I am now podcasting excerpts from the Road Journal. This is a new project that will grow over time.
CCXC. 6 October 2005, Patricks Point State Park, northern CA
Traveling to Portland, taking two days to do it. A more leisurely stroll, but still hard on the hips, sitting for too long in the truck. Getting old, I guess.
I left Pinole this morning at 10am, bright, sunny, warm, clear. The traffic was light going north on Hwy. 101, but the southbound lanes were backed up all the way to Santa Rosa. I stayed on Hwy. 101 for awhile, then cut over to the coast on Hwy. 128. Windy turns, switchbacks. Brilliant sunlight striking the rockfaces, dark shadows under the eucalyptus groves in valleys that become dark tunnels between open splashes of sunlight. Vineyards everywhere, some green and ripe, others sun-baked and yellowed, past prime. New plantings in some areas. The trees full and tall. Some shadowed lanes of redwoods. I emerged from the Anderson Valley at the mouth of the Navarro River, just south of Mendocino. Mendocino is a small town, an arts town, it reminds me of Grand Marais, MN, on the north shore of Lake Superior. A little further north, Ft. Bragg, a bigger hub, a lot more touristy area downtown; reminded me more of Two Harbors, down the lake from Grand Marais. All these resort art towns nestled on the shore by the sea, the bright sea.
Just north of Ft. Bragg, I pulled over to take several photos of the bright sunlight striking the waves. The road curving to the edge of a high cliff overlooking massive offshore islets, tall rather than wide, craggy, with grass on their tops and rough rocks at their base. The offshore rocks, gradually being eaten by spume, black in the light. A blowhole in one cliff face, where the waves have eroded a tunnel: another arch in the making.
Further up the highway, on the edge of a cliff overlooking another small bay, a stand of pampas grass in the sun: yellow-white fronds framed by the wine-dark, blue-green sea. A moment of eros, that could have been in Argentina or Greece: pure light, pure color contrast. Perfection in the wind.
When I got to Eureka, a thick heavy fog covered everything. Cold and clammy, mist on the road and the windshield. Then a brief clearing driving north of the bay, then back into cold fog. The mists moving through the redwoods, mysterious, ancient, huge ferns at their feet. Movement in the shadows: dinosaurs, stalking. I pulled over at a rest stop for a moment, and had it to myself, It was cold under the trees, in the mist and primeval shadow.
Then on to this State Park, where I chose to camp for the night. I can hear the waves not more than a hundred yards away, and a hundred feet down the cliff. I set up camp just before dark, everything gray and misty. I was greeted by a banana slug on the tree next to where I set up the tent. Then I took a walk with the camera and tripod, as the light blued and faded. I ended up walking down to a point of land by a small bay near the campgrounds, surrounded by boulders the size of houses. The waves loud and dark in the thick mist. I took photos, then worked my way back up the trail, stiff and sore-legged, in the gathering gloom. There have been reports of mountain lion and bear here; they warn you to keep your food in the car. At any moment, lurching out from behind a stand of pampas grass, or a clump of feral blackberries, the thick pads of sudden predatory death.
I made dinner in the dark, pan-fried Cajun chicken, with fresh homemade lemonade I had made the day before, then cleaned up camp and crawled into the tent. I have unexpectedly noisy neighbors: a young couple with a baby; barely more than babies themselves. But the wind in the trees, the thick drops of condensed mist falling into the clearing from tall branches like rain, the sea, the constant roar of the sea in the distance: these are the white noise of silence.
I listened to Caroline Myss Your Primal Nature CD in the car again, this afternoon as I drove. There were many more insights in it than I remembered. She spoke about the connection to the life-force. We are all pagan: all connected to the earth, through our root chakra. All alive to the eros of the planet, our magnetic fields interwoven with those of all life around us. CM talks about the pagan pointwhich is not a belief system, but a means of connecting to the earth. We are all pagan, in this sense.
As I listened, the light through the redwoods, of the sea, in the aspen, the root of contemplation enveloping me even as I must drive. This is my natural state: to be in motion across the face of the earth.
Quotes on nomadics:
The Wayless Way, where the Sons of God lose themselves and, at the same time, find themselves.
He who does not travel does not know the value of men.
Why is man the most restless, dissatisfied of animals? Why do wandering people conceive the world as perfect whereas sedentary ones always try to change it? Why have the great teachersChrist or the Buddharecommended the Road as the way to salvation? De we agree with Pascal that all man's troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room?
Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines
As a general rule of biology, migratory species are less aggressive than sedentary ones. There is one obvious reason why this should be so. The migration itself, like the pilgrimage, is the hard journey: a leveler on which the fit survive and the stragglers fall by the wayside. The journey thus pre-empts the need for hierarchies and shows of dominance. The dictators of the animal kingdom are those who live in the ambience of plenty. The anarchists, as always, are the gentlemen of the road.
Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines
The founders of monastic rule were forever devising techniques for quelling wanderlust in their novices. A monk out of his cell, said St. Anthony. is like a fish out of water. Yet Christ and the Apostles walked their journey through the hills of Palestine.
Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines
What is this strange madness, Petrarch asked of his young secretary, this mania for sleeping each night in a different bed?
Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines
Courage is the price that Life extracts for granting peace
The soul that knows it not, knows no release
From little things;
Knows not the vivid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
How can Life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The souls dominion? Each time we make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the restless day,
And count it fair.
To be worth making at all a journey has to be made in the mind as much as in the world of objects and dimensions. What value can there be in seeing or experiencing anything for the first time unless it comes as a revelation? And for that to happen, some previously held thought or belief must be confounded, or enhanced, or even transcended. What difference can it make otherwise to see a redwood tree, a tiger, or a hummingbird?
Ted Simon, Jupiters Travels
Camping here in the cool damp: the opposite of the deserts heat and light a month ago. Sea and desert, I keep coming back to these two archetypes of wildness, of wilderness.
CM talks about our impulse to be wild: to run out into the night, strip off all our clothes and dance naked under the full moon. To feel the equinox and solstice turning of the Yearwheel. To be uninhibited in our bodies, stripping off the often toxic layers of social conditioning and self-repression. To be free, and open, and wild. This is what it means for me. This is why I want to be naked in the sun, the air, the light, all the time. Nothing between me and god, the light, the air, all of it everywhere touching me, touching back.
A few days ago I found John Cages posthumous book of mesostics published by Wesleyan University Press: Anarchy. This really set off a bomb in me. I want to do a performance reading of these mesostics derived from anarchist tests, for the podcast. I will record it, perhaps outdoors, perhaps in different places, and put it on the podcast. I finished the Fuse demo CD tracks last night, and the Al-I Nahfs tracks for the demo but not chopped up into short excerpts yet, and loaded a few of those up onto the podcast. I want to publish at least 20 to 30 minutes a week on the podcast; so far, Ive lived up to that, or exceeded it. I have no idea of my listenership: its like downloadable community radio: you put it out there, and hope someones listening. But you can put anything on the air that you want: freeform programming, uncensored, just like my old late-night show. I might upload a few of my old mix tapes to he podcast, once I get a chance to convert them from cassette to MP3s.
