Alchemy for the Braindamaged XV: Hellworlds and Hyperworlds

 

. I had not originally planned to take much of a break over the holidays, but the alchemical process conspired to render me quite literally insane, and not particularly useful for writing pithy articles. If I’d been thinking about it, I might have appreciated the potential of madness for art, but alas I was too busy squeezing every last drop of adrenaline out of my tired aching kidneys. At one point my body chemistry was so toxic I was venting tar-like black substances out of various orifices. I’ll spare you the details. Not to worry though: I saved some and will be selling it on ebay shortly.

In any event, I’m not sure how much the practices I advocate here might have resulted in the trip into purgatory, as my own regimen is somewhat different and more complex than the homework assignments on AB. Be that as it may, It does tie in thematically to our latest topic, so we’ll be addressing my newfound streak of disorder in some fashion.

It’s hardly cutting edge to postulate the idea of the reality tunnel, or gloss, or filter, or metaprogram, or various other names for deliberately altering your subjective experience of the objective world. I’d find it hard to believe many of my readers wouldn’t be familiar with Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary and/or NLP. So lets take it as a given you can change your view of the world. Winner script, loser script, pessimist optimist yadda yadda.

Where most of these folk stop short is the idea that maybe your subjective reality tunnel might actually have objective effects. This veers dangerously close to what’s known as solipsism. Even the leading lights of the counterculture shy away from erasing the boundary between the observer and the observed world. The notion that our minds and the world around us might be engaged in some kind of organic interplay at the deepest level is a bit unsettling, even to those who make a career out of denouncing Descartes. Sadly the word ‘quantum’ has become as fuzzy and useless as the word ‘god’. And while certain lip services are rendered to the idea of the observer created universe, the only people who actually roll up their sleeves and engage with that notion by and large are the occultists. Most people simply indulge in a quest to find out what’s ‘really’ true about the world and act accordingly.

Part of the reason it’s a virtual taboo, is that, while you may happily accept the idea of viewing the world in a whole myriad of ways, at no point is the validity of the physical world out there under threat from the workings of your mind. In that sense we absolve ourselves of any responsibility for dumping our fearful ignorant and otherwise useless views of the world, because after all it’s all in my head and harms nobody.

If you were to incorporate some of our earlier considerations regarding the psychoplastic nature of reality, and ponder whether or not your delusions are rippling out to shape the physical world in collaboration with all the other delusional schmucks in your surroundings, the task of modifying and upgrading your reality tunnel takes on an altogether different order of importance.

You can found this idea on several levels of operation. You might say something as simple as decisions informed by a particular reality tunnel tend to reinforce that reality tunnel. You might say that your views affect the views of those around you. You might say your memes spread as well as they may to your surroundings. And if you’re prepared to integrate the psychoplastic ramifications of your intention on the quantum substratum of reality, perhaps through the phenomena of synchronicity, then you’ve got a whole gamut of vectors whereby your mind infects the surrounding world.

The reason I mention this is that in our own lives, our only real bulwark against our own potential for insanity is that beyond a certain point, the world seems not to agree with our weird ideas. If everyone were able to easily and consistently find confirmation for their strangest ideas, any notion of the consensus would unravel entirely in short order. Deep down we all secretly suspect that there really is a world ‘out there’ that we have no effect on, that acts on us. The flipside is that deep down we secretly, desperately need to believe that is true. We need to know that there is an ‘out there’ to anchor our ‘in here’.

And why? Well, the obvious reason is that most of us haven’t got a the slightest fucking idea how to handle our ‘in here’ so we rely on ‘out there’ to provide our reference points to keep us sane. Even if our ideas of what is objectively real is primarily regulated by long term habit and unexamined prejudices, it provides a kind of stabilizing rudder and momentum for our consciousness, which tends to keep us all moving in more or less the same direction. While you may have all manner of unusual notions and nonstandard views, chances are you still share more underlying assumptions with every other human on earth than not.

