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The Abyss Gazes Back

Updated: Feb 7, 2021

Today I'm seeing life as a stranger, dizzyingly stepping outside the facade of normalcy that life tends to build up naturally.

What if we had it wrong, if mindfulness and meditation and mysticism were elaborate distractions that fooled one into thinking they were taming a life that's actually too frightening for any of us to bear? I've been under the assumption that there must be a deep and timeless truth that runs through the history of this world, which can be accessed and felt and enjoyed by its most intelligent known species. It sure does feel like that is the case in moments of joy and connection. But are those moments truer than the terrible ones?

There's a great way of tricking yourself, where you go on with a behavior believing that you'll eventually be disgusted enough to stop. Except that there is no limit to excess, no boundary to madness. The way out is not through. There is no spring waiting at rock bottom.

My days of futile attempts to alchemize garbage with stomach acid are over. It wasn’t always trash, granted, nor did the food always have to be expelled. But the combination of the two was particularly potent; a sum greater than its parts, a ritual of worship dedicated to the absurd in which one could lose their sense of self almost fully. Hours could be spent wandering around an area, prowling, making quick dives in every trash can to skillfully retrieve anything that was barely edible. It didn’t matter, because it wouldn’t stay inside long enough to make me sick. Part martyr, part trickster, keeping reality at bay through bizarre adventures in self-flagellation.

Unhinged. My friend used the word to describe someone we met the other day. Since she said it I can’t get it out of my mind as an apt descriptor of my experience right now. Never has the fabric of reality felt so loose, never have I felt so relaxed amidst chaos. It’s exhilarating and yet I see how easily it can veer into darkness, how the utter lack of rigidity in my being could lead to real danger at any time. There’s a porous quality to this period, as if it were a particularly fuzzy node on the timeline, as if the realm of dreams had been invited in and started to mesh with waking life.

I made a Bukowski of myself and went to a girl’s place, someone I wasn’t particularly attracted to, right into the belly of a beast I knew would lead to mediocre sex. I felt something very dark in me as I felt the imbalance in our attractions to each other; a sense of power that both disgusted and excited me. The tension between her insecurity and her desire was appealing. It made me feel almost generous to have sex with her, even though I enjoyed it too. Afterward she kept telling me how beautiful she thought I was. It felt like the epitome of indulgence in a narcissistic addiction, a perverse satisfaction brought on by one-way seduction. I thought the role seemed feminine somehow... the cliche of the woman prized for her physicality and sometimes offering it up, almost charitably. I recognize it as a pattern in myself, anyway. I like testing my own magnetism, collecting proofs of it. I’m afraid feasting on sexual ego like this may be psychologically dangerous for everyone involved, though.

Philip K. Dick said that the symbols of the divine initially show up at the trash stratum. Arising from the core of our suffering and greed, the essential energy of desire is not separate from the sacred. Our basic appetite for transcendence gets funneled into the secular and crass fantasies that dominate modern life. This is the original meaning of the word sin: missing the mark. Lust, gluttony, they are misuses of essentially life-giving powers. Our addictions stem from a raw material, a spiritual thirst yet unformed, an unchanneled love.

A self-inflicted suffering that also somehow seems to come from an uncontrollable outside influence. The ancients would've thought it an evil spirit. It may be a helpful way to think about it, as spirits can be banished in a second, disappear as suddenly as they came. The reasoning around psychological problems is that they take patience to solve. One has to go through a lengthy process of undoing the knots in their brain. Can't we just do a ritual, sacrifice a goat and be done with it? Patience, patience, patience. What a maddening thing. You get to know it on sleepless nights, eventually running out of ways to distract yourself, and are forced to look at the grotesque bare face of reality.

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