This is the first excerpt from The Anatomy of Awareness, my 260-page book illustrating a groundbreaking, mindbending new theory of human consciousness (recently completed and currently seeking publication). Each excerpt will be linked here as it is posted. For more information, look here.
My first memory is of dying.
More specifically, the first memory I have is of losing consciousness; of bright light and a sudden, slow-moving darkness; of sensations and their sudden dissolution, of knowing that whatever this was, it was evaporating.
I stopped breathing six times within the first day I was alive, and I am not sure which one of these serves as that first, earliest memory. All I remember is the strangeness of that brevity, like a flash of light in pitch darkness.
Imagine a movie screen, completely dark, completely silent, erupting suddenly into a single kinetic flare of sound and light. Then back to darkness. The darkness is slow in coming, but the light is so quick you wonder if it just was a synaptic mis-fire, just a mistake.
Being scarcely born, I had no linguistic methods with which to approximate that confusion, except perhaps “where’d it go?” (much as a dog might “think”). But whether it can be conveyed in words or not, I remember it. It can be conjured up in any moment, crystalline, buried unchanging and unchanged in the very core of my mind.
I began to wonder, then, which other memories I would end up storing as cleanly, whose edges might not be dulled by time and age. This led me to wonder exactly what memories are, and what they are not. It led me to wonder at the ways memory—both our own and our cultures must shape our identities, our thoughts, and our beliefs. It led me to examine the ways our memory is a trap, a false record, a case of mistaken identity.
And then it led me to write this.
Ever since I decided to make 2009 my best year ever I’ve known that I need a simple, consistent system to stay organized and a set of “safety nets” to keep things that way. Here, briefly, is my methodology:
I was a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, which I discovered about four years ago in high school. There’s more “productivity porn” on the Web these days than anyone knows what to do with, so if you’re looking to jump in to Allen’s system it’s worth having a knowledgeable guide. That link should help you out!
But there are a fair amount of problems with GTD, not the least of which being how narrow its focus is. It requires a LOT of thought and attention every day in order to function the way it’s designed to, and it won’t give you a whole lot of feedback on how much real progress you’re making (everything becomes splintered into bilions and billions of tiny tasks). It’s always much easier (and tempting) to let things slide, and that’s never a good idea.
I recently came upon the term “post-digital”, here described by its (presumed) creator, John Maeda.
I am often asked what my term “post digital” signifies. It is a term that I created as a way to acknowledge a distinction between those that are passed [sic] their fascination with computers, and are now driven by the ideas instead of the technology. It is not an expression of Luddite-ism nor is it a loaded term like that icky “post modernism” business. If we are to consider the book by Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, as an affirmation that the computer has arrived, then the “post digital” generation refers to the growing few that have already been digital, and are now more interested in Being Human. Buying a good computer is easy. Being a good person is something that cannot be merely bought… even on the great god of eBay.
This idea is really interesting for a few reasons: for one, it’s important to realize that technological “breakthroughs” don’t necessarily signify real progress. The only progress we can measure is what happens in our own heads, the awareness we have of ourselves and our world, the new thinking that comes with these new technologies. If we don’t acquire a fundamentally new (or fundamentally more complete) reality as a result of our technologies, we are actively losing ground.
Steve Pavlina has an excellent post I somehow missed from way back in 2006, called Life – The Ultimate Game. I’ve often felt that life feels both less severe and more exciting when viewed as a challenging adventure–as a game–since it creates a much deeper motivation to “play” rather than just letting things run their course. Rather than believing that we’re somehow entitled to being here, and that the world exists outside of our control, it helps to adopt the mindset that “if we’re here, we’re playing”– and if we don’t play well, it’s our own damn fault. This “game” of life is so much more complex and fascinating than most anything else we could be doing with our time. That was the main reason I never got very involved with World of WarCraft– ‘why is my character in better shape than I am, and why does he have more skills than I do?’ (Hours of play until this realization: 14)
I have fallen in love, once again, with the open road.
Humanity and nature entwine so deeply in the making of a road: each side, initially struck by the shock of Change, gradually comes to understand and preserve their new boundaries, learning to live together, becoming conscious and not merely outraged at Other. The road becomes, like the trees or the mountains around it, another mark of time, another indicator of an era, another geologic record to be someday excavated by an unknowable future. It becomes the Zen mind, seeking nothing, attached to nothing, yet profoundly aware of each moment brought before it. Cars of a hundred styles and colors flash across its surface; seasons advance, conquer, retreat along its twists and turns. And yet it remains utterly present, indifferent but not uncaring to the world that rises and falls around it.
So, too, do the massive trees I find dancing lazily in the heat. All of them have stood rooted to a single piece of earth for longer than I have lived; most have witnessed more, perhaps, than this road, stretching like hanging hands across a world that has no doubt completely transformed before them…
It is striking for me to imagine that one of these trees is likely my age exactly: that for twenty years, as I have seen and talked and written and walked, this tree (wherever it may be) has remained perfectly in place, its entire journey upwards, its life utterly devoted to a single, unreachable sliver of the sky. The same sun has shone on each of us for those same twenty years; the same energy ultimately pulsates within us. I find myself wondering if perhaps I could have become a tree instead, had I merely learned to drink sunlight; had I merely stayed still long enough. In that kind of life there would be no time, no place, for judgment or reflection--in that life one is a witness, ascending towards the infinite, an inch at a time.
One of the most common barriers to really “waking up” seems to be the propensity to avoid, isolate, and hold back when confronted with things that upset us. We seem pretty capable of holding onto cherished memories, but when it comes to something really ugly, we can’t run away fast enough. Why is that?
As I write this, I am (quite surprisingly) upset. I am stressed and confused in a way I don’t often feel anymore, having spent a lot of time learning ways of transmuting and altering emotional charges. As a result, I’m known for my emotional “even keel” and readiness to accept most anything that happens. But the fact remains: right now, I am upset. And it isn’t going away as easily as it should. This makes it a perfect time to taste my own medicine and try and impart some knowledge to others who might be reading this while angry, despairing, depressed or just plain scared.
The most satiating advice I can offer you, in this moment, and the advice I’m taking right now as well, is best expressed in two words.