Author Archives: jcoletaylor

Decolonize

The landscape in my head has colonists in it, looking out over the rolling hills with a productivist grasping that turns every tree into timber and every meadow into pasture, every field into rows of farmland, as far as the eye can see. The colonists in my mind see bodies and can understand only labor, see minds quick and alive and can find no expression of wonder but to enslave to their own gain.

They arrived without my consent and settled in my thoughts, through my eyes, in my blood and genes. There is a vicious rationalism and Puritanism that scratches at my thoughts, the willful demand that the world stop moving, that everything be held still, orderly, ready to be put to my own device, utterly dominated. They landed on the shores of Turtle Island and I came in tow, history dragging my bones across the sea, to murder the inhabitants of this incredible place, their blood in the earth mingling with that in my veins before I was even born. And discontent with the fecund earth my forebears chained the bodies and minds and lives of Africa to the terraforming of this continent in their own image, that of a distant God and a supremacy of Whiteness, until the blood and sweat and suffering and countless enslaved lives became the very productivity of the soil, the land itself, seen as the natural right of Whiteness to receive the generative capacity of the enslaved bodies and enslaved land in kind. The eyes and minds of dark-skinned bodies still alert and bright and looking at me today, right now in this moment, in faces that need only for me and mine to step the fuck aside, and let them live. Needing not my leadership or my brilliance but the silence of my certainty, the stilling of my constant trained domination, lending where asked and when requested my support and as much my absence.

But my own mind is colonized, too. The valuation of rationalism and scientism, the quiet calm of authority that I know I can retreat to if need be, the intellectualization that keeps me both distant from and infatuated with the majik of the immediacy of the real and lived world.

I have always been fascinated by majik. And I can see that in many ways it was not other than an alienated longing for communion with the living, dynamic, awake-and-wild world. But I only knew how to view it as something other than myself, distant, something unapproachable, that required some intermediary of the “other”, whether cultural or historical or religious. I will suggest that it is this divorcing from the immediacy of our living, breathing, moment-to-moment lives – the majik that I mean no metaphor by – that has characterized the intellectual-cum-historical alienation and terror that has driven the need for domination and control by me and mine in heteropatriarchal Whiteness. This is not a disconnected account from a Marxist historical-materialism, because I believe they are movements into history of the same disconnect.

I have been watching a series on the Daoist and shamanic origins of Chinese Medicine – my first graduate degree is in anthropology of shamanism, and I am an acupuncturist by training and current profession, and understanding these roots help me better understand my own medicine. But what has struck me over and over is how resonant much of the way these practices are with shamanic systems worldwide, with how near-fit they are, from tracing of sigils in the air to using whistling and songs to the manner of divination, from using an egg to trap evil energy and remove it from a patient to the misting a patient with blessed herbal water from the mouth of the healer – they show up everywhere, in so many different parts of the world that I cannot help but say to myself “Look! Again!”

And I have seen these work and I have recognized their profound possibilities. But then comes a mind of doubt, a resistance and a hesitation, a stepping back to a critical stance that I have celebrated as a kind of anchoring, a reasonableness that I have been taught and enculturated to believe shows a maturity, a stance of analysis that I have been led to believe is necessary to… and here the teachers fall silent and shamefaced. Necessary to what? The only answer is “to not be like them”, to retain the critical distance and cultural power afforded us by the Whiteness of our thinking. To generate theories and conceptual structures that will serve to both isolate us from “these others”, from their lives, and to shore up our own cultural-power derived from the accolades of our fellows at our intellectualization.

