Then take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves The haunted frightened trees, out to the windy beach Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man
Surely these words convey more than “Take away my sadness.” Add Bob’s music to that and we have an experience way beyond words merely transmitting information about a mental state.
Lama Govinda says that words such as Dylan’s poetry have that “irrational quality which stirs up our deepest feelings, elevates our innermost being, and makes it vibrate with others.” (Lama Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism)
Our innermost being. Our inner life. Do we have one? Western metaphysical materialism has infected the world’s subconscious with the bulletproof conviction that we are meat machines and nothing else. Our inner life is a mere effluence from our material substrate. In fact, the Prophets of AI suggest that it is only a matter of time before we shall be able to transfer the contents of our brain into an electronic device and achieve immortality. Our inner life is thus a dataset imprinted into our physical brains. Information.
At this point, I walk into the kitchen of our writing space at Union Square. Aaron the poet is sitting there translating Russian poetry. He asks me what I am writing about and I try to explain. He tells me about William Blake. Bingo!
With the Enlightenment in Europe, Reason, in the form of scientific materialism, became the god with whom we have made a Faustian bargain:
In every cry of every Man, In every Infants cry of fear, In every voice: in every ban, The mind-forg'd manacles I hear London, by William Blake
Inner being. Imagination. These are qualities reduced to unreality by the current materialist orthodoxy. The stuff of entertainment on Netflix. Consume fantasies for fun and prophet. Consume imagination instead of imagining.
Ian McGilchrist, in his book on William Blake The Master and His Emissary, clues us in on what we have after 200 years scientific materialism: “in almost every case, what is new must first be present in the right hemisphere, before it can come into focus to the left… only … the right hemisphere that is in direct contact with the embodied living world: the left hemisphere is, by comparison, a virtual, bloodless affair.”
That is the Faustian bargain. Workers in industrialized countries have endured wage slavery and hideous working conditions to provide material abundance to those who could afford it. All in service to left hemispheric reason. Meanwhile, the minds of these workers have not only been stunted by their work, but also those of their children and grandchildren by endless wars to keep the system going. Now we have stifling test-centric education, mindless consumerism that drains away the real part of our being, in favor of the Platonic cave of virtual reality.
McGilchrist says: “This process eventually becomes so automatic that we do not so much experience the world as experience our representation of the world … a virtual world, a copy.”
The truth is that our inner life is as much part of the natural world as the cells of our bodies. It is not an epiphenomenon. We need continuous access to the realms of the spirit to make our desert bloom. Poetry, music, art, all make the inner life vibrate. It opens us to:
“the Eternal Worlds, to … the immortal Eyes of Man into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination” (William Blake)