Mystical Aesthetics—Post Script

As an addendum to « Mystical Aesthetics », I wanted to publish some additional material that I had forgotten to elaborate on in that article. I mentioned, at least, art forms and styles of media through which the aesthetic engenders the mystical, and I’d like to add to that dance, modern and contemporary visual art, and some philosophical observations…


I touched on dance with the inclusion of the Mevlevi sema, exemplified by the dervishes of Turkey. The essence of Sufi achievement, the experience of the Absolute, was extracted from the trappings of Islam by the Universal Sufi movement, which is (as the name, in a way, implies) universalist in its philosophy, pertaining to no particular religion—rather embracing the mystical-spiritual heart of all great religious experience.


The Mevlevi sema. (From UNESCO.)

Dance also undoubtedly affected another, much more distinct spiritual system, one which some of the aforementioned Sufis (notably Idries Shah, an important modern mystic) claimed had borrowed some of its concepts from their tradition. (Some have also claimed an Orthodox Christian, Hermetic, and/or Kabbalistic influence.) This practice is called the Fourth Way. The system (which I am reluctant to deem a religion or philosophy, as it doesn’t neatly fit into either of those camps), ironically also called “the System”, as well as “the Work”, was developed by the Greek-Armenian, Russian-born mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (also known as G.I. Gurdjieff). Gurdjieff was interested in the methods whereby humans could achieve their greatest potential, and saw the aim of his methods as waking individuals from a state of “waking sleep” into a higher, more fully-realized mode of consciousness that embraced the complete nature of being and self-awareness. Gurdjieff noted his school of thought was a kind of “esoteric Christianity,” and introduced the idea of “self-remembering.” The Fourth Way was further developed by Gurdjieff’s student, the esotericist P.D. Ouspensky, who wrote much on the subject and popularized it.

The Fourth Way is represented by the enneagram, developed (in this context) by Ouspensky, and symbolizes and systematizes the method[s] Gurdjieff and Ouspensky had elaborated. The points of the Fourth Way enneagram correspond to certain numbers, archetypes, or properties of life and nature.

Gurdjieff’s legacy of sacred dance—perhaps more appropriately deemed choreography, or “movements”, as he called them—and the co-composed music they were later set to, figures into the Fourth Way as a method of self-realization.

I’ve yet to experience one of these performances for myself, although, in any case, I’ve been raring to attend one of the “movements” since learning of Gurdjieff’s philosophy. (Granted, public performances of this kind seem very difficult to locate.) I first encountered the concepts of the Fourth Way through Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain, undoubtedly one of the outright weirdest movies of all time. (And one that I highly recommend!) That movie also spurred my reading of the incomplete novel Mount Analogue, by Rene Daumal. (Also highly recommended.)


Dancers perform Gurdjieff’s “movements” in front of an enneagram. (From The Ritman Library: Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica.)

Returning to the visual arts, and not in a particularly religious sense, we find that the quiet reflection involved in appreciating a painting, for instance, can be meditative and, perhaps, ineffable.

The surrealists have always struck a chord with me: they could take us to other worlds, and imbue the mind with strange modes of understanding. Magritte has long been one of my favorites. I vaguely remember seeing his The Palace of Curtains, III in the MoMA, several years back, not far from Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and  a Van Gogh painting. (Starry Night?)

Anyway, I like his The Son of Man (French: Le fils de l’homme) very much in particular. This piece is haunting, mysterious, and (like many of his paintings) plays subtle tricks on the mind, and causes us to reevaluate our own consciousnesses and the way they relate to familiar objects and symbols:


The Son of Man (Le fils de l’homme) by Magritte. (1964.)

Schopenhauer, whose aesthetics (here as in the philosophical discipline or study) were elaborate and sophisticated (Cf. The World as Will and Representation), divided aesthetic appreciation into different types based on their effects on human consciousness and humans’ relationship to an overarching Will. (This is a topic I won’t elaborate on here.) He noted that a state of tranquility and will-lessness (maybe a sort of quiet, ineffable absorption or contemplation, free from immediate cravings and striving) followed from the appreciation of “the beautiful”, for instance.

A definite mystical aesthetic comes out in the work of psychedelic and visionary artists. This is sensible: Few phenomena (other than religion and spirituality) are as closely associated with mystical experiences (and religion and spirituality, for that matter…) than hallucinogenic drugs. Now, while I don’t personally partake in yagé or peyote or any other mind-bending entheogens, I am vastly intrigued by their potential, not only as tools for the promotion of psychological and spiritual well-being, but also as catalysts for artistic inspiration. (Cf. McKenna’s The Invisible Landscape, etc.) In this way they are invaluable aids for some who wish to plumb and probe the greatest depths of the mind in order to retrieve powerful creativity.

One visionary artist, who deserves nothing less than a standing ovation for the absolutely meticulous detail and sublimeness of his work, is Alex Grey. He’s maybe best known for his collaborations with the band Tool, for whom he has produced album artwork and some stunning visuals for their music videos.

While Alex Grey and other psychedelic and visionary artists are not as highly regarded among the bohemian circles as many of their high-brow contemporaries, they have carved out a unique niche in the world of painting, collage, illustration, and so forth.


Ecstasy by Alex Grey.

