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Catch Twenty-Twelve

January 29, 2012

I have a friend who went crazy. He stopped working, stopped paying the bills, stopped paying any attention to personal hygiene and was eventually reduced to wandering the streets of Pa’ia. Last time I saw him Iain resembled a wild-eyed prophet from biblical times. He scared my ex-girlfriend. He ranted and raved about the greatness of god and how good it was to be healthy and alive, staring into my soul as if begging for agreement; all the while barefoot and tattered and smelling of sickness and shit.

Iain was a musical prodigy. All my childhood memories of him involve a guitar. He had a beautiful face and was popular with the girls. He smiled and strummed and never gave anyone a hard time. One time I drove to Hana with Iain and Nic in the back of my truck; melodies wafted through the window like the herb he smoked.

When Nic heard about Iain’s affliction, he made an express trip to the island in the hope of rousting him. I wasn’t there, but Nic told me about their encounter. At first Iain recognized him and they shared a great hug. Nic invited him along on a day trip to some pools. Iain accepted and was able to chat lucidly for a spell. So Nic asked him what the deal was. And this is what Iain said:

“You know what, man? I did what I was supposed to do. I went to school and then I got a job. I rented an apartment and found a girlfriend. I followed the exact path my parents and my advisors and the whole world had told me to follow. And you know what? I hated it, man! I hated my job and I hated the box I was living in; the box I had to have the job to pay for. I hated my life, and it made me hate the people around me. So I left my girlfriend, quit my job, and moved out of my apartment. I’d rather live on the beach.”

Iain made a Choice in his life and willingly accepted the Consequences. He sacrificed everything for his freedom. Like Siddhartha, he walked away from a life of hollow opulence. But there’s a big difference between India and America. Instead of being a holy man, we call Iain homeless. Instead of valuing his spiritual path, we scorn him for soliciting spare change.

America has created insanity by defining normality. But America hasn’t offered another choice; join the stampede or be buried in it. Sometimes when I’m struggling and I think of Iain’s words they make a lot of sense. If you hate the way you’re living and don’t do anything to change it, isn’t that crazy?

Iain went to an extreme, as most reactionary movements do. He didn’t know of any other course. Rejecting society was the only choice that allowed him to escape the trap his life had become. Going crazy was the only sane decision he could make.

In biblical times he might’ve been a prophet. In some cultures, a shaman. A guru. But no; an American guru must have a website and an instructional video. Catered seminars and high fees. Calendars and tidbits of wisdom to read on the toilet. An American guru knows how to run a business as well as a church. Because they know that nobody pays attention to the unsuccessful in our society. Nobody wants to be like them.

But what if there was an alternative? What if America placed more value in the personal spiritual path? What if Iain didn’t see pity and judgment in everyone’s faces on a daily basis?

What we need is the modern day equivalent of a monastery. A place for the disillusioned to escape the stampede. A place to live simply, to explore within oneself while gardening and hunting and cooking, removed from the bustle of society and the demands of technology. Not a prison; a refuge. Had such a place existed for Iain, had he been able to experience his rejection of the American Dream without our judgment, he might have passed through it and come back to us. He might have been able to share such wisdom as to fulfill all of our Dreams. Who knows what he might have become?

I don’t know how he’s doing today. Once he spoke to me while under the influence of pharmaceuticals. He said that the doctors had traced the root of the problem back to a skateboarding injury from when he was a teenager, and that he was doing much better now that he was on drugs. It sounded positive, but soon after I saw him on the street again, raving like a mystic.

He’d stopped taking the drugs because he could see that they were pulling him right back into the trap he’d so meticulously avoided.

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