I find an alluring analogy for how any human being’s sense of who she or he is can expand to discover what a varied conglomeration it comprises in the geological model of the supercontinent Pangaea which about 330 million years ago broke up into the continents we now know, sending great chunks of itself out as if in a diaspora to find and create autonomous places on the planet. My continents of self have been at something like that especially these past three or four decades – usefully marked by the deaths of my family members (we were only four to start with) -- first my brother Bob from AIDS in 1989 when I was 38; then my father from/with Alzheimer's in 2000 when I was 49; and my mother from congestive heart failure in 2003 when I was 52. Each centrally occasioned powerful shifts in me within the larger shift of becoming the only Kettelhack left standing. There’s the sweetness of a gift here; no reason to mourn. We’re maneuvering as we must through incarnate life. Moving from only-child to fatherless-child to motherless-child seems to me now to have engendered their quiet release, them from me, me from them. The "less" in father-less and mother-less is almost onomatopoeic for how I felt/’heard’ their absences -- the soft exhalation of something delicate suddenly whisked or brushed away. The delicacy is primary. Whispers here and gone. Death can be an extraordinary clarifier.
As a result not only of those losses but of who knows what other morass of influences, the lexicon to which I resort to describe my experience is significantly different. Meanings of almost everything, even definitions that seemed once for me foregone – man, woman, old, young, winter, spring, summer, autumn, night, day, work, music, art, sexuality, marriage, relationships, solitude, joy, boredom, depression, addiction, anger, hilarity -- have either disappeared completely (no definitions are possible) or morphed into a liquid system of responses that while defying categories evince specific glints of reaction. To cut to a sort of chase, when I reach orgasm these days, I howl so ungovernably loudly I can't imagine that most of Manhattan's east 2nd street's inhabitants around me haven't called the police or an ambulance. In a way, that ungovernable quality describes what’s happened to all my responses – they flit or slink or whisper or howl: nothing justifies any of them and I can extrapolate from none of them any grid of identity. It's just the bob-aloos and bab-aloos of being. It isn’t chaos: but it’s an order I can’t begin to analyze. Well, I ‘begin’ all the time, but so far to no avail.
The net effect of this diaspora of self, ungovernability of reaction has been a dimensional sense of release - not least from Pangea’s imprisoning definitions and categories. It is not a release I have consciously or intellectually pursued. The way I know anything is always after the fact. I rarely, maybe never, learn something because I intend to. I wake up feeling or thinking differently than I felt or thought when I went to sleep the night before. That's how I'm able to say anything -- through a felt contrast of 'change', visited on me moment by moment, but which does not seem to conform to any ideology I can name, beyond some notion of my "temperament." I annoy many people with my assertion Every Idea is Hell. Swallow an idea and it grows all over and through you and suddenly it's doing the thinking, you aren't. I don't like that kind of coercion, and I won't put up with it. Except in those innumerable cases where I do put up with it, but I don't know that I do (or maybe I still like it so I don't care) - that is, until I go to bed and wake up thinking "no, that's not it", and another of them bites the dust. Seams and compartments are dissolving. This does not turn my perceptions of 'reality' to pea soup. I'm not in some amorphous fog. In fact, the opposite. With the dissolution of so many presumptions and assumptions (falling off me because they 'want' to not because I want them to), I get a chance not so much to see a thing for what it really is, as simply to see a thing. Claim it for my own, give it my own meaning. My relation to what I see is more immediate. It doesn't get filtered much. As many people know, it takes me 5x as long to walk any distance in New York as most other people I know. I am besieged by strangeness & beauty every inch of the way. Shadows, fallen leaves, 1880s architectural adornments, trash cans, tree branches, textures of brick and stone. Nothing isn’t riveting. What I see almost always subverts any assumption I once brought to it.
One realm which has undergone for me a kind of utter subversion is that of psychotherapy - from traditional forms of applied psychology to Twelve Step approaches to Alan Watts (whom I name because I treasure the ground upon which he treads, which means – and he is the first to let me know it, his having died in 1973 notwithstanding – I ought to be and have learned to be beyond wary of him: be most careful about people with whom you agree!). More basically it's the realm of needing, seeking and receiving "help." Particularly help for behaviors you have identified as self-destructive and/or which you can't stop doing and/or which you also decide you want or need to change.
Perhaps the most glowing sort of twelve planet solar system in this realm of help comprises Twelve Step programs. The answer the Twelve Step approach offers people seeking help from addiction or compulsive behavior seems to me to be fourfold, and although we are reassured this help is offered as 'suggestion,' to my mind it really gets its adrenaline from an implied (and for some very warranted) "you have to": 1) you have to want to change, 2) you have to stop the behavior you now know is 'the problem' - act your way to it, don't think you way to it & 3) you have to surround yrself with supportive people doing the same thing, 4) you have to see your connection to a greater or higher 'power': the ultimate essential source of help. What I’ve numbered 4 is for most Twelve Step process adherents held to be number 1. And I caution you as Twelve Step literature does that nobody has the last word on it, very much including me. These are just glints of the reflections of my own experience.
But for me "the sticky thing" (as a friend of mine is wont to call everything) about my response to Twelve Step admonitions/suggestions after many decades of reflection and experience and writing about them (again not claiming this gives me any expertise; believe me, it doesn’t) is that it doesn't really accord with the larger effect of my experience over all these years of surviving as I am (largely formed/constituted by what I crave), which begets a less and less arguable truth and beauty: I become less and less alterably convinced not only that I am and will always be who I am, but that I wouldn't want it any other way. I begin to register, maybe, a fuller amplitude of my 'success' (or at least experience) in being me. I really like things as they've managed to keep on being. I do not believe in "shortcomings." I can't imagine, in fact, even what that word could mean. After many years long ago of assuming pathology in so many of my tics and twitches, I just don't see pathology anymore. Provisionally, yes, there are ‘problems’ to be solved, always within the parameters of the moment. Don’t walk past a bar if you’re an alcoholic sort of thing. There’s (probably) always a place for what is known as common sense. But in any larger way, all I can see in anyone, no matter how their behavior annoys or regales me, is a full system response always at work. We are complete and whole and working ingeniously every breathing moment to achieve and sustain homeostasis. If we’re breathing and alive and capable of any connection to the world, we’re in a kind of balance. Possibly even if we’re not.
Am I wrong or right? I can't imagine even what that question means. What reliable measure of that could there be?
"Acceptance is the answer to all our problems," says AA, meaning acceptance as the precursor to being able to effect 'healthy change'. But 'acceptance' to me is a condition the psyche and body birth-to-death insist upon (whether or not I'm conscious of it): it's neither an answer (what would be the question?) nor is its function to help solve 'problems.' There are no problems. There's simply you, alive, in community with others. I'm sometimes tempted to say something like "I no longer believe in 'help'" but I stop myself because I truly don't know what the main-event words ("I" - "believe" - "help") in that sentence mean. I don't see much behind concerted strategies to "help" besides a boorish if often sentimental hubris: a presumption that you know what what's going on & what must be done about it. We often flock to people like that, and (I suppose) who says we're wrong to. But it's all beside 'the point' - which isn't a point but a large unbounded capacity to go on, some of us ever more curious about and conscious of it, 'being who you are.' Which you're going to do anyway! The point isn't to live or die. There is no point. Unless, because you can name it, you call what you want to do "a point." So if, for example, my friend Reed and I have 'points' they respectively include (among perhaps less mentionable ones): turn on the lamp and read a book, or sit down to draw.
This at least touches on the shift. But words words words, maybe too many words for the send-off. Some gist got gotten, I hope.