The Dark Forest and My First Glimpses of Super Reality
A dramatic fall in life accompanied by a descent into the deviant and counter culture outer fringes of modern society, which led to an awakening to new realities and modes of perception.
This section relates the circumstances leading up to and the events around a dramatic fall I experienced in life. I will also describe some interesting experiences that came about partly as a result of this derailing of my life. I call this period of my life the time in the dark forest. The dark forest might equally be called the 'Night sea journey' or perhaps the 'Underworld'. It was a time when I was truly lost in this world and discovering aspects of life that were hither to unknown to me. My life up until then had been pretty much hum drum and mostly uneventful. I grew up in a small town in the United Kingdom and in my late teens left for London to study in University. Afterwards I went off to go travelling and then came back to London where my existence became an exploration into life's seedy and deviant side. Nothing in my life up until then could have prepared me for the things that I saw and experienced. It happened like this...
After finishing University in 1991, I decided to go to Hong Kong to live. I felt it would be a great adventure and I had a yearning to see the place of my birth. I came to live in the United Kingdom at the age of two and had never been back to visit and so it was a sort of voyage of self discovery. The trip was something of a disaster. Things were going badly while I was there, and in order to redeem the situation I decided to pursue a career as an airline pilot. This was after seeing an advertisement in the main english language newspaper in Hong kong, the South China morning post. I never really wanted to be a pilot, I only really wanted to see the world. Also I remember I had this naive idea that I could continue with my studies whilst working as a pilot because everything would be done by the auto-pilot. I thought I would have loads of spare time to read, think and stare out at the open sky.
So early in 1992 I was sent off to Perth, Australia to do some basic flying training with Cathay Pacific airlines. I put in my best effort but failed to make the grade so this particular career path came to an end. I just didn't have the right stuff. It was the first major failure of my life and I felt like a total loser when I returned to Hong kong.
On my return I was in a state of melancholy for a bit. I recovered but then when Spring came, the weather turned very miserable. It didn't stop raining and it started to get very hot and humid. This together with the stresses I was going through already put me into something of a borderline psychotic state. I just managed to keep a grip on things sufficiently to get by on a day to day basis, but sometimes my behaviour would get a little peculiar. In the middle of the night I would sometimes wander about in the country side around the New territories in Hong Kong completely naked and think about how the brain worked. Sometimes I would sleep out in the open air. And sometimes I just wandered about all night without sleeping as my head would be filled with thoughts that kept me awake. My mind started working in ways that were completely new to me. I really had a lot of interesting and strange thoughts that my mind would quite spontaneously generate. However I realized that things were in a very bad state, so decided to return to the UK.
When I came back to London in the May of that year, my mood lifted immediately and my head was back to 'normal' again. I tried to look for work but the employment situation was hopeless at that time and I drifted into a routine of living off welfare payments and state benefits. I found myself living in the less glamourous, low cost parts of London. I always seemed to find myself living with prostitutes, small time criminals and people on the margins of society.
Initially I lived in Peckham, South East London for a short while and really disliked it. I remember on the day I moved out of Peckham I saw a telephone box cordoned off with police tape and beside it was a quite large pool of dried blood. The whole area depressed me, so I moved to Turnpike Lane in North London.
Here I lived in rented accommodation in a house that was shared with what most people would call undesirables. People who had fallen in life. The bloke who lived in the room next door was a professional burglar and just about everybody in the house was involved in some sort of petty crime. My days were spent studying and thinking mainly. I was very focused on learning about the brain and trying to work out how it worked. For pleasure I would play my guitar. My life was stable for a bit, I had quite a productive Summer in that house. My life hadn't turned out as a I had planned at this point but I still felt a part of mainstream society. My life hadn't really deviated too far from the norm.
However, that would soon change. The house was raided by the police in the Autumn. This was because a few days prior to the raid, the police had spotted a large cannabis plant in the garden. This was when they came looking for the bail jumping brother of my burglar neighbour. Everybody in the house was taken to Tottenham police station. It was a new experience for me to see the inside of a police van. I remember being questioned and telling the police woman who interviewed me, that I thought that a cannabis plant was like 'grass' as in an unmowed lawn. I was 21, had lived quite a sheltered existence and was probably somewhat naive. After the raid, the atmosphere in the house became a bit unpleasant. Several of the people were charged and things became rather unfriendly. At around the same time, I was offered a room in a nearby squat.
A squat is a disused house, often in a state of disrepair, that has been taken over by people of no abode. The brother of a school friend was already living there and it seemed like a great move at the time. Little did I know it then, but in retrospect I can see that this really was a move into a lower and seedier dimension of life. I would meet and get to know people that most people would never come across. True deviants, anarchists and subversive types. It was low life in every sense of the word. And it was probably the most appropriate place for me to have been at that time. It was as if my mind had fallen and now correspondingly my life had also fallen. My physical surroundings would come to reflect my inner reality.
So began my time in the dark forest. I was low life, living with low life. The squat was in quite a bad state. It was dirty, there were dogs everywhere and it smelled. My room was small, and had bare floor boards. The last tenant was a heroin addict who used the room while he was 'cold turkeying' or in the process of trying to break his heroin habit. On the plus side the roof was in good order and the electricity was free, so at least I was never cold while I lived there.
Some of the people in the local squat scene were called crusties. This was because they never washed and so the dirt would become encrusted on their skin, clothes and hair. The crusties were invariably heavy heroin users and this was the main cause of their condition. They were more often than not beggars, though some of them were also involved in petty crime. There was a young lady living downstairs who was a full time beggar. She owned a very overweight doberman dog called Tina , her Dad was in prison for armed robbery and her favourite hobby was injecting amphetamine sulphate. As I got to know the people I was living with and those in the associated scene, I discovered that a very high proportion of them had been physically and/or sexually abused as children, or else had suffered a major trauma in their early development. This was a lesson that I would never forget and it taught me that there are reasons why a lot of people end up as social outcasts. Looking back on things, I see now, that the problems I faced were little or nothing compared to those of some of the people I knew back then. Anyway... continuing with my tale.
