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The Night Express to Our Soul

Since we were children, as our brains developed, we were often told, “Don’t do this. Do that!” and warned, “Don’t open that door!” Not that door to the mysterious, unpredictable world of our imagination — it could be dangerous and light our fire, even deadly—or, worse yet, piss off the gods and lead to Eternal Damnation.

Can it get any worse? Sure. What we would have to live with by submitting to the local Head Honcho’s rules and regs: Terminal Boredom, as our minds drift toward atrophy from their natural tendency to expand and diffuse into the realm of ideas and sensations. Rigid society’s fears and lack of imagination can leave us with a garden where the only vegetables that grow are the ones they believe are good for us—and none of that tasty, intoxicating fruit that makes us imagine the unimaginable.

Fortunately for us, the highway to hell has an on-ramp nearby, every time the sun sets.

Sometime in the twilight years of the twentieth century, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen decided to have some fun at my expense — I’m a Big Easy target, especially when they transformed me from an activist to a slacker.

We were all fortunate to have the great actor Jeff Bridges play Jeff Lebowski, with my relaxed style and moniker — the Dude, Duder, or Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. Cut to The Big Lebowski. Incredibly, the movie becomes what French filmmaker François Truffaut refers to in Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a “phénomène sociologique,” with a much wider audience than a “cult classic.”

Surprisingly, the twisted film-noir-on-nitrous-oxide entertains across party lines and sports teams; cops and soldiers watch it as religiously as college kids and dopers. Hence, when I speak or even hang in public throughout the world, people come up to me and say:

“Hey. I just want to thank you for being my hero.”

To which I respond, “Why me? You mean Jeff Bridges — the Dude in the movie?”

“No, you. The real Dude! You were the inspiration. You changed my life.”

“To what? Become a slacker like the Dude? Whatever you do, don’t drop out of college.”

“No. To tell it like it is! Like the Dude does. He’s not afraid to tell the truth. And to stay loyal to my good friends — even the ones who are assholes sometimes, like Walter.”

I couldn’t quite grasp this concept of the slacker as beacon of truth until I was giving a workshop with our author, Phil Cousineau, on “Myth, Magic, and Movies,” in, of all places, the Huxley Room at the Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, California. So to connect my doors of perception and tie the room together, Phil surmised:

“I can’t help thinking about ‘the Dude’ as living large in the tradition of the Holy Fool. Since ancient times it’s been believed that the artist, the jester, the saint, and the fool all share the sacred function of helping us see through the illusions of the world. In our day that’s the role that Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Jon Stewart, Louis C.K., Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey, and Chris Rock fulfill in all their goofy glory. Jeff Dowd walks among them as an authentic holy fool pointing out the absurdities of the world with his soul on fire.”

So in a world where so many of us feel we have to wear masks all day at work or in our relationships to survive, even the ramblings and protestations of the stoner Dude may help us throw off those masks and bring us back a bit to who we really are, who we really want to be, and open up the mysterious grandeur of our imagination.

This Holy Fool feels fortunate to join you and all the great artists in this book who have entered the Grand Central Station of the Mind and have passed by the très boring Orient Express on Track #1 to hop on either the Love Train (Track 69) or, in this case, the Night Express to our Soul, somewhere at the dark end of the station that leads, if perchance we survive, to the light of life — the secret source. No risk/no reward from this nocturnal thrill ride through our subconscious.

Or we can just die a slow death of Terminal Boredom like all those Old-School Squares and Scaredy-Cats who try to lord it over us through disingenuously sharing their fears as if they were the singular reality.

Not this fella. This Dude rants and rambles:

Ride On! Write on! Sing on! Create On! Dream on through the Dark Night of the Soul.

Power to our Imagination!

Let’s dream, imagine, and make our world the best of times for all!

The Dude Abides!

Jeff Dowd
Santa Monica, California


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photo © Richard Beban


July 19, 2016