Because it is here we fall apart and fail. Our structures of ideas cannot help but be organized by our more fundamental and necessary Belief that we are separate from the world, from Life, from the way we perform, practice, and act. That there are discernible Truths somewhere “out there” that stand still and certain. We are infatuated with our processes, our Scientism not other than Colonialism given new clothes, bleached clean of its long histories of racism and complicity with violence and oppression. Our colonialism still that authority we grant ourselves to draw the lines that include or exclude forms of knowing, the gatekeeper of what is possible and what is not, and what we will allow within certain coded boundaries for real and unreal. Just because a materialism and scientism has become our Belief does not reduce the Protestant and Puritanical infatuation with adhering to “Belief” that so fully orders our lives and experience. By giving such primacy to what we “believe” to be possible and real, we have allowed the Protestant and Puritan character of an always-evolving colonialism to mark the whole of our intellectual history, a needless neuroses forever circling the security of Belief, where our only ability to engage with a living experience is to decide that we do believe, do not believe, or conditionally set aside our belief structures for a time, waiting to take back up our critical stance again at the end. Even the value of any laudable empiricism has been set back centuries now by a fixation on forcing experience to fit belief, rather than allowing that ontology itself is fluid, and that the rules that seem to shape aspects of experience are emergent from particular forms of organization and activity far more than they are absolute rules that transcend the historical and lived. It is the purity of our souls in the Protestant sense, that our salvation is by the unyielding faith in our beliefs and our incorruptibility in the face of other experience, that still structures our participation with those aspects and elements of the dynamics of life that do not fit neatly into categories of right or wrong, of true or false. Scientific replicability may have replaced God, but our hearts are still Puritans looking for salvation.

But there is nothing of belief in magik. To paraphrase a Zen saying, the Great Way has nothing to do with knowing or not knowing. And majik has nothing to do with anything separate from right here, right now, in the dynamic and extraordinary unfolding of our immediate and lived lives. Trace a sigil and whisper a spell, walk in the forest, or make a phone call to a friend, drive to the store and get groceries – everything immediately alive. Never a moment that was not humming filled to overflowing with majik and possibility.

We thought that finding the right beliefs was a prelude to living fully, completely, to finally being aligned with the “right” way of being in the world. We thought that our epistemologies were our ethics, we thought that our existential doubts were the crux of what made us special, even human. And when we Whites found other ways of being in the world, other folx living in radically different ways, with questions of their own developed from histories and embodiments marked by different ecologies and organizational styles and strategies, we could not even recognize their “humanity”, because our “humanity” had become so entangled with the quivering doubt and fear that a no longer immanent God had left us, wondering where our hearts and souls and spirits had gone. We demanded Faith to cover this chasm of doubt and separation that has left such a rent-open-hole in the hearts of Whiteness when God was nowhere to be found. When the crying out of doubt and despair was not echoed by others on these new shores, the despair that characterized our very experience of ourselves – that demanded Faith to if only for some moments salve the wound – was the only way we could recognize “humanity” at all, and in the absence of that despair-as-Faith we saw no brothers, no sisters, but only creatures without souls.

And so we set about enslaving bodies and etching our own despair into their flesh and living spirits, simultaneously using their bodies to carve up this living, breathing earth, which were carved with whips and chains in kind. The economies were about power, and the policies were designed to arrange power – it is not a material analysis that I am avoiding, done better and more fully by many others, but rather to ask the question about the why’s of power, of what is the broken thing, the diseased need at the core of domination, colonialism, imperialism. I cannot ask it fully or completely, and I cannot answer the history. But what I can point to is where the answer echoes for me where I was raised, with what I was taught, and how the world looked to me, how it was structured for me, and the deeply broken places in me that would have justified almost anything to escape.

What then does decolonization look like? Because this is my own responsibility now. There is no one else to do it, no one else’s labor I can take hold of and turn to my own device. My history as a slaveholder can and will never have another life to claim, and the mind of the slaveholder must die in kind, slain by the hand of those who have suffered and never relented, the unstoppable force of the Black bodies and lives who shake free the chains of my own fear, cowardice, and weakness. My history as a patriarch, who can demand labor of the women if no one else, is likewise spent, exhausted and failing from its own corrupt premises, broken asunder by the brilliant resistance and expressions of unflagging life of the minds and bodies of womyn who would not allow such a tiny cage to hold them. And so while I must listen, to allow the dynamic life of this decolonization to flow over and through me, to listen to voices that the colonist in my head has always failed to hear, my own decolonization is not their responsibility and does not belong to them to do for me.

I live on Turtle Island. My blood flows with its rivers and its streams, my breath is that of the wind in its trees, my bones that of the stones that are likewise its own. If I am ever to decolonize, it must first be by stopping the imperialist project in my own heart, it must be by dismantling the deep belief that, if I go elsewhere, find another land or another people, my freedom will be given to me by labor they have already done, or can be made to do. I cannot but live on Turtle Island, and I cannot but survive from the earth that is stained with the blood and sweat of those that me and my kind have enslaved, tortured, and murdered outright by the millions. I am a settler and I cannot escape that. I am a colonist and I cannot escape that. This is my home, too, now. There is nowhere else for me to go. And so the question is how do I come home, to this place, to this land, with this history.

