Celebrity Culture, Projection, and Humanity's Way Forward

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Fame and projection are really vital parts of this culture, with all of their attendant distortions and confusions. The overall message is one of incompleteness. This is the advertiser’s alchemical gold: when s/he can spell out the lack and then hold forth the remedy, virtually in the same breath. You didn’t realize you had the problem before, didn’t know you were incomplete, but now you know - and here’s the cure.

Counterfeit Identity

There is a link between this and the way in which celebrity culture works, because what drives it is that same sense of incompleteness. People who feel whole within themselves don’t pass out at Beatles or Michael Jackson concerts. They aren’t looking for a missing piece of themselves in the form of a fantasy image on the stage or on the T.V. Basically it’s this sense that someone’s life is not only more glamorous but - more significantly - more legitimate than your own; that your own life is somehow counterfeit.

And we are indeed vulnerable to this because there is a gap between our conscious ego and the deeper voices within us, the Source of our lives that lives within. We’re dependent upon this part of us for our very existence, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to it. We can believe it doesn’t exist, or that it’s this unsavory basement portion of our minds where repressed horrors dwell (the Freudian interpretation) or that it has its own agenda, separate from our own personal desires and aspirations (the Jungian interpretation) and so on.

Partaking of Magic at One Remove

Popular beliefs don’t generally credit the inner world with much. And yet you sense it… so what are you going to do with that sense? You can’t live without it, and thus can’t really ignore it, but your beliefs prevent you from taking hold of it and owning it. And so instead you perceive it in another person, so at least you get to partake of that luminous light at one remove. You can see your own divinity in a pop diva or movie star. This kind of thing goes on constantly.

And it creates a real dilemma for any artist with a conscience, because of course we all want to be successful, we want our work to reach people and affect them, and yet - truth be told - the way in which that’s often accomplished in this society is by playing upon people’s fantasies and inviting them to project upon you. That’s the game. Marketers and image consultants build their whole careers around it. Some artists embrace the projection and bask in the illusions that are woven around them.

A Focus for Projection

I suspect that the ones who really go crazy as a result of fame are the ones who start believing the whole story, forgetting that it’s a play-acting fantasy. But there’s this popular line that fiction is the lie that tells the truth. Maybe we’re just making due with what we’ve got to work with. After all, there isn’t any functioning mythology within Western culture - Christianity is more a bake sale than a myth, and that’s the most popular option - there’s no place in the cosmos where you can identify the corridors and wonders of your soul; as far as popular culture goes, movie stars and rock stars are about the closest thing we’ve got.

And so maybe, despite all the distortion, even those who are constantly manipulating this dynamic for personal gain are still doing society a favor because they’re providing you with a focus for that projection. They consciously choose to step into the role of the deity, to invite the fantasy. So then you end up with a pantheon, and a host of people who identified strongly with a portion of it - say the starlets of the 50s, or the grunge bands of the 90s - and never were able to let go of that era in their personal history because that was the last time they touched the luminous inner magic with the help of a few celebrities.

Artistic Dissent

It’s interesting when artists use their own platform, their art, to try and fight this thing. Virtually John Lennon’s whole Plastic Ono Band album was about shattering the myth that’d grown up around him as a Beatle; and this depressed a lot of people; they didn’t want him singing about not being the walrus anymore. “Don’t Damn Me” by Gun ‘n’ Roses is another good example, Axl warning of the dangers of vicarious existence and trying to argue - does it always fall on deaf ears? - that he’s not speaking for you, he’s speaking for himself; and if his doing so inspires you to find your own voice, all well and good.

Projection was a central theme of my novel Humanity’s Way Forward. This hadn’t been my conscious intention at the onset. Brandon was such a solitary loner figure, though, with a peculiar vision that didn’t resonate in many places within society as we know it, so it just seemed logical that he would find mass acceptance of himself and his band bewildering and stressful.

And because this perspective gave him some sort of emotional distance from what was taking place, he had a unique insider’s perspective about the whole thing: He saw that the majority of the audience wasn’t really “loving him”; of course not, they didn’t know him; they knew his image from magazines and live performances and the odd television appearance. So he saw the machinations, the churning wheels of the projection machine getting in motion; he has some outbursts with the manager when he discovers that she’s been consciously exploiting this; and then of course he’s stuck, because what’s the alternative? Is he really going to go back to bussing tables because he can’t stand that people get starry-eyed when they look at him?

And for that matter, he was getting projected upon plenty before, long before the fame hit, because of the way he was dressed and all that. Now it’s just happening on a much broader scale - and it’s adulation, rather than fear and hostility that’s being projected his way.

All of which is to say that projection and pop culture are evils but perhaps necessary ones, given the lack of viable options for a great many people in this culture. Brandon’s answer to this was to use his band to create a myth for society and then distance himself, personally, from that myth. Of course this didn’t solve the problem of what to do about the incessant creative fire that burned within him, the ceaseless voice of his Muse… but no single answer covers all eventualities, right?

 

Learning to Recognize the Voice of Your Intuition

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Many spiritual teachers will urge you to ease off of logical and analytical thinking and instead follow the voice of your intuition. Oftentimes, when you approach a problem with logical thinking you keep revolving around your own beliefs about what is possible and what is not. The solutions, the possible options, that occur to you will be limited by those beliefs. Your intuition represents a much broader perspective, one not hemmed in by limiting beliefs. Intuitive insights arise from a part of yourself that sees much more of the “bigger picture” than what you are consciously aware of in the moment. But how can you differentiate between the voice of your analytical mind and the voice of your deeper intuition?

First Thought You Hear

The Beat writers had a guiding philosophy for all their creative pursuits: “first thought, best thought”. Oftentimes, although it may not be expressed as dialogue in your mind, the voice of your intuition will be the first sensation you experience when you’re faced with a given situation. Intuition is quicker than rational thinking because it does not utilize consecutive, logical steps in order to arrive at its conclusions. It apprehends the nature of a situation at once and offers up its best advice in the form of a hunch, a feeling in your gut, a strong impulse to choose one route over another.

So how do you distinguish the voice of your intuition? To begin with you need to be quiet enough to hear. That inner voice is always there, but more often than not it’s drowned out. The ego thinks it has the answers, so it always has bigger priorities than to listen to an inner voice; it’s already got its marching orders, given to itself from itself.

When the Ego Runs Out of Options

Unfortunately, a lot of people need to feel really broken before they’re willing to give that voice of intuition a chance. They need to run the race the ego’s way and see it’s approaches exhausted, to no avail, before they’re willing to try another way. It was that way for me; and it wasn’t just a one-time cycle, either, but something I had to repeat again and again because whenever I felt like I was back on my feet again my ego asserted itself and its agenda and then there was all that chatter all over again, drowning out the deeper intuition.

