Living Alive

by Erin Yes in collaboration with Paul Johnston, 25 years after his death

Tally was one of the last, if not the last, of the true Bohemians. I was almost thirty and he was approaching 80 when I met him at his art exhibit in NYC. A visit to his garret led to a decade-long friendship. I learned that his life’s work had been split in half: the first 40 years he was an artist, fine press printer and book designer. At the age of forty, he and his wife split, after years of an open marriage in Greenwich Village during the 1920s and ’30s. She was eager to move on to her own life as an artist and independent person and he was soon entangled in an affair that led to a final estrangement.

“It was the worst mistake I ever made,” he said to me. “The affair ended, of course,” and he was alone. “I sought death,” he said, “by unintentional injury – not so unintentional, of course. I was hospitalized and spent weeks in hysteria and paranoia. My guilt came out in the hospital. That was all my lifetime of guilt that I had so carefully put away.”

Tally was hospitalized for a serious but non-life-threatening illness. During the procedure, he died on the operating table. “For a few moments I experienced an exceptional clarity. I felt no sentiment or emotion, no regret or grief. I welcomed death as the fulfillment of a very great life.”

He said death enfolded him before he could say more. Silence. Absolutely nothing, if not deep unconscious peace. “That is what death is. Release from all consciousness, from all guilt, from all threats of poverty or torture of possessions. The dead have no responsibility. There is no ego to establish and maintain at the cost of one’s self and cruelty to others. Peace.”

But slowly his sublime peace was disturbed. “I could not move but I felt! Cold, then warm. A flow of warmth began to trickle in. What is this?”

He regained consciousness and one eye and then the other opened and he realized he was alive. “Damn them! Why didn’t they let me die?” He turned his head and saw his wife’s blood running from her arm to his; the warmth he felt was her blood, her life. Before he fell asleep, his last conscious thought was that she had given birth to him.

His wife and children did not visit him again.

There was really no place in the world for him now. “I had lived past my destiny,” he said. The father and husband were dead. He came to know that he had to accept that he could not regain his death any more than deny himself alive. He was a skeleton, but he was alive. “I had to learn to live again, and find new reasons to live.”

He became a man “rebased” in a “new world beginning.”

“When I physically died on the operating table, I was reborn, innocent as a newborn baby. Death had taken away all my guilt and replaced it with innocence.” But he had a man’s body, a man’s consciousness, a man’s load of experience and memory.

Tally lived the rest of his life finding new reasons to live and creating new identities. As one identity succumbed to guilt, a new one had to be created.

He paused a moment to reflect. “I lived that way for some years, not yet understanding that with each rebirth and each new identity eventually comes a new load of guilt, and all the rationalizing of that guilt. Because all guilt is instantly repressed.”

He went through many deaths and rebirths. “Everyone goes through periods of existent death, and of being renewed, into times when we are more conscious of what we are doing and pursuing what is valuable to us.” The existent dead live without consciousness and completely through rationalization, a thought process by which one evades evaluating what is happening in one’s life.

In his off hours from work, he visited the Museum of Modern Art. “I sat in MOMA and let the flow of my consciousness go by. I could feel,” he said, his fingers responding to tactile memory, “its ripple. Do you know what Walt Whitman said about idleness? ‘I loaf and let the world in.’ This is what I did.”

Tapping into the underlying stream of consciousness with its words, feelings and images that flow beneath our daily consciousness, he began to investigate his thoughts, as they occurred before, during and after situations. He studied his motivations and evaluated the use of his time and the consequences of his behavior.

“In my early years I lived my life intuitively,” Tally said, “although I did not know it then, making choices which were completely unconscious, but which all together moved my life in a certain direction. We may not know it, but we make decisions based on what is valuable to us, and these small unconscious decisions cause us to go in one direction or another.”

He wondered about this process, which begins in childhood. “To define intuition is difficult,” he told me. “The intuition’s fragments of memory and images never become conscious. Now that we have computers we have something to compare to what I call Intuition – not ESP but a very internalized action and response system – because in both cases the programmer puts in what can be taken out.”

In his view, a child begins life innocent and amiable. He begins making up his own intuitive program. Intuition is built up in childhood from all one’s experiences. “By adulthood, or long before, in any given situation, a person reacts automatically and unconsciously in an instant, and without consideration of morality. What he learns about harming himself or other people, he builds up to a justification of harming other people, or he builds up a defense of it and a pretense of amiability.”

“We react positively or negatively,” I said.

“With amiability or hostility,” he said. “And it’s already done before we know it. We select fragments from our experience and assign them positive or negative value. An infant is amiable and feels no guilt, until the first time someone punishes him. Then the child feels anger and guilt. Although later, he may learn to mask hostility with an amiable appearance, a laugh or a smile, there will never be a time of complete amiability again. The hostility may be disguised so well that the person does not know he experiences it himself.”

Many people learn to disguise their hostility with a mask, a pretense of amiability, because for some yet unknown reason, a human being cannot perceive himself as anything but innocent. “In this case, rationalization becomes a way of life.”

The “existent dead,” he went on, “evade life’s experiences through rationalization and cannot change. Only a person living consciously alive can alter his intuition, so that it becomes itself, that is, amiable again.”

By accessing his stream of consciousness, he began to experience and apprehend “life’s contradictions and comprehensions.” He sought to know his experience, as nearly as one can. “Living alive, in its simplest form, is a matter of consciousness, specifically of the experience of living as it occurs. It is important to penetrate the perpetual underlying stream of consciousness as much as possible, for there are layers and levels and aspects to it, as with all things.”

But, he qualified, no one is ever conscious of what he is doing or why he is doing it, even a person who is aware of everything he is doing and after pondering it, can perceive the reason or motivation for it.

This perceptual ability he called “perceptive intellect.” A person evaluates his experience for its value or worth. What was the action? Had it meaning? Is its consequence valuable or worthless? This allows a person to discern what is valuable and adjust his intuition to be more positive.

“Time moves so swiftly we can only select fragments of our experience,” he said, and this selection is most likely based on our intuitive program and perceptive intellect. In fact, these selected fragments of our experience become memory within a nanosecond.

He called this combination of present occurrences and selective evaluation and memory the “perpetual present.” Each moment of the perpetual present contains all the experience/memory of our lives since our first awareness.

“We are living alive when conscious of the perpetual present memory of experience as it transpires, especially the memory of eternity in the present instant.”

© Copyright 2009, 2013 by Erin Yes

[Editor’s note: Erin Yes is the pseudonym of Mary Clark, author of Tally: An Intuitive Life. –RC]

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