Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: April 2007

17 April 2007

Afterword to Paul Lonely's Suicide Dictionary

[Paul Lonely asked me to write a foreword for his incredible new book, the first volume of Suicide Dictionary, when it started to look like Ken Wilber's health might not permit him to write the foreword he had intended. Being tapped for this was an immense honor, and I had no choice but to write as excellent a piece as possible - something good enough to be considered on par with what Ken might have written. Less of an introduction than an exploration, it was reassigned as an afterword by the publishers, so as if being included weren't enough, I now have the last word! Here it is; I hope you enjoy it, and that it'll convince you to read Paul's book (as if you needed any convincing). You can find out more about it here: suicidedictionary.com]

"Why I'm No Longer Starving For An Adequate Myth"

I am the voice of a generation starving for an adequate myth. Myths are the carriers and conduits of a vision - the metaphors and narratives around which we organize and accrete our understanding. Every generation has come together within a mythology, and used it to push forward into its fruition. In a way, we are nourished by our myths in return for fulfilling them.

It must be said that my generation has more mythology from which to choose than any before it. We stand before a global buffet of stories, food of all flavors, information crashing in from all sides, an unprecedented panoply of cultural richness. What we lack is an organizing directive, some way to handle all of this humanity without shrinking from its light or dissolving into incoherence at the spectacular diversity of it all. Imagine everyone in the café trying to force-feed you simultaneously, and you’ll get the idea. In spite of our wealth of culture, we hunger for genuine, hopeful, reconstructive narratives – that is, integral myths. Almost no one is telling my generation, or those to come, what to do with this orgiastic diversity of experience. Our myth has been one of dissipation, of dissolution – the end of oil, the end of modernity, the end of the biosphere, the end of western hegemony, the end of science, the end of childhood. We are born into a world that has come together just in time to discover it is breaking apart.

But Paul Lonely is changing all of that. What Paul doing for us - the generation growing up alongside the academic reconstruction of integral theory - is offering us a new mode of experiencing these truths. And, I would like to note, Paul is a name with quite a pedigree for getting the word out.

Freed from the conventional trappings of historical spiritual texts, blindingly aware of its own cultural embeddedness and laughing at it compassionately, Suicide Dictionary belongs in a thin pantheon with the paintings of Alex Grey as a message for and from our collective future. It is playful and colorful and fluid, in stark opposition to even the most inspiring theories of the world into which we walk with one eye open. That Paul has used language to communicate this utterly translinguistic vision is a testament to his cleverness – his book is winking at all of us from behind the veil, like the Tao Te Ching or its formal predecessor, the Upanishads. Every page rings brightly with the cause to which he is devoted.

Occasionally he explicates this, lamenting how the transformational power of one religion’s symbols are woefully unavailable to those of other faiths. This power “sits trapped in their brains like a living fossil,” buried under the ancient strata of consciousness, waiting to be excavated, integrated, and activated. The injunction? To “encourage a generation of spiritual archeologists.” The gears of faith have ground to a halt, and it is time to cultivate a catalytic movement, a generation whose “vocation is the transference of energy to the intermeshing gear in waiting.”

With that, we embark on a voyage of impossible fullness, through the world’s vast traditions of spirituality and natural science. The illustrative endnotes alone are worth the price of this book; many of these terms are indeed “living fossils” for practitioners of traditions unfamiliar with them; he’s doing us a service by bringing them together in one volume (not to mention articulating them in such a lucid way). Suddenly we have a codex.

Paul has a gift for taking the omnicultural perspective and effortlessly weaving it into his dialogue, like these are ordinary things for people to say: “If Saladin had four arms in a Polaroid, what would he hold in the palm of each hand?” Islam, Hindu, and Technology are all partying in the same casual thought experiment. These are the conversations that felt scandalous even in a 21st Century liberal arts college. But while I’m skinny dipping, Paul’s Quantum Catholics are taking a bath.

Of course, they’re also occasionally streaking through the Garden(s), nicknaming their surrogate son things like Child Rabbinical Orchid of the Muslim Tao Christ – a title that my inner Paleontologist tried to piece together for a minute before handing over the reigns to the Master.

Suicide Dictionary is spilling over with this kind of contemporary koan, just like how the boughs of the monastery grounds swell heavy with fruit of all persuasions. Practicing ludicrous abundance, the monks dance in and out of every room, always popping in at opportune moments to offer some gloriously relevant irreverence (when electrons do this, quantum physicists call it “tunneling” – as in, spelunking – as in, the first temple was a cave).
Play as the highest realization – skywriting, throwing stones or floating them on leaves, plunging into endless word games and sculpture and “tasmanianly swiveling” in swiveling chairs. This is the world when nobody is laying claim to all of the truth. There is so much to go around, far more than any of us could ever use up, and the Quantum Catholics find it just as easily expounding gleefully on back-propagation through neural networks as they do in the contemplation of their officially holy scripts. I’ve never encountered such a sublime sense of humor, one so embedded in existential language. He writes of his characters standing at the edge of a room:

“Existing in the boundaries of Silas Paul’s studio”

He describes the slow circuit of the day:

“As Sunday afternoon wriggles its way into the imaginations of the northern hemispheres”

Paul infuses his prose and characters alike with this conspiratorial glee. Play is like sand for them! It gets into everything – between the fibers of one’s clothing, into one’s hair; it’s just as there when one steps out of the shower, and it is certainly there in the cloisters and baths, and in every compassionate word we catch as it passes from one Quantum to another.

