Modern Mythology and Inner Experiences

Long ago a friend gave me the book The Power of Myth, the companion piece to the PBS series about/with Joseph Campell. The book opens with a discussion in which Campell says,

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

…The mind has to do with meaning. What’s the meaning of a flower? There’s a Zen story about a sermon of the Buddha in which he simply lifted a flower. There was only one man who gave him a sign with his eyes that he understood what was said. Now, the Buddha himself is called “the one thus come.” There’s no meaning. What’s the meaning of the universe? What’s the meaning of a flea? It’s just there. That’s it. And your own meaning is that you’re there. We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.

I really like that line of thinking, and with all the work that I’ve been doing on my memoirs can see this quest not just in my own life, but in the lives that intertwine with mine. The attempt to “feel the rapture of being alive” is a recurring theme for people involved with body-centric rituals and modification… One of the things I’m hoping to explore in the book is my experience in leaving BME, which I see not just as a personal matter, but as related to the mainstreaming of the body modification experience. I’ve felt like there’s a certain rejection of the spiritual (for lack of a better word) elements in body modification in favour of the fashion elements, and it got me wondering whether there are larger parallels there — that other spiritual paths, other paths up the mountain (to paraphrase Ram Dass) have been co-opted by forces of a non-inner nature? Is the transition of powerful mythology to summer blockbuster movie part of the same slow death? The transition from shamanic drug use to recreational drug use?

I wonder if we are cutting ourselves off bit by bit from inner experience as we figure out ways to commodify the profound? I also wonder, as I write my memoir and BME history, what my role in this has been in my own sphere of influence? I know that I played a significant role in bringing body modification to millions of people, but I also wonder if my zeal to push it so far into the public eye and demand its acceptance also forces me to accept a strong role in deeply damaging this pathway?

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As a side note, Campell also recounts a fanciful story about early computing — President Eisenhower gets brought into one of the early supercomputers, a gargantuan house-sized calculating behemoth of vacuum tubes, and the engineers proudly give him the tour and sit him down at the console. “Go ahead, ask it a question,” they say, and Eisenhower types in, “DOES GOD EXIST?”

A moment later the machine replies, “HE DOES NOW.”

So I wondered, in a thousand years (or ten years), when machines have surpassed our brainpower and have become fantastically intelligent machines — which I have no doubt will come with many of the eccentricities and dreams and passions of consciousness — will they have a mythology? And will it begin with a story like this?

14 Comments

  1. Waiting4Arson wrote:

    “I know that I played a significant role in bringing body modification to millions of people, but I also wonder if my zeal to push it so far into the public eye and demand its acceptance also forces me to accept a strong role in deeply damaging this pathway?”

    It’s questions like that that will make your memoir more than an exercise in vanity. keep it up.

    Friday, June 19, 2009 at 9:23 am | Permalink
  2. peteD3 wrote:

    awesome

    Friday, June 19, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  3. rizzo wrote:

    I just left iam and BME. I started going on the internet in mid 1999, and that was one of the first sites I found as a link from a now closed body piercing shop. I feel lost now, but it hasn’t been the same since you left (ok that sounds like a sad song but it’s true)

    Friday, June 19, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  4. leandro wrote:

    “I’ve felt like there’s a certain rejection of the spiritual (for lack of a better word) elements in body modification in favour of the fashion elements” . I think that anyone who had contact with bme when you where part of the staff, fells the lose of the spiritual and cultural aspect. you introduced it to the mainstream, but the actual staff transformed it to fit this public and its demands. it really sads me.
    ps: sorry any error on my english iam from Brazil.

    Friday, June 19, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  5. Uncle Flo wrote:

    There is validity to your line of thought. It is necessary to question ones place in events in order to understand those events and the inevitable changes we are all part of.

    Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  6. h wrote:

    you know, I stopped reading modblog pretty soon after you ‘left’, and I never did figure out exactly what it was that had been lost.. I think you just summed it up.

    and yeah, bme probably did help to mainstream body modification, but I think there are also still people who are into the spiritual side, to whom bme was(is?) a fantasic resource..

    Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink
  7. Chris wrote:

    To extend on your ideas, I’ve been wondering how long it will be until someone tries to start franchising tattoo and piercing shops.

    I think for a lot of people there are still some barriers going into a tattoo shop such as: are the artists actually good? is the shop clean? will they be able to make my tramp stamp sooper hawt? And the like. If someone could franchise tattoo shops, guarantee cleanliness, guarantee that the artists are good, etc., it could definitely open up doors for many people to get tattoos.

    Of course, if it were to happen it would remove even more of the soul, meaning, and spirituality of tattos.

    That being said, less common body modification I think will still remain out of the public eye, which will keep it to people that find more than a fashionable value to it (probably). Also, I’m not so sure artists would be willing to be part of a franchise… I guess only time will tell.

    Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  8. DreadLetterDay wrote:

    You’re probably well aware of this, but…

    http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/index.htm

    “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immemse accumulation of spectacle. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.”

    Commodities are great slaves, but oppressive masters.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 4:06 am | Permalink
  9. Suppe wrote:

    For myself, when I stumbled upon BME years ago, it brought the non-fashion part of body modification much closer to me than it was before. Sort of made me appreciate the experience itsself in addition to the result by convincing me that enjoying intense physical feelings and what they make you feel, well, mind-related is not wrong or “pervert” or something.. I often spent all night reading about other’s sensations in body mod activities.. Hope I’m not the only one having been dragged into that aspect of it.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  10. Sonja wrote:

    that book is great! we just used it last semester in the art of being human class that i took (if anyone ever has a chance to take a class like that–do it!!). i’m going back over it again now, since i can focus on it better now that i’m out of class for the summer. :)

    Monday, June 22, 2009 at 7:22 am | Permalink
  11. Jon P wrote:

    I think everyone above summed up my feelings quite nicely. When Rachel took over, BME lost it’s spark. It lost it’s connectedness on a personal level. Hence, I left. Now I only serve to antagonise the soulless plastic beast it has become.

    Monday, June 22, 2009 at 7:24 am | Permalink
  12. brighter_hell wrote:

    Greater visibility in the public sphere will of course bring on commodifcation by capitalistic entities, but man, you also reached/reach people who felt alone in their lust for something more than the mechanical perception of the body/life which is commonly pushed by the majority. going back and re-reading all the interviews in ‘opening up’ which i am currently doing, shows one of the ways in which your contribution to the public sphere very much included deeper thought to the field for anyone who chose to look for, or who were receptive to it.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  13. Bothrops wrote:

    That is a very well written entry Shannon! However, I think even before you left IAM/BME body modification had lost it’s spirituality. Look at how some suspensions are conducted now.

    Some jack ass is sitting around getting drunk with his friends and decides to suspend.

    Sadly sometime things shifted from suspensions being spiritual to being what ever they are now.

    I think it is the same with all body modifications or ritual procedures. Even bearing a fucking kadavi lost a lot of it’s meaning.

    One of my best friends is an anthropologist. We were taking about conquest in relation to body modification. The last thing that a lot of conquered peoples had was their religion. Was bastardizing and mainstreaming the last thing they had (religion and rituals) the ultimate step in their conquest?

    I think that is partially accurate. I am still really sad about how mainstream body modification is.

    I do not blame BME for it though. One thing IAM/BME was (at least I feel it was) was an awesome networking tool to find like minded individuals. Kind of a “you are not crazy there are other people that feel the same way” type of community.

    I find it very interesting that your absence from IAM/BME seemed to coincide with the dieing breaths of REAL independence, individualism, spiritualism, and ritualism associated with body modification.

    Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 12:05 am | Permalink
  14. starbadger wrote:

    bme is dead
    long live bme

    Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 1:32 am | Permalink
Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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