But to do so, I have to wake up. I have to see THIS WORLD as it is. And so I have to expressly and without reservation finally simply say, with no caveats and no dissembling or intellectualization. I have seen the spirits. I have heard the stones, I have listened to the trees, I have sung my own deep song down into the ground and had it vibrate back from the earth into my body. I have witnessed the dynamic life that flows moment to moment in us, as us, through us, beyond words and beyond time or space, but never separate from and always completely filling up and emptying out, overflowing and unmaking, each space, each moment. It shames my face to give it any name, to speak a word to describe, and yet I must acknowledge it somehow. The world breathes in and out with me, as me. I have never taken a single breath. Lungs full and heart beating. I am the dirt moving. This is majik, this is LIFE itself, full and complete. Nothing else to find, nothing else to hope for. If you say GOD I will point back to this and ask where, and if you say NO GOD, I will point back to this and ask where. You want the mystical, I will trace a sigil in the air and I will place my hands on your body and I will pray with strange words. To whom? Does it matter? You want the material and practical and we will strike stones together for a spark, and we will together be Prometheus.

This is the beginning of my decolonization. To wake up. To see there was never any great chasm, no abyss, no heart separate from the whole world to be torn asunder by doubt and despair. That I am the dirt, moving. Nothing else to be. No great ideal to manifest, no world to conquer, no Divine Plan to implement, no great vision to make real, no final word from any voice to say “This is the direction forward, and all else must stand aside” – for therein lies the root of all fascism. Life is already alive, manifesting, unfolding, becoming. I could never stop it, control it, or direct it. It was not mine to control. The colonialist in my thinking demands that it be chained and harnessed, that it be turned to productivist ends, that one day it might tell a grand story of my triumphs, that history might justify me. And the raw force of Life dismantles, dashes asunder, the absurdity of any such claim, not even noticing it, not even turning its head to ignore it, as it vanishes in a gust of wind, snatching a half-heard bit of nonsense from a mumbling dreamer’s lips.

 

 

On Fear

I managed to hurt not one, but two, of my friends’ feelings this week, in separate situations, with things I said, and things I did. I’m feeling afraid, now, of what my words and actions have done, of what the ramifications might be down the line. Unlike many times in my life, these words and actions were not harsh or even ill-thought-out, but they were, nevertheless, potentially damaging. Good intentions only get me so far. I want to write this because I have been reflecting on fear. This is not a new topic for me (or any of us, of course), but it seems important for me to reflect on it again now.

In my early days with Zen, it often struck me as strange that, in Buddhist doctrine, when the three poisons are described, fear was not among them. For many years I sat Zen simply to cope with my fear. That fear was not a foundational poison was hard for me to understand.

The three poisons: greed, anger, and ignorance. I don’t remember where I first read it, but there is a teaching somewhere that shows how each of these is mirrored by compassion, wisdom, and liberation. The teaching suggested, or what I took from it, was that compassion is truly just the blossoming and making whole of greed – that those desires in us that clutch after the world, that want to hold it steady, that want to make it ours and unchanging, can, when they soften, expand out gently becoming an open palm holding the world. The hand that grasps and clutches to own and control, when relaxed and opened, becomes a safe and strong palm capable of holding gently, embracing. So too with ignorance – to be ignorant is to not know something… but what more is liberation than waking up to the reality of “don’t know!”? Samsara’s delusion becomes Nirvana’s enlightenment with a simple blinked eye open, waking to the unmistakable reality that this whole wide world and the great currents and flows of our experience, the confusions and disappointments and laughter and triumphs are all expressions of “just right here”, the this-very-moment-ness of liberation itself, the absolute made up in its finest details out of the piece-by-piece of the relative, with all ideas, concepts, and judgements fallen away. With no ideas, concepts, judgements, what could one ‘know’? Let go of knowing, and suddenly the whole expansive world opens up, fresh before us. And so too, then, anger, when we step past the notion of a single, limited “ego” self, when we step past the fundamental delusion of our separateness one from another, can be transformed to wisdom, to understanding, to clarity. The sharp eye of anger that sees the world in fine detail, ready to look for openings to strike, suddenly recognizes itself-as-the-whole-world in every glance, and the clarity of the vision that anger has brought becomes a deep understanding of where suffering arises, where delusion obscures, seeing the cracks and crevices of hurt and pain and violence, knowing them as openings in need of great compassion.

