Shedding Habit, Becoming What One Is

Nicolas Anon asks, as a comment to the last post: "but can I forget, re-learn and start over?" I love that because, in many ways, that is the task at hand: How do I shed the blinders, shed habit, shed the known in order to see, hear, feel, think anew? How can I even know how to think, feel, differently?

This is what I've been thinking about that as of late.

It is not a matter of emptying yourself, of voiding yourself: no existential enema will do. On the contrary, you want to become yourself, live through your metabolism, live through your time, live through your own trajectory of becoming, live through your memories. It not a matter of forgetting per se but of moving well with how you got here, of moving will with your memory. "I did that. Yes I did." Not emptiness but fullness: a plenum of your own.

As for shedding habit, it is relentless, exhausting work. But there are plenty of techniques and short circuits — each of which runs the risk of becoming habit. This is something I wrote a few months ago . I'd love to hear what others have to say. Note that I have not done — or necessarily done well — some of these techniques....

Still, how does one go about shedding habit, asking different questions? Derangement of both senses and cognition can be effective. This can be achieved through different practices — music, art, drugs, sex, exertion, extreme silence. We fall into patterns, hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, thinking the same things. Contemporary life — and perhaps all human life if not all life — tends towards repetition of the same. The school day, workday, television programming, open and closing of stores: they all work in conjunction forming a network of familiar triggers and behaviors. This informs how we read the world, often blinding us with the sheer pervasiveness of the familiar. Breaking these patterns — introducing new ones by literally scrambling the patterns of perceptions — can wake us up to the way of things.

Go on a color walk: choose a color — blue — and go where you see blue. See nothing but blue. Turn your day blue. See the infinite variations of blue. Become blue.

Terence McKenna recommends smoking DMT. Three big puffs of this spirit molecule and you’re transported into other dimensions. In his words, you will be astonished — not just amazed but astonished. “Under the influence of DMT, the world becomes an Arabian labyrinth, a palace, a more than possible Martian jewel, vast with motifs that flood the gaping mind with complex and wordless awe. Color and the sense of a reality-unlocking secret nearby pervade the experience. There is a sense of other times, and of one's own infancy, and of wonder, wonder and more wonder. It is an audience with the alien nuncio.” (http://www.serendipity.li/dmt/chris_v.html). Everything you know, everything you take for granted, everything you assume life to be will be altered — for 5-7 minutes. “We can all smoke DMT, or you can make it your business to now find out about this, and see for yourself. And not everybody agrees with me. I mean, some people say it wasn't anything like that. But some people agree, and I think if you get two out of ten agreeing with a rap like this, then you'd better pay attention.” (http://deoxy.org/h_twhat.htm)

There’s that excellent scene in I Heart Huckabees in which Jason Schwartzman and Mark Wahlberg discover a temporary answer to breaking the monotony, and pain, of the quotidian: they hit each other in the face with a big red ball. In Fight Club, men pound each other, maul each other, to escape the soul-numbing drone of the everyday.

Of course, sensory and cognitive derangement can be as equally blinding and obscuring as any habit — and, of course, such deranging can itself become a habit. Don Juan tells Carlos Castaneda that drugs were necessary for him, Carlos, to experience the magic universe, not necessary in general. It all depends on the circumstances, on what this or that system demands.

In Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sense, Deleuze argues that the painter does not stand before an empty canvas and figure out what to paint. He stands before a dense canvas, a canvas filled to the brim with received images, with clichés. The artist’s job, then, is to cut away, destroy, carve this density of images in order to make something new. Francis Bacon would begin by marring the canvas, taking a broom with paint and making seemingly random marks on the canvas. And, based on these, he’d construct his images.

And yet this, too, can become cliché, does become cliché. Consider what happened to Pollock’s drips or to Warhol’s multihued silkscreens.

In any case, in order to read the way of things, we have to work hard to shed habit. This does not mean we have to make ourselves empty. There is no pure now, no pure event, as if there were a reality that flourished just below the surface of this world. To read the way of things well does not mean evacuating yourself. It means making perception an event that emerges between and amongst reader, thing, concepts, knowledge, history, desire. The beginner’s mind, in this case, is not blank. On the contrary, it is full yet open. It is a consuming, engaging plenum.

To shed habit is not to empty oneself but to become oneself.


Chris said...

I am glad you shared this, moving stuff. It's such a slippery and tough issue. Does difference require discipline? Is prolonging routine and repetition difference? The same changes. What is ritual but consistency within variation? Nietzsche: Build our house on Vesuvius. This is not a call to danger and difference and change. It's also a call to stabilization: Building a house is serious business. Kierkegaard helps here. - A world-defining lifetime commitment, faith: the lyrical logic. But what Kierkegaard said this anyway? Deleuze and Guattari are so funny on the issue. On DMT, on drugs: "Getting drunk, but on pure water... getting high, but by abstention... so that nonusers can succeed in passing through the holes in the world and following lines of flight at the very place where means other than drugs become necessary." You said shedding is hard work, but this isn't just hard work, it's supernatural work. And life is just not that super.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Chris: Yes, I like your point about stability or stabilization. This inspired me to write about repetition. Because shedding habit is not the end of form but its emergence.

As for D&G on drugs, they took shit loads, as well. Don't underestimate the efficacy of certain drugs well taken. There is a prejudice against drug use — perhaps because we equate it with junkies? With unseemly criminality?

But we consume to make ourselves better — we consume good food, food that energizes us, enlivens us, grounds us. We read books that do the same thing. Why not LSD, too?

I think there is a belief that drugs are external and so the insights that come are somehow false. Well, that's bullshit. Food is external. So are books. What's internal? What's external, anyway? Do what works, what makes you healthy....