Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kwanzaa editorial

(Edited-down version available:

17 December 2010

Dear Editor,

Around this time of year, my mind—like that of many, I assume—turns to the holidays, and what they mean to me. Ever the champion of the underdog, my favorite holiday to contemplate happens to be Kwanzaa. I do not speak in jest here; I'm being completely serious. Kwanzaa captures my attention not merely for the uniqueness and marked American-ness of its origin, but because it is one of the few widely-recognized cultural celebrations that has staunchly resisted commercialism, and has remained centered entirely on its core values. This is because its founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga, structured the week-long observation such that each day is dedicated to a single principle, adapted from African philosophy and denoted in Swahili.

This year, two of the Nguzo Saba (or Seven Principles) seem to be particularly relevant. Day Three is dedicated to the principle of Ujima, or “Collective Work and Responsibility,” and Day Four's mantra is Ujamaa, “Cooperative Economics.” Ujima calls us to share in one another's hardships and to work together toward mutually beneficial solutions, while Ujamaa encourages us to grow community wealth by building and supporting independent business enterprises in a conscientious fashion. Here in Danville, where unemployment hovers around a staggering 14%, where increased crime and strife appear to clearly correlate with a receding economy, and where our people seem always to be so caught up in the endless game of making ends meet that collective action becomes nearly impossible, we are in desperate need of this oft-neglected wisdom.

Who do you expect to save you, apart from yourself? Do you look to your government, your president, your congressmen, your state representatives? Some of them believe that our unemployment benefits—which we pay for with our own labor—should not be extended, while others fight tooth and nail to protect the disproportionately miniscule tax rates of the wealthiest among us, the billionaires. The most perverted among their ranks advocate that we allow profit-seekers to mine uranium in our backyard, introducing radioactive carcinogens into our environment—supposedly as a solution to unemployment. Are these the people in whom we have placed our trust? Do they truly represent our interests; are they bringing wealth and wellbeing into our community? Who among them has given you a bailout?

Let's trade rulers and talkers for friends and neighbors. Stock brokers and Federal Reserve chairmen for teachers and pastors. Let's redirect our faith and our authority away from those who tell us via telecast that they have our best interests at heart, and toward ourselves and the people who live, eat, and work alongside us. Let us take matters into our own hands, and provide ourselves with the quality of life we deserve the old-fashioned way: through blood, sweat, tears, and unity.

Together, we can accomplish whatever we set out to do. Rather than sit passively while our situation slips evermore into decay, let us bind together in the spirit of mutual, loving interest. Let's build our wealth together, and let us make a concerted effort to keep it here, among us, in self-accumulating circulation. May this holiday season renew within us a charitable heart that moves us to provide for the least among us as we seek a better life together. And, as we take time over the next two weeks to love each other, enjoy the good company of friends and family, and reflect upon the challenges that will accompany a new year, I pray that we stay focused on the most important principle that connects all holidays, that which Kwanzaa deliberately places at the conclusion of its cycle: Imani, or “Faith.” For it is our faith in ourselves, in each other, and in God that will truly sustain us and bring us new life, now and always.

Happy Holidays,

Sean Barker

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Let's Talk About Passion.

Let's Talk About Passion.

7 August 2010 (begun)
12 August 2010 (completed)

Passion is freedom: pass it on. My new mantra, but what does it mean? Let me break it down.

Here we all are, in this paradoxical human condition. We are plagued by self-awareness. We are individualized, separate from each other and from everthing else. Compartmentalized. Each one of us is—in a sense—trapped within itself. We perceive the outside world, but we do not really completely touch it. It is there, but the mind can play all kinds of tricks on us such as to make it seem less-real than the self that we carry around with us. Through our thoughts, we can become further disconnected from the world outside our self-conceived, self-contained selfhood-bubble. We long for a deeper, fuller, more permanent connection, but we just cannot seem to stop thinking ourselves into isolation.

How do we get out?

Many have come before us and charted paths to the other side of the perception-paradigm. The Buddha went so deeply within himself that his every attachment to anything perceivable completely vanished, such that he no longer perceived either himself or anything else to exist. He became one with everything and nothingness. He ceased to be, before his body died. Those who seek a similar dissolution follow him through meditation, the subtle practice of inward reflection whose goal is to reach the state of everythingness/nothingness.

Countless others have found freedom from selfhood through devotion to a higher being: Nature, God, Love, whathaveyou. These people practice some set of a multitude of methods of ritualized subservience to their greater power of choice. My grandmother, for instance, reads her Bible every morning, goes to church at least once a week, and prays constantly. She is the most selfless person I know.

A seeming majority within our culture choose a different route: that of self-destruction. I have such extensive personal experience with this method, and have written on it so much as a result, that I really do not have anything more to say about it at present.

