Before we move on, a couple more points on the last installment relating to concentration: why it works, how it works and why it’s hazardous.

It helps to think of the mind as a kind of ecology full of all kinds of conflicting impulses, beliefs, concepts, and emotional perspectives on things. This whole ecology is sustained more or less by the attention/energy you give it. In practice you can treat energy and attention as the same thing. In truth one follows the other so closely they might as well be the same.

Now attention has ( at least ) two aspects to it, and they can both be trained. Breadth and depth. Most of us have no problem with a extremely wide and diverse breadth of attention. We maintain views on the whole universe after all. Or we think we do anyway. Most of us have a lot less practice maintaining attention in depth. To do that requires holding the focus in a single place for long periods and if you’ve not had a lot of experience with that, it can be highly uncomfortable. The thing to remember though, is the depth of our attention is also the depth of the well of energy we can tap. Very shallow very superficial attention = very shallow and superficial supplies of energy.

So, going back to our ecology metaphor. We tend not to notice the contradiction and conflicts in our mental ecology because we rarely, if ever, probe deep enough into it to notice them. That, and since the supply of energy is so shallow, nothing in that ecology ever really gets big and fat enough to cause problems in the whole system. With deeper concentration that can change fast. You may find that tapping into a much larger supply of energy can feed some or all of your weird internal aberrations to grotesque levels. This is why I recommended highly that you consciously and deliberately direct that deepened faculty of attention into things you enjoy, and useful skills. That, combined with the mental housecleaning in the other parts should keep you out of trouble provided you are mostly sane and stable to begin with.

What you do not want is to turn your new willpower that can crush diamonds and use it to probe the tattered edges of your self esteem, or nurse old grudges, or tear apart the last remanants of your existing ontology. At least not until you’ve taken the time to craft a new one. Feeding those subjects a massively increased fund of energy will send you round the bend right quick. I’m willing to bet most of you have had difficulties in this area already, even without the help of intense mind power. So it helps to exercise a little restraint, and to have a nice durable map to guide that new wand of yours with.

Now there are no shortage of maps these days, and no shortage of fodder to make new ones. This is the gift of postmodernism after all. We have the god given right to shred anything placed in front of us to expose it’s inherent flaws and contradictions. It’s unweildly excesses and unverifiable pronouncements. We feel good and calm in the act of doing this. We feel the rightness of it.

But I’m here to tell you, that sometimes, ripping a map apart is entirely besides the fucking point. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do something.

We think we’re defending the holy right to overturn dogma and ask ‘the tough questions’ as if no one had ever done that before. What you need to understand, particularly under the circumstances I’ve described above, is that you really will benefit from having a map that doesn’t get shredded. At least not by you.

The nice thing about abstraction, is that it permits us to compress the whole gamut of phenomena into a manageable and internally consistent system of symbols. And believe me, when concentration states are overloading your brain and nervous system, you will definitely want a solid backbone to hang your ontology on, even if you don’t feel the need to subscribe to it unquestioningly.

We tend to have this neurotic thing about the ‘real truth’ as if nothing is acceptable except the naked reality of things. Problem is, if that’s all you’ll settle for, you’ll most likely end up chewing your wrists open in short order. For the time being, you need to learn to suspend your ruthless cutting apart of the ground beneath your feet and use a model of reality, not because it’s the ‘real thing’ but because it works. And you need to learn to filter things through that map. Not all the time, but when you have to, because sometimes you will have to. Sometimes you will need to to have a framework there to interpret something, or you will freak right the fuck out. The rest of the time you can happily just sit in the unknowingness of the grand mystery of whatever the popular buzzword is these days, as long as you have a nice serviceable symbolic order to fall back on.

There is a part of your mind that really really needs to be able to define and encapsulate your relationship to the word around you, as a means of handling stress. It doesn’t need to be all that convincing or comprehensive a definition, it could be patently absurd. But having a good definition, one that leaves you lots of room to maneuver, to make revisions, interpretations, even to rip out and replace chunks, is a lot better than simply assimilating christian theology as a subconscious safety net, which is probably what a lot of you are doing right now. If it’s not that, it’s gonna be something. The problem isn’t being stuck without a net. The problem is being stuck with a shitty net that you’re not consciously aware of, that won’t take the strain of what you’re doing, and will rip under pressure. If that happens, then my friend, you are truly FUCKED.