CCLXXXIX. 4 October 2005, Pinole, CA
Poet and actor Saul Williams, quoting his acting teacher: Were here to learn technique. The technique is only here for the days when the muse doesnt strike. The true question is: How do we get the muse to strike as often as possible?
I went to a thrift store in San Rafael today and bought a beautiful little box decorated with ancient maps of the world. Inside the box was a complete Tarot deck, a copy of the Universal Waite Deck. It was an impulse buy, but a synchronistic one. I was reading a novel last week in which the Tarot played a pivotal role for the lead character; he encountered meaning and spirit in his life, beyond anything hes imagined possible. The box contains the map of the world: it is a travel box, suitable for a nomad to store his Tarot in. I havent used a traditional deck in some years, but this is the same deck Caty usually reads with, and it feels right somehow that this has happened today. A gifting from the PTB, again; all unexpected, all unasked, perfectly timed, exciting without being ungrounding. I dont know where or what to do with this deck yet, but it will now be in my presence, and well see what happens. Some Tarot lore says that one must be given a deck; I have never thought that was true, and it has never been a problem for me; but this indeed feels like a gift. From another perspective, of course, its all gifts, all grace, everything we stumble across, even if we buy it for ourselves, was placed there in our path as a gift; so, its always a gift.
I have added a few new pages to this website, including one on the land art that I have been making. Interesting to compile the best of those pieces onto one page, to see continuity, contrast, and relationship. This work is still very unformed, very much in the development stage; it is likely to stay in development, for as long as I feel called to do it. It is a response to an impulse, an intuition, and I feel I have been given permission to act on it. It feels like the art makes me; clarifies me; moves itself into place. Its another form of egoless art, in this sense. Zen art-making. I like the act of making art outdoors; I like the ephemerality of itsome pieces will last longer than others, based on materials usedand that once I make it, I have to let it go. What I feel Ive been given permission to do (and this permission does comes through the example of other artists working like this now, most prominently Andy Goldsworthy) is to let the pieces happen where and when they happen: to just go ahead and do them, and not be self-conscious, and not let them just stay in my head, but become actual, even if only for a brief time. All I keep, of course, is the photos I take of each piece: my document, my record. The piece itself is immediately given away, is immediately no longer mine: it reverts to nature, its true owner, to be changed or destroyed as nature chooses. I have no sense of possession, just that desire to document to the result. It is a very spiritual experience, working this way: very fulfilling. (Sculpture? Me? I never would have imagined it.) It is also anonymous, for whoever comes upon a piece, after I have left, will see the intention behind it, but not the actor: anonymous remains of a process in union with nature. It is very Taoist to work this way.
CCLXXXVIII. 2 October 2005, Pinole, CA
Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war.
That was yesterday.
After a satisfying recording and improv session in Palo Alto with The Al-I Nahfs, I drove on in the sunshine to Pescadero. But the day turned to cloud and fog, thick tendrils of it sailing up the San Gregorio valley as I drove down the winding road, till at the shore it was fog and rain and visibility limited to only a hundred yards or so. I went down to the arch anyway, with tripod and camera. This time out, I shot mostly video rather than stills, even with the limited video capability of my camera, it was compelling music: waves and rain and disturbed waterbirds squawking at having to move when I drew near.
The mood throughout was dark yet reflective. The arch and surrounding rocks completely covered by sand, and the tide mostly out, I was able to walk all the way through, stopping my head, to take photos of the arch from the seaward side for the first time. The sands swept low away from the rocks, with big waves breaking just past the offshore outcrops. I had to stop and wipe moisture of my glasses and the camera several times. Then I walked up to the top of the cliffs, the ground wet, the sand slick where it wasnt sticky. Gulls swung low near the cliffs. I found myself at last moving into that emptiness of thought and desire that I get to at the beach or in the desert, where everything goes still and I become something nameless that just perceives, just observes, while the body does its automatic tasks. A minute of this is eternity.
The drive back became interminable, a pain in the hips from sitting too long. An accident or some other tragedy on Highway 1 completely blocked the road between San Gregorio and Half Moon Bay, so we had to turn back and go back up the winding switchbacks of Highway 84. At the top of the hill, I cut north on Highway 35, the ridgeline road, and to up Highway 92. Lots of traffic, and all of it filled with stupid decisions. It took two exhausting hours to get home, more than twice the usual drive-time, and I had to stop to refill the truck with overpriced gas in San Mateo. Watching my resources dwindle away, depressed at how it always comes down to money, money, money, keeping me from the things I want to do, or need to do. I want to drive up to Portland this coming weekend, and now I dont know if I can afford to; its the fear of the not-knowing that drives me nuts, and that I want to release. A bigger challenge than I can handle today, this sunnier day. I feel very much like a homesick refugee of a long war, except I have no home and the war is ongoing and seemingly endless. The world is crashing all around us, no worse or better than its ever been, too resilient to be destroyed even in our moments of nuclear hubris, too fragile to sustain itself as it once was as we crush it under the jackboots of progress. I struggle with driven angernot all my own anger, some of it borrowedfear, and gracelessness. I seek to find a way to accommodate it, without repression or imbalance, avoiding the vices of impatience and mistrust.
CCLXXXVII. 28 September 2005, Pinole, CA
Perhaps Ill camp near the waters themselves, the seas roar sheltering and threatening simultaneously. One long day and night camped by the tides, the moon tearing a hole in the night. Now as we move towards moondark I am more calm and content to go within, that most moonless of all nights, and ply my lanterns to the walls of air. Beads of silver perspiration shatter on the gravel; shingles ring with clear, chimed notes, as they are struck by the falling stars, snuffing themselves out on the stones of the desert. Garlands of stars. Veils, torn lineaments, serrated bandages of old light, dead time, light behind it a wave of serene violence unseen till it arrives. I wish I could shed this self, and butterfly my true heart into the sandstorm. Perhaps. Perhaps.
CCLXXXVI. 26 September 2005, Pinole, CA
Today I took a mental health day. I did nothing all day, except lay about and read, read, read. Yesterday, J. and I went to a big used book clearance sale, where we got two boxes full of books for 5 dollars a box. I have a huge stack of new used books on my counter now; Ive already read two of them and skimmed a few more. This evening, finally feeling inspired to do something other than read, I designed a business card for P., and made an Eye of Ra logo for it, tracing over Egyptian clip art in Illustrator.
