Friday, June 17, 2011
Here's a mini essay I just posted at RI.
Strieber (like Castaneda) had some profound personal encounters with Imaginal forces. When I read his books (and Castaneda's), the accounts resonated, profoundly, with my own, forgotten or fragmented experiences with the Imaginal. In a word, I recognized "truth" in them (I use "'s because I'm at RI, normally I wouldn't bother).
I am and always have been a very credulous and impressionable person, and as is my wont, I took both these authors' accounts literally, at face value - as they themselves seemed to - even knowing (at least later on) that Imaginal experiences aren’t "literal" so much as metaphorical (but then, so is ordinary reality once we scratch the surface, right?). Point is, Whitley's and Carlos' experiences were filtered through their individual psyches and written out in linear (literal) language, so those are the versions of Imaginal reality which we got “fed.” And then, insofar as we are left-brained and literal-minded creatures, we can only take them at face value, or reject them in the same way. (For the left-brain something is either true or false, it cannot be both/and. First mistake.)
The point is that these writers share their truth, not the Truth, but as readers, if we identify with and relate to the stories (while taking them at face value), we are going to try and make it our truth – more or less in the same way that people who follow gurus try to twist themselves into the right shape to match their guru's truth. If we do this, then sooner or later we are going to get disillusioned – as soon, in fact, as we realize that the other guy’s truth, however good it might have seemed, it’s not gonna be our truth. Why? Because it’s not our experience of the Imaginal, divine, or whatever. Sooner or later, something in there is going to “not fit,” because the only reality that fits us is, you got it, our own. So that’s the test and the opportunity of every “guru” - and every literary genius or rock n’ roll idol or whoever we look up to & whose ideas or work we follow, whose path we wind up trying to walk down or whose “being” we want to emulate. It never works.
The test and the opportunity is to save the baby and toss out the bath water. If we wind up rejecting everything about the person, IMO, we’ve missed the opportunity and flunked the test – maybe (I don’t want to impose my version of reality on anyone, but for me that’d be true, though God knows it’s tempting). True skepticism is learning to discern truth from delusion, starting with our heroes or teachers, and ending up with our own. The “believer” swallows the story (aliens, sorcerers, democracy, whatever) whole, gets drunk on it, becomes sick, and then the “skeptic” comes to the rescue and tries to vomit everything back up and swears never to touch the stuff again (but usually he finds another vice). This isn’t skepticism so much as cynicism, overcompensation for feeling like a sucker. It denies whatever is in us (or in Strieber, or whoever) that responded to truth, and focuses only on the part that managed to turn a little bit of truth into a great big delusion. It’s not lies that fool us, IMO, it’s truth taken too literally, or too quickly to heart. It’s truth which we invest in and build a whole edifice of delusion out of.
Imagination – that’s the key, but not in the way most people think of it, as a polar opposite to reality, so much as what underlies all of our experience. Keats compared the imagination to “Adam’s dream: he awoke and found it truth.” Blake believed the imagination was “not a State: it is the Human existence itself.” These guys weren’t slouches. They were as rigorous as they were intuitive. Personally, I’m willing to take their word on that.
Like Castaneda, Strieber got abducted by his own unconscious, whether it was aliens or elementals, angels or demons or govt mind control operatives. Whatever the agents that “came for him,” that’s not a desirable state of affairs. What’s desirable is for us to venture willingly and open-eyed into our unconscious, exactly like the Poets did.
I admit (I already did) that I’m a credulous person. (That's why I'm an odd fit with RI.) There’s no way to be open-minded without being credulous (or if there is, I haven’t found it). I am susceptible to the spells cast by other people’s convictions - and/or delusions - ask my wife if you don’t believe me (rhetorical suggestion). But the alternative to being credulous isn’t being cynical (which is what most skeptics are, IMO), because that just amounts to being closed-minded. The solution is to learn discernment about what we let all the way in and take to heart, what we take as our own truth, as opposed to what we let flow through us and out again, checking it thoroughly on the way. To quote Keats again: “The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing, to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts.” That means to believe without believing, to disbelieve without dismissing, to make up one’s mind about nothing. In the words of Whitley, it means we get to “Learn to live at a high level of uncertainty.” (Bleh)
Who the hell wants to do that? In this world, certainty is power. We’re taught and bred to make up our minds about everything, and dismiss anything we can’t make our minds up about. The trouble is we are also told, subtly, which conclusions to reach (drink Coca Cola), so then, when we make up our minds, we’re really giving them over to someone (or something) else’s influence.
For me that’s the proof that Strieber’s doing something that’s worth paying attention to: he raises a lot more questions than he provides answers.
That, and I have a big soft spot for the guy.