Don’t underestimate the benefits of a symbol system to fall back on. Even if on some level, you know it’s arbitrary. It’s better that way, anyhow.

Homework: pick a symbolic map of the universe. Four that I recommend highly would be the I ching, the kabbalistic tree of life, and norse runes. My personal preference is the crowley thoth tarot, which incorporates the tree of life as well as the tarot symbolism.

Not only are all of these fairly flexible, but they provide avenues for divination practice, which is coming up. But suit yourself.

DON’T immediately start questioning and subverting your new model. Use it. Play with it. Interpret the things that happen around you through that lens. When you get bored with that, set it aside and come back to it later. Resist the urge to pick it apart. Save that shit for CNN and the drudge report.

On a related note, start examining yourself for contradictions and internal conflicts. Your list is a good entry point. Looking at the why and what and how of your goals, I’m sure you’ll find that some of those things don’t mesh. You’re doing one thing at the expense of another thing, you’re moving in one direction here and another there, you’re stressing here and chilling there, you hate this and love that. You believe totally here and question ruthlessly over there.

These are the fault lines in your psyche, and as you progress in your practice these fault lines will open up in a big way. Most likely you will suppress the conscious knowledge of these chasms in your mind as they widen, and simply experience it as intense levels of stress. You might think that these are harmless usages of the mind, as if going in two totally divergent directions entails two different minds. They don’t. It’s one mind. Your mind. Think about this carefully.

Eliminate as much of the conflict and contradiction as you can right now. Quit fighting yourself. If it means narrowing your focus and scope of activities temporarily, then do it. If not, you’ll almost certainly wish you had done it, later on.

…or, like, reading your tarot cards, and shit. or both.

8 thoughts on “Alchemy for the Braindamaged VII: A Symbolic Order

  1. Gregory bateson dabbles with the ecology (of the mind) metaphor this

    The analogy with attentive breadth and depth for alan watts (wrote in the 1950s a western synthesis of eastern philosophy) was floodlight and spotlight vision. I think he deals with it in the “tao of philosophy”, but I cant be certain. The chapter is called “through the net”

  2. Awesome job, articulates a lot of things that I would have liked to if I could have.

    Something I’d question is whether “breadth” of concentration can also make you go batty. E.g., the awareness that a great number of the thoughts running through one’s head are quite alien in nature. Or that those shadows look like faces. Etc. Is that the same as “breadth”, or is that “too much too soon, grasshopper”?

  3. I’d think the overdeveloped faculty of drawing phenoma into a overarching framework without taking into account their depth is the very root of paranoia.

    the thing that bug me about much conspiracy theory is that it assumes all these people and events interlock on some mechanistic level and create some vast machine. but nothing in real life actually works that way. the true animating forces operate in the depth realm and are non-linear in nature. it seems like a very post modern thing.

    just becuase you *can* connect some things doesn’t mean they *are* connected. and even if they are, it’s rarely in the way they seem to be.

  4. This series gets better and better! I wish I was half as articulate as you, zac.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever read any writings by schizophrenics, but it often feels like they can see how all these disparate phenomena are fitting together, but they can’t communicate it at all. Gene Ray knows the Timecube is ineffable, he says so. It makes perfect sense to him, but no one knows what he’s getting at.

    It’s not hard to put together an internally consistent worldview. Or hell, it doesn’t have to be consistent, it can be paraconsistent. It helps if you have some other people confirming it for you, like in cults or certain political parties. A small involuted group develops a worldview that doesn’t connect with the larger culture it’s embedded in.

    That’s why traditional symbolic structures are so evocative and fruitful to use; they’re common ground for us to stand on. They’ve been commented upon, refined, and used by other humans for centuries.

  5. (Inducing natural DMT dispense)
    aprox -4-6 hours
    Well I should say the first time I was doing this not looking for answers but focused on the inside looking for an subconscious answer to things unknown and would could be an just a severe panic attack I felt like the answer was gonna develop and I had a very natural fear of death that would not allow me to shake off. I was so scared I went out of the room and started passing,washing my hands to try to gain focus on anything else, as i decided ok I don’t need to know if I am gonna die. Than to be honest I prayed over and over saying thinking this was it and it was so profound I had a very strong calm hit me and I mean hit me and it came with a thought I would prefer to keep to myself cause I feel crazy enough saying this hence I am posting anonymous.