Yesterday was a peak experience. After I dropped J. off for a convention near the SF airport I decided to continue on to Pescadero, since I was already more than halfway there. I drove up Millbrae Ave. from the Bay, over the coastal hills, and down through Half Moon Bay. When I got to the ocean, it was still mostly clear, with dramatic clouds everywhere.
I wandered around for awhile, just enjoying the peacefulness of the place. I climbed down to an area of beach that I had never explored before.
I found 5 more small dreamstones, all made from hard chert or peridotite, the remains of ancient seafloors.
The Franciscan mélange formation meets old seafloor right here at Pescadero, the rust-colored conglomerates and sandstones laying on a plate of black fine-grained ophiolites, shoot through with white cracks of silicates.
There were other huge stones lying around, too big for me to carry backup the cliffs right now. For a long time I had the place to myself, and just sat with the silence and the wave sounds, staring at the sky, the dramatic clouds, the lowering sun. A small pod of sea lions playing in the waves, four or five bobbing faces. I stayed there till sunset, and took several of what I think will prove to be some of my best photos there. The sun a golden ball casting light on the waters.
After sitting for a long timeless time, I finally felt moved to make another little ephemeral land art piece, another Waterline; this time a group of parallel rows of thin stones on edge, marching through the striated bedrock towards the sea.
When I climbed back up the cliff, a couple of photographers were on the ridge, working the sunset. I wandered about, and climbed down to another area. I feel like I know these cliffs now, and where many of the good views are to be found. One of the most dramatic sunsets Ive yet seen over the ocean, and I got better photos than they did, I think. Though perhaps that's just hubris.
I notice other photographers; they all have better gear than I do, but I get excellent photos with what I have, because I have the eye and am willing to climb around on the rocks and waters to get exactly the image I want. Im no athlete, and my knees are pretty bad, but I take my time and go where my intuition tells me I need to be to take a photo. After that, its all just looking. I cant help comparing my work with that of other photographers at times, although I really dont like being in a competitive mindset. Its a matter of self-confidence and self-esteem. Im just as good as anybody else out there.
I drove home feeling totally at peace, satisfied, uplifted, tranquil. Much better than the preceding weeks worth of agonizing and turbulence. Still tired, but glad I had witnessed this time and place. Pescadero is one of those places sacred to me, because I feel healed there, whole, ambitionless, unhurried and unworried; I can just step out of ordinary time and into timelessness. For once I did not go down to the arch; the tide was high, and the arch was completely underwater, with waves passing through continuously, and I was really drawn to the rocky shore on the outer banks this visit. The arch was still filled with sand, but the sands in the rivermouth had moved since last visit, and some of the buried deep stone channel was re-emerging.
What do I label these new pieces of land art I have been feeling called to make this past year or so? They are all ephemeral, made completely from local materials, and only remain in the photos I take after making a piece. Do I call it land art? Is that a sufficient naming? Is there a better phrase? I hesitate to call them sculptures, because I feel no great ego about making them. They are not MY works of art. Rather, I feel I am responding to the energy of a place, and bringing to the surface what energies are there; not at all imposing my will or desire or taste onto the land. More, seeing what is there, and responding to it. What do I call this work? I am content for the moment to leave it a nameless genre of new work; although I am discovering that individual pieces have names; or, several pieces are clustered under one series name; or, there is a unifying thread. It is almost like weaving with rocks, branches, sand, and light. Assembling forms from the objects at hand, not adding to them in any way; just rearranging what has been provided. A direct response to what natural processes have placed there. Its an interesting process, and all I feel like I own is the photos I take afterwards.
CCLXXXV. 24 September 2005, Pinole, CA
Last night I played a very satisfying gig with the Al-I Nahfs at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, where we were providing music for the opening reception of the 9th annual Arab Film Festival. We played to some terrific beats; I played Stick and bodhran and suling degung. This music really inspires me. I can really cut loose, and come up with some great stuff. Its working well. I hope we can at least record some of it in the near future. The live recordings Ive been doing are good for documentation, and for remembering ideas, and for later composingbut they are hardly high quality. Nonetheless, I had a terrific time.
I drove into town early, to set up before the gig, which was on the second floor mezzanine of the Castro, which is one of those old beautiful palace theaters, complete with Wurlitzer organ that rises from the orchestra pit. I drove into town, circled the neighborhood once or twice as I called on the parking gods, then found a parking space right in front of the theatre. After the gig, I loaded up the truck, then walked down the street for a bit. it was twilight, and the gays were coming out to play. The bars were all lit up, the streets were full of men in couples, or cruising. I went down to A Different Light bookstore and browsed for awhile, before heading back to the truck and driving home, tired, spent, but happier than Ive felt in weeks. Playing music in situations like this is the best in life: completely satisfying.
Several moments of emotional breakdown today. The Sacred Heart candle has burned down to nothing, and gone out. It burned for a week, and I was reminded continuously of the truth of the existence of the Sacred Heart. Seeking to integrate it into my life, in such a way that I can cope with it, and deal with itgodz, that sounds like control, or micromanaging, which is not what I intendI just want it to not be such a distraction and source of pain that I cant cope with anything else. I just need to be able to live with it, and still be able to live. No one ever said these things were not a burden.
Instead, Ive had two weeping events so far today, and feel like crying myself to sleep right now. Ive tried all week to communicate with Alex, and I just feel unheard and like his dark night shit is driving everyone away. Well, I guess I need to get detached, and just let him ride out the storm; its harder when its someone you care about, though. Always.
So, maybe the candle spell with work, and Ill find the Sacred Heart more integrated into my life, more attuned. And maybe Ill just get more and more emotional. I have to keep reminding myself that all this negativity coming down the pipe lately, it isnt all mine. Theres a lot out there right now, and were all coping it with however we can. Ground and center, ground and center.
CCLXXXIV. 22 September 2005, Pinole, CA
I posted that essay in defense of looping on Stickwire a couple of days ago, and its created a firestorm. Its become a big discussion about technology versus technique, practicing versus performing versus creativity, a whole mess of things that are really about philosophy and mindset. Lines have been drawn in the sand. Ive pissed some people off, and validated others. They took the topic and ran with it. Which is more or less what Id intended: to start a discussion about a forbidden, Shadow topic.
Once again, me being the lightning rod, the proton, the catalyst. Saying things that some dont want to hear, and others do. Being the prophet. Not particularly caring if Im loved. At least, not in this context. Saying the truth, working for social justice, even in such a minor way on such a really pointless topic, being the gadfly. Being Coyote.
Now I find myself being attacked a little more directly, on round three or four, and being told how wrong I am. Well, Im not wrong. All I ever called for was balance, was the redress of a bad, judgmental attitude among some. Think of it like liberation theology: sometimes you have to speak up for social justice, even on the smallest of frontiers. Because what really is at stake is diversity, and the ability to do what youre best at, rather than striving to meet the expectations of others. Its always about expectations, ennit?