… Pablo Amaringo, a Peruvian native who incorporates shamanistic and other indigenous elements into his works, is also well known in this regard:

Ayari Huarmi by Pablo Amaringo

Ayari Huarmi by Pablo Amaringo.

… Similarly psychedelic, and yet also very different by impression and method, are the collages of Eugenia Loli:

Three Minutes to Nirvana

Three Minutes to Nirvana (“Minute One”) by Eugenia Loli.


Drugs of Choice (or, Why I Need Better Drugs)


The third circle of Dante’s vision of Hell. This circle is the home of the gluttons, those not completely unlike myself on relatively bad days. (Source uknown.)

Food is my drug of choice, and I damn myself for it. Temporarily, that is. Many of us have been through that, or consistently struggle with some style of self-inflicted ass kicking. But then you get hungry again, and it starts over and builds back up to the break.  I eat shit and then crawl up into my head to do a few rounds of “it’ll get better,” watching the words drift out of sight. In a moment I realize that much of that post-indulgent, self-consoling armchair philosophy, all of those machismo-laden aspirations are pretty unnecessary. You know what I mean… you have the entire box of macaroni and cheese—you’ve nearly forgotten the meaning of the phrase “serving size!”—and then afterwards you stand there, uneasy, somewhere way off those mental projections playing out on your mind’s eye, a paradisaical rendition in which you bench wrought iron and walk out the door an incubus…

At some point you just have to watch a button pop off of a pair of freshly ironed slacks and go flying across the room. You have to see it land on the floor or hit the baseboards so that you wake up and shove those flowers down your throat, followed by a large tub of Hamburger Helper. It’s only then, in a moment of glory, that you can admit to it, turn your eyes to the earth, and humbly proclaim, “I’m just a fucking fatass.”

It doesn’t need to get any more complex than that. Really… I mean it’s quite the relief. Because now that you know you’ve got a problem you can, of course, begin chipping away until you expunge from your life every inclination towards pork fat and Boston Cremes. Wipe your brow, raise your hands, and place the cake slowly on the ground.

No, it’s never that simple. Really… because then it’s that chipping away that becomes so tedious… hours at the gym won’t do justice to half of a large pizza on a Saturday evening. You just ate half a fucking pizza. I’m sorry, sir, ma’am, but you are a bona fide fatass. How do you put it, then? … Quid pro quo!

Now let me be clear: you don’t need to be fat to be a fatass. I’ve met fatasses short and tall, rotund and rattling like chimes in the wind. It’s a psychological condition, fatassery. It’s the unassailable connection you’ve got to food. Food becomes a sad savior. The world may be falling apart, but if you’ve got the time and lack of energy to allocate to a box car diner, you may just die happily. Really, is there anything more comfortingly complacent, and yet depressing, than taking so much joy in the simple act of stuffing one’s face? And why, in the first place? You may not even eat when you’re hungry… you may eat out of boredom or to alleviate any one of a myriad of shitty situations. You lost your job? How about we go out for a slice?

It’s no stretch at this point… the mentality of indulgence and routine, lackadaisical waving-aways of reality end up providing you with highs that hit harder and stick longer. Sleep is chief among these. Sleep is my drug of choice.

However, I don’t quite damn myself for sleeping as much as being gluttonous. Because sleep is more universal, you know. There aren’t qualities of sleep more or less hedonistic than food: There is no red velvet cake to sleeping, or if there is, it’s just more subtle. Because unless you’re an insomniac or work the graveyard, do you really envy your neighbor for his Bed of Ware? Unless you recline on nails or your spine is snapped, what is it to sleep that makes it anything other than ideal for everyone, all the time? Sure, doctors say too little or too much is unhealthy, but we don’t disparage over-sleepers like we do over-eaters. We sympathize with excessive fatigue, but frown upon excessive hunger. Or, rather, we could care less that our friend crashed on our couch for 16 hours, whereas if he eats our top ramen we can kick him in the taint. Where are our priorities? Where are our preferences? What is the narcoleptic’s equivalent of fatassery? A sloth? What?

It’s just goes without saying that if people have no obligations or endeavors on a certain day, they might as well, and may very well, continue punching the snooze button until 6 pm rolls around. I often experience this as the fruition of staying up until 7 in the morning. It’s nice to know you’re not in a rush to do anything in particular, although the rebound sets in eventually, and regret pours out of your eyes. At least I was doing something while I was inhaling that burrito. Now I’ve just been comatose for half a day. What did that do, other than to prove that I can waste my precious time? What did it do, other than to show that I have the freedom not to worry, or rather to put worrying off until the strain becomes unbearable?

Masturbation is also a drug of choice. It, too, comes (heh) with the nothing-to-do 20-something package. I mean if you’re really, really bored all day, and don’t even take a step outside for nearly 3 consecutive days, how else do you think you’re going to end up spending your time? And if once, then why not twice, or thrice, or 15 times? Go for the record, why don’t you? You’ll be sorry when you’re sore though.

I don’t want habituation or hubris, just the ability to do things at leisure. Perhaps I’d like a little moderation in all things—as they say—but then what’s to keep that from becoming a new priority? Can you mediate mediation without Jack growing dull? Doesn’t that become a “drug” after all is said and done with? Where’s the standard beyond health or appropriate time management, set for and by oneself? When does my choice fall into a gridlock with my impulses, and then am I really even calling the shots?

These are just some thoughts. But in conclusion, I think I may need better drugs.