Confined once again inside the cacophony and congestion of a late-modern global city and experiencing the squalor and bereavement of modern lives; the question is not how did you find yourself in such a ridiculously vulgar and infinitely ugly situation, or how or why did it happen or even what it actually is, but the real question and concern should be what are you going to do with it?, and by the verb “to do’, I don’t mean any action that is aimed externally, but an action that is aimed primarily towards the perceiver of the situation himself, that forces him to address and become aware of what he is going to do WITH it rather than what to do about it.
What am I going to do WITH it?
Imagine yourself inside the packed compartment of a train in Mumbai, the streets of New Delhi where no girl can get by without getting groped, the public transportation buses in Sao Paolo, Brazil, or in the latest version of a city in China (which houses 16 of the 20 most polluted cities). You are in the midst of dynamic, rapidly growing powerhouses – the emerging engines of the global economy, but you are also in the center of squalor, moral deprivation, and ugliness – the hallmark of our global age. And you are angry, cursing, disoriented, disgusted. You are thinking: How do I deal with it? When you should be asking: What am I going to do WITH it?
How did our everyday social and cultural situations arrive at the point that they’re at now?
Not wasting any mental effort on analyzing is probably the only real option left in our post-millennial global ‘un-society’ for those with any imagination or insight.
What I propose instead with the essay, is not only to suggest an alternative to an everyday culture bereft of inwardness and reflexive awareness, but to lay out from the outset a manual of practice for the reader and budding aesthetic enthusiast on how to utilize examples of extreme feverish distraction, disordering of sensual data and examples of general ugliness and disgust to help to refine the sensibilities of the perceiver in such challenging and heightened extremes and inversions of aesthetic situations.
In this age of acceleration and degeneration (and accelerated degeneration); in this most decadent of Kali Yugas that will eventually precede the complete eclipse and destruction of the entire created order only to begin again; it will be more advantageous to adopt the infamous strategies of the Tantras and welcome and befriend hardships, trials and difficulties as opportunities.
It will be best to adopt their inverted strategies of not shunning those experiences, which fuel the more negative passions, but indeed to accept them as inescapable and inevitable and learn to rise by that which makes you fall.
Aesthetics, like philosophy can never be dismissed; it will merely revert to an unconscious, muddled and unclear default through its conscious dismissal or denial.
I compare the visual cacophony and social squalor of the situations of our everyday lives to that quintessential American virtual social diversion and disorderer of the senses, the Amusement Park. The park began to mirror the aplanned directionless quality of the city that houses it by throwing new rides and attractions down, filling the space almost as if utilizing one of John Cage’s chance operations.
Think of the global squalid, congested city and your ride in that de-humanizing train as a ride in one of the amusement parks that you may have visited in your childhood or at least seen on TV.
My own first recollections of the amusement park center on being of a sub-human size wondering why other children were floating small toy boats into a trough that flowed down a tunnel of memory unclear, illogical and dreamlike like the sewer that the Toy Soldier ended up floating down towards his watery, subterranean grave.
Anyone, even those of the feeblest of aesthetic faculties, can strengthen them in pleasant surroundings.
Try and do it in difficult or impossible situations.
Next time you are in the midst of man-made squalor, imagine yourself in that amusement park of a holiday weekend… in the hoard of open-mouthed, barely literate amnesiacal masses of nondescript marketed focus-group targets whose mindless and solipsistic careening with ears half attached to cell phones in absolute faith that it somehow adds more worth to their presence, paying no attention to their fellow humans around them and barely avoiding collision with humans and embracing collusion with inanimate objects; wandering around as if in their own bedroom. They buy tickets to enter and behave like so…
Yet it is this very disappointing crowd of uncouth and unappreciative spectators that your own memories indelibly playing short video clips were projected onto; whose interior virtual memories of, distracted you thankfully from the sad and slightly melancholy state of the park as if an aging courtesan trying to show a cheerful and seductive front to cover increasing tell-tale signs of age.
A park designed primarily for amusement deserves full and one-pointed attention to amusement itself.
In an age where appreciation is actively discouraged, and considered a trivial, juvenile, negligible practice that should yield to the serious adult habit of continual criticism and consumerist dissatisfaction; embedding inherently heretical practices in between the lines of recollections of the places of passage of amusements from child across the chasm to adulthood and the architectural interior partitioned spaces still in remembered picturesqueness forever inhabited and shared space with those ageless friends who will always accompany your excursions into the ridiculous of attempting to find beauty and mystery in an outdoor manufactured amusement park whose only distinction from a temporary carnival midway lie in its landscaped and architecturally decorated spaces.
The temptation to ignore one’s awareness of perceptions while engaged in them is greater to forget in such apparently conventional pleasing circumstances with obvious and uncomplicated beauty. It is much easier to completely forget the role of the spectator and become thoroughly absorbed and caught up in the objective material rather than have any encouragement to focus on the process of one’s perceptions.
Here are some rules for the proper practice of aesthetics in squalor and depravation –
Just like the nava rasas or the nine essences of emotion”, the nava “abhyāsas” or practices of acquiring aesthetic bliss in a city during rush-hour.
Nine “Abhyāsas” or Correct practices for refinement of Aesthetic Perceptions in Crowds
1. Do not attempt to control your surroundings, simply observe them. Give it the free open space of your attentive awareness.
