One Step Beyond

[It occurs to me, at 12:30 in the morning, that it’s almost impossible to read this and not come away with the wrong idea, that what I’m “looking for” is some kind of spiritual or religious truth. While that is an adjunct to the heady experiences of the last couple weeks, it certainly has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.]

I have absolutely no idea where we’re going to land, which is meta to the point and is the point, which I love so if you’re looking for cohesion or are allergic to commas, run on sentences, half-baked ideas, dips into absolute ‘shit I think he might actually be crazy’s then I think you might want to pull the ripcord now.

The rest of you? Strap in kids, we’re going for a fucking ride.

We’ll pretty much have to start with the timeline because there’s no way describing this without it is going to make any fucking sense at all. It’s also because I’ve made the rookie mistake of letting this all sit in my head for a few days too long out of a misguided confidence that I’d “of course remember it all.” Don’t worry, I’ll kick myself plenty for all of us.

  • 7/20: I write and post “People watching and time dilation” 1 & 2 within a couple hours of each other. Focused generally on seeing patterns in things by letting your mind relax over the chaos of the environment.
  • 7/22: Try again to write the 3rd part to the People Watching post, wherein I was to talk about turning that faculty inward. Almost 3000 words later (having gone for 2k on Tuesday) I save but abandon the effort with “unclear words, unclear mind.”
    Later that night I’m talking with Ed and Frank about those posts, finding patterns in things as you let your head relax and classify things without Intentional Interference over time. There’s something there and I can’t quite get to it. I see them both notice my visible frustration as I try to work through the idea and run into stumbling blocks in my own head. I wave my hands and abandon the topic.
  • 7/24: Sitting at the cigar lounge, Ed asks the question: What is your inner voice? Eliciting some great conversation. He does this several times over the next week, as different permutations of our social group are present.
  • 8/1: I get a facebook message from Bill asking if I had time to go to lunch. We spend the next couple days playing tag and settling on Wednesday.
  • 8/1: Coming down the hill while listening to William Gibson’s “Mona Lisa Overdrive” I hear…
    “… Gentry was convinced that cyberspace had a Shape, an overall total form. Not that that was the weirdest idea Slick had ever run across, but Gentry had this obsessive conviction that the Shape mattered totally . The apprehension of the Shape was Gentry’s grail.”
    Get lost in a reverie about patterns.
  • 8/2: Read the following paragraph from “Essays in the art of writing” by Robert Louis Stevenson:
    “…it may be said with sufficient justice that the motive and end of any art whatever is to make a pattern; a pattern, it may be, of colors, of counds, of changing attitudes, geometrical figures, or imitative lines; but still a pattern”
    Mention on twitter that I’m considering going through my old posts looking for patterns. That night’s Nightcap focuses on that idea:
  • 8/3: Resolution to print out the last year of the blog, got 2 months done. Brought them down the hill to screw around with.
    3 hour discussion with Frank about theology and writing that…I’ve not quite digested enough to talk overmuch about.
  • 8/4: Lunch with Bill to talk about religion.
    I get home after lunch, boot up the computer and Youtube recommends this clip:
  • 8/5: Bible study and post-study conversation with Frank about, well, everything, but most poignantly the existence of the faculty of reason as a proof for the existence of God.

A couple weeks ago I posted those two posts that were supposed to be about watching people and seeking patterns in things across different time horizons as a function of observation and attention without intrusion into the stimuli. They kinda got off track and as I’ve said I couldn’t get to the third in the series because “unclear writing is unclear thought reflected upon one’s self.”

My quest to write that third post was the thing that finally caused this meta idea to bubble up from wherever the hell that is. And we can have the Akashic Record, Morphic Resonance, Collective Unconscious, Holy Ghost, Aristotle’s Daemons conversation if you want. But I’ve got to do a bunch of deep reading before I can participate beyond a level more casual than I’m inclined.

