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The Nature of Mind - A Discussion on
"Escape: Out of Body, Out of Mind"
Sunday, February 10, 2008, 4PM
Rubin Museum "Sacred Sciences" Series,
as part of the Brainwave Festival

Brainwave -
Rubin Museum of Art of the Himalayas

by Chris Chalfant

Chapter One:

In which our intrepid reporter-seeker goes in search of the Wild Brainwave, encounters some turbulence, and comes out somewhat shaken...

Vijay Iyer, composer, pianist, and physicist, and Bill Morrison, film maker, are embarking on a project, still in its embryonic, conceptual stage, exploring the ideas of isolation and out-of-body experience. Iyer, Morrison and neurologist Partha Mitra conducted a panel-discussion/performance "Escape: Out-of-Body, Out-of-Mind" at the Rubin Museum, as part of "Brainwave - Entertainment, Education, and Enlightenment". This festival, running from January to June in various locations in New York, promises to engage the perceiver in primal, visceral, cerebral, contemplative, disruptive and other physiopsychospiritual experiences. Over a hundred public events are being held throughout the city.

In which the author transports to the East...

Musicians have the wonderful capability of transporting themselves and others into the purest state of mind, the place of true reality, a place of discovery, of freshness, of the moment; the Tibetans call it rigpa. Opposed to sem, the state of the ordinary, ignorant, and illusionary mind full of attachment, full of ego, rigpa is the state of complete awareness, of emptiness (dharmakaya), of radiance (dambhogakaya) and of ceaseless manifestation (nirmanakaya).

These are the bardo, the in-between, the place where we tap into the "out-of-body experience". These moments that elevate our beings, transcending beyond the banalities of the mundane. We capture that glimpse of the groundless reach into the afterlife. Mystics and artists thrive in this state. Others feel utter conflict from not knowing which paths will unfold before them.

Krishnamurti states in Education and the Significance of Life that one cannot escape from the self. Escape is an addiction, a craving, a need for security, based on fear and leading to a feeling of isolation. One feels conflicted and confused. The reality as they know it is shattered. They become destabilized to the point of illness and destruction. Their sense of discovery is obliterated and their attempts at the creative experience are futile.

In which the author returns to New York...

The panel discussion/performance, led by Iyer, with Morrison and neurologist Partha Mitra contributing, was entitled "Escape: Out of Body, Out of Mind" as part of the Sacred Sciences Brainwave Festival.

In the film, Morrison manipulated two images from a piece of 1890s film footage of a trolley on the Brooklyn Bridge side-by-side, playing with the left one in reverse, playing with mathematical editing processes, i.e. double, quadruple frequency of frames, where the movement of the film gets faster and faster until there is a flickering effect, much like a strobe-light.

At the same time, Iyer played music which seemed to have dramatic effect but was not really connected to the film, giving the feeling of disruption, as was stated by composer Henry Threadgill, who was in the audience, during the Q and A.

I felt very reactive and disturbed on a somatic level by seeing and hearing the combination of Iyer's piano improvisations set with Bill Morrison's video. Descartes views the body as "sensing" and is "nothing other than thinking". My implicit or somatic memory, located in the amygdala, was acutely stimulated. I felt panic and a sense of claustrophobia.

[Editor's note: I thought the amygdala was a Buddhist treatise, but thanks to Wikipedia: they are "almond-shaped groups of neurons located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain... shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions".]

In which our author returns to the strobe light...

Both the panel discussion and the performance/demonstration seemed inappropriately paired with the "Sacred Sciences" portion organized by the Rubin Museum because of the invasive nature of the project. The techniques of alternating images between left and right in the film parallel those of EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) sessions, a type of psychological therapy, where the patient relives trauma in order to gradually dissipate the trauma from the psychological and physical body.

Perhaps the intention of this project is to give the viewer the choice to either allow the interrogative measures to make the subject go into psychologically convulsive experience, or to remove themselves from the onslaught of aggressive psychological tactics by either separation via the immense powers of detachment through meditation, or by surrendering to the conditions and succumbing to the powers of the external forces, thus becoming completely at the mercy of the interrogators.

My biggest concern about this project, is that a psychologically fragile person may go into the "installation" with the "expectation of being transported", as stated by Morrison, but rather comes out being devastated to the point of hospitalization in a psychiatric ward, similar to what happens to people who are not prepared for EST or the Forum, given that there is no back-up or follow-through from a trained psychologist.

[Editor's note: The author explains EST and The Forum as "group awareness training intentionally held 'under rigorous conditions and designed to induce in participants shifts towards fresh realizations [sic] about the way their lives have functioned... meant to let in only the psychologically well'." See source note below. Others consider their sensory-deprivation methods a dangerous form of brainwashing.]

It would be interesting if Iyer, Morrison and Mitra would require that the audience endure a sesshin (Zen intensive), where any assault would be clearly construed as self-inflicted, and would most certainly be resolved, thus ensuring an enlightening viewing experience.

They could go further with the notion of an experiment (as this was considered an art installation; a form of of art) by having one control group come from a sesshin, one come from an abusive situation, and one group come from an ordinary situation. Now that is an experiment I would like to see. They did talk about creating a theater for one and possibly having the source of images coming from different directions at different times.

In which the author returns us to maya...

In conclusion, we live in a world of maya, of ignorance, of confusion- a world where we may feel trapped, isolated, a victim of circumstance, until we wake up and to we feel each footstep moment-by-moment in the labyrinth of our lives, the continual journey where there is no escape from our attachments, from the delusions we prescribe, until we take that leap into the bardo of now, the land of the out-of-body, the lasting place of inner peace.

Suggested Reading:

Blue Cliff Record, The.
Buddha, Gautama. Dhammapada.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Conty, Patrick. The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth.
Descartes, René. Meditations on First Philosophy.
"EST and The Forum."
Krishnamurti, Jiddu. Education and the Significance of Life.
Murchie, Guy. The Seven Mysteries of Life.
Parnell, Laurel. EMDR in the Treatment of Adults Abused as Children.
Rimpoche, Sogyul. The Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying.
Stein, Alexander. "Ten Unsolved Mysteries of the Brain." American Imago: "The Sound of Memory" Issue, Volume 64, Number 1 Spring 2007
Wentz, W.Y. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrine.


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