The big lesson, in this uncertain period of life, with plans coming to fruition, or not, is to stop being afraid of what I dont know. Well, thats harder than it sounds, for me. Stop thinking of an elephant, while youre at it. What tugs at me is the expectations of others: they, who want to know my plans, my goals, and I cant tell them, or justify them, or explain them in a way satisfactory to all concerned. Judgments and expectations, all over again.
Feeling pretty unloved, too. Not certain now if Alex and I will actually get together for Thanksgiving. Hes going through a rough patch, that I can only help with if he lets me. Feeling pretty cut off here. Seems like a lot of people dont really want to talk to me right now, or have anything to say to me.
I finished a huge fucking awful tedious anal-retentive horrible font design this evening, and sent it off. I hope the font works. What they gave to work with for starters was the biggest fucking mess Ive ever seen, a font with 1310 characters, and they wanted to add another 20. What a nightmare. I feel totally frustrated. They cannot possibly pay me for all the effort I put into this project. But whatever money I get for it, I shant complain, because I need whatever I can get. I deserve whatever I can get, and more. Well see.
There are levels to all this. I seek the balance, with no one aspect being overemphasized to the point of distortion. Overdependence and rejection are both extremes.
I saw a bumper sticker in Berkeley the other day, that I think sums up nicely the current political state of affairs, and why it's so evil:
Republicans for Voldemort indeed.
CCLXXXIII. 21 September 2005, Pinole, CA
Equinox, and after a night of intense dreams, after a full moon that pushed my temper and my technology to the wall, and after a day, yesterday, spent needing to take multiple naps in the cold damp afternoon, I woke with a migraine today. At least its sunny and warm today; that always helps. I feel unsettled, unwelcome, disturbed, here and now. If I had anywhere to go, I would go. Meanwhile, I stay with the course that I have been put on, as full of Mystery as it is, and pray for the best.
I have been reading a novel by Audrey Niffenegger, called The Time Travelers Wife, published in 2003. In the book, the main characters alternate first person narrative, which also helps unify the book as it jumps around in time. Henry randomly and periodically finds himself displaced in time, pulled to moments and locations of significance and emotional gravity in his life, past and future. He first meets his wife, artist Clare, when she is six and he is 36; they are married when he is 31 and she is 23. Henrys jumps are spontaneous, often triggered by deep emotion, his experiences unpredictable, some amusing, some harrowing. The effects of Henrys time traveling on their passionate love for each other, their marriage, and their daughter, are explored in depth; their attempts to live as normal a life as possible, always threatened by something they can neither control nor prevent, which might cause joy or agony. Henry learns to pick locks, to run, to take care of himself, because when he travels he cant take anything with him, so he always shows up nude; he has had to learn to survive his travels. Clare is his anchor; he keeps returning to her; without this anchor, he would give up and not fight to stay alive on his wanderings. There is a passionate connection between these two intertwined lives that is rich and organic, a deep meshing, a merging, as much as that is possible. This is, ultimately, a human story, a love story, and one of the more convincing love stories Ive read in some years. I found myself pulled into the story, and caring about these characters deeply. This is one of those novels I picked up on a whim, not thinking much about it, only to discover that it lingers in my mind for a long time after reading. The ending of the story is a poignant and transcendent ending to a novel that is ultimately about love and death: the two big themes in all literature, all human art, really.
This is not the first character of this kind I have encountered in fiction, one who is stuck in a different way of experiencing time. There are predecessors and paradoxes in science fiction time-travel stories, to be sure, although I think the most immediate precursor is to be found in Michelle Wests novels Hunters Oath and Hunters Death. In this pair of novels, there is a main character, a woman who is cut loose from time; she wanders the world, doing the work of helping others, intervening and assisting, but she is cut loose from time, and never knows how long she will be allowed to stay in one place. Her story is woven into the stories of the other characters; as she shows up in their lives, she could be anything from a girl to a crone, wise with mature experience, or a frightened child.
These are not change the timeline books, or looping timeline books, or time traveler paradox books. Rather, they are how people who live their lives in different kinds of time interact, merge and collide, meet and part, over the years. Each has a unique perspective, and experiences things in a different order, a different sequence. They are human stories about people coping with extraordinary circumstances.
Its interesting to think about the relative perspectives of the characters who cross and re-cross each others paths: how the individual sequence of encounters leads to parallel, interwoven stories. Its interesting to think about the physics involved, the psychological synchronicities, of these chrono-displaced people. It is also interesting to think about time in different ways than we normally do, in our culture where time is assumed to be an irreversible arrow running in one direction only. Perhaps we formulate time as unidirectional because our consciousness perceives events sequentially. But theoretical physics and mysticism alike show these to be artificial constructs: how we bind time is culturally determined, and psychologically determined, not inherent to our biology; of, if somewhat inherent, neither immutable nor immune to other viewpoints. The very meaning of relativistic time is lived out by the characters in these books. It can shake you out of your complacent sense of how the Universe works. For myself, I dont find any of these perspectives new or unusual, as I am used to thinking outside time, or non-linearly.
There is very much a sense of weaving things together, of events being linked in some sort of meaningful order. There is also a sense of inevitably, of synchronicity, that is non-random but perhaps serves some higher purposethese are stories, after all, and it is tempting to the author, no doubt, to wield a deus ex machina to explain it all. Wisely, neither Niffenegger nor West use the deus ex machina trope, leaving us instead with many unsolved mysteries; rather, they show the readers how the stories impact the participants on the individual, small-scale, human levels. They wisely never answer why this is happening, though the reader is free to deduce a why, at some point; rather, they wisely let it remain a Mystery.
I am reminded too of the moment in The Mothman Prophecies when an older, more experienced character says two things to the lead character, namely, just because these beings exist on a higher plane, and have a wider field of view than we do, does not mean they are better or smarter or wiser than we are. And secondly, and this is repeated in many of the worlds mystical traditions: why? is the most suffering question in the world. Because you dont always get to know why. Because sometimes all youre left with is the Mystery.
After reading Rabia, Hafiz, and Jean Valentines Collected Poems at the bookstore yesterday afternoon
I will allow myself
to get your book, and give it:
give it to myself, give it away.
All of your life,
leaves, humus, moss, spring, rain,
is in these leaves
which fall: fall out of your hands,
into mine, into ours,
dried monarchs, flickers of moth,
and rob us of our small
I had a destination,
once, a place to go: now,
I just go, directionless,
picking up after you,
farrier of clouds, suns weather,
intangible whisper of the hearth.