I posted that thing [] last Thursday and it took a couple days, as such things do, to sink in to my head.

It’s been on my mind that I’m thinking about the constant returns to the same topics I write about here differently. I used to be very frustrated about that because it felt like I was just looping. One level higher I’d end up complaining about complaining about the same things over and over again looking to find my way through to at least another level of understanding about where I kept going in my head.

It was easy to think of the repeated draw of a particular set of topics and ideas as an inability to escape from a loop, in much the same way that people binge eat after being on a diet because they can’t escape the gravity of their own self-appraisal. (As a non-aside, I’ve been stuck in the 194 to 198 pound range for a bit over 4 months.) And as I find myself in that kind of situation it was easy to snap that template over the top of what’s going on.

But in my endless quest to ride the razor’s edge between “giving myself a fucking break” and “if I’m not up my own ass constantly pushing, I’ll fall back in to inertia for aNOTHER decade (yes, decade)” I’ve been trying to divorce my own mental state from my appraisal of my writing.

And rather than come to the conclusion that it’s just repetitious, the idea that I’m actually searching for something and keep dipping in to the same well over and over again for another look at it occurred to me subtly but strongly last week sometime. Then it comes out my fingertips while I’m in stream of consciousness mode because these are the moments of expression wherein I’m the most out of my own way.

I let my mind sit with that concept last weekend trying to stay out of my own way as much as I could.

That’s an interesting practice that’s tough to talk about with out employing some zen taxonomy: The effort of no effort. It’s one of those things you can learn how to do with meditation. So, screw it, let’s have that aside. After all I warned you about cohesion on this one.

Most people seem to have a misconception about meditation, that when you sit for however long, 5 minutes to 2 hours, your mind is quiet. That’s adorable and completely false. The practice of meditation isn’t to yell at your mind in your mind to keep quiet. It’s to learn to not give intrusive thoughts more importance than they deserve. You sit, spine straight, relaxed, and mostly close your eyes (so as not to fall asleep) and just pick a point out in space and focus on your breath. Yes, you’ll get about 3 seconds in before Monkey Mind starts just yelling at you. You’re uncomfortable, your nose itches (don’t scratch, it’ll go away), did you leave the stove on.

So you breathe and let those thoughts come and go. After a couple sessions they start going faster and faster as your brain actually becomes quieter. When your brain quiets down you start abandoning the rhythm of thinking and a side effect is to, in a limited sense, lose track of your internal clock, in much the same way data compression leads to less space being taken by the same information, less time is marked.

No, the fascinating moment of meditation is when you stop and stand up and realize your brain is different. Things start entering your mind, but in the desire to stay “in state” you learn to just let the new “post-meditative” intrusions just kinda go.

As such, you learn the technique, however fallibly, of getting out of your own way.

So it’s a bit more than a week ago today and, as I mentioned above, I clearly had the idea on my head as I tried to express it to Frank and Ed, but failed, not being quite sure what it was that I was groping for.

I started letting my mind relax a bit and flow over things without trying to hold on to them. I spent some time in meditation and things just started bubbling up. Not new ideas, to be sure. But the OVERWHELMING notion not only that “there’s something there” but that “there’s something in the fact that there’s something there” so not just the presence of a pattern but the meta-pattern itself.

Then Ed asks “What your inner voice is.” I don’t remember what I said when the proverbial talking stick came around to me. I thought about it and gave some kind of answer, honest as I could. But I was talking off the cuff so I don’t know what I said as I’ve drawn no real conclusions on the idea.

But there it was again. Not ‘patterns’ so much as the idea of stopping your mind and listening to an inner voice, precisely what it was that I’d been gnawing at as these strange shapes in the fog started showing up in my consciousness, having already been no doubt clear in my writing, if not to me.

Sunday, having smoked and drank for 3 days in a row I spent mostly in recovery. It was an “I’m not wearing pants for the next couple days” type late weekend.

