Writing as catharsis

In a land of some other order

Posted in Poetry, Prose, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on June 13, 2014

Habana Vieja (Old Havana, Cuba) by Pablo Cholka http://cholkafotos.blogspot.mx/

In a land of some other order
Rum soothes the soul while
The heat of the day drains away
Both motion and motivation.

Beasts of iron rumble by as,
Breathless and bleary-eyed,
I walk through streets of stone.

Strain as I might, I see only surface light.

Oblivious to pulse and warmth,
And weightless in my sense of self,
The vacuum of language encloses
Like a shawl.

I drift through the city.

As stray dogs scavenge and
Street hustlers hiss, I hear
Only noise and non-sense.

No one pronounces my name.

The delusion of separateness

Posted in Buddhism, Philosophy, Prose, psychology, Ranting and rambling, religion, Science, self-knowledge, Zen by Lachlan R. Dale on December 22, 2013
The Lotus by Nicholas Roerich

The Lotus by Nicholas Roerich

In this piece I hope to define what I consider to be the most useful philosophical perspective I hold. 

In my early twenties and late teens I struggled to reconcile the immense suffering found in conflict, war and genocide with the shallow aims and pervading sense of self-satisfaction I found amongst my peers. For me, the existential issue of large-scale suffering (the likes of the Rwandan massacre) pressed on my mind with intensity and regularity. I could not comprehend how so many seemed content to occupy their lives with trivialities in the face of such a moral challenge; did not their minds not seek to understand humanity and existence? Were they not hungrily searching for meaning too?

I was consumed with a desire to find out how to live a full, ethical and contented life. I observed many around me whose lives were in tatters – elders usually, who had awaken from the daze of their lives to find themselves locked in an unhappy marriage, surrounded by children they considered a burden, weighed down by debt, and damned to work the rest of their days in a monotonous, unfulfilling job. They were completely miserable but lacked the sufficient consciousness to identify and alleviate the source of their misery. Even if they could perceive the life-change their circumstances demanded, the strength or courage required would likely be too much for them. Instead, they resigned themselves to waging a bitter war of small miseries on their family, co-workers and friends (if they have any). These unhappy, twisted men poisoned those around them, and in their self-pity they wallowed.

But I digress. What is of importance is that I struggled heavily with the moral challenge posed by acts of genocide in the recent ‘civilised’ past. I was also baffled by people’s complete indifference to these atrocities (though the severe limitations of the average human’s psyche is far more familiar to me these days).

I struggled in part because my foundations were rotten. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and so had at least entertained the notion that God is essentially good; that he intervenes in our lives to mete our justice; that suffering is rare, and that unfairness is merely a mistake awaiting correction. It featured a sort of deluded optimism that left me completely unprepared to confront the true nature of the world.

Gladly, these days I feel as though this issue has been largely reconciled. At the very least I do feel like I am succeeding in living a contented life, and in spending my time and energy on things I consider meaningful. At this stage the threat of the total failure of my life is small (though the fear still lingers in the dark corners of my mind). I’ve tried to define exactly what it is I have gained since those early years.

Above all I have attained a significant amount of self-knowledge. What defined my life back then was a sense that I was somehow a stranger in the universe. I felt safe in my suburban home, but my attitude towards nature was largely that of contempt or indifference. I was possessed by a simple, egoistic delusion that arises when one lacks sufficient understanding about oneself and one’s relation to the universe. I believed (or somehow sensed) that I, as a conscious being, were somehow separate from – and not part of – the universe in which I existed. I felt outside of it – beyond it. Sure, I existed ‘within it’, but I was an alien. I lacked a sense of kinship with nature, and as a result I was possessed by an absurd feeling of entitlement. As far as I was concerned the natural world was there for exploitation, or at best it had a place as a sort of trivial museum of the Earth. My ignorance and lack of self-awareness was astounding.

