Grey light or journey with eyes closed
Travel, hypochondriac, in order to be cured of your hypochondria!
Travel, misanthrope, in order to love humanity a little!
“Letters of a Russian Traveler” by N. Karamzin
These days last year I came back from an Arctic trip. Speaking with pathos (in the original sense of the word intended by the ancient Greeks), and perhaps that is the way to make announcements about these kind of things – this journey divided my life into “before” and “after”. I cannot say that this was the first and only experience that divided my life but it definitely was one of those. And it is not even about the impressions left in the memory and in the figures but rather about the special state which I had not experienced before. Besides, I had never sailed for so long and so far from the shore. Once I sailed a yacht from the center of Germany to the north of Holland. But the voyage lasted less than three days, we moored to get some sleep, and, in addition, I was a steersman so I had responsibilities and no time to reflect... And here... A year ago, on board the icebreaker Somov, I wrote the following:
“A monotonous horizon and grey northern fluffy light immerses me, like a person suffering from a meteoropathy, in an almost fetal state. It is similar to the same light that is called Dharmakãya in Tibetan Buddhism – the light that concentrates attention in the corridor of the afterlife world in order not to be distracted by bright temptations of illusions. The light of Luminous Emptiness. This grey light and the infinite ocean space behind the stern help me to focus and finish my script. The closer we get to the pole, the more I turn to my inner self. Like the icebreaker entering the eternal ice zone, I enter the memory zone that I have never investigated before. I died on the shore, and now my afterlife begins... We are moving towards the zero point, to absolute whiteness, purity and emptiness. Two poles. If we pretend that these are two poles of human consciousness, then for me the global Antarctica becomes a rational left hemisphere and the Russian Arctic is the irrational right one. And as I approach this pole, I begin to experience states that I have not known before... The grey haze of the sky wraps me up like a fluffy plaid blanked. I feel like an astronaut in an insulating bath. With a minimum of external stimuli, the brain produces more and more ideas.”
I could not identify this state in any way and correlate it with any past psychedelic experiences. There were comfort zones, absolute disorder, euphoria and despondency altogether. The only thing that was absent in this new state was me. All this time I was lying in my cabin, half asleep and writing down multi-episode dreams. I sent my own duplicate to attend the lunches in the main cabin or to disembark on another Arctic island, or even to draw at the desk. At collective dinners the consciousness of this duplicate could not support lively and healthy discussion of experienced polar explorers, let alone track the thread and the meaning of their conversation. I felt like a thermophilic spy in the midst of obsessive frost men. Oh! How many times have I regretted going on this trip! I regretted it every day but then obviously a fantastic sunset reflected in the northern ice, disembarkation on another island to see walruses and polar bears, double circular rainbows or northern lights got me distracted from self-pity.
One day we disembarked on Bennett Island where a memorial cross was installed in honour of Kolchak who visited the island in 1903 in search of traces of the expedition of De Toll who, in his turn, visited this place in order to discover the phantom island – Sannikov Land. We reached the island by helicopter. A strong wind was knocking down. While the spirits of De Long's expedition were hovering over my companions, the other spirits were hovering and dancing over me... The wind blew prickly snow into my jacket's hood, and suddenly I (or rather, what I sent to the island instead of myself) distinctly heard under the hood a Purcell's melody. And it was not remembering a song or humming it but hearing it! Then something distracted me. The cold and the wind... And somehow I forgot about it. It should be noted that the baroque music is associated deep in my subconscious (and not just mine – those who know, they will understand) with a feeling of cold, freezing or anesthesia. It is still a mystery how this passionate (according to European tradition) music is connected with insensitivity... The poles are closing. Icy passion…
Later, I remembered the incident on the island, and it struck me! What melody do you think I heard there? It was the Cold Song or the Aria of the Cold Genius from “King Arthur” (!!!), which was marvelously performed by the great Klaus Nomi... On the island I heard only an instrumental version without a vocal, the so-called backing track. It was me who served as a backing track at that time…
I began to analyze my state, especially the mechanism of “humming the Cold Song” on the most northern Arctic island, and tried to establish a diagnosis. The closest thing to this state happened to be the syndrome of the psychic automatism. I got rid immediately of this syndrome, called the Kandinsky-Clérambault syndrome, once I made a step from the icebreaker to the mainland. There, however, a new syndrome was waiting for me but I will tell you about it some other time...