But the idea kept rolling around in my head. There’s something there. There’s something there…

Monday, like I said, I’d finaly gelled around the idea of going through my old posts. the first cut of decision was to maybe do a month-end recapitulation and summary post, an extraction and hopefully lossless compression of what I’d posted about that month. I think Cigargoyle thought I meant on twitter that I’d pull the posts and rewrite them into single topic posts. And while that certainly did cross my mind, it wasn’t quite what I landed on that day, much less since.

Now I’m an audiobook fanatic. I love them to death. I’ll have to see if I wrote about that phenomenon or not. But one thing I’ve found to be true is that my comprehension, attention and REtention when listening to books is easily 10x better than when I’m reading visually, especially when what I’m listening to is of narrative form.

So I’ve been listening, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, to William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive) and I’m about half way through Mona Lisa Overdrive.

By Tuesday morning I can smell something in my head that’s absolutely grabbing me. Recognizing that something has been going on I back off and don’t spend TOO much energy trying to fight against myself to figure out “What It Means” since that would have the same effect on whatever the hell is bubbling up (it’s the best phrase I can come up with for it) as a high school English teacher beating a well known piece of poetry to death by wringing every last bit of metaphor out of it, leaving it a cold dead husk in your mind for all time. Not that I’m bitter about that at all.

I’d printed out two months of blog posts, June and July, stapled them together and figured I’d sit a the cigar lounge to spread them out a bit and start…well I wasn’t sure…sifting through them looking for common threads that I’d only be able to find if they were physically spread out in front of me.

Coming down the hill on a strangely named road, “Stop Thirty” I heard this:

“… Gentry was convinced that cyberspace had a Shape, an overall total form. Not that that was the weirdest idea Slick had ever run across, but Gentry had this obsessive conviction that the Shape mattered totally . The apprehension of the Shape was Gentry’s grail.”

And I swear I could just about hear the little spring in my skull make a “ping” sound as it popped out of its place, which was apparently holding some regulator of governor in place.

“Fucking PATTERNS.” I started muttering to myself. “Patterns of thought, of writing. Patterns of patterns in multidimensional conceptual space. Music almost doesn’t count since it’s sub-lingual. But not only are there visual patterns of space and color, but patterns of thought. Music is almost not worth considering since music is almost definable as contextually free patterns of sound over time. The writing is patterns. I’ve been trying to say something to myself, audience be damned, through all this.” My mind raced over my frustration and pushes to deny them as a redundancy instead of watching them from the ‘outside’ to see what That Voice has been trying to get out and perhaps in front of me rather than just a downstream idea, resulting from a lack of progress.

I thought about the hard line philosophical stance I’ve taken for decades that there’s no such thing as chaos or randomness, that those are simply human conceptual constructs to explain phenomena of arbitrary complexity; that if you could duplicate the exact circumstances under which you tossed a die that it would come up the same number every single time, and that the very NOTION of “randomness” is a shorthand abstraction created by humans to account for things too complex to be predicted, but where patterns could be seen. Yes, we know if you “toss a fair die fairly” six thousand times that you’re going to come up with a tendency towards equilibrium. It’s not that the outcome is random. It’s anything but.

I’ve yet to hear a meaningful counter argument.

Yet we cast chaos (to abuse my own logic in the name of comprehensibility somewhat) in order to have something from which to extract patterns, a place to look for meaning, something to make sense of. People go to bars to sit and “see what happens” which is really the same thing, assuming they’re not just trying to get laid, though even then. They’re just presupposing the outcome, which actually ends up creating the damned outcome.

How long had I been on the one hand able to just write at something close to perfect “stream of consciousness” as I can (at this level of what I’ll call meditative equilibrium)? At first blush my brain said “the last 8-9 months” but then I started casting my brain back in time and realized that one of the reasons I started journaling was because of the way cyclic thought would become apparent and help me break the self-reinforcing nature of anxiety, revealing the true answer of “forever.”

