Fin-de-siècle, Like You Wouldn’t Believe by William Benz
Existential Paté The old Space-Time Continuum, that proverbial Cuisinart of the Universe, has sure been whipping up the Existential Paté recently. These last few months were particularly Astounding! Most of the stories I heard contained something about being washed over by wave after wave of uncommon intensity. Some felt it as liberating clarity. Others experienced an intensification of their confusion. For some it was an opportunity to slough off accumulated habits of a lifetime. Others sank deeper into defensive armor. It was months of Outright Intensity! That is, for those still paying attention and audacious enough to remember.
Of course, we all assume we’re paying attention. What else can we do? Isn’t paying attention just a matter of being awake? Well, that’s a start. But there are varying degrees of being awake. Day dreaming, catnapping, fantasizing-to-beat-the-band, even the conscientious and noble pursuit of AWAKENING can close off awareness to what’s actually happening. Or more specifically, what’s happening at the core of our Collective Being.
Throw in being consumed by work, family, friends, sex, drugs, TV, exhaustion, memories, longing, jealousy, remorse, rage, hatred, even fervid plans for freedom from all of the above, and there’s not much left for paying attention to anything. Considering all that separates us from the flow of our being, paying attention may be the rarest experience we have.
Being overwhelmed by these other intensities insulates us from the centering experience of Outright Intensity. The din of everyday details is the most effective silencer of the Hum of Transformation. In order to experience being turned into Paté, you have to notice you’re on the ingredients list. But to survive the frenzy of our daily lives we learn to avoid the awareness of our part in the Cosmic Recipe. On those rare occasions when we find ourselves in the Pot, as the result of a lapse into poetic inspiration or unavoidable catastrophe (often involving Love of some sort), the response varies. Some hunker down as sheep being led to the slaughter, bleating “Why me, Oh Lord?” Others go dancing to the Banquet Hall singing, “Hallelujah!” and accepting the Blessing as their Great Good Fortune. We all wish to be a part of some delicious dish. But when the actual eating begins, panic usually results. We leap from the serving bowl and scurry to hide our self intact among the petty intensities we were so thankful to escape.
So by paying attention I mean being aware of the Hum of Transformation that’s continuously happening beneath the fear, fantasy, and clutter of our conceptual con-sciousness. Culturally, we’re trained to prefer surface divertimenti to the disquieting Hum. It’s hard to get the wood chopped, the water hauled and the pigs slopped by someone with eyes the size of silver dollars, trembling in their flesh, and muttering about seeing the Eye of God! Ecstatic rapture, when tolerated at all, is usually confined to the back wards of monasteries by skeptical authorities until the non compos mentis can safely and posthumously be declared a Saint.
By paying attention, I mean that extremely rare, difficult to maintain, whole body experience that tends to overwhelm. Overwhelm our conceptual structures to explain. Overwhelm the hypocrisy in the thin veneer of Culture. Overwhelm the sanctimonious prescrip-tions of Fundamentalism, in all its manifes-tations—Religion, Patriotism, Science, the Beneficence of Corporate Greed... Paying attention is more than a passive activity. When present, it naturally and actively transforms our basis in reality. This is both the reason it’s so essential and why it’s so systematically discouraged.
What should we do? Blame Ourselves for not being more attentive? Blame Others? The Government? The Economy? If you’re lazy, you can always blame your spouse, or lack of one. Hey, wait! Teenagers! Now there’s something no one ever doubts is a cause of the mess. If you’re looking for culprits to blame, there’s no end to the likely candidates. But blaming is an exhausting pastime. Not to mention, a distraction from paying attention. Even if you could prove beyond a shadow of doubt exactly who or what was to blame for this muddle, you would still have to find your own way out.
