Outro / Afterword

Uncomfortably Numb
The Interactive Newsletter You Never Asked For

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Outro / Afterword
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At some stage in the process of creation, the creative product—whether painting, poem, or scientific theory—takes on a life of its own and transmits its own needs to its creator. It stands apart from him and summons material from his subconscious. The creator, then, must know when to cease directing his work and when to allow it to direct him. He must know, in short, when his work is likely to be wiser than he.
—George Kneller / The Art and Science of Creativity

Yesterday, when looking for a map I misplaced, I just happened to find one of my quotation/dictionary compilations, written back in ’88, hiding under a box on the shelf. I skimmed it, finding those wise words of Mr. Kneller, and a few more forgotten tidbits. I only got halfway through it, though, before stopping and remembering/reliving the emotion bundled within one particular story. I don’t know that this story is relevant in a way that I can explain, so I’ll let Dostoyevsky speak for me:

Beauty will save the world.

Those five words fall just after the wonderful story found within this hand-written collection of vibrant thoughts. The story, quoted in Bernie Siegel’s • Love, Medicine & Miracles, is from another physician’s book, Lessons from the Art of Surgery by Richard Selzer. When I saw it, I remembered how it made me cry when I first ran across it. I don’t know how many times I read it in the months that followed, but I do recall crying nearly every time I read it thereafter. Yesterday was no exception. It’s not that it’s a sad story, to the contrary, it’s a magnificently beautiful story. It’s the beauty that moves me so. Try to put yourself into the hospital room and witness this scene between patient, surgeon, and the patient’s husband:

The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it.” he says. “It’s kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.

Yes, Mr. Dostoyevsky, Beauty will indeed save the world. But is the world in need of saving? Take a look for yourself, dear reader. Make up your own mind. But first, where is your point of reference? What is your frame of reference?

I’ve had a great time putting this issue of UnNumb together. Please feel no obligation to put any extraordinary effort into understanding it (unless, of course, you’re curious enough to want to understand it). The premise is interesting or it’s not. If it is, I’ll say something about how best to absorb, incorporate, and digest all these words—all these concepts—all these metaphors…

It’s a process similar to that which Gary had to utilize in order to appreciate a Firesign Theatre tape I gave him a few years ago. I told him that the first few times he listened to Everything You Know is Wrong, there wouldn’t be a funny line in the forty-two minute story. I said that he had to listen to it three or four times before it would cease being an inane, boring story. Only then could I guaranteed him it would be funny. I’m still amazed that he actually stuck with it. He’s the only other person I know who had the patience to find the humor hidden within that bizarre story.

Listening to that tape is like reading this newsletter—it’s a linear exercise. The left hemisphere of the brain specializes in linear processing. It’s the part that’s functioning as you read this the first few times (that’s assuming you manage to read it more than once). The left brain is the logical, sequential, analytical, dominant force in most of our lives, most of the time.

Listening to that tape over and over is like reading these words again and again—it eventually becomes a spatial exercise. The right hemisphere specializes in spatial relationships. The repetition enables the right brain to begin functioning in its pattern recognition mode, assimilating associative details, and finally overriding its dominant partner. It acts intuitively, making spectacular leaps of imagination, uncovering unanticipated interconnections as it weaves its own understanding of the whole—but only when it has been exposed to sufficient information.

These explanations of left/right brain functions are grossly over-simplified, but fundamentally true. The division of labor within the human brain is still much a mystery to twentieth century science; however, the right brain is the real mystery within the mystery . . .

It [the right hemisphere] needs exposure to rich and associative patterns, which it tends to grasp as wholes. Programmed instruction is certainly not for the right hemisphere, but I am not sure what is the right method of instruction for our silent half. It is part of the elusiveness of the right hemisphere that we find it easier to say what it is not than what it is.
—Eran Zaidel / The Elusive Right Hemisphere of the Brain

The unconscious, though one cannot force it, will not produce new ideas unless it has been painstakingly stuffed full of facts, impressions, concepts, and an endless series of conscious ruminations and attempted solutions. On this we have the testimony of many creative people.
—Morton Hunt / The Universe Within

Mr. Hunt’s thoughts on the unconscious seem to fit the right brain model as well. George Kneller once again, from The Art and Science of Creativity:

It seems, then, to be one of the paradoxes of creativity that in order to think originally, we must familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others.