And, so, passion. My conception of passion is inextricable from my most intimate personal role model, Jesus Christ. If you ask me, this is what Christ did: He woke up from perception. He went into the desert, starved himself for 40 days, and entered an altered state in which he realized that we, as humans, construct reality. He experienced, firsthand, the fullness of God, the purity of pulsating light-energy which animates and activates everything that we experience as Real. Having known this force as fully as a human can, he understood that the disease and destructiveness that plagued humans was merely a force of their own creation, and determined that direct contact with the Divine is the cure for all conceivable ailments. He knew that all of existence boiled down to a singular love, and that it was this his human brethren had forgotten, and needed to be reminded of.

Thus, he set out to do just that. Jesus opened his heart—fully—and shared of himself completely with everyone he encountered. He allowed God Itself to pour through him, ceaselessly, and heal the masses who were attracted to his divinely wrought warmth. He shared the internal light, which truthfully resides within us all, and did so selflessly. He bled the whole of his energy into the world that surrounded him, and did not stop until that world extinguished him.

This is passion.

And passion is freedom.

Of course, Jesus is the archetype to which we Christians conform our lives. Not all of us are made for martyrdom, but each and every one of us is called to improve the condition of humanity through Christlike unconditional love. Thus, most of us will experience Christ's passion as a metaphor that connects to our life in such a manner that we vicariously live his sacrifice, even though the majority of us will not be executed in a literal sense. But we do die for his love.

Everyone is unique and some of us feel more unique than others. For a Christian such as myself, who lives against the grain, who feels within the burning desire to share an internal reality which radically conflicts with that professed by most others, who wishes only to give of myself such as to make others feel some degree of the ecstasy which remains alive within me even in my darkest of moments—for such a person—Christ's passion becomes an analog for the notion that our true salvation lies in our ability and willingness to give ourselves wholly to the world outside our viewfinder. The life and death that I wish to enact is one of giving everything that I have to show others what I see, to give them the ability to feel what I feel and know what I know. This is my passion.

And so, it is only through living, enacting, actualizing my passion that I will find freedom from myself. This process is in its beginning phases, and thus I can still describe it; later, there will be no need nor any desire to do so.

In order to give full justice to the images within my head that correspond to the concepts I am trying to covey, I will need to spend some time explicating my conception of the God/human dichotomy. I'll try to be brief here. Basically, God is everything. A human is a unit of consciousness which has the unfortunate ability to perceive itself as separate from everything (aka God). In Truth, the human is as much a part of God as any other unit of existence, but don't tell him that, for he is not ready to hear it quite yet. He takes comfort in believing in, or in some cases rejecting, a Divine actor who is outside of himself. He trembles in fear at the immediate realization of the Divine within himself, as it demonstrates its always-uncompromised power over his steps, his thoughts, his decisions, his entire existence. For the human to experience the Divine, he is forced to remember that he is not really a human at all, and never was.

It is this moment of rejecting/disremembering our humanity that we become free. This is our nirvana. For the Chirstian-self, this can only be described as “coming into contact with God,” or “receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Language is just that, and nothing more. As I said, these moments are characterized by an immediate sensation of fear and trembling, a sinking within and an instantaneous mourning of all we ever thought was. And so, we cannot take but so much of this feeling at any one time. We still want to be human, and to forget this other-reality, and be perfectly innocent of it.

I have met others who have achieved, in a real sense, renewed innocence. Those who have permanently forgotten their moments of contact with the Divine. I am not yet one of these people. And maybe I never will be. But, I will be free of this present condition, in which I can remember that reality, but am too afraid or unwilling to re-experience it. I will, someday, be entirely free of my perceived-humanity, as well my perceived-divinity. And this is how I will set out to do it:

Passion. I will live out a sequence of events in which I share my deepest-held beliefs, my most profound convictions, through my most intrinsically pleasurable forms of communication. I will do what I love to do the most, in service to what I believe from the innermost depths of my core. I will extract from within the Divine seed at the center of my being in such a manner as will allow me to reach the very heights of human enjoyment. I will enter the state of ceaselessly making love to life.

For what good is a life if I cannot love every moment of it? Yes, my life itself is a creation. And yes, I am part of God, a self-contained creative force, an actor and perhaps the principal and—dare I say—even the sole author of this experience. That said, why not, in all my divine awareness, give to myself the life which will bring me endless pleasure in service to the entire rest of existence? Is that not a beautiful notion? Why not give to myself the most extremely pleasing path-to-death that I can conjure, having known my human self for its entire endurance?

Passion, for me, is a process of successively breaking down the border between myself and my Creator, between me and God. Its is systematically destroying the wall which divides internal consciousness from external consciousness. In every moment, I experience God as everything outside of me. But, through the sharing of myself, through living my passion, I am increasingly giving my inner awareness to “God,” as in that which exists on the outside. And, consequently, God is pouring Itself into me; there is an equilibrium of exchange. The more I give of myself, the more like God I become. And, it is my Holy vow to give all of myself to God. And, so, what am I left to assume but that God will give the whole of Himself to me?

