Taraka Larson interview - October 2016
PW Reading XTREME NOW, imagery is rather impressive on the mind. Looking at all the pictures of people breathing fire while they’re jumping out of airplanes, they really have an impact, and the words really have an impact. Did you intend this? What kind of impact were you hoping it would have on people?
TL Extreme impact. It’s hard in this age to grab people’s attention and get them to sit down for 15 minutes and read a book, so I feel like, why fight it, just go with it. If you’re casually flipping through and just want to be able to read this book in 15 seconds, I’d like you to be able to get something out of it. Maybe even unlocking something way deeper in your subconscious mind through subliminal messages.
PW There are two ways to go. One is to say what’s the result, and one is to say what’s the process.
TL They’re both one and the same really. It’s funny, because you would think while you’re writing a book, you would hopefully get a result— like being done writing the book. But I went and jumped out of a plane after I wrote the book. And I feel like that was the beginning of a process that I’m still kind of in right now where I’m just beginning to understand these different layers of what was written. I think that’s the thing that is kind of fun about writing a book— Not the end result, but how it goes through you. How your shit looks after it's digested.
PW You can process a lot of these images as an artist researching this experience. I really would have assumed that you wrote this book after jumping out of a plane as a result of direct experience. But I guess it’s the internet right. The disembodied sense of all the images. You had to go jump out of a plane afterward.
TL That’s not to say I didn’t do some other extreme things before writing the book. But I would say jumping out of a plane...hmm, I don’t know, it’s all relative right? Some people would say jumping out of a plane is the most extreme thing you could do. And in a lot of ways, it tests the emotional balance of your self. But there are other things that I think are way more extreme that I’ve done before. That's the "secret extreme". The things you don’t consider to be extreme before you’re in them, then suddenly you realize wow I almost almost just died in a car accident while driving to pick up cereal at the grocery store! Or wow I just rode alone in a taxi cab for 45 minutes with a convicted felon! Or wow I just got hypothermia on this student film shoot! Or wow I just totally underestimated these mushrooms I just ate and I feel like I'm about to kill myself!
PW Well when you’re in your vehicle and you’re listening to music, it puts you at a distance from the deadly aspect of speeding on a crowded highway.
TL The music creates a space within a space. You’re hurtling yourself at 95 miles an hour but you don’t even realize it. You’re listening to Metallica, and you’re in the moment, and you don’t even realize it's a snowstorm and the road is dangerously icy and you're about to skid out. (I got in a car wreck in this exact situation this last year!) Speed is relative, and relies a lot on the inner architecture of your headspace. Music just helps you facilitate that safe space within that internal architecture even if outside the world is a total danger zone. The problem is, we’ve accustomed ourselves, or maybe programmed ourselves to operate on this one time level where we’re just skipping past things, accelerating faster and faster.
TL This causes us to perceive time, to perceive beauty, to perceive music, to perceive spaces between music notes faster. But as soon as we become aware of this and snap out of it for a second, we’re just these human machines really, and you can just wind the machine down, pitch shifting it down a little bit, slowing down the RPM... then bam all of a sudden you’re listening to a different song, and that reveals to you a different physical rhythm of life.
PW Part of this could be talked about psychologically. Of course a book is very brain-oriented. But what’s being discussed is very body oriented. Antonin Artaud was very concerned that people would try to do revolutionary work and that it would have nothing to do with the body. That you have to start with the body and end with the body, and along with it have these visions. And I’m sure you could probably remember what it was like to jump out of a plane, because you did it, you can envision it— and that's in a sense, what you are asking of your reader— you are asking them to share this vision and in the process pushing their imagination to the extreme.
TL Yeah I know the taste in my mouth, a seductive metallic mixture of adrenaline and fear.
PW Because the images of extreme sports compiled here almost have that thing when you’re listening to choral music where it seems calm and light, when you look at them. But of course I’m sure the first second you get out of the plane you do not feel like that, you do not hear that divine music.
TL And as soon as you jump out it’s like pure primordial chaos. It’s like the sound of the womb ripping open.
PW Well you know the primary sound in the womb is the placenta exchanging blood. There’s this calming thing about white noise, it’s everyone’s first, primordial, sound.
TL That’s exactly what it felt like to me. I thought— "This must be like the violence of being born." You’re ripped out and everything is pure speed, pure chaos, pure light and motion— your skin is flapping around, it’s cold, and it’s like the sensation of ultimate freedom crossed with the discovery of the ultimate trap of owning a body. And then the parachute goes up and it’s just like “Pluuuuum!” And time slows down.
It makes you aware too that there are different parts of your brain that you’re not using on a day to day basis. Primordial paleolithic survival instincts that kick in whenever you’re putting yourself in these dangerous situations. But also the doorway gets kicked open to this mysterious space of poetry, this space of magic. I had this realization after I jumped out of the plane, that magic and telepathy and all these things that people talk about, these unrealized extrasensory powers of the mind that you are told throughout your life that only a few people are blessed with, and or only special elite groups have access to— I don’t think it’s like that at all.
PW Are you talking about black magic, the southeast asian notions of Siddhi powers and knowledge? Like you can travel at a distance, levitate, stuff like that? What are you specifically referring to?