But what’s changed in this last bout of productivity going back until about last September is that I’ve largely gotten “The Cruft” (that bunch of crap that starts to accumulate in your mind the minute you stop writing which you have to purge to get back down to the good stuff) out on to the page and am able to actually do some thinking through my fingers. So while the notion of the repeated pattern is still there, it’s at a somewhat deeper level. It’s still the same process.

So what does that mean? Well who the fuck knows. But it suggests something about the nature of thought, at least as I experience it, that this happens at every level (so far) and that I can’t allow myself to progress to a deeper level of consideration until I’ve sufficiently groped my way around the elephant of a particular level.

So the Pattern discovery pattern has a vertical aspect to it as well. It may literally BE fractal, repeating at each level just as the description of the levels themselves are their own pattern.

Now I recognize, a couple thousand words in that the way I’m using the word ‘pattern’ here amounts to something like a placeholder. But, lacking a richer taxonomy to describe these things, that’s what I’ve been stuck with. It may also be that this linguistic shortfall is preventing me from understanding what’s actually going on as I’ve misnamed it. Well the only thing I can do about that is metric craptons of reading, pouring over more chaos to try and enrich my vocabulary and understanding in the hopes that something will emerge which I’ll find sufficiently useful to level jump my understanding.

Again it’s recursive. Looking for patterns in patterns to find better patterns of thought to understand patterns in my writing as I pour back and forth over them. Sure, it’s heady. But it’s capturable.

I considered that day, Tuesday I think it was (I’m in too much of a groove to scroll up right now and check) that I was standing on this precipice, finally seeing what just might be a descent into madness or at least obsession yawning before me, waiting for me to give up the last bit of resistance I had to true immersion in these “meta” ideas so I could actually discover what the everloving fuck is going on in my head.

Now as “not really” an aside, this is how several of my friends describe my journey into theology in general and Bible Study in particular. I’m here for the brotherhood and am keeping “out of my way” as much as reasonable while studying The Book and adjunctive concerns. Shut up it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

And I had the thought, over that last mile and a half from Stop Thirty to the cigar lounge that maybe it was time to just pop the clutch and just embrace whatever the hell this is, thinking quite surely that what I’m talking about here may very well be a literal descent in to madness. I thought again and again of Gentry’s obsession with the notion that “cyberspace has a shape” and that it was his grail.

Gentry, Angie, Slick Henry, Molly, and Mona.

All of them in Mona Lisa Overdrive are looking for something they can’t quite identify. All of them. There’s an overarching sense that they’re fighting to get to an idea and it’s not generally the same one.

Of course my mind is tagging on this.

Now, plot devices aside, they only ever find it when they take their hands off the wheel. Gentry is shown, but is guided by his obsession to interfere with Newmark’s rig. Angie Mitchell has the most pure guidance that is “internal to herself yet external.” It’s tough for me not to stare that in the face.

I wonder now, having seen the same kind of drive in many of the characters in Mona Lisa Overdrive, what Gibson was searching for. What was his grail in writing it? Surely, SURELY that repeated phenomenon across several threads of character perspective across the span of the book is indicative of nothing less than the same journey. I wonder if it’s in an interview someplace.

Things kept coming up once I’d started getting intimations of all of this. A former me would call them Synchronicities, though I’m inclined to give them a bit more gravitas lately. The same topic comes up unbidden over and over from apparently disjointed fronts.

Quite like when Robert Anton Wilson talks about reality tunnels and perceptual intention. He gives in one of this books an exercise of making it a point to look for quarters on the ground then see how many you actually find once your mind is tuned in that direction. I’ve done this experiment over time and it’s really quite haunting what happens. There are quarters everywhere.

After both very few or very many decades of living you have the peculiar sensation that the intention manifests quarters. Of course when you’re a kid you don’t know any better. Then you get to a stage where you absolutely know better. But then after you’ve lived a bunch of life and “seen’t you some shit” you really start to question who the hell you are to “know better” and once again there is a mountain, to abuse Qingyuan Weixin.