CCLXXXII. 19 September 2005, Pinole, CA
Musical Structure, Cyclic Time & Inspiration (an essay in defense of looping)
There is some stigma around looping music that I find to be verging on the ridiculous, especially when the criticism comes from certain musical quarters. As if somehow one is a lesser musician for using loops, instead of playing it all live; or for working in cyclic, groove-based music rather than in linear, narrative forms. Ignoring the fact that some things are too complex to be able to execute live. (One might include some of Conlon Nancarrows player piano compositions in this context, for example.) Ignoring for the moment the prejudice for flashy, showy, athletic playing over playing with heart and substancea prejudice which dominates much of solo instrumental performance anymore, especially in popular or mainstream musical genres, such as rock, fusion, progressive rock, jazz, and related genres; and dare I say it, among some Stick playersthere are several interesting ways in which loop-based music is prevalent without being stigmatized or labeled as such.
I am listening to Sean Malones solo loop improv Grace off his Gordian Knot album Emergent, as I write this. It prompts me to think about the topic. It is also the track that is different from the rest of the album, which is overall a prog rock showcase replete with the usual prog high-energy playing, complex harmonies and metrical changes, and generally fast tempi. It is the meditative core of the CD, though, and Im grateful its on the album, as it provides some grounding and centrality for the rest of the music. Its also a showcase piece for what can do with the Stick and a looping unit.
Consider this: All cyclic music is looped music. This includes jazz chord changes, which are cycling harmonic structures, short or long, over which players improvise. This is not fundamentally different from musicians who, playing solo or in combo settings, use electronic looping devices to add layers to their performance. Some of the bigger sneers against looping that Ive run into lately have come from traditional jazz players, who are irrationally ignoring their own utter dependence on the cyclic nature of their own cherished music. The principle difference between looped music and cyclic music, for practical purposes, is simply the length of the repeated musical structure.
Much of minimalist music, or gradual process music, or loop-based music, is perceptually obviously looped, because the archetypal norm is for short musical phrases to repeated numerous times: it is obvious because the repeated musical phrase is short enough to be obvious. Whereas, the harmonic cycles of jazz changes, cyclic chord patterns that make up everything from the 12-bar blues to the Rhythm Changes underlying many jazz tunes, are simply longer-length loops. A longer loop in Western classical music is called a round, a canon, a rondo; but the cycles return is nonetheless the underlying structure.
Cyclic music structures are rather more common in the rest of the worlds music traditions than in the West, with its taste for linear, narrative music. (There are similar differences in how these different cultures conceive of time, which may also lie at the root of the cultural assumptions about music.) In musical cultures influenced by Indic traditions, languages, and cultures, musical time is usually cyclic and repetitive; this includes many of the music cultures of South-east Asia, culminating in the colotomic (time marked by rhythmic placement of specific instruments in the time cycle) musical time of Indonesian gamelan ensembles. Time in Vedic India is conceived as cyclical, and cyclical on both microcosmic and macrocosmic levels. There are the inconceivable spans of of the Yugas, the cycles of universal time; there is also the personal, human repeated cycle of the wheel of rebirth and reincarnation. Nothing is new; everything has been done before.
In other musical cultures, from Africa to Japan, music is structured as interlocking layers of repeated phrases of varying lengths. In the matsuri bayashi festival music in Japan, different phrase-lengths played by different instruments mean that the phrases beginnings keep shifting in relation to each other, reflecting the relational chaos of the festival itself, its turbulence and seething tide. In some musical cultures of West Africa (one of the roots of jazz, by the way), phrase lengths are often in 12-beat or 8-beat units, but different members of an ensemble might layer them differently in relationship to one another. This creates a shifting downbeat, a complex structure of layers, over which the lead instrumentalist might improvise or perform stereotypical sound-cues to indicate that changes should happen in the music.
Consider this: Music is never static, even when there are no harmonic chord changes or progressions. Music is an ephemeral art medium, wherein the artistic product is directly tied to the experience of performance and listening. There is no lingering artistic product, as exists in painting, writing, sculpture, photography; no tangible, physical object. (There are recordings and notational scores, to be sure, but these are either post-performance memorial documents or pre-performance instructions to the performers.) In music, there is always change, even in relatively static musical forms. Layers fade in, fade out, new layers are added over the top. The main difference between gradual process music (as Steve Reich wrote decades ago) and music in the Western mainstream is that there is no fast narrative drama of rapid, dramatic change (the holdover of Romantic music idea of emotional expressiveness), but rather a slow gradual change in the music, rather like the tide coming in and going out, even as the waves break on the shore.
Consider this: Music does not function only harmonicallythis is an entirely Western bias, since what we in the West think of as harmony and counterpoint are not in fact universal, nor even common elements of music throughout the rest of the worlds musical culturesit functions in terms of layers. Every loop-based player knows this, whether they articulate it or not. You build a substrate, then you layer over it. Layering music is an additive process. It can be a gradual process, and can be done with multiple live players (as in Steve Reichs gradual process music) as well as with looping technology. The musical result, and the conceptual structures employed, are not fundamentally different.
Consider this: Gradual process music and cyclic music, such as looping music, are all more conducive to spiritual experience, meditative states of consciousness, and trance. In contrast, narrative music is fundamentally left-brain, narrative, logical, and linear in formeven when on some level it isnt. There is no special grace given to flashy music that appeals to the head or the hands, but not to the heart. Such music may impress other musicians, and sometimes even impress the general listening public, but it is rarely memorable beyond the moment, and tends to be forgotten as soon as it is over. While the general listening public may develop a taste for this kind of flash playing, note that it also demands novelty within a narrow focus: craving the same sensation, but with each new musical composition. Its an adrenaline addiction; in sports, this leads to extreme sports and risk-taking, while in music it leads to sensationalism without substance, flash without depth. It also leads to every guitar solo sounding almost exactly the same.
If there is a special grace given to a particular music, it is to music played with intensity, depth, emotional honesty, sincerity, and from the heart. This is the music we remember, years later, when all the flash players have gone home. This is the music we remember in solitude, in silence.
It is no accident that most sacred music traditions from the worlds various musical cultures fall into this category of performance. It is also no accident that most sacred music is chantlike (the use of breath in singing leading to altered states of consciousness), repetitive (cyclic, looping back on itself), and structured with layers of activity. All of these elements serve to focus the will and intent, and promote altered states of consciousness ranging from light trance (contemplation in the Christian cathedral and monastery, for example) to selflessness and egolessness (zhikr, the Remembrance of God, in the Sufi tradition, for example; or Zen shomyo chant), to, at the extreme end of things, possession, for example, by the loa in Voudoun rites. Trance types are a range of similar non-ordinary states of consciousness, rather than a difference in kind. The shaman drumming in Zimbabwe has more in common with the monks chanting in a French cathedral, then do either with Top Forty radio, even though superficially the monks and the music industry marketers are from the same cultural roots.