Finding Your Own Way Out Finding your own way out! Now there’s an interesting concept. Emotionally, it has a reassuring ring to it. We like to believe we’re masters of our predicament. We like to believe there’s a resolution to the muddle. But what exactly does this mean? Finding our own way out of “WHAT”? A draining job? A bad relationship? This World of Suffering? Separation from God? Our Death? And who or what exactly does the finding? You? We? The Self? (Which one? The BIG SELF or small self?) The Soul? A Benevolent God? And what exactly gets found? The Means of Escape? Immortality? Absolute Truth? Eternal Salvation? And finally, how do we know we’re out? For sure? When we get a Certificate of Graduation? When it doesn’t hurt anymore? When we can walk on water? When we ascend as rainbow bodies into Heavens? The whole process can become very problematic, very ethereal, very elusive, very fast. It’s easy to understand how people become discouraged, disengaged, or choose to avoid the process altogether.
Before I continue, I should clarify the nature of the vocabulary I’m using: Existential Paté, Outright Intensity, Hum of Transformation, Collective Being, Cosmic Recipe. Next, you’ll be expecting me to ask to have my Crystals aligned. If you know me, “NEW AGE” is not the label that first comes to mind. These capitalized phrases do not point to some ultimate, absolute realities. I’m a firm and jaded disbeliever in such declarations. Not because they don’t exist, but because of the silliness they induce in their promoters.
These phrases are only placeholders—symbolic markers for experiences nearly impossible to talk about. Experience of Outright Intensity is disruptive enough; attempting to explain it can drive you stark raving mad. That’s why those familiar with living this Intensity resort to Mantra, Yantra, Dada—means of expression that transcend the limiting structures of logic, language, culture, and sanity. Don’t try this at home folks. They’ll call the Cops! Or worse, you might end up in the care of your friendly neighborhood Shrink who makes a living pushing drugs more shamelessly than a pool hall hustler.
Wonders on Belmont I should further clarify what I mean by experience of Outright Intensity. Although it would come in handy if I gave workshops I’m not talking about seeing the sky split apart with Chariots of Fire Descending. Nor have any bushes in my yard burst into flames revealing rules to live by. I'm talking about simply walking up Belmont Street to have a cup of tea, with a crescent moon over my left shoulder and setting orange into greens of West Hills. When the tall dark firs on Mt. Tabor, my eyes, their function, and the seeming atmospheric distance between, dissolve into nothingness. Into Outright Intensity!
There’s absolutely nothing special about this disappearance act. Really. It only shows that the transformative experience we’re all seeking doesn’t wait for us in some Himalayan Temple, or up a flight of steps in Machu Picchu. It’s waiting for us here, all the time, right where we live. Waiting for us to truly inhabit the self we hardly know because it’s not there, in ways we find difficult to understand. Any awakening, any revolution, any transformation that begins from somewhere else, doesn’t begin at all. Pure Outright Intensity, born of a neurotic, insecure, insensitive slacker! Will Wonders Never Cease?!
Paul Gauguin kept a most remarkable journal during his stay on Tahiti at the fin-de-siècle of the last century. The pages of NOA NOA burn with the experience of Outright Intensity. “The nearly naked man was wielding with both hands a heavy axe that left, at the top of the stroke, its blue imprint on the silvery sky and, as it came down, its incision on the dead tree, which would instantly live once more a moment of flames—age-old heat, treasured up each day. On the ground purple with long serpentine copper-coloured leaves, [there lay] a whole Oriental vocabulary—letters (it seemed to me) of an unknown, mysterious language.”
If this potential to transform is always so close at hand why don’t we experience it more often? A simple question with a not so simple answer. Or maybe the answer is so damn simple it’s difficult to find the courage to act upon it. Sometimes, I feel I know how to make this Outright Intensity happen. Not in the sense of being its author. More in the sense of surrendering into its presence. If it’s always there the question becomes, “Where are We?”
The remedy most commonly offered to alleviate this dilemma is to find the Right Path, the Right Teaching, the Right Teacher. While sounding simple enough, it’s easier said than done. Even those absolutely sure they’ve found The PATH, often report years later less than fruitful results. Does this mean they made the wrong choice? Didn’t follow through? Had unrealistic goals? Who’s to decide? Compare these to the few who find the Perfect Path, make the Perfect Effort, and Graduate with Highest Honors, and you still may not have an example of Perfect Liberation. After seeing a few of these Graduates, I sometimes wonder who’s better off.