We, the humans, are the parts of God who experience ourselves as becoming God. God is pure love. God has no fear. God has no concerns of any nature. As humans, in this limited, fear-ridden, materially weighted, deathly state, we long for the abolition of the negative aspects of our experience. Of course, the only way to make this happen is to become God.

So, as I am becoming God, I will do so in a way which allows me to believe that I am worthy of godliness. I will love God and the world unconditionally, and I will give all of myself to It. I will take this fire inside, this consciousness, and I will make from it beauty and expression, and I will put the whole of my creative, emotional, physiological, mental energy into it. I will love my life fiercely, and invest of myself boldly, confidently, painstakingly, brilliantly, and tirelessly. I will be all that I can be for God. And I will feel the enormity of this process every step of the way.

Thus, the pathway to death and God will be paved for me through the ecstatic expulsion of my internal self into eternity. And, with every release, with every surrendering of another aspect of my being, I shall feel a sublime joy, a new lightness, a crisp breath of relief. And, as my selfhood dissolves, my life will more fully reflect my heart's internal vision of peace and transcendent pleasure. In other words, by living my passion, my life will become a Heaven-on-Earth. By giving my All to God, God gives his All to me. And we become One. God/Me/Heaven/Earth. A single verse of unconditional, undying, unyielding love. And this, my friends, is true freedom.

Pass it on.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Discovery

The Discovery
11 July 2010

Savagery is a concept with which I am thoroughly obsessed. To clarify: when I use the terms “savage” and “savagery,” I do not mean to do so in a pejorative sense. My Western/American/White upbringing would have me stigmatize cultures that resist the “upward mobility” of civilization, and choose to remain in close ties with the land and with nature, and with their own internal nature. I do not; in a sense, I perhaps romanticize these peoples, and it is undeniable that I envy them to some degree. One could say that I subscribe to a starry-eyed “noble savage” conception, but I would argue with this as well. I do not fancy myself merely an anthropological sympathizer. It is my belief that I share something fundamental at the core with those whom Westerners have traditionally called “savages.” I completely and honestly believe that I possess a living spirit within me, who imputes me toward a closer connection with the Earth, with my own physiological rhythms, with the cosmos and the greater community of Life. On the inside, I, too, feel like I am a savage.

But, of course, I see myself as stuck within a Western would-be “civilized” lifeway, and hence the obsession. I have spent a good deal of my contemplative energy visualizing and imagining the life for which my spirit longs, and then applying that knowledge to my present, in the hopes of identifying the fundamental cultural differences that could perhaps be addressed such that more of us who wish to be savages get to live our truest lives. Paying no further mind to the political correctness brigade, for whom I must admit I have next-to-no respect, I will continue writing with the assumption that my audience feels a likeness to the sentiments I have hitherto expressed, and will therefore choose not to censor the language into which my thoughts most naturally manifest themselves.

The reason why I envy savages is because I believe that they get to live in a ceaseless state of pure love. Meaning, that the force and the feeling which we have come to refer to as “love” is the very same as that which guides and pervades every aspect of their life. They are perfectly balanced with respect to their environment, each other, and their internal needs; they do not know as we do the persistent longing for something more. They have everything they need, and do not want for that which they do not have or know of. They just are. And in simply being, they are love. They have, implicit within themselves, that which we Westerners make our highest art in pursuit of obtaining.

“How does he figure that?” someone is bound to be asking by now. I admit: I have not within this lifetime been a savage, and so the present I, Sean Michael Barker, cannot lay claim to an immediate experience of the state which I am describing. Perhaps I used to be a savage, in a past life? Or maybe I carry within me a genetic link to a savage ancestor? (Don't we all?) But, allow me to philosophize for a moment, in order to fill the gaps that lived-experience leaves.

We have this notion of the savage, meaning, “one who lives completely within Nature; one who has not known the fruits of civilization, of stationary living, of societal organization, of the quest for the transformation of Man into a Higher Being (as sought through social stratification).” We, the Westerners, define ourselves in opposition to this figure. We judge him as our abject-Other, that which we most wish not to be, and pity, and regard as lower than we are and as an animal/object, something to be owned, ignored, controlled or slaughtered.

What lies at the core of this conceptual distancing from our brother, the savage? I would argue that, if it were to be boiled down to a singular idea—forgoing discussion of the possibility of aesthetically determined aversions created by the phonemic expression of genetic difference—that the main point of contention between savage cultures and those within the Western paradigm is their respective understandings of the human's relationship to life and death. We the Westerners are defined as those whose mainstream and implicit cultural assumption is that life and death are forces to be controlled and directed toward the service of our identified objectives. We are the great manipulators, those who paradoxically seek immortality through murder. Savages, on the other hand, are always-already submitted to the realities of Life and Death as forces greater than themselves. They are the ones who live under no illusion of personal immortality, but rather find their connection to the eternal through their consummated position within the endless cycle of existence and nonexistence. Westerners, in their neurotic fear of a death that is not subject to any degree of human control, condemn the savage for his subjugation to nature, for his refusal to think himself into a condition more separated from his origin. Savages, I imagine, would laugh off the Westerner's concern/judgment as ignorant to the inescapable reality of the ultimate supremacy of the natural world. In case it is not obvious, I favor the savage position here. (It is one that I have imagined and created, so why wouldn't I favor it?)

