Letters to The Clan (Sleepwreck blog)

To Be Truly Witnessed as an Artist

September 7, 2017

I’m in a pretty much constant grappling match with myself over how I want to promote my music/art, and what my goals are for that promotion. It can be really difficult to avoid the “Why am I not an internationally famous auteur with millions of followers?” trap, and I struggle with that on a more or less regular basis. However, the other day (at Burning Man actually) I underwent an intention setting exercise, and the results were illuminating.

I had the opportunity to ask myself why I actually want a “bigger following” and investigate the deep heart’s desires that are behind that wish. What I found (and in fact what I’ve been telling myself in my more lucid moments for the last decade) is that the size of my audience isn’t the really important thing. What I really want is to be deeply witnessed by my audience… For my fans to really get it, and by extension to really get me.

So now the interesting thing is to allow that little insight to work it’s way into my actual activities on a daily basis. Any promotion work that I may or may not undertake can be held up against this simple measuring stick, and evaluated for how useful it may be.

“Will this activity allow me to be deeply witnessed by my audience?” or “How can this activity best be executed so as to allow myself to be deeply witnessed by my audience?”

It’s horribly easy to get caught up with the narratives of “This is what I need to do to succeed in the Music Industry”… I need more Soundcloud followers, I need such and such a label to take notice of me, I need to play at SXSW, I need to make a music video, I need to hire a manager and a publicist and an agent and a radio tracker and a social media person and a ghost producer and a personal trainer and a hair stylist… But all of these are completely irrelevant to my really deep heart’s desire of being truly witnessed by my audience. I could do every single one of them and if I’m not being witnessed then I’m still going to feel the same ache that I’ve been walking around with for my whole life. I could do literally none of those things, and if I have the sense that my audience really understands then I’ll feel like I’m succeeding… And as I’ve said before, feeling like I’m succeeding is infinitely more important than any outer condition that one may think of as “success”.

Being witnessed is scary. It’s vulnerable. It means showing up to the not-so-pretty parts of myself, and it means giving light to the parts of myself that I personally think are awesome but that my Great-Aunt-Gertrude may not be the biggest fan of. There’s a reason we avoid it as Artists and as people, being real gives others the chance to point and laugh… But that true connection with other human beings is only possible if we let our guard down and share our honest perspective.

So. I’m going to aim to be doing more of that from now on.

Transcending Problematic Beliefs

July 26, 2017

My last few posts have been pretty heady and esoteric, so I figured today I’d write about something a little more concrete. This is a simple  technique that I learned from a mentor a couple of years back that I’ve been putting into play over the last couple of weeks.

I had kind of thought that I’ve got the Rock-Star Delusion largely banished from my psyche, and that I do a pretty good job of defining success in my own terms these days. It’s taken a long time and a lot of internal alchemy to transcend the belief that my worth is tied up with what I do, but for the most part I feel like I’m pretty good at running my own race, not comparing myself to others, and acting for the sake of acting/letting go of the results. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve found that niggling little golem voice piping up now and then…

“Why aren’t playing at Coachella…?”
“Why isn’t my name written on the side of that bus…?”
“Why does he have 1,000,000 plays on his Soundcloud page…?”

Not gonna lie, it can get really tiresome. Seeing these types of thoughts/feelings come up can be enough to make me want to break out my trusty personality scalpel and start carving away at myself. But… perhaps that’s not the best approach.

At the moment I’m operating on the hypothesis that these types of thoughts emerge out of what we could call a pathogenic belief (in other words, an emotionally charged assumption about the Nature of Reality  which gives rise to behaviour which is detrimental to the self). So, my guess is that the assumption at play is something to the effect of “Love is conditional, I need to earn it through what I do.” and that it’s deeply charged with the feeling of shame. Brene Brown has a lot of great stuff to say about shame, but what a lot of it boils down to is that we need to stop avoiding it if we’re going to self-actualize and live genuine, relatively joyful lives. We all feel shame in one form or another, and if we avoid it through alcohol/drugs, media intake, excessive business, narcissistic attention seeking, etc. we numb out  all of the feel-good emotions along with it. I highly recommend checking out her work.

So here’s the technique that I learned for when these types of thoughts/feelings come up.