Millennial Thermometer I don’t wish to judge the efficaciousness of one Path over another. Any path will work that leads to a more intimate awareness of who you are and aren’t. At least, provisionally. I’m more interested in people’s reactions to the Paths they choose. Reactions of cluelessness, indifference, engagement, despondency, enthusiasm, euphoria, and smug or humble attainment stretch out along a continuum. I see this as a thermometer—a useful tool to gauge the level of dishonesty, authenticity, and general dislocation in the years to come.
As we get closer to the end of the Millennium, I suspect the severity of these reactions will greatly intensify. Will we be ready? Ready for what? Our computers telling us it’s 1900? Planes dropping from the sky? Our friends demanding we follow them into the desert? Being ready for what’s coming is more a matter of attitude than preparation. Maybe attitude isn’t exactly the right word. Sounds a bit too assertive to be of much help as we hit the brick walls up ahead. I’m thinking more along the lines of an accommodating disposition. Not weak, as in anything goes. Or oblivious to terror that abounds. But one that’s aware of our habitual inclination to repeatedly ignore, repeatedly suppress, repeatedly misinterpret a simple mess and turn it into a much bigger one.
Whooooa! I bet that’ll rattle somebody’s cage! There are so many well-meaning people and organizations out there obsessed with cramming their program for survival down our throats. Caught in the belief their particular preparations will make all the difference, they can’t imagine any other way of getting through. Is it just a matter of getting right with the Lord? Their Lord? Or heading off to the mountain hideaway? “Don’t forget to stock up on freeze-dried lima beans! No, wait! I mean, freeze-dried Tofu. And throw in some Gingko extract! No, I mean, St. John’s Wort! Yeah! That’s it! The stuff that makes you happy, happy.”
Well, any of these can sound true enough. It doesn’t much depend on the facts. It’s more a matter of where you’re coming from and where you’re hoping to go next. In terms of reliable preparation, none of these programs come with a guarantee they’ll float your boat. I mean, just think about it. When was the last time Reality appeared on your doorstep in predictable chunks?
Expectations for a Better Plan Am I offering a better plan? Nope. Not exactly. The only thing I’m offering is the possibility of getting free of always expecting to be offered a better plan. That desperate expectation. That burning desire to create the perfect situation.
The dissatisfaction that wants to live in a realm devoid of all things detrimental fuels the insanities that cripple our interior and external worlds. It causes school Principals, desiring to teach children trust and respect, to herd them through metal detectors and tape their every heartbeat with hidden surveillance cameras. It causes disciples to ignore the Outright Intensity in their own being while seeking the imagined Brilliance of Highest Perfect Enlightenment.
Forcing experience through a filter to judge whether things are made better sets up barriers to progress upon the Path. Whenever we’re overwhelmed by Outright Intensity in a way we perceive as negative, we lump it into the categories of Attachment, Ignorance, or Bondage—terms we use to define being trapped, fooled, or enslaved. But sometimes honestly seeing our attachments is the best way to clarify our motives for wanting to be free.
What caused this recent flurry of Outright Intensity that allowed some to be freed of old habits while driving others to cling to patterns of defense? Was it the Solar Eclipse? The Ending of a Millennium? The approach of an Apocalypse?
I’ll bet that this Outright Intensity is the result of simple, but growing awareness that time is running out. In exactly what way, will differ with different people at different junctures. But the sense of impending doom is spreading. The fear that we are about to be swallowed by forces too powerful to stop is driving people to prepare for the worst.
As apprehension grows, the experience of Outright Intensity becomes a powerful motivator. In some it produces an over-whelming sense of claustrophobic dread, potentially driving them to denial, censorship, and support for unmitigated fascism. In others, the very same experience becomes a liberating opportunity, one in which to finally explore and honestly accept who they really are. Why the difference? Good question. There is probably both a comprehensive and a simple explanation. At the moment, complexity escapes me, so I’ll give you the simple version: Some wish to remain in hiding, while others are ready to be revealed.
