CHAPTER 4 Down the Rabbit Hole (preview)
So, you’ve taken the red pill. Well, get ready for the ride of your life. We’re after the source of your own creativity, and although it will involve investigating what seems a side issue or two, you’ll have to trust that we are headed into the Land of Story. Remember that toward the end of the previous chapter, we were discussing the curious fact that the three geometric figures (pentagon, pentagram, circle) in our plot symbol are all concentric about a point from which everything seems to radiate, i.e., all the story’s energy seems to originate there. This point has a name in Hinduism. It’s called the “bindu” and is positioned at the center of a yantra.
In much of what follows in this chapter, we’ll be discussing some aspects of Eastern religion meditation techniques. It turns out that none of these disciplines (alchemy, psychology, religion, storytelling) are that far removed from each other. Indeed, the overlap is phenomenal. Carl Jung found this to be true. Trust that the ideas we develop are in the mainstream of our quest. Without exception, they all have their origin in the human experience.
Eastern religions use yantras and mandalas as aids in meditation, which in our case would mean meditation on our story plot diagram. Yantras are geometric in nature and similar to mandalas, which are used in Buddhism. The bindu, the dot at the center of all yantras, is what Madhu Khanna in his book titled, Yantra, The Tantric Symbol of Cosmic Unity, calls “the primordial seed of the universe.” [page 73] He defines it as an “extensionless point, sacred symbol of the cosmos in its unmanifested state.” [page 171]
Figure 4-1 Bindu at the Center of a Yantra
This would seem to describe the center of our plot diagram perfectly because even though the self-regenerating circles, pentagons, and pentagrams are ever shrinking in size, they never touch the point in the center. They never become extensions of the bindu. The bindu is a duality and that from which all else receives its energy. That “Omm…” sound we heard toward the end of the previous chapter? Here’s what Khanna has to say about it:
Particular sound-syllables are especially linked to yantras. The sound-syllable Om represents the fundamental thought-form of all-pervading reality. With its associations with the universe in all its manifestation, Om is a complete alphabetical yantra in its own right and can be equated with the creative point, the bindu. [page 37]
It seems that the bindu was calling us. This is rather remarkable because we as storytellers also have something that doesn’t show up on our plot pentagon and consists of a duality, i.e., opposing forces, and is the all-pervading reality of the fictional universe. That is the premise, which of course is the source of all things story. Now we’ve found where the premise has been hiding, and it is directly in the center of the circle/pentagon/pentagram, which we now realize is the bindu of a yantra.
Lest you think we’ve gone far afield by delving into meditation, realize that the alchemists used all these geometric figures for their own purposes. In particular, the alchemists were interested in the Vitruvian Man, especially as drawn by Leonardo da Vinci:
Figure 4-2 Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man
The bindu would reside at the man’s navel. St. Thomas Aquinas is said to have believed that the navel is the bodily metaphor for spiritual things. Christians, and most Western alchemists were devout, allowed that the five corners represented Christ’s five wounds received on the cross.
What else might the premise, being located at the geometric center and being equivalent to the bindu, tell us? The pentagram’s rays interestingly meet the circle at the plot points of our pentagon. The spires of the pentagram could possibly indicate that they funnel more psychic energy from the bindu into the corners of the pentagon, the plot points, than they do to the other areas of the story so that these events have added emphasis. These are the critical events in the story that must be dramatized and not told in narrative summary.
Back in Chapter 2 when we developed our premise, the prima materia, we realized that our entire story derived from it by virtue of it identifying the central conflict. The energy from the premise drives the entire story. Now we learn that, not only is it the center of the plot diagram, but it also explains the origin of the five plot points and what causes the pronounced effect they have on the story. This is the pentagram’s funneling effect on bindu radiation.
Figure 4-3 Bindu Radiation
Let’s state it all once again. The pentagram and the pentagon are partners in the plotting process. The pentagram is, seemingly, the creator of the plot points. This effect, in the form of psychic energy, comes directly from the bindu, the premise, which drives the story. All points along a circle are equal creating the gradual curve, but all points along the story pentagon are not weighted equally, and the five corner points along it specifically denote a change in line direction. This is the quantization of story. While time’s arrow circumnavigates the story, the bindu (premise) is pulsing, radiating psychic energy to the entire storyline but providing the most energy to the five plot points through pentagram funneling.