Intuition is therefore more often felt rather than literally heard. The feeling of intuition is always distinct from the anxiety, urgency, pressure, and fear that often accompanies logical, goal-based thinking. Intuition is a calm and measured voice; it is never frantic. While your conscious thoughts may seem to constantly waver, vacillating as they weigh this option and that, your intuition will feel very clear and uncluttered. You may even experience it as an almost physical nudge, as if an invisible and supportive entity just tapped you on the shoulder.


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An Ever-Present Voice

Some people say that they recognize when they’re hearing the voice of their intuition but that those moments are few and far between. Intuition is always communicating with you. What prevents you from recognizing its voice, in most cases, is the ongoing self-talk in your mind that drowns it out. Any practice that works to quiet your internal monologue, such as mediation or even just bringing your attention as much as possible into what you’re doing in the present moment, will clear some space in your mind for the voice of intuition to be more easily heard.

Recognizing the particular feeling of your own intuitional voices will become easier with practice. You’ll learn to distinguish the more grounded and centered presence of intuition from the wordy and busy activity of your logical mind. Both types of thinking have their value. Ideally, they should work together, logic tackling tasks that involve discernment and critical analysis and intuition providing a larger perspective when you’re considering your overall path in life and asking questions of a broader and more fundamental nature.

    

 Ours is an age wherein the intellect finds itself more and more at the limits of its reaches. It can't navigate the jungle of modern life alone. It can't fully grapple with the complexity of its own creation.

There's nothing wrong with logical thinking. It's just that human intuition was always meant to uphold and support it. And our intuition also opens up to vast inner avenues that logic can't reach. It is this wellspring of wisdom and insight that holds the answers to the questions that most deeply concern our race now.

Our dreaming consciousness - which we can consider as being composed of the same 'stuff' as the 'world' of our intuition - is actually much more attuned to physical reality than our physically-oriented rational consciousness could ever dream of being. Pardon the pun.

And like our dreams, the voices of intuition ring more clearly, and we're more easily able to decipher their whispers, when we give them attention. Just making this inner world a priority can open us up to the recognition of both insights within us and meaningful coincidences outside of ourselves.

This is the lantern light with which we can take steps into the future, a future that will look very different from our past and even from our present.

Our survival necessitates this change, this step in our spiritual evolution. The more people who tune into and act upon the voices of their intuition, the more resolutions will emerge for the conflicts and crises that beset us.

- A Human Metamorphosis, by Saul Mason

From the novel Awaken to the Wilderness


Long Distance Hiking as a Soul-Searching Journey

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People decide to undertake a long distance hike for a multitude of reasons. They may want to escape the rat-race for a while and immerse themselves in the wilderness in order to find some inner peace. They might be motivated by health concerns and hoping that the rigors of the trail will help to get them in shape. Hikers envision coming off the trail thinner, stronger (physically and/or mentally), more focused, less intimidated by life’s challenges because they’ve already faced a giant challenge head-on. Long distance hiking can be approached as a soul-searching journey as well, a sort of quest (as much inward as outward) that helps you to redefine yourself and your world.

Anyone who has followed my Edge of the Known series knows that I revolve my fiction around the premise that we create our own reality - whether the particular medium is contemporary, metaphysical, fantasy or speculative fiction. For a period of about eight months - from October 2018 to June 2019 - I embarked upon a prolonged wilderness adventure in order to, among other things, deepen my belief in this guiding philosophy and test the depths of my own faith in it.

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The broader picture of your life can be difficult to see when you’re standing right in the middle of it. Daily tasks and responsibilities tend to keep your mind focused along certain narrow channels. Sometimes the best way to get some perspective about your core life issues, as well as your deepest dreams and aspirations, is to distance yourself from your normal routines for a while. Long distance hiking allows you to leave your familiar world behind. As the sounds of civilization recede behind you, you begin to hear your own inner voices more clearly.

For most hikers, the payoff of a mountain climb is the view from the summit. An extended period of time spent in the wilderness can give you a more metaphorical “view from the mountaintop”. Situations in your life that may have seemed convoluted before will often appear much simpler, clearer, once you’ve managed to achieve a degree of physical and emotional distance from them.


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Modern society is, generally speaking, goal-oriented. It teaches people to wrestle with their challenges. As a result, people often concentrate so hard on their problems, seeking resolution, that they can’t hear the deeper voices of inspiration. The wilderness, in myriad ways, encourages you to quiet your mind. You look for water or shelter, decide whether to keep pushing yourself or take a rest. Life is reduced to its barest terms. As a result, your mind settles into a simpler rhythm. With so many of your normal concerns temporarily on hiatus, you find space to ask more fundamental questions: Where do I see myself heading? Do I like the path I’m on, or is it time to choose another? What do I want to hold onto, and what do I want to let go of?

There’s probably no better environment in which to do some soul-searching than the wilderness. A long-distance hike can become a prolonged meditation about where you’ve come from and where you want to go. Ironically, the farther you travel away from the life you’ve known, the clearer you’re able to see it for what it is. Distance brings perspective. Circumstances like work, friendships and relationships can come into clearer focus because you’re not so busy reacting to them day by day. Hiking brings you to open physical spaces that, at the same time, lend themselves to a certain spaciousness of mind. You have an opportunity to weigh the bigger questions of life, questions that have to do with your fundamental values, passions and aspirations.

              

Soul-Searching on the Appalachian Trail


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I stayed at my aunt’s in South Carolina, waiting for the weather to warm (it was March) and then she gave me a ride to Asheville, N.C. From there I was able to get onto the Appalachian Trail. I stayed the night in a beer-garden hostel where I quickly intuited how much more social the AT was going to be in comparison to the other three trails I’d been on. There was a sense of organization and camaraderie that I did like, and it comforted me, too; but I knew I’d miss the anonymity of the desert, of the CDT where I’d encountered nary a soul save for one person getting off the trail just as I was getting on (and the CDT, like I’ve said in a previous post, isn’t really a “trail” per se but more a series of guidelines for the adventurous.)  

It was time to sweat and climb like I’d done at the more arduous points of the Arizona Trail. I’m in my late forties; there were kids half my age on the trail, fully outstripping me, but I got over my embarrassment pretty quickly; after all, I wasn’t out here to prove myself a world-class athlete and I wasn’t concerned with reaching mount Katahdin, the longed-for goal of many an AT hiker. I was exploring the next part of this odyssey and becoming conscious of its impending end, the temporary nature of this whole escape. When I returned, was I going to be as profoundly changed as I’d hoped? I agonized sometimes over the thought that there wasn’t much to distinguish my journey from everyone else’s, that I was just accumulating miles like the rest of them and nothing was fundamentally changed about my inner world or the trajectory that my life would make through this world.

