Understand Heaven in a very literal sense—Space. See, we are in Heaven now because the Earth is a spaceship, and Heaven is Space. What is called in Chinese ‘Kōng,’ Japanese ‘Kū,’ 空 – the void. That’s what is important. That we, most of us, don’t know this. Even Shakespeare has one of his characters saying, ‘Oh, that this all too solid flesh would melt.’ But do you know that you are much more Space than you are anything else? If the ponderable, I won’t say matter, the ponderable whatever in your bodies were condensed and all put together, it would be smaller than the point of a pin. And anyway, as somebody once said, ‘Even a bishop is 80% water.’ Hahaha!
See, we are airy nothings. So Space is somehow very, very fundamental. We understand that Heaven is Space.
~ Alan Watts ~
well, it’s been awhile. who could have known that going to Korea would propel me into a vortex that would be nine months of my greatest fear: the unknown.
i still don’t know how one writes about something that is not known, but here goes another attempt. i’ve faced the shadows and there is no real way around them but straight through (and sometimes very slowly dancing around inside).
after i went to Korea, everything felt like it was falling apart. my newfound awareness about love and freedom was the catalyst for the changes, but sometimes even when one purposefully instigates change, it still feels like those changes are just happening beyond your control.
i had to make some very difficult choices that affected nearly every major aspect of my life—emotional, financial, career, friendships, partnerships—and these drastic changes across a variety of fields catapulted me off towards completely different landscapes.
luckily for me, there were a few constants. one of them was a project that, funny enough, was taking place in NYC.
one of my favorite things about technology is that it enables us to space travel in so many ways. from planes that can bring us halfway around the world in a matter of hours to the internet which can connect us to that very same place in a matter of milliseconds, where exactly we are at any given time is also a matter of careful questioning.
let’s time travel back to November 2013. i am at BAM for SITI Company’s after-party for A Rite. (by the way, my one-word scholarly review for that show was that it was radical. their collaboration with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company pushed the boundaries of physical and meta-physical limits on so many levels. my mirror neurons were firing off in ecstatic joy.)
so after the show, i’m standing there with Akiko and Bondo; we’re having the kind of tangential conversation that i suspect reveals something about the fundamental nature of the universe. (it’s the kind of conversation Leon would have been at except that he wasn’t.) i start telling them how i’m living in the woods of Pennsylvania because i’m taking some time before i embark on this fantastical voyage to Japan. Jeremy Pickard is also there and in a suspended moment of time one of those little sparks of synchronicity fire. he mentions how he is developing one of the final plays in his planet series. he is working on EARTH (a play about people) and collaborating with teams in various countries to generate material.
this is how Team Japan came into being.
so i’m lying on the floor of my マンション. “mansion” in Japanese is the word for “condominium building.” in other words, it’s an apartment. (i loved my マンション and like to call it that because it sounds fancy, but let’s not mix meanings here.)
one of the rules for the “satellite teams” for EARTH was to use only the resources that we had available to us to make our piece. as i lay there feeling like everything was rapidly slipping out from under me, i wondered: what do i have?
and: what could i possibly say about my experience in Japan that has any kind of importance in this world?
early on in the EARTH process, i had a Skype session with Jeremy and John from my family’s kitchen in Korea. (by the way, this adds yet another level to transcending time and space—now we are in three places at once!)
we were discussing overpopulation (the theme of EARTH) and in a very Night Bear-ish way, its relationship to the coming of the technological singularity. i asked a question feeling that perhaps it might not be a very popular one: is it even a problem at all???
let’s propose a thought experiment: one of the prevailing metaphors of the technological singularity as popularized by Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil is of a race between humans and machines. Vinge proposes that the world is rapidly approaching the point where machine intelligence will come to outsmart human intelligence. Kurzweil offers a somewhat more optimistic view that the two will become integrated. (Kurzweil’s personal “race” seems to be a bit more ego driven as he exercises his way to immortality.)
now let’s say that the race isn’t between individual humans and computers, but rather the bigger picture of biology and technology. the race is between which of the many environmental inflictions upon our planet (climate change, pollution, overpopulation, to list a few) OR the singularity will radically change life as we know it. if the singularity “wins” and finishes first, then we no longer will have physical bodies quite in the same way. for the sake of this experiment, let’s say that we will either be taken over by computers or integrated into technology. either way, the annihilation of Earth’s physical body ceases to be a problem.
反対に、(hantaini, conversely), if overpopulation or any of the other current planetary concerns win the race and the planet is destroyed, then we don’t have to worry about being turned into computers.
back to my original question: is overpopulation really a problem? or rather, is it a problem that we actually need to do something about?
maybe we’re making a play about a problem that’s not even a problem.
so Jeremy says, “You two have to watch the movie Her by Spike Jonze.”
Spike Jonze happens to be one of my most favorite filmmakers and this was not the first time i was told to watch this particular movie.
this time, i listened.
after returning from Korea, i spent some time in 大阪 (Osaka) with John while he was teaching at 大阪大学 (Osaka “Daigaku” University). i had this nagging feeling that we should follow Jeremy’s suggestion and watch Her. what i didn’t know was that while we were watching the movie, John would do something that would forever change my life and the way i viewed the world.
he paused it during the scene with Alan Watts. if you’ve seen the movie, do you remember it? i ask because the scene with Alan Watts is mere minutes of the film and i could have missed its significance completely if John didn’t create space around the moment.
“Do you know who Alan Watts is?” he asked me.
“He used to teach about Buddhism.” (or something to that effect.)
i don’t exactly remember those last words because i was so absorbed in the movie. i think i actually became singularitized with that film. so i took a moment and only blankness registered. after a few breaths, i said, “Okay. Can we put the movie back on?”