1. Notice it and name it.
2. Pause and bring attention into the body (yes, literally inside the body). Feel what’s happening there. Very likely shame will show up as a dark churning mass in the lower belly.
3. Feel into it. Let it be exactly what it is. Sit with it.
4. When it passes or lessens, count backwards from 17 to Zero.
5. Think aloud the belief that you’d like to install in the old belief’s place. It should be stated positively and in the present, something like “My worth is inherent.”
6. Use your imagination and powers of visualization to feel in your body the emotion that this new belief is charged with. What does it feel like to be inherently valuable?
7. Go back to your day.

So does it work? It’s hard to say. The human psyche is a chaotic system, and it’s very difficult to pin down any kind of direct cause and effect. But it’s definitely better to respond to these kinds of challenges thoughtfully and consciously, as opposed to being absorbed with them or beating myself up because I don’t have it all figured out yet.

Rube Goldberg and the Hypersigil

July 5, 2017

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I’ll say it again, the world is an immensely complex place (indeed infinitely so!). We love to walk around and make out like we understand what the hell is going on, but we’re really only able to understand the very surface of things. We say “The white ball struck the black ball at a 47.38 degree angle and knocked it into the corner pocket at a velocity of 6.3 meters per second”, as if it’s all very simple and manageable. However, when we zoom out we see that it was the pool cue which set this little scene in motion, and it was the person who wielded it that determined the ball’s speed and angle, and that fellow happens to be playing a game of pool on this particular evening because his wife is out of town, and there happens to be a pool table in this particular establishment because it was in the owner’s uncle’s estate sale 15 years earlier, and there is *even a game of billiards to begin with* because Arthur C. Billiard invented it in 1865 (which I totally just made up, but you get the point). It keeps going infinitely.

Direct causality can only be determined as an abstraction. Sure, we can measure the speed and the angle of the pool balls, but only if we pretend that they exist in a vacuum. True causation happens indirectly and indeed chaotically. So *perhaps* it might be possible to effect the World in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to explain?

Think about it this way… Let’s envision a fellow living in a two dimensional world. We’ll call him Hank. Hank goes about his very very flat business and it never occurs to him that there could ever be a third dimension, because he’s incapable of perceiving it. One day Hank comes across an interesting pair of objects in his 2-D world. He finds that when he rotates one of the objects, the other object revolves around it and vice versa… Two seemingly completely separate objects that are tied together by some un-named force. This is a mystery to Hank, but we out here in the 3-D world can easily see that someone has left a horse-shoe sticking through Hank’s reality, such that it’s two arms are intersecting the 2-D plane (but where the arms join is outside of Hank’s world). What he perceives as two separate objects, are in fact a single object that exists beyond his ability to comprehend. So now… What if this strange object wasn’t a simple horse-shoe? What if it was a mind-numbingly complex set of gears and pulleys and interlocking threads, and elastic bands… An epic Rube Goldberg Device who’s behaviour could never be fully predicted, but which would respond to an input stimulus with *some* sort of output reaction? Hank might start to think that the responses he sees from this crazy machine are just a co-incidence, because he can’t see what’s going on outside of his 2-D world. He might even *convince* himself that it all has a rational explanation so that he never has to consider the possibility of their being a third dimension.

So. Maybe things are possible that don’t seem to make sense (read up on the Two Slit Experiment in quantum physics for a start). Maybe there is more to the Universe than human beings are capable of comprehending. Maybe things are connected in ways that we can never fully understand, but that we can learn about and make use of nonetheless…

Maybe a group of like-minded people all holding the same metaphysical intention together, with a catalyst to trigger a powerful group trance state (such as an ambitious concept album by a post-apocalyptic artist), could dig down into the muck of the human collective unconscious and… Make. Something. Happen.


Rituals Create Reality

June 1, 2017

Societies and civilizations are concrete manifestations of worldview, realized through the actions and efforts of their citizens. Worldview is an insanely complex map of Reality that we hold in our heads, but that we also share with others in our culture. Often Worldview, being more complicated than can easily be talked about, is expressed through a culture’s mythology. So it’s possible to say that societies are built on foundations of Myth (or the deep seated stories that we tell to one another), and that Rituals bring those Myths into daily life, imprinting them onto Reality.

That might be a lot to digest right off the bat, but hear me out.

