“If you need to visualize the soul, think of it as a cross between a wolf howl, a photon, and a dribble of dark molasses. But what it really is, as near as I can tell, is a packet of information. It’s a program, a piece of hyperspatial software designed explicitly to interface with the Mystery. Not a mystery, mind you, the Mystery. The one that can never be solved.
To one degree or another, everybody is connected to the Mystery, and everybody secretly yearns to expand the connection. That requires expanding the soul. These things can enlarge the soul: laughter, danger, imagination, meditation, wild nature, passion, compassion, psychedelics, beauty, iconoclasm, and driving around in the rain with the top down. These things can diminish it: fear, bitterness, blandness, trendiness, egotism, violence, corruption, ignorance, grasping, shining, and eating ketchup on cottage cheese.
Data in our psychic program is often nonlinear, nonhierarchical, archaic, alive, and teeming with paradox. Simply booting up is a challenge, if not for no other reason than that most of us find acknowledging the unknowable and monitoring its intrusions upon the familiar and mundane more than a little embarrassing.
But say you’ve inflated your soul to the size of a beach ball and it’s soaking into the Mystery like wine into a mattress. What have you accomplished? Well, long term, you may have prepared yourself for a successful metamorphosis, an almost inconceivable transformation to be precipitated by your death or by some great worldwide eschatological whoopjamboreehoo. You may have. No one can say for sure.
More immediately, by waxing soulful you will have granted yourself the possibility of ecstatic participation in what the ancients considered a divinely animated universe. And on a day to day basis, folks, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
I love Tom Robbins, that overlooked not-to-be-confused-with-Harold-Robbins, free-jazz novelist who I stumble across ever five years or so and say ‘wow, I really liked “Stilllife with Woodpeckers” must read something else.’
Doing a quick Wiki check, I found out (without surprise. I don’t get surprised by connections any longer) that he was a close friend of the late Terrence McKenna – a long-term advocate of entheogens like ayahuasca. And when I read the above quote from Robbins (thanks whiskeyriver) I totally saw how all these things link up.
Since I came back from Brazil this time, I have seen very clearly how my Buddhist beliefs and my experiences with ayahuasca are one and the same thing. The experiential nature of what I went through in Brazil (despite my reservations and fears) only confirms what I suspected was true in Buddhism.
The Buddha is most insistent that we don’t accept what he says as a given truth. He explicitly discourages belief in favour of knowledge. Test everything in the laboratory of your own heart he says, if it leads to happiness, continue. If it leads to suffering, desist.
Robbins uses words like ‘Mystery’ and ‘soul’ which might fright the rigid Buddhist/Atheist, but I feel I know exactly what he means. There are two responses to life: the opening and the closing.
What I experience meditating on the cushion or through the mindfulness I remember to practice during the day is a more workable, a more manageable version of the cranium-arching expansion I felt in Brazil. The latter is impossible to maintain on a day to day basis. The former is the quotidien practice of expansion that truely opens up a life to the Mystery.
And when Robbins says the Mystery, you only have to read a page of Carl Sagan (or my hand-picked bits) and you know that the Universe is human-shatteringly massive and our own bodies are mind-shatteringly complex and impossible.
The human mind can’t really process these dimensions – so much bigness, so much complexity – which is why Buddhism with its emphasis on the ‘fathom-long’ body and the realities of the human experience is soothing and supportive.
But the danger with any soothing is that it becomes anaesthetic. Hence the need for constant elasticity – aus/dehnen, as the Germans have it – stretching out. If you see the Buddha in the street, kill him. Rest on the raft, but don’t imagine that it is the river.
Everything is changing, life is a miniscule blip on the eyelash of the universe’s blink, but opening up and not closing down is always possible.
One of my teachers (I think it was Ajahn Sucitto) said that ‘Attention=Love’ and that’s true. The more we pay attention to things, really look, really listen, stay still and let things in in all their complexity, then the easier it is to love them to feel connected.
These things can enlarge the soul: laughter, danger, imagination, meditation, wild nature, passion, compassion, psychedelics, beauty, iconoclasm, and driving around in the rain with the top down.
I’d add photography, listening to anything deeply, spastic dancing, the Mighty Boosh and Pina Bausch.
These things can diminish it: fear, bitterness, blandness, trendiness, egotism, violence, corruption, ignorance, grasping, shining, and eating ketchup on cottage cheese.
Not sure about ketchup/cottage cheese (surely a good thing) but I’d add: too much of a good thing, chocolate bingeing, resentment, most newspapers.