1. i’ve been internetless for a couple of weeks. My internet provider doesn’t have any English-speaking call centrists and my listening comprehension for German isn’t up to the task, so one of my students called & pretended to be me – an amusing episode, as he did it on loudspeaker in the middle of class, charming the pants off a Frau Hofmann.
There was a connection test and the problem was deemed to lie in my router. A new router was sent, and deemed undeliverable because i don’t have a standard German name so the courier couldn’t find me on the door buzzer. At the moment i’m using a weak & unsecured signal emanating from somewhere in the building, though i only connect for brief moments.
2. i’ve come to pay close attention to coincidences; everything is patterned, which means both that there are no coincidences and that, in a sense, there’s nothing so remarkable about remarkable coincidences – these latter are just a more obviously concentrated pattern. It is not chance that you meet an old friend on the street after a decade’s absence; nor that you forget a hat and it rains; nor that you woke when you did, and the weather was as it was, and your tea or coffee or juice was as it was.
Human intentions count for something but not in the way we suppose, i suppose. This is one reason i don’t really like films with flawless villains and masterminds, where some clever plot is seamlessly executed because someone is clever enough to plan everything. i prefer stories where things go wrong (or right) for small reasons, because somebody is in the wrong place at the wrong time, or trips on an unseen sausage dog (Tarantino films take their energy from this pattern of mishap). One reason i like Tolkien – he comes very close to how our human wishes and blunders are nonetheless part of a wider pattern of things, and “even the wise cannot know all ends”:
‘You give the choice to an ill chooser,’ said Aragorn. ‘Since we passed through the Argonath my choices have gone amiss.’ He fell silent, gazing north and west into the gathering night for a long while. […] ‘Ours is but a small matter in the great deeds of this time. A vain pursuit from its beginning, maybe, which no choice of mine can mar or mend.’
3. The last couple of weeks have been an interesting constellation of happenstance and chance. i adapted quickly to no internet, simply watching my stock of DVDs or reading; and i went more seriously to work on my latest attempt-at-a-novel: 34,000 words in about a month, something i couldn’t have managed with constant, high quality internet. In part it went so quickly because i’ve been plotting this book for years, and wrote the 30 to 40 thousand words earlier this year, in a different narrative voice. At the same time, i fell into the snares of a sexy Afghan girl, one of my old students, and while it’s troublesome to negotiate some kind of “relationship” (to explain, to an extreme extrovert, that i’m strongly introverted – it seems in the nature of extroverts that they cannot understand introversion), it’s also proved stimulatingly difficult.
4. In the midst of this difficulty, i was jostled out of my dread of human society by a Carlos Castaneda book of all things. The more i read Castaneda the more i feel he straddles the border between philosophy and magic (as does Ursula le Guin in her first three Earthsea books). i have no idea if what he writes (encounters with a Yaqui sorceror) actually happened and in a sense it is irrelevant; even if it is pure fiction it gets close to the border between philosophy and magic, where seeing aright starts to alter one’s reality. For me, philosophy is about useful perception – since there is no way of determining whether one is right or wrong, the test is pragmatic: does it make you happier, does it make you less conflicted, less hypocritical, less delusional, less egotistic, less anxious? And can you engage with normal earthy folk (like my Afghan lover) without seeming bizarre and offputtingly unearthly? – and in this sense, my job is the supreme test of my philosophical sorcery.
As i see it, Castaneda’s central point is that our ordinary human personality – the lesser man – is a parasitic element, keeping us drained and fearful and unable to achieve anything worthwhile. He names this the foreign installation. His work is directed to the elimination of this element, the lesser man. From The Power of Silence:
the only worthwhile course of action, whether for sorcerors or average men, is to restrict our involvement with our self-image […] What a nagual aims at with his apprentices is the shattering of the mirror of self-reflection.
