
a shriek—Sappho
have you climbed up and thrown yourself 
off a cliff
just to punctuate 
a sentence?

vii.
this is no joke
something is happening
and everyone who even begins
to think 
is already onto it

Li Po dreams of it but he’s soon 
chased away
by the same Blasting Rod 
that drove Adam and Eve 
from the garden

Anne Carson 
tries to touch it
by punching a hole in space-time
and reaching an arm through
but accidentally
hits the switch and—

darkness

viii.
uh-oh

now the only sound is George Herbert’s
nostrily 
breathing

someone elbows me
Blake? Yeats? Hopkins?
no

Traherne!

there you are 
you don’t know me but 
I know 
your deepest secret

looks like 
it may be our only food for the night
if anyone knows how to cook?

for a moment I think it’s a monster
but it’s Hafiz!
Hafiz is not afraid!
Hafiz holds a match and

sets 
him
self 
on 
fire

ix.
now all the poets are gathered round 
stomachs sated in the dark
and in that lull that could fit any story
and in that group that could ponder any question
I ask

so
has anyone ever got to the top?

a silence 
so profound
you could hear a petal 
falling
all the way 
to the basement of your soul

x.
then laughter


Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Trying Again

yes there is 
a solid core of unthink-
ability at the heart of existence

     I like to place my hand on it
     like a sleeping dog
     and call it
     matter

since that one day I noticed the quickened light 
on the back of the dragonfly
and, after trying to put my whole being 
upon it like some magic carpet,
slipped off

     o mind 

it takes us so far away
from body
I can almost feel it again,
almost hear all Heaven 
screaming from her eyes,
almost answer, even,
the perennial question

     does the flavor
     of the taco
     improve,
     exposed to rays of thought?

I beamed Wittgenstein back upon the sunset
and the sunset won

took my soul
and,
with long fingers,
    squeezed