So we have this tension between the world as creation and the world as creator. In terms of what we’ve spoken of before it is the tension between the wand and the cup. Between being the author, or being a character in your story. You can debate which is true in some ultimate sense but what you can’t really debate is that you’re here. Hellworld or Hyperworld, here you are, so you are well advised to come to grips with it, and your place in it.

It’s important to keep in mind that whether your world is made by others or made by you, there’s always something at the heart of it that keeps you there. In a very real sense, the world view you have is a game, which you play in the pursuit of what lies at the resolution of the game. Everyone, including you, goes through this continuous process of deciding what you want, what it looks and feels like and what you have to do to get it. Some people define very clear games that have very clear end points, while others slap together endless open ended scenarios whereby they spend their whole lives chasing some nebulous notion of externalised happiness, usually to no avail.

Anyone who has even a superficial familiarity with Joseph Campbell knows he identified the universality of the heroic quest. It is a psychological mechanism that is inherent in all human beings. What varies is how we assemble that quest in ourselves and how we go about it. Certainly once we come to understand this as a psychological phenomenon with social consequences, we can come to understand that perhaps the true meaning of the heroic quest is what it does to our minds. The degree to which we externalise and project this process onto the world is the degree to which we have forgotten our own role in creating the scenario in the first place. Conversely the degree to which we internalize this process, the degree to which we understand the journey as being an inner unfolding, the closer we are to the truth. We make these games to capture the treasures that we think will enrich us, and we set these games in the worlds we believe they have to take place in.

So when you look at the world around you, the reality tunnel you habitually live in, or one you might like to live in, the question always has to be: what’s at the heart of it? Why are you there and what’s the payoff that keeps you there? What are the challenges you feel you need to face to navigate this world, even if it’s simply the challenge to embrace joy and relaxation?

In any event, the moment you truly understand that you’re trying to capture something that lies dormant in your own mind, the walls of the labyrinth become transparent, and the games you play with yourself are seen as they are.

Does this mean you shouldn’t play? Does this mean you shouldn’t delve into these realms of light and darkness? Hardly. And even if you simply decided not to, it wouldn’t be sufficient. It’s so much a part of you, it would take much of the rest of your life to fully detatch from that mindset.
What you can do, and do quickly, is take a conscious attitude to it. Right now you’re probably pursuing someone else’s idea of treasure at the heart of the labyrinth, and hence you’re playing by the rules they taught you in order to get it.

A very mundane example of this is the typical middle class careerperson. We might ask ourselves what the fuck this poor bastard thinks he’s doing in that cubicle 40 hours a week, but that’s the parameters of the game for him. At the end of that road is his hypothetical treasure, his sense of bliss. Will he ever get it? Probably not, because he entered that game with no clear idea of where it would lead, or where it might end. Chances are he learned his vague dreams from someone else who lived their whole life with the same vague dreams. Another lost soul in the Hellworld of bourgeoisie prosperity.

You want to break out of that shit? Quitting your job won’t do it. You’ll just be broke and homeless and still wondering how you’re going to get that brass ring one day. You’ve just fallen into a backroad of that particular Hellworld. You’ll probably wander around for awhile and eventually recreate the same scenario with a few modifications. If you’re really serious about getting out, then define what you want, ( which you’ve already done) , define what you have to do to get it( ditto), and what sort of view of life you need to make it happen. You make the rules, you set the standards, you decide if you succeed or fail. Not your parents, not your friends, not your significant other, your children, or society. You do. Your game. Your world. Your life. And if you’re going to be here, then you better make your reasons good ones.

The good news is the default reality tunnel of western society is quickly losing what little grounding it had in observable truth. Material prosperity and media saturated leisure are receding in the distance.

The bad news is that people are swiftly being herded into a number of alternatives. We have the Hellworlds of ‘war that won’t end in our lifetimes’ , ‘ peak oil’ , ‘clash of civilizations’ , ‘climate collapse’ or ‘the new world order’. People wander into these headspaces because for whatever reason they feel like this stuff represents some unavoidable modification to the game rules they’ve already laid out. Is it your secret desire to run free across the decimated wasteland of a collapsed western world? Maybe if your name is Ran Prieur. But chances are the only reason you’re there is because you convinced yourself that the carrot at the end of the stick just got yanked into the bowels of post apocalyptic nightmare and you can’t help but follow it. Until you see what’s leading you into these places you’ll never be free of them.

And the sad thing is, in light of our earlier considerations, these nightmares aren’t just in your head. They infect the world, they spread, they become more real. You plumb these dark dimensions and in doing so you solidify them and call them forth, and lay the groundwork for others to fall into them. And so very few of us have the discipline to back out of the trap, even if we could see it.

Thankfully we also have the Hyperworlds, the realms of unleashed progress, opportunity creativity and abundance. “2012”, “The Singularity”, ” Electronic Retribalisation”, “The Archaic Revival”, “S.M.I.L.E”. Each of these has their cheerleaders and evangelists. The main danger to these places is apathy. Of sliding into complacency and neglecting the need for challenge and growth. I do think the mature person chooses to live in a joyful, promising world of limitless opportunities, while always understanding the importance of walking the path of risk, change, and rebirth. But that’s just me perhaps.

Depending on your perspective, this is the ultimate act of magick. To create a world in your imagination and call it forth, to make it real. Certainly the alchemical quest is equally founded in the transformation of the self, but it’s partner will always be the story that makes the world. This is not just in your head. It can remain there, but only if you wish it. There are no limits, there is no ‘real world’ to break yourself against, in the end. ‘The real world’ is just another story somebody told you once. The world and yourself are of the same clay.

In some ways, this chapter is the pivot for everything I’ve written here so far. I can see now that my initial concern was to tell a story, to paint a picture of the dark dimension growing up around us all, to craft a world of real dangers, not just nebulous anxieties, and real potentials for adventure and growth, not just jolts to a jaded nervous system. A real quest for the world. With a toolbox for personal transformation at it’s heart.

In doing so I’ve come to understand very well that I’m not the only one doing this. Although I like to think I’m presenting people with better options than the reality priesthood, and their never-ending terrorscape might offer. At the heart of it, my methods are not much different, only more transparent. I pull the trick on you with my left and show you how it’s done with my right. And sometimes even I don’t see what I’m doing. Particularly to myself.

One thing I may have overlooked is the potential for genuine terror, for a real looming sense of loss and dislocation, of being ripped apart in the bowels of hell. That’s what it felt like for me, and while the temptation is there to treat it as a mistake and wonder how to avoid it in the future, the fact remains that it has helped purify me, driven out the flaws in my thinking, the weaknesses and childish attatchments. If you’ve ever faced the prospect of losing it all, you quickly come to understand what you really value.

In that sense the quest is a success, at least so far. I have survived the challenges I posed to myself, and gathered the prizes I’d left in wait. For the time being, I’m happy to stand on the crest of the hill and survey the landscape, before I descend into the valley of my own making again.

Homework: Assume for a moment that it’s all a sham. At any moment, you could choose to experience anything at any level of intensity you wish. It’s a lucid dream and you’re in control. Given that, why are you doing what you’re doing? You must have a good reason for all this struggle, conflict, confusion and searching, right? What is this all about? Maybe you’re doing what you feel like you have to do to make the experience real for you. To make it so you’ve earned your treasures.

You’re playing a game with yourself for everything on your list. Maybe some of them are easy and you’re working to overcome laziness. Maybe some of them are hard and you’re developing courage. Maybe some of them are mysterious and you’re cultivating understanding. Whatever the case, these things are the cornerstones of the world you’re really living in. The focuses you invest time and energy into reinforce that view of the world. So take some time to track it back. Follow the cord back out of the maze, and look at the picture you’ve painted for yourself.

Even if you could get all these things you want at the drop of a hat… would you? Would it be worth anything if you did? In many ways we validate our experiences in terms of our struggle to achieve it. But perhaps you’ve become addicted to struggle, and forgotten what it’s all supposed to be for. If you want to spend the rest of your life like Sisyphus and his rock, then by all means do so. In many ways life is about the journey, not the destination. There is fulfillment in process.

Just don’t forget you have options. When it’s not rewarding anymore you can walk away. Fuck that rock and fuck the hill. Try answering to yourself for a change and not the delusions swirling in your head. It may be a dream you can’t leave yet, but it’s still just a dream.

next time: stoned immaculate

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Alchemy for the Braindamaged XIV:Design Science Revolution


I’m going to ask you to think about roles for a second. I’m sure you’ve probably recognized, or had it pointed to you, that while you think of yourself as a coherent entity, you in fact play a number of different roles, in a number of different contexts, and they may be radically different. Even contradictory.

You probably know this already, but you probably don’t think about it very much. Part of the reason is we tend to have one or two core roles that we think of as us, and the rest are deliberate ‘acting’, to fit into a certain situation.

What I mean is, when you’re with your parents, that probably is still ‘you’, just a you that maybe you don’t identify with very much anymore, but you slip into when you’re with your folks because you have so much practice with that role. It’s no more or less ‘real’ than the persona you assume with your significant other, or your best friends. They may all be very different, but you recognize them all as authentic or true reflections of you as a person, whereas in work or school or public places, there is more of an impetus to present a contrived or forced appearance that is so antithetical to your usual set of references that it’s impossible to lose your self-consciousness in those contexts. You always are aware of acting. You’re always holding an aspect of yourself outside the experience.

What you likely don’t pay much attention to is the mechanism whereby you switch from one role to another, or the mechanism whereby you lose yourself in certain roles and not others. Deep in all of us is the need for a kind of internal stability and consistency and this leads us to adopt certain behaviors as helpful to that goal, and reject others as contrary.

But if you were to participate in the theatre for instance, that creates a context where you can theoretically lose yourself in a role that has nothing whatsoever to do with your inner compass, and not feel threatened. You adopt another identity, sometimes profoundly, and then you drop it.

So then, isn’t it possible to transplant that focus, that ability to adopt different persona, and bring it into everyday life? To craft a new identity, and inhabit it fully?

And why exactly would we want to do that you might ask? Well, regardless of how different your various personal roles might be, they share certain common traits, and more importantly, a common range of experience. If you think of joy on a scale for instance, you may have a bunch of roles that go to 5 or 6 on the joy scale, and one that goes to ten occasionally, but none of them go past ten. That 1-10 scale itself is one of those core principles, one of those unifying modalities like we discussed last time, that your roles cluster around. You can push against that ceiling really hard, and you may well get to a new place from time to time, but all that does is establish a new ceiling to bang up against. That ceiling is a reference point for all your various personality roles.

So what happens if you want to totally step outside of that old scale. What if you don’t want to bust your ass to reach 11, you want 20 or 30 or 100 instead? How the hell do you do that, with no roles of your own that use a completely different range of experience?

The short answer is you steal them. Some cultures call this possession, in ritual magick this is known as invocation.

Now, ancient practitioners understood this concept, but to conceptualize entirely different orders of experience and understanding they felt the need to attribute them to autonomous complexes of energy and intentionality, ie; spirits, demons, gods whathaveyou. You needn’t bother with that unless you want to. It will probably help, but there can be side effects. More on that another time.

Am I saying that there are no such things as spirits and gods? Absolutely not. I know that there are for myself, but it makes no difference. The reason it makes no difference is that anything you think you can know or experience by assuming the role of some other entity is still going to come through your hardware. You can get the same charge theoretically from a made up deity as you can from one with a long history.

Why is that? Well in either case it depends entirely on how well you can ‘lose yourself’ on command in your new persona. Anthony Hopkins did such a good job losing himself in the role of Hannibal Lecter that he needed professional help to disentangle himself from it after the fact. Now maybe you don’t want to borrow the worldview of a fictional cannibalistic serial killer permanently, but the point is that you could. Or anything else for that matter.

The reason this works is that you already have a whole bunch of different scales for experience in your head, but you divide them into two types: ones that are possible for you, and ones that are not. In order to keep your internal continuity you sort experiences and sensations you have no persona structure to support into the category of ‘other’ and save them for fantasy, fiction and entertainment.

Deep down, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what 20, 30, 100 on the joy scale is, and how it feels, because you attribute that possibility to other people and other beings, but you diligently keep the door shut on stepping into that yourself, to keep your identity from falling into complete disorder.

How much harder then to tap into the ecstasy of a deity or archetype? You’ve got a whole lifetime of behaviors, beliefs and experiences saying that the ‘best’ you can do is a ten on the joe/jane blow scale and you fought damn hard to do that. To admit you can instantly step into ten thousand on the bliss scale requires you to let go of your whole invested life experience. To adopt a whole new view of the world requires letting go of your prior investment, at least temporarily, in what you think you already see and know about the world.

It’s tempting to think of ego or self as some kind of object or indwelling essence that needs to be dropped or exorcised, but it’s nothing of the sort. We go into tailspins of confusion and dismay when we think of what might happen if we lost our egos. So lets be clear about what it is, and then we can start making it work for us. First off, ego is not a thing. It is a process. It is the process of referencing one’s self through thoughts, speech and behavior. The problem with this is that you don’t have a self. So it would be better to say that ego is the whole complex of mental programs chasing it’s own tail in the effort to affirm the existence of a non existent thing, ie; this hypothetical ‘self’. All the problems arise from trying to make a dynamic process into a static object.

‘You’ are a plurality, a complex of interchangeable modules. The only thing holding you back is the ignorant assertion of a core identity. Treat that core identity as what it is: a stepping stone. A set of markers for your next reconstruction. It’ll always be there if you want to play with it again.

To the extent the self can be considered an object at all, it is a designed object, and you are the designer.

homework.

Pick some quality you want a bit more of. Compassion. Bliss. Inner peace. Understanding. Detatchment. Creativity. Make a short list of the five most profound experiences you’ve had of that type, and rate them on a scale. Alongside each one, note which role you were operating in at the time. Partner, pupil, child, debauched reprobate and so forth.

Now based your own scale decide on someone, real or fictional who has that quality at some new, arbitrarily high number. Compose a description of that person. Of their personality traits, habits, relationships, distinctive vocabulary, their attitudes and beliefs about things. All the ins and outs of the framework that lets them sustain the quality you’re after at the level you want. If you don’t know or aren’t sure, then make it up. You’re right either way.

Why is this necessary? Because attributes never exist in isolation. The ability to go to a hundred on the joy scale is supported by a bunch of other things in the same structure that constellate around a different kind of hypothetical self. Conversely, the ceiling you keep hitting in yourself is a byproduct of a bunch of other aspects of your internal structure that could take you years to root out consciously. This practice helps you sidestep all that arduous drudgery. That big empty space that we’re always trying to fill is like a kind of irritant that the pearl of identity forms around, and when you shift the perspective at the core of that, the whole structure shifts to accommodate it.

From this point on, it’s a matter of learning to let go of anxiety and just run with it. No, it’s not easy. If you’ve never explored drama or the theatre, you might want to consider it. Role playing games are a good compromise. The Augoeides makes good material for this because it’s an idealized or extrapolated image of self, so it’s easier to adopt what you feel is an already latent potential. Writing or talking to yourself in other voices is a useful halfway house too. For myself I treat it like skydiving: you can obsess about your chute as much as you want, but as soon as you’re out of the plane, you might as well relax, because there’s nothing to be done about it any more. In that way, putting yourself in no-exit, make or break situations can be very helpful. Just have a realistic sense of what you can do at a given stage.

At the end of the day you’ve got to decide if you want to be bound by the expectations of other people, and your neurotic habit patterns for the rest of your life or not. The truth is, nobody else really knows who you are inside and for the most part, nobody really cares. They all want to do what you’re about to do. Chances are they’re so wracked by anxiety and confusion that they have no idea whatsoever what’s going on with anyone else. Do them and yourself a favor and just get on with it. When you do, you’ll wonder why the hell you waited so long to get started.