Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Coming Out From Under

My relationship with marijuana began in exploration and escape. In my late teens the exploration was about discovering the wide world, the layers and pathways of it. This meant discovering the new, but also re-discovering the familiar, via new experience, new thinking, new ideas, and new eyes. The escape was about leaving behind sadness, and skirting around the heavy consciousness of all the ways I was disconnected from people and places and events around me.

I loved the herb, and it wasn’t long before I was a devotee of “Yo Highness”. Was this addiction? I wondered from an early time. But the answer didn’t much involve me. So long as the exploration kept the world fresh, and so long as self-consciousness was overcome, well, why shouldn’t this be a way of life? It was a way of life that changed my life, and I had no way of considering that I would occupy an altered world for the next fifteen years, or what that might mean.

Three or four years into my near daily use of herb, I evolved a theory about the nature of being high. I speculated that what marijuana did was blend my waking and my dream states, so that under its influence I experienced a softness and malleability in the material world. It seemed that ideas, thoughts, feelings had more weight in this dimension, but also that physical realities counted for less. Understandable that music and art, books and nature drew me in more, and that my “ambition” gave way. Because the things I was ambitious about, my marijuana mind showed me, were less substantial than I had supposed. In the fuzzy, blended state I now inhabited, the meaning and weight of a thing was interlaced with that of many others. In the wild mix of possibility, everything was possible and nothing imperative. All things carried the added import of my dream sensibility as part of its materiality – the world had a kind of sixth dimension, a dimension beyond time.

After indulging regularly for fifteen years, I then practiced abstinence for fifteen. The journey into sobriety felt like a descent through clouds, through the trees and to the ground. And solid ground was an odd thing for some while. “Grounded” was the character that all of creation seemed to take on. Everything, even the watery and airy parts of existence, became very solid and heavy. There was a density, not only to matter, but also to actions and expressions, and to all the other tangibles and intangibles of life – even to such things as ideas, even dreams. Objects and beings no longer vibrated with essential energy, linked in that ideal, metaphysical domain of connectivity that marijuana had induced. This was, as an experience, much like a fall. Solid reality took getting used to. The impermeability of things made me feel like a superman robbed of his powers. This flatness felt dead and hard. It was difficult to adjust to. But only for the first year or so. After that, the herb dreamscape faded. It became the ‘other’ reality once again, and sobriety reclaimed Planet Earth.

In time, a beauty, a richness began to permeate my world again. For some years, I used mood altering substances hardly at all. In a way, it was a return to a consciousness that I’d abandoned in my late teens, those years of exploration. But it was different, in that I was no longer seeking relief through a distracted mind. In fact, I was going inward more, not seeking to numb or distract, but peeling away the reserve that had prevented me from exploring myself. And inside, I found a depth I had once mistakenly thought was only to be found out in the world somewhere. And this new “groundedness” translated into an abundance all through the material and experiential worlds. It was a time when I began to believe and to understand that the miraculous is everywhere.

Eventually though, through curiosity or nostalgia or hubris, I began to use again. Not like before. No more quiet, soft fogs that endured for weeks and months at a time, with only the occasional patch of fasting to refresh the enduring high. Now I used in short spikes, ranging from a single day to sometimes over a week, with stretches of two to six weeks in between. The highs I experience, as an occasional user, are richer and more transcendent than anything I experienced as a chronic user. Herb has become almost a sacrament as used this way, generating deep insights and triggering creative moments of synthesis on a regular basis. But these benefits only come after periods of abstinence. And I’ve learned that while a 1-day high clears in just one or two smokeless days, a binge that stretches to over a week will need a good two weeks or more to wear off entirely.

It is now both transitions between high and sober states that I recognize as revelatory. It’s a two way trip, as across a border between states, that border perhaps like the surface of a lake, or a doorway between dimensions. It recalls to me my early theory, about the blending of the dream and waking states, two modes of being we experience that parallel one another, each with an authenticity and realness when we are in it. The transition in one direction mirrors the transition in the other. There’s a ‘high’ to coming down, to the clearing of the mind, to the shifting away from the dream state, just as there is to the rush that comes after that first toke, the intake of smoke, and the shift, as intoxication comes on. It’s a very different high: slower, re-orienting rather than disorienting, perhaps more of the body than of the mind. It too stimulates creativity and synthesis, in a way that’s more social and interactive and engaged with the world than that other high. It has given me a new understanding of mind and self. It has created in me a new balance. And It is a realm about which my understanding is still growing.

