It all started when I got sick. I got sick, and I was so sick that I couldn’t do anything else besides just be as sick as I was. Every little distraction I tried to offer myself just seemed to result in a backslide into feeling even more ill. It felt like a real blow, because if I wasn’t going to be able to get any work done, shouldn’t I be able to watch as many movies as I wanted to? The answer was no; I was allowed to watch zero movies, and make zero pathetic phone calls to friends and engage in zero texting. What I was allowed to do was to lay on the couch and attempt to put my mind in a place where I was not miserable. It turns out I wasn’t even able to get any thinking done. Once I started trying to think about things, my mind would race and get kind of hyper, and I would try to get up and make myself useful, but I would feel too crappy to accomplish anything, and so what would result is that I would begin to complain about how horrible I felt and what a disaster it was that I was sick. I guess I did get some complaining done. At a certain point, I put two and two together, and noticed that my girlfriend was staying home to take care of me, and that if I kept complaining I was in danger of losing her attentions, not least because all my complaining made me seem less ill than I actually was. So, I shut up, and gave in, and laid down on the couch and did nothing at all. It was at that point that things started to get interesting.
Or was it after I recovered that it became interesting? Once I recovered, and was able to enjoy the sensation of feeling something move gently through my mind, I guess then I noticed the contrast with the empty space I had become during system shutdown. For starters, I immediately received about a million new ideas and recollections. “Remember how Jessica never let me dance along in the Footloose routine on the playground? Wow, I guess that’s the reason that I have never taken the time to see Footloose.” Along with the mudslide of new information, I somehow also felt more aware of what particular shape I take up in space. Like my container had been emptied, and now I could see its shape, both the inside shape and the shape it takes up in the world around me. It was an awareness of mental contrast. It reminded me of what it felt like when I left my parents for the first time, and went to live in Denmark as an exchange student. It was really a bizarre sensation. At first, everything was so overwhelming that I didn’t notice the transition. After a few months, though, I started to experience strange psychological phenomena. I remember sitting at the dinner table across from my host parents, and having the sensation that they were receding far into the distance. It really felt to me like they were sitting 20 feet away, instead of just across the table. I thought that I was going crazy.
I walked around a lot by myself, and for the first time perceived that the planet is a sphere, and that all human culture exists on this sphere, and that the sphere is floating in a universe of infinite unknown. I also became aware, through a fairly painful process, that although they taught this knowledge about the planet floating in outer space in every school, most people didn’t seem to perceive their world this way on a day to day basis. Most people lived inside of their lives, and experienced the boundaries of their cares and connections as the known universe.
My parents are very loud. As a family, we are loud people. If there is quiet, we fill the quiet with noise. My brother was just visiting, and we noticed that he does the exact same thing that I do, which is to burst out with whistling or singing or just jabbering wordlessly whenever there is a silence in the house. The family that I lived with in Denmark is Q-U-I-E-T. They will sit together at the dinner table, and if they have nothing important to say, they will just say nothing at all. I guess it must have shocked my system to suddenly have so much open space around me. I think that in some ways that quiet worked in the counter effect of my sickness-imposed moratorium on noise. I think that the space being illuminated around me made me able to notice the contents and shape of my interior.
Though, to be sure, I still made plenty of noise while I was in Denmark. In particular, I remember hanging out with one of the advisors who was in her late 20’s. She told me one time, after I had been to dinner with her and her boyfriend, that after I left he just said, “Phewwwwww.” This was to indicate that I had not stopped talking throughout the entire evening with them. Obviously, the fact that I remember her telling me this so clearly is evidence of what an effect it had on me to hear it. It was totally new information. It’s funny to think about that little guy that I was. I had just made it out, and I didn’t know what from what. Basically, I didn’t know the difference between me and everything that surrounded me. It turns out this is a very interesting distinction.