I talk a great deal about the Floaty-Nowhere Headspace, often without providing much context on what that means. It’s always “a place I go” or “where the ideas happen.” This morning, I had a conversation with a friend who lives largely in the literal Universe. He’s very much about the empirical world–what you can perceive with the human senses; he is genuinely a gifted scientist. But he shuts himself away from exploring the experiences which must be termed as mystic or spiritual, because he has always stated that he feels there is a lack of evidence for their existence.
I’ve always countered him with the notion that, evidence for their objective existence in space does not prevent individuals from having very real experiences with them. That there is a quantifiable explanation for them, neural lighting, biochemistry, composite memory recall–that, I will accept. But how do you track the experience of the numinous in real time? It’s a debate we often have, and it’s been going on for the seven years I’ve known him. We don’t really disagree, we just tend to interpret data from different perspectives. I am just as interested in logging verifiable data that can be exposed to rigorous scrutiny on an independent basis. Then again, I also accept my forays into the Floaty-Nowhere Headspace as if they were real journeys. In a sense, they are.
“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” ~Dr. Carl Sagan
A Natural Function of the Creative Faculty
That faculty is an inherent aspect of human cognition. My friend is willing to accept this posit on credit in order to provide a framework for our discussion. Even his idol, the physicist Niels Bohr, made judicious use of this human ability to imagine, to strike out into a realm of unreality. When he becomes overly literal, I like to remind him of this in a way that might be more appropriately described as poking him with a pointed observation. I also like to bring Kierkegaard along for the ride, with references to his Leap.
Why am I going into all of this? Well, you see, Gray insists upon relying solely on the evidence of imperfect human sensory faculties. When I bring this up, he starts looking uncomfortable, because he knows where I’m going. He knows imagination is going to be brought up, and my world of make-believe has the effect of making him itch. I tell him it’s because he knows that intuitive thought–a non-localized thought process that draws upon previous knowledge, memory, and stimuli that may be completely unrelated to each other, have had a major part in the development of many of the most groundbreaking scientific theories.
These are ideas he has chosen to accept as sound, in order to provide a framework for further research, thought, and the testing of hypotheses relevant to his field. He also doesn’t want to admit that he draws on this creative faculty. But he doesn’t make as much of a fuss as he used to when I make statements such as:
I think it’s closely tied to human intelligence, language, crafts, arts, the further development of the sciences, and our very sense of traveling through the world. It is sentience, to create, to generate new and novel objects or products from what is, at its most basic, nothing more than chemically induced electrical impulses within a medium of fat, water, and fibrous material that is fueled by glucose.
When we create, we leave a fingerprint of ourselves–every moment spent as a conscious being is present in each creation, and this is a form of communication, a visible message of our ideas, our time, our spirits. In this way, everyone we have cherished, hated, fought against or made love to, speaks. You, dear reader, are hearing the voices of hundreds of people right now–not just those I have encountered, but writers I have loved, musicians long since gone to dust who kindled something beautiful within me with their creations, artists who showed me the meaning of beauty and perception and told me a story without words.
The Subtle Universe of the Unmade and the Already Broken
Our dogeared debate occurred this morning because he asked me, after a particularly long silence, where I go when I get that empty look in my eyes. He said he had the strangest feeling I wasn’t with him at the table when I did that. I answered that I wasn’t. I was in my Floaty-Nowhere Headspace. He looked a bit blank, not because he’s never heard me use the term, but because he has no idea what it means. He has no referent that will allow him to access its meaning. I told him it would be difficult for me to describe it to him without sounding like some New Age nutcase–his words, not mine–but he seemed to really want to understand, so what follows is a smoothed out and abridged explanation…
We may assume for this description that my creative space is filled by elements that I have encountered in my experience as a conscious being. It contains nothing that is truly unknown, there is no revelatory content in that sense. However, all these things–these bits and pieces of sensory data, concepts, speech elements, music, artistic forms and all the other minutia that make up my time here–exist independently of the framework of logic, temporal sequence, or relational data. They’re just floating around “in there,” phasing in and out of being, changing form, combining with each other. This is constantly occurring.
Over the years, I’ve learned to access this state of mind in an intentional way, as if I were going to the pantry for dinner ingredients. Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m going to prepare for dinner. At other times, I know exactly what I’m going to fetch. I have only to access it. But then there are those times when I trip and fall into it. It might be akin to sleepwalking in my house and waking up standing in front of the open pantry with a jar of sauce in my hands. But then, you can also add to that strangeness, that it is a jar of sauce I either do not remember purchasing or actually did not buy. Still, there it is, in my hand.
Accessing Altered States Without Chemicals
It’s commonly known that many cultures have structured a spiritual lexicon around experiences of altered states of consciousness. These are often achieved via substances with various properties, which are attributed with sacred significance. The use of and reflexive development of ritual and deeper meaning of these altered states is a cornerstone of sacred practice in many places, at many times. What is important to recognize is that, in many cases, the use of substances is not mutually bound to the experience of such states. They are, at the very least, short cuts, access tunnels to the place I spoke of above.
There are a number of disciplines that incorporate meditation and mindfulness as their chief methods for accessing these other places within the mind. What I spoke of to my friend could be likened to deep meditation, a practice that actually requires intense discipline and a great deal of practice because it allows an individual to influence physical processes such as heart rate, pain response, and metabolism as well as accessing the altered state of consciousness. For these individuals, this is often a tool of understanding, a place in which solutions to issues present themselves, or peace is reached free of the fetters of the outside world.
Limbic Rhythms and Wordless Weather
While I accept that I can seem quite odd to most people, especially if they catch me before I’ve replaced my “filter.” I have a tendency to ask unsettling questions or say strange things that don’t seem to belong here and now. The very good reason for this is that they don’t. They often have more to do with things that I have gathered from that other space–understandings, sensations, creations–which need to be translated first. I say “translated” because experience in the Floaty-Nowhere place relies on a set of perceptual senses that don’t always match the ones we use in our everyday life.
Now, what on earth could that mean? Well, human beings are animals, whether we want to admit it or not. And while our physical senses are imperfect, they are also always gathering data. If you can find the way that works best for you, you can keep your brain from tossing out the bulk of these as irrelevant bits–and they often include non-verbal signals, biochemical data, and the novel conclusions that happen below the level of what we might call our Conscious Self–they happen in our brain’s sub-basements, in places that are older than language or big frontal lobes.
I track the limbic tides of this pre-verbal sea, and then go see what goes on in the tide pools left behind. Conscious thought is a celestial thing–sometimes directly reflected in those waters. Sometimes, it’s far more subtle, and you have to measure the height of a storm surge, look to patterns of distant emotional weather. Sometimes, even I am at a loss for words and I have to ruminate on what I have gathered until the right ones find me.