The Middle Way

The Buddhist idea of the middle way is simple: you cannot force yourself to let go of more than you’re ready to.

Part of me is still a science fiction writer yearning for recognition.  Part of me is still a displaced Tommy who just wants to go home.

I cannot deny that nature, and so I make small concessions.

This year, I decided to buy a Christmas pudding to share with my fiance.  It’s certainly no surrogate for the life I lost nearly a century ago but it’s a piece of that identity that is still firmly within my reach and doesn’t cost a great deal.

I’ve paid online and I’ll go to pick it up at a Scottish shop in Southeast this coming week.  Somehow, it just feels right.

Long live the middle way.

By Way of an Answer…

As if by way of an answer to my previous post, a major attachment that refuses to die with my previous lives just wafted to the surface.

I went downtown yesterday evening to get a prescription filled.  I normally go to a pharmacy in downtown Portland to get my hormone pills because it’s on the way home from campus.  They had the tree lit, stands selling roasted nuts, and on every corner someone singing a different Christmas carol.  Something about it really struck at me harder than usual (last year I don’t think I got this depressed) but I didn’t know why.

Then this evening, I was watching a video by a British Youtube user who mentioned Christmas crackers, and it hit me just what was behind my generalized melancholy this holiday season: I’m homesick.

It’s been a hundred years since I’ve had a Christmas in England.  My last one would have been 1914, only a short while before shipping off to France.  I’ve been back to England since but I was never there for Christmas, though one year at my university they did serve us a Christmas dinner (it just wasn’t the same though, being surrounded by strangers and eating a very institutionalized version of the traditional classics).

Some of my strongest attachments are turning a century old now.  Why can’t I just let go?  I thought I was done crying for that life.

Maybe I won’t be done for a while yet.  That’s why I can’t transcend: I still want something I lost nearly a century ago even though I go through life trying not to think about it and I’m not always aware that it’s bothering me.

I thought I was doing well at not letting the war get to me until tonight.

Semi-Coherent Rant About Reality

The more I look into the ideas I had in my previous life, the more terrified I am, if for no other reason than they seem to be the topic of serious discussions.

The universe as a simulation?  There are people who have treated that as a serious topic of discussion.

The universe as a hologram?  That’s pretty much considered a solid theory.

And what’s beyond this hologram or simulation?  Are we all dead and lying in cold pac?  Or is that what the Black Iron Prison really is, a false reality that we’re stuck in?  If our world really is a simulation, who is running this show and what do they want?

And how did I end up here, if I was Phil?  Shouldn’t I have transcended?  Unless there really is no hope of transcendence or unless I was captured before I could ascend…

I’m beginning to wonder if anything matters, or if there is any way off of this ride.  That’s the leap of faith that Gnosticism, Buddhism, and Hinduism ask of us: to believe that it is possible to wake up from the endless dream and return to our true home in literal union with the divine.  But I know from my previous life’s writings that I thought for sure I was free and I didn’t fear death.

Was I cheated?  Was I foiled?  Or was I just deluded into thinking I’d be free when I had too many attachments and flaws to work out?  I know in Buddhism it’s believed that it takes many enlightened lives to achieve freedom from Samsara and become a Boddhisattva who can either return at will or leave as they please.  But what if that’s just a meaning-defining myth to mollify those who thought they were going to escape, only to reincarnate and remember that their hopes had been dashed?

I could go in some dark places with the likely conjectures from all of this.  I could eventually drive myself insane trying to figure it out.  I could also go about living my life trying to forget what I’ve learned about the path my soul has taken, but that feels unnatural and so unlike me.

I hope that everyone who said that this reality is a simulation is wrong but I have no reason to disbelieve them.  Whenever my current avatar dies, I’m constantly rebooted into another with a partial memory wipe and only a vague sense of who my previous avatar was.  But who is the player behind these avatars?  Who am I, or is there an “I” behind them at all?  What is real and how do I wake up, if I choose to reject falsehood?

I just want the truth.  I want to live beyond illusions.  I want to transcend.  I want to end this cycle of rebooting into a pointless realm of surrogate activity.  It’s fun being a science fiction writer and all but the real intelligence behind me, I think, must be so much more than that if it can be all these things I remember being.

Buddhists say that by wanting enlightenment, you become attached to the idea of enlightenment and defeat your own purpose.  But is that true?  How can I not want the only thing that, so far as I can tell, is real?

I’ll play out this scene where I’m a struggling writer one more time, but I don’t want to do it again.  I hope I figure out a way to either fade from the picture and unexist, or else a lasting solution to not mind existing so much.

What I’ve Still Got

One thing I’ve noticed is that skills carrying over from previous lives is not unusual in those who report having remembered another life.  I know someone, for example, who recalls a life as a pilot in WWII and has taken to the skies again in this life; I know someone else who was a doctor in the same era and is now in medical school.

And of course, I’ve taken to writing and studying religion, history, and philosophy again.  I suspect Phil’s life was not the first life I did this and I suspect my current life is not the last.  But there are other skills I must have had in previous lives that have, in fact, carried over.

