Stanislav Grof’s holotropic breath work is a fairly eventful adventure. It seems earo move the mind into this language of archetypes that’s its default when dealing with high level, abstract concepts… Though know this – the effect on the body is as strong as quite strenuous exercise so I wouldn’t advise it for anyone who had, say a heart issue… F’real! Who knows what I would have learned if I hadn’t fallen asleep halfway through my session… Although it wasn’t quite sleep…
The St. Andrews Picture House – a Victorian tiled foyer with frighteningly high ceilings, like in my house, round the corner. I’m there with two friends from the new high school, though our communication is limited due to their water helmets. Whilst their lungs need the fluid, I take the air much more easily than water which is sad because it means I’m not hooked up to their inbuilt microphones… Still, I’m very grateful to have their company – how we’ve forged this unlikely clique, I’m really not sure.
We buy our sweets at the counter and tears burn my eyes at the fact these will have to carry us through much of our adult lives. On my left, an orphan to drug abuse who lives with his Gran and on my right an orphan to the oil rigs who lives with his maths teacher. They’re perfectly happy though, feeding toffee bonbons into the tubes of their helmets while I allow heavy tears to run down my cheeks in the hope one of them will notice. After all, [I deserve the attention out of us three – I’m the one feeling their pain, right?]
We’re here to see Cirque Du Soleil, which I keep hearing about wherever I go, yet have no fucking clue what it is. Through the black velvet curtain where the lady from Woolworths tears our tickets in half, the ceiling becomes so ridiculously high, looking up gives one vertigo. The building was made from an upturned swimming pool, 100 metres deep – and the ceiling, when gazed upon even briefly, reveals the enormity of man’s technological capacity – which is terrifying. So don’t look up.
We’ve entered the stalls beneath an umbrella of balcony… and before us in the dim yellow light – rows and rows and rows of red velvet seats are adorned with the glinting helmets of Others. As my friends head for the front, I instinctively go to my beloved who I can see near the edge of a row in the middle – a dolphin headed man, the only other, without a waterdome.
I approach him with caution – [Ah…why a dolphin again? Is there an Egyptian God with the head of a dolphin? There is isn’t there – Adolphus?] [[No, you’re thinking of Anubis… A different figure, completely.]] [Why a dolphin – doesn’t even look like anyone I can think of… Are you sure it’s not a shark? A shark, I could do something with… but no, it’s definitely a dolphin…]
There’s a seat next to him that’s free but he doesn’t turn his great head to acknowledge me as I shuffle past the aisle person and sit down beside him. I don’t speak either – which is strange, given the two of us could actually communicate through the air – but instead, I put my arm in front of his face and move it backwards, coaxing him to take it between his conical teeth. [Ah good], reassurance – [yes, it’s a playful bite, he doesn’t mind me being here.]
[I mean… I may be pretending we know each other when we don’t… How can I be sure…?] I take back my hand to raise the arm rest between us… then turn my back to him in the chair, swinging my legs over the cinema goer next to us, so I can lie down across the Manphin’s lap, dotingly – and [OK! Yes!] – he doesn’t stop me!
And yet, this may be The Oxbridge Demeanour… [[You’re not English like he is, you don’t know…]]
[You’re the most beautiful thing in the world to me, Manphin!] – I say silently, looking up at the face, as tall as a mountain. [You give me a feeling of peace in my soul I’ve never felt from anything else! The Great Work’s so much easier with you!] I grasp one hand gently around the beak of his mouth, and he bows his head slightly to allow it… Then I realise, he’s slowly levering himself out of the chair so that I’m toppled to the ground… [benevolently?]
