Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Looking at the impact of symbols: Contact With the Subconscious

(This is the most recent post in a personal myth series.) 

    The story does not end here, however. (It never ends, not really.) Our subconscious can never be truly boxed away; and the ability to deal with the experienced that are shored up from that "world" conferred by psychedelics or even a practice like yoga can never fully prepare us for the strength of a confrontation with its full strength, though they certainly can help. You can spend years on solid ground and then, as I recently experienced, you can take a single small step and fall back into the water. Luckily, swimming is a skill one doesn't need to entirely relearn, even if it's been a long time.
    To conclude this section I'd like to give an example of this. Nothing theoretical or conjectural, but rather an experience taken directly from my life, not more than a day or two ago.

(Click on post title for more.) 

    This does require a short preamble. Since I was a teenager, I have had very occasional "spells." (No, I am not a character from a Tennessee William's play.) One version of this is an uncontrollable lassitude and even paralysis. It can be very frightening to others around me, as well as myself; I've gone limp as a ragdoll, and am only half in this world. Though I've brought this up to several medical doctors, most of them dismiss it almost as if I hadn't brought it up at all.
    Some of these experiences were not unlike what "alien abductees" describe. For instance, one night, when I was sixteen or seventeen, I felt compelled beyond all sense and reason to climb out my window and go into the woods. In the woods, I saw a brilliant light in the sky, radiating down on me. And as I looked up upon it, I felt myself floating up towards it. Then... darkness. I awoke in my room. This could easily be dismissed as a dream, except my window was open.
    I'm not attempting to prove anything beyond the fact that these have been my experience, and others have witnessed it. It wasn't until yesterday that I pieced together what some of this might actually be, with the input of Jazmin, my wife, sitting patiently and always at my side as I gibbered like a madman while in the throes of this thing. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
    As has often been the case in my life, what cracked open the otherwise dark "box" of the unconscious was a beautiful girl, but this part of the story isn't about her. No, it is about the "world" that exists within our own, and those that walk alongside us, if we can step across the gap. It's also worth mentioning that I was on no drugs at the time that this occurred. I will endeavor to retell my experience as directly and honestly as is possible, although some of it stretches the possibilities of what can be easily expressed in common language. I'll do my best.

    Like those times before, I was lying in bed and I could barely move. It's not unlike being impossibly drunk, or attempting to move your arm by will alone, rather than simply... moving it. It is a terrifying experience to be stuck inside your body without being able to operate it, and not know why. Equally so, if you're watching someone go through it. However, in the past, I always fought my way out of it. This time, fighting wasn't working. It wasn't getting better or worse.
    So I decided to try to dive deeper into it, instead. Everything in the field of my view gave way. I felt as if I was moving through empty space. The feeling had a very visual component to it, even though everything was dark; like a darkness seen somehow behind or underneath everything that appears to have surfaces. And then I felt I wasn't anything at all.
    Despite the alieness of this, a part of my brain remained fairly rational, and I wondered if nothingness could exist without a point of reference. I realized I must be that point. Even if a point has no dimensions (width, height), position of some kind is necessary to give form to void. The point was my consciousness, like a bubble, drifting through empty space. Ex nihilo, nihil fit is a lie.
    I still couldn't move my body. Jazmin was checking to see if I was having a stroke, if I was breathing, and so on. I mumbled something, "no, it's not that," maybe.
    In the void that I was in (behind, under, tangential to all apparent things) I heard voices singing. They were a kind of sing-song, like the make-believe songs that children sing. I tried to mouth along, and felt that in the process of imitating the silly songs that these voices were singing, I was helping to coalesce something. The feeling was not unlike going through a door, blowing into a balloon, and falling through space all at once, though it was really none of these things.
    When this happened, I realized there were other dots - other bubbles - in this void. Some contained more than one consciousness, but all contained at least one. I felt that I could either push forward into this weird other world or I could try to fight my way back into my body and shake it off.
    For some reason, this time, I went forward, instead of back. It seemed that "size" wasn't relevant in reference to these "bubbles;" they were conceptually self-contained worlds. Or so my rational mind thought. You must understand at the same time as one part of my brain was analyzing this, another was simply half-muttering, singing along with the gibberish sing-song of the guides that seemed to be leading me into this completely alien space. While some bubbles came into being, others were popping. "It's so painful, when they pop," I said, and for a moment, began to cry, before I found myself colliding with one of these bubbles. It jolted some kind of shift.
    At this point in time I was lying curled around a body pillow. The body pillow appeared to turn into a giant centipede. Pitch black, covered in shiny scales like a dragon. Light reflected off of the scales and I kept saying, "they're like rainbows." (I am really surprised that Jazmin managed to avoid laughing at me at this point. Probably if she wasn't scared she would have.) I grabbed ahold of the centipede and squeezed it, thinking that the only way to take something so horrifying and make it safe would be to envelop it, to become it; in other words, to "eat" it. I did this and the centipede became a pillow again.
    I became distracted by the perception of some "thing" that was a train - that is, I felt the comforting rocking motion like I might while in the cabin in a train, and it felt like it was moving forward like a train might - but it was also a snake, slithering to and fro, shedding its skin, it was ...