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You wake up to trees and the brook spilling and maybe there’s a troop of kids in your camp… North Carolina is a hardy land. I disliked the banality of the farmlands north of here, but when it was just mountains I felt the immersion into the wilderness that I’d been longing for. Sometimes I would make just a few hundred feet at a time, offering myself a break to the count of twenty as a reward, then another round. You’re bound to lose some weight, anyhow. I’d heard of people dropping forty pounds over the course of hiking the Appalachian Trail…

We were all faced with the same concerns, so you have a ready area to bond within: where’s the water, how many miles into town, is there a hostel, how are you doing for food? For the first time, I had to learn to hang a bear bag, and the absurdity of the task affronted my pride so much at times that I’d swear as I hurled that rope - it was attached to a heavy stick or rock, whatever was handy, over a tree. You perform the advanced math required: twelve feet from the ground but four feet below the limb, so a bear can’t climb and then reach down for it; and far enough out that it can’t reach from the trunk.

I had a can of bear spray with me. At times I thought I had it by my side more in anticipation of human predators. In fact a hiker had been killed in his tent on the Florida Trail while I was there and on the AT, now, I met a group and they were talking about a “psycho” who they’d encountered at the last shelter, waving his machete, stomping on the girl’s bag of chips. He was taken off the trail by police, but nobody wanted to forsake their hike in order to press charges and go through court proceedings so this individual was released. A few weeks later he attacked a couple of hikers in Virginia. The man was stabbed to death; the woman survived, I later found out, by playing dead.

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I was meditating at night to quiet my mind, to rein in my imagination so I didn’t veer off into envisioning all kinds of horrible things in the night when you’re away from any homey lights and laughter and the sounds of civilization, of grounding basic human contact, but it’s hard not to allow an event like that to creep under your skin. The experience tainted my overall feeling for the trail and probably contributed more than anything else to the sense that I wanted to wind this quest down to a close now. Somehow it violates the principles of everything else, the camaraderie and the sense of being embarked upon a joint venture - you think of it even in subtle ways, like “thanks who ever got out on this trail before me this morning, for brushing away all the cobwebs for me”; and then the next morning maybe it’d be my turn.

I was actually off-trail when the two hikers were attacked, visiting family in Maryland. In fact, I found out about it from a couple of ladies who I’d traveled with: Knowing where I was heading, and roughly how many miles I was putting in in a day, they’d done some calculations and realized that I could have been one of the victims (nobody knew their identities yet). It’s like the Altamont concert that the Stones played: An event that was meant to serve as a microcosm of a peaceful society, how people could meet in large numbers to celebrate love and peace, spirals down into incomprehensible violence and an undercurrent of ugliness so pervasive that some people hearken it as the death of a movement, the end of the decade and all of its most cherished ideals.


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I spent some time with an uncle in Pennsylvania and that’s where I got on the trail. Rocksylvania. Two hikers I know fell and got concussions on those rocks. It’s difficult, the mental focus required; you can’t ever let go and daydream as you move because you need to be aware of where you’re placing every single step; and the mental stamina involved with that is probably even more exacting than the physical exertion. Slow progress over boulder-strewn landscape. Sometimes I’d stop and think this has got to be a joke, why would anyone bother to even forge a trail over this; it’s like the rubble of a thousand ruined cities strewn for miles.

I camped on the ridgeline in a riveting thunderstorm. At times the lightning was so persistent that I could have read a book inside my illuminated tent. The rain poured. You lay in there and wonder if pools are forming around your tiny little refuge, if you’ll wake up inside a moat, which actually happened to me early on in my AT adventures, in Tennessee. I’d subsequently huffed it to the nearest shelter only to find that every hiker for twenty miles around had the same idea and we huddled close under the eaves, dripping on each other, and the rain turned to hail and then snow before it was done. In the morning I made it into town and was told that lightning had struck five houses in the night, burned one to the ground, and there I’d been on the highest ridge around in my Big Agnes. The newspapers confirmed the story.

I ate some of the best ramen soup I’d ever tasted in a bistro in Delaware River Junction. Gorgeous view of the river from one of the openings on the heights, with the highway running alongside it.


I’m nearing the end of the revelations that the wilderness has to offer and so much is still unresolved. Did I burden this adventure with too much responsibility for answering the most fundamental existential questions? Perhaps epiphanies only strike you when you aren’t consciously seeking them - what a paradox. We’re unlimited beings expressing ourselves in a world of self-chosen limitation. That’s paradox enough for anyone.

The hostel wouldn’t allow smoking on the premises. I got a four-pack of wine and drank on the back porch. I got a shuttle twenty miles to the next trailhead, hearing that the water was contaminated over the next stretch of trail. Leaving Palmerton. Later I would hear about a hiker who stopped here to recuperate after falling on the rocks. The trail forces you to reevaluate your commitment at every turn, to constantly question what you’re seeking and whether this is the best route to resolution. Maybe you’ve tried to world’s more tested routes and feel fundamentally unfulfilled and wonder if a more primal experience will remind you of things forgotten. Our whole racial heritage is out there, if we but scratch the veneer. We contest with elements and dangers that our most primitive ancestors faced.

Of course, the trail is preserved and clearly blazed so there’s no way to approach what Lewis and Clark contested with. The feeling of complete immersion is hard to achieve, especially on a path so populated. There’s seldom an hour that passes when I don’t encounter other hikers. Some are intent on their goal; others are eager to connect. Maybe they know the secret that I’m searching for. What’s the message of wanderlust? “I told a guy he had to hike the AT. It changed his life.” Pennsylvania gives way to New Jersey; you cross a bridge where the boundary is clearly marked (I discover later that I was cliché for taking a picture; this is a hotspot for photographs). It’s Memorial Day and, as a result, I spend a whole day feeling like I’m in a city park. There are signs saying camping allowed only for thru-hikers, but obviously this rule is often ignored.

A young man and woman approach me and point to the white blaze. “How far does this one go?” “That’s the Appalachian Trail. You can follow it all the way down to the southern border of Georgia if you want to.” Some people have started this at its very beginning and plan to continue on to the end. I have to remind myself that I’m not entered into a race and my objectives, such as I even understand them, are my own. But my time is coming to a close and I wonder if I’ve achieved what I set out to. How do you know if you’ve concluded one leg of a never-ending journey? Is it illuminating, or limiting, to even try to make such a decision?

A couple nights into New Jersey I camp at a small spot suitable for maybe five or six tents and a crew of a dozen kids and three adult chaperones converge on it. I ask myself, when will you ever get the chance to experience something like this again? May as well enjoy it. “I apologize in advance for all the noise we’re about to make,” one chaperone tells me.

You have to get snug in those shelters at night. I always preferred the solitude of my tent, but sometimes having a roof between you and a downpour is something to be grateful for. The worst is taking your tent down in the rain. What’s going to happen to me? I’ve been on this journey that has come to feel like my life, my life forevermore, but it must end soon. Oh, my money’s running low. My son and brother are in New York; I have more family in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. I guess it’s time to hop off this train. It seems like there ought to be a parade and fireworks, something to acknowledge the culmination. It’s my love of fiction invading my common sense, I suppose: Everything must come to climax and resolution.