He politely moves to the seat I was in and settles himself back down… [Oh, OK, he just needed to move, that wasn’t personal… was it? I mean it must have be… Well… You have to give things your best shot before you give up – that’s your excuse to keep trying…] I arise cautiously and then boldly sit down on his knee. No response… I touch the exposed skin of his smooth grey and white neck because… it’s exposed, you know… I’m free wheeling here… He’s unmoved and unmoving… With the feeling I’m going to have to leave, I impulsively bury my head in his chest, grasping the material of his shirt to my heart and saying “But Manphin – I Love You! I want my future self to be built out of things that you’ve shown me – it won’t be any good otherwise! I can make you happy, I know I can! A force moves through me that works for your benefit!” But I’m whining… He rises gently, displacing me carefully and when I’m on my feet again, moves across to sit back where he was. [Fucking hell.]
So I suppose I have to go but it’s not the right thing. This is my seat here, whichever one is next to him is where I should be. I sit back on his lap one final time and look into his eyes to convey this appeal. I touch the skin above his eye and move forward to kiss it. But his look is appraising and cold – NOW like a shark… So… I stop moving forward. [FFS. It’s not his fault but… Christ.]
“What the fuck are you doing? M’on ye remy!” This, bellowed through helmets, up front. They’re waving back at me to join them. [Oh right. Why exactly am I here with two 12 year olds again?]
While I’m wondering what to do, I find I’m clumsily rolling, cross-person, onto my front already, in order to crawl over the laps of the adjacent cinemagoers to the far side. Is this seductive or ungainly of me – you never know – some people like a backside… with others it’s breasts… Unfortunately it’s only strangers getting squashed under these as I go… [Is this OK? Be good if it could be done more elegantly…] On my way I put my hand in the crotch of one stern looking gentlemen and surmise he has a small squid in his lap – I’d say sorry but he probably wouldn’t hear it through his waterdome and sometimes [it’s best to feign acceptibility and hope it takes. Look, there’s nothing else to be done here – it’s simply the quickest way to the aisle!]
When I get there though, I find that it’s just a stone ledge in the wall, half the width of a person’s shoe… There’s a big thick rope, bolted along at hand height that can be clung to… with difficulty. [We’re not in that underground cave in Gibraltar are we?] [[No, I don’t think so, and anyway, if you fall, you’ll just fall sideways onto people, you probably won’t even get your feet wet…]] I edge gingerly to the front row along the ill-fashioned lip, [This place is really badly designed, you know?] and though it’s hard to keep the neutrality of a Bond-girl whilst achieving this, I try to.
The boys have left a seat free at the end and Stephen rests his arm along the back of it as I sit down. Which annoys me in fact, because it looks like we’re an item when we’re not – [Why’s he doing that, he never normally does! Well I suppose we’re at the high school now, it’s what’s expected.] I look back towards the Manphin but can’t see that far in the dark. “We’re not an item!” I want to shout. “It’s just that every one of my friends is male! S’just how it always seems to go!” [I mean really I should accept I’ve got to be with a regular person. They’re just… really not my thing… Which is extremely inconvenient, given the numbers…] The frogspawn of helmets that sprawls back behind us forms a carpet of greyed out abundance.
There’s the stage light now, swiftly rising at the back of the set with the same staggering glare as the sun itself. The audience are audibly dazzled and cover the front of their visors – at which point I realise – [Holy crap! That’s my cue to start the evening shift!] “Fuck me!” I say, squinting uglily as I crawl up the two steep steps onto the stage, picking the mic up off the ground. The room dissolves into laughter. [Laughter… blimey… I really should have written something for this – or at least have found out what the actual film title was. Perhaps turn the light away from them so they’re not all shielding their eyes.]
