Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Marijuana, Vipassana and Landmark

Various paths to what we call Enlightenment? Maybe so? Pathways to altered states certainly. Potentially, to clearings, to openings and to shifts. I’ve entered onto all these paths and others. I’ve benefitted from them all, if benefit means the gaining of insight, of instructive looks from different perspectives that contribute to understanding.

Marijuana is my ‘mother drug’ to borrow a phrase that’s bounced around in 12-step programs. It’s the substance I encountered relatively early in life that I’ve at times used as a kind of life line, that has raised me out of a narrow, smothered sense of limited self, that pulled me into seeing previously unseen possibilities for myself, for how I might approach the world, deal with problems, reach for what I felt I wanted and needed. I realize that this is a view generally rejected by our society, that’s incompatible with a pervasive mindset in which things like drugs must be viewed as either good or bad, not as both. I’m a marijuana addict. It’s a substance that has ‘taken me over’ for long stretches of my life, that has blocked potential, turned me inward, provided an unhelpful and too easy escape from challenging realities at times. But, it has also been the boon, the blessing, the gift I touch on above, regardless of the fact that I’ve abused it so extravagantly.

Our blessings are our curses, I’ve come to believe. Our gifts are similarly our traps. But curses and traps are generated by our relationship with things – they don’t lie in the thing itself, be that hurricane, poison or false and seductive notion.
Vipassana is the Buddhist meditation practice I was introduced to over eight years ago. Far fewer words well up as I contemplate this practice. Which is appropriate, as Vipassana is such a silent, wordless, non-intellectual gift. Vipassana is a practice that produces a kind of stillness, and simultaneously, a profound energy. It produces clearing, opening, and a paradoxical kind of freedom. Paradoxical in that I can’t explain it, in that it takes everything away, then leaves even more behind, in that it makes no demands whatsoever and involves no imperatives to action – a gift that can leave one feeling profoundly naked in a way. (And, by the way – naked is good!)

Landmark is a corporation that teaches the pathways to freedom. It too is paradoxical, in that it never quite transcends its ‘corporateness’, yet, it exists as a constant invitation, even a challenge, a demand, that you transcend. Landmark is Vipassana intellectualized, then de-intellectualized; it is Vipassana de-mystified, then re-mystified.

While Vipassana hardly uses words at all, Landmark takes you forward with a very concrete and rigid vocabulary, but uses it to break through the illusion of language. And while marijuana invades the brain chemically, temporarily breaking down some otherwise rigid conceptual walls, Landmark works via a penetration of words and concepts that undermines the labyrinth of words and concepts our everyday lives trap us in.

Why this essay? I don’t precisely know. Except that: I’ve determined to once again put marijuana aside. I’m three weeks into an amazing clearing, which followed a kind of farewell binge, which was amazing, beautiful and wondrous in itself. I’ll miss the spark of what a tiny curl of smoke can do, the conceptual explosion of creative insight that can result. It’s not true that the brilliance we come into when we’re high is all illusory and false. It’s just that we can no longer see it when we’re sober again, just as the elaborate figures we see in passing clouds really do exist – it’s only that they exist in our minds, not in the clouds themselves.

And, I’ve just begun a Landmark seminar, which will serve as a context for my living these next three months. There too, the common perceptions break down. It isn’t brain-washing or delusional thinking that’s produced by Landmark and other New Ageist, transformative workshops. The distinctions, the tools, the technology is very real, it’s just that – as any of its trainers will tell you – it’s not True. But it’s invaluable and powerful to imagine yourself an eagle from time to time, and to soar free, even if you aren’t one.

As for Vipassana...well, it’s the bedrock I’m re-turning to. When all is said and done, I am a creature in a moment in time, a fragment of this interlocking, galactic reality. And what is more amazing than that? No words, no herbs, no concepts needed. Not even being is needed – it simply is.

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