The Arizona Trail: North from Oracle

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An off-day rejuvenated me and I headed north. Finally I got to see the fabled Saguaro; they were taller even than I’d imagined. On the second or third day I started cursing the climbs again. Maybe I thought that my magical quest would fail, or I was questioning whether this was the way to break through: After all, what exactly did a parched throat and hot, sticky body and legs burning from all this exertion with thirty pounds on my back have to do with success, either spiritual or material? What did it have to do with anything, really? Had I made some absurd detour in my life’s course? Or maybe I felt it’d all been a long series of detours and now I was trying to penetrate to the heart of why that was.

I got dropped off at the Tiger Mine Road trailhead. Preparing for another long water-less stretch, I made myself drink a liter before heading out with three full bottles. Within the first day’s hike I got a sight I’d been waiting for: The great Saguaro cacti. They’re numerous in this area, sometimes dotting the hilltops. This stretch involved less grueling climbs than the route to Summerhaven. And because the ground was more often flat, the search for campsites was easier.

A snatch of poetry written on the trail:

Days quicken in

the pursuit

Lengthen, deepen, in

the lanquor of

fulfillment

Water-rich dreams or

desert climes

Slow tug of

memory

inventing stories as

it goes

Stretching moments to

encompass lifetimes

The House meets its

architect and

both are

altered by the

exchange

This was also my first experience of rainfall in the three weeks since I’d come to Arizona, which unfortunately lingered - ebbing and flowing - over the next four days. It forced one zero day. One can’t complain too much, though, because such rains are also responsible for the profusion of colorful wildflowers in the area, miraculously blooming in early December.

Also encountered the biggest washes I’d seen on the trail, and camped one night in an area that looked and felt like a beach. Nights continues to be sub-freezing, and I’d awaken to thick frost on my tent and on the ground. My sleeping bag is rated at thirty degrees, which I thought would be adequate for the warmth of the Southwest desert, but the nights tested my theory.

I discovered that, more even than the overall exertions of a hike, it’s the minor inconveniences that can gradually takes their toll on you: The extreme temperature fluctuations between day and night; never being able to sit or lie down (unless you’re sleeping - otherwise, virtually everything in the terrain is either rocky or riddled with thorns); the awkward positions you’re always forced into even when performing simple tasks. My body was feeling ready for a break. But the beauty of the land is well worth paying such prices.

Good-bye Arizona. It was getting into December and the nights were frigid. During the day you sweat in seventy degree temperatures and after the sun goes down it dips below freezing. I was in my sleeping bag with my blue puffy jacket pulled snug over my head and face, so essentially I was inside a cocoon. Any little exposed part would get frigid. You sleep great out there, though, despite the slim padding, with that fresh air and after twelve hours of exertion. You drop like a stone to the river bottom. One day I camped an extra day before getting into town. I signed the ledger the guestbook at the Chalet, said good-bye and eventually caught a bus that took me back to Albuquerque…

Wading Florida's Ocean-to-Lake Trail

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The journey I made in Florida scarcely resembled the itinerary I sketched out before leaving. I’d intended to circle Lake Okeechobee and then head north through the Central portion of the trail. But numerous construction sites along the dike - and the somewhat hostile No Trespassing signs, fences and gates that accompany such activity - deterred me. Often I encountered what I came to call the “Corps of Engineers Special”: A fence right before a bridge that I could have otherwise crossed in order to get on the highway and walk the shoulder. But the improvisation I was forced to do in such situations often made for some good adventures, so I shouldn’t complain. And let’s not forget that the Corps is responsible for creating and maintaining this section of the trail to begin with.

I decided to take the Ocean to Lake Trail because I was near to it anyway and, most importantly, it offered the kind of wildness and diversity that I’d been craving through all those weeks in the much more tame and cultivated Lake Okeechobee area. I found a visitor center and then was able to pick up the trail from there. The change happened at once: Tall pine forest, then onto a dirt road that wound in a tuning fork shape around a mine, farmland all around. This felt like a prelude to the actual trail. It started in earnest as tree cover grew denser and I had to wade through water in places.

I liked being in this more challenging locale, away from the too-civilized portion around Okeechobee, because the rigors of the swamp made me feel like finally something was being done about the unanswered dilemma, which was my inability to feel like the world, the surface world that we eat and sleep and love in, while beautiful in places and certainly holding out its treasures and epiphanies, could never quite be enough. If you think like that then you must suspect the existence of something else, something Greater or Beyond, and that little glimpse with your inner eye is what drives you. You can’t be content until you’ve uncovered that other place, until the key is in your hands.

But the Ocean to Lake Trail was brief - I traveled with three fellow hikers, and we made it to the beach of Hobe Sound within four days - and the riddle was still unanswered when we arrived. At the time I was more concerned with a shower and a meal that consisted of something other than granola, dried wasabi peas, peanuts, sunflowers kernels and dried fruit. I got my first Uber experience after my companions talked me through the process. That ride took me back to Okeechobee and my central dilemma,

Probably 90% os the second day’s hike involved sloshing through water. I’d brought crocks along for this purpose, but soon decided to just leave my shoes on and embrace the brutality, as they say. You can’t hike all day in crocks; the rubber plus the wet would blister your feet hideously. And it’s just not feasible to keep changing footwear all day. I filtered water that ranged from green to the hue of dark beer or orange soda. Third day was slightly less water but more mud, the kind you have to constantly fight against because of the suction it creates. We spent the night at the Everglades Youth Camp, where we were able to order pizza and I drank an inordinate amount of cola.


The trail offers spectacular views of numerous lakes and marshes. On day 4 I hiked with my clothes ties to my pack to dry in the sun and lost a few items along the way, among them a pair of my favorite shorts that had accompanied my since the beginning of my adventure. Tent and tarp needed to be laid out in the sun, too, because of heavy condensation during the night. We resupplied at a plaza about twenty miles from trail’s end and then finished up with some brief road walking and then a stretch of sand dunes. Day 6 found us in Hobe Sound with a view of the ocean.






Embarking on the Florida Trail

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I began this part of my ongoing saga in Okeechobee, Florida. Getting there from Albuquerque required a 72-hour train ride spanning Tuesday to Friday. I switched trains in Chicago and then again in Washington. The trailhead initially looks like a beach park and the first few miles are paved like a sidewalk. It runs straight as an arrow, riding the dike built by the Army Corps of Engineers that faithfully follows the canal. The benches are a welcome respite. My plan at this point was to circle Lake Okeechobee and then head north into the Central Florida section of the trail.

Allergies plagued me for a few days, maybe due to the shift from the arid desert clime of the Southwest to high humidity. I saw my first alligators on day 2: One placidly sunning by the canal and another (which I hadn’t noticed) plunging into the water when I approached to fill my water bottles.

