Discovering the Relevance of Words
Let me start by saying that I did not try this. I’m not opposed to trying it; I just couldn’t bring myself to destroy a ping pong ball when my serve needs so much work. Plus, I doubt I’d be able to listen to just static in a room lit up in red and with weird, white hemispheres covering my eyes for very long. I feel like after about ten seconds I’d need to switch it over to some Devo or Oingo Boingo or something and start dancing like a robot. Maybe Thomas Dolby.
The bigger question here might be why anyone would try this at all. There is the obvious question of whether or not it actually works, which I think deserves an answer just for curiosity’s sake. But there is also the seemingly universal desire of people to change the way they see the reality around them and alter their consciousness. I remember a bit by comedian Chris Rock about how people just want to get high. You could get rid of all the drugs in the world and guys would be down in their basements with chemistry sets, trying to make the new drug. I’m paraphrasing, but he makes a good point.
However, I think he’s also making a common mistake in assuming that an altered state has to be brought on by illicit substances. You don’t have to look any further than the picture above to see that the chemistry set might not be necessary, at least according to some. For further evidence, ask any group of 10 to 13 year old boys. I remember trading stories with the other kids on the school bus about how “if you blow on your thumb until your face gets super red you’ll get high and then pass out,” or “if you drink 10 glasses of water you’ll totally feel drunk.” We were all sure these worked, but we never actually tried them. The stories always came from trust-worthy sources though, usually the cousin of a friend’s neighbor.
Mystics throughout human history have used various methods to reach out and commune with the other reality they call the spirit world. In addition to hallucinogenic drugs they used intense meditation practices and periods of fasting to work themselves into altered states where they could more easily comprehend the mysteries of the worlds around them, seen and unseen. They would sit for hours, staring into nothing with complete concentration and come out of it emotionally and physically drained. It’s often called, by old-timey mediums and people doing impressions of Vincent Price, a trance.
Which is funny, because that’s the word people have used for the state I work myself into when I’m writing.
I’m thinking about the parallels, and they are there. For the mystic, extensive preparation is necessary for the rite to be effective, in the form of ritual cleansings and meditation. For me, the preparation may not be extensive, but I do like to have a shower before I get to work in the morning and read the news to clear my head a little before I start.
Where I really see the connection between the two is in the aftermath. When I come out of one of my ‘writing trances’ I feel exhausted, not so much physically but mentally. I look back over what I just wrote and notice some sentences I don’t remember forming. I have to take a minute and let my mind recuperate, like calling in sick the Monday after Burning Man. It’s this similar feeling that made me draw the connection between what is required for me write creatively and what is required to navigate an altered state of consciousness. In many ways one isn’t possible without the other.
Good writing takes a universal experience and looks at it from a new angle. It surprises us with the everyday. And I think the desire to see the world in new and surprising ways is at the root of the tendency that Mr Rock noticed back in the nineties. People want to get high. Why do people want to get high? I suppose there are a lot of reasons for that, but many can be traced back to boredom. The world around us is often not the way we want it to be.
In response to that, some people do meth.
No telling yet which one will kill you faster, but my teeth are better.