Twisty Healing Stories with a Pronoiac Theme(excerpted from the revised and expanded edition of Pronoia Is the ANtidote for Paranoia)
CONVERSATION WITH ETERNITY
Beauty and Truth Lab researcher Firenze Matisse traveled to Antarctica. On the first day, the guide took him and his group to a remote area and left them alone for an hour to commune with the pristine air and unearthly stillness.
After a while, a penguin ambled up and launched into a ceremonial display of squawks and stretches.
Firenze responded with recitals of his favorite memorized poems, imagining he was "engaged in a conversation with eternity." Halfway through his inspired performance of Thich Nhat Hanh's "Please Call Me by My True Names," the penguin sent a stream of green projectile vomit cascading against his chest, and shuffled away.
Though Firenze initially felt deflated by eternity's surprise, no harm was done. He soon came to see it as a first-class cosmic joke, and looked forward to exploiting its value as an amusing story with which to regale his friends back home.
Beauty and Truth Lab researcher Michael Logan was the first person to hear Firenze's tale upon his return from Antarctica. "You might want to consider this, Firenze," Michael mused after taking it all in. "Penguins nurture their offspring by chewing food -- mixing it up with all God's enzymes -- and then vomiting it into the mouths of the penguin babies. Perhaps you weren't the butt of a cosmic joke or some Linda Blair-esque bad review, but in fact
the recipient of a very precious gift of love. Who knows?"
Now Firenze has two punch lines for his tale of redemptive pronoia.
FLIP-FLOP THE TRAUMATIC IMPRINT
Beauty and Truth Lab researcher Artemisia had just begun menstruating, and was suffering from debilitating cramps. Massive doses of ibuprofen were not relieving the distress, so she went to her regular acupuncturist, Dr. Lily Ming, to get relief.
Dr. Ming had Artemisia lie down on the table and proceeded to insert 10 needles in her belly and hand and ear. Then Dr. Ming introduced a treatment that Artemisia was unfamiliar with: She lightly pounded the nail of Artemisia's left big toe with a small silver hammer for a few minutes.
"Why are you doing that?" Artemisia asked.
"It is good for the uterus," the doctor replied.
Indeed, Artemisia's cramps diminished as the doctor thumped, and in the days to come they did not recur.
After the session, as Artemisia prepared to leave, the usually taciturn Ming started up a conversation. Artemisia was surprised, but listened attentively as Dr. Ming made a series of revelations. The most surprising was Dr. Ming's description of a traumatic event from her own childhood.
During the military occupation of her native Manchuria, a province of China, she was forced to witness Japanese soldiers torturing people she loved. Their primary atrocity was using hammers to drive bamboo shoots through their victims' big toes.
The moral of the story: Dr. Ming has accomplished the heroic feat of reversing the meaning of her most traumatic imprint. She has turned a symbol of pain into a symbol of healing.
WHAT IS THE BEAUTY AND TRUTH LAB?
The Beauty and Truth Lab is an ever-expanding web of think tanks and mystery schools devoted to exploring pronoia. Since I launched the prototype in October 2001, 22 other branches have sprung up in basements, barns, and bedrooms all over the world: 16 in North America and others in Amsterdam, London, Berlin, Florence, Italy, Aix-en-Provence, France, and Sydney, Australia.
All of these, including my own in Marin County, California, are similar in spirit to pirate radio stations. They're not registered, incorporated, or licensed, and Goddess forbid that they should ever become the canonical hubs of a franchise.
That doesn't mean I eschew power, authority, and wealth. My own branch of the Beauty and Truth Lab is stationed in a garage next to the house I rent on the seedy outskirts of suburbia, but I'd have no problem moving to a more expansive location, like say, a conference center on a 100-acre compound in an idyllic place that the original inhabitants of this continent regarded as a power spot. And I'd love it if this book sold a million copies, or if Beauty and Truth Labs were as common as 7-Elevens in 10 years.
On the other hand, I'm happy with whatever blessings life conspires to bring me. If it's to my and your ultimate benefit that this book reaches no more than 50,000 wise guys and riot grrrls, I will celebrate that outcome. And my garage-based laboratory is fine just the way it is, with its sloping floor and row of tiny windows darkened by the exuberant persimmon tree outside. The modesty of its structure is a constant reminder that the most important aspect of my work is building the Beauty and Truth Lab within me. As I prod my imagination to nurture ever-more-detailed visions of love, compassion, joy, freedom, beauty, and truth, I'm better able to spot and name all those good things in the world around me. I also become more skilled at creating them.
