Sorry for the lapse last week. I was on vacation and didn’t have the manuscript with me, so couldn’t post it. But we’re back this week with another excerpt from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished work, Landscape with Figures:
“Early this morning I walked over to the harbor and climbed the hill overlooking it. Under a cloudy sky and with no wind, the water was pale gray and so flat and still that it looked more like sand. The small boats anchored there appeared to be stranded on it. IT seemed as if they should be lying on their sides.
As I was standing there enjoying the view which extends in all directions, I saw two people approaching each other unawares around the curve in the road at the base of the hill. One was a man, presumably jogging for his health. The other was a woman proceeding at a leisurely pace with a French poodle on a leash.
It suddenly struck me with amusement that I could look into the future. Those two persons approaching each other had no suspicion they were about to meet, their view being blocked by the curve in the road. But I, from my higher vantage point, could foretell they were presently going to come face to face.
My prediction shortly came about, even though it was hardly a momentous encounter: they nodded politely as they passed each other.
For me the trivial episode was interesting because it gave me a vague inkling – or I thought it did – of what is meant by time being the fourth dimension of space. If our minds could somehow transcend their three-dimensional limitations…But now when I try to put into words what I thought I understood, I’m lost.
On the way home I encountered a turtle crossing the road. It was such an antic, implausible looking creature, it made me want to laugh. Little splotches and splashes and dots and dashes of yellow helter-skelter all over the black shell, orange dots on the front feet, and a row of about a dozen tiny yellow dots down its absurd little tail. You feel it must have been painted by a child.
When I stopped, it stopped, and shut itself up in it shell. After a minute or two it emerged cautiously and continued its way. I had an impulse to pick it up and give it a lift across the road, but since there were no cars coming along and it was three-fourths of the way across, I decided to let it go on its own steam. I think it knew I was watching it – as soon as it had crawled safely into the ditch, it tucked itself inside its shell again and stayed there.
I’ve never seen a turtle quite like that before. I recall reading that turtles are among the oldest living creatures on earth. Maybe that explains the fanciful design: the artist was still trying to find himself.
These last two words bring me back to the ‘search for identity.’ It just occurs to me the Quakers have a better way of putting it: ‘What is my concern?’ It shifts the emphasis away from the self to the world around one. It is also less intimidating: obviously one can have more than a single concern.
The trouble is, though, that brings one back to the fundamental question expressed a little differently: How do I find out what my concerns are? I believe the Quakers have a method for that, too: they ‘listen’ in quiet for inner guidance.
As I write that, Blake’s familiar words about cleansing the doors of perception spring to mind. I think again, too, of how released and freshened my mind felt the other day after living in the world of The Last Unicorn briefly, which has set me to pondering how you tell the difference between escape in the sense of evasion and escape in the sense of liberation. How can one prove that getting high on crack, for instance, is a retreat from reality rather than an expansion of consciousness?
It strikes me suddenly that George MacDonald, that wise and gentle Scotsman who was more or less forced out of the pulpit for his alleged heresies back in the last century, set up a criterion in one of his novels for distinguishing a true vision from a false one. A true vision, he said, enhances and enriches everyday life and makes commonplace things look lovely; a false one is followed by disenchantment, by a letdown which makes everyday things look hopelessly drab.
On the strength of that distinction one would be inclined to say that drugs induce only hallucinations or false visions since their users apparently become more and more dependent on them and find life intolerable without them. Yet even as I write that I think of B., who was a very down-to-earth businessman, telling me his whole life was changed by a dream he had under ether, that only after that dream did he feel his life had real meaning and purpose. From what I’ve heard from people who know him well, there is no doubt that he became more effective in the community and more lovable as a person after that experience. In all probability e had been searching for a meaning and purpose to life for a long while, and the anesthetic simply loosened the knots in his mind so that he could get the answer already tied up there. Still, it was the ether that freed it. So I suppose one has to admit that sometimes drugs may unlock doors opening onto new and beautiful vistas.
Personally, I’d be afraid of inadvertently opening a door into a dungeon where some monster might spring out at me. I’d prefer to expand my mind by some less dangerous means, such as art. I suppose the artist is the nearest thing we have today to a true visionary whether he thinks of himself that way or not, since art – whatever else it may be – is a heightening of awareness, a more intense perceptiveness, the evidence (like faith) of things unseen.
Even the artists, though, no longer tend to see the kind of visions recorded in Scripture – or if they do, they keep quiet about it, not wanting to be locked up. Visions and voices are no longer acceptable unless they are deliberately induced by hallucinogens. I wonder – could it be that this effort to induce visions, however misguided it may be, stems from a growing conviction that in developing a rational, scientific, technological type of thinking, we are in danger of losing the intuitive, visionary faculty, or allowing it to atrophy?
Offhand I can think of only three comparatively modern visionaries: Swedenborg, Blake and Yeats – men who not only dared to entertain visions but to describe them openly. Presumably Swedenborg was not locked up because as a scientist he had a sound and sane reputation. As for Blake and Yeats, poets have always been accepted as more or less deranged but harmless. The really important thing, though, the thing that saved them from being incarcerated as madmen, was that they were able to get along very well in everyday life. They were productive people. So apparently it is possible to dream dreams and see visions without necessarily being psychotic, and without taking drugs.