Today, at 27 years old, this notion seems absurdly naive and misguided. It seems that we are armed with sufficient information for a refutation of this delusion in our high school science class. I appreciate now, however, that it is one thing to acknowledge the truth of a proposition, and another to feel it. The latter requires the individual develop a degree of consciousness beyond that of selfish immediacy.

This delusion is one that I have found quite commonly suffered. In this piece I want to try and accurately define this delusion and chart the series of experiences and epiphanies that helped me lift me from it. If I have the mental clarity, at a later date I hope to move on to psychological, religious and social observations – but for the time being I will consign myself to definition.

Defining the delusion

The problem is this: certain members of our species have somehow convinced themselves that human beings stand outside the natural world and it’s order. They believe this in spite of the basic facts of nature; that we are the product of Darwinian evolution, and that we are demonstrably part of the same process of organic life as any other animal. Perhaps they have convinced themselves that we are not of this universe; that we were created after the fact by a bearded Creator – but the specifics are not hugely importance at this stage. What is important is to recognise that this belief has serious consequence in the way that we live and view our lives, not to mention our perceived moral obligations and personal aspirations.

Carl Jung once wrote:

People who know nothing about nature are of course neurotic, for they are not adapted to reality. They are too naive, like children, and it is necessary to tell them the facts of life, so to speak – to make it plain to them that they are human beings like all others.

(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 166)

By this Jung meant that humans need concrete, physical contact with the natural world to remind them that they are animals of nature. Huddled in cityscrapers and in constant engagement with abstract ideas and environments of our own construction, we tend to forget this fact, in spite of it’s self-evidence. The delusion of which I speak is a common manifestation, and one which inhibits psychological wholeness.

Our scientific understanding of the nature of the universe can provide us much to combat this delusion. I ask you please indulge me while I spell out the obvious (that we perhaps ‘know’ but might not yet ‘feel’):

We are animals.

Our species and our selves are the result of the process of evolution of organic life.

The universe is the meta-process that enables and makes possible our very being.

We are comprised of the same stuff as any other living creature – and of any matter in the universe; atoms.

When we die and our bodies decay those atoms are recycled into other materials, forms and being.

These facts are non-negotiable. Any conclusions we wish to draw from the above might invite a variety of interpretations of varying validity, but we cannot reasonably discount our understanding of the above. It would serve us well to regularly repeat that thought for grounding and perspective; this is what is known, so let us start building our morality and worldview from that.

Escape from delusion

But again we come back to the crux of the issue; we might ‘know’ or acknowledge the above – but acknowledgement is not enough alone. We must feel this to be true; or, in other words, we must couple a scientific/rational understanding of our relation to the universe with an emotional or spiritual one. And this is crucial, because the absence of an existential foundation has great potential to warp our psyche and leave us with a permanent psychological limp. How can we be expected to maintain a balanced mental state if we are unable to recognise the most basic truths of our existence?

We cannot. Instead the narrow limit of our consciousness consigns us to be blown about by shallow emotion and egoistic drives. We would exist merely on the surface of life, with deeper forms of contentment rendered inaccessible. We would also lack a firm moral grounding – for how we view the context of our lives effects a huge amount of the small actions and decisions that make up our day-to-day.

The ultimate consequence is, in short, is misery – both personal and more general. We will be damned to live out our days without ever knowing how to access deeper states of contentment and happiness. Thus we are left to blindly discern aims merely guided by our wills; constantly goal-seeking – but when we achieve our goal (or if our will falters) we experience a moment of profound panic or fear. While the goal has been met, that feeling of a deeper satisfaction still seems to elude us. We ask ourselves: ‘Was that it? What now? What comes next?’ And so we might be led down a false path, building up a series of goals and achievements in an attempt to hopelessly chase a longer-lasting satisfaction – but if we lack a proper understanding about who we are and how our minds work, then we will never find it. And so we risk ending up like those miserable husks of humans I mentioned in my opening paragraphs.

And this, friends, is surely what we would like to avoid.

