Non-Fiction Is A Tedious Bore - The Primacy Of The Imaginative Worlds Of J.R.R. Tolkein, Carlos Castaneda, Frank L. Baum, Ayn Rand, And The Brothers Grimm - Nights In The Mountains Meditating On These Fabulous Worlds - The Spiritual Context Provided By Ken Wilber And Gopi Krishna

Cultural Criticism - December 31, 1996 (a)

*1996.12.31. (a)

I do not like putting so much energy into writing non-fiction.  Non-fiction is a tedious bore; it does not inspire.  Life is about what you imagine -- not about what is.  Throughout my childhood until I was 20, fiction fueled my spirit.  The imaginative worlds of J.R.R. Tolkein, Carlos Castaneda, Frank L. Baum, Ayn Rand, the Brothers Grimm, and numerous science fiction writers were a godsend to me.  Such masterful works were they that they enabled me to sustain an idealism and sense of purpose that few others could match.

By the time I was 20, thanks to my mother and some great books, the seeds of idealism were irrevocably sown.  During the summer between fourth and fifth grades I read the entire Tolkein series.  I internalized the story and viewed my life as an epic quest; goblins and evil wraiths might beset me, but my physical endurance and courage would always win the day.  During fifth and sixth grades I read about a dozen Frank L. Baum Oz books fives time over.  Night and day I lived in Oz.  I met fabulous creatures; magic was the fabric of my life -- logic and social consensus mattered not a wit in Oz.  In Oz you could go as far as your imagination would allow.  I would stay up to 1:00 am on the weekends reading them.  I would often sleep with the book I was reading.  The emotional intensity with which I would run home to pick up where I left off was tremendous.  My heart would swell and I would leap on the book like a love-starved dog.  In sixth and seventh grades I remember walking around school lost in contemplation of hundreds of fairy tales: I was the prince; I broke the witch's charm; I won the beautiful princess; I claimed the piles of gold.  Even my basketball games at recess were extensions of my nightly absorption in fairy tales.  The hours of solitary practice after school for the basketball team were just a test of my worthiness to claim the princess, just another challenge to my courage and endurance -- and I, all the while, regardless of external circumstances, held firm to the conviction that the end goal was incontrovertibly mine.  It was always a matter of patience and effort, and the work that it was to win the prize was always so enjoyable, so inherently good and self-fulfilling, that the end result was never anything that concerned me.  In high school I practiced every day for the track team -- weekends, holidays, nights, track season or not. It was a way of life.  I did hill runs every night by myself, and I woke up early in the morning to jump rope and do high hurdle agility drills.  As often as I was in the dark like this, my mind would instinctively visualize Carlos Castaneda's experiences with Don Juan.  Sometimes the hills at night would be foggy.  I would run with my eyes closed and make my way up and down the roads using my "luminous fibers" -- energy extensions from my solar plexus.  I would always have to open my eyes to make sure I was on track, but it was thrilling to fantasize about a higher mode of perception in the world.  The fog and the night became my "allies," transmitting mysterious, profound knowledge to me.  The nights in the mountains would fill me with energy; I would come home from these 9:30 pm runs with a feeling of energy pulsing in every pore of my body.  I would end the run with ten minutes of stretching with the lights off in my room; then I would place my legs up on the wall with my butt propped up by a pillow and pushed as close to the wall as comfortable.  I would lay like this for fifteen minutes or more, entering a dream-like trance where the pulsing energy would flow into my head and fill me with a feeling of peace and extraordinary fullness. 

As I entered my last year of high school and the first couple of years of college life became much more complicated for me.  I came back from my first semester of college and cried, without really knowing why.  My bubble had burst.  I learned that society was not a perfect extension of my self-centered happiness.  I learned that the individual was not in control, was not the center of the world, and was subject to harsh social expectations: completing grueling, boring coursework; choosing a career; developing emotional, sexual, and verbal competence.  I thank God that I found Ayn Rand during this time.  Her books bridged the gap between my self oriented idealism of childhood and the demands of an imperfect, sometimes malicious world.  Her characters were sexual, political, social, artistic, intellectual, and economic -- traits I had never seen in Tolkein, Castaneda, Baum, or the brothers Grimm.  I soaked up her writing, casting a vision for myself that enabled me to maintain my individualism, my self-centeredness, amidst so many external forces and humiliating compromises.  Her work is by no means perfect in its application of a true individualism, but there was enough substance to her argument, and delivered so brilliantly, that it sustained me.  No other writer came close to Rand in terms of bridging the gap between idealism and realism.  Her writing enabled me to make the transition from adolescence into early adulthood.  I learned, for the first time, what it meant to be a complex social being. 

