Jailbreaking the Matrix (Part 4)
When our experience on Earth is viewed through a sharply reductionist lens, we perceive our world and its phenomena in its most ‘atomized’ component parts. Nature, the stars, and other people are like the gears and springs in an exquisite but purely mechanistic clock. It will always reliably tell us the time, but never offer insight into the origin or meaning of Time.
Reductionism was a critical evolutionary development for Science. And a huge relief for those humans who viewed life as a dire, existential struggle against a dangerous and chaotic world. Starving from drought or dying of skin-ravaging plagues were real dangers for the majority of our evolution and our autonomic nervous systems are epigenetically programmed by these legacy terrors. Terrors that drove scientists to explore, map, and codify the complex systems that animate every aspect of Earth and its biological organisms. We finally became masters of our environment – and our own bodies – so that we could move on to more important things and no longer, as the great polemicist Christopher Hitchens once scolded me, ‘die of our teeth’.
A consequence of this progress was that interactions with nature and other humans were necessarily reduced to random, singular events that do not form a part of a larger narrative or system of meaning.
And for good reason.
Science was responding to, and mostly disqualifying, centuries of theocratic teaching. A process which, up until recently, was a very dangerous pursuit; punishable by exile, torture, or death. The only hope for the apostate astronomer, chemist, or physicist was to develop themselves into extremely precise and persuasive pitch-men, with friends in high places.
So naturally as Science emerged from the dungeon laboratories to become the dominant religion of the modern era, it evolved into a highly academic, proof-based practice that drew fiercely competitive players who had to defend each thesis that was under consideration by the Academy. There was zero-tolerance for mythological interpretations of non-typical events (aka miracles) – the supernatural wonders that ‘made’ the prophets who went on to inspire all the modern mainstream religions.
But there was a baby-and-bath-water facet to all of this.
Because while there can be no dispute about challenging Biblical or Koranic authority on a Dark Age sky-god’s edicts around astronomy and human biology – let alone punishments for routine acts like stealing, adultery, or homosexuality – Science’s militant rejection of all mystical experience spawned a reactionary fundamentalism (known as Scientism) that also negated the so-called animist or, more primordially, shamanic experience which operationally perceived ‘the world’ as a sentient and communicative realm. One in which every object from tea leaves to flocks of starlings to the constellations, became active talismans on a 3D immersive ouija board. But only for those who had undergone the rituals of initiation and preparation to gain the vision and sensitivity to decipher and interpret its messaging.
Harrowing stuff that was far out of the geek domain for bookish men and their magnifying glasses. Those big brains for whom my leap into the unknown could only be classified as a fool’s errand.
So it was that when I stepped out of the Motel 6 outside Buttonwillow, California that morning, I could sense that the currents had shifted. Gone were the lush, womb-like forests and gentle flow of traffic in the northwest. Here I felt exposed and solitary, under a blazing sun and zooming freeway traffic; the kind of down-on-his-luck hitchhiker that I had never once stopped for in my entire life.
But I was still living the dream and traveling light – besides my clothes, all I had was my passport, my slowly depleting $5000 in a mix of cash and an Amex credit card with a freshly cleared 2K max, and a map of the US.
In no hurry.
So I tightened the straps of my backpack and started walking south along the freeway. After an hour I crossed toward a gas station to buy some water.
As I came out, I could feel eyes on me and turned to see a dilapidated Chevy station-wagon awkwardly parked beside the air tanks. The windows were filled with clothing and books and appliances. A hoarder’s car by any definition. The passenger door swung open and a man (who clearly belonged to that car) waved his arms.
Shouting across the lot in a hoarse voice, “where you heading to?”
I kept my eyes lowered and shook my head, suddenly wishing I didn’t look so much like I needed a ride.
The man stumbled out of the car and ambled toward me.
“You going to LA?”
“No, definitely not LA,” surprised by my certain tone.
“I saw you come down the southbound side. You don’t want to be hitching on the south, man. Every ride worth getting from here on in is to LA.”
