July 2, 2009

Vanishing act

I had the power to make myself disappear when I was a boy. Strange how so 
many of these phenomena appear during adolescence... on the cusp of 
acquiring unimagined carnal powers, while losing others, just as extraordinary, in 
the exchange.
I haven’t thought about this for years, though it really did happen. "There are 
more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your 
philosophy." I had read about how to do it in some comic book... the go-to 
source, as every adolescent knows but has forgotten, for occult knowledge. It 
had to do with completely emptying the mind. I think what appealed to me 
about acquiring this staple of super powers was that it didn’t require muscles or 
a laboratory. I practiced emptying my mind. Soon I got so good at it, achieved a 
level of disassociation so profound, that it actually made my hair stand on end... 
and I watched myself, albeit briefly, disappear. I watched it happen in the mirror 
on my bedroom door.
It was scary. And fear was its foe. It never lasted. Only years later did I learn 
that I had achieved, during these meditations, what Zen masters call the doubt 
sensation, a rare achievement, although considered by adepts to be sophomoric 
in the long road to enlightenment, in which reflexive consciousness shifts onto a 
track in which one's existence is called into question. Its evocation of physical 
invisibility, however, appeared to be mine alone. I was unable to find any 
reference to the phenomenon in any of the books on exotic cultic practices that I 
pored over in those days.
The heroic, or criminal, imagination of a thirteen-year-old doesn’t go very far for 
its inspiration. Notions of, once invisible, disabling all the nuclear missiles in the 
Soviet Block, of emptying the city pound of its canine prisoners, or the cash 
register at the corner gas station of its cash, quickly vanished, along with my 
fugitive flesh, in the half-dozen sessions in which I watched myself flicker out of 
the visible world. Once invisible, a kind of ecstatic paralysis supervened. I 
suppose over time, and with the right tutelage, I could have stood up, passed 
through the door, descended the stairs, and entered a privileged world whose 
secrets and devices were now laid tenderly bare. But I was not a monk on a 
mountaintop. I was an adolescent in an American suburb. The sheer freakyness 
of the experience, the impulse to laugh or scream, invariably brought it to an 
end. And I was always too frightened to try again, at least for a while.
I agreed to demonstrate this to my two best friends, Larry and Joe. But try as I 
might, I couldn’t quite get there with somebody watching. The self-consciousness 
of puberty was beginning to undermine my boyhood guilelessness. I think on 
some level, I wanted to fly under the radar with this, and feared the hoopla it 
would cause. I sat, legs folded in a modified lotus position, in my upstairs 
bedroom, Larry standing and Joe sitting on the bed skeptically in front of me. 
Turning inward, my mind began to zone in on the nothingness that turned the 
world inside out. I began to feel the old sensation. My heart began to slow even 
as an unnamable dread washed over me. I felt the hair on the back of my neck 
stir. Reality began to shimmer. But as I gazed into the faintly growing surprise in 
their faces, a quickening, I felt the weight and density of reality quickly return. 
Another try went nowhere. "Sorry, I guess I need to be alone," I said as I got 
shakily to my feet. Joe said he thought he saw something. Larry chided him. Joe 
and I exchanged furtive glances. Larry tried to kid me about it, but there was a 
hint of trepidation, a slight balk, in his voice. The subject was soon dropped.
I never did it again. I think I tried once. But the skepticism of my friends, the 
enormity of the possibility that I had done what I thought I had, an instinctive 
fear of jumping head first and irrevocably into a shining abyss or insanity, and 
an adolescent’s dawning sense of community and his desire to find a place in it, 
conspired to consign the experience to its place in my closet among the tattered 
comics and dusty toys, they themselves having disappeared, long ago, in the 
usual way.