I would remind you that our plot yantra/mandala is a symbol, and as such, nothing on it contains information specific to your story, not even the premise, because the geometry is also a generic concept. It is just a statement of opposing wills and contains the nature of the conflict and its resolution. Yet every item in it tells you something you need to know about plotting your story. Your idea must be draped over this structure. You have to find the elements of your story that correspond to the milestones indicated in the plot diagram. It’s all very much the underlying mathematics of storytelling, as Pythagoras would have envisioned.
But the plot pentagon is more than just a static symbol. It’s a dynamic, pulsing machine that comes to life during storytelling. The planets orbit the Sun without ever touching it, yet life on Earth depends on the energy of sunlight. In the same way, the bindu provides both the energy to power the story and the light (enlightenment) that provides meaning. The pentagram spires are like detached flames that lick the five primary plot points. The bindu is also the axis about which the story pivots. How many times have you read the synopsis of a movie and it started out with the statement that “The story revolves around…”? That characterization doesn’t happen by accident. As shown in Figure 4-4, the bindu pulses, and the plot points flash in sequence. It’s a cosmic symbol that comes to life through character.
Yes, I realize we have forgotten alchemy’s tail-eating, fire-breathing dragon, and we will spend more time with it, but not just yet. Hang on for just a little longer.
When we bent that iron bar into a circle and created the plot pentagon, it seemed such a benign act. Instead, what we’ve done may be likened more accurately to creating a wormhole. I’m not talking about something that a nightcrawler might wiggle its way through into the earth, and not Alice’s rabbit hole either, although that is a rather interesting analogy. I’m talking about the wormhole that is an outgrowth of Einstein’s General Relativity, the cosmological Einstein-Rosen Bridge, which is a shortcut through the space-time continuum. Okay, that might be a bit of an overstatement, but not by much as you’ll see when I introduce you to the Iris of Time in a later chapter.
Figure 4-4 Fully Functional Plot Diagram
So how does it work? I mean really, what’s going on here?
Yantras are geometric machines that funnel resonant energy from the Cosmos into the psyche, somewhat like a crystal radio or the sympathetic acoustical resonance of the wind and the strings of an Aeolian harp. Yantras also serve as revelatory channels for cosmic truth. Here’s how Madhu Khanna describes the yantra:
Despite its cosmic meanings a yantra is a reality lived. Because of the relationship that exists in the Tantras [Hindu or Buddhist religious ritual texts] between the outer world (the macrocosm) and man’s inner world (the microcosm), every symbol in the yantra is ambivalently resonant in inner-outer synthesis, and is associated with the subtle body and aspects of human consciousness. Thus, for instance, the bindu in a yantra is cosmic when viewed as the emblem of the Absolute Principle but psychological when it is related to the adept’s spiritual centre. By aligning these two planes of awareness, the yantra translates psychic realities into cosmic terms and the cosmos into psychic planes. [page 21/2]
It would seem that from “a reality lived” we could infer the psychic reality of a well-told story. All this business about inner and outer worlds parallels what we’ve said about the replicating pentagons and pentagrams through stellation. It seems that since we constructed our yantra using proven storytelling principles, it will be well suited for meditation on stories because it will resonate with the psychic energy of which Khanna speaks.
Before we get into how to meditate on this yantra, I want to talk a bit about the dynamics of storytelling. And I have another confession, well two actually. On May 19, 2010, I started practicing a technique for probing the unconscious, but specifically modified as a procedure for authors to use during the creative process. I focused on this activity for one year, and then I started using what I learned to write a vampire novel. Just weeks before I started writing that novel, on March 9, 2011, I had a dream of a dragon. Here’s what I wrote about the dream the next morning:
Sometime during the night, I had a dream of a wild animal loose upon the land. I don’t know where I was, but I was with a bunch of people, families with children, and we heard that a huge animal was on its way toward us, something wild and deadly.
We all left our homes and ran to hide among some large objects stacked in a row at the edge of a field. The square objects were huge, something similar to haystacks, although the bails were much larger. They had spaces between them that we could squeeze between. It was night, but we could see a little, as if a full moon was out.