To me it seems our failure to recognise some that we share a common essence with the universe – or a failure to we feel we ‘belong’ here – is the root of all nihilism. To feel as though we are unwanted strangers whose cries echo endlessly in the halls of a cold, unfeeling world that cares not at all whether we live, suffer or die — this is a severely traumatic experience, especially for a species as psychologically fragile as we.

It is for this reason that I feel this delusion is the defining spiritual sickness of our time – but if think back to those foundational scientific claims, we can defeat this delusion. It is so clearly inaccurate given the facts at hand. Human life is like any other form of organic life; a process of the universe. Human beings are so obviously of life and of the natural systems on earth – so what stops us from recognising this?

Overcoming the delusion

It is our ego, the teller of lies, that fuels this sense of estrangement. While it certainly plays a useful psychological role, it also regularly infects our minds with delusion. It is like a parasite that will whisper endless untruths for the sake of its own survival. It would love nothing more than to endless bloat itself with self-satisfaction until we are completely consumed by a sense of arrogant entitlement. We ultimately suffer for the over-indulgence of the ego – and so too the people that we love and care for.

So, how can we combat the influence of the ego? Well, most importantly we need to be able to properly identify it’s influence. This requires the purposeful cultivation of detached self-awareness, introspection and reflection. To paraphrase Alan Watts; take care to watch your thoughts like an impassive observer – do this especially whenever you feel yourself in an elevated mood (say in a moment of anger of jealousy) and try to discern why this is taking place. The idea is to think about your thinking, and through this method you will begin to understand how your mind works, and from there gain the power to question the validity of the ego’s influence.

So now we have come full circle. The most desirable trait we can accumulate is knowledge about the self. Through this process we can gradually become aware of our ‘true’ selves (of which I feel I am beginning to get glimpse). The result is a pervading sense of contentment, the cultivation of meaning, and the avoidance of the bitterness of triviality. Above all, we greatly reduce the risk that we might wake up one day to find our life a failure.

It is one of the great ironies that the deeper we delve deeper into ourselves , the more the universe outside becomes illuminated. As Carl Jung wrote (and as I tend to quote endlessly):

Who looks outside; dreams.

Who looks inside; awakens.

Reflection and self-knowledge are the key to better understanding and connecting-with the true nature of reality – and in discerning how to live a more fulfilled and meaningful life. This is the most useful proposition that I hold.

(untitled)

Posted in Poetry, Prose by Lachlan R. Dale on December 18, 2013

mountain1

When our friends turned to enemies
We walked the earth in despair,
Followed by a black spectre
That shaded us from the heat of the sun.
Still, we walked and we thirsted,
And never could satisfy our urge
To shape gods with the faces of men,
And offer up our hopes before them.

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A statement of intent

Posted in Philosophy, Prose, Ranting and rambling, Zen by Lachlan R. Dale on August 14, 2013

(Unfortunately I do not know the copyright details. I apologise.)

I’ve tried to write on this subject countless times over the last year, but the words always seemed to ring of melodrama, causing me to abandon my work in disgust. No matter. I will write this now – and if this entry lacks finesse or flowing phrase, then so be it.

This year been a hard one. The end of my last relationship almost destroyed me. Without going into detail, the end was one I somehow had never foreseen – though optimism or wilful delusion I am unsure.

Foreshadowing (and following) this break I have struggled with bouts of depression. The experience has not been pleasant, but there is good I can take from it. I’ve had many friends who’ve suffered from anxiety, depression and other forms of psychological illness over the years; I have always tried to help and understand them, and this year has certainly taken me another step forward towards that end.

I have long comforted myself with the ideals of self-knowledge and self-development. I believe there are few more important tasks in this life than growing to know – and better – yourself. Your life should be an attempt to eradicate delusion and ego; to cultivate empathy and understanding; to break down the barriers between yourself and others; to understand and accept your flaws; and ultimately to work towards a state of enlightenment (or self-actualisation).

My past struggles with nihilism and my sympathy of absurdity and existentialism has led me to view sanity as a purely relative construct. I have always found psychological illness to be comprehensible; and I seem to have a knack at working out the dynamics of the psyche.

