Reality is Malleable
Unpredictable Effects of High Strangeness
Yet even while we tread routine routes through various versions of barbaric semi-civilisation, the moment of wonder is never far away. Everything is possible and anything is probable. Your worldview is an acculturated comfort zone in an unchartable sea, a shared dream demarking the boundaries of wider, wilder realms.
To witness highly strange events that conflict with the orderly fabrications of consensus reality can be an utterly transforming experience for some; others will swiftly forget anything that can’t easily be assimilated into the worldview they’ve been trained to see as fixed and controllable from birth. Mysteries and consciousness possess inbuilt filter systems.
When the unexpected arrives an instinct for self preservation kicks in. This emotionally charged reaction may take many forms, but one of the most common is denial; an attempt to mentally camouflage one’s self, and return to the accustomed fold of the human pack.
Yet some react differently, forever transformed by the exaltation of challenging sights and bizarre happenings. An illustration:
It didn’t seem possible in an age of backyard nuclear bunkers on a polarised schizophrenic planet. Right up until the walls and curtains fell on the final act of absurd lunacy – after the widely forgotten Harmonic Convergence of August 1987 (planted exactly half way betwixt the February 1962 alignment that heralded the Dawn of the Age of Aquarius and its birthing on December 21st 2102) – the world could always end tomorrow in a series of blinding flashes.
Alternative communities sprouted and flourished throughout the lands, far from the toxic sumps and likely targets of urban confabulations. Flower child hippies and redneck survivalists vied for choice spots in farflung valleys and hidden hinterlands. Multitudes marched through city streets in peaceable defiance against The Man behind the curtains and his juggernaut death machines. They protested against megamurders that enriched a small venal coterie of militant industrialists- men with megalomania complexes as drearily dire as Stalin’s, or Nixon’s, or the Marquis de Sade’s. Everything you could buy or sell, save your soul and will, was theirs, ripped from mendacious mines and industrial farms – rents in the flesh of Great Mother Nature, whose immortal soul was trussed up with barbed wire fences and sold for illusory pottage.
An imaginary Sword of Damocles was suspended over everyone’s heads, threatening extinction for all – unless the wage serfs knuckled down, put their noses to the grindstone and stopped rocking the titanic boat. The threat of nuclear Armageddon was a death-trip form of hypnotic control for modernised slaves, just as potent as the previous universal religious fantasias of heaven and hell. After a struggle between control freaks and rebellious slaves that had lasted thousands of bloodcurdling years, a climax was surely approaching.
In nineteen hundred and seventy five, at the height of the ultra-profitable threatening nuclear coldness ’twixt East and West, this mellowing her(m)etic hermit was a much younger shaman who lived near the throbbing heart of the Emerald City of Oz, and worked and played in a huge sandstone edifice known as Stanley Palmer’s Culture Palace.
The setting for this alternative institution was a deconsecrated Presbyterian church constructed from large amber hued sandstone blocks that had been excavated from a defaced nearby cliff a century before, which had long been abandoned by its congregation. The hallowed and hollowed gutted interior still featured a monstrous functional pipe organ, a rosewood choir loft that served as a coffee shop, and a matching pulpit with carven balustrades and a wooden canopy, all housed beneath lofty wood beams exposed by a dismantled ceiling. A tall row of arched windows cast ample light on the artistry and craftiness that abounded within its eclectic confines during the bygone hippy heyday.
This young shaman taught film and video production, photography, darkroom techniques and other artistic pursuits to anyone interested who passed through the old church’s colonnaded entryway, and constructed and operated a cinema in a disused chamber at the building’s rear. Other instructors taught printing, silk screening, pottery, drama, tai chi, yoga, music, meditation, painting and a plethora of other subjects to gifted and appreciated youngsters and oldsters alike. All the courses were absolutely free; in those days all tertiary education was free and open to all in the Great Southern Land by decree of its greatest Prime Monster, the White Lamb who would be sacrificed on the altar of foreign dominion before the year was out.
The main building of the Culture Palace was divided into halves by a thirty foot high Masonite wall which helped soundproof the stage that stood before the pulpit, bereft of its altar – an appropriate venue for all manner of performances. Harold Pinter and Shakespeare vied for time and space with rock bands and folk combos, lecturers and yogis. And every Sunday evening for a few brief years, this young shaman hosted the Future Shock Show – operating lights, sound and recording equipment from the pulpit while all manner of performers strutted the stage below.