TL I think just the word magic, that people refer to. Whatever pops into your head when you think about magic. Like being able to have this psychic ability, or synesthesia, or maybe having empathic powers, or ESP, something like this— being able to see into the past or future. I think instead magic is all about that blank space. Just a clear mind. You know people used to (and sometimes still) refer to psychics as mediums. And medium means you are this portal between dimensions, an empty space, essentially. So whenever you do something that puts you in this empty space— it can be meditation, it can be jumping out of a plane, it can be making brownies. But when you put yourself in that empty space you’re just more in touch with these things. They just flow through. They even talk about this with extreme sports. The thing that people are after are flow states. Different dimensions can flow through you. And whatever that means, it’s all about making your mind kind of...empty.
PW And you’ve had the advantage of jumping out of plane a couple times? How did it change for you when you got to the next one? What were you able to embrace after getting over the initial shocking aspect?
TL It’s funny, I was interested in what would happen doing this multiple times. To be honest I’d like to do it way more than a couple of times. I’d like to get my parachuting license so I could go and maybe being a skydiving instructor some day. But to do that you have to do it literally thousands of times. The tandem diver that I dove with has jumped out of a plane 5,500 times in the last seven years.
PW The week you did one of the jumps, that same week two people in California died doing it.
TL You know, I heard about that afterwards, but I deliberately tried not to read anything before it. So you know what, the second time I felt the fear more than the first time. Even though I did it the first time and I came out alive, It think I just had no expectation whatsoever. I didn’t research it, I didn’t watch a ton of skydiving videos, I just kind of did it, and I didn’t have any kind of schema to orient myself. My sister and I were just like, OK, I’m here for the ride.
PW I feel like there’s a way in which, in the very least, you have to accept that you’re not going to be the same person afterwards. So either way— life or death— you’re not going to stay the same.
TL I think people should do something to change it up every single day...I mean, because the thing is, you know, going skydiving can change your life. But putting intention behind anything can also change your life.
PW We should not try to stay the same. We should not try to avoid fear. Nothing is ever the same. That’s kind of the work, right, to go have these visions for other people.
TL I’m not saying I have the answers whatsoever. I think the book is asking a lot of questions really. But I’m interested in what it is about our society that bred this culture of extreme, this need for extreme. As I talk about in the prologue, whereas in the past (like in the medieval times for instance), day-to-day mundane existence is pretty extreme. You don’t have to jump out of plane or something. You’re probably seeing death going on pretty much every day. You’re a native warrior and you’re out there hunting buffalo, and you’re out there in the face of death all the time. Or you're a young knight and people are dying of the black plague all around you. And really we’re all in the face of death all the time now, the veil has just become thicker.
PW But in XTREME NOW you are using very direct language, unlike Aleister Crowley who comes to mind as someone who used obtuse language to describe his theories on magic(k).
TL I think language is very important. People talk about language as an art. Crowley would be the first to say that magic is an art, that is very much language oriented. Putting "a spell" on someone— that term comes from semantics. When someone “casts a spell” on someone, they spell with words, this thing that they want to conjure. When you put it out there there is such an energy of those words. And when you really use words that are the right vessel, the right medium, these different dimensions to travel through, and “Zing!” That’s dangerous stuff.
So you have to be careful with words. But at the end of the day I would love so much for people to flip through and see the pictures and forget all the words of the book and really be able to apply it, you know. Hypraxis is the combination of experiencing that inner harmonic space between the timeless with time and putting these theories into daily practice.
PW But you the conceived of, digested, and confirmed these words as a meditation?
TL Or exorcised them out of me. maybe. I’m still wondering about that. You know writing a book is an exercise but it’s also an exorcism of these words and ideas. Words can be very weighty, they just kind of muddle your head up about a lot of things. I would just as soon put them down and be done with them and experience what’s really going on. So part of writing is just getting stuff out there. It lays this foundation— to be crumbled with a sledgehammer, hopefully. The most amazing thing honestly, that you can do, really, is watch extreme sports, and watch the demeanor of these extreme sports athletes. Just watch anything they’re doing. It’s in every gesture, it’s in every word that they utter. There’s just this feeling. Extreme sports is— I’m going to throw in the word Shamanic— but it feels very Shamanic, a very monk-like journey. It’s very solitary, for a lot of these people. It’s just them, and the forces of nature. Harmonizing their inner nature with their outer nature.
PW They’re trying to test limits of their own human potential in a very individual manner where no one else is able to hold them back. Look, I’m going to bring up something about Shamanic practice a little bit. Shamanic things have to do with the soul— and the status of the soul. And we were just talking about the Ego and mind-over-matter and trying to fight the body off. Push the body to the next level. It’s almost, a little bit— is it the ego? This is really just a question just to ask you. I’m not going to try to answer it.
TL I think about this a lot. And the takeaway I got just from watching a lot of extreme sports athletes, and going to some extreme sports events over the years— the thing that strikes me about all of them, is a remarkable lack of ego. Obviously, I am over-romanticizing— of course some of them have a bit of ego here and there. But I notice that the ones that survive have way less. I think lack of ego is a big key to survival with extreme sports. As soon as you have an ego, all of a sudden that’s your downfall. With no-ego, it’s like you have this protective force field around you.
As long as you keep that ego away, you keep your mind clear, that’s what enables you to do all these crazy physical feats. The moment you start thinking about these physical feats and the word I comes into it— like “Ah, look what I’m doing,” you’re done. Like "Nike— Just Do It" It's like "Ego— Just done it." And it's all over. Of course this can be applied to anything— not just extreme sports. But man, with extreme sports the outcome is way harsher!