In the summer and fall of 2011, I wrote a poem, which I ultimately ended up calling “A Little Reality Music.” The poem is noteworthy for two reasons: first, almost every word in it has the word “it” or the sound “it” embedded in it. Second, it seems to be the last output of a youthful imagination and way of being that had carried me in my twenties and thirties but had grown progressively more sclerotic in the two or three years leading up to 2012. Perhaps because it was the last output, the poem’s language both reflects and describes clearly this process of sclerotization; here is the poem’s first line: “Bit by bit by plummet and summit I admit/ I’ve literally audited the units of awe out of it.” The pronoun “it” here refers to “reality” in the title. Of course, as “I audited the units of awe out of it” this reality shrank enough over time to more than merit the modifier “little.” This auditing, however, was not intentional in the usual sense, in that my everyday, conscious self consciously did it, rather, as I look at the process in hindsight, there was definitely a higher, wiser, less everyday sort of consciousness driving the process and at the same time urging me to wake up to the lesson of the audit. On a more tangible or somatic level, this auditing led to a health crisis that manifested as an inability to normally digest and eliminate food, which led to my losing weight and for a while appearing jaundiced, not to mention feeling like shit. The crisis kicked off with a migraine — the only one I’ve ever had — at the beginning of August, 2012, when I was forty-four, and was followed by a feeling, which lasted about six months, that can best be described as having one’s head encased in a helmet of dense fog. Around this time I also stopped writing poetry, my inspiration having run dry.
Avoidance, which had been the preferred option until the migraine, quickly lost its luster, and obviously, its efficacy. I went to see a variety of healthcare providers, both traditional and non-traditional, tested an assortment of diets, and began, through a more honest approach to self-reflection, to try to get at the root of my issue, an issue I was certain had a psychological/spiritual origin. I discarded my meditative practice, not so much because it had been ineffective, but because I realized, to my chagrin, that I had been meditating for years in a way that had actually helped lead me into the crisis. Indeed, one of the central motivations and mantras of my practice was to meet and transform my shadow so that I could better serve my fellow human beings – for years I actually invoked this desire every night before sleep. I clearly got what I was looking for – a meeting with my shadow – but not the know-how nor the immediately accessible courage to transform it, rather, I seemed to be swallowed by it more and more. From a certain perspective, this practice that led to my deepening encounter with my shadow seemed necessary because my crisis felt necessary, but once in it, I realized I needed a different approach to get me through it, a different sort of meditative practice, a different way of relating to the world. This approach has involved learning how to breathe and relax, learning how to fully feel my feelings (no small achievement, really) and access and un-stick knots of old feelings lodged in my body, as well as learning how to cultivate a “gentle will,” to us the philosopher Georg Kuhlewind’s term. A breakthrough came about a year ago when I started to weep almost daily, being overcome by feelings that seemed to have their origins in very early childhood. At about this same time I started to experiment with releasing knots of energy in my body, mostly in my descending colon, which had been irritated almost continually for two years. I would access a place of pain and blockage with my attention and then, in my mind, scroll through my collection of recurring memory complexes and belief structures that had, for years, caused negative emotions. I did this until I hit on one that seemed to be responsible for the knot. I say it seemed responsible for the knot because at that moment the knot would begin to unravel and release emotions of an intensity that felt old, original, and new all at the same time. I would then most often weep as though I were a small child overwhelmed by an emotion. But it also was a different form of weeping, a form I had never experienced before: it often felt as though I was vomiting knots of energy out of my abdomen, solar plexus, heart, throat, and jaw, even my teeth. These sessions of this peculiar vomiting – they have something of the quality of a self-administered non-sectarian exorcism – still occur a few times weekly even now. The collection of reoccurring memory complexes and belief structures that I mentioned earlier is lately much less subliminal than it used to be. I’m sure that this breakthrough that happened nine months ago was connected to the yearlong work, on a biweekly basis, that I had done with a Rhythmical Message therapist. Her goal throughout the year we worked together had been to help my body breathe freely again and relax.
Along with my stopping writing poetry during this crisis, I also progressively lost enthusiasm for my work as a high school teacher, a profession I had pursued for almost fifteen years. This was not an easy experience, if fact, it was devastating. I had invested much of myself in this vocation, and loved the work, and yet, if I was honest with myself, it was the work of an era that seemed to be coming to an end. Simultaneously, I began to sense that I had new work to do, more a feeling than any clear thought, but I had little idea what shape it would take, not to mention how I would make money and support a family. Clearly a part of my new work expressed itself in the creation of The Freehoodship. Though I have yet to fully define this new work, I have thankfully experienced the re-emergence of my enthusiasm for high school teaching as a parallel path. Most recently it has become clear to me that my crisis was less about what I was doing and more about how I was doing it.
About halfway through “A Little Reality Music,” there is a shift in tone, like the volta in a Petarchan sonnet. The “I” in the poem, on experiencing a widening of perception, stops lamenting the dearth of awe in reality, and says instead, “I witness likewise an auspicious orbit of a new spirit/ my novitiate itch to intuit a secret exit/ into the infinite itself.” This itch to intuit an exit, which is really an “ex-it” was and is a manifestation of my effort towards a new form of effort that was about flow and breathing and infinite non-space as opposed to pushing and straining within the confines of an all too finite space. Though I don’t feel anywhere near fully out the other side of this crisis or rite of passage, I’m feeling up to the task of not pushing and straining to complete it.