You have to get used to the proximity of civilization and resulting lack of privacy on this stretch of the trail. Traffic was often seen - and almost always heard - off to my right, and to my left motorboats frequently powered up and down the edges of the lake. Also, after hiking for nearly two months without issue I got blisters within just a couple days, probably because of the humidity and the monotony of the trail, your feet hitting the hard road in the same way time and again. This forced me to stay in a motel room (in Lakeport) earlier than I’d originally planned. Within a week or so my feet toughened up and I no longer had any problems.

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The following night I enjoyed some of nature’s Providence: an orange tree with a dozen ripe fruits was secreted among taller trees right behind where I’d pitched my tent. Then I was forced off the trail by construction - the first of several times that this would occur - and had to walk for several miles on the shoulder of the highway. A family stopped and offered me a ride the rest of the way into Moorehaven.

The Arizona Trail: "Consulting the Oracle" and Ascent to Summerhaven

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The trip to Oracle from Patagonia involved a bus ride, a stay in Tucson, two cab rides and a hitch from the suburb of Orovalley. Finally I found myself at the trailhead, about 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning, third week of November. Thus began my most rigorous climbing on the trail thus far. I was also facing water scarcity: The first place to procure it is at the High Jinks Ranch (a tourist stop where one can see, among other things, a Hollywood relic of a horse carriage where Elizabeth Taylor once sat in a movie) and the second is in the mountaintop town of Summerhaven - from a restaurant or restroom - some 13 miles later.

I’d finally committed to the larger journey and caught a bus from Patagonia - I was afraid the Greyhound driver would never see me because there was no sign for the stop, just a vague description on the website of what corner to stand at, and the names on the map and on the actual signs didn’t line up anyway - but I got that ride and stayed overnight in Tucson, reaching for inspiration hoping for serendipity somehow I was going to get further north to Oracle, from which I could get on the Arizona Trail again.

On the app I found the number of a woman of a kind referred to as “Trail Angels”; she was willing to pick me up at the edge of town, where she was grocery shopping anyway, and take me back to the Chalet she owned. I stayed there cheaply - been spending too much money in Arizona because if you linger for days trying to commit to your next leg or even find out what that might be the hotel meter is running. Next day, though, I returned to the desert and the character of it was different, more the classical desert of lore.

But it climbed and climbed; I didn’t have my “trail legs” yet and I started cursing. Actually it might have been one of the most laborious days of my life, huffing it up roads with lose gravel over sand, the most treacherous surface aside from mud-slicks and wet mossy stones, I’d say, and it just kept climbing all day. But the hard-won ridgeline was gorgeous and I arrived in Summerhaven to scarf down a big cheeseburger with the works and coffee and lots of lemonade; you arrive at a restaurant from the trail and your mind’s almost paralyzed with want of everything. You want to hand the menu back: “Looks great! I’ll take it!”

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Waitress was kindly and cute and I wondered what people did up here in this little town on the roof of the world. A few days later it would be covered over from a snowstorm - heard about this from another hiker, going the opposite way as me - but at the moment my only problem was finding a campsite in the dark, as Summerhaven had no lodging (a recurring theme I’d encounter on the trail). Experienced hikers may have thought this issue a trifle and me a little ridiculous for worrying about it, but I’d committed myself to documenting my journey on film - maybe I’d carve out a place for myself in this age of social media, as the mysterious traveling author - and that meant that I had to find places to stay, with outlets and preferably internet, at least once a week or so, so I could upload everything I’d shot onto my laptop (this, too, was baffling to other hikers. “You’re lugging that thing around with you on the trail?) and edit my videos.

I did voice-overs out of my books, attempting to capture “the sweep of the journey” with evocative (I hoped) phrases like “fallow fields bear fruit on the Other Side” and “we are always at the hub of perception, the choice point from which our world is determined”. I returned to Oracle with knees a little sore, more from the descent than anything, you’re always bracing yourself for a landslide when you go down those rock-over-sand paths…

The trail south of Oracle began fairly mellow, but once it began climbing it rarely stopped. One particular stretch, much of it a steep double-track of loose stone, demanded five hours struggle (with frequent breaks) for me to make eight miles. Still waiting on those trail legs! I was concerned about the one liter of water I had carrying me the whole way (the temperature was cool - in the fifties - but the sun was shining).

The struggle with the climb cost me so much time that the sun was setting while I was still eating in town. There’s no lodging in Summerhaven, like I’ve said, so I was obliged to head back out to the trail and backtrack in the dark - a path cutting alongside a mountain, steep rise to my right and drop to my left - to find a campsite. Amidst all those climbs and drops, patches of tall grass and rock, by sweet serendipity I landed on an ideal spot within half an hour aided only by a headlamp. One of my greatest accomplishments as a hiker to date.

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Stillness, communion… well, except for my mental chatter, all those internal protests. I didn’t know where the grail lay. “Keep moving” seemed a vague and nebulous scheme but it was all I had.

I ate at the Sawmill Run again the next morning and spent some time chatting with the gentleman working at the Mount Lemmon Community Center. I considered that the best strategy for getting back to the High Jinks Ranch (the closest water resupply) would be to really “camel-up”, in hiker-speak, in town. The road back was no easier (though maybe less physically taxing) downhill than it’d been uphill on account of the treacherous rock. You have to be braced every step of the way down. This led to my second night of searching for a campsite in the dark; this time it took longer because I drifted a mile or so off trail before I realized my mistake.

I got picked up at the trailhead by a trail angel and brought back to her very hiker-friendly lodgings, The Chalet Inn.


The Arizona Trail: North from Patagonia

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This trip began with a couple of false starts. The most time-consuming one involved an alternate route (ostensibly due to road work) that turned out to be unnecessary. I’d been overly-dependent on GPS-app navigation and had trouble following the written directions for the alternate because I was still getting hip to the lingo (“Turn left out of the wash and follow the double-track towards the ridgeline”).

When I finally reached the trailhead I met a lady - a trail angel, as they say - who visits various places along the Arizona Trail to leave jugs of water for hikers. After a couple weeks of solo hiking with only brief breaks in a town where I didn’t know anyone, “my senses were sharp for any human contact,” as Kerouac wrote in “On the Road”.

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Temperatures began dipping below freezing overnight (it was now mid-November) and so I started sleeping with my water filter and phone inside my sleeping bag. I also built fires most nights, something I’d never done in New Mexico on the CDT. I’d come from Vermont, where the varieties of trees are vastly different for the most part, and yet ironically foraging was much the same: Dark wood that’s more stubborn and smoky and the lighter (both in terms of weight and color) wood that burns quicker.

Some of landmarks along this stretch included Walker Basin trailhead, Casa Blanca Canyon, Anaconda Creek and Bear Creek. Arizona had experienced an unusually rainy October and surface water - sometimes running over the trail - was plentiful. Sonic boom sounds sometimes reached me from the army outpost on the other side of the mountain, as well as the retort of hunters’ guns, all of these strangely surreal sounds to hear in the wilderness.

