Friday, June 02, 2006

The Other Side

This is a prelude to something I've been needing to write for some time, and it touches on one of the major themes of this blog and my life. You've been warned.

There is an "other side" Actually, there are lots of other sides. There are events in life that change the people who experience them on a fundamental level. These events change how that person sees the world, how they interact with the world-- the events change who they are. Mine, usually, have centered around risk or violence or exposure to subcultures that most people prefer to pretend don't exist. There are others, though- years of focused introspection in a monastary; immersion in an alien culture; surviving in the wilds with nothing; being diagnosed with a terminal disease... many others.

FYI- There are others that I consider invalid- the weekend meditation retreat, the 10-minute consultation and enlightenment with the guru, the guided survival camp with the emergency radio, the interview with the serial killer (who lies anyway). The good ways all have certain things in common- real risk and/or real deprivation and/or real fear.

There are people who have been to this other side and returned to the normal, comfortable 9-to-5 world. From that time on, the world never fits quite right. People from this side look at you and sense the difference. Some sense the otherness and respond with fear... nothing overt, usually, just an obvious discomfort. Sometimes they sense the insight gained and they wind up sitting at your feet like cultists (and some of the fakes and wannabes crave that for some unknown reason).

You want, so badly, for people to understand what you have learned on the other side... but. A big 'but'. I want my children to understand me, to really know me, but I will give everything I have so that they never see the whiteness of their own bones on a frosty morning, never see the eruption of meat and blood from someone they have just shot, never hear a man scream from a torn ear and never smell brains.

Until they see those things or something like them, though, they will not understand me. More importantly, they will not know who they are in the harsh times or what they will do. They will not know themselves until they have been to the other side.

Sometimes we are driven to share, some more than others, in the hope that with words we can create a few people who can understand without going through the events. But our words can become the fodder and the scripts for the wannabes and we recoil when we recognize our words coming from the mouth of a slick talking man with soft hands.


The Moody Minstrel said...

I guess a prudent question to ask along this line of discussion is:

Does the person fit the reality into which he has been placed? Does he have the tools necessary to endure it?

You clearly do...or at least you do a very good job of making it seem that way.

Anonymous said...

Another pertinent question: is the only way to total understanding of self through the experience of violence?

The Moody Minstrel said...

Violence...or maybe the endurance and overcoming of any hardship?

This all makes me think about "rites of passage" that were (or maybe still are) practiced by various native tribes around the world. Some required you to mutilate yourself. Others required you to mutilate or kill someone else, preferably from a rival group. Sometimes you only had to test your own endurance, whether by being brave enough to do something crazy (hence the origins of bungee jumping and firewalking), allowing yourself to be beaten by your fellows without complaint, undergoing excrutiating ritual torture (e.g. hanging from the ceiling via ropes tied to bear teeth poked through your own flesh?!?), or even simply going off into the wilderness by yourself and surviving for a period of time.

Then there's the Nez Perce rite of passage: you went off into the wilderness, preferably atop a high hill or mountain, built a fire, and stayed there tending it, meditating, and doing naught else until you met your spirit guide. Now, I'd call that an enlightened test of manhood!

Rory said...

Kevin- for the first question, a big part of this other side is recognizing that the world you live in exists only in your mind and only fits at all because we pretend it does. When that imaginary world gets shattered, is when the clarity happens. Pretty much by fefinition, if the world you see after the shattering fits better, it's another and more comfortable illusion.

Mac- Of course not. And the idea that the understanding is 'total' isn't right either. There are many paths up the mountain, but there are many mountains too, all with a different view.

Kevin- the vision quest, even the Shoshone (Nez Perce is not politically correct) version is dangerous. You take starvation (and sometimes thirst and sleep deprivation for the hard core) to the extreme edge of survival, until your brain chemistry has changed enough to shift your consciousness. (Mine was the fastest on record- I fell off a cliff on the way to the site and had my vision on the way down).