The Seven Progressive Stages of Consciousness Under Fasting
“A couple of announcements before we start the lecture” said a young good-looking publishers assistant as she mounted the dias. “He who was previously known as Dr. Gordon Tripp, now renounces that name and will adopt the title Gordon Von Tripp™ or just Doc™.” She continued
“And that this lecture is produced for educational purposes only, in order to show the unwary some of the myriad ways in which altered states may be achieved without the resort to pharmaceutical or even herbal drugs. The author, Gordon Von Tripp™, can accept no responsibility for injury arising from misuse of the information contained in this monograph, he is in anycase a fictional character and therefore is unable to enter into any form of personal correspondence.
“Briefly, examining Gordon’s previous seminal lectures such as: the indefatigable “Pursuit of Mystical Experience”, the stunning “Flickering & Retching – Lights & Liquids” through the astonishing “Musing As An Art Form” on to the wondrous “Memory Tree” we can only say that although he has covered a diversity of subjects, he has been consistently concerned with altered states of consciousness. In the beginning he was named as Camberwell’s very own acid guru and quickly became the darling of the daytime TV circuit as the Psychedelic Agony Aunt. Since then he has dated popstars (remember The Spike Girls?), inaugurated creative writing workshops and shamanic drum circles. He recently ran aground permanently in Cambridge, England while on a failed quest to collaborate with the late Syd Barrett. He has been vegan, pagan, anarchist and camp. He’s famous and he’s frightening, with an international lecture tour now behind him, he’s back. So If you could all put your hands together now for the irrepressible and incandescent GORDON VON TRIPP™”
Terrapin plays in background. This is Gordon’s theme-tune.
“At the outset, I must explain that my recent change of name is due to self-initation into the Altaic mysteries, during which time I spent a few several months wandering barefoot and hatless in regions of Siberia, I have no idea where.
This following lecture, which makes inconsequential reference to a tarot card in its title, is a quintessence of the copious diaries I kept during my Mongolian sojourn, distilled through the lens of degustatory manipulation, ie fasting.
As a form of reality distortion the practice of fasting has a long and august history. Starvation was certainly twisting the minds of our Neanderthal forebears long before they hit on sativa, somniferum or muscaria.
Fasting is well established as a prelude or preparation for a whole range of spiritual practices across a panoply of religious and folk traditions.
My own experience of semi-voluntary food deprivation came about some few several years ago.
I had expected to take some time off in Morocco, and left the task of obtaining air tickets to my assistant (sadly no longer with me), who through an internet related misapprehension booked me a flight to the Altai Mountains, mistaking them for the Atlas Mountains in the cool Kif area north of Marrakesh. The Altai Mountains are in the Mongolia/Siberia region I know not where. The mistake was not discovered in time, and in fact it was several weeks before I realised the mistake. By then I had already been lost in the empty primordial vastness that is Altai.
As an interesting aside, I believe my failure to identify my geographical dislocation was partly due to having no previous personal experience of either Marrakesh or Mongolia against which to judge my impressions, and partly on account of encountering no other living human beings for at least the first two weeks of aimless rambling in snow-laden mountain pass forests.
After disembarking from the long flight I had been expecting to have to fight my way through the usual international airport shopping experience monstrosity, but was delighted to find myself in what appeared to be an unheated barn, open both ends. This was the arrivals hall, here nobody checked my luggage, ticket or passport. Nobody tried to sell me anything, rent me anything, nor change my money. Although a handful of uniformed lads glared strangely at the djellaba I’d borrowed from a friend back home who was a frequent traveller to Marrakesh, they did nothing and I exited the airport unmolested. I eschewed a tourist compound beside the airstrip, where, through the palisade, I could see people in holiday garb eating all-day breakfast and watching the soaps in rowdy pubs. This proved to be my most prestigious mistake in Mongolia. I was not to see such an immense gathering of humanity again, not until I returned to the airstrip, altered and initiated, some six months later. Had I paused and conversed with those encaged tourists, I would sooner have discovered my continental error and would have instantly abandoned the djellaba, which was heavy and cumbersome when snow drenched. Instead, I stepped aside, off the tarmac road, deep into forested mountain tracks. I was soon very lost in a wilderness of pain.
