I suppose you already know what the first rule of flying is, since you know what I’m about to tell you. But I’m going to tell you anyways, because sometimes we need a good reminder.
I’m suffering from Traveler’s Blues. Having just come from New Orleans and New York where I was surrounded by life, I now feel all but a prisoner in my father’s house. In order to see anyone I do or once called my friend, I have to drive 45 minutes into the city. If I succeed in selling my car, that will no longer be an option. My primary form of connection has been this, the internet. I lapsed back into a binge of video games for a few days, but broke out of it when a game-crashing glitch sent the screen to black, and there—haloed by the reflection of the sunny window behind me—was my blurry, indistinct head as if to say, “Look at yourself. Take a good, long look.”
The next morning, I took my mat outside and went through a practice. When I came back, the magazine was in shambles, my calves and psoas were outrageously sore, and my bedroom was a hot mess. I had just finished meditating and was in a state of mind where everything fell into place: I set the coffee to brew, the breakfast to cook, made my bed, assigned things to their proper place, and eventually sat down to write this post. It’s been on my mind for a while.
An old friend of mine is into Magic: the Gathering. It’s a card game, where each player has a “library” of their own assembly, choosing 60 of more than 1,000 cards in a specific combination in an attempt to reduce the game’s inherent randomization to the least common denominator and still have a winning strategy. I played, although it was about a decade ago (Tempest through the Urza’s, for those who are keeping track). I was never very good. I was a sucker for angels—they were incredibly pretty, but just far to cost-ineffective to make a good deck. However, only when this friend started going into professional tournaments did I start to hear playing a deck referred to as “piloting.”
As I stood in tadasana at the top of my mat this morning, it occurred to me that this is the same relationship we share with our bodies.
I once entertained the fantasy that “I” am a demon who entered into this corpus somewhere around or just before the time of puberty, and that there was another part of me whom I’d shoved off into a corner that would occasionally bubble forth, but mostly sat and watched in a mixture of sorrow, horror and resignation as I took over his limbs, his voice and his forward thoughts. Sometimes, it can still feel like that.
I don’t think this is an unhealthy perception. In Eastern lore, not all demons are inherently evil (nor are all gods inherently benevolent). Be whatever I may, this body is no less mine than my car, which I am still half-heartedly attempting to sell. Left unmaintained, cars will break down. Eventually, even maintained, they will still break down. Are our bodies no different? Are we not gifted the title to this flesh with the explicit truth in fine print that eventually it will break down? Holding the title to our bodies, we have a right to do with it what we may, and I had every right to sit here in this chair and play video games until my eyes all but rotted from my skull. However, in doing so, I may have just cost myself a full year of my life. …For three days of a PS1 era game.
In my defense, it was an incredibly nostalgic journey to the past. In the days of the Greeks, all one had to do to fuck up the rest of their lives was eat six pomegranate seeds in the wrong place at the wrong time. One year of my life really isn’t a whole lot when we consider Persephone is still living that one down.
Our demonic impulses don’t always get along with our higher selves. We like to shove that part of us so our demonic selves can steer. Mind you, our higher selves make great pilots, but it’s not always fun to watch someone else fly through storms for us. In fact, it can be downright scary. Chapter 16 of the Bhagavad Gita talks about the difference between the Divine and Demoniac Attributes of Man. Here’s just a little about what Krishna has to say about the Demoniac:
“They describe the world as being without a truth, without a basis, without a God and brought about by mutual union—as nothing but originating in lust.
Holding this view, these ruined souls of small intellects and of fierce deeds, are born for the destruction of the world as its enemies.
Resorting to insatiable desires, full of hypocrisy, pride and arrogance, they of impure vows act holding false views through delusion.
Beset with immense cares ending only with death, regarding gratification of sensual enjoyment as their highest aim, and convinced that this is all;
Bound by a hundred ties of expectation and given to lust and anger, they strive to collect by foul means hoards of wealth for sense gratification.
‘This has been gained today by me; this desire I shall obtain; this wealth is mine, and this other too will be mine.
‘That enemy has been slain by me, and other too I will slay. I am the Lord, I am full of enjoyments, I am successful, powerful and happy.
‘I am rich and of noble birth; who else is equal to me? I will sacrifice, I will make gifts, I will rejoice.’ Thus deluded by ignorance,
Perplexed by many a fancy, entangled in the net of delusion, and addicted to the gratification of desires, they fall into foul hell.”
~ Bhagavad Gita, 16.8-16
Most of the time, I fit a startling number of those characteristics. I’m a hypocrite, guided by lust, believing myself to be of noble birth and above others due to my intelligence and insight. I believe myself a savior at times because of my writings. I believe I make sacrifices to others without knowing the true meaning of sacrifice. I believe I make gifts when I know not how to gift things to others. I am a student who believes himself teacher. This is why I often fall, and I go through long periods where I walk through hell.
The (wo)man who says s/he is entirely without a demoniac self is a fraud and a charlatan, and even in the one instance where I am wrong, I will still call him/her such out of safety’s concern. Truly divine, such a (wo)man will not be bothered and rise above my petty accusations.
But that is why we record. That is why we tell stories. That is why we admit failure. There is no map to walking through hell, but there are guides, and this may in posterity prove to be one of them, for Hell is the greatest of shapeshifters. It is built by the hands of those who occupy it, scaffolded by its builders’ own desires, peopled by the imaginations of its prisoners. The moment any road map of Hell is drawn, all of the names of the streets would change, but all the landmarks would remain the same. On occasion, we can let our demoniac selves become co-pilots with our inner divinity.
Laying on the ground in savasana, I wanted to let my divine self back into the copilot’s seat. I wanted to go back to the First Rule of Flying.
Do you know what the First Rule of Flying is? Well, I suppose you do, but I’m going to show you again anyways.
Now, if there’s a spokesman for the goodness of our demoniac selves, it’s Malcolm Reynolds.
This week, may you stay you admit a failure in such a way that it benefits someone else down the road. May you find a place you call “home.” May you pass through a storm. And may you let your divine self sit in the co-pilot’s seat and take over for a spell.