Monday, July 1, 2013

The Pulse of Experience

I can see agitations of air rustle the plastic in the windows of the apartment in the house next door. Someone no doubt left a door open, so that it is full of cross currents, and dialogues of air, but it looks like the house has filled with a spirit that isn’t so much trying to get out as to spar with the soul of interiority. None of this is real, of course, but is a perception gone awry on a summer afternoon, filling in those spaces formerly occupied by logic and watercolor. Don’t ask what your perceptions can do for you, ask what you can do for your perceptions.
The woman that lived in the lower unit moved. We never got to know her, but liked her. She had a quiet manner. She was tall and heavyset and middle-aged and seemed to have a profession that paid a lot of money, which you would most certainly require for the high rents G charges, but lived humbly, graciously, serenely. G has been working in the apartment, burnishing the floor, painting, patching, redoing the moulding. It’s hard to imagine why so much work is needed. The woman was so quiet. It’s not like she had wild Holly Golightly parties every weekend.
We hope the new tenants, whoever they turn out to be, will also be quiet. I am not that hopeful. I tend to fear the worse. I run narratives through my mind that involve bratty kids, barking dogs and meth dealers. Loud professionals that like throwing big shindigs on the patio. This is my tendency, my curse. I try not to do it. I try to keep my mind empty, clean, void of silly, telescoping worries that tire my brain with the weight of their doom-laden postulates and limitless capacity for mayhem. I long for a state of mushin, the term Zen masters use to designate no-thought or no-mind. Mushin, a Japanese word, means “mind without mind,” and refers to a state in which the mind is not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything. I think of the apartment next door in its empty state, free of furniture, bills, occupancy, the floors freshly burnished, the breezes blowing through willy-nilly. I imagine a mind, my mind, free of furniture, overstuffed chairs with broken springs, worries tossed through the window and carried away by truck to a landfill of vexations and torments.
It’s harder than I ever imagined to keep an open mind. Suspending judgment is difficult. I feel the hammer of an inner malaise. I am continually constructing patterns. The drive to make sense of things is irresistible. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but my tendency is to veer toward the dark and calamitous. The compulsion to make forecasts based on barometers of gall and isobars of bile is obsessive. The eye swallows a landscape and a pattern stumbles out, a Danse Macabre or Garden of Earthly Delights.
Not always. The patterns are sometimes just that: patterns. Neutral as a logarithm. Impersonal as an improper fraction. The process, as Whitehead described it, is a composite of changeable entities considered in term of singular causality, about which categorical statements can be made. Each experience is a synthesizing process of feeling this wide environment and bringing its factors to a new head, self-enclosed and privately enjoyed. He borrows William James’s phrase, “drop of experience,” to describe this phenomenon as a cause with observable effects. He also uses the phrase “pulse of experience,” because experiencing is an active process. A capacity for the spontaneous introduction of something not present in the environment is part of the structure of every experience. Each pulse of experience occurs as an atom of process, integrative or confluent in shape. Added to this is an internal principle of self-creation. Our experience derives from a natural world of throbbing actualities, into which we put our individual paddle.
The central hypothesis of cognitive science is that thinking can best be understood in terms of representational structures in the mind and computational procedures that operate on those structures. But this isn’t what happens. What happens is the concentration of emotional energy upon some object or idea. A nude woman swims with a Beluga whale near the Arctic circle and I strain to feel what that feels like. But can’t. Not entirely. The main problem isn’t imagining myself in that situation, but in imagining the sensations coursing through my body. I find that it’s easier to do that if I empty my mind of other distractions. Ideas. Assumptions. Suppositions. And leave a bare, open space. A flock of grebes. A biology of attraction. A nude woman swimming with Beluga whales near the Arctic circle.