Ancient societies such as the Sumerians or the Maya or what have you, were founded on Myths about various Gods. This rendered a World in which human beings occupied a lower rung on the cosmological ladder than they do today. Whereas, our Scientific Materialist civilization rests on the Mythic (read ontological) assumption that only objective reality (that which can be measured) is real. This has generated a World in which human beings have seemingly infinite power. We extract resources from the Land at will and create machines that allow us to zip across the surface of the planet at high speeds, we smash tiny particles together and investigate the properties of the creation of the Universe, we manipulate the very building blocks of Life and design organisms to suit our needs. It’s pretty amazing really.

Our tendency is to look back at ancient cultures and dismiss their Myths as superstitious nonsense. Those people couldn’t build solar panels, so what they believed about the nature of reality must have been bogus. However, it bares noting that these societies lasted for thousands of years, whereas our Rationalist worldview is only about 500 years old. Anyone who’s paying attention will likely agree that chances are slim for our technological civilization to have anywhere near the longevity that these more “primitive” cultures could boast.

You might say that our way of life is teetering on the verge of global collapse (see catastrophic ecological decline, destruction of topsoil, massive wealth inequality, etc.), because the mythological underpinnings of our society are hollow and empty. The Rationalist worldview states that God Is Dead… There is no “Spirit World”… Everything out there, rocks, trees, rivers, even other people, are just a bunch of stuff, with no deeper Soul… “You” are an individual immersed in an indifferent reality, who must fight to gain control over that reality in order to survive. It’s a story based on a fundamental assumption of Self and Other, which manifests itself in every facet of life… from our two party political systems (WE are right, and THEY are wrong) to our action movies (in which a HERO fights to destroy a VILLAIN). One might say that our belief in the need to dominate and control the world is creating a world that is spiralling rapidly out of control.

SO… again, the Materialist worldview states that only Objective Reality is real. Only that which can be measured is a valid means of interpreting the universe. Perhaps though, this assumption is totally arbitrary. Could we not just as easily state that Subjective Reality holds the more validity? Isn’t it easy to recognize that the most important things in Life are those that can’t be measured? How ridiculous to tell your spouse “I have eighteen units of love for you”. Indeed if there is anything that we can say we really know about Reality, it’s that we are experiencing it… Subjectively.

Now then… Societies are based on Mythologies, and Myths are imprinted onto the real world through the enactment of Rituals. Imagine an Indigenous tribe who re-enacts their creation myth every year when the rains come in the spring. They believe that if they were ever to stop this practice the world would end. Our Rationalist response may be “That’s ridiculous, that tribe could lose it’s language and every member be assimilated into Industrial Society, and the world would continue to exist.” But subjectively the world that this tribe existed in would have been destroyed. From their perspective, their Rituals literally keep the universe together.

From the outside we can easily identify the Rituals of that Indigenous tribe, but the Rituals that spring from and maintain our Materialist worldview are largely invisible to us, like water to a fish. They are simply, “The Way Things Are” and it rarely occurs to us to question them. A particularly shining example could be the Ritual System of money. We go to the grocery store and wave a plastic card around with the faith that some disembodied numbers are flitting across an invisible world, and that we’ll be allowed to take our bunch of bananas home. We don’t really understand how the system works, but we trust that the elite priesthood who maintains it through the manipulation of complex symbols and arcane language will keep things going on our behalf. We recognize on a deep level that if anything catastrophic were to happen to the financial system, the world as we know it would cease to exist.

However… aren’t we also starting to lose faith in that system? Aren’t we starting to taste the metallic ring of it’s hollowness? Don’t we see the traders on Wall Street accumulating vast sums of money without creating anything of value? Don’t we wonder how an economy can grow infinitely on a finite planet?

We are in a time of transition. The Old Stories about Us vs. Them are no longer feeding us. We see the destruction wrought by these ways of being and we long for a better way. There is another story (Eisenstein calls it a New and Ancient Story) brooding inside of us, waiting to be enacted and to birth a New World… But for the time being we are stepping into the space between. Every transition includes a period of disorientation, the caterpillar dissolves inside the chrysalis before it re-forms into a butterfly. This time of doubt and uncertainty is a necessary part of the process. As the Old World crumbles we have a brief taste of primordial Chaos before the next one can begin.