My humble headquarters brings another advantage. It encourages me to regard everywhere I go as a potential extension of the Beauty and Truth Lab. My experiments aren't confined to the hours I spend in the solitude of my ivory tower, but also spill out into the fertile chaos of daily life.
On one epiphanic occasion, an eight-lane highway at rush hour turned into a temporary Beauty and Truth Lab. It was just a few days after my return from the Burning Man festival where the dream of the Lab had hatched. I was driving on 101, the artery that bisects Marin County.
As I cruised at 65 mph between Larkspur and Corte Madera, a blonde in a Jaguar convertible with the top down passed me on the right. Perhaps distracted by the chat she was enjoying on her cell phone, she suddenly zipped in front of me. After hitting my brakes to avoid rear-ending her, I honked my horn to express my annoyance. In response, she careened over to the left lane, then slowed down and waited for me to catch up. I avoided eye contact at first, but finally looked over. Quaking with agitation, she was flashing me a middle-finger salute and a mad face as fierce as a Tibetan demon. Her car was veering closer to mine. Might she actually crash into me on purpose?
I was quaking with agitation myself. My adrenaline surged, threatening to explode to mushroom cloud proportions. Curses were rising from my gut to throat. At the same time, I resisted it all. I didn't want to be possessed by stupid rage because of the carelessness of a bad driver. Such a trivial eruption of my fight-or-flight instinct was against my religion.
Then a miracle happened. As if through divine intervention, without any prompting from my will, fond memories of Burning Man surged into my imagination. I was back there on the ancient lake bed with my stack of baby wipes, intimately conversing with the Goddess of the sun. I could hear the thump of music in the distance and feel the desert breeze on my cheeks.
The stabbing rage that had filled my abdomen dissipated. In its place, a whirlpool of warmth spiraled around my heart. It was a luxurious, sensual feeling, almost erotic. Then came a prick like a needle popping a water balloon, followed by a gush of sweet release. A heart orgasm? I was suffused with a sense of well-being. All was right with the world, and I felt a cheerful affection for everything, even the mad woman in the Jaguar.
As urgent as my wrath had been just a few moments before, so now was my tenderness. I felt triumphant. For the first time in my life, I had conquered an adrenaline rush of anger as it was happening. In comparable situations in the past, I had always needed a cooling-off period before I could soften my heart.
It was as if I had succeeded at a difficult game that required all my macho prowess, only the prowess in this case was demonstrated through love instead of strength and cleverness.
I looked over at the crazed monster in the car that was on the verge of sideswiping mine. She was still glaring at me as if transfixed. Her demeanor had not lost any of its obscene savagery. Had she even glanced at the road in front of her recently?
I rolled down my window and leaned my head out. Less than ten feet now separated our faces. She looked as if she were about to leap out of her seat and pounce on me. Just in time, I smiled and blew her three kisses. Then, summoning my ample powers of vocal projection, I boomed out the words, half-singing, "I love you. I have always loved you. And I will love you until the end of time." I put my hands together in the gesture of prayer, using my knees to steady the steering wheel, and bowed my head in her direction.
I was utterly sincere. There was not a speck of sarcasm or irony in the mix. At that moment, I was a bodhisattva linked directly to the undulating love of the Goddess. I had no doubt that a radiant beam of divine sweetness was emanating from me, bathing the mad woman in a palpable ray of lusty compassion. She had to be feeling it.
There was one more gift I longed to deliver: the talisman I kept on my dashboard. It was a spectacular piece, meticulously constructed by my friend Calley, who was an adept in a Qabalistic mystery school as well as an expert in origami, the Japanese art of paper-folding. She had taken eight one hundred-dollar bills -- real legal tender -- and folded them into the shape of an eight-pointed star. Golden threads, small rubies, fragments of a meteorite, and the 400 million-year-old fossilized penis of a daddy longlegs were the other essential elements. Everything was mounted on a circular disk of gold, six inches in diameter.
I treasured the piece. Calley had made it for me at a time in my life when I was purging myself of old, ingrained desires that were no longer in harmony with my evolving ideals. The kind of fame that I had coveted in my early years of being a rock musician, for instance, no longer interested me. Nor did my former fascination with having an endless variety of sexual partners. Calley invoked her sophisticated understanding of Qabalistic and astrological principles to design the talisman so that it would supercharge my ability to change my life in accordance with my will.
