The Mystics Will Always Live on the Margins


a man named todd in the desert growing celery on a day with electric light

and I am a passer-through seeking some kind of truth behind the strip-mall facade of america and he is channeling it through the minerals in his plants and we are talking under a disproportionate amount of sunlight for november and he has known me for about 10 minutes and I can feel myself radiating some kind of energy out through my skin and as I get totally swept away in all the plans and perceptions I am talking about he looks me straight in the eye and says "your head is like an open funnel, isn't it, like someone just cut the top off and the whole world pours in and you can't keep it out, can you? That must be amazing. That must be very hard. You have a jump on people like me who have to work so much harder to be open and get at the wisdom of things." A few minutes later I am talking about the icarus project and he says,

"oh, you're manic-depressive, well of course, it all makes more sense now."

Later we are talking about being given access to visions of the universe, access to visions of its wholeness and the interconnected nature of love, access to a sense of time and space that allows you to discern what is and is not important, that makes it seem silly to fear death and easy to open your arms to everything you encounter. he is talking about getting access through years of meditation and I am talking about getting access through a few weeks of mania. we are talking about where we are lucky and where we are not. we are talking about getting these glimpses before you are ready to hold them in your head, when they are still so strong they can burn you, when the frantic attempt to keep knowledge of them burning in the center of your mind sends you spinning out into the abyss to do more work on yourself and try again.

We are talking about how this culture defines success as productivity. We are talking about how there is no place in this society for people whose productive work cannot be measured, for people who channel spirits and create art and roam the country spreading sparks of information and inspiration. And he says to me, so simply: "in this society the mystics will always live on the margins." And I nod and I shake my head, thinking how sad that is, and then my brain is flooded with a vision of driving through the desert near Death Valley, possessed by music and the accelerating dispersal of clouds across an iridescent sky, feeling unconnected in any way to the time and place where I was born but completely plugged into a time and space that has existed for millions of years, long enough to carve the lowest valley in the western hemisphere next to 11,000 feet of mountain and an unmeasured expanse of sky.

I wonder often who I could be if I was not born in this version of history.

I have to take drugs to fit all the realities around me in my head without exploding or disintegrating, because I cannot tune them out. I see things and they move me, hard, make me run around the globe, make me seek change, make me write furiously to have a place to put all the observations, paint furiously to have a place to put all the awe, and I don't know how anyone could do it any differently. Trying to work steady jobs has always seemed like soul death to me. I can't imagine wanting to be somewhere that long. Maybe I'm just young. It's not all that though. I know plenty of young folks who do just fine with a steady job and a television.

It's time to draw new lines on the map.

The map is full of boundaries. Boundaries that man created. Boundaries that are temporary. Straight lines over curved hills. Double lines between people who speak different languages. Blue lines for big roads with no stop signs that require bulldozing farms and old gas stations. Dashed lines for roads that pass by mountains, which are relegated to scenery now. At one point they were goddesses.

Have you ever felt like a mountain was a goddess? Really felt it? Stood at the lip of a wide valley and looked up at the thousands of feet of rock pressing into the stars and felt deep down in your bones that this was a divine being? And have you ever had to wonder, because of a label a nasty old man in a labcoat once gave you, if you only felt this because you were exhibiting symptoms? If you would even be finding yourself in the middle of the desert at all if you didn't have some disorder that made a desperate need to leave the city walls and quit your job and take off for an unpeopled expanse of dirt seem reasonable? Have you ever wondered if you would probably be in that city working behind walls if you agreed to swallow a bunch of pills? Have you ever wondered why other people aren't making pilgrimages to those mountains and feeling their holiness and understanding that buying stuff has nothing to do with happiness? Have you ever wondered if things would change in this big dying world if more people did that? Have you ever felt a desperate, burning need to share the message, to call it out in song or write it out in words or act it out with your own naked body? Have you ever wondered why this is ok for some people and pathological for others?

It is time to draw new lines on the map.

The map was made by men with measuring instruments. It was made by men with chains and money. It plots the paths people take that people before them have taken. It does not plot the paths we don't have a way to draw. It does not plot the paths that don't do well with grids. The map is all about ownership. this belongs to canada and this belongs to kansas. None of it belongs to you. The map is not about imagination. It is about defining the limits of the globe.

We need to imagine. We need to imagine a globe without limits: a planet. A planet that is part of something even larger than itself, something so big that words like stars and millenia are tiny like seeds before you can even see them, seeds underground waiting to create something enormous like a redwood out of light and air and mud and time and mystery. We are like seeds and we create words like milennia and madness that grow a world around us. We need to imagine a place for visions like that. We need to imagine an atlas where the experiences we label "psychosis" and "mania" don't get written off the map. Or quarantined to hospitals and penitentiaries.

I sit and I write all these words to you about how taking drugs isn't evil and consulting with psych doctors won't kill you. I write about learning to harness your fire. I write about consistency and follow-through and taking a sleeping pill before you get too high. And I mean it, because we live in a society that doesn't provide any guidance when we're flying or allow any crash space when we're coming back down. A society that will punish us by evicting or incarcerating us if we get too far from the one sanctioned reality: working life. A society where I honestly fear I'm likely to end up dead if I let my mind go as far into other dimensions of reality as it would like. But you know what"”I miss my mania. I do. I miss feeling like my skin is so thin that the air between trees can breathe right through me and God's whispers can't help but get in my cells. I miss seeing the electricity of empty space stretch to the corners of my eyes just as clearly as the colors of music would interlace with every open road I've ever known across the dark expanse of my mind. I miss feeling millenia of human history pulse in my belly late at night. I think I really did touch on a set of truths that could help me live with a wide and peaceful mind if I could keep them with me, could help me live with a vision as limitless as the view I saw from a cliff above the sea on one of those "manic" afternoons"”the ocean was silver and endless and far enough away that it became clear its waves were only skin on the surface of a body somehow at peace in endless motion, a body that opened to the horizon like truth and was no more separate from the sky than it was from me"¦ but I had to walk back down the hill that day and drive into the city for work and eventually the moments when I seemed inseparable from the magic of the world I inhabited slipped out of my grasp and left a residue of ink on the pages of my journal and a series of questions burned into my blood.