Thursday, February 11, 2010

Meditation and Ram Dass

I learned about Ram Dass when he made a cameo on 'Six Feet Under'. I learned a great deal from that show, I discovered the Neti pot, that places existed which are entirely devoted to the study of altered states of consciousness, Blue Oyster Cult, modern hippies and many other gems I can't remember now. But there is one line from the show which sticks in my craw after all these years when I think about it from time to time. It is a scene in which Claire is complaining about a new temp job her mother has made her take by threatening to force her to pay rent or move out or some other unoriginal parental coercion technique. Her oldest brother Nate states bluntly "we all have to work Claire". And my blood begins to boil. If you live in the forest and rely on wood for heat then you must cut wood. If you rely on your own crops for food then you must plant, cultivate and harvest them, and if you wish to achieve enlightenment you must meditate but some part of me rebels at the notion that "we all have to work".

Perhaps I don't consider the activities I enumerated to be work. I take Nate's statement to mean that the drudgery and toil that most civilized human beings are subjected to is inevitable for all of us. I don't accept that. I love hard labor, I love to drive a tractor, haul wood, shovel snow, build anything but these are not "work" in the sense that Nate means "work" as I infer it.

As with many scenes in 'Six Feet Under' the writer and director deserve a great deal of credit for provoking such strong intellectual debate. I wonder if the writer isn't using Nate as a foil, as a representation of all that she disagrees with. I wonder if Claire isn't the embodiment of unadulterated creativity, of the rebellious spirit that thrashes and flails when any attempt is made to harness and restrain it. Because I always agreed with Claire, I rarely agreed with David, and I agreed with Nate more often than I care to remember now.

In retrospect it seems that the three siblings represented three levels of engagement with the world. David embraced the system unquestioningly, the church, the work of his father, his place in the community as a funeral home director, Nate rebelled initially and then returned the prodigal son. He arrived just in time for his father's death and assumption of the mantle of responsibility as a father and a part owner of the family business. Claire followed her own path, not a rebellion against the family, nor an integration into it but simply her path.

I always resented Nate's remark because Claire was trying to become an artist, and his words were a dismissal of that ambition, as if to say "you can play at being an individual but you still have to do your time in the system like the rest of us."

Up until that moment Nate always seemed so reasonable to me, like someone who did what he had to do to survive without losing his individuality. But that line was a transition point for Nate, with those words he crossed over into the system. He became the worst of what the system creates...a dream killer. In those words I heard every discouraging comment from my parents and any parent as they sought to make their children more practical, to mold an artist into a graphic designer, or a poet into a copy writer or lawyer.

I am currently reading The Illuminatus Trilogy and there is an amazing line in the first book to the effect that the political system is a monolith. It isn't about whether communism or capitalism is better, the system has already won when you begin to think in those terms. In other words once you have aligned yourself with an existing faction you have already lost because that alignment presupposes you have given up on your own unique perspective.

This is why media is so taxing to my ears, because there is rarely a voice which asks if the debates are even worth having. There is never a point-counterpoint style debate as to whether civilization is actually a good thing for mankind. But such a debate would be useless because it is appallingly obvious to any thinking person that the world we live in now consists almost exclusively of absurdities.

To return to Ram Dass: by a strange series of what civilization would term coincidences, I received as a gift a book by Ram Dass from someone I hardly knew. After a brief conversation he simply stated "I have this book that was given to me and I was told to hold on to it until I met the right person". He did not tell me anything else about it and the next day he gave it to me and the name of the author sounded familiar but I did not connect it with "Six Feet Under" or with something I had read by Ram Dass a few years ago.

That book Remember Be Here Now now sits on a shelf in my meditation room. The cover is a drawing of an old wooden chair inside of a circle comprised of a series of points, all the points are connected by lines which criss-cross over the chair. When meditating if I concentrate on the image of the chair it fades in and out. When the Ohm vibration is sustained the chair disappears and when I inhale the chair returns. With intense concentration the chair will disappear for longer stretches and the various lines will merge into a solid circle.

I discovered this purely on accident while happening to look at the book one day and noticing that the image of the chair seemed to vanish for a moment. As I stared harder to focus on the chair it vanished again. When I said something about this to the previous owner of the book he simply responded "well isn't that the point".

So I am beginning to understand this image of the chair as a metaphor for reality. That one may exert a great deal of control over the reality one occupies, up to and including changing what appears to be a solid object.

Nate's statement is an acceptance of reality as it has been given to him, to Claire and to us. It is an alignment with an existing faction, it is the picture of the chair as one sees it for the first time. And if one were to stop at that, accept that one must work, choose a side, and silence the voice of "why?", then the image as it appears initially is real, one must work and choose a side and live and die as dictated by other men. But if one simply looks deeper, asks "why?", questions the validity of alignment with a preconceived notion, then the chair wobbles and disappears and the journey begins.

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