Unfortunately, Delusion is Delusion. Left unexposed, it eventually topples our world. It makes no difference whether we live in a Gated Community or not. By Gated Community, I mean both that which houses the fearful and filthy Rich, and the Community of Defensive Constructs to which we cling in hopes of staying the advent of revelation. Trying to live in either will cost you a bundle and give less security than living under a bridge. So what should you do? Give up? Double your efforts? Again, you’re the best judge of that for yourself.
Going Naked into the Millennium Don’t Panic. I’m not here to take away anybody’s hair shirt. We all have different views as to the level of abuse we’re willing to accept. I just want to explore the possibility of entering the New Millennium completely naked. Naked, that is, in the sense of peeling off the conceptual baggage that stacks one idea against another. My survival program against yours. If we don’t learn to let go of the reassuring uniforms of group and class membership, especially those requiring us to turn away from the reality checks of Outright Intensity, the next decade will be a fascistic bloodbath.
Can you imagine Going Stark Naked into the New Millennium? You’ll never read about that program in the Oregonian! We could call it Embracing the Great Equalizer! No Rank! No Privilege! No Seniority! No Inside Information! No Transfer of Accumulated Wealth! No Waiting Hand and Foot on the Ascended Masters (while waiting secretly to slip into their sandals)!
So how would we pull off such a Transformative Striptease? I don’t think the choreography for dances this provocative is openly or willingly published. We’re talking about dropping the pants on values and procedures held dear by even the most radical of organizations. No leaders. No agenda. No assigning the dirty, boring jobs to the lowly Rank & File.
It’s not a matter of simply replacing something inadequate with something indisputably indispensable. We’re talking about a Total Paradigm Shift where trite comparisons, party rhetoric, and the obsolete measurements of success are relegated to the ragbag. You won’t find this stuff taught in schools or discussed at City sanctioned Neighborhood Meetings. Nor laid out as a twelve-step program on the inside of a matchbook cover. The New Millennium isn’t something we’re heading towards or something that’s coming towards us. It won’t descend automatically at the stroke of midnight. We ARE either IT, or we ARE NOT.
What keeps us from becoming IT is our addiction to the tight patterns of habitual response. Ones that cause us to interpret reality as black and white. Good and Evil. Saved and the Damned. To be freed from such patterns, they first must be seen. Once seen, they possess a natural tendency to dissolve themselves. This is a good thing. Trying to dissolve them by pure will power alone or by force of moral rectitude has a tendency to solidify the patterns even more. I might go as far as to say it’s impossible to “dissolve” them any other way.
Saving the Snake In the Modern West, we promote mythologies that tend to cloak this process in terms of Banishing the Evil One from the Garden. Or Slaying the Dragon. Or Killing the Damn Snake outright! If taken in a purely figurative sense, these myths may serve a useful function. But when emphasis is placed on a more literal interpretation, where an actual “killing” takes place, the existing interdependence between Good and Evil is severed. When we separate these cooperating energies, they return the favor by pulling us apart.
In the experience of Outright Intensity, the relationship between seemingly opposite energies can be felt. In that experience, ‘killing’ is seen as the destruction of the artificial categories overlaid on essential Oneness.
This experience of Outright Intensity can be your lifeline. If you, instead, fill you head with rules, teachings, diagrams of escape, the names and numbers of people in charge, you’ll be up the creek without a paddle. Or more accurately, swallowed Whole by a Raging Tempest that won’t even notice you’re there. Place your faith in Reincarnation (a poor man’s version of another chance) or Membership in the Heavenly Elect (a rich man’s version of the ONLY chance) and you’ll lose sight of the greatest asset you have—your impending Death! You are mortal. See it. Feel it. Get over it. Do that and be relieved of the biggest handle for manipulation. Be deaf to Nike ads. Blind to the Evening News. No more fears of Eternal Damnation. No more fantasies of finding Enduring Fame on the Movie Screen, the Battlefield, or as Chairman of Board. You are free at last. Free to sail out with the rest of us. Bon Voyage!
William P. Benz is an Artist, Writer, and Poet living in North Portland, Oregon. He Specializes in the Design of Information Filters, the Surfacing of Mental Models, and the Creative Reintegration of Defective WorldViews. For more info, visit his NEW WEB Space at http://www.aracnet.com/~wpbenz. Or send email him: