Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Arthur Russell - Being It

04 Being It 1.mp3

We all have different songs that we feel have changed our life, particularly if we are someone who has a very intimate relationship with music. Off the top of my head, I can think of dozens of songs that have made an impact on the way I think about the world, myself and my life. There are many songs that have been important in the way they can act as a sort of marker for where I was at a certain point in my life, and they can take me to a deep and intimate place within myself that I otherwise may have forgotten. These songs are wonderful and will always have a special place in my heart.

But there is no song that has brought me the same degree of actual enlightenment than Arthur Russell's "Being It". The effect it has is different than the everyday profundity of Paul Haig's "Something Good" (see below), for while the latter is a reminder to change how we interact with the world and the choices that we make within the world, Being It is about seeing past the world we live in altogether; it is literally about transcendence, and acts as a harbinger for that transcendence.

Let me tell you a little anecdote. Once, this past fall, I was having a rough day for whatever reason. I was exhausted and at work and I just felt kind of bored. I was talking with this girl who is a very old friend of mine and I was playfully but somewhat boldly flirting with her, although I did not expect her to reciprocate it. She didn't, and it upset me. I felt rejected. I had also applied to several jobs the day before but had not heard back from any of them. This also made me feel rejected. In both instances, the feeling of rejection was, of course, stupid. Why should I feel rejected by either? But I did anyway.

On the train ride home, I was listening to Being It. I was sitting there, and I noticed that almost no one on the train was talking to anyone else. Everyone was alone. At first, this depressed me. I was on a poorly-lit 7 train, we were going under the river into Queens and I felt rejected and I was listening to this somewhat intense song. Then, I just decided to surrender to it. I closed my eyes and felt the sensations filling my torso shift; I became softer inside and then, when Arthur sings what he does at the 3:55 mark, I suddenly felt a profound sense of liberation, and I no longer felt rejected in any way.

It is only being.

Think about that. It is only being. If you feel willing to indulge me, close your eyes and think about that phrase for even five minutes. Hell, even one minute. It is only being. It is only life. It is only being who we are. It is only being human. It is only our egos. It is only our emotions. It is only what we want. It is only what we fear. It is only what we know. It is only what we feel. It is only all of these things. What makes us think that these things are so monumentally important? Think about that.

Now, I believe that we all have souls, and that there is a world beyond our material one. Maybe you do, maybe you don't. But believing what I do is a huge part of believing Arthur when he says, "It is only being." Our egos, our selves, are impure and create drama. They desire and fear and demand of others, although I believe that our souls do not. Why do we equate intensity with profundity? Why is pain or longing considered important or profound? It is only pain. And we are only ourselves, and we cannot take things personally. If someone rejects us, it wasn't meant to be; at least not at that moment. If we don't get what we want, it wasn't meant to be. It is what it is, at every moment.

Think about that. It is what it is. Our life is only our life; our bodies are only our bodies; our thoughts are only our thoughts; our desires are only our desires; being is only being. Why do we think any of these things are important? This song is a call to let go of thinking anything is more than it is, and once we achieve that, once we realize that it is what it is, we see beyond it to what it truly is, but only once we let go of what our emotions think it is. Confused? It is very confusing, but profoundly simple. When I was rejected by my friend, I was only rejected by my friend. That is it. There is nothing more to it than that. It does not matter what the reasons were, because they do not affect what is and what is not. Sit in stillness and ponder this; when we lose, we only lose. Detach all emotional connection to words; loss is loss. It is when something is no longer there, when it no longer is. And that loss is what it is, and nothing more. Our selves are what fears loss. Fear fears loss. And what is fear? Fear is fear, and nothing more. It is what it is. Our selves judge life and others; they determine something to be good or bad. Why is one thing good and another bad? Everything is what it is. Good and bad are constructs of the self, and really: who are we to judge the universe, to judge existence, to judge being and the way of God or heaven or nature or the universe or Isness or whatever you want to call it? We are only ourselves, and everything is what it is, and what is not is what it is in being what it is not.

Let me relate something very personal to me. When I was a child, I used to have dreams and occasionally conscious visions in which I would see what Aldous Huxley called "Preternatural light" in his book about LSD, The Doors Of Perception. This kind of light has been associated for more or less the whole of recorded human history with spirituality and enlightenment, and for whatever reasons I was lucky enough to see it. Preternatural light is essentially light that appears to be self-luminous and alive. It is unlike anything in the material world, and cannot possibly be recreated, even by computers. In fact, the closest thing to it is to stare at a Dan Flavin and let the layers of entoptic phenomena flow in until the light gives the impression of being alive and moving (hence why I love Flavin). In the light I have typically seen, there are colors that flow into one another as one; they are distinguishable but only at certain moments; they are one and many at once, orange is green and green is orange, yet one can still be called by its name and the other by its own. The appearance of preternatural light has always been accompanied by this strange sensation of simultaneous fullness and emptiness, with each moving in and out of the other, like a moving, living Yin and Yang. It feels something like sand shifting so quickly that we cannot comprehend it, and it feels slowed down to what our human bodies can apprehend. I used to often have dreams in which all material had vanished, and all that remained was a mass of preternatural light; there was no sky, no ground. All that was, was light.