They are leading my generation by example – we, the children of information, who are inexorably being drawn to repudiate the laissez-faire world in which we have fledged and to dream together cities in which the world is ever felt; where the first rule of economy is the giving of gifts; where there’s something familiar about everyone (even “strangers”); where we are careful with the size of our footprint but adventurous with the length of our stride.

I am of a generation that plays to forget the world we have inherited, somehow both painfully aware of our heavy next hundred years and steeped black in denial. It is an amazing thing to have this book that says, “You have all that you need to laugh, to express something inexhaustible and infinitely powerful in its priority. You can move into the world from this home beyond place, clothed in bliss, breathing a wakeful smile onto the troubled brows of your brothers and sisters.” How else can we expect to meet our times where they challenge us, if not in exuberance and wizened fearlessness, in loving lightness?

Paul isn’t wont to lecture us on the intricate meta-philosophy that is guiding his hand; other people, our specialists in generalization, are already doing that work. Nonetheless, he does sow hints throughout, glancing us past the monks’ celebratory academics, in which (it seems) everyone is already informed. The recitation of theology or science or literature is more incantation than education. We are less learning than remembering. Even when one of Paul’s liminal characters is getting corrected, at great length and with the full boisterous thrush of declaration, it doesn’t feel like a lecture.

These are pointing instructions dressed up as a college education – if only more so-called liberal arts institutions were living up to their name and providing us with such grand scope and synthesis! The science breathes naturally in this text, secure, unafraid that it will have to spend its all fighting to assert itself against the night. Evolutionary biology and other modern esoteric sports have finally been invited to the dinner table with the Septuagint. (After all, doesn’t the Dalai Lama love listening to neurobiologists?) The transcendental It, the body of the world, is the described and investigated Divine – the third in the room with two lovers. Take whatever the world gives you and worship it, Paul tells us over and over and over. This is my body. This is my blood (and it’s ABO – even the blood is integral!).

Voices are liberated by acknowledgment, and Paul liberates science into the service of its eternal lover, Mystery. Sneezing from allergies, one of his monks shrugs: “You know my tendency to pollinate myself.” (That’s a monk taboo joke and an evolution joke!) In one passage, the monks speak of Yeshua as “heterozygous for every trait,” and then bounce into a foxy little debriefing on Mendelian genetics as a metaphor of Christian mysticism. In another, random acts of human kindness are affirmed by introspection as instances of natural selection (some might call it Grace). Nature, red in tooth and claw, is delivered with a pirouette (“Frogs and crickets are competing to out-scream one another.”). Not since Annie Dillard shared her poetic hermitage in the 70’s have the burning bush and the invisible river received such a tender paean. Yeah, evolution loves death, God is an amnesiac mad scientist – but why so glum? Seen through Paul’s rose windows, green’s infatuation with black had me tickled pink.

At Rainbow Abbey, every fact and interpretation is cherished. In the same breath that he twists the canon with a bit of historical accuracy and replaces Eve’s impossible apple with the more likely pomegranate (native to the fertile crescent), he pulls us beyond such specificities and the Fall, proclaiming that, “Divine was the Apple that forced me to pray.” Indeed. Thank you, salvific pome, anonymous and prehistoric bearer of seeds, whatever you “actually” were.
Everything gets duly recognized for its divinity, here. Pollinating again, Paul gives Eve’s pomegranate an origin to compete with Christ’s own Immaculate Conception:

“Two flowers not random this Powder adhered,
An insect of God was transported by wind,
It landed on Carpels that Silence had cleared
For Seeds of Example our Farmers will tend.”

Silence has cleared the flower’s carpels, and the pollinating insect is God’s. The flowers are not random. Are we still talking about evolution? Yes! Paul’s story of the world is humming beyond the highest limits of hearing, stretching us up into silent attention. His writing takes the mundane and accelerates it to the speed of light, centrifuging superficialities to the periphery and leaving bare the spinning center of it all.

And does it spin! Everywhere I look, Suicide Dictionary is an enzo: The Circle of Gardens, swiveling chairs, boomeranging rocks, celestial spheres, buzzing subatomic strings, circadian rhythms and annual metaphors, talk of swallowing the moon, the inward arc, the sweeping grace of a skywriter, the “Discoid flowers of tansy,” playing symbiosis with a disc in the sky, the unlubricated Ferris wheel of mythic religion…and on and on. Paul’s lilies may not toil, but they do spin, free from the gravity of our desperate attempts to make sense of life before we live it.