How did the Arctic get to be a circle? The present tense has an unshakable certitude. It is raining. It is not raining. It is everything motivated by a carefully maintained illusion. Wild toads pull me to Oregon. There is a chair that talks and a chair that flutters its wings. Once an openness of mind is achieved, everything wants to be in it. Everyone wants a starring role. Objects suddenly assume character. The dim interior light of an airplane at night becomes a theory of rain dripping from the mouth of a gargoyle.
I decide to go for a run. To walk is to swim in the mind, but to run is luminous. I go up McGraw. There is always that splotch of white paint on the sidewalk that resembles the head of an extraterrestrial. I get to 15th Avenue West and notice that the former brown bear and her three cubs have been replaced by a fully erect Grizzly bear, fierce and imposing, with claws of gold. There is one cub, which the Grizzly is ostensibly protecting as she claims her position on the rock.
I get to the Myrtle Edward trail and smell the unmistakable odor of the sound at low tide. The smell consists mainly of rot but also desire, turmoil, and the pull of the moon. There are two huge cruise ships moored at Pier 91, one of which is called Celebrity Solstice. I Google it up later and discover that it has over a thousand cabins and staterooms and ten specialty restaurants, basically a floating city.
A container ship glides into Elliott Bay. The water is quiet this afternoon, hardly a wave on it. It has a deep blue color and complements the blue of the sky with an occasional flash of white or squiggle of foam.
I run past Michael Heizer’s Adjacent, Against, Upon, a dramatization of words in four giant granite slabs.
Chrissie Hynde sings “Brass in Pocket” on an acoustic guitar in a crowded Manhattan bistro, but that’s going on in my head, and is not in external reality. It was in external reality, but now it’s a memory. It is the mental residue of an event that took place earlier in the day when I was watching YouTube.
I arrive at the Seattle Center’s International Fountain and see hundreds of children playing around the central hemisphere bristling with spigots. Water shoots out at different intensities at different intervals while music plays. Today a Middle Eastern song is playing with a male singer who sounds astonishingly like those calls to Mecca heard from the towers of Amman and Bagdad. It is as if the Kaaba of Mecca had been replaced by a bright silver hemisphere shooting arcs of water out of an array of nozzles, the white-robed worshippers of Mecca replaced by hundreds of screaming children.
When completed, this paragraph will weigh 55 pounds and will house an olive grove and have very little to do with anything else other than its own internal drive to exist, to be a paragraph, an organism of words, a translucent membrane teeming with words, living forms, thought provoking thought into infinite ramification, pretzels and zippers ironic as pharmaceuticals apologizing for all the pain of existence, ameliorating the ache of existence, ideas of paradise percolating through the sediment of its sentences as it continues to grow, like the blob, into a pulsing gelatinous entity of alcoholic predicates and lambent nouns.
Meanwhile, life goes on, ob-la-di ob-la-da, the pipes behind the kitchen sink are making loud clicking sounds and the refrigerator is leaking. I had to put a pan in the frig to collect all the water dripping beneath the freezer. I suspect it’s a frozen drainpipe. I suspect more than that. It’s as if the apartment somehow sensed that we were saving money and preparing for a trip overseas and didn’t want us to go. No, you have to stay here and take care of me, buy me a new refrigerator, rip out the kitchen wall and give me new pipes, new sink, new faucet, new ob-la-di ob-la-da.
Here comes a new paragraph: there is a string dangling from it. If you pull the string, it begins to grind into motion, little pulleys and gears creating a fern whose fronds are inundated with golden summer light. A towering cypress sags into meaning. Black tentacles surround the Wine Spirit boutique and pull it into the water. A giant squid gets drunk and listens to the Beatles. A Viking drakkar glides past the base of a high rocky cliff in dead silence. Elevators graze in a public square. A shattered perception turns moody and enters the paragraph, penetrating its syntax and becoming a large cumulus cloud on the verge of thunder. An eyeball drags itself along eating words. The play of light and shadows congeals into a meaning. A philosophy of fern. The dreams of a gluttonous king. The ghost of Brian Jones. And I can’t help but feel that if I pull the string again something new will form, something large, something sublime, something bold and approaching from the distance under a huge blue sky beautiful as an open mind.  

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