3. There Is No Schiz Outside the Gates of Eden
After graduating from an elite East Coast university, Mark Vonnegut and his girlfriend packed up some belongings and survival gear in a Volkswagen beetle and headed west into the wilderness. They found a great piece of cheap land complete with an abandoned farm on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia. They gathered some friends, pooled their resources, and started a commune. It was 1970.
With lots of hard work, the group refurbished the buildings and made the place habitable just in time for winter, and then began planning the spring farming. They felt proud of having established a foothold in the natural Utopia envisioned by their millions of peers in the hippie counterculture. Indeed it seemed like they were already in Eden ~ especially when they tripped together on psychedelic drugs.
This acid-fueled hippie vision, hatched in the 1960s, was the first major collective alt-reality to impact the modern culture, cracking open its brittle materialist eggshell. Though all the king’s matter-hatters have been scrambling to put Humpty Dumpty back together ever since, the future is clearly numenal.
Mark’s account in his book The Eden Express artfully conveys some of the supra-mundane eventsexperienced by so many people in that era. Many of the neo-pioneers were the children of urbane sophisticates, for whom fundamentalist Christianity was a dark shadow of the distant past; yet they came spontaneously to the conclusion that the world was on the brink of an apocalypse ~ or at least the artificial, anti-human, highly-technologized parts of the world. This was why they felt a driving intuitive need to get rooted back into the land: they wanted to avoid the destruction that was surely coming, whether this was conceived as the physical collapse of civilization or the loss of the human soul.
An interesting twist in the story came when some of Mark’s housemates at the farm discovered that he didn’t take drugs, raising the curious question about how he seemed to be so tripped out in all the collective highs, and was often a sparkplug of the numenal pyrotechnics. Evidently he was a *natural*, a person gifted with an inherent endowment of exotic energies, able to access high states without need of artificial stimulation. He expressed the sense they all felt of cosmic love and unity: “Where do I end and you begin? What’s outside and what’s inside? We’re all one.” Yet he said that there was a struggle going on, a conflict of universal proportions “between two opposites, good and evil, positive and negative, yes and no, on and off ~ whatever you want to call it.” Somehow this was happening, and was the pivot of human life, even though it’s All One.
The resolution of this conundrum didn’t seem to matter ~ the communards could handle the coexistence of unity and conflict, good and evil, as long as they all kept living in the grace and symmetry of the natural rhythms, and grasped the underlying perfection of existence. Mark’s attitude, and his spontaneous raps or teachings about this, were inspirational to his friends ~ even and especially when he seemed to pass into an intenser state of hardcore, ongoing enlightenment.
He was at one with everything, but everything was taking a long time ~ in fact time had slowed down to the point where there was more happening in five minutes than used to happen in years. He passed this off with casual remarks like: “My life certainly has gotten very full lately.”
Finally Mark became so encompassed by the sheer magnitude of moment-by-moment events that he could no longer function in an immediate, practical sense. At this point his friends became concerned, and escorted him on the long passage from their isolated homestead to the nearest outpost of civilization, which was the city of Vancouver, BC. They had to travel by boat through perilous waters, and then by car along lonely roads. Through it all, Mark experienced heightened, time-distended events and numenal encounters with archetypal entities, as well as with living people he knew who were not physically present. When their little group of travelers went into a diner for a meal, Mark instantly fell in love with everyone present, and was certain that it was all reciprocated. Fortunately he had enough forbearance to refrain from expressing his feelings in overt ways.
Mark’s girlfriend Virginia was away when these events took place, and so his closest friend on the journey was a man named Simon, whom he trusted implicitly as his go-between from the numenal realms to the material world. At one point during the trip, Simon started talking about “mental illness”, and how Mark’s experience was giving him a whole new perspective on it and respect for it. Mark was surprised to hear it framed in this way, but his respect for Simon led him to accept it as one of the many possible “models” for what he was now going through. Before this moment, the best operative model had had no name ~ it was just life as he knew it and was living it in the moment, albeit in a distressingly overabundant fullness.
Much later, after his recovery, while writing the book, Mark’s conclusion was that “Crazy people are into something very real, some sort of truth”. He decided that it would have been “wasteful and unimaginative” to invalidate the experience while it was happening by calling it crazy. He affirms that most or all of what happened to him during his madness was valid, and that “much of it remains valuable. The trouble was that there was much too much, much too fast.”
Even in Mark’s precarious state, his friends didn’t immediately take him to the institutionalized system for the care of the “mentally ill”, because they had a deep distrust of institutions and of the system in general. Instead they did their best to take care of him themselves ~ which is exactly how people coped with madness in all the long centuries before modern times. There was another commune in Vancouver, and when confronted with the enlightened lunatic that Mark had become, the residents tried hard to tolerate his craziness and enable him to keep living in their midst, even under very unsettling circumstances. They organized a schedule whereby he would be under watch by at least one person around the clock ~ this was especially rigorous because at the height of his period of intensity, he literally never slept. Neither did he eat, except in circumstances when the insistence of his friends matched the idiosyncratic stream of consciousness in which he was engulfed.
In the end, after weeks of heroic effort, they gave up and took him to the “nut house”.
Massive doses of neuroleptic drugs brought Mark down enough to realize that he was in a mental hospital. His second realization was that he wanted to get out of it. Like many another sophisticated patient ever since Bedlam, Mark’s initial “recovery” consisted of learning to play-act the role expected of him if he wanted to be released: he had to pretend that all his illuminating numenal experiences had been merely delusions and hallucinations; he had to mimic the mass insanity of his keepers, and pretend to believe that the puny, piddling physical realm was the whole of reality. Even then, he had to wait until his shrink went on vacation in order to sweet-talk the rest of the staff into certifying that he was fit to be released into the custody of his friends.
Mark was stable for only a short time, then relapsed and landed back in the nut house. But then he was fortunate enough to learn about orthomolecular treatment; he responded to the megavitamin therapy within a matter of weeks, and found himself completely healed ~ that is, grounded in consensus reality but able to fully appreciate the deep numenal experiences he had had while “crazy”, and to incorporate their meaning and significance into his life. Later he went to Harvard Medical School and became a pediatrician.