What Is the Beauty and Truth Lab?
(excerpted from the revised and expanded edition of Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia)
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."
(excerpted from the revised and expanded edition of Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia)
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