My herb use has had a major effect on my life, and I still struggle over the import of this. Having a differently functioning mind altered the course of my life, and I sometimes find myself wondering whether I was diverted from my rightful path when I started to smoke, or whether I found it. To decide one way or another would require a commitment to particular philosophical or moral positions. For example, that any mind but the ‘natural’ mind represents a diminishment. Or, that the various perceptual and conceptual breaks with orthodoxy that my herb use stimulated represent a liberation. I don’t know that I’ll ever decide one way or another. I tend to think that I won’t, if only because I reject the notion that the "either-or" absolute of such a choice represents the only way of viewing the issue.

One thing that’s certain is that I don’t want to condemn any experience that’s part of my road. I want to believe that “I can reach heaven from Here”, wherever Here might be. It’s a reflection of my faith that all of my experiences can be a part of my positive growth, and that, in the words of the poem Desiderata, “ doubt, the universe is unfolding as it should”.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Death on the Kitchen Floor

You could say it was a small thing. A bird dying. In a world where terrorism, war, genocide and natural calamities scream from every headline, not something to philosophize about or to romanticize. And yet, it was something unique in my experience, and I’ve been affected by it, perhaps will even learn from it.
A family of blue jays visited our yard. Perhaps they’d been there for a few days, but we only noticed them on Sunday, a rare morning, lounging on our back deck with nothing hurrying us to get done. Ponczka heard it first – the smaller of the two jays cawing loudly and repeatedly from somewhere close by. Then we spotted it, flitting about among the trees we’ve planted and watched grow. Soon we saw that it was Mawa, the middle member of our three cats, attracting the jay’s attention. Mawa stalked her way back and forth amid the shrubs at the base of the fence, studying the loud one, and it’s larger partner, perched contentedly high up on a utility pole, paying no attention to the ruckus.
We haven’t had blue jays in our yard very often. It was pleasant. We wondered if the pair had young ones. Our cats catch – and eat – mice and birds, but we weren’t concerned about these two. They were so big.
It was a few hours later that it happened. I was at the kitchen sink, which looks out over the yard. There was a sudden spike in the cawing of one of the jays. Enough for Ponczka to remark, from another room, that it must be trying to shoo off one of the cats. In an instant, as though on cue, Mawa streaked up the back outside wall, treading the window ledge and the thick ivy until she was above the window, then as quickly lowering herself to ground level, now with a full-sized jay clenched in her jaw by the throat and upper breast. She reached ground and darted into the kitchen just as I approached with my arms waving – trying to intercept. Mawa released her grip and the bird tumbled on its back to the kitchen floor, wings flailing erratically and its chest throbbing and convulsing violently. The jay’s neck was bent and limp, it’s beak working, and its eyes clouded over as the last of its desperate tremors subsided, leaving it implacably dead.
The whole event took less than ten seconds.
I realized then – and it stays with me now – that I’ve never seen death come so suddenly and surely to a creature who watched it come and struggled against it. There was never a doubt, from my first glimpse of Mawa’s fangs impaled in the creature’s throat, that this was an end. Life left the jay’s body as swiftly as liquid spilling from a toppled glass.
And what effect has this sudden death had? It punctuated how fleeting a blessing can be. And it reminded me of the indifference of nature. It was only minutes later, after I’d removed the corpse to the yard, that Mawa reappeared, wanting petting, and reassurance that all was well. And meanwhile, the other jay cawed its angry protest into the evening.
There was news today of a heart attack and imminent death in the family. And there are stories every day of murder and senseless accidents. What can a bird’s death mean? Maybe nothing more or less than any other death following life. All things end. Joy is no monument. It only comes in moments.