Through clamped up eyelashes, I brave the heat to test the temperature of the light’s surround cautiously, as though touching an iron. There’s a sizzle and the hand shoots immediately under my opposite arm so that the audience fall into hysterics. “Fucking Nora, that’s hot!” [Strewth, they’re lapping this up! Is he even here anymore…] I have a sinking feeling that he’s not…
“Now… I’m so glad you’ve all made it here this evening…” I stand in front of the light so that a corpulant me shaped shadow of people are protected from the dazzlement. A coo of approval at this. “…because I know…” [What the fuck am I actually going to finish this sentence with?] [[You always do this – you always don’t prepare and then don’t have a fucking clue where you’re going with things!]] “…that that’s very important…” [They’re laughing for some reason… They think the long pauses are part of the act…] “…to people who want to see the films…” And they’re off again, in a fit of hilarity. [[Oh, I get it, they’re actually laughing at me, not with me… ah right…]] “So without further ado…” [And yet I swore I’d never use that phrase…] “let’s just get this fucking light to go back down, shall we…?” Applause that’s loud enough for me to mumble, “Circdusolayl” hopefully as I trundle down the steps again, Jools Holland style – [He’s never sure of the name of things either but he gets away with it…]
Being in the wrong seat though means I have absolutely no interest in enduring this bullshit film now. I can’t even really see it from this angle. [How do I…?] I twist round needily to look over the back of the chair, as though parallel parking.
[He understands, doesn’t he? He understands I’m going to struggle to come back during this because the handrail rope’s been taken in and the ledge isn’t wide enough on its own for me to make it – I’d have to literally crawl over helmets which is a hell of a statement! He wouldn’t expect me to crowdsurf over people’s upturned faces would he? I mean of course I would if he wanted, it’s just – he didn’t really seem to… Now I can’t see any sign of… anything… Sigh…]
There’s only the darkness.
[So… I guess… sigh…] I turn back to the mournful titles coming on screen. Puffs of smoke and sunbursts and dragons – I think… [Whatever… But I mean, he’s not the only one who needs a crowdsurfer… We all need a fucking crowdsurfer.]
The Claustrophobia of Being is now a silent film caption – white on black, though I don’t see that on screen because it’s obscured – I just know it…….
The interval arrives without incident. I mean without even the incident of first half, that I can remember. The room’s done its job as a crucible in the interim, shrinking down to a much more manageable size and processing cinemagoers until only around 50 of us remain… We’re now in more of a classroom scenario. Off they go to get choc-ices and popcorn – but in my capacity as Vegan, I’m afraid I can’t join them… [I’ll just sit here and wait for the Manphin to re-enter so that I can go up to him again.] [[Go up to him again? And do what, haha?!]] [Just go up to him!] [[Air-head, he’s tired of you going up to him, don’t you get it?]]
[Simon, Peter, Stephen, Carly, Helen, Helen II], all pass through the door – [Fucking hell, none of these faces are of a dolphin… What is this terrible feeling? Fuck, this is – I’ve done something really bad. I need to get to a public phone…] I push past squid man again, as he’s entering the room, and get a sense that I’ve smashed his champagne flute in my haste… But I’m in a rush to get out and onto the fourth floor landing of my work-building, which luckily seems to be through this very doorway! [That’s a sign! That IS a sign – because there happens to be a phone somewhere on one of these landings. Where the hell is it again…?] The Great Glass Hacienda is strewn with discarded items from The Krypton Factor that have been repurposed into furniture. Like detritus from a giant’s picnic, they loiter as traps for the dispossessed souls who’re seeking redundancy or suicide… But I don’t have time to pull people out from the sofas right now, they’ll just have to work it out for themselves…
I reach the hairdryer canopy of a public phone, stuck to an outward facing glass wall… I seize the receiver into which I very carefully hum the Captain Crunch Plastic Whistle frequency – [this, if it hasn’t changed since the 90s, should give me 10p’s worth of call-time. Which is ample – all I need is to get across my affection – which surely didn’t come across before.] But now I have the dial tone, I’m struggling to remember his number… [Why on Earth wouldn’t I be able to remember… numbers stay there forever, they can’t not be remembered… unless this is a dream….]