Another thing distinguishes traveling in Arizona from what I’ve experienced in the East: The roads ride along the crests of the hills. You become conscious of such things when you’re obliged to huff it up all of those rises.

A snatch of poetry written on the trail:

There’s no greater

Divinity

but where it’s

fumbling its way

forward with

your fingers in

the fertile

dark

Gropes forward with

your hands as the

verdant sun

Peers out of

your eyes at

its immaculately muddied

reflection

Meanwhile I wrestled with the core conundrum of how to proceed on the Arizona Trail when lodgings were scarce along the way. This may not pose a challenge for someone whose first priority is to thru-hike the trail, but it complicated my own desire to document the journey on video - a task that requires occasional downtime in places where I can recharge my electronics, get online to edit and upload, etc. I finally found a promising “second base of operations” - the little town of Oracle, just north of Tucson.



Southern Arizona on the AZT: Desert Initiation

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In early November (2018) I took a bus to Patagonia, AZ. - an 18-hour trip including the layover in Phoenix - to get on the Arizona Trail. Patagonia was as close to the southern border trailhead as I could get to via bus, and the southbound trailhead was about a 4-mile walk from town. Thus began my second month as my perpetually-traveling-writer alter ego, Poetic Wanderer.

After a brief stint on the Continental Divide Trail in New Mexico (cut short because of lack of water) I got back to a friend’s house in Albuquerque and bummed around for a while, brainstorming my next steps. I gave my friend a sketch of my itinerary and he said, “You sure you don’t just wanna stay here and drink beer?” That would satisfy me in the moment but do nothing to solve the more existential dilemma that loomed - namely, what really is the nature of this world and what is my true place in it, if any?

There are a lot of places to pursue such questions and I’m not sure why I eventually chose the wilderness as the arena to battle my way through to answer. I can’t recall the steps that led to that choice but then choices often evolve and aren’t just hatched full-cloth. As I’ve said, the decision not only had been made but the road behind had been obliterated and there was only forward, which somehow is the only comfortable way that I find to pursue my life in general. Solace is not to be found behind - not that the past is all pain, but if there is a more satisfying answer it lies ahead; it’s not anywhere within the realm of the known.

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And so here I was in the unknown: Arizona, a state I’d never visited and immediately fell in love with. I’d grown up amidst tall evergreens and water - rains aplenty and heavy clouds and that brooding meditation that the East Coast encourages; and so the desert had this mystic allure for me; and the desert in Arizona was even more interesting than New Mexico because there were mountains and the prospect of the great Saguaro cactus, which I'd never seen with my eyes and my imagination had first been introduced to via Looney Tunes cartoons of that crazy gunslinger, Yosemite Sam, and the Tasmanian Devil.

I started as far south as I could get on a bus, this being the town of Patagonia. I was still timid and began with a schedule of a few days south and then back to the hotel; a few days north and back to the hotel. It was gorgeous. First free-flowing water I’d seen, initially discovered by accident when I lost the trail. My niece had drawn me a map with New Mexico, Arizona and Florida blocked in (that’s as much of my plan as I’d felt I could confidently tell anyone about) There were red cliffs and sands of all colors and not as frightening as you might imagine a landscape would be when it supports so little life; but then, some locals told me that they’d had an unusually rainy October so I got lucky with that.

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You can almost feel yourself being born, moment by moment, when you plunge into a new part of the Earth like this and you have no vision of the end of the road; you’re creating yourself as you go along. Some of my favorite spiritual teachers (most of them disembodied) say that the same applies to our environment; it’s an extension of ourselves, no separation. What we encounter out there is, at the same time, the landscape of ourselves. I don’t know how many times, and over how many years, I’ve repeated such mantras to myself “my life is mine, and I form it,” that sort of thing, trying to convince myself of what I really do know, that we’re the creators of our reality, but as one of my characters said, “somehow it never sticks!”

Here I was trying to prove it to myself once and for all. Would the desert hammer it into my heart and soul? No, those places in me already knew about it; it was my mind that needed convincing.

Coming from the more challenging CDT in New Mexico, the Arizona Trail seemed more generally well-marked. Confusion usually only occurs at the low points, the ravines or arroyos (commonly referred to as “the wash”, which is literally what such areas are, the results of sandy run-off) where you learn to keep an eye out for stone cairns in lieu of signs.

I met a few other hikers on my third day out, all of them about to complete their southbound thru-hikes at the border with Mexico. Encounters like these can remind you that you’re still embarked upon a human endeavor even though there’s countless hours of just you and the wilderness (I’ve thus far hiked solo…)

Ironically, most of the real drama on this stretch of the trail occurred as I left the trailhead to head back into town. I chose the wrong road - “Harshaw Creek” rather than “Harshaw Road” -, which turned out to be a loop that added six miles to my trek. Or would have. Once I realized the road was unfamiliar and found some signs that confirmed I was off track I faced myself towards Patagonia and stuck my thumb in the air. First time I’d hitch-hiked in years, but I got a ride on my second attempt with a great and gracious guy who was heading to the post office in town, scarcely a block away from the Stage Stop Inn where I was staying. Happy ending.

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Awaken to the New Mexico Wilderness

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Leaving Lordsburg, I walked about four miles on the Highway (70) and then slipped (literally) under a fence to begin searching for signs indicating the CDT. The terrain was rough initially, everything low, prickly and barbed. A species of large black grasshopper that I’d never seen before proliferated everywhere. The occasional tarantula crossing my path.

Water was troublesome from the beginning. The best sources have been the windmill-fed farm tanks. The water certainly doesn’t look tantalizing, but the tanks are often full. One source was so low, though, that I was forced to cut one of my bottle to make a scoop. This was after I’d foolishly used up the store of my bottles for washing.

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Alongside this challenge, I had to acknowledge that I was consistently falling short of my goal of covering fifteen miles a day. This proved particularly difficult as the route took me into the mountains, although this area was also the most clearly marked section of the trail I’d yet encountered. You come out finally in a park area with a sign warning of “Bear Country”. I crossed the highway twice in this area. Did some rough camping on rocky high ground, too tired by then to search for a better spot and the light was ebbing.

That night I decided to turn around. I had by that point encountered three water spots that were bone dry, and things were beginning to feel dire. The CDT in general seems much more geared for spring hikers going northbound. There was no trail magic here for me, and even many of the water spots indicated on the map were not viable. The few days I spent out there were well worth it, though.

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Spurred by such concerns, I made as many miles (retracing my steps) over the next two days as I had in the first three. I passed former landmarks - an ancient, disintegrating house of black wood; the stone foundation of an unknown building; trails of quartz running down hillsides.

On my last night camping out before reaching Lordsburg again I heard thunderstorms to both the north and east, moving closer as the night progressed. My trepidation mounted as I thought about how my tent was by far the most prominent structure in that whole stretch of flat prairie. I meditated to calm myself as the tent walls were pelted by rain and hail.

