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20th and last installment of "Finding Myself in Time"

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Note: This is the last installment but not the end of the book. "Finding Myself in Time" is not available to order yet. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, email the author to get on a list.

There are 4 footnotes in this installment.

XLVIII

So my generation was the one that saw how the "system" prevailed after-all. I am reading Joan Baez's memoir now, to see how she experienced this failure of the American counter culture to grow out of its youthfulness, to initiate.

I think that is why I am, in one way or another, always coming back to pushing the tried and true tradition of undiluted initiation as the only way that I know of making it through the dark times without selling out on our souls.

Initiation via the vision quest has a lot of darkness in it. When it works, you start out in the twilight of a life fraught with issues or a main issue that you are bringing into the woods or desert or onto the mountain, wrapped up in the cloak of intention. The intention expresses, like a mantra, in prayer-fashion what you are seeking. Your intention is the only thing of your own, besides your physical being, that you can be sure of.

When you vision quest you have to be in earnest, you have to be serious about why you are exposing yourself to the elements and fasting for 3 or 4 days, or the whole thing is ludicrous and will unravel. If you don't take yourself seriously, you can't expect the spirits to. You start out in psychic twilight and you just keep going deeper. You have to plumb your fears. Death might begin to seem like a real possibility or even a viable alternative to sitting for four days for nothing because all that seems to happening is one form of misery after another. Your intention saves you from quitting on yourself. It saves you over and over. It begins to take on more reality than your sense of self. It props you up, it moves you along. It gets you through.

After about two days (half or two thirds of the way through) something happens. Your thoughts seem to separate from your core. You don't stop thinking but it ceases to matter what you are thinking and as you detach from your thinking, you begin to experience long spells of blending with the environment (I hesitate to say, "being one with" the environment because it is less spiritual than physical). What is happening is, you are beginning to identify wholly with your weary, empty body, which is, itself, a place and an environment. Like Jung said, psyche is fundamentally soma, and world. So what is happening is you are having a very ancient experience of what Jung (after Levy Bruhl) called participation mystique. But you are conscious enough or self-aware enough to know what you are experiencing because you are still able to reflect on your experience. This in itself is healing because nothing that was worrying you when you started in to your initiation seems to hold water. Not that your problems won't reappear on the way out (when you return to the world), but you have learned that you and your problems are not synonymous. This is probably one of the most transformative lessons of an initiation and, though nothing is guaranteed, and such an initiation is a uniquely personal ordeal, it is highly likely that something similar to what I described will happen; it has to for anything else to happen. It sets the stage.

XLIX

I didn't know anything about vision questing when I was badly in need of initiating, back in 1980. I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I had just dropped out of the Masters program in Literature at the University of Michigan and was working full time at the first Borders (then) Bookshop. I was totally adrift, barely maintaining a holding pattern. One evening I spread all of my poems across the kitchen table and started organizing them by themes and affinity. I began to see how many of them were connected, how they anticipated each other or backlit each other, how some were big poems and others provided context and setting. Before I went to bed, I had the skeleton of a book. I titled it The Blue Man.

The Blue Man was my nemesis, an embodiment of the resurrected system that we had failed to depose in the 60s and 70s. More phantom than human, he was a specter of the times, a distillation of the greed and power and unchallenged patriarchy that was ravaging the earth. He was the man in the high-rise tower, standing behind the clouds looking out, amoral and untouchable. The book is in two parts: The first part ends with me being swept over a cataract, holding a baby while the water pounds my grip apart, tearing the baby away from me. The second part, "The Falling Baby" begins with one of my favorite poems of the book which starts: "Someday I will catch a falling baby / I will be looking up / and see its little body hurtling toward me along a vertical wall . . ." Part 2 is about redemption of the baby that the Blue Man stole from me, from us. The poems in Part 2 are loaded with images of resurrection, rebirth and taking one's power. "He is coming down step by stone / and when on level ground he stands / one more step will he dig in earth, / that that in that hole / a cat's grave-sized / his moldy habit he may enfold / and spit or maybe softly sing / packing soil in." His "moldy habit" is both his old cloak or covering and his addiction to apathy and impotent pacifism (his old energy body). The Blue Man, Part 2, served as my second manifesto. It announced my coming out as a poet. But I believe it was also my way of preparing to be a father. I was 31 when I wrote it (12 years after I wrote "Man Behind the Waterfall"). My son was born two years later. In a way, he was my falling baby.

How do we manage without undergoing resurrection, without these powerful watershed moments of reclamation, of falling back in love with ourselves, of finding ourselves in time.

I didn't make up the Blue Man. [1] He figured in Black Elk's vision as the spirit of draught [2] but, more than that, he was a power that was sickening and poisoning the land and all living things. Black Elk is armed with a spear and sent by the Grandfathers to do battle with this evil power whom he finally defeats. When I wrote The Blue Man I was not thinking of Black Elk's blue man. His vision must have influenced me, albeit subliminally, because I pride myself in being original, but my Blue Man was not the same as Black Elk's anyway. It was, I would argue, the same archetype or spirit, the point being, it wasn't my shadow or my boogey man, and it wasn't a figment of my imagination, any more than he was for Black Elk. I could have analyzed him as a aberration of the zeitgeist and satisfied myself with writing about it in my journal, abstracting him, treating him as a metaphor for something menacing that would remain vague, and then moving on, as poets are wont and maybe even wise, to do. But instead, I went with my lethargy, my abiding sense of impotence, hopelessness and foreboding and spiritual exhaustion (it was right after Reagan's election), I looked through my poems and saw that, as a poet, I was dealing with something ominous that possessed a life of its own, that evinced a reality that transcended fantasy. I was sure that lots of other people, especially in the liberal oasis of Ann Arbor, would have acknowledged the rise of this spirit in their own way, and that they would feel affirmed for having likewise coped with its nightmarish reality, and I was right. The Blue Man was the elephant in the room of the 80s. It was bigger than any one personality, problem or complex or political party. It helped explain the mystique behind Reagan's bizarre invulnerability and the hypnotic seduction of one monolithic super power, out of control, under God.

L

With my journals, which I started right before The Blue Man, I began the laborious process of pulling myself together using words.

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Gary Lindorff is a poet, writer, blogger  and author of several books, the latest: 13 Seeds: Health, Karma and Initiation. Over the last few years he has begun calling himself an activist poet, channeling his activism through poetic (more...)
 

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