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  The Man Who Turned on the World

    Michael Hollingshead

        8.   'Where the Wild Things Are'

Scandinavia 1967

'And when he came to the place where the wild things are they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till Max said "BE STILL!"
and tamed them with the magic trick
of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all
and made him king of all wild things… '
            (From a children's story by Maurice Sendak)

    My life has something of Peer Gynt's about it, more intimate to me even than I am intimate to myself; just now I happened to hear Solveig's song on the radio; it quite got hold of me; to wait loyally a whole lifetime for someone… the kind of love that triumphs over the hostility of space and time and separation: this is love.
    So it is not entirely without reason that it is to Norway my spirit will sometimes return, back, I suppose, to its mythological roots and the magic landscape from which it sprang. For I am at heart a Northerner, most at home in my Scandinavian Kingdoms of the snows; essentially a Tundra type.
    It had been a long, steamy pig of a summer in prison and I wanted to empty its bog breath out of my bones: Norway sounded like the one good place to be. It was thus with a delicious sense of escaping from the freedom of the cage that I sat down at the First Engineer's table on the M.S. Blenheim as she slowly broke anchor in the Tyne at the start of a two-day voyage to Oslo. This I had arranged.... Once more Proteus expands across the space of the North Sea, returning to a place where there is someone 'who loves him best of all', to the land where the trolls and the Solveigs live—to the Gudbrandsdal Valley, to be exact.

    A few days later I was sitting by myself in an outfarm high on the upper reaches and timber line of Rayneberg overlooking Lake Mjoesa and the town of Lillehammer, where the air is as thin and as pure as Vichy water; and all sounds are permanently sharp in the mountain stillness.
    Rock was now a feature of my landscape—and the tiny farm I rented sat plum in a nest of great rocks, and it was easy to see why the old dalesman family left it for a State-provided modern apartment in the town. My window looked out over an untouched moor and the eye was drawn downwards down tousled slopes of ubiquitous bracken to the lake some 2500 feet below.
    There was a prehistoric feel about the place and I now understood why it was this valley which Ibsen chose to set the home of Peer Gynt, the universal wanderer, the exile in the heart of each one of us. Yet would a Himalayan Rishi understand Nordic gods (which the vision of these mountains quite naturally created in my soul) were he to observe the landscape of this valley?—I think not; he would probably die of excessive cold.
    Yet I loved the place, especially at night, sitting by the open peis or fireplace, listening to the softly stirring firs outside, so silent in my solitary retreat. For my life here had something of Advent about it—waiting and hoping and getting on with ordinary things. In certain moods I'd occupy my time translating Old Norse Sagas. I found this to be an excellent aid to concentration. There is one text I particularly remember, from Morkinskinna, a history of twelfth-century Norwegian kings, which was compiled by an Icelander in 1220; the text is called 'Audun buys himself a white bear', which actually turned out to be something of a white elephant; the story is about one Audun who, desiring to see the world, made the dangerous voyage from Iceland to Greenland; there he exchanged his entire cargo for a single white bear. That is all. Nothing more; it is an exquisite story, exquisitely told: and in the mind of the thirteenth-century narrator, Audun's behaviour in spending his cash like this was perfectly reasonable, for Greenland was an important place at that time, and a white bear a great treasure—like a white Cadillac might be today, something whose price is simply our All and not a penny less.
    I also got to know a few people in the district and also in Lillehammer itself, where I would go for my weekly shopping. On one of these trips I met a Norwegian poet—whose name escapes me who invited me to attend a reading of 'Nordic poets' which he had arranged at the local Folk High School, when I could also read something myself if I so wished. A lot of people from Oslo were going to be there. And Vesaas, the celebrated author of The Ice Palace—by which English reviewers are not much impressed—had promised to attend.
    Thus it was, on the appointed day, at the appointed time, and with due solemnity appropriate to the almost reverential sense of 'presence', if that is the right word for a rather stiff atmosphere. It reminded me more of a meeting of Kirk Elders than any poetry-reading I had been to before. Absolute seriousness is not without a dose of humour except in Norway, where it is absolutely serious that is, until the 'snaps' begins to flow, when everyone seems to get very wild and something in the structure of their thought completely snaps, as it were; it is a completely different psychophysical effect from that of getting stoned on hashish or marijuana. (A recent report by WHO, Geneva—'The Use of Cannabis' notes that 'Individuals who have no taste for the cannabis experience per se—regardless of moral or other considerations—are more apt to exhibit a preference of a controlled, structured, rational and secure approach to life,' as it also suggested that alcohol is much more closely associated with crime, aggression, and violence than is cannabis.)
    At any rate, I had taken the precaution of smoking several joints on my way down the mountain, and arrived very stoned that is, 'quiet' and 'sensing'.... 'Those who enjoy cannabis tend to prefer an unstructured and spontaneous style of life, are relatively prone to take risks, value states of altered consciousness, and tend to seek such effects both through drugs and through other methods.' (Same WHO report).
    Soon the booze began to have its effect, and the first poet—from Sweden—was helped on to the stage, where he raged through his mother tongue like a prairie fire, his bull voice crashing through our heads like falling masonry—and with about as many mixed metaphors in each line as in my description of his reading. He finally collapsed in a wave of laughter or tears, and disappeared backstage and was seen again no more.
    Then followed a lady poet from Denmark, who read a series of poems on the theme of Vietnam, and in the form of imaginary letters from a Vietcong private to his mother in Haiphong, telling her about the effects on his mind of being bombed from planes 'too high in the sky even to see'. And this had a temporary sobering effect on the listeners, who had perhaps become aware, even if ever so faintly, that they were somehow, in some way, also a bit culpable.
    Three or four poets in quick succession. And then it was my turn.... 'Cannabis users are most frequently young, male, unmarried, and exhibit some instability with respect to residence, work, school and goals.' (Ibid)… I seated myself on the stage in the half-lotus position, lit two candles, which I put on either side of me, and asked that the hall lights be put out, which was done, though not without a bit of protest from members of a party from Oslo, who had, I gathered, been wanting to dance on one of the large tables.
    There was a hush, finally. And into this silent space I inserted, in the Danish, Timothy Leary's translation of Tao Sutra number fourteen from the Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching, which I reproduce here in its more familiar English form:

'Gazing … they do not see it
    they call it empty space.
Listening … they do not hear it
    they call it silence or noise
Groping … they do not grasp it
    they call it intangible
But here …
We … spin through it
Electric … Silent … Subtle'

    And since it was the last poem of the evening, and since Tarjaas Vesaas insisted only upon us speaking what for me was the obscure dialect form of 'Nynorsk', I made my farewells and silently…softly… I spun off into a crisp, clear night of stars, gliding like a fish upstream, reaching Ravneberg just as a new dawn was breaking. To the sounds of the clapper of the cattle bells swinging back and forth, moving in flow, regular, without stop or start so harmoniously held…

    After a few hours' quiet reflection, I realised that what had really upset me about the poetry-reading the evening before was an overheard remark following Ulla Ryum's 'Vietnam poems'… 'Det tross alt er farlig aa leve i Norge ogsaa—hva med superhighwayene og alt, ikke?' ('Despite that, it is pretty dangerous living in Norway too—what with these "superhighways" coming along and everything.') From one point of view, the person was right but I could imagine there were many in Vietnam who would gladly exchange the dangers of Norwegian highways for the sort of life they had to contend with there. But if I felt this strongly, why should I remain 'aloof with Hermit Eye' ? Wasn't my situation just as much a 'cop-out' as for the indifferent majority—just living out our simple life or death? Or in some Nietzschean sense, was not my life now also a kind of 'germinative regression', an attempt to return to my roots ?
    I had taken to acid and later to myths and ancient stories to seek a formula that would turn the surrounding world to dust and reveal the sought for paradise.