The entry charge was fixed at a dollar, but anyone without that amount of money (which could still buy a substantial meal of spaghetti Bolognese at a nearby establishment called the Hole in the Wall, a round of cappuccinos in the nearby Little Italy espresso belt, or a huge, real, solid pre-Mac hamburger) could watch the show for the price of a donation, or failing that for nothing at all. Overheads came to just ten dollars a show and all remaining proceeds were split by the performers.
We cadged boxes of outdated paper from nearby printers and published posters and handbills that were stuck and distributed about the nearby inner urban suburbs. The demographic mix was different in those days; most nearby dwellings were occupied by hard-bitten dock workers and the destitute, or those who were definitely down and out. More than five hundred emptied houses in the immediate area were occupied by squatters during the recession that followed the OPEC ‘oil crisis’.
A gifted poet and musician known as Li Po helped set up and operate every Future Shock show, and a small band of helpers handed out invitations to all and sundry each morning and noon at populous markets and the nearby Domain. In those days this historic public park opposite the monolithic façade of the city’s main public art gallery was a popular local version of London’s famous Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. Religious proselytisers rubbed shoulders with anarchists, communists, socialists and fascists, and all competed for the public’s attention with varying degrees of oratorical skill. Every weekend the greensward was filled with speakers and listeners, bordered by stalls and stands of all kinds.
We’d distribute hand printed handbills until none were left, then make our way back afoot to Stanley Palmer’s Culture Palace to prepare the evening show. One sunny Sunday, while Webster and John Sword and a host of other locally famous orators entertained the throng from stepladders and soapboxes, Li Po chanced to hand an invite to an intense young bearded fellow who introduced himself as John Walsh and asked if he could perform that night.
“I’m a trancemedium musician,” the softly spoken, long haired man declared. “I go into trance and play music – but I don’t know how to play.”
“Sure,” I said, bemusedly curious. “There’s still a spot available.” Early that night he arrived with a plethora of instruments and proceeded to arrange them around the edges of the stage. “I don’t know which one the spirits will want to play,” he explained. Trumpet and trombone, tabla and djembe, harmonium and flute, guitar and mandolin graced the margins of the performance space along with sundry other instruments while John prepared himself, entering a trance state in his dressing room in the empty cinema.
The mesmerised hippy emerged onstage in a voluminous kaftan, lifted an electric guitar and immediately began to play heavenly arpeggios and enthralling glissandos. For the next hour he moved from instrument to instrument in a spaced state of grace. Unearthly music rang from stone walls and marble memorial stones, reverberating through the dumbfounded audience who sat stunned at this display of unconscious – or possessed – virtuosity.
Whether in trance or truly channelling the music of gifted spirits, there was no denying the extraordinary result. John Walsh returned to the stage the next Sunday, and the one after that, rapidly befriending the Stanley Palmer’s crew and the musician Li Po in particular. From close and regular observation it soon became apparent that John couldn’t play a note unless he wasn’t present in his body.
He worked with a few trance medium colleagues, some of whom also played instruments while others chanted in tongues, and a few weekends later they all assembled onstage at the Culture Palace. I decided it would be a good idea to record the occasion for posterity on a high fidelity four-track reel to reel recorder.
The audience didn’t know what to expect. Assembled before their expectant, bored or distracted eyes was a humdrum looking bunch of middle aged people dressed in normal street clothes – except for John Walsh, barefoot at centre stage in a white Indian cotton shirt and loose flared trousers. All stood with unfocused eyes staring above the heads of the audience, whose expectant faces were on a level with the floor of the raised stage.
I watched from the pulpit and started the recorder while John picked up a trumpet. Two men who stood behind him began humming a wordless mantra while another sat and stroked a drumskin with elongated fingernails. John raised the trumpet to his lips and produced a single clear note as the hummers started chanting in a language that closely resembled ancient Hebrew.
The music and chant slowly rose in volume and intensity as I adjusted the gain on the tape deck, and slipped a large pear of headphones over my ears to monitor the recording. At first the music resembled the unpredictable jazz fusion of the semifamous freeform local band ‘Free Kata’, before it shifted upscale into uncharted realms of discord and resonance.
After a few minutes of weirdly harmonious cacophony John started bellowing through the trumpet like a singing, screaming pachyderm, as if possessed by the great Hindu god Ganesh. He trumpeted a blast that ascended from mellow depths into dizzying heights, slipping back down the scale after an extending pause at the gates of heaven. A crackling sound filled the headphones and the music started cutting out in a repetitive patterns so I glanced down at the equipment to see what was wrong.