Consider this: The up-tempo, high-energy, showcase playing so prevalent in rock is a product of two expectations, both ultimately rooted in eros. The first, the cliché of the rocker and party animal, is the sex, drugs & rock and roll mythos as an archetype. The second expectation is that of the repeated high, the natural high, the adrenaline rush, to which both audience and player can become addicted. When you let your music become a vehicle for thrill-seeking for the addicted thrill junkie, especially if you sacrifice the musics heart, theres a problem.
The core of the problem here is expectations. First, when the player gives in to the crowds expectations for flash, they risk compromising their own integrity; this is true of anyone who does an artistic activity to please others, rather than to pursue their own inner vision. (When the inner vision is in alignment with an audience being appreciative of the artistic result, everybody wins.) Second, the commercial expectations of making a living from ones music can force exactly these sorts of compromises. In many instances, thats not a problem. It depends on how professional you are, how workmanlike you are, how you approach music as your job as well as your passion. There are many remarkably gifted studio session musicians who are true professionals, and happy at what they are doing, and more power to them. Ive met a few musicians from this professional clan that remain closet visionaries, which is a wonder and a joy to encounter. Professionalism is a state of mind, a way of being, a way of working. Where commercial expectations become a problem is when a programmed result is expected from the artist, a predictable (profitable) result; this leads to dry, overly-produced artistic product that becomes rapidly fashion-driven rather than sustaining or sustainable. Part of the continuous quest for the Next New Thing is that the current Thing is used up so quickly, because it is so shallow. This is the current state of the music industry in the West, where marketing trumps vision, and the quest for profits overrule artistic experiment and risk-taking every time.
The truth of the balance lies in remembering that the job, whatever it is that you do for the job, serves to support the real work, and not disable it. The real work is inner work; it is what you do for yourself, when no one else is there. The ranks of non-paid, so-called amateur musicians are filled with dedicated, gifted players who support themselves financially with their day gig, so that they are free to follow their inner visions in their creative work. (The difference between an amateur and a professional artist is not excellence, but rather who got paid for their art.) In such folk lie the continual renewal of the music culture, as they are the seeds of the always-breaking wave of exploration and discovery, and when one becomes noticed, can reinvigorate the entire moribund music industry. There are also the ranks of gifted and talented but not famous working musicians, many of whom who are just as gifted as anyone more famous. This is so well-known as to be taken for granted as a cliché. But lets not forget the impact this clan has on the world, both by inspiring those who hear them play to perhaps pursue music as their own following, and by continually seeding the world with new gifts, new talents, by teaching the next wave of young players, teaching directly or by example. A music teacher will serve to change the world much more than any rock star can; one or two wise, grounded rock stars have even remembered this, and given much to support the teachers in return. This is where renewal begins, whenever the commercial musical world becomes moribund, stale, and stagnant. Look outside the usual commercial circles, and you will uncover thousands of gifted wunderkind.
Consider this: Repeating pattern, cycle, loop, colotomic cycle, circle, spiralthese are all basically the same conceptual structure. The circle, the wheel: what goes around, comes around. Much non-classical music is cyclical and repetitive. In the case of jazz, this comes from the partly West African origin of the music; jazz is a creole music, in the linguistic and anthropological sense of the word, meaning, a merging of disparate traditions to create a new tradition.
Add to this groove-based music, which may or may not be harmonically driven, may or may not be chordal in structure. Much of the worlds music is heterophonic rather than homophonic or polyphonic (contrapuntal). Heterophonic music is often structured as simultaneous variation by the musicians around a shared core concept. Everyone arrives together at some point, but how they get there is unique to each instrument (and its traditional performance practice, and how the individual musician interprets all of the above), and many different roads can be used to arrive at the same place. Groove-based music, from James Brown to Kraftwerk to Enigma, is looping music: simple repetitive forms layered together to create a new kind of music, even an entirely new genre or species.
Consider this: Conceptually, a cultures musical traditions reflect both the cultures assumptions about time and its assumptions about human interaction. It is a paradox that Western culture, with its strong emphasis on individualism and originally also demands such conformity among its creative workers. This is a Shadow function, of course: what is rejected emerges elsewhere; what is suppressed arises when no one is looking with conscious awareness at it.
Thus, we have the autocratic musical institution in Western classical music of the symphony orchestra, in which the individual is subsumed completely. We have the mythos of the titanic creative genius of the Romantic composer, exemplified by Beethoven, whose many personality faults are forgivable because of his towering genius. (But theres something wrong with such an egotistical, driven individual.) We have the archetype also of the starving artist, with its parallel archetypal belief that fame can only come to artists after theyre dead. Which of course leads to that assumed economic equation of everyone trying to discourage you from making your living from your creativity, because how can you, after all? The theology of lack. The mindset of limited resources. So, individualism of many kinds is subsumed.
As for time, the underlying assumption in the West is again that time is linear, non-repeating, narrative, and flows only in one direction. Thus, artistic products have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Cyclic works produced in the West, ranging from Joyce's Finnegans Wake to Reichs Music for Eighteen Musicians to Coltrane's Ascension, are still viewed with either mistrust or misunderstanding. Or just plain dismissed as having been somewhat perniciously influenced by ideas of time from the Orientfrom the Eastand thus not a native product.
Finally, consider this: Whatever can be conceived, can be made real. It is not impossible to break a cultures rules, and produce a creative work that stands as a stranger to the norm: a voice from the wilderness, from outside the citys guarded walls and gates. The stranger will not always be welcomed or even tolerated. But the strangers function is to remind us that the world is vaster than we imagine, and more varied than we, in our closed city walls, those blind walls of narrow, familiar conception, perhaps can imagine.
It is an artists function to expand our walls. To be the surveyor of the Unknown. To bring back reports of lands not yet explored. You will not always be welcomed or praised for this; quite the opposite. Loren Eiseley: It is frequently the tragedy of the great artist, as it is of the great scientist, that he frightens the ordinary man. A city-dweller may well dismiss all this Other Stuff as irrelevant, just as I have heard some mainstream jazz folk dismiss looping music. The City, after all, is the seat and symbol of civilization. The Desert and the Sea alike, as Auden writes in The Enchaféd Flood, are both Wildernesses, places between Cities. Yet they are also the fertile, fruitful realm, as Goethe and the other early Romantics said, from which new life will forever potentially emerge.
Consider this: Are you an artist, a voice outside the gate, or a city-dweller? An insider, or an outsider? And if you are an outsider, an artist, are you willing to pay the social price you may need to pay, for going within, and following your inner vision?
CCLXXXI. 14 September 2005, Pinole, CA
Theres an unusual man, a nomadic man and wandering monk, named Satish Kumar. I have his book, No Destination, somewhere back in Wisconsin, although I hadnt read it yet. I discover some quotes of him, now, that speak directly to my life:
When you accept the state of being a stranger, you are no longer a stranger. I have been an exile when everything around me seemed strange and everybody was a stranger. Once I accepted that I didnt have to belong and I didnt have to be a part of the world, then I was free to be part of it. There was a paradoxical release of the spirit. The world became mine when I was no longer holding onto it.