“Ah, hello there…” from behind…
It’s The Brighton Shaman Ltd.. A small older lady with long grey hair, dressed in a purple smock – she is in a way, ideal, because many years ago, she “cut some cords” to a man who was causing me pain… the next day I’d been amazed to wake up – free and easy! [And yet, this is the last fucking person I want to see right now. Though I must stay friendly in case I need her again… so let’s be tactful…] “You know what, just fuck off, will you?” And I’m squinting uglily once more but here, it’s necessary! Still, [incredibly rude of me to behave this way, a simple “No” would be sufficient.]
“What?” She just laughs, ’cause nothing phases a Shaman.
“I just… If you could fuck off, essentially, that’s really all I … you know?”
“Fine.” she breezes, smiling and defiant… and walks along the other side of a bright honeycomb partition… But then she stops, not yet out of sight and with her back to me, puts her phone to her ear and starts chattering…
“Yeah, if you could fuck further off please, that’d be appreciated…” [because I know she’s faking that conversation… And yet, this rudeness, is… incredible – it’s just of paramount importance she fucks off. I just have a dark feeling, I don’t know what it is…] Off she goes, chuckling… [Good…]
The phone’s ringing, and it occurs to me that [while this approach may be efficacious, it isn’t at all stylish. Plus, is the Manphin a real thing? WAIT A FUCKING MINUTE – is this CALL a real thing – I don’t remember remembering Manphin’s number…] [[An inconsistency!]] [Oh my God, here it goes… Here it goes… It’s going to burst like a…]
And I’m sitting up in bed now… sweating and breathing. [Oh, it’s a fever…. right… Yes, it’s an illness dream… But what illness? I can’t place it… Hay fever? Still, I must make that call… where’s my… No that’s right, it’s alright now, you don’t have to – it was only a dream…]
[Yeah, it’s definitely a fever of unknown origin.] And my skin’s cooling off from the trip to the kitchen. [Holy fuck, no – it was that Stanislav Grof stuff! My God, that’s some powerful shit!] I tap the spacebar of the laptop on my bed – [Yes, the audio-guide! What a trip!] I sip the water to marvel with, intellectually… [That Subconscious really knows what buttons to press, doesn’t it – I wonder if The Jehovah’s Witnesses shouldn’t move all their call times to 3am when people are thrown open by the night to whatever mortal fear they’re being passed through…]
Pulling back the duvet, I set the water down and lower, frailly, onto my side – like a person in need of great sympathy – pulling and tucking things in round the neck so’s to keep out mortality. [It’s extremely tough being so narcissistic. No really, it is. If I had the choice, I’d be out there helping people, and instead the hormones are utterly obsessed with securing thing after thing for the self. It’s like Mozart’s 40th – the ringtone one – that same motif, over and over and over again, then inverted, then falling through a string of 5ths, then happy, then sad, then then then then then. I mean give it a fucking rest already, some of us are trying to be productive here!
We’re here for service and creativity and yet, as meaningful as these things are in their own right, in my body, they’re disallowed from having any direction unless there’s a dolphin there to pull them along. I guess the dolphin’s – Love – I guess? The bigger brain? The otherness? The access to other worlds? Expansion – that’s what every relationship is. And what about that great projection of the shadow self onto the audience – wow, in sheilding the light from the face of the ego, we can outline the shape of our deficiency… Yeah, this is definitely good shit…] I commit it to memory…
[[The only useful thing to do with pain is use the coping strategies you find to help others going through something. A young person or an oldster – someone society’s ignoring who feels unreachable.]]
[I bet could fucking reach them, Jesus – and yet, no appalling disservice or trauma! Dull and low level problems compared to other people’s! It IS the ego gone mad! Why can’t it be more pragmatic?]
[[Perhaps if you force down the walls – if you turn that gaze outwards. Somewhere out there, hundreds, thousands, millions of people are struggling, and you’re not able to help them.]]
