01 October 2012

Life and Death

Last week I read Damien Echols’s memoir Life After Death. Echols’s was one of three men convicted of murders he did not commit, in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1994. He was a victim of religious hysteria and paranoia (the people of West Memphis didn’t like his appearance nor his love of heavy metal music, and were convinced he was a Satanist), and because of that he was sent to death row. He survived the ordeal and after having spent half his life in prison was released last year. Echols is remarkably intelligent, a deep reader and a gifted writer (another reason he did not blend in with the usual Arkansan), and his book shows it. I highly recommend reading Life After Death, as a story of survival, of the abuses of the ‘justice’ system, and as a tale of hope and caution for all the misfits out there.

The entire book is very well-written; I’d like to quote two passages:

My life has taught me that true spiritual insight can come about only by putting your hand in the fire. Faith is nothing more than a watered-down attempt to accept someone else’s insight as your own. Belief is the psychic equivalent of an article of secondhand clothing, worn-out and passed down. I equate true spiritual insight with wisdom, which is different from knowledge. Knowledge can be obtained through many sources: books, stories, songs, legends, myths, and, in modern times, computers and television programs. On the other hand, there’s only one real source of wisdom —pain. Any experience that provides a person with wisdom will also usually provide them with a scar. The greater the pain, the greater the realization. Faith is spiritual rigor mortis.
—Damien Echols, Life After Death (New York: Blue Rider Press, 2012), p. 100.

There is only one way to avoid being swallowed whole by malaise, despair, and loneliness, and that is to create a routine you stick to no matter what. A physical routine, a mental routine, and even a spiritual routine. You don’t pass the time —you create it.
I began measuring time by doing thirty push-ups a day, and pushing myself until several years later I could do one thousand. I began doing ten minutes of meditation a day, and then pushed myself until I eventually reached five hours a day. It was only by becoming more disciplined, more focused, and more driven that I could prevent myself from falling into entropy and internal death.
—Echols, pp. 176-177.

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