Monkhood, which is supposed to be liberated from the world, has created a world of its own: the world of religion, the world of traditions and doctrines, and following these rules strictly was no less belonging than following the business, farming, and family traditions. Liberation of the soul is not to be found in institutionalized religions and traditions. You have to break outeven from your own ideas.
Money is a source of fear, so when you have no money, you have no fear. You do not say to yourself, I can buy my way, my food, my clothes, I can buy anything I need. You are absolutely vulnerable and dependent. Accepting that dependence is the greatest humility, because you do not like to ask anybody for anything. When you become dependent and vulnerable and let whatever happens, happen, then you realize that you are at home.
When you are going somewhere and you realize that you are not going anywhere, then you are already there. When your anxieties, fear, anger, insecurity, and sense of inferiority dissolve, you find that there is nothing to be attained. It is all here. You are in it.
You are the insider and the outsider at the same time. When you are an insider, you are able to celebrate through your senses, and yet you are an outsider because you are not enslaved by the senses. You can enjoy everything and still be detached: you are an outsider. You are like the lotus.
Satish Kumar, interviewed in Parabola, Summer 1995 issue.
Absolutely vulnerable and dependent is exactly how I feel right now. Lessons in Trust. Lessons in asking for help, too. Or just being ready to receive whatever help comes your way, all the time, in every way. Just being open to it, and just noticing it.
And I have always felt like both an insider and outsider: straddling that boundary line, as I straddle so many lines, in so many ways, throughout all arenas of my life. I even wrote that paper in grad school on being an insider/outsider, and delivered it at a Society for Ethnomusicology conference; and the paper was really about me, and those like me, of course, regardless of its topic. I want to go back into my files, sometime, and hunt that paper out, and read to myself again.
Satish Kumar began life as a monk early, when he left his family to become a Jain monk at age 9; he later left the monkhood at age 18, disenchanted for the reasons he stated above. I recall Merton saying some similar things at times. He walked for peace from India to Moscow and Europe, and later to the US. His life has formed itself into an example, a model for others. There is so much he says that directly speaks to me, now.
If only I had had the courage, at such a young age, to follow those inner urgings towards my true lifes purpose. Instead, I was a coward, I tried to please everyone in my birth Tribe by doing what was expected, and trying to live a conventional, ordinary life. That has become impossible, and I opened the doors to this new life as long as a decade or more ago, when I began to seriously pray that most dangerous of all prayers, Thy Will Be Done. Dissatisfied and disillusioned with me own life, I let the Divine shake it loose, and here I am, now, at loose, with nothing in the way of mundane, ordinary, respectable life goals to show for it. But I am still just beginning to follow that truer, deeper path, that one I have sensed all my life, and was afraid to follow for so long. It is so disruptive, and so unconventional, and so wonderful. I have committed myself to it, now, and even though I dont know where the road is leading me, I know I must continue to follow it, wherever it leads.
Absolutely vulnerable and dependent, is all I am, now, and all I have left.
CCLXXX. 13 September 2005, Pinole, CA
Since Im on a Rob Brezsny kick right now, heres my Capricorn horrorscope from Free Will Astrology for the week:
It's a ripe moment for you to explore the mysteries of the void. I'm not being glib. You'd really benefit from becoming better friends with emptiness. Your well-being would rise a few levels if you expanded your appreciation for the value of doing nothing and thinking nothing. Do you dare live without your precious opinions and ambitions for a few days? Are you brave enough to gaze into the heart of the great unknown and be free of the need to explain it, change it, or judge it?
Since I have been feeling constrained, emptied out, unable to move forward, stuck and frustratingly stagnant for these past few days, I guess this is on target. Do Nothing. Let Go. Do the Void dance: do nothing, let it sit. I called about the yarn store possibilities yesterday, and I see no hope there for any immediate action, or even soon. Nothing moving at the speed Id like, so of course I am limbo again, waiting for the Powers That Be to make things happen in their own timing. Another practice session about Trust and impatience. I went to the bookstore yesterday to just sit and read; maybe Ill make it a practice for the next few days. Nothing better to do, ennit?
Yesterday, I went to the local grocery store to the Mexican food aisle and got one of those tacky Jesus Sacred Heart candles in a glass jar that you find at many Catholic stores. I am doing a ritual of affirming and incorporating the Sacred Heart into my heart chakra and my life; I'm looking for balance, an accomodation, a way to live with this in my life that does not throw me off-balance so foten that I cannot function. So, I lit the candle with some meditation, spell, prayer, whatever you want to call it, and it will burn in my room for a week, or until the wax runs out. These sorts of candles usually burn a full week, I think. As long as it burns, I will be thinking about it, looking for an organic, dynamic balance with this state of being.
There is a solace for me in beautiful Things. Not just objects of art, products of the creative process, but also in well-crafted practical items that are well-designed, perfectly proportioned, utterly useful yet utterly beautiful. A well-made iron fireplace poker. A candle lantern or wall sconce. I am often drawn to the craftsmanship of 18th century objects, their simplicity and utter stillness. Timeless beauty. My writing desk. This laptop. Centuries apart in design, yet unified in elegance.
a whale surfacing in a sea of blankets on a bed of dreams
we sleep in these oceans, alike
CCLXXIX. 12 September 2005, Pinole, CA
My dreams last night an intense sort of life review: I was seeing and talking to many people from my past I havent encountered in years; I was in Ann Arbor and Madison, and then the dream landscape morphed to other places Ive been in both waking and dream life, all across the country. Eventually, I was driving a van full of friends around, trying to locate a Grief Center of some kind, either a counseling place or a memorial place. We were getting close to it when I woke up.
There is a cliché, in psychological as well as psychic circles, that such strong intuition and psi ability as I have, is a feminine thing. We associate intuition in this culture with womenignoring the historical tendency that many more women are openly psychic in our culture primarily because 1.) women are supposed to be intuitive, in this culture, so 2. men who are psychic suppress it in themselves, because theyre supposed to be so fucking rational by comparison. Its completely a gender-role assignment cliché, and completely culturally bound. In many non-Western cultures, men and women were equally able to be shamans and seers. I guess it takes a two-spirited non-mainstream sort such as myself (and many others I know) to break that cliché down. As a gay man considered to be on the masculine or butch end of the scale by most of my gay friends, I occasionally get shit from the self-appointed keepers of social roles, that I have such strong access abilities in this arenarather, I should say, I have been given such strong Gifts, because I dont really feel a sense of ownership or ego about them, theyre just there, on loan to me as it were from the Powers That Be. So, dealing with my Gifts has often been more about what others expect from me, or assume about me, than about the Gifts themselves. It would be nice if our culture was first and foremost more accepting of gays and lesbians, and also more accepting of the spiritual side of liferather than the centuries weve been suffering through of the rational suppression of all things non-material. Well, that is changing, now; the evidence is all around us. And I dont care so much anymore what anyone thinks of me in these arenas; still, it remains easier to come out as gay than to come out as psychic.
