It’s very important to understand what importance is. This topic is explained at great length in my book Thought Forms, and I highly recommend that anyone who wants to understand what is going on (in the universe, in society, in their own lives) read this book. It’s not an easy read; but what’s going on out there isn’t that easy to understand either. I’m not going to ravel the whole topic again here, but just concentrate on one small aspect of it, namely altered states of awareness, and their relationship to everyday life. Another name for “everyday life” is waking consciousness; and altered states are intrusions of dreaming into waking consciousness.
Importance can be defined as the feeling that there is something more important to pay attention to than what is happening (being felt) in the now moment. It is importance that separates dreaming from waking. Nothing is more important than anything else in a dream. True, we can have dreams in which we are striving for something that is important to us, or trying to avoid something which thereby becomes important to us. But this is merely dreaming about importance; importance doesn’t undergird the entire dream state as it does waking consciousness, in which we have our attention focused on something important every single second we are awake. Just because we may strive to achieve something in a dream doesn’t mean that it’s important to us to achieve it – it just means that we’re striving to achieve it. Maybe the next moment we’ll be off somewhere else and have lost all interest in what we were so mightily striving for a minute ago. If something we are striving for is important to us (more important to achieve it than not achieve it), then we’re not dreaming – we’re awake.
The feeling of importance still exists in the dream state to the extent to which we still feel that there is an “us” there – a being or center (body) to which things are happening; however our “us-ness” is more sporadic than in wakefulness; we’re not constantly checking back on it to make sure we’re still there, like we do when we’re awake. In fact, that’s the definition of going to sleep – laying down our importance, our sense of personal control and continuity, our phoniness, when the strain of maintaining this position becomes overwhelming. We get tired and go to sleep. This is an act of great trust and love, which is why we enjoy going to sleep so much (and hate waking up). Going to sleep is about the only act which most of us perform in our daily lives which is in line with our true feelings.
Importance is the wall of self-consciousness which we erect between ourselves and the world outside of us (i.e., it defines our boundaries and thereby creates “us” – a unique, self-existent entity which stands apart from its background); and this wall is held in place by fear. Chögyam Trungpa describes importance thusly: “… we jump or twitch. Sometimes fear manifests in the form of restlessness: doodles on a note pad, playing with our fingers, or fidgeting in our chairs. We feel that we have to keep ourselves moving all the time, like an engine running in a motor car. The pistons go up and down, up and down. As long as the pistons keep moving, we feel safe. Otherwise, we are afraid we might die on the spot” – i.e., lose our grip on waking consciousness and enter willy-nilly into an uncontrollable dream state.
It is importance which enables us to focus our moment-to-moment waking attention: as importance (focus) decreases, awareness increases. For example, if we take a shower while tripping on psychedelics, we can feel (are consciously aware of) every individual drop of water as it hits our skin as a discrete event. On the other hand we can’t balance a checkbook while tripping because we can’t focus that much attention – there’s too much going on to be able to focus. Being able to focus upon one thing at a time by separating it out from its background (and screening out – ignoring – everything else that is happening in the selfsame moment) means making that thing more important than anything else. Infants can’t do this – they take in everything passively and indiscriminately – they can’t focus their attention on one thing at a time as adults can. That focus upon one (important) thing at a time is what creates YOU – a separated, self-existent YOU. Babies have nothing like this – they’re lost in la la land, they don’t feel a separated ME there in the midst of everything like we adults do. Things happen, but not to THEM; they just happen, period. That’s why babies spend so much time sleeping: it takes an extraordinary effort to maintain the fiction of a separated self by paying attention to just one thing at a time (instead of everything at once); and they just have to sleep it off till they get the hang of it (being uptight every second they are awake).
Importance, then, is a screen of inattention, a criterion for selecting just one of the innumerable possibilities of where attention will be placed at any given moment in order to bring just one piece of the overall picture into high focus. Like infants, we can’t do this in normal dreaming, because there is relatively little importance involved in dreaming (just as there is little importance involved in psychedelic tripping). The feeling that something is important is sufficient of and by itself to bring that thing into focus and to disjoin it from its surroundings. It’s magic: to feel that something is important is to be able to separate it from its background and hold it in place. It is importance which gives waking the stability and continuity absent from dreaming; or better said, it is importance which isolates a particular part of the dream (makes it stand still long enough to examine minutely and get into a tizzy about). It’s importance that makes us believe the illusion that things are important – i.e., that this isn’t all just one big dream in which nothing whatsoever is important, because we’re going to die anyway no matter what we do or don’t do. Death is God’s way of saying, “Ha, ha! Got you last!” (i.e. everything that you think is so all-fired important, is actually un-).
When importance (focus) decreases, we enter into altered states of awareness – dreaming while nominally awake. This is usually suppressed in our quotidian existence by our constant internal dialogue – the mental yak-yak we engage in from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep. In altered states this yak-yak abates sufficiently for magic to happen: magic can only arise from a position in inner silence. This is why dilettante magicians can’t get their spells to work; and why people who frantically seek e.g. “magical” cancer cures can’t make them happen. Magic requires unbending intent (not just good intentions); and unbending intent requires a springboard of inner silence. Only from the position of inner silence – away from the importance of yak-yak – can we send an unequivocal intent out to the universe without the static of a zillion other competing messages interfering.