I’ve always wondered: are the people who think deeply about existence and the meaning of life, and who struggle to find meaning in reality – are they really less sane than those who might flutter through life unaware of the reservoirs that flow deep beneath the earth? Where one struggles, the other may self-delude — surely neither situation is ‘good’, but which will result in an enlightened or higher state? Which is ‘ultimately’ ‘better’?

All of this background has helped me frame my experiences this year in a positive and constructive light. That is not to say that times haven’t been hard — I’ve reached new lows; but I’ve also experienced moments of elation (the absurd paradox of emotional relativism!). My interest in psychology has armed me with the knowledge I must confront the root of my problems; that I must dig beneath the anxiety, study the meaning of my dreams, search out my compensations and delusions, and use the framework of eastern philosophy to help defuse negative mental states.

Of course I have maintained my dedication to the use of writing, drawing and playing music for catharsis — and, unsurprisingly, this has helped me immensely. I really don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say art has helped me keep at least a semblance of sanity intact. In the course of this year I’ve written some 15+ songs, a suite of poems, pages of prose and a whole host of scrawlings.

Musically my output has had two major streams – Jackals, which is an expression of tension, stress and an exorcism of negativity; and an as-yet-unnamed acoustic project, which has moved from moments of contemplation and soul-searching to celebrations of elation and fragility. While my work with Jackals is now finally being released, my work on the acoustic project has stalled. I feel no small amount of pressure to give this avenue of expression a release.

Recently I was struck a spark of insight; firstly, that the recovery from such a major change in my life will surely take time – and that I have no reason to pressure myself in this process. Secondly, that I could do with some physical and mental space to consider things in detail. In the brief times I’ve travelled alone this year the distance has proved exceptionally beneficial.

To this end I have planned a period of solitude and contemplation in the coming weeks. I will retreat to an isolated cottage in the Blue Mountains. Located in a valley between peaks, and with no other humans in sight, this will make the perfect location for some long overdue reflection.

My goals are threefold; to relax and ease myself of all tensions; to dig deep into my psyche and attempt to resolve the fractures within; and finally, to finally record the songs that have taken up the bulk of my creative energy this year.

I will stare at stars, lie in the sun, read books, draw, write, sleep and dream. My very honest hope is that this will provide something of a resolution to an extremely difficult period in my life — and I am optimistic about this.

My absence from this blog this year speaks volumes about my state of mind — I have been too clouded and too absorbed in my own anxieties to be able to reach the state of detached contemplation that I used to enjoy so regularly. My output has been self-absorbed and full of angst — and surely of little interest to anybody.

With some luck I will return from the mountains with words, music and a cleansed soul. I will share any insights that may arise.

An unpleasant condition

Posted in Poetry, Prose by Lachlan R. Dale on July 19, 2013
Flooded forest near Bucharest.

Flooded forest near Bucharest.

This state is defined by a hollowness and a distance.
I feel as if a shell; lacking substance; my consciousness
Registering little but a faint, weak pulse of light.
The internal void sucks me inward; I lurch from
It’s gravity. From all angles it pulls toward the centre
To devour; a vacuum constant and unrelenting.
Externally, things seem to be at a distance – I cannot quite touch them.
I seem to float through space; I cannot be sure of my grounding
Nor of my centre. Dizziness strikes me often.
Try as I might I find it impossible to connect with
Other human beings. Their glares piece through me.
The thought of another’s thought paralyses me.
Few things can reach me. People speak to me but
I simply am not there. Occasionally I might have some brief
Pass through the silence – but the breach is quickly repaired
Leaving my isolation complete once more.