I left anger for last, because for me, this is where fear enters the picture. For me, my relationship with fear is such that I no longer see it as an emotion distinct from anger. It has all the same energy, all the same vehemence, all the same capacity to recognize details that might otherwise be lost. Fear is only anger moving in a different direction, pouring inward, rather than raging outward, finding all the spaces that can be hurt inside, looking at all of the fine detail of our own makeup, and knowing where and how to hurt it, to take it apart, to destroy it. For many this is an old insight – my oldest friend reflected on this intertwining to me when we were still teenagers. And I saw it then, certainly, knew he was right. But it has taken me a very long time to know how to recognize it at play in the moment of anger, or to recognize the anger in the moment of terror, and let them just be there in my experience without giving them reign over my behavior, or trying to run from them, hide them, or press them down and away.

And so tonight, right now, I have fear in me. I am afraid, if quietly and not abjectly, of what my actions and words may have unwittingly done. But it occurs to me that I have never been furious where I was not also terrified, inasmuch as I have never been angry when I was not holding on to something, some idea or wish about myself or another, that I wanted to protect, to hold steady, to not allow to change. It is greed – the desire to hold things still, to have firm ground upon which we can stand and build an solid sense of self, a notion of self divided from other – that springs up in those moments, it is greed that turns us inward, curling in toward ourselves, and in so doing, allows anger to pour down into us, watching its destructive energy wash over the whole of our landscape of thought and emotion and word and sound and perception and memory, until we know just how we are unmade. That desire to be something solid, that greed, generates anger, and when our fear becomes overwhelming as it courses through us, it finds momentum and swings back in and around, and rushes out, and in changing direction, becomes fury and vehemence and rage and violence.

I’m afraid I’m not enough, that who I am – this utterly false ‘solid’ self that has space in this consciousness – is shaken by my mistakes, that I will have to let go and become something else. And I can recognize it and I know the fear and doubt to be unnecessary, but I still feel them. But if I am never other than the whole world, then this emotion is not my own, but rather an emotion that runs more broadly, an experience that if “I” am having, then “we all” are having. Which makes me not alone. There is never a separate me to be alone. And so I can look toward making right the harm without further fear, without a need to make myself ‘right’, without a need to find distance from the result of my action. I cannot be alone, I cannot be unmade, there was never a me separate from any other to be alone, to be unmade, and so no one separate to hold a grudge or judge and find me wanting. Only all of us at the same moment as I say that I am sorry, that I am committed to making right, that I atone and will atone for the harm I have caused. As I have said to one friend and will say to another when there is the right moment.

bluegreen aesthetic

There is an aesthetic that calls to me like it is itself alive, echoing in me the bluegreen longing for trees and rivers and vines, and skies clear or storming or starlit. I want to sing the songs, to drum out the rhythms, to dance and run, wild. I want to participate in rituals of the Great Deep Green and the windblown hilltop and the curling river. I want to ingest sacraments that teach me of plants and places near and far, and I want to sit in meditation beneath old trees and side by side with new saplings, and I want to practice tai chi forms in clearings on dewy mornings. I want to meet the gods, I want to laugh and cry with imperfect people, I want to track animals to watch them watch me in return, and I want to forage for herbs and roots and mushrooms that just might be medicines or maybe food. I want to stare into the fire until my thoughts flash with its stories, and I want to puff on pipe smoke to invite the kindred spirits ‘round to listen and tell tales both new and old. I want to fall in love daily as I meet each person like for the first time, and ever and more deeply with my wife and lover in my arms each night as we fall asleep. I want to wake up every morning with joy in my purpose as a healer. I want to wake up each moment, to each moment, more fully, more deeply, with more clarity and compassion. I want to be tattooed with whorls and rings that remind of vines and branches. I want to wear flowing clothes that move in easy time with my steps on the ground. I want to wear nothing at all, under the moonlight, my beard too long and my eyes crazed with a sacred madness. I want the deep bluegreen of the leaves and shadowed places to hum in time with my own heartbeat, and I want the clear sky overhead and the blaze of sunlight pouring down on my face. I want to be alive.

