Neo-American Church

Chapter 6


The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to realize your fact, it takes on color.

I don’t remember the content of the first synchronistic coupling I noticed, but it was a startling connection between something I was thinking about and a remark made in the kitchen as I passed through. This scrap of conversation, which was not intended, in the usual sense, for me, provided the associational bridge to my next thought, which then became the object of the next synchronistic connection.

I missed a lot at first, mistakenly thinking only some “external” events were synchronistic with my “private” ideas. The tyranny of the fundamental spatial dichotomy me/it was not about to surrender at the first blast of heavy artillery from the forces of synchronicity awareness which had suddenly surrounded it. It had governed for a long time, and resisted being reduced to a mere province of an upstart empire.

I thought cosmicmindedly for a while. Perhaps “the world” was thinking along certain lines, and I was spiraling around, through, into, out of, over and under another, greater progression of ideas, and the synchronicity occurred when I was momentarily “on the button.”

This cosmic consciousness crap didn’t last long, I’m happy to say. Synchronicity showed me it was false, during the five or ten minutes I spent trying to think of it in a dualistic and spatial way, by providing a flood of images all of which made the same point in different ways: You are that.

There is no way to depart from synchronicity, just as there is no way to have a meaningless dream, although meaninglessness itself may be the subject, or the meaning, of certain highly perverse and frightening dreams, dreams designed to demonstrate how nice it is to have meaning to those who have decided they would rather not have any of that, thanks.

For the first time in my life, I started to put the concept “external world” in mental quotation marks, and was instantly rewarded by a chorus of approving synch: people saying things like “good,” “marvelous,” “it’s about time”; the sun breaking through clouds; domestic problems turning out to have been foolish misunderstandings; triumphant marches and choruses on the stereo; the sudden cessation of a banging in the pipes; and a host of much more subtle and intricate comments which seemed designed to smooth my way and answer every objection, even the objection that the mere existence of objections, of a dialogue, disproves the thesis, which it does not, because any sane person talks to himself all the time.

If one’s thesis is that ordinary life is a dream, then anything that can happen in a dream in sleep can happen in waking life also, without disproving the thesis. If you can see that, you can see everything.

(Let’s say you lose your marbles in a dream and they all appear to roll under a sofa. Are your marbles under the sofa?)

I was off to the races. I began to re-examine my prejudices, to flip them over, as it were, and I saw lots of nice, shiny faces in mint condition where formerly there had been only a dull array of tarnished tails. Everything was furnished with new and exciting associational trails and every-thing I heard spoken around me, no matter how trivial the phenomenological context, suddenly became loaded with resonance and the cognitive coherence which had been missing, I thought, on my mescaline trip. I felt, for the first time in my life, an incomparable sensation of being “out from under” which made all other successes in all other games (perhaps excepting release from prison or recovering from a serious illness) seem pale by comparison.

It was as if I had entered another country, and had been given a souped-up language-learning capacity by passing through a trick box at the airport, but the image is far from exact, because some, at least, of the people who were speaking the new “language” didn’t know it and since my thoughts were still being formed, most often, in terms of my old awareness, I would recognize them, as it were, twice; the first time the old way and the second time the new way. Since these juxtapositions were often hilarious, I started grinning, which made a bad impression. A worried frown, in contrast, is acceptable almost anywhere.

Almost everyone who isn’t enlightened, my former self included, thinks of Enlightenment as an extension of dimensions with which they are familiar, an increase. They expect to become bigger, better, purer, stronger, wiser, holier or whatever.

In fact, there is nothing additive about it. If a structural metaphor must be used, it ought to be subtractive. Enlightenment is the removal of self-imposed delusions which were never justified by evidence or logic (see Hume) in the first place. The experience can be associated with all kinds of glorious imagery or none at all. Comme décor, one might say.

While I was going through all this, Zen koans and fables which had formerly struck me as forced conceits intended to disorient the victim took on the objective accuracy of laboratory slides or the common-sense verity of labels on soup cans. (I particularly like “You drop six inches.”)

I started drifting around the house picking up books at random, and reading whatever came to hand as a response to whatever question was puzzling me. At one point, I even decided to test it out by not even asking a question but just stabbing a randomly opened book with a blind finger and seeing what it had to offer. As a solipsist, I thought, I was simply asking myself for directions.

The book was in Tim’s room and the word was “automobile,” so I walked down two flights of stairs and through the hall and the library and out the French doors in the music room, across the porch, under the porte cochère and out to the road, on which a light snow had fallen. Maynard Ferguson, borrowing my automobile without permission, was stuck in a rut. Standing there in his camel hair coat, he looked properly abashed by my sudden appearance.

“Get in and I’ll push you, Maynard,” I said, before he could say a word.

