The Big Quiet

The Big Quiet

As a surgeon, I always wonder about anesthesia.  The whole thing is more than a little suspicious.  What a weird human endeavor…we can disconnect one another, not only from all feeling, but from all sensation period.  Sorcery.

For the first time I experienced that unique experience.  I was awake in one place and then I was awake in another place and something big had happened in between the two.  No memory, no residue, no smell could take me back there like a perfume might take a lover back in time.  That chunk of time did not exist for me.  Ok, so this is not new to many people, including thousands I have had the privilege to call my patients.  But I am so curious about what happened to Me during that operation.  I could geotag my knee during that hour or so, and I believe my bill will come from the surgery center where my body lay, but I have no idea where the part went that I hang out with all day, the part that I struggle to understand.  In truth, the part that I am constantly struggling with to have feelings and to know it is having feelings.  Etc.

All of my drug use in the past was not an attempt to stop the feelings.  I was not looking for anesthesia.  I was looking for the feelings.  I liked psychadelics, eXstacy.  I was feeling nothing and for a good, long while, the chemicals helped.  In recent years I realized that I had become a master at indicating (an acting term) what the right feeling was, but mostly, I was not feeling it.  If I broke up with my girlfriend, I knew I was supposed to feel angry/sad/relieved. I can’t say I could really identify those feelings or where/how they resided in me.

Since I have become aware of this, and since I no longer use drugs, and since I have done lots of work on this, I now know that feelings live in my body and they are the fiber optic cables that connect my head to my body.  Instead of being two disconnected, highly functioning machines, mind and body, I have a third way:  feelings.  They are the honey that gums up the works.  They are the wave and the particle.  They are the color commentary.  For me, they are new and different as well.  It is a good thing, but of course, for me, also scary (although I might not be able to tell you just how this scary thing feels in my body–more like I know someone is around that next corner kind of scary).

Then there is the soul, the Knowing part, the fourth way, but I am not there tonight. Tonight I am happy to be back in my body after being submerged under a lake of disconnected flat water.  I feel like a dog who has just taken a huge gulp…

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3 Responses to The Big Quiet

  1. Claire Lucas says:

    This picture put me in an instant dream. And the words verbalized the content of the dream to perfection. The felt sense in my body is of the liminal threshold between consciousness and unconsciousness, waking and sleeping. That moment we wake up with a start and realize we’ve been asleep – that we’ve lost time and memory — the restless grasping at remembrance — then the slow sink back under the surface, the self-forgetting, the irresistible fall into sleep once again.

    That state of waking sleep does feel like “being submerged under a lake of disconnected flat water”. Chunks of time with no sensory or other memory of presence. Perhaps a story of some kind, but no real sense of being there. Anesthesia, indeed. The human condition of being asleep in our own lives — and those moments of waking up, only to realize how deeply we have been slumbering.

    I remember desperately seeking any remedy to try to stay awake — drugs, sex, physical risk, emotional extremes — any stimuli! Then the crushing realization that extreme stimulations only deepen the sleep, dull the sensibilities, make it harder to wake up. The Dreaming Phoenix would not be awoken by force. The one who creates the world through her dreaming, but isn’t aware of it. Perhaps she will awaken for good and rise from her own ashes. But then what will continue to dream creation into existence? When she wakes up and stops dreaming me, will “I” still be here?

    Perhaps I’m starting to trust that I’ll awaken again and again, just as routinely as I fall asleep. Perhaps this is the human condition – something to be accepted. A small, flickering light against a black velvet backdrop. The recognition that what I am awake to is a tiny fleck afloat in an ocean of the background mystery itself. How can I possibly maintain consciousness to that!

    Like this dog by the lake – a mysterious, evocative image in dark sepia tones – I stand by the shore, on the threshold of waking and sleeping, gulping the water of awareness, whenever I can remember to do so.

    • stephenarcher says:

      Claire that is beautiful. I love the tiny fleck of light on the velvet black. I told this experience to a friend who meditates. I asked him if this was the purpose of meditating–to reach absolute vacancy. He is a bright light himself. He smiled and said, “No, its purpose is to reach absolute presence.” I loved that too.
      Can we awaken and awaken? Can we dream into another level of dreams and yet again? (Have you seen Inception?) Yes I think so.
      Anyway, your writing is gorgeous.


  2. I found your blog post because a dear friend of mine wrote the words “the big quiet” in the information box under his picture on his facebook page. We are not speaking right now for very complicated reasons, though we remain connected by the thin threads of status updates, profile pictures, likes and comments. Wondering what those words meant, I entered them into google, pressed search and found your blog.

    What a lovely post! I especially love your take on feeling and anaesthesia —- I don’t think I have ever heard it put quite that way. I have heard people say that they drink or get high to numb their feelings, to suppress them because they cannot handle them. But that never felt right to me. ( See? I wrote felt… even though logic and my rational mind might say that such is how it is.) Because I know the the times in the past where I did get high, I did so precisely to get to that place where I COULD feel my feelings. Intensely.

    It’s hard to identify, let alone understand something that you cannot let yourself feel. I love how you put it — that feelings are the fiber optic cables that connect your mind to your body. For me, sometimes, the thinking is what numbs me – the rationalization and intellectual analysis of my pain, my grief, my joy.

    I think you have shared a way to get to that soul place – that place of Knowing. We can weave ourselves to wholeness with the thread of our feelings. Thank you for sharing this and making it available for a stranger to find when she needed it.

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