Checking Out


I am walking down a hot, dusty street. The air is full of the sound of traffic. All around us is the ubiquitous down-market landscape of the inner city. There are three of us: a tall guy with red hair in front, me following behind him and a short, stocky guy with thick glasses in the rear. The short, stocky guy has a carrier bag swinging from his hand.


The sensation of walking strikes me as being odd in some way. It is as if it is happening all by itself – my body moves smoothly and effortlessly and for a moment I’m not sure where I fit in to all this. I seem to be an interloper, unnecessary somehow and chronically ill at ease, only getting in the way of things. I am tagging along somehow, unable to find my niche, my place in the scheme of things.


It’s not just the movement of my body – everything seems effortless and the world goes by me in a smooth flow. Everything around me seems sleek and luxurious, somehow expensive-looking despite all the litter on the ground and the soft air of urban decay that pervades our surroundings. The dirt and detritus on the pavement looks like a sumptuous carpet and the exhaust fumes hanging in the air are clouds of fine incense gracing our passage.


The street flows past slowly, a majestic river of rich sensory impressions. The scene is mundane – squalid even – and yet at the same time it looks lazily and fabulously opulent. Although I have only small change in my pocket I somehow feel in possession of limitless wealth. I feel like a prince, an emperor, a demigod even.


There are riches and wonders pressing in on me from all sides. Even the fat sausages of dog shit regularly distributed on the pavement appear wonderfully well sculpted, possessed of solid artistic merit, each one a masterpiece worthy of being displayed for the edification of the cognoscenti in a high-class gallery somewhere.


It feels good to be walking. The warm, late-afternoon summer breeze is heavily laden with layer upon layer of odours, some attractive like hints of exotic foodstuffs that I cannot identify, some rank like the smell of stale urine and rotting garbage. We are walking through a housing estate now and at one end of each block of flats are a collection of three or four huge cylindrical steel bins full to the brim with refuse heating up in the strong sunlight. Heat devils dance around us on the dirty tarmac.


We reach our destination, a block of flats just like all the rest, and silently climb concentric flights of concrete stairs. In the relative darkness of the stairwell I start to appreciate the acuity of my visual field, the depth and sharpness of detail in everything I see. My vision, now that I notice it, is enhanced far beyond what I am accustomed to. I am experiencing some sort of data overlay: flickering matrices of information are being superimposed upon my normal visual input. It is like having digital displays implanted in my retina, unobtrusively feeding in more and more data.


The sensation is quietly exhilarating. I feel detached yet in control. Removed, and yet present.


Inside the living room, sitting down on a worn out sofa and drinking from a can of beer, still cold despite its journey through the hot street, I can see pure geometrical shapes rotating slowly in some sort of n-dimensional space. They are both in the space of the living room, and not in it. They are like symbols of pure information, it occurs to me. Sphinx-like custodians of pure meaning.


We all sit, drinking cans of beer. No one says anything.


The visual activity is increasing… I am no longer quite comfortable. There is a new feeling, a sense of pressure or urgency. I am missing something, the understanding of which is – nevertheless – being forced upon me. It’s a bit like knowing that you have forgotten something, but not knowing what type of thing it is, or what realm of life it pertains to.


For the second time that afternoon the thought occurs that, in reality, everything runs itself. There is no need to do anything. No need for an overseer. No need for a driver. There doesn’t need to be anyone sitting there in the driver’s seat keeping tabs on everything – pressing buttons, pulling levers, reading dials and all the rest of it. There’s no need for that. No need for control.


With this thought I let go and enjoy the delicious feeling of detachment. The anxiety that had been building up somewhere evaporates. After all, if there is nothing to do, then what is there to get anxious about? It all happens by itself. It knows what it is doing, where it is going, even if I don’t.


The thought that there is no need to do anything (or to understand anything) shifts and deepens. It isn’t just that there is no need to do anything, there isn’t any need for anyone to be there to do anything. There isn’t a need for a driver and so there isn’t a driver. That is exactly why everything feels so effortless, so luxurious, so sumptuous. That’s why everything is so perfect, so immaculate. Because there’s nothing getting in the way. Because I’m not getting in the way. The anxiety starts to come back with renewed energy. There’s something there that I don’t like, something niggling at me.


A terrible jolt of electric fear runs through me. It occurs to me that the reason everything appears so hauntingly beautiful, so irresistibly majestic, so colossally rich and so uncannily peaceful is because there is no one there to see it. It occurs to me that I have been fooling myself that I was ever here at all.


Something in me starts to clench up violently and pull back – I have been so entranced by all this perfection that I didn’t notice that I am no longer an important part of the picture, that I am in fact no longer a part of it at all. The price of the perfection that I was marvelling at so much is my abdication. Only – I now see with terrible clarity – there is no need for any abdication because there is no one hereto abdicate. There never was.


For a moment I toy with the idea of bailing out of this process. Or trying to. I somehow doubt that I could at this stage – there is a feeling of inevitability about everything that is happening to me. The idea of fighting against it just seems too ridiculous.


Again, I have the sensation of being swept along in a majestic river of sensory impressions. The river is broad and the current is inexorable. I know deep down that there is no fighting against this river because this river, this flow of change, is all there is. I can hold on against it for a while perhaps, but not for long. I can’t help knowing that I will tire eventually – my strength is limited, its strength is not.


I am being carried along whether I want to be or not, and as I am being carried long the idea that I am me (that there is a me who is being carried along with the flow) becomes increasingly strange to me. The idea back-fires on me, it rebounds in my face, it doesn’t make sense. It is like someone shouting a nonsensical word. I used to know what me meant, but now I don’t seem to – my so-familiar sense of myself is rapidly fleeing away, it is spinning off into the distance like a piece of tinsel. It looks absurd, unimportant, untenable – silly in some way. It is an inconsequential bit of flotsam. Why pursue it?


The piece of tinsel becomes ever more trivial, ever more silly. It is rapidly dwindling away into nothing. I can’t keep track of it any more.


The thought strikes again, more powerful than ever, blindingly obvious: “I was never here at all!!!”


There is an experience of intense energy: vibratory buzz-saws are taking hold of my head. They are taking me to pieces with implacable efficiency. Nothing can interfere with this process – it has been accomplished before it even began. There was never any argument. There was never even any question of an argument. There was no need for such a question, no need for any argument. There was only peace – a vast peace, a tremendous peace, a peace that had never been broken and never would be. An unbreakable peace.


I see a great whirling wheel all around me. A spiral vortex, majestically turning. An Antimatter Galaxy sucking me in. Tractor beams taking me apart atom by atom.


I am falling towards the impersonal glory of the central spiral.


There is a frisson of awareness: I realize the identity of this whirlpool with the newly formed core of pure shining immaculate nothingness in the centre of my being.


A sheet of brilliant white light opens up in front of me, and in that moment as I finally understand what is happening to me, I feel an overwhelming pang of love for my two companions. A love so comprehensive that it extends to everything: the living room table, the over-flowing ashtray, the coffee stains on the carpet, the motes of dust dancing gaily in the bright sunlight…








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