Suddenly the path I’d been half-following seemed strangely lost, concealed under ever deepening drifts of pristine snow, some several feet deep in places. Had I been aware of my cartographic displacement I might have enjoyed and fell into the rhythm of this brooding preternatural wilderness engulfing me step-by-step. As it was I dawdled along, cursing myself for not collaring a taxi at the airport. I could be in bustling Djemma El Fna by now, sipping hot spicy coffee and nibbling slabs of marjoun at this very moment, I thought vainly. As it was I trudged along trying to make sense of the map of Marrakesh and environs which I’d printed off the internet before leaving Cambridge.
The remainder of this lecture is organised into The Seven Progressive Stages of Consciousness Under Fasting. I devised this system of symptoms and correlations while embedded in Novokuznetsk Hospital in a state of convalescence. Healing.
The Seven Progressive Stages of Consciousness Under Fasting.
“All movement is accomplished in six stages, and the seventh brings return…seven is the number of the young light, and it arises when six,
the number of great darkness, is increased by one”
Hexagram 24, I Ching – The Book of Changes (Wilhelm translation)
Hunger arrives within a few hours, but passes quickly.
I sit down on a snowy bank to examine my rucksack. Mainly I’m looking for something to eat. In the rucksack I thankfully find Kendal mint cake, and a giant bar of chocolate which I’d been forced to buy at Heathrow in order to get change for the toilet. I also carried a rather heavy light blanket, bivvy bag, several changes of socks, a long sleeve t shirt, spectacles, my diary and a copy of The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. I realised that I hadn’t packed a water bottle, which, by-the-by, would have been really disastrous if I had actually been in Morocco. Exhausted with cold I crawled with chattering teeth into a vague half-aware sleep. Only to wake suddenly into silent darkness, not knowing where I am, I am wracked with hunger. I realise that I haven’t eaten since leaving Cambridge, who knows how long ago. The dreadful cold seems to have frozen the mechanism of my wristwatch. I rummage through my ruck sack again, searching for the large slab of Kendal mintcake. Hunger drives me and I scoff all the Kendal mint cake, plus half the enormous bar of airport chocolate, with fumbling fingers, in one sitting. Lethargy momentarily engulfs me and I wonder again how I could have got so lost. I struggle to my feet, stomach cramping, clutching the internet map, and begin limping through the thickening trees, in a direction I imagine to be south.
Sickness and stomach acidity induce a revulsion to food.
I feel sick now with hunger. I almost choked on the last half of the giant airport chocolate, but that was some hours ago now. Now my mind is filled with thoughts of food, but my stomach churns queasily, a clawing dryness in my mouth makes me want to retch. The thought occurs slowly, and the idea grows on me. I can eat snow, pretend it is ice cream. I push my face into the snow and crunch, grinding my teeth on its melting disintegration. The cold clean compacted snow freezes and sticks briefly to the delicate skin inside my mouth, before melting away to thirst-quenching gulps of chilled water. The sickness subsides briefly. I need to shut out the cold, so I tie the cuffs of the djellaba in knots, my hands thus tucked in against the cold. I wrap the thin blanket fully around myself and lay down. But sleep evades me and nauseous hunger prowls.
Pounding in the temples developing to full-blown headache with visual disturbances.
I was awake, immobile and cold, encased in all the clothing from the ruck sack, the djellaba, blanket and bivvy bag. I find myself to be suspended from a branch by my rack sack straps, dangling precipitously over a steep drop down to melt-water swollen rapids coursing through rock strewn channels. My head feels empty, gently throbbing at the temples. I don’t know how I came here, and for a moment I fear that I have imagined the past thirty years of my life, and am back in the throes of my gap year, on that ridiculous inter-rail escapade we undertook over Alpine peaks. In truth, my last recollection of that trip was of passing out under the table in a over-heated bier keller, so my fear was not totally unfounded. The sun was high overhead, dazzling the sun-bleached snow into painful pinpricks of light. Slowly, I remind myself that I am in Morocco and took a wrong turn out of the airport, The sides of my head are beginning to ache with cold, both my ears both numb and stinging at the same time. I eat a handful of snow from the overhanging pine branch, and start to haul myself back onto terra firma.
Light-headedness, hilarity, elation, hallucination, alternating with violent rage, clawing hunger, food obsession and rejection, crying jags and sulking.