Good to know. I scanned the freeway, and saw a sign for the 58 heading east to Bakersfield. The man was now limping in lock-step beside me.
“I’ll make you a deal. You pay for gas and I’ll take you wherever you want. My name’s Dave. Good to meet you.”
The words just surfaced in my mind like the name of a book I’d once read but long forgotten.
It was one of those exchanges just seemed so weirdly out-of-place and yet perfectly of-that-moment. A sign for sure that there was something in this for me.
Dave’s offer was loaded with a kind of karmic inversion.
I was in the middle of nowhere, had money and no ride.
Dave was in the middle of nowhere, had wheels and no money.
I was willing everything to destiny.
Dave was leaving destiny to a stranger’s will.
Destiny Dave. Why not.
“Ok, I’ll try one tank. What about we head east and see how far we get?”
“Sounds good. Can you help me with a push?”
A few minutes later I was riding with my feet raised on a pile of books and trash, my bag stuffed into the back seat, windows wide open to force a circulation of breathable air. Within the first few seconds of being in the car I knew it would be a short ride. If Dave’s car made it to an eastbound freeway, I’d consider the price worth it.
Destiny Dave was a ferryman, I was a passenger. Might as well have been crossing the river Styx.
Dave was a mumbler and a self-talker, which was fine because I was lost in thought. His warning, and my instinct, not to head to Los Angeles had shifted me out of wonder mode and into something more… solemn. Practicality had shouldered its way into my musings and the impulse to make some kind of plan took me over.
As we cleared the outskirts of Bakersfield and settled into a sputtery momentum through the arid expanse of the I-10, it suddenly became clear that this journey was not about hitching in circles around the United States, avoiding large cities.
I also knew I was definitely not heading back north into the dead of winter and Christmas eve. That left south and east. I pulled out the map and traced my finger along the 10 to the Florida coast.
Our family had owned a house on a small Bahamian island called Eleuthera that we lost in the forced sale of the steel business. But I knew the islands well and felt my hopes rise with a vision of working on a trade boat that crossed between one of the Florida ports and the archipelago. The thought of Eleuthera evoked a deep somatic memory. I spent some of the best Christmases of my childhood on those white sand beaches, under the crystalline blue skies.
Before the traumatic destruction of my nuclear family.
I suddenly thought of that scene from Contact where Ellie (Jody Foster’s character) is transported by aliens to a beach in Pensacola, Florida she once sketched as a child. There she encounters her father, who died when she was very young. The aliens use the emotional familiarity of the scene to place Ellie in a receptive state – where she will not be freaked out by the strangeness of ETs – to deliver their message about when Earthlings will be ready for contact.
For the first time, I acknowledged the pull of a deep driving desire to find my own alien contact. A silent recognition that maybe, beneath the archetypal framing of this journey as a mystical experiment to test the simulation, this was all a frantic prayer to those beings – who had set me on this otherworldly quest that had so separated me from my friends and family – to come rescue me.
The desperation of it hit me hard and I pushed it away.
I looked over at the crazy man in the driver’s seat. And I knew, he was me. Or, at least, a fragment of me that I had to accept and integrate if I was going to move past this quagmire in my life. This marooned state of paralysis and confusion and sadness. That much I had learned from my spiritual teachers.
Seeing Dave in that framework, and knowing that he was sent to force that recognition, offered an immediate return to a security in the meaningfulness of this journey.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was on message.
So I sat there, sending covert pulses of love and compassion for this manifestation of the deeply cracked part of my self. And when Dave started muttering about the heat and the tires and something to do with some other place he needed to be, I tapped him on the shoulder.
“We’re good Dave. You can let me off at the next gas station and go on your way.”
“You sure? We still got half a tank.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. You got me where I needed to go.”
And with that I watched a subtle wave of relief wash across his permanently furrowed brow. The recognition of his own gift from the universe, as rarely as they probably come to a man in his stage on the road of life.
I was filled with gratitude to be in a position to be that channel for another human being. And ready again to resume my own treasure hunt for the other lost unintegrated parts of my self… waiting for me out here in the Middle of No Where.