Thursday, January 18, 2007

Poetry & the Sixth Sense (& the Soma)

Writing of poetry is often based on the soma, the five senses, the material of everyday life. It shares in the positivist assumption that only what we can perceive with our five senses is real.

But there is an inner knowing, that is not "supernatural"—the "super" is irrelevant, because all of it is natural—that can be called the intuitive sense. As something not measurable by scientific instruments, we usually ignore the awarenesses this "sixth sense" brings us: survival instincts; the trained sense of wrongness that soldiers talk about, that has kept them alive in dangerous situations; the feeling of "going with the gut" that leads one to right answers; the experience of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence. None of this is supernatural. None of it is even necessarily mystical—and since when did "mystical" become a pejorative term? That's both a misuse of the word, and a misunderstanding of its meaning.

Nothing is more ordinary. Nothing is more continuous and common. You see it all the time.

It's just that our culture, which is a materialistic culture, teaches us to dismiss and ignore any experience of intuition, and any evidence of it that we encounter. We dismiss as madmen and schizophrenics anyone who has visions; or we try to fit their visionary experiences into traditional, known, accepted religious molds, such as visions of angels, the divine figures we are familiar with, and so forth. This is all so that the report of the witness of the Mysterious doesn't rip up the social fabric too much. It's a way of not having to deal with the unexplained, because it might shake up one's own life. (Most people are not ready to have their lives shaken open; even if they say they are, they resist it with all their will.) It keeps consensus reality (mostly) intact. (Which is maya, illusion, of course.)

It's no wonder most people who live with this ordinary, intuitive, visionary sense choose not to talk about it. They will face denial, dismissal, retribution, and the closes ranks of the close-minded, all their lives. I have heard the story over and over again, among people who have been drawn to any of the neo-pagan nature religions, how these people would "see things" all their lives, be dismissed or outright abused by mainstream religious institutions.

There's a reason there is so much anti-Christian sentiment amongst neo-pagans: it's because of the personal pain many have suffered at the hands of traditional religious authorities. The same animosity, for almost the smae reasons, has a strong presence in the LGBT community. I do not share this animosity, I only report its presence.

It's perfectly possible to witness a miracle in the middle of a crowded street that no one else sees, because most people have become adept at seeing only what they want to see, and at inventing rational explanations that allow them to go with their lives undisturbed, the rationalize the intrusion of Mystery into their ordinary day. Man: the rationalizing animal. It's only when people encounter synchronicity face to face, in ways they can't get around or deny, that they start to imagine that there might be a wider, hidden world beyond that of their everyday lives. Again, this hidden layer of the world is not supernatural, but natural.

When you start to "remove the veils" from your eyes, when the doors of perception are op't, these sorts of intuitions become commonplace. Belief is irrelevant, in the face of experience, if you maintain an open mind. One potential stumbling point, however, is that when "the doors of perception" are opened, it's hard to close them back up again. So, caveat emptor.

None of this is anything new. What's new in our era is two things: 1. that the language and methodology of science, as practiced in some branches of theroetical physics, has come to accept the possibility of the Mysterious, the Unknown and unknowable, if not to actively embrace it; 2. with the release of centuries of hidden knowledge in the middle of the last century (exemplified in the East by the Dalai Lama being exiled from Tibet, and in the West by the Council of Vatican II), mysticism has "gone mainstream," so that people are actually talking about it now, and have a developing language with which to talk about it. True, the language is still developing, and as yet contains a lot of snake oil.

Synchronicity is a word coined by C.G. Jung to mean, a meaningful coincidence. Synchronicities are often encounters with numinous occasiona, liminal experiences; they give one a sense of living, for a moment, at a heightened level of consciousness. All the senses, the five senses and all the rest, come alive, we become aware of much more than usual, including the kinesthetic sense of prioperception. We might feel "awake and alive" in contrast to our everyday world of dulled, routine senses. (Formulated in Hindu-Buddhist terms as maya, illusion.)

In such a state of heightened awareness, it's almost impossible to not experience a synchronicity of some kind. This is actually because synchronicities happen all the time, it's just that, for the most part, we ignore or dismiss them. Perhaps intuition is nothing more than being open to synchronicity.

Cause and effect in linear, progressive time is not what this is about. Can one person "cause" a hurricane? (Edward Lorenz, the discover of the strange attractor, formulated the butterfly effect as a meteorological explanation.) A perhaps more meaningful question might be, what am I in alignment with that formulated the timing of external, world events in parallel to my thoughts and inner world? Or, why is this apparent conjunction of events meaningful? Most Jungian psychologists would then go within, and direct the next questions at the client's inner world; some, increasingly, would accept the synchronicity as is, and work with its meaning in the outer world.

Most of my poetry is rooted in these kinds of experiences.

I don't write rationalist, intellectual, positivist, narrative-based poetry (narration is based on the assumption of linear time, which both quantum mechanics and mysticism explode). I get a lot of grief about that. I don't care. Everyone has to live their own life in the way they see best fit. It's only a problem when people try to convince other people that their experience is better or more true to life than anyone else's. (Thinking your way of life is more true than someone else's is also maya, illusion.)

So, I would say, if your senses, any of your senses, lead you in a direction, whatever that direction is, report on it in your poetry. It is all still poetry of soma, poetry of the body and the whole self. (But show us, don't tell us; all "telling" poetry is based in the head, not the soma.) There have been attempts to do this in poetry over the past century—I do not include the Surrealists specifically because they never got out of their heads, and they explicitly stated that they were mining the subconscious for artistic raw materials, first and foremost, but as a tool to be exploited—from Antonin Artaud to Neruda to the Beats to others. Auden, as much as I respect him in other ways, remains a "head" poet rather than a "soma" poet, and typifies many of the bodiless talking heads who have followed him. Frost is far more somatic.

I suppose literature is inherently very much more a "head" art than a "soma" (such as dance and music are), and one supposes intellectualism might be a harder habit to break than in other media, such as painting and music. Anthropologists and art critics alike have talked about "the shock of the new," but shock doesn't last all that long, unless you resist it; you either get used to it, or deny its existence. (Typified by jazz musicians who declare late Coltrane to be not-music, and some painters who think that abstract expressionism was just a temporary detour.)

To start towards a poetry of all the senses, including the subtle sense of intuition, I would recommend the sensual poets of Latin America as a good place to start. Neruda, Paz, etc. I would also recommend the always-sensual Greek poets, especially the moderns such as Cavafy, Elytis, Seferis, Sikelianos. I would also recommend books like Isabel Allende's Aphrodite and Barry Lopez' River Notes and Desert Notes as exemplars of poetic, sensual language.

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