When we move into altered states of awareness our waking consciousness becomes more dream-like. Psychedelic drugs and marijuana can do this: by lowering our importance (moment-to-moment yak-yak), we move from a waking state to more of a dreaming state, in which we are more relaxed and our sensory perceptions (visual, aural, olfactory, gustatory, and tactile) become intensified. This is why sex is so much more intense while stoned or tripping; and why food is so utterly delicious. Or better said, psychedelics lower the importance which normally dulls our senses in our day-to-day waking consciousness (because we’re buzzing about in pursuit of this, that, or the other “important” thing – in the case of sex, the hot and urgent rush to orgasm). This is also what happens when two people “fall in love” – particularly “love at first sight” – which is a species of mutual bewitching wherein the sexual turn-on between two people lowers each other’s importance (the wall of suspicion and distrust which normally separates people in day-to-day waking consciousness – the fact that in our repressed society no one can ever share what they are truly thinking or feeling with anyone else). This defensive wall – aka importance – is lowered when the sexual barrier between two people crashes down, since (as Freud noted) sexual repression is at the root of all emotional repression. It’s usual temporary (until the infatuation wears off, as it inevitably does); and then the importance barriers are raised again – in spades, to efface the preceding vulnerability of non-importance.
The lowering of importance is also what creates the altered states of awareness known as spiritual epiphanies. As I point out in my book What is Magic?, recent converts to any religion often experience a high, a state of grace, which (like infatuation) usually doesn’t last very long. These epiphanies are gifts of spirits (or gurus channeling spirits) who have the capacity to temporarily lower people’s importance, which in turn opens their hearts. This often happens when people are at the end of their rope with nowhere to turn. It’s often at such times of complete desperation that they open to the Spirit and allow grace to descend upon them. This state of grace is channeled through spirit intermediaries such as Jesus, Krishna , or Buddha, who have the power to lower our importance. This grace is usually temporary because the people still have inner work to do in order to embody the state of grace permanently in their everyday lives; and Jesus, Krishna, and Buddha have more important things to attend to than to carry spiritual cripples around on their backs all the time.
The spirits I work with do this kind of thing to me all the time, particularly at Mayan ceremonies and holy places, and occasionally in Catholic churches. There’s usually some kind of lesson that they are trying to show me or message they are trying to give me (for myself or someone else). These experiences give me another point of reference outside my wonted yak-yak which enables me to see things clearly; to orient myself; and to get a better grip on what I’m doing-thinking-feeling in my quotidian life. They talk to me all the time in my normal consciousness as well, but really, when all is said and done, that’s just talk. When they really want me to understand something they lower my importance and sock it to me – move me into a magical world in which I’m blown away (have visions: like daydreams in the sense that they have a visual and sometimes aural component, but they are far more intense and emotionally compelling than sterile thought form fantasies; and they are designed to show me some lesson which cannot be verbalized). Altered awareness is a state of direct knowing and understanding which bypasses thought and verbal expression and hits on a heart level. Therefore it makes a deeper and more permanent impression than channeled information does.
Similarly, when Zen masters hit meditators on the back with sticks it isn’t to “spur them forward”, but rather to make them give up their importance (resentment at being struck). Zen masters do with their sticks exactly what Carlos Castaneda’s teacher don Juan did to his disciples: strike them hard on the back to make their assemblage points move – to shake off their importance to push them into altered states of awareness.
It’s not the altered states in themselves that matter. Peak experiences don’t change anything permanently; the only thing that matters is what we do in our everyday lives – our everyday mood. What altered states do is puncture our customary moods of importance – our usual uptight and self-centered feelings about ourselves and other people – to allow new, joyous moods to take over. Altered states set up probable realities of joy by allowing for a different possibility than routine acquiescence to the dictates of our conceptual thought forms (the armatures of thoughts we have created to reinforce our customary importance moods – the thoughts we think all day long every day to make ourselves feel jealous or pissed-off or depressed or self-satisfied or worried or whatever our customary moods are). Altered states give us a momentary respite in which we can tell our conceptual thought forms to “Scat!”; but the only thing that really matters is our everyday equilibrium mood. It’s either joyous, or it’s not.
Altered states are groovy, but the real battleground is our everyday mood. By momentarily unhooking our customary moods that keep us imprisoned in importance, peak experiences give us a peek. They help us to dethrone the importance of our importance temporarily. But altered states per se are not the goal; the goal is to make our everyday experience an altered state – to enter into (lucid) dreaming from a position in wakefulness; to make lucid dreaming our quotidian consciousness. And to do that we have to make our importance – everything that we believe is important – unimportant.
Thanks to Bob Makransky for allowing the republiction of his wondeful work.
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