So, then, what does any of this have to do with love? Well, to put it bluntly, from what little I know of love, I am totally convinced of one thing: that it cannot exist—in the experiential sense—without the immediate realities of life and death. Love is the singularizing force which unites both life and death, and everything therein. Love is, itself, a force of nature. It is that which binds all things to one another.

And so, it seems to me that the savage, just by virtue of being himself, necessarily inhabits a life that is profuse with love. He is continually confronted by the natural realities of life and death. He lives in close harmony with nature, and has intimate knowledge of his immediate world. He must depend upon his family, his tribe, his landscape for his survival, and he therefore has an indestructible connection with all of these. He never has the luxury to be ignorant of the realities of life and death, and therefore experiences no distance—conceptual or otherwise—from the real world that exists all around him. His life is nothing but love.

By contrast, the Westerner has the unfortunate ability to think himself out of reality. His society creates within itself a class of person whose material needs are all met with little effort on the part of those individuals. These people are allowed to exist apart from the immediate realities of life and death; indeed, they exist with little concept of either. Western society itself—arguably—necessitates some distancing from death in particular in order to sustain itself. Most Westerners engage in work that is by definition unnatural or contrary to that which is intrinsically rewarding to the internal self. The only conceivable incentive to do something such as this is that the activity will lead to some delayed experience of intrinsic pleasure or reward; we work toward a “better future.” This requires some degree of the denial of death. We must assume ourselves to be immortal, or to be able to die on our own terms, in order to structure a life such that we delay our full experiencing of being alive. This is, of course, counter to the reality of death, which is a force beyond our control. Even those who live luxuriously, who inhabit the uppermost strata of Western life must to some extent deny death as a reality. Simply to conceive of oneself as greater than any other living being—let along a fellow human—is to deny death as the great equalizer. The leisured subject must distance himself from the reality of death in order to continue being himself and conceiving of himself as deserving of more than his fellow man.

This inhabiting of a false, deathless reality renders many Westerners incapable of truly experiencing love. For, how can one love a life to which he is internally disconnected? How can man love himself or one another if he is operating under a working-assumption of immortality? When does the Westerner make time to love life? How can he experience the natural force of love, outside of the laws of nature? Westerners, it appears to me, are so caught up in their functional dejection from their immediate lives, so existing mostly within their minds, so afraid to feel the reality of imminent death that they cannot and do not pause to truly love their precious little time here. They remain shut-off to much of what surrounds them, emotionally distant and unavailable to themselves and one another, numbingly ignorant to the all-powerful forces at work within their lives—chief among these love. (I am, of course, speaking monolithically here. For what can be said that does not require generalization?)

Thus, I have spent/wasted a good deal of my time being jealous of the noble savages, who live as I imagine in a world of pure, perfect, warming love (I'm not as naïve as I ironically depict myself here, but there is no need to use precious space justifying that to the reader). But, my very reason for writing today is to nullify my jealousy and present to the reader a redemptive quality of Western life that he or she may not have realized. It has occurred to me many times that perhaps the very point of being Western is to forget the reality of love, as well how to experience and share love. Assuming love to be the perfect ideal for which all of us seek, why then would we want to forget it? Well, I think that the beginning of that last sentence answered the question at its end: so that we can seek, find, and (re-)discover love.

For, if love is the unifying force of everything, and we were harmoniously connected to everything through love, how would we be able to experience it with such intensity as to fuel all of the great passions that our culture has yielded? Indeed, within my imagined framework of savagery as delineated above, the question emerges: if the life of the savage is nothing but love, how can the savage himself know he is experiencing love? Must not love be lost in order to be fully appreciated upon its return? Would we not in fact rather forget it from time to time, in order to remember it in a more profoundly pleasurable and appreciative fashion at some later date?

Is that not the quintessence of our culture? To lose love only to regain it later? Are not all of our stories about that to some degree?

The discovery of love is a theme that has shaped my life, and I imagine that many of us who are experiencing the present would have to say the same thing, in all honesty. And part of my process of learning to love myself as a Westerner—with a savage spirit—is accepting that I once was removed from its embrace. I have come to terms with the unnaturalness of my coming-of-age apart from love, and in truth I am no longer jealous of those whose cultures and/or dispositions have never allowed them to forget or to leave love.

But, as I have discovered love and experienced the intensity that comes with its return, I must say that I am much in favor now of relinquishing the drama in favor of a more enlightened approach to loving. For me, I have found the return to love to be so intense that I can only absorb the transition in portions. Love, for me, yields a certain lightness for which I am not prepared, having been heavily burdened with Western neurosis for so long. Whenever I come across a moment of greater-than-average connectivity, I feel completely consumed within it, and the death-fearing/death-denying Westerner within compels me to retreat in order to preserve itself. I am having to learn to love, gradually, to acclimate myself such that I can experience it and submit to it without fear. It would be a lot simpler if I never have had to leave it at all, and could have just lived a life of love from start to finish. Do not mistake me: the “high” is absolutely amazing, indescribable even. But as we mature as a culture, as we all live our narratives of re-discovery, it is my hope that we get over love's drug-like effects, and instead incline ourselves to what I believe is love's own intrinsic purpose for existing.