I was so eager to get back into town, because of these adverse conditions, that I awoke at 6 a.m. - after 4 hour’s sleep - and was packed and ready to go in an hour. By the time I reached the nearest grocery store I wanted to gulp down everything in their cooler. If you want to enjoy the most refreshing and best tasting glass of lemonade in your life, hike in the desert for a week first.

Desert Initiation: Southern New Mexico on the CDT

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I spent about fifteen hundred dollars on gear: new tent, backpack, sleeping bag, all kinds of miscellaneous things: I was ready to shake everything up in my life, cut loose the cords and just go. When I had it all ready I sketched out my plan; luckily I had a friend to stay with, to start, someone I’d not seen in eighteen years. It was full circle, in a way; I’d not been to Albuquerque, New Mexico in eighteen years and then I got on that plane, realized what I was carrying and checking in was the entirety of my life now, my home, my livelihood and hope for survival. What was I looking for? There’s been a voice inside me for so many years, probably all my life, and I tried to let it live, find its place in the world, and the place still eluded me. Maybe the wilderness held out an answer somewhere.

It’s like when people take acid for the first time, hearing that they’d never be the same after the trip; and really that’s the appeal: Change at all costs. I got on that plane and didn’t look back. The desert waited for me. I would listen to its heart, decipher what the wind spoke and hear the voice of the land. Maybe it knew things I didn’t.

So I get off in Albuquerque - there was no space to think about the fear. You just commit yourself so deeply that it’s too late to reconsider; that’s the key. I’d done that, all bridges burned behind me. Within a week or so a bus was taking me south - and we were turned off the road at one point so some officers could come aboard, in this age of paranoia, and ask us where we were born; were we citizens? I’m not so proud to admit it these days, I wanted to say, but yeah. Then I was off in Lordsburg. I’d booked a hotel in advance and now I had no time to enjoy it, getting in at 2 a.m. and planning on getting an early start on the CDT.

I’d only planned to follow the CDT through New Mexico and as it turned out the trip was a lot shorter than that on account of water shortages. But I was alone in the desert, finally, and I wrote phrases in my journal like “I don’t know what it is that drives me, why I cannot be contented”. I communed with nature and wove it into poetry: “Bird of prey smells my wildness, respectfully hovers…” There were grasshoppers of a kind I’d never seen before, big and black, some of them in mated pairs. Everything about the landscape had thorns in all conceivable sizes. You’d scan ahead to see the thinnest portion of it and that’d be your path.

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There was no “trail”, per se, and I was utterly reliant on my phone, the GPS and app, for navigation, which became a problem soon enough as I wasn’t streetwise about technology and didn’t know how to conserve battery life; it would dip down to a quarter after just a couple days. Only later would I hear tips like bring it to bed with you on those cold nights so the battery won’t run itself down trying to keep itself warm (this was October). But, combination of lost phone charge and these dry urns I ran into, fed from windmills and sometimes intended for cows to drink out of (and covered in a layer of scum and algae - my faith in my water filter was tested).

First morning, at dawn, I was awoken by the sounds of coyotes howling from all corners of the world. It sounded like the rising war cry of a tribe of Plains Indians - which, coming out of a dream as I was, I actually thought was true for a few frenzied seconds there…

Some of the cow gates were difficult - V-shaped and narrow; wide enough for your body alone, maybe, but not enough to allow a full pack through without being poked by barbs. Everything strapped to the outside of my pack - sleeping bag, bed roll and tent bag - got holes thanks to these gates. As did my puffy jacket.

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The wind started whipping shortly after that rousing coyote call. It didn’t let up for the remainder of my trek south. My Big Agnes tent got her great test that night, contesting the wind, as I made camp in an arroyo where the tough scrub and low trees cut it a little. I awoke virtually every hour all night. But as it was getting dark at 6 p.m. and not lightening until at least twelve hours later, this still added up to a good night’s sleep in the end.

The following day, rain and occasional hail abetted the driving wind. After all my concerns about finding and purifying water out here in the desert, to end up contesting with this instead..! In my frantic haste I got lost a couple times, once ending up on the wrong side of a cattle fence. The extreme weather forced me to cut my trek short a day and reach lodging.

My next stop was to be Silver City, but water scarcity forced or at least convinced me to turn around before I was halfway there…

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I at last had to give up the chase - here, anyway - and go back. ‘It’s all right’, I consoled myself. ‘Soon I’ll be in Arizona and maybe there’ll be a more clearly outlined trail there; and anyway, I’m trail-wise now’. So I packed in it with no feeling like I was abandoning the overall quest - which had always been more inner than outer, the landscapes and survival mode and all the uprooting being catalysts for an inwardly-spacious experience that I was only beginning to dip into…

Creativity and Self-Destruction: The Lives of Wounded Visionaries

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I used to be addicted to the biographical stories (and the various myths that grew up around them) of the many wounded and gifted artists throughout history. I had the sense that I was staring into some kind of over-sized mirror, which offered me a reflection of a more cinematic self, as I followed their lives.

It scarcely bothered me, at the time, that so many of them had died young, or that the time they did spend here on Earth was often filled with suffering. Their otherworldly creations seemed to justify such sacrifices, and it seemed appropriate that their incredible bursts of inspiration could only be sustained for so long.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

But if creativity is meant to be life affirming, then why should one expect that the creative impulse will inevitably destroy whoever serves as its conduit? And why do the stories of countless burnt out artistic lives seem to confirm that theory?

We need our artists to demonstrate how one can live with a creative vision, even thrive because of its presence. Thus far, as history has demonstrated, the arrangement has oftentimes not worked out that way.

Is this failure symptomatic of some dysfunction within the artists, some lack of self-love or belief, or rather a consequence of a society that gives them little space to breathe and feel at home?

Intensity vs. Longevity

We may also have to consider the possibility that these great creators planned their destinies in just this way all along. Perhaps they never intended to be 'long for the world'.

It may have been their soul missions to express what they needed to - in one conflagration of inspiration akin to the passing of a comet before our eyes - and then disappear before the world and its ways began to make too much of an impression upon their peculiar innocence...

Sidestepping the Cliche

I spun the core of my novel What Casts the Shadow? around a young artist both brilliant and (seemingly) doomed. I wanted to explore the question of whether he could be 'saved'. Could he somehow keep his vision intact and yet still enjoy a balanced and fulfilling earthly life? Could he sidestep the ‘live fast, die young’ credo and cliché of rock'n'roll?

I knew that, in order to do so, he would need guidance.That's how his mentor Saul came to be.

Saul snapped his fingers. “Easier to pretend not to give a shit. That’s the posture of many a hard rocking band, as you know. But you never really wanted to be in that sort of a band, did you?”

“No. But this is a cynical age we’re living in, Saul.”

