Your Storming Bohemian is emphatically a child of the early 70s. At fifteen, I lived in a hippie commune under the guidance of an eccentric psychologist, later diagnosed as bipolar. All I knew is, he was hella fun. Dr. Bill wasn’t the sort to make a fuss about school attendance, regular hours, pot smoking, or style of dress (or undress, for that matter). And he was the stable professional in the mix.
Other inspiring characters included “Mad Hans” (an elderly schizophrenic Germanic yoga teacher and serial exhibitionist), “Crazy Irving”, a retired Miami Beach financier, and his son, “Crazy Jerome” who communed with Martians. There was also an enthusiastic young hippie known only as “Here-I-Am,” and a paraplegic acid-popping new-aged guru self-styled as “Bob, The Counselor.” A kind and concerned aunt, speaking with my parents, once diplomatically referred to this motley collection of quirky characters as “the lower echelon of the intellectual class.”
Under the influence of this zany zeitgeist, I was a young man passionately engaged with marijuana, Utopian dreams, astrology, the occult, hypnotism, psychedelia, vino, Sufi spinning, extraterrestrials, and anything else on the psychic smorgasboard.
In retrospect, this cataclysmic conflagration of mad influences is not what I would recommend as a healthy environment for a fifteen-year-old. Admittedly, I have paid a price, as my psychotherapist of ten years can attest.
Nevertheless, I learned to appreciate the value of “altered consciousness.” Of course, as a recovering alcoholic for a quarter century, I refrain 100% from mind-altering substances. But this has only led me to appreciate more deeply the value of mind-altering practices, and the point of this column is to recommend them.
Michael Harner, the psychologist responsible for the popularization of “core shamanism” as a spiritual practice refers to the “shamanic consciousness” which can be accessed by focusing one’s attention on monotonous drumming to induce improvised dreamlike visualizations.
It is commonplace to experience “dream consciousness” and most writers and artists have had the experience of finding ideas, images, plots, and even complex philosophical ideas in the dream world.
I have no problem going beyond these more or less rational approaches to altered consciousness and into territory that might often seem bizarre: mediumistic séances, channeling, all sorts of divination, ecstatic dancing, spinning, trembling, psychic contact with extraterrestrials, attending a Catholic Mass, chanting psalms or sutras, sniffing strange scents, or indulging in fasts or sleep deprivation.
The point is not to believe, but to utilize. Our experience of “consciousness” can be multi-faceted and by no means limited to the every day. We all effortlessly experience some forms of altered consciousness: sleeping, for example, or losing ourselves at a concert, or while watching a movie, or in reading a book, or by making love.
But the planned exploration of such territory—the pursuit of inner space in the role of a “psychonaut”—is something that some folks avoid, and if you are one of those folks, I say: get over it, under it, above it, beneath it, around it, and get OUT.
Go ahead, jump on into the ocean of space: the vacuum’s fine.
Rumpus original logo and artwork by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!).
“The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.