I slurped at a dribbling icicle that I’d snapped from the mouth of a bubbling mountain spring, natures own lollipop I chuckle. I begin to fear for my sanity as a gross bubbling urge to chuckle inconsequentially grips me by my watery bowels. Like after a building and unrelenting urge to defacate, the released laughter splashes and splatters from my body. Am I laughing? Am I vomiting? Am I shitting? I can’t tell, my diary notes don’t say. I roll hyperventilating in slushy snow, pukie-crappa-giggling or somesuch. I am so hungry. I want to cry. I am lucid suddenly and astonished at the diversity of this terrain, I never knew Morrocco could be so varied. Now I am a prehistoric mythic god-hero on a quest, clawing myself up the sheer face of a snow-covered mountain. Laughing and hyperventilating, I am light-headed with confusion.
I reach the summit of the hill and gaze about. The dense foliage hides the hilltop vista from view, but I feel the icy draughts of wind gusting up the windward side, shaking and whipping up droplets of fallen snow into closing mist. I find myself slipping into a trance state, and watch in awe as the trees, then mist, then snow melt visually away. Leaving the perfect vision of slice upon slice of exquisitely toasted Welsh Rarebit piled up and hanging in the blue sky, suspended just beyond my reach. I drool then burst into hopeless hollow tears.
I hopelessly rummage for food in my rucksack, which then flickers through a series of improbable visual distortions until it is transformed into heavy wicker hamper, crammed to the gills with delightful delicacies. My spare t-shirt becomes a thick enveloping vanilla custard, dribbling through my fingers. The rolled socks are jam-filled doughnuts, or chocolate swiss roll, or hummus salad baps. The possibilities are endless. My spectacles are shortcake biscuits. And then I spy it lying at the bottom of the hamper – the world’s most beautiful cheese and coleslaw sandwich. Perfectly assembled, thick sliced and filled to wondrousness. I know that I am hallucinating, but I don’t care. If that sandwich tastes as good as it looks, I just don’t care.
Throwing reality & caution to the winds, I tear ravenously into the snack. After a few frenzied mouthfuls I pause, chewing. The sandwich is disappointing, dry, tough, papery. I imagine perhaps I’ve forgotten to remove the wrapper because I can see words across the sandwich “Shelte…sky..Paul B…” I read and the awful truth dawns. The hamper discreetly slips back into being a rucksack, the food into clothes, and I sit weeping and rocking back and forth in distress, the masticated novel cradled in my hands. I have eaten the whole back cover and the last thirty pages, now I’ll never find out what happens in the end. I’ve eaten Paul Bowles, and still I’m famished to the point of hysteria.
Later, I browse the low branches for snow-water, my only sustenance for at least a few several days, as I walk I sing boisterously, shoving gob-sized snowballs into my head at regular intervals.
Sudden extreme exhaustion or sleeplessness, fitful sleep, night sweats and vivid visionary nightmares.
I fall into a deadening sleep only to tumble seamlessly into wakefulness and watch in dismay as the sun sinks setting behind the enclosing mountains. The forest slips into fearful darkness. Then I see a fire flickering through the trees and I stumble over tangled tree roots and slippy snow towards it. Is this a dream? My diary doesn’t say. I lie down by the fire and drift into coiling caverns of fiery sleep. A woman, an ice-warrior, as old as the hills, clad in thick animal skins. Her arms and face are bare, blue-tinted tattoos spiralling across her naked skin record in ancient Altaic symbols the story of her life and achievements, her skills and failures. She raises a double edged blade above her head. A cascade of snow tumbles between us and whisks her away in a white-out.
I am drenched in sweat or snow, I know not which. I fall into deadening sleep. I wander between snow-laden trees, the path I had cautiously picked out in the thick forest seemed to have disappeared, swept away by fresh snowfalls
Babbling incoherence and incomprehension, partial or complete loss of conscious awareness.
I awoke instantly into a groaning grey dawn, the air was thick with swarming snowflakes, swirling in impenetrable lace curtains, restricting my vision to a few feet around me. Food seems to be circling me, marshmallows, like a predator, mashed potato, just out of sight, ice cream, just out of reach, rice pudding, using the billowing snow to mock and hide in, semolina, to tease me with its opacity, and fluffy white bread, food is my tormentor. I scream unexpectedly, even the falling snow seems to retreat in shock. I look at my hands, to inspect them, to see if I am dreaming. My hands are thick, thicker than I expect, and tattooed in blue spirals. I whimper and put my hands to my face. My face is tattooed too.
