“The Clear Abyss”

Nearly five years ago, long before the vaccine wars when we wore masks only for Halloween and Carnival, I wrote about psychological comfort zones (see In Praise of Comfort Zones). I argued that we need them not because they make us feel safe but because they give us the freedom to explore ourselves and relate to others with much less anxiety than we would have otherwise. God knows, we need that kind of assurance in a Covid world where I wish I had a bitcoin for every time I heard the word “uncertain.” Ironically, such assurance can encourage us to take risks, because we feel more confident in our ability to get back up if we get knocked down. Or locked down.

Lately, I have been getting knocked down, not in any serious way but enough to make me wonder why people around me are acting in bizarre ways (i.e., everything from hair on fire to straight-up delusional) and the part I play in it. After all, I know I have some responsibility even though I try to act detached. The verse from America the Beautiful–“Confirm thy soul in self-control”–could be my bumper sticker if not for the one I have now about clay shooting.

Getting knocked down or out is nothing new for me. I’ve learned to be resilient over the years. Think of all those Buddhist aphorisms about willow branches bending in the wind. So, as the drama swirls all around, I bend like a willow (hopefully, without being a sap). This has forced me to change my routine and, in doing so, I’ve noticed something very strange.

I’ve discovered a space-time dimension of the comfort zone, meaning that if you are in the zone, the space you occupy and your time in it are synchronized in such a way that things run smoothly, humming, even. However, if you get thrown out of your comfort zone and feel uncomfortable or diseased, space and time get thrown off as well and you lose all sense of order.

Let me give you an example. As I have adjusted my routine to accommodate the drama unfolding around me, my sense of order has been upended. I have been thrown off so much that in the space of one week I have lost my prescription glasses, misplaced a face mask, hid a fistful of cash somewhere that I can’t find, and drove into oncoming traffic at a busy intersection on my way to a car wash that looked remarkably like the Mississippi showboat I went on at Lake Tahoe a few weeks earlier and that I have been dreaming about ever since. If this sounds like something out of The Big Lebowski, hang on.

Add people bumping into me as they walk their dogs or stare into their cell phones because I am out at an unexpected hour. I’m feeling invisible again (see Ye Olde Cheese Shop), which results from being out of my zone, thereby causing an imbalance in the space-time continuum. I don’t want to make more of this than it’s worth, but if space and time are out of sync because I am–or my perception is–that’s not a trifle. If it happens to a group of people or an entire society, you end up where we are now: the Age of Covid bordering on mass psychosis.

In The Importance of Living (1937), author Lin Yutang tells the story of a man named Chuangtse who goes to the park one day where a large bird with big eyes swoops down and nearly hits him in the head. “‘What manner of bird is this?’ cried Chuangtse. ‘With strong wings it does not fly away. With large eyes it does not see.'”

Chuangtse describes how the bird, upon seeing a mantis, had lost control and pounced on it, “forgetful of all else.” He concludes, “And this it was which had caused the bird to forget its own nature.” But then Chuangtse forgets his own nature and brings a crossbow to the park to hunt the bird. The park keeper, demanding to know what business he has there and believing him to be a robber, chases him away.

The upshot of all this? Chuangtse felt so ashamed that he went home and did not leave his house for three months. “Gazing at muddy water, I lost sight of the clear abyss,” he says.

It’s time for me to find the clear abyss.

“I Can See Clearly Now,” Johnny Nash (1972, Epic Records). Performed by Bob Marley.

Image credits: feature by Leio McLaren on Unsplash. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”


  1. It’s hard not to think of the Nietzsche quote that says something to the effect of, “If you gaze too long into an abyss, the abyss gazes into you.” And speaking of dreams (off-topic, I know) – I dreamed that Elvis absolutely refused to carry my luggage. I think it’s because I bear him ill will for dying on my birthday – every year I have to read about it!

  2. Time for you to leave the abyss of California, Rob. That was positively Fruits & Nuts. However, let me be kind, because I UNDERSTAND EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN.

    “People are NOT meant to live this way.” We are not. After 17 months of conflict we are still looking at the same data points on Covid. A 99% survival rate. A vaccine (I am vaccinated) that is only kicking the can of viral pathology down the proverbial road. Ignorance of natural immunity (I had Covid in November and threw it off like a teenager). A polarized fanatical belief or rancorous contempt of health officials (I have a rancorous contempt). And a superstitious distrust of people who refuse to go along with every mandate . . . and I am one of those distrustful ones.

    Once more, Yours truly is the nearly extinct Pre-historic animal, The Paradoxtcyl. Flying around at 30,000 feet watching city dwellers wear masks outside in public parks with no one closer than 25 feet away; shaming their friends and neighbors of years into crossing the nearly deserted streets and chasing them into vestibules while waiting for an elevator; and seeing horrible memes on the internet that blast out “Wear a Fucking Mask!” and “Get a Fucking Vaccine!”

    The overeducated bureaucrats haphazardly separate us into West Coast Sophisticates and Northeast Elites versus Southern Rubes and Rural Dunces once more. And we let them.

    Six months ago I started working with a psychologist about cultural changes/differences with regards to the pandemic. The main topic “Why did the WWII generation stare down the Hong Kong Flu outbreaks in 1957, 1968, and 1969, while Boomers and Millennials have folded up like lawn furniture regarding Covid?” That is EXACTLY what I wrote down during our first research session.

    After six months, we determined the following:

    1. Americans (I’m leaving the rest of the world out of this) have gone from a country of rugged, risk-taking individuals to a nation of people that want guarantees. Safety and security is now foremost. Adventure and investigation of the unknown are much too scary.

    2. Americans are catastrophizers. Have tried to explain to my 60ish friends, “Yes Covid is killing people, but NOT healthy Social Security recipients. People OLDER, in poor health, with comorbidities make up a supermajority of deaths.” Few seem to acknowledge this.

    3. Americans are projectors , . . . upon themselves. They read about an anecdotal case of a marathon runner who succumbed to Covid and immediately start getting their affairs in order. They, of course, don’t bother with details such as the fact that the marathon runner was diabetic; had a history of heart disease in the family; and was running in the hopes of making it to his/her 40s, or 50s, or 60s.

    4. Americans are fat, lazy, slobs. Every time a case pops up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, our elected and appointed officials set their hair on fire (love that image) and scream at us “WEAR A FUCKING MASK! SHRINK WRAP YOURSELF IN CELLOPHANE! DON’T LEAVE THE HOUSE!” If they REALLY wanted to help on the health level, they’d scream, “LOSE SOME FUCKING WEIGHT! GET YOUR BLOOD SUGAR AND BLOOD PRESSURE UNDER CONTROL! GET THE FUCK OUT AND EXERCISE, YOU SLUG!” If we would build up our immune systems, Covid would be VERY manageable.

    One final observation from the R & D.

    We have spent the past 17 months locked in our homes; washing up like we’re going to remove a glioblastoma; and wearing useless masks like they are a fashion statement.

    We have CRATERED our immune systems. Delta may not be a form of the virus that is 3 times as contagious as the Alpha version.

    We just might be 3 times as susceptible.

    Go out and live, everyone. Search and find that clear abyss.

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