The Dangerous Bed of Procrustes

The Bed of Procrustes

Recently I have been going through some old journals in an attempt to find the lost thread. By “old,” I mean from twenty-five years ago or so. Most of what I had been recording (I stopped keeping a journal about ten years ago) were interior items: dreams and my interpretations, fragments of dreams, synchronicities, and critical self-reflections. Inner, not outer events were my primary focus.

The “thread” to which I’m referring is, of course, the same thread that Theseus unfurled as he made his way through the Labyrinth, on his way to kill the Minotaur, and which he followed back to the exit after he had accomplished his great hero deed. I have had the persistent sense in recent days that I lost my way, my sense of purpose. But I’m not even sure where I am on the journey. Did I already slay my Minotaur? Did I get lost on the way out? Where am I?

As I’m reading my old journals, I have been overcome by a growing sense of astonishment, if not outright bewilderment. I feel like a bad movie director who inexplicably ordered the editor leave the best material on the cutting room floor. This metaphor led me to think of another myth, that of Procrustes, who made a mockery of the customary rules (nomos) of hospitality. In ancient Greece, strangers were owed a place to sleep for the night and a hot meal. Procrustes was a highway robber who offered unsuspecting strangers his unique “hospitality.” He would give the short lodgers a long bed and the tall lodgers a short bed. You know the rest, right? The short ones he would stretch to fit with a rack, and the tall ones he would cut off as much of their legs as needed to fit the bed.

This is a good epistemological metaphor. Our personal blind spots lead us to stretch the evidence to fit, or else cut out those anomalies that don’t accord with our preconceptions, whatever they may be; even if they are expanded beyond our narrow cultural paradigms. We force our experience to fit the bed of our assumptions, distorting or erasing the data in the process.

Despite my own openness to the mystical side of things (I have been an introverted, mystical type since early childhood), and my longstanding interests in parapsychology and kindred subjects, I could now see that there were certain key experiences and lines of thought that I had left on the cutting room floor. My beliefs, fears, or prejudices about reality and truth–most of which were doubtless unconscious–had not allowed me to cross what my old friend, the late parapsychologist Rhea White, had referred to as “the boggle threshold.” I just couldn’t go there.

But where was there? Ah, that’s the scary part!

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