The huge objects didn’t slow the animal at all. It ran on all fours and was long and scaly, shaped like an alligator, the size of a tank, only much longer. It used its snout to scatter the stacks we were hidden among. To escape, we ran across the plowed field to the far side among the deserted buildings of a small town, a hamlet.
The animal destroyed the row of stacked objects all the way to the end of the field, apparently not seeing us as we ran from him. He then turned along the far side of the field, destroyed homes in the far corner of the field and then turned back toward us and the deserted homes, among which we were now hiding. We could hear him coming. We ran among the buildings as he got closer, each man and child for himself. The animal was breathing fire, and although I didn’t realize it in my dream, it was a dragon, a non-flying dragon, much like a huge Komodo dragon the size of a train engine.
I ran down a deserted street between closely spaced buildings. The dragon saw me and came after me. I ran around the back of a building with him in hot pursuit, blowing flames and consuming everything in his path. I tried to double back and come up behind him, but when I turned the corner, there he was directly in front of me, only a few paces away. I had no chance of escape. One breath and I’d be fried.
But the dragon didn’t breathe fire on me. He stopped and stared at me. I stood in front of him, not moving, ready to accept my fate. But the dragon didn’t seem hostile. He came towards me, stopped, and then shoved something in front of me. He was giving me something. It was a loosely packed block of a compressed straw-like substance, dark gray-green, that I recognized. It was a rare food substance highly sought after. It was an offering of friendship. I took it into my hands, and looked up to talk to the dragon, but then my dream ended.
Time and again, I revisited what I’d written about the dream, but it never seemed to mean anything, never quite made sense. Two years later, two things about the dream stood out. First, if you remember, we have a dragon circling our plot pentagon, our storytelling mandala. My dream dragon circled the community where I was living, a seemingly meaningless if not bizarre action then, but one that later made sense within a mandala context. It was as if my dream occurred within the storytelling mandala, and that my dream community also was there.
Second, I received a gift from the dragon, seemingly a peace offering. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I now believe that the gift had to do with a story I had been contemplating. Actually, I believe that this dream came two weeks before I thought of writing a vampire novel. I had yet to decided on a subject. I believe that the gift, that dark gray-green substance from my dragon, somehow empowered that process. The gift was a food substance that provided the psychic energy to facilitate the creative process. Therefore, I associated the dragon of my dream with this dragon, the Ouroboros, and the gift with my vampire story.
Here’s what David Fontana says about dragons associated with mandalas:
The dragon is the paradox of being — light and dark, creation and destruction, male and female, and the unifying force of these opposites. The dragon’s fire is the primal energy of the physical world. [Meditating with Mandalas, page 141]
Aristotle tells us that the story should be one continuous action. The circle, the Ouroboros, represents that action as it completes one cycle. It seems that the dragon made one circle of our community before confronting me and then providing a gift, the primal energy necessary to activate my vampire story. That gift would power the premise, the bindu, at the center.
Figure 4-5 Ouroboros
It’s instructive to make a clear distinction between a yantra and a mandala, at least in the manner we’ll be referring to them. The yantra we’ll view as a purely geometric symbol, and we’ll identify it with the bindu, pentagon, pentagram, and circle. Our use of the mandala will be more life oriented, and we’ll associate it with the dragon in place of the circle, and the five Buddhas of enlightenment (I’ll define these in Chapter 7) instead of the plot points of the pentagon.
Figure 4-6 Yantra — Mandala
How would we go about meditating on such a yantra/mandala to generate material for a particular story? David Fontana describes the process this way:
Many successful visual artists… are open to a creative impulse that arises from deep levels of the unconscious. The artist expresses what is given to him or her, not what is put together by conscious thought. …the modern creative artist has to allow some inner impulse to take over from his own mind and express itself through the person, rather than from the person. [page 25]
Carl Jung has taken this a step further for us by developing a method, which puts the individual’s Consciousness right up against the Unconscious, from where all this channeled psychic energy originates. We will combine his psychological principles with Eastern religion, interpret each to suit the storyteller, and develop a procedure to accomplish the task at hand.
But we still have a couple of things to take care of first. Before using his meditation technique, you need to know more of Jung’s theory of the Unconscious.