John obliged and time did its little dance. some would say that it marched forward. for me, it shook its wavy tendrils so fluidly in its place that i realized there is no such thing as time. okay, that’s not entirely accurate. but time started to feel like movement. and not any one particular kind. it’s nearly impossible to say that anything is any one thing when it is constantly in motion.
all of a sudden i’m back on my floor in Tokyo. i’m breathing through all of the emotions associated with loss.
when i feel bad or don’t know what to do, my natural instinct is to do something about it: take medicine, try to rub the pain away, drink something, focus on something else (usually work, which almost never helps) or in some other way distract myself or “solve” the problem. this time i decided that if my life was going to break apart so wildly, i would try to break some of my personal habits too.
so instead of doing anything, i just lay there. and i lay there. and then i lay there some more.
i became so at a loss that i started to experience what true silence is. my mind is generally not what i would call “the quiet type.” but at this time, for the first time ever, i just let it go on and on while just lying there and breathing. it reminded of my cousin 민선 listening to me blubber on in Korea, except it was just me listening to my own sad spiral. finally, it exhausted itself.
maybe i’ve never actually heard silence before, but in that moment i knew its profound depth. then it became a moment that kept repeating itself over and over again. from that place of silence, other voices started to creep in.
they didn’t feel like memories or like i was making up conversations with people in my head like i usually do. (yes, i do that.) it sounded like someone else and sometimes something else was speaking.
one time, it was John. “Do you know who Alan Watts is?”
i wasn’t simply remembering him asking me. at the time, i could have sworn that if i opened my eyes and turned my head that he’d be lying on the floor next to me.
i didn’t check. the eyes can be deceiving anyway. but i did answer, my own unspoken voice sounding distant yet close. “No…and I need to find out, don’t I?”
i heard the answer but i didn’t need to. i already knew it.
to my joy, i found that there are a wealth of Alan Watt’s lectures available online. i started listening to them. and i lay there some more.
sometimes i would do almost nothing but either:
- lay there and breathe and listen to Alan Watts.
- lay there and breathe and listen to silence.
this could go on for entire days where i might only get up to pee, eat, write, or do yoga.
but my old habits would creep in from time to time during this period:
“Natsu is holding classes at the Perspectives on Hijkata Research Collective. You’ve never been there. You should go. Plus, there’s that other lecture. That sounds interesting.”
“Or what about Yuri and Seisaku’s Butoh workshop? You love that. And you could really use the exercise and the training. You’re going to waste away into nothingness.”
“Or what about…”
the list would go on.
but i had hurt myself. i wasn’t entirely sure how it happened this time. i do know that the first time my neck spasmed back in 2009, it was because i was taking on too much and wasn’t doing what i needed to be doing. i was doing what i thought i should be doing, notably working too much and being pulled in too many directions. and every recurring injury since then has succumbed to the same conditions.
and hey, my neck felt fine if i just lay there. so i did exactly that. anything more was too much.
i had to Skype with Jeremy at some point. i was in despair. i didn’t know what i could possibly make for this EARTH project.
“Jeremy, I’m trying to figure out what the work is. All I’m doing is lying here and listening to Alan Watts.”
Jeremy responds, “I think that’s a really important question. What is the work? Maybe your work right now is listening to Alan Watts.”
with Jeremy’s permission, i lay there some more.
i realized that by doing nothing, i had found Team Japan. all i had to do was listen to them.
so i interviewed “my team.” they are all, in their unique ways, brilliant. and when i thought about what i could send Jeremy, i wished that i could just sit them in a room and speak so the world could hear them as i could. so i made this:
(the video is intended for and best experienced in a dark space with headphones or otherwise quiet environment with decent audio amplification)
i didn’t realize it then, but the piece that i made for EARTH united two very painful and confusing times in my life. the video was created by The Night Bears right before going to Japan. it was made following the death of my brother, the proclaimed cancer of my cat, and other simultaneous tragedies in my family and personal life. the audio was composed with the voices that emerged out of the darkness in Tokyo. my suffering there consisted of an inability to deal with the disintegration of my physical and emotional capacity; i didn’t understand what to do when things were changing so rapidly from what i had believed to be true.
so for me, this piece really grappled with the notion that what we want to create could actually be the cause of our suffering and destruction. perhaps more is not actually more, but less. we have our wants and our needs. but how do we move through life? who affects the choices that we make? and who are we anyway? how important are these bodies that we oftentimes herald as somehow superior to all the rest? perhaps the Earth experiences us as a chorus of voices telling the same story time and time again. and if the singularity has anything to do with it, perhaps that chorus will finally merge into one voice. or perhaps we already are one and it just depends on how you are listening.
back on that floor in Tokyo i didn’t know who i was anymore or what to do with myself. so i listened to the voices. what came out of it represented a sense of loss, as well as hope for a future that might look and sound very different from what could have ever been imagined.
you can call me crazy. it wouldn’t be the first time. but in going through that process, that’s when some real miracles started to happen.
photo: The Night Bears / The Air Was Thick with Nanobots
Most of us assume as a matter of common sense that space is nothing, that it’s not important and has no energy. But as a matter of fact, space is the basis of existence. How could you have stars without space? Stars shine out of space and something comes out of nothing just in the same way as when you listen, in an unprejudiced way, you hear all sounds coming out of silence. It is amazing. Silence is the origin of sound just as space is the origin of stars, and woman is the origin of man. If you listen and pay close attention to what is, you will discover that there is no past, no future, and no one listening. You cannot hear yourself listening. You live in the eternal now and you are that. It is really extremely simple, and that is the way it is.
~ Alan Watts ~