'For now I am homesick
after my own kind: and these people
touch me not.... '
I remember myself as an ancient hero, a wild man
of the mountains, a guardian of the door, a paradox—
To sing… of heroes… Now ?
In this forgotten age ? of giant men ?
—Yet I shall speak
that our giant flies might listen and would know
the glory that man is…
were men
men hard and tall, the warriors, who fought
with man and beast, who knew
the call of blood and fire, and whose swords
cut paths to…
            but who shall hear this—here ?
The paths, the paths! Immortal paths! Cuhulain rides
his five fiery chariots across the firmament!
    Arthur and Lancelot in battle! The ground shakes!
IN THE BEGINNING was blood and fire…
    And now ?
The matterings of the civilised yet impotent
conscience of modern society ?
The sound a new-minted coin makes upon a concrete street ?
Silence then ?
    Yes—silence. Heroes are dead!
    We buried them, and did the rites
    And they've long forgotten us.
            (by Kristof Konstanty Jastrzebski-Glinka)

    And thus one sits, day in, day out, in urn-like silence, staring wearily into nothing—you can almost see the nothing.
    And yet in this nothing it was something to know that it's not enough to see the light; you have to market the message. The meaning of silence is only the suspense of our breath before the storm and the stillness is nothing but the prelude to catastrophe… like a thunder-cloud in the process of materialisation, it is the tension of violence held in check. And do we notice ? Not a bit. We sail on in our aimless craft lulled in the cradle of all that is—that supremely ordinary human condition of wakefulness which accepts, without reflection, the universe as we find it. We are the proverbial 'sleepwalkers'… we experience without any awareness of the meaning of our experience of life; we are the monolithic mass who act and speak like men asleep. We are as good as dead.
    And is acid to help us wake, or help us dream ? It can make us conscious of our own mental states as somehow dependent on the predispositions left by the world we experience as an impersonal universe; the all too personal soul fashions its own world in the imagining of dreams—the spirit serves as light for itself: or worse, we somehow see the visionary delight of the ego in its own spirituality, its purity, as if it were itself absolute and infinite.... 'Behold! from the travails of my soul, before me, above me, between heaven and earth, finite and yet all penetrating, I see a tremendous figure growing out of the nothingness of my being, the figure of One whose materialisation is the Spirit Mercurius !'—Or is it 'Aquarius' ?—there is such a pantheon of gods in the alchemic line.
    But about the state of conscious wakefulness, or prajna (wisdom), the Vedas tell us that it is a divine attribute in one who has become aware of the One and is full of Bliss, Bliss, Bliss.... 'In conscious wakefulness there is no need or greet, no desire, no thought, and all confusions are fused into a blessed peace; only knowledge and Bliss remain.'
    And as for the state of 'transcendental wakefulness', the truly wise know it is incapable of being spoken of, grasped held, imagined or manipulated; it is without distinctive marks of any kind—unthinkable, unnameable, for it is that into which the essence of the knowledge of the One is resolved, it is the Peaceful, the Benign, the Non-dual. And—the metaphysical paradox!—One is the self; 'He' is to be known.
    Whenever imaginative man penetrates into the mystical universe which surrounds him, it brings forth spirits and gods. And the creatures thus born into the world appear different according to the peculiarity of their parents—just look at all the historical pantheons, the first recorded divinities of the Vedic poets, the gods of the Old Testament, the Egyptian and Greek gods—sometimes maternal, sometimes paternal… But the unknowable, unnameable, ungraspable 'He' is at the root of them all, and thus the source of all that was, and is, and will be, living as an ancestor continues to live in His distant descendants. And occasionally 'He' appears again in His own intrinsic form. 'He' is not Jahveh neither is he Allah nor the Vishnu of the Hindus; 'He' is none of the historical Gods, for 'He' is nameless. But when 'He' appears we know it—it was 'He' whom the tribes of Israel saw in the wilderness, as it was also 'He' before whom the Aryans of the Himalayas once trembled.
    Thus Leary himself writes in each generation a few men stumble upon the riddle of consciousness and its solution; they discover, once again, that beyond the ordinary world of macroscopic tangible, material things, there are endless levels of energy transformations accessible to consciousness. They learn again the age-old lesson taught by mystics and wise men of East and West: that most of mankind is sleepwalking, moving somnabulistically through a world of rote perceptions and conflicting emotions. As have many internal explorers of the past, they become dedicated to the process of consciousness expansion, to the ideal of maximum wakefulness and internal freedom.
    It is perhaps significant that the psychedelic experience, which has been popularised by Leary through his lectures and books in America, has not helped a single American to a higher education and here I do not exclude myself—but, on the other hand it has brought all the more into hospitals and jails. LSD is considered, even in India, as dangerous. Or is it that it takes a very great deal of acid to produce even a little elevation of consciousness. The fact is, no one has yet proved that an increase of individual human awareness—drug-induced or not—is appropriate to the organisation of twentieth-century society in the West; it may be that it does more harm than good in the case of most people.
    No, I think the psychedelic experience does something quite different—it is not a question of the validity of facts or even of personal manifestation of the spirit, but of becoming aware in oneself of how to fashion a new and better reality.