The first time I fired a bolt-action rifle in this life, I found I could hit pretty much what I was aiming at.  It was a single-shot .22 that my uncle owned.  It didn’t take much time or effort to learn how to use the sights and within minutes I was nailing targets 50 yards away.  The best shot I ever took was also with a bolt-action rifle, though this was with a .50 BMG rifle owned by the late Dennis Avner (yes, I knew Stalking Cat and was sad to hear he had taken his own life a couple of years ago).  The shot was a 1′ wide target at about 700 yards.  My first shot was just below and to the left, so I put another round in, compensated slightly, and hit where I was aiming.  This was despite very little practice in the years since I first tried shooting.

The first time I tried anything resembling swordsmanship was using foam LARP weapons, and admittedly the style was a far cry from historic European martial arts tactics, but I found that I had a good sense of space and I knew how to strike where there was an opening.  I also found that despite poor fine motor skills, my gross motor skills are surprisingly good when I’m properly focused.  I look forward to the day when I can afford to study HEMA on a serious basis.

The first time I tried to ride a horse (aside from kiddie rides at a young age, of course) was once again at my uncle’s property, on a gentle old white mare he owned.  I had trouble mounting but once in the saddle with a brief overview of how to control her, I was able to travel quite comfortably on horseback.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t shod so I was limited as to how far I could go (I had to avoid rocks and pavement) but I was confident enough that I could have happily taken her down to the convenience store at the other end of the country lane had she been shod.

The first time I drove a car was terrifying, just like it was in my previous life.  This is only the second life I’ve ever had a driver’s license, amazingly enough.  One wonderful thing about growing up in the Southeast was I had miles and miles of country roads with relatively minimal traffic to learn the art of driving on, rather than the do-or-die world of California traffic.  By the time I faced the freeways of Southern California in this life I’d had more than a decade of practice (but it was still terrifying and I wouldn’t go out of my way to do it again).

And of course, I’ve been a stagehand in this life (just as I had in the mid-19th century).  It was a job I could and would happily do again if it were available, especially if I could be backstage in a grand old opera house like the one I remember.  I did once get to go backstage at the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, SC (an old Georgian play house that had been converted to a hotel, then re-fitted into a replica of the old playhouse in the 20th century) and it felt marvelous to be there.

It’s strange how all these things have stayed with me, and how comfortable and confident I feel with all of them.  It could be argued, of course, that I confabulated past lives doing these things by virtue of being comfortable with them in my current life and if not for the way these lives line up with so many other facts I might be inclined to agree.

One thing I haven’t tried in this life is sailing.  I suppose the opportunity never came up.  That isn’t to say that I didn’t feel something profound when they had an open house at the Charleston ports to see a series of tall ships up close.  I wanted so badly to take off with them around the world and now I kind of understand why.  The ship that stood out for me was a modern tall ship christened in 2000 called the Cisne Branco (White Swan) based in Brazil.  She was a beautiful vessel and I hope one day to go sailing on a ship like that, if only up and down the West Coast.  How I’d love to sail from Astoria to San Francisco, or Vancouver, while learning the ropes, just once!  But I think I’d save going around the Horn (as I suspect I did in the 1860s) for someone else.

I Had These!^18283950120-sku^H82151000001000@ADL4MF-adType^PLA-device^c-adid^46504699467

I’m almost completely certain I had a pair of Koss headphones like these back in the early 70s!  I remember them costing a lot more back then ($50, which is more than $200 in today’s money) and they’ve probably updated the internals a bit, but I insisted on having a pair.

OK, if I get some money from family over the holidays, I’ll indulge.

From An Old Journal

On the subject of music from the first half of the 20th century, I found an old journal entry dated January 31, 2009 that in hindsight tells me I really did remember more than I knew:

I sometimes listen to big band, swing, and lounge jazz from the pre-1955 era when I have a strange, detached sort of melancholy going on. In a way I guess it’s sort of invoking ghosts of the past. The authentic recordings sound like they’re being played from the end of a long, empty hall and it kind of feels like listening to spirits… not in a creepy way, but in a sort of soft “opening of the worlds” kind of way.

I’m not sure I can ever describe it accurately. It’s not music I listen to specifically just for the sake of the music like I do with more recent artists, or with the classics. It’s music that carries a strange sort of essence with it; not the essence of 1940’s NCO clubs and air raid shelters like Hollywood would have it so much, but the essence of a dark room in some big city apartment building with the neighbor’s record player on a little too loud. Maybe there’s a war on somewhere or maybe it’s just another day… the smell of an extinguished cigarette, the creak of an old wooden floor, the sound of a lone motorcycle on the street below but not much else, and somewhere on the street the dim glow of a neon sign half a block away.

My mind is full of vignettes like this from different times and places, and while I’ve no idea how they got there, it’s always the same things that switch them back on. Maybe it’s just an author’s imagination hard at work.

I think it was one such mood and listening to a short playlist of old big band and jazz recordings that got me to start writing [my second novel], oddly enough.

You know, in hindsight this was all just brewing beneath the surface and I was clueless.  That room I saw, I’m fairly sure, is my room in an old warehouse in Berkeley in the late 40s where I lived with gay beat poets.  I could picture it so clearly in my mind and still can.  This pretty much proves (to me at least) that my second novel- which was a gay-themed romance in a dieselpunk setting- was somehow born of my past life experiences as a young Bohemian in Berkeley.  I remembered those days fondly in my previous life and now I think they may have steered my writing well into this life.