So here I was, a year out of University where everybody had high expectations, but now in my present context living a very unaccomplished life. I also started smoking at around this point in my life, something that would have been unthinkable to me even only recently up until then. As I got to know better this land of the fallen, it became clear to me that I had ended up in the outer fringes of society. I was a fish out of water and the sort of clothes I wore really made me stick out a lot. I had really bad dress sense and looked really square. But at the same time I was generally accepted by the people around me. In a sense, everybody in this environment was an outcast and a reject. But there was a definite sense of comradery. There was a lot of sharing, and more often than not, people looked out for one another. The world would seem hostile to many of the people I knew at this time, so partly as a result of this everybody stuck together.
Many of us lived like feral animals. I remember going off on scavenging missions to the back of supermarkets in the middle of the night. This was in order to collect the food that had gone past its sell by date, which had been thrown away in the rubbish skips. I didn't have much money and would spend a lot of what I had on books and magazines, so doing this really helped me to stay alive. I could never get myself to go begging, and anyway I was too well dressed so probably wouldn't have made any money anyway, but a lot of the people I was hanging out with did.
I should mention that I witnessed a fair deal of violence in this lawless subculture. Life really was quite cheap and sometimes a little brutal. People really did live fast, burn their candles at both ends and also sometimes died young. I remember going to a large crowded squat party in Stoke Newington and saw quite an amazing spectacle. There was a large garden, it was dark, and there were many bonfires. There were all kinds of colourful people everywhere, bikers, punks, skin heads, crusties and ravers. I could see that everybody gathered together with their own kind in big groups all sat around the fires. It was as if everybody gathered together with their tribe. Bikers with bikers, punks with punks etc. Mostly it was good natured, however there was an incident involving one of the lady beggars I knew. She got into a fight with one of the skin head girls and had one of her fingers bitten really badly. Her face was also quite badly scratched. This wasn't the sort of glamorized violence you'd see in Hollywood movies, but the really nasty brutish kind. It was a horrible sight. I would witness things like this with some regularity. In retrospect it all seems rather depressing, but I remember at the time it could also be quite stimulating in a strange kind of way. So this is the context in which I found myself.
It was in the Autumn of 1992 that I moved into the squat and entered this realm of darkness, badness and sadness. At first my working routine continued during the daytime. I would work in the local public library, reading and thinking, but the surroundings weren't very inspiring at all. The whole area seemed a little dreary to me and I felt very far from the centre of things. My aspirations and dreams seemed distant indeed, I was nowhere in this life and in this world. As time passed, my situation seemed more and more hopeless. I had set ambitious goals for my life, but here I was living with beggars and eating food out of rubbish bins. Sometimes my mood would sink into states of despair. And sometimes I'd get so depressed that my head literally ached with a raw burning sensation that lasted for hours. This would happen quite often, especially during that mid Winter period. During these times I would often go for very long walks around the local area. Walking about would distract me from my emotional turmoil and also ease my headaches. I remember that during and after these periods of intense depression, I would experience some very unusual states of mind.
At the time, I wouldn't exactly have called them mystical experiences. At the time I remember thinking to myself that I was probably going mad. During these states I seemed to lose my sense of identity. The perception of my body and who I was, would change dramatically. I felt an incredible closeness with all the people I would see around me going about their business. This feeling of empathy and connection also extended to animals, trees and even buildings. A feeling of tranquility and sometimes a blissful joyfulness would accompany these states. I would also lose the normal sensation of my body but still had the sensation of having a body. However during these times, it felt as if my body was no longer contained within my skin and physical frame, but somehow extended itself out to be a part of everything I saw around me. I felt that the people around me, cars, buildings and even an airplane flying distant in the sky were all somehow a part of who I was. My body became everything that was around me and everything that I could see was somehow really me! The things of this world would seem unreal and two dimensional, almost cartoon like. At the same time there was a strange feeling of familiarity with what was happening to me. This state of unreality felt like how things should be, and it was 'normal' reality that was aberrant. These experiences would last for some minutes at at time according to my watch but never more than an hour. However, subjectively they seemed to go on a very very long time.
When I returned to a more normal state of mind, I always felt an immense feeling of peace and tranquility. A sort of after glow that would last for several hours. These experiences also made me contemplatative and introspective. I was intrigued by what was happening to me but had no way of understanding what it meant. I remember reading about schizophrenia in a neuroscience text book, and thought that this was what I must have been going through. Life went on, time passed and gradually as Spring was nearing my mood lifted. I came out of my depression, the headaches ceased, but with it so did my strange states of mind. I would wonder about what I had experienced but at the same time I didn't miss the depression and melancholy that seemed to help bring all this about.
I stayed on in the squat for the rest of the Winter and some of the early Spring but moved out shortly after. This was due to my circumstances getting a bit dangerous. One of the people in the scene became obsessed with the idea that I was an undercover policeman. I did ask a lot of questions out of sheer curiosity, and I probably did come across as rather straight and square. Anyway, partly for my own personal safety I decided to move on. I was living in a very deviant and lawless scene that was partly characterized by a total disrespect for authority and a festering hatred of the police. I moved out of the squat and immediately after went to live in a bed and breakfast in Archway, still in North London. I was still very much in the dark forest and would remain there for quite a while. The period in the squat was probably the darkest patch of the woods. My life as a lost and lonely soul would go on for some years. A failure and social reject in my own mind, low status, low self esteem, I would struggle on in the dark forest...