My essence is ash to be blown away by a
Light autumn breeze. The immense density of void
that was once my centre is impossibly cold.
When I search myself I find nothing that has not been
Obliterated. Memories evaporate. I am transitory.
I am without worth or mass or substance. I am a process,
A transition of atoms whose state will soon pass.
I feel little but weakness as the sheer expanse of the
Void. Exhaustion crushes me. Indifference paralyses me.
At times I feel physically ill – as if some poison were
Coarsing through my veins; some manner of toxin
Weakening my bones, attacking my mind, plaguing
My thoughts. Each morning I awaken from a silent,
Dreamless sleep – but I am not rested. A cruel
Hoax. I yearn for respite, for solace, but am not
Sure where to look for them. When I play music
More emotion seems to pour from me than ever.
I am a point of collapse by the end of each song.
The effect is cleansing, but soon fades. I will try
To sleep once more to hope to arise in a warmer
Morning’s light. I will watch my thoughts. I will
Be patient and wait and hope for this to pass.

Dreaming, souls ablaze

Posted in Poetry, Prose by Lachlan R. Dale on June 15, 2013
Lomo by Salvador Dali

Lomo by Salvador Dali

We live and writhe inside our own minds,
Dreaming, souls ablaze, our eyes dilute and blur.
We awaken to find ourselves gazing inward;
Searching the structure of cells, at our chemical essence
Charged with electric light,
Hoping to uncover some secret that
Would grant us a spark to burn beyond time;
To carry our heat forever onward
Through the void and into eternity;
To some knowledge that we are not
Abandoned and left to wither away
With the dust and the ash,
To be reduced and swallowed by
The grinding machinery of the earth;
That we are more than our raw material;
More than a chance assemblage of
Atomic particles, that our transitory
Forms live on, somewhere, somehow.
But who are we to challenge the slumber
Of our silent gods? Who are we to
Escape the pull of gravity, to demand
The birth of a star so that we might feed
From it’s light?
Of these things we dream in our deepest sleep;
In the nights in which we can perceive
The resonance within us; the echoes
Of the ancients, the secrets of our
Animal lineage; the voices of trees and stone
That even now pulse within the depthless ravines
Of the spirit, whispering in our ears
Our shared past and inevitable end.
With all our being we seek resolution,
Our yearning enough to disassemble our form.
We must recognise our true nature and
Allow it to burn within our souls.
We must feed our lives with celestial fire;
Surrender to the oblivion of the eternal vibration
Which envelopes us; that can tear us apart
So effortlessly.
To know this, and love this;
To share this with another,
To spend each night basking in the light of stars,
Enraptured, blissful, intoxicated with life; –
This is all that fills my waking heart;
This is the true orientation of my soul;
This wish fills my nights; both those of sleeplessness,
And those of peace.

Aflame; dividing night

Posted in Poetry, Prose by Lachlan R. Dale on June 15, 2013

That evening magenta burnt up the blacks and blues of the mountain;
Thin sheets softened the stark skyline
And flames struck across the earth to divide
The night from the day.

I was there with you, huddled for warmth
And laid up against the trunk of some ancient tree,
Searching the skies for secrets in shadow cast
And wondering why, in the moments before the blackest hours
The world seemed to sheen and shine as if
Suspended in the dying light of day;
Like the sun was giving one final howl before the haze
Ran a chill to our souls.

We dug in a pit and clasped the cold earth,
Gathering clay to lay beside our heads.
Now the sky is shrieking, howling, aflame.
The birds join in; a screeching cacophony
Which reaches an almost unbearable peak.
All seems about
     to
          burst.
But, instead; a slow fade;
A hastened retreat.

The earth cools;
The lights dim.
And we shudder.

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Assailed by ocean breeze

Posted in Prose by Lachlan R. Dale on May 18, 2013

Ocean breezeAssailed by the ocean breeze, the boy walked on, following the worn track through the trees and toward the beach. At the waterfront he gazed into the water and lost himself in its volume. Still, he could not help but wish curses upon those who had wronged him. He kicked at small stones, feeling bitterness and suffering the injustice of it all. In his mind he tore his tormentors down; they were forced to acknowledge their wrong-doing; that his essence was more pure, more worthy than theirs could ever be.