Do not push, jostle, and try to make space for yourself. Lose your identity in the squalor and crowd…
2. Allow your breath to settle in and of itself and observe its free movements on your entire physiology, your diaphragm, your nostrils and your chest.
Instead of looking out, look in. But use the outside for that purpose. Play with the squalor, observe, look, and arrest your look…
3. Train your focus to maintain total yet effortless concentration one-pointedly on one thing for gradually longer and longer periods of time choosing more concrete and definite objects of focus initially then gradually make them less and less concrete.
Start with something such as a small icon or symbol, an alphabet in a hoarding or poster, a nose of some by-stander and fellow-sufferer, a sound, a physical sensation that you feel and then slowly focus on the inner sense of oneself.
4. Consciously abandon all of your likes and dislikes to the open space of your free awareness.
Do not judge what you see, feel, hear. Do not judge the person who pushes you, squeezes you, stands on your feet. Do not judge them by their actions, they way they dress, the smell of their sweat. Let go of all your likes and dislikes…
5. Nevertheless, if you feel suddenly deeply repulsed, disgusted or shocked rather than trying to control those feelings, sensations and emotions look to the manifesting energy apparent in their source and bring it one-pointedly exclusively into your object of strong meditative awareness dismissing all else including the initial cause of those emotions.
The instant a painful emotion or experience of anger, sadness fear and disgust arise; using their own raw energy retract your awareness inward like the limbs of a turtle into its shell ingathering its limbs, recollecting and turning your consciousness inward to come face to face and to effect and instant union and thereby recognition of ones already existing stable glittering throbbing state.
Use the force of the inertia of those intensely negative emotions to instantly cut through the tangled vines of branching obscuring thought constructs and to turn within away from outer distractions to an intense inner listening to recognize, wait upon in silence of devotion yet to recognize within in inner recollectedness drawing all of the mental faculties within to their sacred and ever renewing blissful source, facilitated by the intensity of the emotion taking advantage skillfully of the of consciousness, grabbing hold of the moment turning forcefully within retracting all your senses to train to sense the presence of the stable throb as opposed to the recurring changes of your own ego’s needs and emotions.
Recognizing when something so deep and profound swells up from within, using the acuteness of the power of the negative emotions to bring to the inner surface of the experiencer, the profound stable inner pulse which he will be secretly ready to recognize in profound devotion and to lay hold of and make his firm single object of inner absorption, without faltering and allowing the negatively altered emotional state to take hold of him.
6. At the onset of the recognition of the emergence of feelings of pleasure, awe or beauty, instantly lay hold of that feeling itself and strive to identify with it and allow its actual feeling to blissfully expand your consciousness rather than allowing the feeling to turn into attachment, lust or envy.
Observing the invigorating effect that those emotions have on your consciousness before they have a chance to take full control as the secret text of instruction claims, causing it to swell like a seed about to sprout.
Attempt to catch hold of the stable state of the inherent pulse of consciousness rather than the temporal and fleeting pulse characterized by its alternations between pleasure and pain and the like, making that stable state you firm seat of meditation. Not experiencing those fertile states of powerful emotion or action passively, but observing and appreciating them for their inherent power and uniqueness tasting and admiring their subtle flavors and hues thereby disengaging them from personalization and cloaking them in a virtuality that is absolutely necessary for appreciation to take the place of reaction.
7. Try to physically pin-point your perception of the particular aroma, focusing on it intensely till it becomes isolated and strong enough to give your total focus on it in a one-pointed fashion, repeatedly recollecting the physical impact of its fragrance all at once as if it were a small compact physical object, then as if it existed within you vividly allowing it to unfold with its unfurling associations and images.
As strong and as fast and penetrable as the sense of smell is, combined with how refined, mysterious, cultish, louche and exotic as the medium for fragrance is incense. In China and Japan especially in the mystical art of incense appreciation or Koh-Do, the ideogram for listening is used to represent the act of smelling the incense in heightened rapt attention.
8. The minute you feel physical beauty, to distract your senses and expand out to view it and produce desire, identify with that initial sense of expansion, relish and linger with it.
Realize that your essential self exists as both the object that you enjoy and desire and the force behind as the desirer. Identify and relish this state of expanding desire and keep going with its sense of expansion, letting it take you outwards to all creation with which you identify, before it turns to the constricting emotions of anger, envy and attachment.
Even further physically feel the sense of pleasure first within your body, pleasure can be of all sorts and shades from the crudest and basest to the uttermost refined, allow the sense of pleasure to percolate within your body till you feel an inner melting that melts the inner knots within your heart. Let the melted juice or rasa of bliss to freely circulate of itself throughout your body to saturate its most obscure and forgotten tissues and channels. Then carry the expanding bliss through an osmotic expansion beyond the permeable membranes of your limited self and body: your awareness expands claiming all that it perceives as its body.
9. Practice keeping the tantric pledge of seeing all beings as essentially wise, all things as essentially pure [an example of a solipsism of an untrained dialect] jewel-like and radiant.
Be with all beings engaged in acts of wisdom and bliss.
Until you hear the automaton-like voice spell it out loud over the public announcement: “Your subway station has arrived. You have exhausted your amusement park ride. Please buy a new ticket tomorrow.”
© Paul Smith
1. Cars in Beijing (www.thetyee.ca)
2. Amusement Park