    I saw a bath-tub full of milk, and a goat standing inside it. The milk was goats milk, I assume. The snake / train became the moon, or rather it was the moon, and at the same time I was in the train, looking up at the moon above, and at the same time looking down from this giant moon... down to the tub, the milk, and the goat staring at me blankly with those alien, square-pupilled eyes. The moon turned blood red, and dripped into the bath. Each drop splashing complex patterns of deep red in the milky white. Fragments of my consciousness fell in those drops of blood, each self-contained worlds themselves. Drip. Drip.
    Somewhere around this point Jazmin said, "James, you're having a waking dream."

    It suddenly made sense. Everything clicked into place. I rocked back and forth, laughing hysterically, saying again and again, "That's it!"
    When you are sleeping, normally, your brain paralyzes your body. Sleep or neurological disturbances can effect this, so that you might kick when running in a dream, but normally, these bodily motions are essentially shut off. Granted I have no scientific evidence of this but it seems to stand to reason that the paralysis I occasionally experience is the result of this, my brain thinking I am entering sleep.

    As I think of this now, it occurs to me that children exist much closer to this "dreaming world" than acculturated adults do. They may not often delve so deep as the initiated can, but perhaps only because they are wise enough to be scared of what lurks under the bed. But this world of symbol, where a thing can "be" many things at once, and yet none of them; trespass the boundaries of time, form, and physical reality as we are accustomed to it, is the birthing well of myth. And it needn't be experienced from afar, academically, theoretically, or even just through the stories of others who have gone there.
    However, as is always the case with all sources of great power, it is also incredibly dangerous. In the past, there were the shamans to guide us. Now... for both better and worse, all we have is each other.


  1. I wonder about the symbolism of the goat and the centipede. Centipedes are good at cleaning up the house, eating more destructive buggies, and they live for a long time. They are scary yet beautiful, sort of like a brain-less Kali (assuming that Kali has a brain). Their 100 limbs also show great agility and acuity. The goat is of course a symbol of the mountain energy, agility, moving from waking to sleeping perhaps, again agility, and the ability to move up and down, to transcend into the knowledge awareness and bliss, to descend deep into the subconscious. It sounds as though your state was agile, and the only concern was fear about what was happening. Yes, a waking dream makes sense, a hypnogogic state where it is all lucid. I get those sometimes, especially when I am feverish! So I would perceive that your agility in dream states is "grounding" and becoming more agile, that you are "cleaning house" and I know that you live in a realm of love and acceptance, from what I have seen. Also the fact that you are moving is addressed by the grounding goat, who wants you to have a wonderful new home, and the centipede, who will help keep it clean, like a shaman would do something similar with saging and guidance. Yes, it is difficult that we do not have the guides so readily available, and yet we now also have the resources to "travel often". Must then not be wary?

  2. I tend to find pat interpretation of symbolism can be misleading. For instance, the things you say about centipides are true about the animal, but the thing I encountered felt like something between a reptile (serpent or dragon) and an insect. I don't think it had anything to do with a house centipede. What it struck me as was a "guardian." You know, the things that tend to bar entry to the subconscious for those that are just taking a casual stroll. On the other hand now that I'm thinking back on it, it was after I encountered the "centipede" that I came upon the train/serpent that took me to or became the moon. I suppose there was a certain amount of transformation one symbol into the next -- as we encounter pretty frequently in dream. At first it tried to frighten me off, then it wound up leading me further in.

    The goat... I found myself wondering why goats are sacrificed to Kali. I think that has something to do with it -- though usually it is black goats that are sacrificed, and he was pure white. There was nevertheless something sacrificial about the entire scene, especially when the blood from the moon began dripping -- which also clearly has a menstrual association.



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