The meter was swinging into the red zone at the end of the dial each time John hit his highest note, and stayed there as long as he held it. I fiddled with knobs to no avail – the sound disappeared from the ’phones every time the frequency rose to a frenzied pitch. Then I noticed what was happening to the quarter-inch magnetic tape – it was rising out of the recording heads each time the sound cut out, and hovering there, free of the mechanism for as long as John Walsh held a high note, before dropping back inside the machine as he lowered the pitch and volume.
I frowned at the tape, certain the equipment must be faulty and ruing the fact that tonight’s performance would go unrecorded. And then I chanced to glance down at the audience. They were all sitting in their pews with identically stunned expressions; mouths agape, immobile and wide eyed, with heads nodding up and down in time with John Walsh’s stentorious pealing. The witnesses all seemed way beyond mere absorption in the performance; they looked like a school of nodding fish in a stark state of shock. So I turned to see what they were staring at and finally saw what was happening onstage.
Each time the tape rose from the recording heads and the sound cut out in the headphones John was raising the trumpet and bellowing his highest, clearest note to the heavens while the chanting swelled to a climax – and as long as he held that single note his feet hovered a few inches above the wooden planks of the sturdy stage floor.
As long as he held that note he levitated in plain view of dozens of people whose eyes were on the same level as his feet. No trick. No hypnosis. No wires or magnets held him aloft – except for the magnetic charge of John’s channelled music while his whitened eyeballs rolled back in their sockets.
We all watched the miracle unfold before our rapt gazes – as dumfounded as any who saw a man walk on water or a woman give birth to an elephant. He kept it up, and up, for several minutes and all of that time none of the spellbound witnesses moved, nor uttered a word.
Part of my mind was berating me for not having bothered to pull one of the Culture Palace’s video cameras out of the storeroom while I watched in awestruck delight, while another fraction assured me that the tape would have acted just like the sound gear’s and failed to record the extraordinary event.
John’s trumpeting notes slowly fell in volume and he settled back onto the boards for the last time. No-one applauded as he and his friends all shuffled from the stage, still lost to this world in their trance states. I watched the audience shake themselves from frozen concentration and followed them out as they silently filed through the partition toward the reassuring mundane world of coffee, tea and biscuits. Li Po’s eyes were flaming coals when I passed him onstage. He left for the dressing room without a word while I followed the audience into the other half of the deconsecrated kirk.
I hovered about, watching and listening to their varied reactions. A quarter left the building immediately, rapidly making for the safety of the sane dingy streets outside. A thirtyish woman sat at a potter’s wheel and echoed my own reaction to a handful of friends, “This changes everything! After this my whole life’s different – nothing can ever be the same again!” Others stood about with gleaming eyes shining amidst enraptured expressions, while others grumbled and shook their heads.
“It’s just a trick!” one man loudly proclaimed as he strode from the hall. “My god!” another cried, and cried into his teacup. “See what?” a young Christian said to his enraptured girlfriend. “I didn’t see anything.”
Many who saw it soon forgot as they re-entered the treadmill of getting and losing, buying and selling, grasping and loosing. Within a few months only a handful of people could actually recall the event they had witnessed one bygone Sunday night. And John Walsh? He never knew what he’d achieved until Li Po informed him backstage in the dressing room after the performance. The miracle worker had been lost to the world, off in a trance state all the while and didn’t remember a thing.
‘Seeing is believing’ to many or most – for some the revelation lasts but a while and for others forever, perchance.
The sturdy ramparts of a handful of materialistic worldviews collapsed like houses of cards overnight. Nothing we’d been taught was true, and everything was suddenly permissible. If just one person can fly, then everyone can – and if one can fly, then all the other ‘psychic powers’ are doubtless equally available to everyone, if we can only find the route within…
Whole populations find it surprisingly easy to ignore the bleeding obvious fact that the emperor wears no clothes. Unimaginable madnesses of the domesticated primate li(f)e are simply ignored, or mistaken for some kind of natural order by those who’ve known nothing else throughout short meagre lives spent in workaday chasms and blinding chiasms.
The world is truly a magical place, a gorgeous wet jewel miraculously preserved amid the frozen fires of eternity; an unfolding phantasmagoria of wonder and miracles – priceless pearls strewn before competing tribes of domesticated primate boors, who trash living paradise all around in a relentless quest for mere fictitious pie in the sky.
Myriad miracles of daily life are particularly evident way out here in the wild growing forest, where the muddy hands and fixated minds of enumerating people have still barely tainted some special places. When the endlessly chattering monkey mind is finally stilled and all eyes are opened, fabulous strangeness begins to appear and multiply with every new day.
Look up, look in, around and about. Even – especially – in the darkest hour, the moment of wonder is never far away…
A True Story
By R. Ayana
Images – author’s
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