VIII. Stories: Magic
Reflections from the Highlands
Last Fall I left everything to write, on unknown roads, my last words. At that time there was no intention to return. To clear my head of the fog that comes from coping, to tell what I could of the world that waits in the distance from what we know, and to die, these were my intentions. Perhaps unsurprising, the final passage was titled: Not the End I Imagined. From the still-frames of memory, that last effort was an attempt to gather up the loose varied origins of a story that for years now has progressed along a razor’s edge, tied to the fortunes and failures of a life lived for the sake of what, in a perfect telling, is its far-reaching implications.
Last Autumn the whole enterprise quite nearly ended halfway, at the brink, before the point in the process where the shape of things might reasonably begin to turn.
A year later, I once again found myself around the world, seeking an alignment of the unknown forces through which a window in time might appear, through which we might see for a moment the same thing.
It is in this context that I woke one morning after two weeks of rain to sunlight that reached through the tent gently like through a veil of water. The whole emerald land, a secret submerged in eternal clouds, every once and so briefly opened to awe and frustrate any attempts at preservation.
The writing had all but stopped, in the most beautiful country I have seen. The landscape defied words, photos, of course, but it was the influence to motion that the factors of the environment conspired to that left the slow-surfacing reflections behind.
The contrast on the road is ordinarily my trance, where things emerge that what is understood to be real life otherwise buries.
There, you could not sit, because the soft parts of the highlands were wet, like anemones, as if producing the cool substance of life themselves, and to be anywhere in place invites clouds of small biting flies which made the experience of impermanence a constant. And so I walked, from village, to Inn, to campsite, to river, while the mind was washed in the wilds where it began, for weeks with no evidence, in writing, of progress.
That morning the white mist moved with volition about the rim of the vast valley while along the black river that carves through it, the air was still.
The gaps in the rain were where things began, tents evacuated and stowed, dogs walked, midges fled. Life lived by the whimsy of the skies.
Like time, and then water, whimsy could be the theme of this enterprise, the pattern by which the plan to re-write the story of the world is practiced. The backup backup plan which turned into walking/camping along this ninety something mile strip of heaven a surprising step, or series of many steps rather, toward where this has whimsically been going, since the beginning.
Having met more people and experienced more goodwill and generosity in two weeks than in the previous two years I thought of the process, the relationship between shifting the parts of ourselves that are in motion, and the patterns of human interactions we find. What I had seen is that it–decency–was not local to a nationality, or even a personality or outlook, but why, on the road, was it so startlingly present. To be open to the world maybe requires abandoning ourselves into it.
To cross the paths of people in flux is to be transported, to acquire the distance from, the distance to see, your assumed self, your assumed truth, everything that was, because of no internal points of contrast, no subjective experience of alternatives.
Some people see alternate states, contexts, worlds as irrelevant, tangents from the, at times, banal process of real life. The content: hallucination, the potential transformation of the explorer: societally destructive.
As you reconcile where you are with where you had always been there is danger, but also promise, in the loss of certainty.
After all, who we think we are is a dream. It begins to flicker when we leave, when we rip out the tubes of the everyday roles and relationships, the unruffled sleep of what is normal that reinforces them.
We build our dream selves-based on our society’s meanings, based on an incentive structure that is designed to achieve a concentration of power, of impunity. These are the hidden outcomes of the prevailing normal, where the current constellation of symbols leads us, generation after generation, hardening a sense of certainty about what life is.
In the context of this contrast, the experiences on the road, from which these reflections surfaced, could be viewed both existentially, and literally, as a gift.
Giving a gift, to an extent, is an expression of the means to. But how and why, in a world built on selfishness, we sometimes become the beneficiaries of unexpected bounties is the mystery, the unasked question I think, of human potential. A simple greeting, while less dramatic maybe than a million dollars, can be far more beautiful, far more–with the patience and omnipotence to follow the ripple of it–potentially impactful. It can become a chain reaction that catches someone at just the right moment, that can turn the tide of everything.
Against convention, in the previous nexus of travelers I invited a woman out of the sun to my table in the shade, and against convention she accepted. There we spoke and it turned out she was undertaking a nutrition program very similar to a retreat I had been blessed to attend earlier in the year. It was a veritable clinical expression of the radical health practices she was learning. We talked for hours and afterward she gave me a ride back to my studio in the woods. There I showed her the binder I had brought back from the program and weeks later she informed me she would be attending. Recalling the comprehensive approach to wellness and the unbelievable stories of healing that followed from it there, I could not help but think how serendipitous it was that we met. I could not help but giggle watching the bridge of healing pass through me forward into unknown and untold lives, and wonder what experiences, what moments it would someday manifest in.
From her stories, of the process of realizing the effect she wanted to create in her life, from subsequent experiences in that place and the next, I was reminded that the world this project was attempting to make accessible was already here, carried invisibly like a secret by people of all shapes and expressions. The very next morning, still swimming in the reflections of our meeting I had a breakthrough regarding the structure of this book, which for years had eluded me, and here we are.
One man, also named Michael, who, unbidden, gave me a wonderful money-saving device called a tent that had been previously gifted to him said there were no coincidences. On this road, which has come to be dotted with the people and experiences the project is a bridge towards, its easy to see what he means.
One night, unbeknownst to me at the time, at the same moment the somber and reflective temple burn at Burning Man was taking place, I tried to make a case to someone for a concept of magic. How cause and effect and possibility seem to shift, like under the terms of new universal laws, when you have so many people going out of their way to be decent to each other. The air becomes thick with a charge that carries the will as if by magic, instantly, to its destination. Somehow in such spaces, you find what you are looking for without asking. Every seeming obstacle becomes a lesson on the way to your purpose, and it happens more perfectly than what your plans could have predicted or produced and its why some people say things happen for a reason, because time after time the “coincidences” in such moments have brought them closer.
Well, the person who heard this description fled never to return.
In the meantime I’ve met others who would know what I meant, who grin across the shared secret we try so hard to spill. If its true that there are “no coincidences”, if there are reasons beyond what science can see, I have to credit my fortunes, though I have not accomplished a single thing in my life, with this effort, to cast a light on the clouds that hide a world very much like a kind of heaven.
If the events that seemed destined are just coincidence, if this has not all been the cause and effect of life in a magical world, but instead only luck, sooner or later we would expect it to run out, for the consequences of an irrational life to catch up to me. Reason suggests that would be sooner.
My goal was never to live a long life. It was to create a mirror for the cultural unconscious.
Time will tell a story that we, from the surface of events, will never be able to read. In that, within a world based around selfishness, a chain reaction from some long forgotten goodness carries on toward the point at which the cold hard truths are eclipsed.
Magic, perhaps more than the recalcitrant delusions of a bygone age, is the resource of a particular vista, an experience resulting from a fundamentally different process and sense of priority.
There is no such thing as magic, perhaps, from the world that is known standing still.