Italicization Of Experience

For the last month I’ve been inching my way through this book, The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan. It’s an interesting read with a unique perspective on the plant kingdom. He tells the story of four plants (and their fruits) and how humanities story has become intermingled with the story of these plants (and vice versa) for hundreds and thousands of years.

Sometime last week I arrived at the chapter on marijuana. It has been a fascinating chapter, to say the least, which has helped to put words to an experience that many people have had over the centuries. The awareness of existing in the Now is one that eludes most of us for all of our waking lives, save perhaps for those transcendental bubbles that float in front of us allowing a brief examination of the shape, size and color of the sphere just before it disintegrates back into ether from whence it sprang.

These moments of perceived clarity, when the curtain is lifted (or dropped) and you see that it’s only one small man shouting into a giant megaphone, come without warning. The Emperor stands naked for a split second and then in the same moment is clothed again with the projections and manifestations of the current culture and the stories it’s telling itself about existence.

Pollan quotes Carl Sagans thoughts on “being high” and what the real struggle might be after coming down from the experience:

“There is a myth about such highs, the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved while high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day…If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I'm high I know about this disbelief. And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say, “Listen closely, you sonofabitch of the morning! This stuff is real!”

But this entry isn’t about “being high”. It’s about being in the moment and how much of a struggle it seems to be for most of us to achieve that being. Our thoughts are constantly pulled to some future bliss (filled with pastures unimaginably greener than any you may happen to inhabit in this current time and space) or past horror.

I spoke with a good friend yesterday about how I seem to be perpetually haunted by a deep sense of discontent with the “here and now” of wherever I happen to find myself. It seems to me that in order to live a simpler, saner and more content life I must learn to focus much more on the beauty of whatever moment I happen to find myself in than on how this moment could be better if only...

Really honing in on the now is more about turning off that constantly churning motor of past and future and allowing your mind to sit quietly in the present as it is.
For those magical moments in which I have been able to examine the ether with a clarity like never before I am often rewarded with the sensation of novelty about things which I have seen or heard a million times before. There are many varied and intricate layers to any moment we happen to find ourselves within.

Just this morning Pollan gave an example of novelty that made the Deadhead in me smile from ear to ear. The significance of this particular example is exactly what I was envisioning:

“You know how it goes, this italicization of experience, this seemingly virginal noticing of the sensate world. You’ve heard that song a thousand times before, but now you suddenly hear it in all its soul-piercing beauty, the sweet bottomless poignancy of the guitar line like a revelation, and for the first time you can understand, really understand, just what Jerry Garcia meant by every note, his unhurried cheerful-baleful improvisation piping something very near the meaning of life directly into your mind.”

The grass beneath my feet couldn’t be any greener.


Moth On Grid



It’s 11,880 miles away, and as a result should feel far enough removed for me to not even give it a second thought. Yet I do. Headlines tell a tragic story, kindergarten children being murdered in far away Chinese cities. Cities I have never heard of and can’t even pronounce the names of.

I can’t ignore the headlines. They tell too much of our common story to be dismissed as mere insanity. The world is changing, changing faster than any time that has come before it. Empires seem to rise and fall overnight. Everything seems to be in a boom or bust cycle. Entire nations booming and busting. Displacement of whole families, villages, cities.

In all of this “progress” I wonder. I wonder what is the real cost of this supposed “advancement”? What is the true cost, in humane and human terms, of what we are doing?

And really, what are we doing? I was telling my mother that it feels as if all of humanity is rushing headlong toward the edge of a precipice. Some of us can see the edge clearer than others. Some of us are wondering what’s beyond the edge. This is a strange time to be alive. A strange time to be a part of the human race. Never before have so many of our common destinies been so intertwined.

We are rushing at break neck speed toward something, and I hear barely even a whisper being murmured about what that something might be.


The Wonder Of Place

I’ve spent a long time listening, and the story is still being told. The four seasons of nature instill within us the hope that our own life seasons will somehow blend into this seamless transition that lie between each turning as it comes.

This last year has found me starring out of windows, out of doorways and out from beneath boughs of evergreens and hardwood branches laden with life. This has been a difficult season, one of great beauty the likes of which I would venture to say I’ve never known in any of the 29 years that have preceded it. Also one of unprecedented despair, chilling loneliness and debilitating hopelessness that’s brought me to my knees and woke me from sleep, defenseless and starring into the void from my bedside long past the midnight hour.

The tension between utter insanity and irrevocable bliss has never been strung tighter. Never before has the lens of perception been so tightly focused on the natural world around me. The spiritual is something I am learning about, a new way of viewing my place on this planet and the planet that holds me in place. I am not learning new boundaries, only the ancient boundaries that have always been known by those who are watching. It is a way of respecting this place and the people that inhabit it. It is a way I have to relearn, a way that a part of me has always known but is now in the process of remembering.

I am in the midst of what seems to be the almost glacially slow process of trusting myself again. Through learning to trust nature, learning to trust the cycles of life, decay, rebirth and renewal I come out from within that frightened place in my mind and step into wonder.

It’s been said that the mind is a terrible thing to waste, even more so I am realizing that the mind is a terrible place to waste away inside of. The movement from mind to heart is a slow, almost imperceptible journey. Yet a journey is underway.

This place I stand, this middle place somewhere between all that has come before and all that may lie ahead, this is a good place to be. No, not an easy place, and not an altogether pleasant place, but a beautiful and authentic place nonetheless.

I’ve been in this place before, but I was very young and the memory of it is too far way, lost in the dense forest of growth that springs up in the mind as the seasons fade from one year to the next.

As Barry Lopez once said, “We simply do not understand our place in the universe and have not the courage to admit it.”

With this in mind I continue on a journey that is nothing more than a human trying to admit his lack of understanding of the “place” he finds himself. I do not know this place but I know that this place, this place most assuredly knows me.