The Little Grey Fella in my car spontaneously decided to play Pink Floyd's Echoes today.
You know, the one that starts with "Plink~~~!" It's a piece of music I probably first heard 35 years ago, and I know it well. It has no surprises. (Unlike Careful With That Axe, Eugene, which made me jump out of my skin recently when the Little Grey Fella played it. I'd forgotten about the scream.) Since I heard it so often as a student, the states of mind I was in then are easily recalled when I hear it now.
I was driving along the easy bit of the Ortega Highway, heading back home after a fairly quiet day. There's a repeated figure in the first part of Echoes that sounds just like a Stingray moves – the lyrics say something is 'willowing across the sand' – and we're told that everything is 'green and submarine'. Naturally within a few moments I was following the Ray as it willomied through the rippled green, and a couple of minutes after that, I was trying out being Steve Irwin's widow for size. Would I scream and kick my heels for months in mourning, or would I bravely start up some sort of wildlife protection trust fund as he'd no doubt expect me to do?
At that point, brake lights flashed in front of me, and 'I' arrived back in the car to take charge of various controls. No danger at all – the person in front of me must have been some sort of a tourist, only doing 55 on a two-lane highway that has a mere smattering of deaths each year, and he was braking before each corner because he couldn’t see around it, the amateur. All I had to do was make sure I stayed at a safe distance.
But it did remind me that people often say, "I was so preoccupied, I don't even remember how I got home". And so today I can say, "I do remember how I got home. Somebody else was driving while I was swimming with Stingrays. And Manta Rays. And being Steve Irwin's widow."
When I was young – about the same time I first heard Echoes, or maybe even earlier – I went to a series of lectures on Eastern Philosophy. One thing they were particularly keen to teach me was that people rarely live in the moment, and tend to spend each minute somewhere else. They tried to instill in me a discipline to live for each moment as it comes and resist the temptation to drift off. When the brake lights flashed today, I realized that I can no longer remember why this was so all-fired important. I mean, have you seen the moment? This is no place to live! It's sparsely furnished, consisting as it does of sensory inputs which are deliberately pruned back to almost nothing before they reach the brain. When the remaining impulses do reach the brain, it ignores most of them and makes some other ones up. If they were encouraging me to have some sort of authentic experience, living in the moment hardly counts. The outside world is illusory both from a philosophical and a physical point of view. If you want a rich and fulfilling experience, one you've made up yourself in the comfort of your own mind is always going to be a better fit than whatever happens to be going on outside.
Of course it always helps if you have the sort of music playing that can get you there within a few notes, something physically easy for your body to do, and of course some brake lights to flash before you get the to scary night-time eerie bit in the middle.
Note: I had to stop writing this for five minutes to find out why "willomied" sounded like a better word for it than "willowed". It's because "willowed" does not exist as a verb, but "willomied" is the Douglas Adams word for that type of movement, as seen here. This type of distraction is a drawback of my type of imagination.
Other note: I reserve the right to change my mind and say that one you've made up yourself in the comfort of your own mind isn't always going to be better, as the fancy takes me.