I know what I am (so clearly and gently she shows me).

The world of bluegreen tree leaves and splashes of sunlight in the grass.

The toss of a cluster of green in tangles of vines all flashing with the breeze.

In the light and in the dark of it, the golden yellows and deep blues and greens

and the smell of decaying browns from the compost

she shows me.

I am just this.

Brought forth just as the shoot from the soil, growing up and out, unfolding.

Not for myself, not alone, but the same as, in the same breath as, with the same matter of,

the ground

the trees

the grass and vines and bushes and birds and cats and squirrels in the yard.

I am alive.

I have a purpose.

I am alive, bluegreen with the tree leaves

and decaying brown with the dirt

and golden in the sun

and silver beneath the moon.

She brought me forth like she does all the rest, but she is not other than the rest, she is us, me.

I have a purpose and my purpose is this very living moment. Unfolding. Already perfect.

And all the little things that have brought themselves together as me

the thoughts and memories

ideas and skills and behaviors and

frailties and strengths

were never meant to be tangled over

to become distressed over what I am or who I should be or how I should be

identity only a song

with a shifting and dynamic melody

changing.

And my purpose like every purpose of every living thing

to reach out a hand

to give out everything there is to give

without limit

because there is only all of this, of us, growing and living and becoming and dying.

I saw life and death passing by one another reaching out hands to caress, gently,

as old familiar lovers

without haste or suspicion or doubt

knowing they are forever and perfectly

intimate

and they let their gaze pass between them and through me

this brief space, where I am both of them

living and dying.

And my only purpose to be

living and dying

with all I have, withholding nothing

giving out to every other in every moment

for their own living and dying

just a hand a smile a touch a word

we are together

you are not alone

I am just you looking back, at you, me at me

known and safe and loved

to hold and to heal.

Bodies and Healing in Ayahuasca Ritual Spaces

Two in pretty quick succession! The Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP) has just published a paper of mine. It’s an article drawn from my thesis work – it’s probably the chapter I’m most proud of, work I’m still excited about. Though I’m studying acupuncture and herbalism at the moment, I’m still very interested in ayahuasca research, and so I’m really excited to have this paper published.

La Medicina: Ritual and Healing with Ayahuasca

Religion, Medicine, and Healing: An Anthology is a new collection of academic articles put together by my friend and mentor Robin Wright. I had the opportunity to contribute an article to the collection, and I’m excited to say that it has now come out! It’s an ebook in the vitalsource ecosystem, so I can’t post a direct link to the article, but check out the cover. Very cool! There’s also a pretty cool flyer. Oh, and “La Medicina: Ritual and Healing with Ayahuasca” is the title of my article, so it’s also the title of this post.

religion-medicine-healing-cover

On Nihilism

A theme has occurred to me repeatedly in the last weeks and months, and I would like to comment on it before the central insight of it slips from me.

It has occurred to me as I watch popular media. Kung Fu Panda. Man of Tai Chi. True Detective. Others, though these are worthwhile examples of where my head has been while contemplating this. Each, in their way, grapple with an existentialist question of being and nothingness. Perhaps they did not intend to, exactly – except for True Detective, which most certainly knows what its about – but there’s a common thread nonetheless.

Jung said “Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” This is where I would like to start. Or, rather, end, though it is with it as inspiration that I begin.

There is nothing outside of this. This very world, this moment, my cold fingers as I type, the lingering illness, the frozen image of a movie on the TV screen where I paused it to write, the settling of sunflower seeds and dates in my stomach, the dog barking outside, the quiet-almost-unheard hum of the A/C, my thoughts as they cast about for the next word, the language as it writes with and without my consent. The recognition that “my” in all of the above is an unfounded ontological assumption that presumes a possible subject and object and a relationship between them that suggests hierarchy, even an authoritarian subjugation of soma to psyche, or psyche to ‘self’.

There is nothing outside of this. The study of Zen has presented this insight over and over. If there are gods, they are not other than as I am, made of this self-same stuff, whatever it may be. I am not a materialist-reductionist, I don’t mind if there are ‘modes’ of being that are not material, that do not lend themselves to a mode of inquiry based on reductionism and isolation, as powerful as those tools may sometimes prove to be. Frankly, my own proclivities would welcome the possibility of non-material modes of being. But whatever other modes there may be, they are still of this and nothing else. There is no external meaning. There is no sanctioning authority outside of all the rest. There is nothing watching us, judging us, keeping us. And wherever the Way may be as it moves through, there is still only this. The Source itself is beyond knowing and speaking of, but I cannot dive any deeper into it, plumb any depth of ontology and not come back with only this, as it is right here, now, my breath in and out.