“And since when do you care about the spirit of the age?” he challenged me. “Aren’t you guys the band that discards convention and bucks every trend? Haven’t you put your finger on it yet, what you’ve been seeking ever since you jettisoned all your old songs and started reinventing yourself?”

“I wanted the music to be an outlet for everything that we feel,” I said, “not just the anger and aggression.” 

 “Yes! And a big part of that, I’m willing to bet anything, is that you’ve been looking for an outlet for your idealism. Yes, being cynical and jaded is the order of business in the modern world. And you listen to a lot of cynical bands, too. But there’s that part of you that wants to say, ‘Screw it – I believe in humanity; and I believe in myself.’ Even if it means that you won’t look so tough in the arena of hard rock swagger and insouciance.”

Mystic Waters of the Depths

Some of my most spacious experiences of consciousness have occurred in the wake of water dreams, particularly dreams of being underwater and breathing. There is something about the depths of waters that slows the mind to a mystic rhythm where it can feel the essence of things.

Thoughts bubble up more slowly, but there is deeper surety to them. The insights can be trusted. They hearken from a place that touches upon endless shores.

Water is such an enduring metaphor for creativity. Inspiration "flows" or "dries up". We talk about the stream of consciousness. Consider the life of a beaver, an entire existence centered around relationship to a river. That's some powerful Zen.

Psyche's Essence is Motion

We lack conscious knowledge of these places, so the picture it gives us… there’s much greater scope and breadth; the watery depths of the psyche know all the variables that are in play, much like dreams themselves do.

So many people feel constricted by the walls created by their own conceptions of themselves and of life. The inner psyche in its wisdom knows that what we so often call stability is really a kind of death.

The eternal flow of the river shows us the nature of psyche’s essence in movement. The same name sticks to a phenomenon that is never composed of the same waters, the same elements.

We can say this as well of the ever-changing psyche. We look at the shape, the contours, and proclaim it a “thing” with definite boundaries and characteristics; we give it this name, though it is never the same from one moment to the next.

Dreams and Trust

Dreams encourage a flexibility of mind that is conducive to appreciating its ever-changing nature. “When are we ever finished?” Saul challenges Brandon. “When comes the time when our growth and unfolding is all said and done?”

I’m coming upon the mysticism of the word again, pulled down to the spacious place by the waters of the depths. The mind can be allowed to run like the mystic waters do; not cling to its banks; trust the rock-bed that upholds it, and roll on and on.

Clinging is born from a belief that we’re at the mercy of a world that is somehow separate from ourselves. This is the essence of doubt. To come to know the world through knowing our own minds profits us much more.

Maybe it’s that the spacious mind – which I have likened to the depths of the waters - feels the essence of events before, or during, their formation; and so it is here that its surety comes from.

It knows the forms taken by energy as it molds events in time. It is on this level that predictions can be made, that safety can be felt (even by the ego, if it is willing to listen to these assurances from the dream depths) when the world seems to be in chaos.

Reassurances from the Depths

And maybe tragedy can be more easily borne, too, because on this level we understand the reasons – the inner reasons – for our own participation in it.

As Brandon reflects in Humanity's Way Forward, in the wake of his father's funeral:

What benefit could any Entity derive from people mourning over one of its discarded shells? But then, funerals aren't really for the dead but rather for the living. They're part of an attempt to structure a story that's largely incomprehensible to our intellects but perfectly understood by the deeper places in ourselves.

The Shamanic Power of Art and Music

The shamanic power of art and music works to push us past the bounds of our preconceptions so that we experience new worlds of consciousness. It urges us to experience life in its most primal and passionate state. Without it we might all find ourselves looking out upon a (seemingly) very sterile and gray world, devoid of magic and wonder.

Our minds can grow accustomed to only perceiving and responding to the surface of the living world. Even certain functions of our physical brains work to filter out perceptions and sensations that don’t have anything directly to do with our “biological imperatives”.

But because we are possessed of intuition and connections to the deeper aspects of self-hood (such as dreams), our race has always been aware of other “realms” or dimensions of existence.

We give these magical, dream-like faces of reality various names: the occult, the supernatural, the unconscious, the fairy realm, etc. "Shamanism" is a word that has been given to various traditions throughout the world that aim to access and explore these worlds.

Art as the Medium

One of humanity’s touchstones to these other dimensions has always been music and the other arts. Like dreams, our artistic creations can function as bridges that we can pass over in order to explore altered states of consciousness and non-ordinary perceptions. In ancient times, music played a crucial role in shamanism.

Shamans would journey beyond the confines of the known world in search of wisdom and insights that could benefit their tribes. Drums, rattles, flutes and even stringed instruments were utilized to send them on their way.

Obviously, many people can learn to play musical instruments. It requires a more unusual individual - someone with the particular disposition - to function as a shaman within the context of modern art.

In the third installment of The Edge of the Known seriesHumanity's Way Forward, the band's manager, Maureen Connelly, tries to describe the impact that singer/guitarist Brandon Chane has on his audience:

“This thing that you have,” she said, “this spark, fire – the unknown variable that a dozen different writers have given a dozen different names to – it’s really rare. I mean, so many aspects have to somehow magically come together in order for it to work.

Some people are really verbose and yet they don’t have access to those depths, or they’re afraid to go there. Others have the emotional or spiritual openness and yet they can’t articulate it. I think it’s so fitting that your band is Edge of the Known, because you really have found this edge where you stand and you’re in touch with all of it at once, transmitting it… God, I don’t really know how to explain any of this!

“But if something so rare actually has occurred, I would have to say that it’s because – pompous as it may sound, Brandon – it’s because this world needs it.”

Shamanism and the Alpha State

Modern science has drawn parallels between these kinds of rhythms and the human brain's alpha state, which is associated with dreams, non-linear thought, intuition and artistic expression.

The alpha state of mind draws connections between thoughts, impressions and concepts in a different way than the logical faculties do. It is more associative and feeling-oriented.

This kind of consciousness is responsible for the inexplicable quality within certain works of art and/or music that move us in ways that we find very hard to describe. The precepts of shamanism continue to assert themselves in the modern world through such forms of expression.

The Soul of Art

The human soul always seeks to express as much of what it is as it possibly can in physical terms. Our culture has, unfortunately, curtailed much of this expression with its heavy emphasis on logical thinking and an assembly-line approach to living and solving problems.

The kind of psychic one-sidedness that results from this unbalanced emphasis can generate counter-reactions on the "other end". This can be seen in the New Age modes of thought that stress other aspects of the mind (like intuition and extrasensory perception), less healthy ventures such as alcohol and drug addiction, and the modern revival of interest in shamanism.

Music and the arts, if created and responded to with reverence and respect, can serve as a kind of therapy for us in this lopsided cultural climate.

They can remind us of those other dimensions that we've always been aware of but have oftentimes not been able to perceive because of the narrow state of consciousness that we've hypnotized ourselves into.