And that purpose is to connect everything to everything, forever. I believe that love itself—the natural force—requires something very special of this generation of Westerners. I think that the time has come for us to return to a state of perfect loving harmony with the natural world. No longer should we selfishly experience the highs and lows that love offers us within the Western paradigm; rather, the time has come to apply our love toward the project of healing the world, ravaged by Westernization, and return our species to a greater stasis with the whole of life. With the rediscovery of love in our own lives comes the desire to share it with the entire world. As long as there are those who are existing in selfishness, in destruction, in Western arrogance, love will not have conquered all. Our task as young Westerners who understand both our cultures of origin and the yearnings of our savage, love-wrought spirits is to offer ourselves as a divine bridge that allows the force within us to reform the picture before us. In short, if we are committed to love, if we truly wish to experience it as a sustaining force within our lives—as opposed to an occasional fix—we must share it selflessly with the whole of life, such as to allow the healing transformation of our most beautiful and peaceful inner desires to take place.

The time has come for us to love ourselves and the world around us to revival again. And though that will require a relinquishing of the traditionally Western love-lost-regained drama, I promise that the project of creating a new world in love's image will itself present a cornucopia of rewarding experiences, yet to be discovered. Let us forgo the repetitions of experiences that are no longer truly novel, in favor of a completely new terrain. Let us become the conquistadors of an entirely different sort, and discover truly the power of our inner savage love.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Mating Scene

Scanning the dark room
of faces
chiseled, round, pensive and blank
she's looking
calmly, methodically
for the bravest pair of eyes
willing, able, ready
to lock into her magnetic gaze
and truly see
what lies behind.

Awkwardly handsome
and painfully haphazard,
the one sporting blue
twitches slightly
but does not turn his head away.
Risking blindness,
fearing annihilation,
he nevertheless
know her secret.

Amused, unmoved
she chooses his steps
in a sequence of deliberate glances.

How long can he follow?

Regardless, its' clear:
She won't take him home tonight.

(maybe tomorrow?)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lay Me Down in the Crevice

Lay Me Down in the Crevice
8 July 2010

Now is the time to make it clear the way in which I conceive of my project, the purpose of my life, the center of my work. Presently, I exist to inhabit various places within the Economy, become a reflection of the current position, and describe my internal state in varying degrees of self-awareness. I am less concerned with the surface-level “plight of the working class” sort-of conversation, and much more interested in how operating within the Economy affects my spiritual connection to my self, my emotional balance, my perceptive capabilities, my internalized belief structure, my relative “density,” and so forth. I am explicating the belief, which remains constant within my personal paradigm, that the Economy frustrates the development of consciousness/evolution, depresses the emotions, and necessitates density with respect to spiritual awareness. I am studying the application of myself, my consciousness, to these states which are inhabited mostly by people who do not share this thread of belief.

And this brings me to today. Today I live in what I refer to as “the Crevice.” From, we have the definition of the word “crevice” as: “a crack forming an opening; cleft; rift; fissure.” So, metaphorically, I am asserting that my life in this moment is broken, and I am for a short period inhabiting the crack, with the hopes of returning to the surface and continuing as before, eventually. Now, though, is the time to describe the insides of the crevice.

Let's start with the “how I got here.” Just last week, I was soaring to my personal heights of consciousness, repeatedly experiencing mild and intense euphoria, unconcerned with time or the future or restrictions of any sort. I do not mean to paint a false image here: there remained pain, some degree of uncertainty, a little bit of crying, and all that. But there was no frustration of energy, no emotional depression or spiritual disconnection. To make it plain: I was on vacation. I did not have to work, did not have to adhere to a monotonous schedule or do meaningless tasks, did not have to inhabit places and moments that do not suit the reality of my internal being for extended periods. Novelty abounded, and my spirit remained properly stimulated throughout even the painful and uncomfortable moments.

I had a love for life. I made healthy decisions. I enjoyed myself. I had energy. I smiled a lot.

Then, I came back home and returned to work. Again, allow me space to ensure that I do not over-dramatize. I have not yet become miserable in my job again. Indeed, I have another vacation coming up in just a few days, so it is unlikely that I will return to the lowest of the lows that I have experienced over the past two years. At least not this time. But, as I continue working in my spiritually-denying job, living a life that is not indigenous to my soul, I find that I have less energy, I am less spiritually connected/interested, I am much more inclined to indulge in unhealthy sensory-stimulating desires, and so forth. I become depressed. It hasn't hit yet; now I'm just emotionally numb.