There is nothing outside of this. There is a kind of nihilism in it, but there perhaps should be. We need a nihilism, a clarity that cuts through everything else we imagine, in order to see what is. Meaning is a shadow, a play of images. It is not real. That can be liberating or it can be terrifying and it’s perfectly alright if it’s both.

I mentioned three films above, and they run a pretty broad spectrum, but I think they make a compelling case that this is not an insight limited to philosophical speculation. Tai Long in Kung Fu Panda, Donaka Mark in Man of Tai Chi, and Rust in True Detective each, in their way, have recognize this kind of nihilism. They have a kind of freedom. They have seen that there is no meaning, that there are no rules, nothing outside of just us, just here, right now. Nothing to judge, no one to condemn us. That there is no standard for morality, for good and evil, no right and wrong, no better and worse. In the two kung fu movies, “power” becomes the obvious marker then – might making right. Rust goes in a different direction, seeing a kind of fatedness to it all, a Nietzschean eternal return, an inescapability, “power” here perhaps a will to power, but in a sense of the simple and mindless energetic-mechanics of an impersonal and dispassionate universe playing themselves out over and over and over again.

I will return to Love, but I want to spend moments longer with nihilism.

I think the worst possible thing we can do is to attempt to refute this nihilism, this recognition of emptiness. It grabs hold and shakes us soundly – and if it does not, we have not really stared closely into the dark – because there is an undeniable reverberation of reality about it. In our moments of clarity, our eyes open, and we too see the world as it is – bare of other imaginations, meanings, layers of hope and dread, of desire and revulsion. Clarity requires that we embrace this nihilism. There is nothing outside of this. The world is empty of meaning that transcends the moment to which the meaning is inextricably bound. Truths are never abstract and universal, only fragmented, momentary, and contingent. We see both the fractal, infinite nature of the world and its cracked-discordant-brokenness at once. If there is a pattern we are locked in and always have been, if there is no pattern then we are without purpose, plan, or hope. Both, perhaps, are true at their edges, but likely something far stranger beyond the boundaries of the thoughts that my brain – by accident of genetics, physiology, lifestyle, education, and even very likely its constraint to the biological parameters of life on this kind of planet, around this kind of star – is capable of.

Delusion is all that can result from an attempt to cling to a hope for meaning to the world that transcends the this-ness of the world. Meaning, where it exists, arises from the world itself in the way that heat arises from fire – a part of it, due to it, and dependent on it, fading when the fire fades. And with a rejection of meaning as something that guides the world from outside, that is not part of the world and thereby subject to manipulation and modification just the same as all else, it becomes implausible to look to meaning as a hope for ‘sense’ in the universe. The ontological ground of the universe is itself in flux, and what was true before is not true in the next moment, not by the same standards, as that ontological ground is itself not outside of this-ness. Clarity means an acknowledgement of a rejection of superfluous transcendental meaning, a kind of nihilism to see what is.

It is only by saying yes to the clarity of a kind of nihilistic-emptiness that Love can ever fully open. Only when we struggle to hold on to meaning does the absence of meaning seem so stark and terrifying to us. Only when we expect order do we recoil from chaos. I can look at the emptiness of the universe, the emptiness of the world, its voidness of meaning, and say “yes” to it, and find in my heart compassion for those who suffer, to find wonder and mystery in the brokenness and uncertainty of the world around me. If there is a “God” to whom I could pray, it would be only this – the opening of Love not despite, but because, of the clarity of emptiness around us.

Love is a word far too loaded with religious, political, affective, and flagrantly sentimental values to ever mean what I would like for it to mean here. So let me begin again.

