I hear my own awakening in Bon Iver's '22, A Million'

This is what I'm hearing when I listen to Bon Iver's “22, A Million” (which, just to be clear, I do most days):

We start out stuck. Asleep.

22 (OVER S∞∞N)” wakes us gradually, whispering to us about mortality and the heartbreaking beauty of life lived in ever-fleeting moments. It assures us with an almost morbid comfort that, hey, if nothing else, this time of strife might be over soon, one way or another. But make the mistake of looking down and you’ll see plenty of dark space still to be fallen through. As sad as things feel right now, this is all still too calmly gorgeous to be the bottom of any real barrel. It might be over soon, but what if it’s not?

And then the answer hits like a hammer, and like real despair, like real depression and anxiety and struggle, things gets worse before they get better. Everything is so goddamned heavy that it’s almost bewildering. How did I get here? How do I get out? The burden of time starts to feel like one long loop, and what once you knew to be Beth/Rest now feels like the clutch of a death breast. It's too much too fast.

At some point, you stop feeling like you’re drowning and realize you’ve actually drowned. “715 - CR∑∑KS” is that true moment of desperation, when the dust has settled and you are crying out alone for help, begging for understanding from what only seems like old emptiness. But then, more confounding than anything, there’s an answer. Something or someone — “GOD” — heard that cry from the reeds. Maybe you were never drowning in the first place, just being baptized. But what does that mean for an actual everyday life? How does a living reflection of “God” decide when to fold its clothes and when to go forward in the night pursuing eternity?

29 #Strafford APTS” has us gently dipping our toe into that paradigm shift. Justin looks back at memories – or at least that's what I'm hearing — memories that have been some of his most meaningful in different ways, and he is seeing them now through a new perspective — with two minds almost. This “paramind,” as he puts it, opens him up to vast new dimensions of beauty even where so much had already existed, expanding and reflecting old memories like light through a prism into a previously impossible brilliance. What a world I’ve been living in all this time!

Of course, it isn’t all brilliance. Or it is, but it isn’t all good for us, and there’s a danger in forgetting that a black snake lives in everything, in all of us. “Sixes hang in the door. What kind of shit to ignore?” It sneaks up on us every time we look away, even for a moment.

And evil aside, there’s a long, strange, fascinating road into the unknown stretching out under our feet.  “666 ʇ” is about having the courage to let go — what do you lose to concede that you’re not in control? You just have to dive all the way into the pool despite the evil lurking there, to lean into the unknown and travel this newly revealed spiritual path without taking the easy way out. You may have to lose your mind to find yourself, but of what kind of pith I’ve amassed long lines of questions?

Strange times lie ahead, some difficult times spent wrestling with some very difficult-to-articulate ideas and feelings and spirits. What strange math found this as the sum of all the days before it? And if this now, what is ahead? Nothing seems impossible anymore. Everything could mean anything, so finding healing in sage and moon water isn’t anything other than what’s happening, beautiful as it is, and the old ways are released in a dissonant cacophony that doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard before.

You come out the other side in the same place you've always been, but in a way that you've never been before, basking in the warm golden glow of “8 (circle),” which philosophizes our figures by bending the grids and sharp angles of this harsh physical world into the circles and spirals of our infinite selves. Of course, you’re not here by accident. It’s been a grueling, glorious path to get here. Who’s agonized and gnawed through it all? You have, and the scars are still visible to prove it even if the wounds have finally begun to heal.

In that space of healing, in “____45_____,” you find yourself an observer to your pain, dissolving it of its power and its weight. It’s still the same world, the same basic truth, the same fire all around you, but there is a lightness to it now. You’re not caught in it anymore.

The struggle itself, the questions themselves, they all carry the airy beauty of their resolution, of their answers, without ever needing to be answered. I’ve been carved in fire, which was painful at times, but how else could I have become a beam of light? Since then I've been caught in fire, and lo and behold, it has led me to this beautiful place. I’ve been caught in fire, and I stayed down for quite a while, afraid, not knowing that the fire itself is the truth. “God,” or whatever you want to call the Great Mystery, is in the struggle, and the struggle is life, and life is the Great Mystery is “God.” And “____45_____” shows us that we can live in this at-times painful world without carrying all that needless weight. 

Through “00000 Million,” our feet finally hit the ground, and we find ourselves back home with a new understanding of familiar surroundings, seeing a familiar past and a familiar path under a new light. And here the spiritual merges with the physical, as we hear a spiritual man singing to us at last in words we can understand, taking an earnest, honest look at his life, reflecting on it, and committing humbly to the highest form of surrender. There's only one way to live now. If it harms me, it harms me. So be it. No need to run and hide, no need to fight, and no need to be afraid. It will pass through me, and through the strength of the fires that carved me, I will breathe that pain back out into the world filtered into love.

In the end we find the perfect tension between nothingness and infinity, between struggle and progress, love and pain. How do you balance a spiritual existence in a physical world? After all, "worrying about gnosis ain't going to buy the groceries." But our spiritual selves wouldn't have chosen this physical existence if we wanted to avoid the reality of a mortal life — the need to eat, clothe, shelter ourselves, the need to find love and purpose and companionship. These things are the point. Without them, how could we know what it means to be human? Without the risk of loss, how can we appreciate what we have? Without emptiness, how could we know that love exists? Without pain, how would we would ever know that we are perfect?

Just don't spend too long thinking about it, because all of it might be over soon, and you don't want to miss a moment of it.