The flickering fire through the trees lures me again. I huddle close to the dying fire. Embers mottle red and orange caverns, carrots pumpkins swede and succulent potato, glowing fire caves deep in the blaze, a steaming bowl of hot wholesome stew, picked out against wide white void expanses. I resist the urge to plough into the stew, momentarily lucid I remember The Sheltering Sky, a book I have eaten but never read, and I retch with shame. I’m not sure if I’m sleeping. I’m not sure where I am, but I don’t think it’s Marrakesh. Darkness falls.
The ice-warrior maiden towers above me, her face illuminated by flickering rush torchlight. She is radiant, majestic, self-possessed. She chants low and slow at first building into a hollering and stamping that shakes the snow from the trees, she glowers and struts, throws her head back, face up to the sky, where the shimmering darkness carrys a fat full moon. Ice Warrior howls and crumples backwards into a rectangular snow lined pit. There she lies, arms across her chest, entranced and muttering incomprehensible syllables. I look at my hands, they too are tattooed, and I howl hopelessly as I twist and tumble backwards down, to her into the snow-lined pit. Awareness leaves me before I hit the bottom.
Somewhere between stages 4 to 6 a sometimes literally blinding healing revelation is shown to the faster. Fasting should always be terminated at this point, lest death ensue.
My glorious vision came perhaps some few hours after, but seemed to continue without break from my fall into the snow-lined pit. I lay serenely back, arms across my chest, tattooed and blue, I drift mindlessly through corridors of carved ice. Above me the sky is a vivd spring-time blue.Suddenly there is a crescendo of strings and a vision of Maria, resplendent in blue nun’s outfit hovers in the sky. She holds out her arms as if in invitation to embrace whilst singing most sweetly the Altaic words, which nevertheless translate themselves into modern English inside my head. The hills are alive with the sound of music, she tells me. The vision of Julie Andrews lifts me up in her giant arms. I am awed in the presence of a million million wasted christmasses, holiday TV scheduling without end, bliss or hell, I know not which. She holds me close to her mouth, gifting me a mantra, which she sings over and over. While hair-covered munchkins suggest I take the magickal name “Gordon Von Tripp™” in reverence to her sacred and holy Julieness. I am drawn into the endless mantra and begin to memorise it and chant along. “Doh! A deer, a female deer. Ra, a drop of golden sun. Me, a name I call myself. Fah, a long long way to run. Soh, a needle pulling thread. Te, a drink with jam & bread. La, a note to follow tea. And that brings us back to Doh! Doh! Doh!”
This was my initiation.
Later, I find myself flapping and clucking by the side of a deserted slush strewn road. The High Altaic Highway, connecting Novokuznetsk to Paris is slightly less than 22 days. In a blizzard I crumple. Motorists appear and disappear. Days, then nights come and go. Sun and moon and snow. Finally some people stop by and I am carried away in a silent black ambulance.
Breaking the fast. Warm porridge oats with organic honey and milk is ideal. Fruit and fruit juices are also a good way to reintroduce eating into your life.
I cannot tell with what I broke this particular fast. As soon as I arrived in Novokuznetsk the British Embassy, already alerted to my plight by my assistant back in Cambridge, took control of the situation. I was ferried between a succession of opulent, gilded and warm buildings, in sleek heated embassy cars, food was arrayed before me. Food and warmth enveloped me, and I remained in a timeless state of sated bliss, I don’t know how long. In a white marble bath, the size of a small swimming pool an Embassy official explained my geomantic dissonance, and doctors administered sedatives when the truth finally broke across me. Later I was transferred to an isolation room in Novokuznetsk Hospital where I wrote this body of this lecture, as well as the final thirty pages of Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky. When my six month visa ran out, the Embassy drove me back to the airstrip to return to England.
So we can see, illuminated visionary states are possible without indulgence in commercially obtained intoxicants and are in fact readily available through forms of abstinence rather than indulgence (Now there’s a thought for the unrepentant drug fiends out there). Fasting, celibacy, sensory deprivation tanks, meditation, saunas, breathwork, and lying on a Mediterranean beach reading a trashy novel have all been recommended to me by reputable oneironauts as trusted paths through the void of deprivation into the sublime inner world of visionary illumination.
By Gordon Von Tripp™
Printed as a pamphlet June 2008