    After the above I was absolute terrified yet so amazed at what had happened. I spent 12 plus hours with inducing natural DMT release. While doing this I was doing two things I would be reading than I would try deep thought and than no thought while giving into belief of any extreme possibility. I had two profound things happen. I was having very natural thoughts of how life cycles worked with no previous knowledge. I started to read online multiple texts of ancient religous writtings and beliefs. The items I came across verfird multiple thoughts that came natural. Next up in stead of focusing on dropping all my barriers like the forst time, I started to focus in un a past relative that died in late 1800s that was very involved in Hermatic,Esoteric,Jewish Mysticism and also tried to open my head to any thought or any message willing to come in as I was under a weird feeling in the first place, as to where was I getting this knowledge! So I did get one last thing before I stopped I felt a sudden thought that was very foreign to me like it was not my own or I obtained in a subconscious it was “The Dance of the Ages has come”. I was like wtf is that? So for the next day or so I just forgot it happened and said hey I just let my brain run wild. Yet it just seemed so profound how this thought developed and it seemed like nothing I have heard before and tried thinking could it be something I ever read? I gave up as I couldn’t figure it out. I did some searches on the phrase it kept coming to a few things that seemed to all be related to death or afterlife. Still searching for an exact definition. DMT release is odd so logical thoughts and mumbo jumbo is hard to tell what is what. Anyway if I do this again it will be on an extreme level with no concerns what will happen and allow me to be open to anything. As if I can get some more detailed info on anything it will be proof that something is happening. As of now its inconclusive to me.

  6. Home work:
    Well, as i’ve said, I’ve got a few symbolic maps to lean on. First and foremost would be the osychological frame of buddhsim, which informs pretty much everything else. secondly I tend to lean on the integral model of ken wilber a fair bit, simply because there’s pretty much nothing that can’t be made to work in that context. For occult and esoteric purposes, I do use the crowley toth tarot almost exclusively, although i did go through an i ching phase for a few years. more on these next time as we get into divination proper.

    the issue of resolving contradictions is a complex one. I’m not sure it ever ends short of full enlightenment. you’re always placed in positions of dualism.
    On a personal level there’s all kinds of tension between the person I was before i took up the vows, and the person I’m trying to be now. In some ways those two continuously grapple into a some kind of synthesis. I see elements in both that have value, and elements that seem ritualistic and pointless. and that doesn’t even go into the internal contradictions that both sides carry within themselves.

    On a concrete level, i have these skill sets which each could theoretically take up all my time, which places them in a opposition to each other. do i spend all my time on martial arts? on writing? on meditation and reflection? on relationships? they all demand more attention. more energy.
    one way to deal with it is to aim them all at a higher whole. all these things feed into a new person, a new entity, and discovering that new entity is what really fascinates me. when all things serve a common purpose, they no longer conflict, only compete for more time on their own terms, leaving a logistical problem, rather than a psychological chasm.
    I find myself dropping things more often than finishing them. which i sort of expected. only the first few things on my list hold any real power for me. the rest are more to examine my thought process and the play of intention. i’ve decided the silver thing can be dropped until i have more money in december. untill then it’s just taking up space.
    I’m consciously making my vows more of an issue as well. you can make exceptions for the purpose of creative expression, but at a certain point negativity and profanity is just boorish and crass. keep your eye on the ball, son.

    1. I want spend an hour a day in insight or concentration practices.
    2. I want to complete the study process for my buddhist disciple ordination test, and engage my teacher in a dialouge to discuss my readiness to take that test.
    3. I’d like to complete the practicum component of my medical message course.
    4. I want to practice skillfull speech to the best of my ability.
    5. I want to eliminate dairy products and refined sugars from my diet as completely as possible, and fast every week consistantly.
    6. I want to spend an hour a day on flexibility and postural training to supplement my ninjitsu practice.
    7. I want to culitvate my speed reading skills to a higher level.
    8. I’d like to continually be ridding myself of excess posessions, whether through selling them or giving them away.
    9. I’d like an inexpensive mp3 player or digital voice recorder.
    10. I want a used bike so I don’t have to spend so much on buses, and walk in the mornings when I don’t feel like it.–>

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