Last month I bought a house. An old house formerly occupied by drug addicts and, by all reports, the location of much depravity and violence. I bought it (with a partial mortgage) because it was the only affordable property with the potential to meet our needs (myself, partner, & cat). But there’s more. I also knew that a house in need of a total overhaul better represented the state of my psyche. I wanted a challenge, as well as a house. A challenge is what I got. On the bright side, it’s in a great location (commercially zoned, next to a martial arts dojo and opposite a small art gallery), and it could allow for a little business, as well as place to live, garden, etc.
We are doing the work ourselves, that’s my wife and I with the help of Indian Joe, the team that (almost) brought you Beyond Dirt. Joe is not a contractor, he’s a prospector; but he seems to know pretty much all we need to know to get the job done, and we are now two weeks into the renovations and have filled up a 40-yard dumpster with all the material we have torn out, not quite with our bare hands but with crowbars and sledge hammers, mostly. What’s left is a little more than the bare bones, the essential structure. Already it looks a hundred times better.
During this initial period, I have felt mostly optimistic. In the first week or so, the house project came closer to satisfying a need in me than any book I’d ever written or recognition I’ve received. It’s REAL, down in the dirt, mundane, practical, and it offers very little for the ego to invest in or turn into feathers for its plastic cap. Yet the essence of the activity is the same: I am digging in the dirt, tearing down weak and unsound structures, stripping to the core to see what’s there, and turning what remains into a coherent structure/vision/meaning—and a place to live.
The house is, or was, certainly horrific. Or rather, what has been done to it and in it. But the house is not to blame for that, any more than the planet or our bodies are to blame for all the abuse they’ve suffered. It is innocent, as they are. And giving “TLC” to the house has felt like giving it also to myself; every nail pulled and piece of trash (including used needles, the horror!) thrown out has been clearing a space for a whole new energy to fill it—not only in the house but in my body and psyche too.
I’m sharing all this background because it relates to a piece I wrote in late January for Pijama Surf and which ran a couple of weeks ago. The piece was written before I’d even seen the house, but it should be obvious how it relates. It might even be described as prophetic.
There’s a lot of talk (maybe there always has been) about how material people need to be more spiritual but what about how spiritual people need to be more material? What sort of gardener wants to grow fruit but doesn’t want to have to deal with dirt? What’s so bad about dirt? What’s the matter with matter? The “secret” isn’t that we can use spirituality to change our material reality. The secret is the exact opposite: material reality exists in the form it does to help us to adjust our spiritual awareness to something closer to the truth of the matter, and to align ourselves with it.
[Famous last words!]
They say life is short; but if you think about how little there is to do that has any guaranteed meaning or purpose behind it, then life is absurdly long. A fruit fly lives long enough to lay its eggs and then dies. What sort of eggs are we laying, and why does it take so damn long?
There’s a transmission which needs to come through me, which I was designed to transmit. It can only come through me if and when I find the right receivers, those the transmission is for. Resonance with those receivers “out there” allows me to become receptive to the transmission “in here,” which I then transmit. Only then do I experience it for myself. Radio signals can’t come through a radio unless it’s turned on by a listener; until then, it’s just a funny-looking box.
If the medium is the message, then the message is also the medium. There’s no sound in the forest unless someone hears it. There is no audience in the theater of life. In the great evolutionary experiment of consciousness, there are no observers who aren’t participating. What you are looking for is what you are, underneath all the things you’ve accumulated that prevent you from being what you are. A signal in the noise of the world. The word wasn’t the beginning of the signal but the end of it. The Tower of Babble. And everything that begins with a word, ends with a word.
As a writer, I am still chasing after the same goal I imagined for myself thirty years ago. I am still fascinated by the same images and ideas that captured my imagination ten years before that, at the age of five (Marvel superheroes, mostly). I may have arrived marginally closer to that goal (the goal of becoming a celebrated artist, roughly) in those thirty years, but that’s nothing compared to how many times I’ve realized that the goal is illusory. I don’t just mean that it amounts to nothing in the light of my death and the eternity that comes after; that goes without saying. I mean that even achieving it wouldn’t resolve my internal discontent while I am alive. In fact, all the evidence so far suggests that success would only increase my angst.
Based on these observations, it starts to look like I’ve spent most of my life treading water instead of swimming—thinking about some future “end-point” rather than engaging with the present moment as-is. It’s a bit like someone sitting inside a dentist’s waiting room, flipping through magazines they have no real interest in, just to pass the time and keep their mind off the unpleasant encounter soon to come.