My life gets messy. I do not connect with those around me. I do not really care about anything. I just do things, just am. There is nothing to excite or devastate me, nothing to impute me toward ecstatic states.

I am impatient and disinterested. I am writing this very essay in a haphazard, rushed fashion. I care not for Love or poetry or truth or beauty; I only want whatever substantive stimulant presently crosses my mind. And I want to rest perpetually and just wither away into nothingness.

It is as if by denying my inner truth and capitulating to the culturally inescapable notion that I “must work” (a job that does not cohere with my beliefs/inner self), I kill my soul, force it into a partially incapacitated/mostly horizontal state. And so therefore, in the material, I reflect that state by existing in a fashion that is lazy, disengaged, tired, and hedonistic.

I have been to the crevice many times. Each time, my stay seems to be shorter and less intense. As I grow into my fullness, I am finding that I feel more hopeful about reaching the zeniths of my personal potential. With hope comes mobility and action toward that end. My soul is standing upright, gradually, and as it does I find that I more consistently have the energy to live the life that brings me to my greatest sense of peace and fulfillment. And so, nowadays, the crevices are like temporary breaks from the time-collapsing movement of spiritual work. Little lazes into a simpler, denser selfhood meant only to serve as a moment of comfort in the familiarity of the past, that break up the path to ecstatic oblivion. It is a type of rest that makes me less afraid of the all-consuming force of passionate living that is my destiny; the calm before the storm.

While here, it is inevitable that I will entertain the possibility of staying permanently. I know beyond knowing that this is not what is meant for me, and truthfully not even an option. But, I cannot help but to appreciate the special beauty that I find here: that of blissful, comfortable ignorance. This moment is a lie, a pretense of the most treacherous sort. I am alive and moving boldly toward ultimate freedom. But here in the crevice, I am allowed to pretend otherwise, if only temporarily. Something within deviously whispers to the Creator:

“Lay me down here, in this crevice I have wrought, that I may die unwittingly and outside the sight of all Light. Send me to a quiet fate, that I may never know the extremes of pain and pleasure, and remain exactly as I am until departure. Bring me only repetitions of what I have already seen and known, then dissipate my numbed form in a perfect, inconspicuous breath of darkness.”

Written and submitted for all who care to read, and with the intention to silence such prayers within myself, once and for all.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Life

The Sweet Taste of Life

What a difference a day can make! Within just a couple days of having written my last piece, The Sweet Taste of Death, I had an experience that reversed my position on that matter. I mean, I still stand by what I said in the essay, on the quality of one's life influencing one's behaviors and their manifestations as either destructive or productive, but I've changed my perspective relative to that paradigm. I value my own life more, is what I'm trying to say.

This is what happened. I was hanging out with a couple friends from work, smoking and drinking and just generally not being terribly healthy. I hadn't slept much in days, and was likely more fatigued than I realized when I decided to go home. I say I was drinking, but I'd only had half a beer and was not, in reality, drunk. I think I was mostly just sleep-deprived. And high.

As I was driving home, I started to feel as though I were disappearing. This has happened to me before. But this time it was more intense. I'm used to a sort-of spiritual heat coming over me and causing the perception of a dissolution of one body part or another. This happens to many people who use psychedelics, but it can happen to me when I'm just high or when I'm completely sober. I haven't tripped in about a year and a half. Sometimes I freak out when this happens, but if I've had a number of such experiences in close temporal proximity to one another, it doesn't seem as foreign and I'm more likely to just go with it. If ever I need to come down from it, I follow the advice of an older, wiser individual who once said, "Just stick your head in a freezer if you need to feel real again." I somehow make myself physically uncomfortable in order to feel myself.

This time, it wasn't working. I rolled down my window and stuck my arm out, gripping the roof of my car, hoping that the night air would bring me to full physical presence within myself. It didn't work. I began to feel as though my entire body were blipping out of existence, as though the nature of reality itself were coming apart within the seams of myself. Space and time became a physical streaming presence that was replacing me with itself, sending my consciousness into a state of black nothingness. I was terrified.

I realized that I was in an incredibly vulnerable state. I've heard of people blacking out while driving and nevertheless making it home safely, miraculously. However, being as I described in my last essay in a frame of mind that was somewhat suicidal, I couldn't trust myself in that moment not to manifest self-destruction. I felt that if I let go entirely into that moment, it could become my last. For me, this was a near-death experience.

In a panic, I pulled over into the (closed) CVS pharmacy that is probably no more than a quarter of a mile from my house. I decided that perhaps if I walked around, or ran, or did something physically involved, it would bring me back into my body such that I could drive home safely. I got out of the car and started to walk around. As I was walking, the disappearing feeling only heightened. I was losing time, and "browning out." It was like I was only able to witness every other moment. One second, I would be walking, the next would be black nothingness, and then I would see myself again in a different place in the parking lot that was more than a step away from where I had been. Except, time itself had dissolved, so there was no perception of a second-by-second play, but rather a realization that I was losing consciousness. My "self" was dissolving into the greater whole of the moment, but because I was more identified with my fears and my death drive at that time, my consciousness was displaced into nothingness.