Right about now, your left brain should be mocking the concept that its sibling is able to manifest understanding by way of sheer perseverance—through deliberate repetitious exposure to these ramblings: “Any logical person should be able to see that I operate far more efficiently as I analyze the information laid down on these pages. Why, that poor excuse for a brain can’t even function in an orderly sequential fashion. And what’s more, that fool makes wild guesses—so called intuitive extrapolations—based on my verbal and syntactical skills, and then it has the unmitigated gall to ask me to communicate its silly suppositions because it doesn’t possess the necessary linguistic abilities.”

Of course, deep down, the left brain knows that it needs its strange, inscrutable partner. It fears the untamed, unknowable nature of imaginative, non-temporal, non-verbal, non-linear, intuitive thought-paths—thought-paths not found within its own well-ordered domain. But, fears aside, the logical half is painfully aware of its own limitations:

Semanticists like Alfred Korzybski and Benjamin Whorf warned that Indo-European languages trap us in a fragmented model of life. They disregard relationship. By their subject-predicate structure, they mold our thought, forcing us to think of everything in terms of cause and effect. For this reason it is hard for us to talk about—or even think about—quantum physics, a fourth dimension, or any other notion without clear-cut beginnings and endings, up and down, then and now … Korzybski warned that we will not grasp the nature of reality until we realize the limitation of words. Language forms our thought, thereby setting up barriers. The map is not the territory.
—Marilyn Ferguson / The Aquarian Conspiracy

It’s a paradox. We need language to communicate these notions, but our language is—by definition—an inappropriate tool to use.

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.
—Guasteve Flaubert / Madame Bovary

What I have tried to do with my “crude rhythms,” is to weave patterns which might encourage both of us to put forth the effort necessary to engage our respective imaginations—trying to comprehend in an holistic sense. There are rigorous challenges to face in this mental obstacle course, but these challenges may provide the means which we may then utilize in order to begin to overcome our own very real perceptual handicaps.

Think you of the fact that a deaf person cannot hear. What deafness may we all not possess? What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us?
—Frank Herbert / Dune

Masonic lore maintains that we came from The Realm of Permanence, which surrounds us, but is not perceptible to mortal eyes. I know of no religion that does not postulate some form of spiritual entity/province hovering just out of perceptual range. I’ve already addressed some of the perceptual barriers we face. The dreaming/hypnotized/sleepwalking condition is a powerful metaphor when trying to understand our perceptual/conceptual shortcomings. In fact, this metaphor contains such depth and breadth that I have come to wonder if it might not be THE METAPHOR.

In the introduction to Unknown Man, Yatri, the author, describes a moment of illumination. Does any of this begin to sound familiar?

Its genesis was one of those awakening visions which happen once in a lifetime when the miraculous landscape of reality is lit up by a sudden flash of lightning only to disappear again into the normal twilight world. But once the real universe has been tasted the old familiar one can never be quite the same.

It miraculously happened for me one spring morning in the bleak surroundings of a slum in the East end of London. Why it should have chosen such an incongruous setting is one of the mysterious jokes of existence. For the last fifteen years since that moment I have often found only helplessness in my attempts to explain how this real world appeared to me in that brief glimpse.

All that really can be said is that It just was. Time stopped, all and everything was intensified a thousand-fold and existence shone in full ecstatic wonder.

As I watched Londoners in the street going about their lives there appeared a dark luminosity within each being. Yet at the same moment there was a strange feeling that they were no more than sleepwalking robots utterly oblivious to that shining nature within themselves. The life force of each person was somehow entrapped within a dull dreaming shell which seemed to prevent any contact with the real and what could have been aflame with consciousness was gray and lifeless.

Only seconds before I had been exactly like that and the awful recognition came that while only a hair’s breadth divided the two states, I would also fall back into forgetfulness. What had gone wrong? What had happened to everyone?

Those are good questions. What went wrong? What has happened to everyone?

I want to know what became of the changes / We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams / Of some greater awakening?
—Jackson Browne / The Pretender

Did you pick up on any cues within Yatri’s story? These cues would be particular words/ concepts/metaphors which seem to interconnect his observations with others presented in this newsletter. As you become more sensitive to certain words and concepts and metaphors, you will begin to realize that they aren’t all that hard to find. In fact, one might say that we are surrounded by them.

Surrounded? Look at your surroundings and say, “Wait a minute. If I am surrounded by my surroundings, what does that mean? And what do those words actually mean?”

Just remember, please, it’s a Grand Illusion
And deep inside we’re all the same
—Styx / The Grand Illusion

In the next issue of UnNumb, we’ll explore our surroundings. As usual, what we end up stumbling across will most likely bear little resemblance to what we would’ve expected to find.

Until then, embrace every wondrous metaphor in your own life, and open your heart to the potential hidden within each moment as you drift, gently down the stream…

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