Having a solid base in life isn’t as desirable to me as it may sound to many people. I have been a nomad since I was seventeen. I have lived in a dozen different countries and maybe three times that many houses or apartments, including tents, squats, unfinished buildings, and parks. But time is running out for this body, as it is for every body. If my one, all-trumping goal is not to be a successful artist but to become 100% authentic, individuated, awakened, enlightened (words don’t count for much when we’re talking about a condition that almost no one can talk about from experience), then I first need to be properly established in the world. Why? Because, practically speaking, I can’t pursue that goal as fully as I need to until I am—mostly because it involves traveling to Europe and participating in [enlightenment teacher] Dave O events (for now at least)—but also because so much of my energy is taken up trying to “make ends meet.”
Then again, maybe this idea—that I need to get materially comfortable before I can really concentrate on spiritual liberation—is the root of the illusion that spiritual and material pursuits are somehow separate, or even at odds?
A plant can only grow taller as its roots reach into the earth. We are here to create a foundation for life, or Life, the conscious life force that created us, the force of our very own souls, so it can move in and take charge. In which case, the material pursuit, pursued cleanly, is the spiritual goal realized.
[This was written when I was still trying to buy another, more desirable property, a dream-house, and sorting out the paperwork. Since then, having bought the nightmare-house, I have found, at least to begin with (it’s early days yet), that becoming fully engaged with the “materialism” of the house has had a spiritually uplifting effect—like finally having a self-transcending mission. Or at least, it was like that to begin with. I’ve since experienced something of a comedown, maybe because the destruction, the easy part, is over, and on Monday the rebuilding begins. It may also be because, as the vision starts to become real, the sense of being committed to something—being unable to back out—increases. I may be feeling the downward pull of the “roots.”]
I start to feel trapped by the idea of being 100% committed to life, to a house, a town, this planet, this body. That clues me to something: spirituality and avoiding commitment are somehow entangled, for me at least. Yet surely it’s only through a direct engagement with the physical aspects of existence, in this time and place, in the here and the now, that spiritual engagement can occur?
How much of what we call “spirituality” has come out of avoidance, from attempts not to get sucked into the everyday pressures of living, to stay above it all, looking down on the world with a mixture of superiority and contempt, disguised as “compassion”? For the soul to be fully embodied (authenticity) means letting our attention go into all the shit we’ve spent a lifetime trying to avoid: all the areas of the body and the material world which have been closed off due to trauma, illness, grief, denial, dissociation, whatever.
[A description that sounds uncannily like moving into this house!]
Maybe attention even is the soul, a “thing” without shape or substance? And maybe, while the ego-mind tries to conjure up an imaginary “soul life” as a way to escape the trials and tribulations of being human, the soul is trying to come into life, to get fully grounded in the mud and mire of existence, to be fully expressed through the physical—like lightning looking for a place to strike? Burning down the house.
[Tearing it down anyway.]
It’s not about whether I get the house or not. It’s about learning how to inhabit my body more consciously, comfortably, and efficiently so the body can become a host for the pure, pristine, original consciousness that created it, so consciousness can move all the way in there and do whatever it needs to do. The body is the receiver, the soul is the transmission.
The negotiation between the two is going on, on levels seen and unseen. While I negotiate with realtors, brokers, and bankers to secure the house I want to live in, the soul proceeds with its own careful, considered motions towards the same end.
[Actually, not quite the same end: a horrifying piece of shit that requires weeks of work before I can even move in there. Not quite the “dream-residence-once-I’ve-sorted-out-the-paperwork” plan.]
Seen and approached with awareness, the material world is like a river that smooths rough stones and makes them streamline. Through the painful process of being fully immersed in the realm of things, souls become individuated, autonomous, and self-propelling.
[I will try to remember that, with every misaimed hammer blow and fudged paint-stroke to come.]
The soul is not a thing. But for it to be able to move through the world of “thing-ness,” it needs a body, and a body is a thing. Being a thing, the body wants things for itself (like a house to live in). But what the soul wants and what the body wants aren’t the same things.
[Right. My body wants a comfortable space to nest in; my soul apparently wants the hardship of having to build it practically from scratch.]
The soul wants the body to have what it needs so it, the soul, can do what it came here for, which is also what the body was created to do: transmit.
[That, and doing back-breaking work and getting used to endless filth, discomfort, and exhaustion.]
Be in the world but not of the world is what they say. I’ve generally assumed that it’s easy enough to be in the world, and that the hard part, the important part, is not to be of the world. But what if being all the way in the world is the only way to make sure we aren’t of it?
[Actually, I’ve managed to feel like I’m not really “of” the world by not being “in” it too deeply. Avoiding participating in the community gets tricky when you buy a notorious drug house in the middle of town and start tearing it down, however. Tomorrow, the electrician is due to rewire the whole place. His name is Norm. Norm owns the dojo next door. He’s a martial artist-cum-electrician—a Uranian Martian! Allying with Norm is part of my “Normalization Process,” ha ha.]
(Photos by Lucinda Horan)