I realized then that the greatest sin I had been committing of late was that of not loving myself or my life as they currently exist. I learned a long time ago that I must love every moment in order to have a fulfilled life. Still panicked, I started saying, "I love you, Moment," in the hope that this would redeem me and bring me to safety.

And it did, eventually.

I knew that I needed help of some sort. I'm not the type of person who asks for help until the stakes reach a certain level. Truth be told, I've been in desperate need of some kind of help for at least a month now. I've been slipping into oblivion and death because I've been depressed and dissatisfied at the ego-level of my existence. And I've been completely identified with my ego, at that. But, as it stood at that moment, it seemed inevitable that I would pass out. I didn't want to be alone when it happened. It was late at night, and I knew that the only person I could really rely upon was my brother, Stephen. I returned to my car to get my phone and call him.

After picking up the phone, I hesitated for a moment. Really, it was my ego, still damning me with its refusal to admit weakness. It imbued me with a vision of my greatest fear that would surely manifest if I called my brother. I would call him and ask him to come pick me up. As he was on his way, I would pass out. He would call my parents and they would rush me to the hospital. I would wake up in a bleak room, surrounded by doctors and family members and would be told that I had some terminal disease, cancer, maybe. Lots of tears and so forth, and everyone would pity me and see me as a dying person until I died.

Nevertheless I called him, because my greater Self took control and I couldn't do anything but call him. I said, "Stephen, I love you, and I need you to come pick me up." Without hesitation, he agreed, and I told him where I was and he headed out to get me. After the call, my fears were assauged, and I started to feel real again. I was still in a state of reduced-free will, but I could feel my body and I was no longer losing time. I began to rejoice at the instantaneous-ness of my recovery, and I started praising God, proclaiming myself as His, and speaking in tongues. I was waving my hands and dancing around in an ecstatic fit that I could not control. I was exuberantly happy to be alive.

Within no time, for me, literally, no time, Stephen arrived and I told him what had been happening. I asked him to take me to Wendy's, which was still open, so that I could eat something and come down further. He took me, and I got a salad and baked potato. On the way, he told me that he'd had experiences like mine before as well. We're both a little too interested in drugs.

He took me back to the empty CVS parking lot, and I ate and we talked a little. He reminded me of what I was supposed to be doing instead of hanging out with work friends. He said, in simple honestly, "So, basically, you ditched mom to go get high." It was the truth. I was supposed to hang out with my mom, and I got depressed, and didn't feel like I could handle her presence, so instead I went out in search of weed. Typical me.

I told Stephen that one of us would have to stop all this drug nonsense and get healthy soon, and that it should be me. He agreed. He told me that I needed to stop smoking cigarettes as well, and I agreed. I was, by this point, able to safely drive home, and so I thanked him and told him that if he ever needed me to return the favor, I would surely do so.

As I drove home, with the window down, I constricted my core muscles as to maintain my grip on the present. I made it home, completely safely, and headed for bed. I lit candles in my room, and laid down for a meditative rest. I felt the cleansing of the Spirit, and fell asleep without any trouble. I'd known that it was my destiny to sleep well that night, and so I did.

And since then, I have had a renewed interest in living. I'm still smoking, but I'm gradually weaning myself off of cigarettes (smoking Newport Lights, currently ;} ), and I've set a date for their complete cessation: October 15. I'm eating better, and have decided to return to my vegetarian ways, with the occasional exception of fish. I've started reading this amazing website called Christ's Way (, thank you David for the recommendation!), and a little bit more of the Bible. I'm feeling an elevation, a renewed interest in being at one with the Spirit, and a general satisfaction with everything in my life. I'm making peace with my past and enjoying the present, losing concern for the future and instead choosing to love myself into increasingly grander states of being.

Love and Life are miracles that are ours to have and share. Material circumstances are but illusions that can be mastered through the power of God's Love. How blessed I was to have a moment in which everything was nearly taken from me, so that I could wake the next morning with a revived appreciation for the beauty of All that Is!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Death

The Sweet Taste of Death
Sean Michael Barker

On my way home from work tonight, I stopped by Wendy's and ordered Honey Barbecue Boneless Wings and a medium chocolate Frosty. It's a contemplative sort-of evening for me, so I'm sitting here eating my snack and reflecting on why I'm attracted to things that are gradually killing me. It won't be long before I light another Newport, in this same vein.

For starters, it's clear that I'm going with a certain flow. I am by no means the only person I know who can make an entire diet out of fast food, nor am I the only Danvillian who smokes menthol cigarettes. In fact, for perhaps the first time in my life, I consider myself to be in the majority in this sense; what I'm doing is considered completely "normal" here. Indeed, with two working parents and a cultural endorsement for choosing tasty convenience, I can honestly say that I was raised on fast food. Outside of Danville, it took a great deal of conscious effort to will myself out of my fast-food addiction, not to mention a group of well-meaning friends who lovingly looked down upon it. But here I am again, surrounded by folks who see nothing wrong with a habitual stop at Hardee's or Bojangles or McDonald's or wherever you fancy (pick your poison!), and I have relinquished my will power to the greater judgment of my present context. And, I must admit: I am a lot happier now that I've stopped trying to be health-conscious and vegetarian in Danville, VA.