What will the Myths of the New World look like? What Rituals will we perform to bring them into our daily lives? What sort of Society will anchor itself in their depths? Will asking a bunch of questions at the end of a blog post make me seem deep and unfathomable? It’s hard to say…

These ideas have been a mishmash of the thoughts of Charles Eisenstein, Jimi Eisenstein, and Jordan B. Peterson, all of whom I highly recommend checking out if you feel so inclined.

Ideologies and Identities

April 1, 2017

The world is a horrendously complex place, an infinite web of conditions rising from conditions and giving rise to other conditions, a chaotic maelstrom of beauty and pain and mundanity and transcendence. In rare moments of openness to the intensity of it all, I quickly realize that Reality is too much for any human being to bear. A big part of making music for me is an attempt to express that intensity… But that’s a different story. Right now I really want to talk about Ideologies and Identities.

That mind nullifying complexity is pretty damned uncomfortable, so many (perhaps all?) of us tend to spend our time relating to a simplified version of Reality that we build in our minds. We create a map of the terrain, and we say “OK, that’s good enough”, and go on about our daily lives. We tuck the shrieking demons behind the couch, and get to making sure the dishes are washed and the dogs are fed. Unfortunately however, those maps tend to only be of so much use, and they become particularly problematic when they conflict with Reality, which they inevitably do, the world being an infinitely complex place and all. These simplistic maps of Reality are otherwise known as Ideologies, and they warrant taking a good look at.

An ideology is a simplified lens through which to view and relate to the world. It takes the Vast Unknowable and reduces it down to a simple, black and white equation. Here’s The Problem (Capitalism, Radical Islam, Patriarchy, The Homosexual Agenda, Colonialism, etc.), and here’s The Solution… which generally involves Struggling Against The Forces Of Evil Until They Are Unequivocally Vanquished. Ideologies very quickly divide the world into an “Us” and a “Them”, leaving very little room for grey areas, for nuance, and for dialogue. Which again is problematic, because Reality is composed entirely of grey areas. Ideology becomes the basis for demonizing and dehumanizing the Other, and coming up with rationalizations for attacking them. Ironically however, it is this projected demonization (What’s that shrieking sound coming from behind the couch? I didn’t hear anything…) which causes us to act in exactly the same ways that we accuse “Them” of acting. PETA euthanize 90% of the animals that come to their shelters because owning pets is evil. The United States military drops drone bombs on Yemen because Islamic Terrorists are evil. “Pro Life” activists murder doctors because performing an abortion is evil.

When we are in the grips of an ideology we become that which we vilify.

This is true in our relationship with the external world, and it is true in our relationship with ourselves. Just as an ideology is a simplistic way of viewing and relating to the outside world, so an Identity is a 2 dimensional map of our internal Reality. We as human beings are so vastly complex that we will never be able to understand ourselves from the inside out. So rather than confronting the impossible depth of our genuine felt-in-the-moment experience with all of its attendant traumas, joys, losses, and triumphs, we create a mental image of ourselves (as a Mother, an Entrepreneur, a Vegan, a Christian, a Rockstar) and relate to that instead. We spend our time slaving to live up to this narcissistic, two dimensional image, and forget that life is happening to us in every moment we ignore. So, in the same way that an Ideology creates a sharply delineated “Us” and “Them”, the Western Materialist Individual Identity also creates a sharp divide between “Me” and “Everything Else”. We experience ourselves as a separate self in an indifferent or even hostile world and we compulsively seek to control and dominate that world in order to feel secure. Our Identities compel us to “Win at Life” in exactly the same way Ideologies urge us to Vanquish The Enemy. It’s a hopeless proposition. Ideologies and Identities lead to pain and suffering for all involved.

So what do we do? Ultimately the question is ironic, because Knowing The Right Answer is an inherently ideological proposition. But perhaps the right way to move forward is not to come up with the right answer, but to ask more questions. Perhaps the thing that can save us from the calamity hurtling at us from every direction is not more solar panels, or better screening at the airports, or reducing carbon emissions by 50%, but a better relationship with the Vast Unknowable. Perhaps if we could divest from our Identities and our Ideologies, and come to experience ourselves – in a visceral, embodied way – as a tiny blip in that cosmic web of chaotic causality… If we could settle in to that discomfort, lay down in the fire, perhaps things would work out in a way that we never could have planned, but was always going to happen anyway.

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