These were childish thoughts, he knew, but they granted him a temporary feeling of power. He continued on the path onwards and upwards to a rocky peak above the waves. There he sat cross legged on a stone ledge and looked out to the horizon. He let the open space clear his mind, allowing the rhythmic beating of the waves eroding his sense of self. He focused inwardly and slowed his breath; he opened himself up to let the winds ring inside. As the sun warmed his body, the earth cooled his soul.

Up there on the peak the boy let his self dissolve.

At this point words become unnecessary – worse, they are useless; inherently false; clumsy, unwieldy objects that fundamentally fail to capture the essence of the moment.

The boy rested; allowed himself to be restored. Soon he would walk down the path once more to the absurdity of the world.

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The joyless and the defeated

Posted in Prose, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on April 21, 2013
By Ralph Steadman

By Ralph Steadman

I can comfortably conceive of my life as battle against The Joyless. I see them in droves; faces bloated, posture weak and hanging, constantly braying and complaining. They formulate the view that life is just one continuous plot against them; they believe they are denied what is rightfully theirs, but, lacking the energy and power to change their paths, they resign themselves to wallowing in despair.

They are The Defeated; humans who sing a warbling eulogy to their lives at every waking moment; their eyes glazed and hollow, colour and light drawn from them. These beings drain the lives of those around them. They stumble around without direction, a vacant look on their faces. Show them images from the birth of a star; the most beautiful galaxies in the universe and they would merely shrug their shoulders and resume shovelling greasy food into their faces.

They are the grazers; a mass of misery who are bent on inflicting their state on others through their social discourse. They are trapped in the well-worn lines of their thought; unthinkable they ever might displace their point of view with empathy of understanding – even momentarily. They can only dwell in their own apathetic sense of dissatisfaction, lacking the awareness to resolve the issues from which these feelings stem.

Given enough time their misery becomes all they know; their sadness becomes so banal, so commonplace that it begins to bore and sicken them – yet still they cannot escape! These are the people who pray for disaster; for car crashes; for tsunamis; for a demonstration of nature’s raw power; for war – if for nothing more than entertainment and as some absurd justification for their own melancholy mood.

I would give anything to ensure that I do not end up a passionless husk of a human secretly hoping for death but lacking the courage or conviction to end things. I see them in shopping centres and airports and pubs; these bloated and swollen men, looking hopefully and dejectedly about for someone to talk at. They want you to listen as they recall their past glories, then pull you down into their misery as they explain their fall from grace. They want you down in the gutter with them; to comprehend the sneers and conspiracies set against them. They had no choice; they surely could not have lived any other way. They are victims of circumstance; the game was rigged from the outset; they were played a bad hand.

My deepest sadness would be to become one of them; lonely, sad, deflated, completely dehydrated of any passion for life. I refuse to become one of them. My secret fear propels my onward to embrace life and love; to poetry and music; to friends and family. I pack my life to the brim in a ravenous search for meaning and contentment. Even if this state is ultimately unattainable and this search becomes the steady undercurrent of my time on this earth, then I feel those years will certainly not be wasted — but to resign yourself, to give in, to too soon anticipate a return to dust? That is surely the deepest loss for one still living.

A midnight musing

Posted in Poetry, Prose, psychology, Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on April 4, 2013
Mia Taniaka

By Mia Taniaka

Some days I am blessed with warmth; my soul radiates hues of magenta and burnt orange. I walk along rows of jasmine with the sun on my skin. My heart might flutter across sweet peaks or soar upon gusts of cool, crisp air. These are moments in which all the universe resolves itself; in which I am elated by the pure contentment of being.

If these days could only be captured, I would be forever enraptured.

But other days the expanse of the sky overhead seems to close in; my skin feels no warmth, and no scent can wake me from my misery. Inside I feel a dull ache, tormented by unattainable joy. This absence becomes all-consuming; my vision turns to grey. Life is now discord; an aberration. My misery becomes a mire, and if I am not mindful I can slip deeper still into the dark fire.

I watch my breath and still my mind. Inwardly I speak; let these days pass. Let another dawn come.