Jeff Warren

Paddling The Stream Of Consciousness


rotide321, “Clearwater” (2009)

“As we take, in fact, a general view of the wonderful stream of our consciousness, what strikes us first is this different pace of its parts. Like a bird’s life, it seems to be made of an alternation of flights and perchings… The resting-places are usually occupied by sensorial imaginations of some sort, whose peculiarity is that they can be held before the mind for an indefinite time, and contemplated without changing; the places of flight are filled with thoughts of relations, static or dynamic, that for the most part obtain between the matters contemplated in the periods of comparative rest,” writes William James in his “Principles of Psychology.”

Eight years ago I wrote a guidebook to Ontario’s Algonquin Park. Much of that time was spent in a canoe, paddling up winding rivers and across wide lakes shouldered with cedar and granite. The canoeing, I remember, had a hypnotic effect. Up and down the stream of consciousness, from flights to perchings and back, the flow of water past the gunwales a reflection of my own internal drift.

At first my mind would be crowded with Jamesian flight — vague checklists, emotional echoes, snippets of daydreams — long gliding transitions without destination. As time went on (the movement of the paddle rising and falling), thoughts slowed and settled, so that the whole of attention filled with crisp snapshots of the surrounding landscape, pure sensation undiluted by self-consciousness. As if nature was having an effect. As if, without the interfering layer of built civilization, a deeper subterranean pattern could reassert itself, could rise up from the land and spread through the trees and the water and into the body. Lock you into its slower rhythm and also diffuse you, reduce you, absorb you.


sacredrivers, “Loons In The Mist” (2007)

I went canoeing again today. I got up early, and everything was quiet, the mist heavy on the lake. The boat’s wake flattened immediately in the still water, all evidence of my passage erased. I slipped again into that familiar ghost-like rhythm, that feeling of insubstantiality, which stayed even when the mist burned off the lake. A reminder that this close to the open water we’re actually part of the horizon. The real activity happens on shore, in the forest theatre, which tracks by slowly, the scale of it humbling and exact.


bevWHCT, “Round Lake, Adirondacks” (2008)

- Jeff Warren

  • Mary Gaitskill

    exquisite, thank you

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Jeff Warren is the author of "The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness," a delirious neuro-romp through the sleeping, dreaming and waking mind. He is a freelance producer for CBC Radio’s "Ideas," a resident of Toronto’s Kensington Market, and an undisciplined reader of the mystic, the cryptic and the scientific. Jeff is currently working on a book about about meditation and the next frontier of human exploration. For more Jeff Warren, go here, and look for his writing in The New York Times, The New Scientist, Discover, The Walrus, Maisonneuve, The National Post and The Globe and Mail, among others.