This was the gift I wanted to bequeath to my former adversary, Jaguar Woman. Her convertible top was down and our cars were nearly touching, so the risk of missing my target was small. Taking my beloved power object in my right hand, I reached out the window and flung it. She swerved away but not out of range. It fell into the front seat of her car.
I returned my gaze to the road ahead, checking to see if the divine guidance that had been pouring through me had extended to keeping my car on track. It had. A few seconds later, I returned my gaze to Jaguar Woman. She was holding up the talisman as she stared at me. Her face had turned innocent and awed, almost reverent, as if she had seen the Ghost of Christmas Future arm-in-arm with a long-lost loved one. I guessed that her demons had withdrawn.
After that her car slowed, quickly falling behind my pace. In my rearview mirror, I observed her making her way to the far right lane. She drove carefully, using her turn signal. She got off at the next exit.
In the midst of my exuberant oneness with all of creation, a tinge of sadness crept in. I mused on how I'd never know if my victory over the angry devil within me would produce any lasting effect on Jaguar Woman. Would she fully appreciate the love I invoked in response to her attack? If nothing else, surely the gift of the talisman would change her life forever, right?
As I sped toward the Golden Gate Bridge, I remembered a quote I'd once heard attributed to basketball coach John Wooden: "You can't have a perfect day without doing something for someone who'll never be able to repay you." I mused on the fact that while this was a relatively selfless approach to giving gifts, it was still imperfect: Maybe the recipient of your largesse couldn't literally pay you back, but he or she could think wonderful thoughts about you; your ego would benefit. No, a more ultimate expression of generosity, an improvement on Wooden's formulation, would be to give anonymously to someone who couldn't repay you.
Which was what I had just done. Rather than bemoaning the fact that I'd never know whether or how Jaguar Woman would benefit from my gift, I realized I should celebrate.
At this point in my impromptu Beauty and Truth Lab experiment, I had settled into full meditation mode. Though I was barreling along a crowded freeway at high velocity, my brain was enjoying an expansive perspective made possible by an abundance of alpha waves. I embodied the definition of meditation offered by the Hindu sage Patanjali: "an unbroken flow of knowledge on a particular object."
My stream of consciousness flowed on to the next clue, advice I'd once heard articulated by the Dalai Lama. He said you should work as hard as you can to fight for justice and reduce suffering -- even as you accept with equanimity that all of your efforts may come to absolutely nothing in the end. My translation: Give your best beauty and live your highest truth without expecting any rewards.
My unbroken flow of knowledge glided on to the next thought, this one planted in me by the author Rachel Pollack. "We cannot predict the results of healing, either our own or the world around us," she said. "We need to act for the sake of a redemption that will be a mystery until it unfolds before us."
I looked around my car for something to write on. At the end of my drive I'd be meeting a potential investor in San Francisco, and I wanted to record the results of my spontaneous Beauty and Truth Lab experiment before having to hand myself over to the business part of my brain.
There was only one surface available to take notes on: a piece of junk mail lying on the floor in the backseat. Poorly designed, it had a lot of empty space on one page. I balanced it on my thigh as I recorded the notes that became the basis for what you've just read.
A half hour later I was at 16th Street and Potrero in San Francisco, where I scored a parking space in record time. Before getting out to go to my meeting, I sat in my car and composed the last few paragraphs of this report. They read as follows:
First there was the "Baby Wipe Communique," and now there's the "Blank Space on a Piece of Junk Mail Communique." I prophesy that the future will bring the "Bar Napkin Communique," the "Grocery Bag Communique," the "Mulberry Leaf Torn Off the Tree Next to the Library While I'm Walking by Communique," and many others.
A new tradition is announcing itself. It reveals I've got to be ready to conjure up the Beauty and Truth Lab at a moment's notice, whenever a pressing experiment needs to be done -- even if it's in my car, a sports bar, the check-out line at Safeway, or on a stroll downtown.
This is not to say that some future Beauty and Truth Lab breakthroughs won't also unfold on the beach after midnight on the winter solstice or on my meditation pillow after three days of fasting and praying.
But I vow to be vigilant for the possibility that any place and any time may become the holy ground where I can commit radical acts of pronoia or gather revelations that will change my mind every which way about the mysterious, ever-deepening meanings of pronoia. I promise to seize the pregnant pauses, leap into the empty spots, and squeeze through the cracks in the system.
© 1995-2013 -- Rob Brezsny. All rights reserved