Part two of this story: when I was a senior in college, I had a vision while writing a paper on Stan Brakhage (fittingly). Now, when I say vision, I mean something that I knew was borne of my intuition, from my soul. I suddenly had a flash of what love looks like. Yes, of what love itself looks like, if it could be photographed or represented visually. It was of a blue light, reflected identically on the other side of a streak of black void. That was it. It was a reflection of light, with a void between it. I realized a few months ago, while listening to Being It, that that blue light is what the soul looks like, and that that mass of preternatural light is essentially what the non-material world appears as. Perhaps the non-material world I refer to is what Christians would call Heaven. Now, I know that most of you will probably think that I am totally nuts, and not buy any of this, but I believe this very deeply; take it or leave it. I know it sounds strange. But if you look throughout loads and loads of literature, many very well-respected scholars and writers have said more or less the same thing. Why do you think people are obsessed with light? "Let there be light." "All that is, is light." St. Augustine equated the soul to a living light. And why is mescaline important in many Native American cultures? Anyway, you can take it or leave it, as I said. It is what it is.

All of this has made me realize something which I will now try to explain. Love is the most important thing to me. Love is what I value above all else. And the big thing that I have realized, is that love is not an emotion. Love has nothing to do with the Self. We only think it does because when our Selves experience it, it is intense, and provokes much longing, fear and general emotion. Love is as still and simple as the light filling your room right now. It is as simple as reflection in a pond, as light reflecting in a mirror. That is all it is. My vision of love was not a metaphor; it is what it looks like. That is what love is; it is being. Love is merely acceptance of what is and what is not, because love is what is natural and already there. Love is Being and Being is Love. God is Love and Love is God, and Love is God is Being. With those whom I love unconditionally, I feel each and every time a sense of wonder at who they are, a sense of stillness and peace when reflecting on them. I cannot tell you why I feel this, either. Why do we love? I think that when we feel unconditional love for another person - we meaning our Selves - it is because our souls reflect one another; they are the same light with a space between them. Or perhaps that black void I saw was just the 98.7% (approximately) of light that is invisible in the universe (scientific fact!). But when we feel that love, we see beyond ourselves, beyond this world, and into the eternal. But this love; this can be full of joy and it can be full of fear. Yet I firmly believe that true love is not about the Self; it is not about emotion. It is simply a fact, a state of being. It is as simple as saying, "This still pond is reflecting the sky above it." That is love, my friends. It is what it is, and nothing more. It is light reflecting itself. It is the acknowledgement of this, and of letting things be. Our Selves experience love as this huge dramatic thing that is so cinematic, but it is so simple. It is only being. It is the light coming through your window right now. It is as simple as a mass of light and color, together as one, in complete and eternal silence. In the silence of light is love. In becoming the silence of light, we become love; but there is nothing to become, for we already are. When we let go of our Selves, when we quiet our minds, we become love, for it is what we already are and always shall be. When we love another, we love and accept them; we let them be, and respect their being. Our love for them is a fact, a state of mind; it is as straightforward as seeing our face in a mirror when we stand before it. Love is only profound to us because it signals the overcoming of fear; in reality, love is everywhere and everything.

All that is, is light.

Love is God and God is Love.

God is light.

All that is, is love.

This summer, at the Dan Flavin retrospective at the LACMA, I was staring at one of his corner pieces, in which green and pink illuminate the corner. As the colors transposed due to my photoreceptors wearing out, I was overcome with the utter certainty that I was looking at - and seeing - God.

All of this is immediately before us, we only have to recognize it. Being It is about that recognition.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. -Corinthians 13:12

Everybody on earth knowing
that beauty is beautiful
makes ugliness.

Everybody knowing
that goodness is good
makes wickedness.

For being and nonbeing
arise together;
hard and easy
complete each other;
long and short
shape each other;
high and low
depend on each other;
note and voice
make the music together;
before and after
follow each other.

That's why the wise soul
does without doing,
teaches without talking.

The things of this world
exist, they are;
you can't refuse them.

To bear and not to own;
to act and not lay claim;
to do the work and let it go:
for just letting it go
is what makes it stay.

-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter Two


lady chatterley said...

I just stumbled onto your blog via a Google on Arthur Russell--thank you! Excellent taste, thoughtful commentary. Keep the music coming.
Also, lovely to know you live off the seven. If you don't already, you should get yourself a night spinning somewhere in the neighborhood. I'd love to browse your collection.

Christian McAdoo said...

thank you