In another departure from the myths of prior eras, Suicide Dictionary is written almost entirely in present tense – all the better for shaking the dust of narrative thinking off of one’s prose-encoded pointing instructions. The point isn’t so much to tell us how we got here and what we are meant to do (although these are not left unexplored), but to remind us that we are, at all. With its gaze turned towards the eternal timeless now of enlightened awareness, most of this book can’t be bothered with a linear temporal sequence. Instead, it relies on an assemblage of moments we can only assume are happening more or less in order. But why bother with such an assumption? This is the helical time of the abbey, not the secular calendar of the city. When historical narrative does appear, it’s again in service of fecundity – the diaspora of Islam, sewn into the origin myth of the banana (a cultigen that, for all it provides us, relies on our care to persist). Fruit as history, and history as fruit. The world as an endless play of impossible bounty.

What husbandry! Floral fantasies, playfully elusive syntax, and characters we discover through their voices and not abstract top-down generalizations: this is what Burroughs might have written if he’d found Big Mind instead of heroin.
I learned a lot reading this book – and more still on the second pass, because its subtleties aren’t all to be gotten at once. Paul doesn’t offer his truths in the digestible condescension so common to contemporary art. His prose is vibrant with the same exotic matter-of-factness that permeates his poetry. If, as some of my friends have said, learning integral is like learning a whole new language, then Suicide Dictionary is an immersion course, dropping us without warning or excuse into a world we slowly and naturally internalize. It is an injunction: the desire to reap a fuller knowing from this text had me consulting my own “normal” dictionary with…well, a religious fervor. In all of its support, its incredible loving inclusiveness, this book doesn’t kid about the challenge it presents us, which is no less that the complete recasting of our own language and being in the light of something far more lush, fluid, and creative than even poets are willing to admit. It forced me to look things up! It evoked in me the same eager monastic scholarship so gleefully flaunted by its floret of a nonet.

Paul is proof that creativity will attach itself to anything and push its roots out, flowering. Take for example this book, blooming from the dry sand of Merriam Webster’s – and just the first hundred entries, no less! It’s quite a body to weave from air, and a tremendous homage to the tradition of all flora (and thus all fauna). This is a reconstruction par excellence, living proof that one of the least poetic texts in the language can still be fertile soil for the wave of reclamation – that the bones of thought do not sit in a museum but scaffold an endless, pliant quickening. Paul has spread a mural of sacred graffiti on the concrete wall of our skyscraping industrial lexicon, and much like his brothers in paint, he has issued a powerful reminder that this is our space. Language is our garden and we can grow in it what we please.

This is a message light years beyond the reliance on expert interpretation, beyond coming to our own conclusions, beyond even the pluralist mystique of everyone’s own secret tongue. This is a call to arms – if arms are boughs, and offer rather than take. It is a manifesto for future (and present) generations who are coming awake to the strength of the illuminated word. Suicide Dictionary says: you look it up; you tell me what I mean; let us stand together in the infinite mystery of the mundane, swallow the moon – and, while we’re at it, let’s cover it in tattoos. Nobody familiar with this book can ever tease me again about reading the dictionary. (Next stop: the phone book.)

As if he were writing about his own text (and not just about the human brain stem), Paul incants,

“Better use it…to create a group of philosopher kings. First, teach them what we teach. Infest the world with an integral awareness of higher embrace and an un-ending curiosity for book-learning and the depths of contemplation. Then, teach them a working knowledge of biomolecular and quantum computational technologies. A sub-class of men, such as these, are already rising.”

And there it is. This is the significance of Suicide Dictionary to my generation.
So. Paul Lonely – both personal and anonymous. Ken Wilber is apparently fond of telling Paul that his readers haven’t been born yet. (Henry Miller says loneliness is a prerequisite for great art - how appropriate.) I have to disagree with Ken – breathlessly, having to stop in awe after nearly every passage, I read Suicide Dictionary, and I loved it.

Then again, maybe I haven’t been born yet.

Either way, Paul won’t be Lonely for long. In a brilliantly integral pass, he is asking all of us to help realize the rest of this ongoing creation that is the Suicide Dictionary. His call to integral artists is about to blow open an incredible new movement of transformative creativity (for which the art world is starving, after half a century of translation), a multimedia orgasm of the gift and receipt of sacred art. There are as many dimensions of free interpretation as there are artists. Monks have always loved devotional illustration; perhaps we’ll see The Illuminated Suicide Dictionary, with each poem rendered in luminous calligraphy and paint? Music has always held the soul and its poetry in the same embrace; my soul stirs to imagine The Liturgy of the Quantum Heart, with sacred dance and musical performance. Lord only knows how people might translate something like this to film, but given the readership I imagine it’s only a matter of time before we have the Suicide Dictionary in a webcast serial or as the pet project of the Integral Actors Studio (where we’re breaking down not just the fourth wall, but also the fifth, and sixth).

We’ve only begun. Welcome aboard. This book is the first step in something truly beautiful, and good, and true. And as for Paul himself: I think I speak for my generation when I say, (he)

Respecting the partial nature
Of this truth and
Care, We as the
Kosmos
Salute him.

Michael Garfield
Lawrence, Kansas
April 2007
michaelgarfield.zaadz.com