A slow tearful stream has started making its way from one eye across to the other and down, onto the cotton. All the lonely, in fear of their lives… Separated from loved ones, trying to make out the faces through the top of the water… [Immersive fucking exclusion. Welcome to the technicolour dream.] I take the pillow from under my head and position it next to me as the would-be victim. With an arm round it, I think… [Don’t feel lonely, lost person – hang on for five minutes, half an hour, an hour… it’s the human condition, you’re not alone – feel better lonely person], I whisper into its material…
The Manphin has not only let me embrace him, he’s the one now pulling me to his chest with his long human arms. The relief is so immense that I can’t tell if the chest is man or dolphin… I look up to his face, which is quite clearly dolphinian, and wonder if the smile is affectionate… or possibly… just that smile all dolphins have… Logically speaking, it’s the latter, isn’t it? Oh I get it, I’m the anonymous depression victim, he’s helping via the medium of HIS pillow… Right, I knew it would be something like that… It’s never quite the way I fucking want it, is it? …Or perhaps I’m being paranoid…
He lets go, turns his back and then gets down on all fours – morphing cooly into the shape of an actual… well dolphin, obviously – because I need to get on his back now and complete the point of our union.
I pull on the great fin for balance as I straddle the body behind it – and then once I’m on board – very gently – his ribcage expands to fit snugly beneath my bare legs. [Of course it does – what am I, nuts? I almost forgot what men and women did together for a minute there, but now I remember – it’s this. Oh wow, hang on now –] [[Just hold tightly with the arms and legs, it’s fine once you’re in flight…]] Because he’s taking off… And before I have time to change my mind, he’s flying in ascending circles round the great aviary of the empty cinema and I feel the rise and fall of the powerful tale beneath me propelling us round and round. [Am I scared? I should be scared…] [[[A member of the Air Whale genus, these dolphins can actually fly cross country, which is why they’re never seen in towns or cities – for they have no need of public transport.]]]
And I’m lying front down against his back now, arms clutching round his belly beneath. [He’s so lean, for a dolphin! They say they have blubber, but it’s all so firm and manly!] As I’m jolted up and down, I can still feel the slow breath within the ribcage and I press the side of my face into the fin to try to listen for the heart. [Fucking hell, I really love this thing so much, I adore him – but that being said, where the fuck is he taking me…?] A trait of Autism, this, to just “wake-up” in the midst of a situation and suddenly realise, a list of preparations you should have considered… [Such as, how’d we get out through the ceiling? A very good fucking question! FUCK!
And also – what the fuck am I DOING? This is an alien, not a person like you! Why of all the people to trust with your life, would you choose the one who ignores you? You can’t understand another species! All this bucking and swerving – he’s probably trying to throw you off! Is he? Holy fuck! HOLY FUCK! THE CEILING! THE CEILING!]
I press my face into the cool of his back with eyes closed tightly and hold on round his rhytmically contorting stomach… Now the ground’s so far down, to jump would be… unthinkable… /// I submit completely to his will ///// what else is to be done? ///////…And through a brief mist of time – we don’t know how long, as is the wont of temporal fog,
I’m aware now… that the ceiling never was… Ha! That great lid, that I always found frightening – was just a beautiful cloud formation all along! And we’re flying along now, through a clear blue sunlight sky, sans the landscape beneath it. [[[Because what there is in The Universe is mainly Ether – the land’s really a temporary condition.]]] This is me and him, just us together – a discrete concept, it seems… Though it’s not about us – it’s about where we’re headed that’s crucial… [Ah… I’m glad that’s been sorted!] Things are calmer at this altitude, I can sit up now and take in the sunshine. What’s more the sun can be enjoyed because I’m on Manphin’s back! I keep a hand closed round the top of his fin. The cleek of a tear hits the skin of my thigh. [Well thank God we made it on track, that was close…]
[Where are we going?] I think I’ve asked him in words. “You can’t know where we’re going, because if you did, you’d have gone there on your own, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t need me.” [Right. And…] Do I want to know? […why do you need me?] “Just…” [[[Yes…?]]] “…someone to talk to, isn’t it?”
And then, no real direction, no specific ending… Just… the flying – ever onwards… to… ?