With only a slight shove, the car came free and Maynard waved jauntily as he slid around the corner. Conclusion: Testing it out instead of using it creatively would produce trivia, embarrassment for others and wasted energy. But why was it an automobile scene rather than something else? Jackie Leary walked past.

“Hey, Jackie,” I asked, “what are you thinking about right now?”

“A dream I had last night,” Jackie said, not stopping, but producing a typically Millbrookian knowing smile.

Naturally. The language of the unconscious. The car, a vehicle, represented my everyday personality, the means by which I got from point A to point B with maximum efficiency. If I pushed the process too far I would lose control of this valuable convenience. Shouldn’t do that.

I then began to wonder about the Psychedelian masterminds by whom I still imagined myself to be surrounded. Surely, they had all caught on to this? How could they avoid it? But, if so, why didn’t they talk about synchronicity instead of reproducing supernaturalist trash like the TBD? If, for whatever reason, they felt they needed a connection with ancient traditions, why not Confucius or Lao-tzu?

But, not only had I developed great affection for the place and the people, I had also put myself in a position of dependence. My vehicle was gone, in more ways than one.

I had to find excuses for them.

It did not enter my head, at that stage of the game, that people who had given up so much, were risking so much, were working so hard, were so entertaining, so congenial, so intelligent, so literate, so sane, and so right about so many other important matters that most people were so wrong about, and who were taking so much LSD, could possibly be inferior to me in terms of philosophic insight and understanding.

Perhaps, I thought, they all knew the truth but believed they had to put on some kind of spook show for the public to avoid commitment to the nearest booby hatch. Perhaps there was a kind of “secret society” aspect to the whole thing after all. Most people were not aware they were dreaming but a few were? But, if so, why wasn’t I getting a warmer welcome?

Perhaps … perhaps all kinds of weird stuff.

I went into the music room and stretched out on the rug next to a giant goldfish tank, inhabited by two very large goldfish and a snail, to think things over. My faith in the wisdom of Tim, Dick and Ralph had served its purpose. Now it was bending and creaking under a heavy load of fresh facts that didn’t fit in and couldn’t be dismissed.

Dick came in and suggested a walk, and we headed up the road past the Bowling Alley.

“You’ve got some people worried,” Dick said. “What’s going on. You’re not on acid are you?”

“Nope. I just suddenly caught on to the fact that I’m living in a dream, that’s all.”

“The Dream of Brahman …” Dick suggested.

“Well, I suppose you could call it that. I just see the meaning in everything. No matter what happens, I see it as a message to me, to me personally. It isn’t anything grandiose like my mescaline trip. It’s friendly and also highly amusing a lot of the time.”

“I think I know what you mean,” Dick said, “but I don’t know if ‘messages’ is the right word.”

“Yeah,” I readily agreed. “Since there isn’t anything outside myself, how can I get ‘messages’ from anywhere?”

Dick seemed displeased.

“What about me?” Dick asked. “I have a life of my own, don’t I?”

“I haven’t figured that out yet,” I replied.

We walked in silence for a while.

“Well, you must realize what all of us are hoping,” Dick said.

“No, what?”

Dick said it didn’t matter.

When we came to the grassy knoll where I had gone through my improvised ritual, I told Dick all about it. He didn’t say much. Dick was behaving peculiarly, I thought. His “mimic modulation” was off. He wasn’t really paying any attention to what I was saying.

It became transparently clear to me later that the well-known “glass wall” had come down, but at the time I thought of Tim, Dick and Ralph as being above such stuff. Closed-minded Millbrookians? It couldn’t be.

The term “enlightenment experience” must have escaped my lips at some point, although I can’t remember when or to whom.

What (Dick meant) “all” of them were hoping for, or Dick was hoping for, or Dick and his clique were hoping for, or what any or all of the foregoing pretended to themselves and/or others they were hoping for was “the Messiah,” naturally.

I didn’t get it. Despite having been brought up to think along those lines, I had broken the habit at age fourteen or so.

My vow of credulity had something to do with it. I wasn’t thinking of Tim, Dick and Ralph as fallible and frightened human beings. I had idealized them to an absurd extent. It took me years to get over this.

Also, Enlightenment, and simply being stoned also, encourages “absent mindedness” and the first things to become “absent” are the silly ideas the people around you probably have and the silly ideas you formerly had yourself.

The Zen story that illustrates this point is shown in a famous picture: Three old men, engaged in a fascinating conversation, have just crossed a bridge which one of them, a recluse, has vowed never to cross. Realizing what they have done, they are convulsed with laughter. It’s a classic experience.

Why couldn’t Dick proclaim his “hope” in plain English?

Because he (“we”) actually had no such hope. On the contrary, Dick was enormously bothered by my claim of Enlightenment and eager to dismiss whatever I said. He wanted to wear a white robe and be “the Messiah” himself, as became abundantly clear later.

Why wasn’t this happening to him? (If it was any good, that is.)

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