This is a project i have undertaken for the last 13 or so years, since incessant self-reflection brought me to a point of near insanity (a wilderness of broken mirrors). Tai Chi and then the magician’s path gave guidance and impetus, for nothing worthwhile can be achieved without abandoning the lesser man: vanity, pettiness, anger, fear, jealousy, spite. i am still largely embroiled in the tentacles of self-reflection, though i can see some progress when i compare myself with my younger self. Castaneda again:
For the nagual Julian self-importance was a monster that had three thousand heads. And one could face up to it and destroy it in any of three ways. The first way was to sever each head one at a time; the second was to reach that mysterious state of being called the place of no pity, which destroyed self-importance by slowly starving it; and the third was to pay for the instantaneous annihilation of the three-thousand-headed monster with one’s symbolic death.
i tried the first and it didn’t work. Then i found the second but could not thoroughly assimilate it into my daily life. The third – i have nearly died (of asthma and suicide) often enough to unsettle the edifice of vanity, but the relentless energy of the “three-thousand-headed monster” is difficult to thoroughly displace. i think the key is what Castaneda calls the point of no pity, where you cease to feel any pity for yourself or others. It is difficult to reach, because pity is the last comfort of the lesser man; and because, if nakedly perceived, it would strike most as monstrous and terrifying – what Castaneda calls the dark touch of the impersonal.
This coldness must be experienced within the midst of human encounters, or it is of little value (i think of Buddhist monks giving seminars in America, suddenly flustered by the sight of women in shorts & t-shirts). It is not easy to reach this point in solitude, but once one has it is then necessary to be tested in society – my extroverted Afghan lover is a means of conditioning & proving my point of no pity, for myself or her; and things would have become hellishly complicated, had i not been balanced in my deepest impersonality, my cultivated absence of pity.
5. It is essential to my philosophical sorcery that i don’t suppose one requires esoteric knowledge of demonic names and whatnot – something i always found questionable in Yeats, with his so-called Golden Dawn – as long as one dissolves the self, it is well. My 5 years of temping taught me the value of secrecy and apparent submission; teaching has taught me to exercise a modulated dominance. Castaneda talks of the man: “whose worldly task was to sharpen, yet disguise, his cutting edges so that no one would be able to suspect his ruthlessness” and this is apt for my work. i regard my students primarily as a testing ground for my will and the dissolution of my self, and on the whole they love me for it – they regard me as a jolly, entertaining, serious, Sherlock Holmesian teacher; one of the ironies of this path, it seems.
6. You do not require special lore. Wittgenstein: Wenn der Ort, zu dem ich gelangen will, nur auf einer Leiter zu ersteigen wäre, gäbe ich es auf, dahin zu gelangen. Denn dort, wo ich wirklich hin muß, dort muß ich eigentlich schon sein. Was auf einer Leiter erreichbar ist, interessiert mich nicht (if the place I want to get to could only be reached by way of a ladder, I would give up trying to get there. For the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now. Anything that I might reach by climbing a ladder does not interest me). One requires only discipline, which is i think one reason this day abounds in the lesser man, those thoroughly in thrall to the foreign installation. For those seeking power, matters will arrange themselves to allow him to attain the point of no pity. For me, this involves a degree of otherworldliness, but it is essential that this is merely an extension of what one could achieve in an ordinary, purposed life. It is, in any case, pointless to present lore: such teachings can only be understood by those ready to understand, and that comes by experience and hardship. Tove Jansson from Moominland Midwinter:
‘Why didn’t you talk like that in winter,’ said Moomintroll. ‘It’d have been such a comfort. Remember, I said once: “There were a lot of apples here.’ And you just replied: “But now here’s a lot of snow.” Didn’t you understand that I was melancholy?’ Too-ticky shrugged her shoulders. ‘One has to discover everything for oneself,’ she replied. ‘And get it all alone.’
And for that one should be grateful for these odd coincidences, for broken internet, stupid Germans, sexy Afghan babes, adventures and escapades and Moomins.