“I had come to Esalen supposedly to find something outside the industrial culture of the great American middle class, but when confronted by the sexuality and madness that lay beyond my old borders, I rushed back. I was threatened because I knew I could not pass the test, and so, for all my cherished natural-head experiences, my agon with [the acidheads] was not valid. I had no right to attack [their] way unless I could walk through this hell without any beast within me rising in recognition of the beasts around me. For all my expensively acquired knowledge, I had no knowledge that was of any use in this world. I had spent ten years in and out of fellowships, continents, degrees, and academic publications, but I was still no higher up than I was at eighteen, before that grand tour had begun. I had been traveling sideways into many interesting places, but I had not moved one inch up. I could put down the sillier pretensions of the hippies and dazzle some people by pointing in the right direction, but I had not gone there and come back. It was all disembodied knowledge that didn’t yet belong to me. I knew what I said was right, but I also knew that it was getting time to shut up and take a different kind of grand tour in the next decade. And so I went to bed on the third night full of a self-disgust I had not expected to find in Esalen’s world of ‘More Joy.’”
“Going Beyond it All at Big Sur”, from William Irwin Thomson’s At The Edge of History.
If I begin, simply enough, by saying that Terence McKenna broke me in my youngest, most formative days, doing an end-run around Teilhard and laughing at the absurdly safe materialist fantasies Alvin Toffler, I can only say that I did my best to forget it in all of the years that followed. But the psychedelic experience, as with Crowley’s experience after the dictation, and his subsequent ambivalence toward The Book of the Law, can not be put onto a shelf, can not be ignored: it is the quality of the Eschaton that everything inevitably must point back to it, a sort of gravitational singularity that I ended up falling into endlessly.
I even ran away from psychedelics for the better part of a decade, knowing full well that the visions they inspired bordered on the insane. How could a twenty-year-old acid-addled MIT flunk-out come to grips with the end of everything? Put that down, Mark, ‘cause it’s not real.
Imagine my surprise, in my Cambridge loft of early 1990, when, after getting my hands on the first acid I’d had in seven years, I found myself back there once again, but able to face it squarely for the first time. Thus began the great project of my life, one which led me far from the quiet comforts of home, and into a brave new world which could not have been manufactured for any fiction.
I imagine pretty much the same is true for Terence. After all, who really wants a vision of the End of the World? That is the path of Cassandras countless, most inhabiting the interiors of mental institutions, or, in this more enlightened era, chemically straight-jacketed with anti-psychotics and released to the dromomania of the streets. When it came, some 25 years ago, I can imagine the depth of loneliness he felt: I’ve been there, and while I can only follow in the steps of his initial discoveries, the revelation of the purpose of the cosmos is well, dislocating. What do you do once History has announced its intention? What point indulging in the hide-and-seek that is the denouement of culture? We can forget that we are One, or that life is One, but with everything coming to a close quite so quickly, why bother? How can anything be of any significance against the terminal event of Time?
In the chill, foggy summer of 1998, because I had been invited, and because nothing else seemed quite so relevant, I paid a call on the Esalen Institute, located in the sacred beauty of the mid-California coast, dramatic cliffs dropping away to an endless roar of foam and spray and the sensuous sucking sounds of the pebbles in the tide. We were the advance party, Ronan and I, sent out to scope the scene and establish the vibe before the main party of the posse arrived on Friday. And so, after a rather-too-longish drive through the decayed ruins of Highway One, I found myself confronted with the Historian of the End of History, the one person Delphically deputized to be keeping notes on the Eschaton.
I need to say this: Terence is a perfectly normal guy, and while I would hesitate to use the word ordinary for a human being who is an oracle of the Apocalypse, he appears to put his pants on one leg at a time. This, in itself, is immensely reassuring. If he had been the flipped-out mega-prophet of the End Times, perhaps I, too, would have been muttering about full-time nursing care and a steady Thorazine diet for someone who was, in the end, just another acid casualty – an interesting one, to be sure – but just another casualty of too much catastrophe and not enough insight, the occupational disease of mystics who walk the path under the guidance of St. Sandoz.
But no. Terrence is bookish, erudite, and hugely gentle; a warmth seems to suffuse from him, and I felt at home immediately, compelled neither to “perform” for the Master, nor to sit and listen at his feet. Instead, we just hung out; Terence, and his son Finn, (who, I am willing to bet, is named for the Tim Finnegan of Joyce’s masterwork) rolling joints as Terence repeatedly apologized for the poor quality of his stash. He stays out of the “flow” of Esalen’s bodies-at-the-spa, and for two days, we made a merry band, joined occasionally but not continuously by a number of interesting, articulate women. We discussed books, both science fiction and philosophy (Greg Egan’s Diaspora is a great favorite of his, Manuel de Landa’s One Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, a favorite of mine, and both of us were in perfect agreement about Erik Davis’s wonderful Techgnosis), and, on Thursday evening, we were allowed to remain on the floor of the living room of the Little House (where Ronan and I had encamped) as he delivered the final lecture of his private series for Esalen staff.
He berated them for not being wired enough (this from a man who has installed a spread-spectrum T1 in his Hawaiian hideaway so that he can live apart and remain connected), and urged them – if they insisted on persisting in these not-nearly-Archaic-enough attitudes – that they don shields, swords and chain mail, and make an assault on Cupertino, surely the zero ground of the cybernetic revolution. He was insightful, encyclopedic, and charming, fully as able to make fun of himself as he did of Esalen’s interesting-thirty-years-ago-but-starting-to-show-the-signs-of-age approach to holism. Holism, at the end of History, has to be inclusive, not just of the psyche and the body and the biota, but of the machinic phyla, and not just included but embraced – joyously, one would hope – as we boot the machines into life and they come to either surpass us or lift us into transcendence with them.