    I wanted to go on living in Norway, but however well one tries to understand oneself and sort out one's priorities for happiness, reality is forever getting in the way. You never know what you will be doing until you find yourself doing it, mysteriously at work again. I had been toying with the idea of writing a book about my experiences in America, something positive and forward-looking, reflecting somehow the optimism I had for the future, the 'practical Utopia' of the Underground s manifesto of liberation. My need to communicate was very great indeed, but it had nothing to do with the ego or things like that; it was, I think, something similar to the urge that compelled Marco Polo to write about his travels. But there are two things more important than writing—action and meditation—and I was impelled by the former. There is perhaps a transcendentalist anticipation of what I mean in Emerson's address on the American Scholar:

'The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, the act of thought, is transferred to the record. Instantly the book becomes noxious. the guide is a tyrant. The sluggish and perverted mind of the multitude having once received this book, stands upon it, and makes an outcry if it is destroyed. Colleges are built on it. Meek young men grow up in libraries. Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm. I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my orbit, and make a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.'

    Books make bondage. But the bondage is to an authority outside ourselves. Freedom lies in getting control of our own lives back into our own hands—'to stand on one's own two feet'—and everyone united by mutual affection with personal relations as the touchstone, creating an environment of creativity and harmony. But it will take a miracle to free the human mind: because the invisible reins and chains are magical in the first place; and each individual will only free himself in the measure that he knows how to locate and discover his own proper powers. Whitman, likewise in a transcendentalist sermon says, 'You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books.' And the man who is not possessed of an active soul, or of a self-conscious able to recognise that it is everywhere in chains to authority outside itself, will not know how to set about the task of magical self-liberation. But to concentrate oneself in this direction is a thing which very few individuals of the West have ever known how to do, for to the rational mind the ideal of a 'practical Utopia' accomplished on earth is an apparently impossible task. It would seem to depend upon direct incarnation of the soul/spirit/Christ in each individual if he or she were to give direct expression of spiritual values in daily life.
    Our Western philosophers have always been rationalists, for their insights do not depend upon the awakening of their own souls (most philosophers lead private lives that are really quite hellish sometimes) but upon a special facility in their treatment of symbols which awaken spiritual/religious/philosophical associations in the mind of the reader. Any true change would have to be based on a different concentration from that of reason. We must create ourselves out of whatever it is that is within ourselves, unconcerned with standardized answers, the so-called scientific methods: it has an inner rhythm, like that of music. Or, as my Guru puts it, 'We must first recognise Atman within ourselves, and then realise him in the world; we should assist Brahman, whose partial expression we are, to perfect himself in appearance.' And this is something beyond all power of words—Life is not an art so much as an experience. 'With the Pillar of Fire goes the Pillar of Cloud.' At dawn, a pair of trousers; at noon, a cloud. But such mysteries are unpublishable except as poetry, the veiled truth. This is also the new doctrine of Ezra Pound, who says: 'Prose is not education but the outer courts of the same. Beyond its doors are the mysteries. Eleusis. Things not to be spoken of save in secret The mysteries self-defended, the mysteries that cannot be revealed Fools can only profane them. The dull can neither penetrate the secretum nor divulge it to others.'
    What is the poet doing in trying to express mystical reality objectively ? He is looking for a scheme which would circumscribe it from all sides. And if he describes its contours clearly and correctly, then every other intelligent human being could place the content there for himself, so that he might believe that the poet had shown the 'thing'. But that is impossible. All the poet has done is to present a frame for that which we must be conscious of anyhow in order to recognise it. And recognition is liberation
    That is perhaps why people who have had a psychedelic experience can 'tune-in' to the secret and occult, in which God is better honoured and loved by silence than by words, and better seen by closing the eyes to images than by opening them. So let's not try to understand everything. LSD may provide you with a clue as to what is happening. It opens the Doors of Perception and beyond those doors who can really say ?