The question at hand, then, has less to do with why I-personally am making these decisions, and more to do with why we, as a culture, find ourselves constantly doing this. I have a theory which I aim to share.

My theory dates back to my college days, when it was my job to think (or, depending on the class, to repeat others' thoughts). I was a Black Studies major, because the thoughts inspired by these classes were the ones that I found to be the most interesting. Every Black Studies class will at some point address the history of slavery. Most of these conversations will make some attempt to connect the past to the present. This is what I loved most about Black Studies: it helped me to make sense of the world I currently live in, by offering a wider array of conceptions of the past than I found in more "traditional" classes.

I'm not sure which one it was, but in one of my classes, we talked about soul food. As in, the culinary tradition that originates in Southern African-American culture. My very insightful professor told us that slaves--particularly "field" slaves--were generally fed what amounted to table scraps. The master and his family, fittingly, would reserve the choice foods, specifically the "good" cuts of meat, for themselves, and would give the slaves whatever remained that was edible. The slave's diet, then, would be a combination of foods that they could grow for themselves in their precious-little "free" time and their owners' leftovers. This explains why black Southerners (and even some white Southerners of poorer backgrounds) retain their tastes for intestines, livers, dark meats, and what have you. At one point, this was all they had to work with. It also accounts for black people's cultural penchant for rich seasoning: they needed to add a good deal of flavoring to their food to make it palatable, because they were eating parts of the animal that were not even considered to be "food" by the culture-at-large. So, there you have it: a tradition is born, predictably out of the conditions of oppression.

My "original" thought comes in here. I completely accept the narrative that I just laid out as truth, but I have a contribution that I believe adds further insight into the situation. Let's say that you're a black American slave at the turn of the 19th century. You have no personal connection to Africa because your family have been in America for 3-5 generations by now. You work sunup to sundown for a man who does not love or care for you, who beats you whenever he feels the need, who rapes your daughters and considers you to be an animal. You have no conception of a better life than the one you're living now, because you know that any effort you make toward self-liberation will result in a brutal death. You know that you can be separated from your family and loved ones at any moment; your teenage son can literally be sold to the highest bidder. What, then, do you really have to live for?

Hope springs eternal and the will to live is one of the most profound phenomena of human existence. Nevertheless, suicide exists, as do subtler forms of self-destruction. It seems to me that there is a sort-of economic factor when it comes to living. When the cost of living outweighs the cost of dying, perfectly sane people choose to die.

But there seems to be a gradient. We have the extremes: those who kill themselves, and those who completely embody health and vivacity. But we also have a vast middle ground of people who have no desire to die in the immediate sense, but who clearly demonstrate patterns of behavior that can only result in death. Perhaps a similar economic measure can be applied to those in the "moderate" categories.

This is the thrust of my theory: even though everyone knows that certain behaviors, certain foods, drugs and other products are as good as gradual death sentences, people nevertheless choose to engage in/consume them based upon the degree to which they value their own lives. This is why I find more smokers in my social circle as a waiter in workingclass Danville than I did as a college student in middleclass Williamsburg. People here believe that they have less to live for. The longer I stay here, the less I believe there is something to live for.

And who can blame us? Our work is repetitive, degrading, depressing, and soul-crushing. Most of us have aspects to life outside of our work that gives us something to live for. But, when most of our waking life is spent doing work that is not intrinsically rewarding or meaningful, why wouldn't we want to ensure that the release of death draws ever-closer? On the opposite side of the coin, why wouldn't those who lead more fulfilling lives want to prolong it as much as possible? It can all be reduced to a cost/benefit analysis.

And, in the case of good food, good times, and good friends, what better way to go could there be? When no quality of life is apparent, we create it out of thin air. No matter how bad my job was on any given day, it can all be turned around if I have a delicious meal when I get off. When I have no strong desire to live anyway, death can taste quite sweet indeed. It's only when that menacing voice of hope emerges that my habits start to reek of bitterness again. Thankfully, my will toward destruction remains strong enough to silence that voice, no matter how loud it gets. I'm always only one mentholated puff away from where I started, and for the time-being, that's how I like it.

I trust and believe that someday I will find a self-sustaining drive toward health and life. But while my material circumstances dictate my reality, I reserve the right to kill myself a little bit, just to take the edge off of what would otherwise be a completely abysmal situation. My taste for death is completely moment-appropriate, and I do not comdemn myself for obeying my treacherous desires. At present, death to me is as sweet as honey. I will know it's time to move on when it begins to taste as bitter as itself again.

As for right now, it's time for me to reward myself with another Newport :)