But it was soon thereafter that I craved more depth to my vision of a simultaneously spiritual and social being.  Rand's characters are aloof, unattached; their emotional centers are dead, abstracted.  Her characters did not really live to me; they were the products of a brilliant, but emotionally detached individual.  But my search yielded nothing; there was no writing that captured the essence of what my vision sought.  No one knew, or, for that matter, knows, what it means to be a fully spiritual, social being.  Every spiritual text and story I came across was a farce.  It was cliched and lukewarm.  Nothing rang true; it was all compromise. Nothing rang of undeniable spiritual force.  The writers were just making a living, beating on dead horses that hadn't breathed life for thousands of years.  Some writers had contracts to fill; others wrote to promote themselves and their self-realization seminars.  All I saw was redundancy, muddied insights, and base materialism.  It was at this point in my literature search that I had the extraordinary good fortune to encounter some authentic non-fiction.  The first was the autobiography of Gopi Krishna.  His words spoke with such truth and conviction that I was stunned.  I remember in the class for which it was read I exclaimed, bright-eyed and believing, "He did it!"  as if what he accomplished were the primary purpose of existence.  The professor and the whole class looked back at me in shock.  To me, Gopi Krishna's experience was not a matter of mere intellectual curiousity, but rather profound existential significance.  My heart told me that he was weaker than me, and that I would live to tell a greater tale of kundalini's unfoldment -- minus the life-threatening drama that plagued so much of his life. 

The other book that I was so fortunate to discover was Ken Wilber's, "Up From Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution."  It was not on any of my reading lists; a classmate recommended it to me.  Although I found it to be too abstract and disconnected from the nitty gritty of social life, it nevertheless appeared a breathtaking attempt to place human and societal evolution in an historical, developmental context.  For the first time since I was eighteen, I knew that I had the tools to live my life to the fullest.  With Ken Wilber, Gopi Krishna, and Ayn Rand I had everything I needed to navigate my spiritual path.  Wilber's work put Gopi Krishna's experience into a social and individual developmental paradigm.  Rand gave my socially oriented individualism the guts and the fire that Gopi Krishna never had.  With these writers at hand, and with my rich and steadfast imagination, my spiritual compass could never be thrown off. 

If I were to be true to my own developmental experiences, then I would now be writing novels -- intense stories that demonstrate a transcendence of the previous three writers.  In my heart, that is what I want to do.  I want to give people that come after me the tools to forge an imagination that can bridge the literary gap that has plagued me.  We have no stories of what it would be like to live a radically spiritual existence in our society.  The stories would, by necessity, be passionate, profound, humorous, tragic, and utterly pragmatic.  The perceptions of the protagonists would hit you in the heart and the gut as being inspired and truthful.  The protagonists would be paradoxical, mad, savagely humorous, forever holding up a mirror for us to see what a joke we all are with our seriousness and misconceptions.  I hope desperately to deliver on such writing.  It is a gap in our world's literature that demands filling. 

Unfortunately I am in the pathetic essay and autobiographical mode of writing -- no imagination here, just the facts.  I am in this mode because my dreams have brought me to a place where, unwittingly, absolutely everything in my life has been jeopardized.  No dreams, no mental abstractions, no amount of reading can do anything to help me now.  It is as if I was trailblazing a spiritual path for society to follow me upon, and just as I caught sight of the most extraordinary, longed-for vista imaginable, I ran head-long into an electrified fence.  My society placed that fence there, blocking my path into the Garden of Eden, blocking my path into the Land of Milk and Honey.  I tried to climb over the fence, but it now has a hold on me: paralyzing my consciousness, numbing my limbs, making it impossible for me to free myself and run back to the rest of society to forewarn them.  My dreams don't matter anymore.  I have used my imagination to the fullest and cannot go any farther.  All that matters now is the removal of that fence.  We have to turn the power off, pull out our wire cutters, call in the demolition teams, and tear the fucker down.  To that end my entire life will be devoted.  I don't give a fuck about spiritual transfiguration.  I don't give a damn about overcoming death itself.  I don't even care about getting out of this spiritual limbo and achieving inner light.  If I don't get the word out, if I cannot convince my society that it has erred egregiously, and that it must make amends, then all will be for naught for the spiritual evolution of our species.  The idealistic, passionate, imaginative, love-filled children of the future will suffer ten times worse than I did if I do not anticipate their needs and help them now.  Perhaps I will be just a bridge, pointing the way to the land beyond the electrified fence, but will never get there myself.  But I suppose, in terms of the evolution of our society, that such a role is important.  But it won't ease this feeling of profound spiritual frustration.  My pain is real, it will always be real.  Nothing can make up for my not being able to live to my spirit's potential.  Society has forced me onto this unbearable detour.  I don't care how many people attain enlightenment after me.  I will die not knowing what enlightenment is.  I will die not knowing the fullness and joy of God's love.  My evolutionary purpose will have been twisted, deformed, utterly foiled.  I had all the right ingredients.  I was equal to the task.  It is entirely unfair. 





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