So I got here last Tuesday and spread out my printouts from June and July out and started looking at them when Ed came in. I’d also run in to Frank in the back room, who was working on the last couple pages of his second book and…not at all averse to abandoning the effort to come talk. The rest of the guys showed up soon after and we got to jawing. Well, fast forward a couple hours and it’s just Scott, Frank, and I.

I hesitatingly asked Frank a long winded version of “how do I level jump in my writing? I’m clearly stagnated, looking through all this for the common threads.” I gestured to the now re-stacked couple months of printouts.

And Frank responded with an answer to a much much better question, that I hadn’t QUITE asked but was for lack of a better term a superset of what I’d asked.

What Frank said was (to butcher it down to its core) “Ask God.” Now…I’d been looking for “take a couple classes on journalism” or “read these three great books on the mechanics of long form writing” or something else quippy and, let’s face it, predictable.

A relevant side-note about spirituality: I’m not a Christian. Nobody in these conversations is confused about this (well, some are confused about the reality, but not my declaration.) But I have gone from describing myself as agnostic to deist, since it’s really more accurate. I felt compelled to remind him of this, before he went off on a tangent of little applicability.

Instead he spoke with characteristic eloquence about evolving my relationship with the divine by literally asking, not presupposing much about cosmology or religious trappings, that the path to understanding might actually lie in THAT direction. He then told some truly amazing personal stories about his personal journey in that regard, from atheism through Protestantism and eventually to Catholicism.

To abuse what he said through the filter of memory and mind: “You’re of a sufficiently analytic mind that going to this from the front door will get you nowhere. Studying the bible is useful. But it’s not going to get you there. Perhaps trying to ask God for advice will get you there. In that moment you go from Deism to Theism. God becomes a person. Then life gets interesting because ‘just how much of an interested idiosyncratic God is he? How interested is he in participation with our lives? Does he love us? Is he there for us? Well…if you’re trying to find him, maybe he’s trying to find you and it may just be that this is the way for you.” He was getting visibly excited, then said as much, describing the moment of potential that I was facing.

“You’re reminding me of something that happens to me all the time on reddit, in book recommendation forums.” He scrunched up his brow a bit. “Well, someone will ask for a book recommendation and people will chime in and get excited at the notion of someone reading their favorite book for the first time. It strikes me that you’ve got something close to the exact same expression.” He was already smiling knowingly and nodding enthusiastically.

It absolutely sent a chill down my spine. I knew then (and now, some days and two infinities later) that I really need to digest the implications of that and that doing so is a cope to deal with the fear of actually getting an answer.

I left Smokey on Tuesday with my head just spinning.

Wednesday morning I got a text from Bill asking if it was too late for lunch. No no, I said, and we arranged to meet at Chop House, probably the best food in Hendersonville (pretensions aside it’s not a particularly cosmopolitan town.)

We showed up, sat down and went through the pleasantries of two friends who hadn’t seen each other in a couple years (it was very strange that it was close to two years. But then 2020 was a bit of a wash in that regard.)

Frankly it’s now, as I write this five days later and most of the substance of our conversation is lost in time, integrated into my skull beyond casual recall, past a couple highlights.

I’m at a point now where I can’t really continue without more information. That may come out of the analysis of my last year’s work, both in the form of published blog posts (totalling about 650 pages) and my other scribblings and scrawlings, as yet uncollected, which almost certainly total about as much. Or if it’s from more reading.

It’s “as though” my brain just isn’t equipped with the conceptual frameworks required to box together these otherwise nebulous thoughts and ideas, many of which seem as though they are out there in the fog, just beyond reach.

I can see the level jump out there. But that’s not to presume there’s a straight path between here and there. I’m not that naive.

The only thing I can really think to do is cast around and try not to get in my own way any more than I already am.