    There is no future, with modern man and man of the future, which does not resemble what 'free' people are doing in the world. All are trying to get control over the making of their own lives; growing their own food in country meadows or backyards, building their own homes out in the forests, learning how to farm 'liberated' land and live off the produce of the sea; learning how to bake their own bread… and learning to love one another as one enormous family, and with a conscious relation to, or respect for, the environment.
    And this implies, in one word, Revolution, not the revolution against the 'given' which has since the time of Hegel provided the avant-garde with an excuse for anarchist expression or behaviours—the answer from the outside—but the revolution within the self. Total Revolution is inner-change-in-the-world; the tools are a cultural framework which bypasses (transcends) the existing projection structure; and 'religion' is an artistic tool for getting there, through image, vision and symbol's symbol. ONE METAPHOR CAN CHANGE THE WORLD: 'Peace of Mind brings Peace on Earth ?'—Yes, but only if we recognise how the ego is the cause of all the wars inside the human mind and, by implication, also of all the wars in the world-at-large.

    How strange that I 'should' do anything again! But these 'revolutionary' ideas were becoming decisive: action would decide the rightness or wrongness of our ideas, success that of volition. It is not enough to take your ease in the world of ideas and live there naively, as I had earlier thought, for this would mean that we had merely allowed ourselves to be driven by the stream of events. We have to know how to guide ourselves to the goal. I found it increasingly difficult simply to sit and reflect on all this, for there was still the job of translating recognition into action. I could not hope to 'change myself' through 'meditation'—a temperament like mine collapses under the burden of living in another kind of existence that simply 'is' and needs the challenge of 'should' in order to realise the goal of 'becoming', which is, I suppose what our Western sort of life is all about—we believe we 'should' grow, become, create, perform, perfect again, and this is the impetus for conscious volition, since our ideas remain nonexistent until they have been tested in reality, with the self as the first testing ground. From the point of view of the world, it is mere illusion, if a holy man regards himself as an incarnation or a Saint he must become saintly, change himself, if he wishes to be taken seriously.
    In my own case, I felt strongly that I should return to America, see how my old psychedelic friends were making out on their 'voyages of self-discovery', meet Tim and Richard Alpert again, perhaps even settle over there for a time and try to build a structure in which 1 could exist without losing sight of my goal. But it was a difficult decision to make, seeing how I had been out of touch for so long. And apart from considerations like these, there was the fact that life in America actually scared me stiff. If paranoia is 'having some idea of what is really going on', then you could say that I was definitely paranoid about returning to our brave New World. Just thinking about New York could send icicles up and down my spine.... my paranoia took the form of imagining myself walking alone on 11 5th Street from Riverside to Broadway at midnight, or equally—due to some error in my direction—ending up, an object of unpleasant attention by members of the 'Roach Guards' or the 'Five Points Gang', in Broome Street down on the Bowery…
    At any rate, my fears and doubts were overcome somewhat by Christmas, and early in January I found myself once again airborne over the Atlantic on a flight that was to land me a few hours later at Boston's Logan Airport, and the start of a new chapter…

Chapter 9

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