The Greeks called it the Charybdis.
Recently, while navigating the twisty waters one finds when in search of the Mask of Satori, I have been noticing the Charybdis in its various forms everywhere.
In Greek mythology the Charybdis was a deadly, ship-sucking sea monster. A swirling thing of chaos which sucked down passing ships without warning three times a day, and only spewed the remains up somewhere else hours later. The captains of the ships which had to sail through the strait of Messina had a choice. Risk the possibility of being pulled inexorably into the Charybdis’ watery vortex or pass by on the other side, close to the rocks, risking attack by Scylla.
Scylla was a monster that snapped up sailors with her long-necked dogs' heads. Homer said she was hideous, with six heads and twelve legs, while Ovid said she was a beautiful woman from the waist up but instead of legs she had six dog-heads. If the ship sailed fast Scylla could only take six sailors, unlike Charybdis which could swallow the whole ship. This is why the witch Circe in the Odyssey tells Odysseus to risk Scylla rather than Charybdis.
Etymologists believe this is where we get the saying “Between a rock and a hard place.”
Between Scylla and Charybdis.
Buckminster Fuller might call the ubiquity of this sweet curlicue a pattern integrity. A slip knot sliding along the rope of life. A natural occurrence that permeates every facet of our perception of the world so integrally that it can be seen as thread in the fabric of the Universe.
I see the various Charybdi everywhere. From the braids in a unicyclists’ daughter’s hair to the diagram of a DNA strand.
From the ascending curlicue of a tendril of smoke to the churning gray mass of a deadly tornado. It is depicted in prehistoric paintings on the rock walls and parched arroyos of the Southwest and in Hokusai’s wood blocks.
I see the Charybdis in my twist doughnut in the morning and the corkscrew for my wine in the evening. It even lurks in the coils of my mattress while I sleep.
I always wondered: If toilets flush counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere what goes on in the toilet that straddles the Equator?
And how is this principle manifesting in the whirlpool of my own mind?
Is the Charybdis at work in the mental eddies we allow our thoughts to wander into when we daydream?
The Wandering Mind.
A recent study by Keith D. Markman, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Ohio University proves that “mind wandering” is a necessary caesura from work-a-day goal-oriented tasks that creates more creative and dynamic solutions to the Scylla of obstacles one encounters in the modern world.
Flotsam? I got some. Jetsam? I’ll get some.
Extreme surfers learn to not fight against the monstrous Charybdis of the sea when they are hauled under by the churning foam of a big wave. They do not fight against it. They surrender to it,
knowing that if they can hold their breath long enough the green Charybdis will spit them out eventually.
Battling such a monster would only prolong your stay in its swirling belly.
Better to let go of all expectation of survival, to let the Charybdis digest you completely. Only then do you have a chance of being burped back to shore and join the flotsam and jetsam of the living once again.
This surrender may have been what my fellow clown Colin Heath and I were talking about when we discussed the puzzling phenomenon we both have noticed over our years as performers.
When you let it all go. When you let all the artifice and effort and technique float away in the reverse tornado of expectation. When you feel free enough to just give up. When you say a mental “whatever” to your audience and stop worrying about results. As a clown it’s when you stop trying to get laughs and start giving them.
It’s when you surrender to the whirlpool.
I blame you, Charybdis.
I blame your fatal curves.
I blame your fatal curves.
Your hurtling curl.
Your primal, viral spiral that weaves its way into the web and weft of the world so insidiously.
I see you in the cyclone of evaporated hopes spinning through the fingers of graspless hands.
I see you in the diamond tip of the drill that pierces the skin of the Earth for its black blood a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
You are in the fractal whirlpool of the stars and in the dizzy nebula of the nanosphere.
You can be found in the calcified coil of the conch and in the sweet lure of the couch.
You are the curl in Fibonacci’s fern.
You are the power that reduces oceans into carnival spin-art abstracts.
And it's you in my thoughts, circling the dark drain of memory, where you curl hard in the private armadillo of my heart.
* Reprinted my permission from Scrutinies & Tangentia.