When I was in a ceremonial house in Peru, I saw a vision of a man holding a gun, anger in his eyes, as he willfully pulled the trigger and gunned down a little girl. She was already dirty, standing beside a mound of earth, her little skirt ragged, her shirt torn, as unidentifiable as her face, all streaked with filth. He fired, and she fell. And all around them both, without differentiation, I could see like it was particles of energy, what I would call Love, as if it surrounded, infused, and was the stuff of both. Their possibility. It was the earth linking their feet, the matte black of the gun, the burnt smell in the air, the blood in her veins as she fell to the ground, already forgotten, the anger in his eyes as he ceased to see her, had never seen her. There was Love, something that had never judged either of them, had never considered them as separate at all, had never known their shape as anything other than itself, that would never understand the scene as anything other than something to be gently held, a life, a death, a gunshot, the embrace of the earth as it took in the little slain form. This Love did not explain itself, did not enter a world of morality or meaning. It did not refute emptiness. It did not deny suffering, disease, death. It looked at them, it was them, and it was with them. This is the Love I mean, when I say that Love opens up, looks in the face of emptiness. Love was already with emptiness when we conceived of it after having wished for fullness, for meaning. Emptiness never existed either, it was just another, final layer of meaning that we had waiting after we had stripped away every other word and delusion the world had been painted with.

For me this is the Bodhisattva ideal. Love is not a response to the deviation of “power” as it presents itself as the only worthy tool in an empty world. Love was before power, and has no need to deny it, to struggle with it. Power screams into the dark that there is nothing, all is void, and only by it can anything move or become. Love nods, but knows power only as energy, a force that acts on other forces, without the moral component that power simultaneously denies but depends on, and wishes so wholly to affirm.

I had a dream a few weeks ago, where a torch was lit in my heart. Or, I was given a torch, and it was the opening of my heart, as it entered my chest. It was both at the same time, and it happened at the self-same moment that I made a choice for my heart to be open. It was a gift and a decision at the same time. There was no difference between subject and object, or, rather, there was simultaneously a recognition of a subject/object and the impossibility of that separation, and a decision and a gift could coincide at precisely the same moment. The torch was the decision/gift of compassion, or Love, however phrased or understood.

To be with emptiness, to embrace the clarity of nihilism, and to open to Love – to reach across with compassion and not down with magnanimity is the only ‘religion’ I can understand for myself. I am the very stuff of every other. If there is no meaning outside of this, then we are not “going” anywhere. There is nowhere else to be, no story to finish, no ideal to make real. What then is there but the suffering of those around us, the fears and uncertainties that keep us divided, deluded? We could control them with Power. There is no one to tell us no. It is not even “wrong”, as there is no standard, no authority to judge nor to which we must bow. But to what end? What story do we tell with power, what ideal do we realize, what hope do we express that is not ultimately a delusion, one that will wind its way to nothing, to still more emptiness?

Love as I understand it is not a refutation of chaos and suffering. Love is not an answer, as if to say “yes, there is suffering, but Love makes up for this”, and to leave the theodicy of it with a simplistic and trite response. It may well be that there are not answers, not in the way we would like, to the questions we want solved. Buddha describes a man shot with an arrow, who before he will allow it to be taken from his body and his wound treated, requires that someone describe to him who shot the arrow and who his family was, what the bow looked like and from what kind of tree the wood was taken, the type of metal in the arrowhead, etc. Perhaps our demand for meaning is, itself, as one of these questions. And perhaps Love is withdrawing the arrow and tending the wound.

MA Thesis up online at NEIP

The Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (NEIP) just put my thesis up online! I’ve been a member of the group since 2011 – extremely active, vocal group full of rigorous academic work on the benefits, drawbacks, and remarkable distinctness of psychoactives and psychoactive experience. The group comes from a wide variety of national and disciplinary backgrounds, and I’m really happy to have the opportunity to get the thesis online with them!

Gar Alperovitz’s new article on the question of socialism and beyond

It’s a long article, but the final paragraph points to why the whole thing is important to read (and I quote):

The important points to emphasize are three: [1] There is openness in the public, and especially among a much, much broader group than many think, to discussing these issues – including even the word “socialism;” [2] It is accordingly time to get very serious about some of the challenging substantive and theoretical issues involved; and [3] There are also many on-the-ground experiments, and projects and developments that suggest practical directions that are under way, but also that a new politics (whatever it is called) might begin to build upon them if it got serious.

We have a lot to talk about, and we need a lot more voices in the debate than the traditional – and definitely the institutional – Left. Socialism may just not mean what you think it means – hell, it doesn’t mean what I think it means, and that’s why I think the new debate is so exciting.

Whole article here.