It was a beautiful talk, one that left me spinning. We’ve reached the End – that’s the standard McKenna rap – but now he was throwing out examples; the end of Ideology and its adolescent obsessions; the end of consensus reality (which is quite obviously true to any aficionados of either X-Files or USENET); the end of Culture. What we’re left with is, in Jaques Ellul’s eloquent summing up of politics, merde. That and technology. But what comes after – late into the post-historical game, and just a few short years from the end of the whole Play itself – is the Self, the Market, the Technological Project, Relationships, and the Immediacy of Experience.
I couldn’t have put it better myself, nor, I noted at the time, would Crowley. In fact, with a rigorous logical reasoning, Terence has arrived at a Thelemic point of view – something that Crowley argued all sane, intelligent human beings would do. Of course, lots of people thought Crowley more than a bit nuts, too, so perhaps all this proves is that madmen share their delusions. Perhaps, but the trouble with madmen is that they take themselves all too seriously, and Terence closes his rap by admitting that he’s just a bullshit artiste too – arguably one of the better ones – who plays with the threads of history to weave his own particularly engaging quilt. Even Terence is comfortable with the concept that he might be wrong, that this might all be some clever Irish blarney to soothe us as we go gentle into that good night.
Call it boot camp for technopagans.
I hadn’t really conceived it as such, but if I ever wanted to start a cult of Mark, it would probably look a lot like this: a beautiful, serene location separated from the rest of the West, geothermal baths, kundalini yoga at 7:30 AM, VOCE sessions, and dose after dose of my own prognostications. Oh, and dose after dose of psychedelics, too, keeping the brainpan as freshly washed as our bodies felt after long soaks in the redwood tubs. For 72 hours, anyway, I got a perfect world, which included me as a participant – or as Esalen terms it, a “leader” – side by side with the Master himself.
I’m still not quite comfortable with the fact that for three days, Terence and I taught, side by side, each of us giving raps on the present and the inevitable object at the end of Time. I can only barely believe that this actually happened, and wasn’t some drug addled fantasy. (Well, some of it was that, to be sure, but it only played into the dominant reality.) And I can’t actually believe that Terence deferred to me and gave me the first shot in each of the sessions. And I can only just barely believe that he liked what I had to say quite as much as he said he did.
What I do believe is that, for those three days, I spoke directly from my own heart, about things that I had voiced before, but in a piece-meal fashion. Now I had the time – and the latitude – to get it all out, an exorcism of immense proportions, propelling the demons of failure and foolhardiness out into the cold depths from whence they hail, to stake a claim on what I believed – what I believe – about the events unfolding at the End of History, drawing a road map from the present into the Eschaton – on time and under budget. Every line I drew converged with every other line (and this is truly how my mind works on the inside, folks) all ending with the transcendental object located in hyperspace, outside of Time, outside of History, outside Humanity, even. But I asserted that this object must be a human object as well, that it was our job to make sure that the heart remained even as the physical universe self-transcended in an utter act of self-awareness.
And people responded. Alan, I believe, had the most joyous reaction, wondering aloud what attitude might be best in the face of the Terminal event of History, and answered himself with a resounding “Yes”. Thus was the spontaneously-and-ironically-capped “Yeschaton” born, and, as far as I’m concerned, that meme alone can rock the foundations of the Earth. Joyousness in our situation – rather than giving away to amazement, shock or horror – means that the heart must follow us as we become whatever the Gaian telos seems intent to transform us into. An idea which helps to relieve some of my own lingering doubts, because on the face of it, the Eschaton is a trans-human event – it really doesn’t have to involve us at all, except as the sex-organs for this new birthing – and I would like to believe that if we approach it with our hearts wide open, the Eschaton will be seduced by us even as we have been seduced by it.
I don’t really know what else I can add; I said it all then, but, curiously, the act of saying has given me the courage to stand on my convictions, which is really rather propitious, because I’ll be addressing a large roomful of stuffy Seattle computer executives and marketing-types in just a little over a week. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to say yet – the talk is titled “The Next Twenty Years” (their choice, not mine) – but I do know what they’re going to hear. They may not believe it, but it will be true just the same, and as honest and from my heart as I can find the words for it.
After all, tomorrow is the next day of the End of the World.
Let me thank all of you – Ronan, James, Paul, Owen, Alan, Susan, Steven, and everyone – whom I won’t actually list by name – for being present for another birth, one which marks me as thrice-born, and thrice-blessed. And to Terence, mere words of thanks are not enough.
Let me close with another selection from the same essay by Bill Thomson, an essay which formed my entire experience of Esalen until this past week:
“The music paused and then started up in a slow ballad, and my puffing body caught up with me and asked for a drink. Gazing out over the land around me, I leaned against the wall and thought: ‘At twenty-nine in the summer of 1967 I danced in the twenty-first century, and in the dark remaining years ahead I will remember this free-for-all of Pacific sound and light. The days in Big Sur will last longer than the years in Cambridge. California is my home, even if I must live away from it.’ In high school in L.A. I had projected myself out of the lower class in dreams of J. Press suits, regimental ties, and Ivy League doctoral robes; now all that seemed ‘old clothes upon a stick to scare a bird.’ With all my T group emotions bursting out of all form, I ran to exhaust them into form, and danced until there was nothing left. Then began the good-byes, the strange karmic partings, as if we knew that something else was about to begin, that this was over. And then, like souls departing for their birth, we left.”
My love to all of you,
Mark (under the influence of a particularly potent Sweet-Tart)
4 Imix (18 August 1998)