My dreams last night were vivid enough to be like some science fiction movie about virtual reality: very detailed, down to the smells. I get dreams like this somewhat regularly, although last nights vividness and detail were exceptional. It was a lucid dream, in many ways. I wonder if other people dream at this level, or remember their dreams upon awakening. Remembering dreams is not hard, its a skill you can learn to do, not an innate gift. You learn to remember your dreams chiefly by writing them down the moment you wake up, before they evaporate; for years I kept my journal by my bedside for just this purpose. I suppose a Jungian would have a field-day with me in analysis, since Ive recorded significant dreams in my life for over twenty years, in my various journals. Well, folks, its a rich vein: dive in and wade around. Youll pardon me if I choose my interpretations over yours, most of the time, though. And yes, I have used my dreams more than once as guidance to direct my life choices, and also to change direction. More and more lately, I realize how natural it seems for me to be drivingjust driving, anywhere, anytime, on the road. A natural born traveler.
Those books on dream symbols and dream interpretations are often useless, and less than useless. Jung himself, whose analysis style particularly popularized dream interpretation in the last century, emphasized that we are all too individual, too specific to our own constellations and biographical history, for any generic interpretative dream guide to be of much use, and potentially of considerable harm. A dream-guide interpretation can muddy the waters, and steer you down a path totally in error. Far better to meditate on ones own dreams, and learn from them directly; think about their Symbolic contents directly; figure it out based on ones own intuition and inner systems and patterns. Look to literature and poetry for representations of the archetypes, rather than a dream guide book. If anything, its Freuds (rather than Jungs) followers who tend to oversimplify and say Dream X is always about subject X. No, a dream about flying is not ALWAYS about sex, thank you very much. Even Freud once said, Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. My own sex dreams tend to be direct, explicit, and have images of sex right there, nothing sublimated at all, thank you very much.
CCLXXVIII. 11 September 2005, Pinole, CA
I couldnt figure out why I was feeling so completely out of it today, depressed, disassociated, disconnected, exhausted, numb. Then I talked stuff out with Two Bears, and realized: theres a shitload of negativity out there right now, from the aftermath of the Katrina hurricane destroying NOrleans and much of the Gulf; and today is also the fourth anniversary of 9/11/2001, and the terrorist attacks that day. A lot of energy for us all to process, and clean up.
And from the gig last night, too. Which started out well, but got worse and worse during our set, mostly from the noise being made by other groups at the venue, some of which was irritating in the extreme. I let it get to me, and it really through me off my stride. I neednt have let it get to me, but it did. I think a lot of weird energy was there, too. A lot of pretentious art-school coolness and hipness; been there, done that, made the t-shirt, over it now, thank you. Made for a rough night.
My dreams these past few nights have been complex, vivid, and disturbing, too, adding to the lack of rest and relaxation. No wonder Im tired.
CCLXXVII. 10 September 2005, Pinole, CA
And one cannot divorce sexuality from the sacred. Its best not to. Despite what the mainstream religions say, embodiment is no curse, no desecration. Pure spirit alone is not fulfilled; it requires spirit and flesh together, or we would never incarnate. After all, if you could do it all just in spirit, why bother?
So, I had to make another symbol, a related symbol. Think of this as Keith Haring meets the sacred heart. Which, knowing how Haring spent a great deal of time working for free with children and communities, is not really that big a stretch.
And this of course is where Tantra comes into the equation. Spirituality and sexuality are not divorced, not separate, but deeply and permanently intertwined. I find it only natural that gay mystical Tantra is part of this thread; if anything, a part of the thread that in true Tantra fashion seeks to become more conscious, to live more consciouslyto awaken.
CCLXXVI. 10 September 2005, Pinole, CA
A fevre of writing: I wrote most of this at white heat, late last night, and finished it this morning. Its all the fault of a certain Two Bears, who encouraged me to write about something I was and am hesitant to put down. I hope I did no harm in this, and maybe some good. Maybe one person will read it, and understand it in the spirit in which it was intended, and that will change the Universe for the better.
The Sacred Heart in the Labyrinth
It is no accident that the single new book I acquired in Los Angeles, the book I am supposed to read next, that I am reading now, displays on its cover the image of a Sacred Heart burning in the center of a Labyrinth.
Rob Breszny, Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia
These two symbols, these two keys of Western mysticism, that have come up over and over again in my personal constellation, welcome be back to my spiritual home, after all my sojourns in the East, and in other realms. So, Im stuck with it. I have to deal with it. Thus, the anatomy of a Symbol.
A good friend encourages me to write about the Sacred Heart, and my recent experience of embodying it, although I am not sure its a good idea to do so. I resist it; partly because I feel like I am giving away a secret that can be so easily misunderstood, and misused, that to mention it at all risks great misunderstanding. This falls into that dangerous, risky realm where people can think youre becoming spiritually ambitious, and bragging, when all you really intend to do is reporting. Events happen to us, with us, for us: theyre not always about us, or have anything to do with us, at least not directly.
I also resist it because of the tawdry sentimentalism that surrounds the subject: its always a risk, and an evocation of fearas Loren Eiseley said, we artists frighten the ordinary folkto broach a subject that has deeper realities than just the sentimental, to move from surface shallowness to deep Symbolism. You risk being misunderstood, or even worse, dismissed as already-understood by those who refuse to look into the deep heart of the matter. The sentimental images and cheaply reproduced icons, like bad paintings of saints and tacky teaching-pictures of the actions of the embodied, incarnate Christ: these all confuse the issue, and can block us from going into the, if you will, heart of the matter. I resist adding to the shallow pond of cheap meanings, those doctrines and prayers that dont really mean anything because they are recited as rote formulae, or worse, as superstitious near-magickal ritual, as SPELLS, instead of being spontaneous praise spoken directly from ones experience and heart. Better a spontaneous praiseand poets are meant to praise, as Rilke saidthan a tired old formula. Even the Catholic dedication and invocation prayers to the Sacred Heart have been so oft-repeated that they contain little merit anymore, and are just rote recitations for most. Religious practice is meant to be a liberation from the world, yet all too often it becomes tightly bound up with the world, by cementing itself into rote practice, dogma, doctrine, custom, and tradition. To become genuinely liberated, you must break free of the rules of institutions, and also break free of your own preconceptions, prejudices, and ideas.
The Sacred Heart is the open, compassionate, completely vulnerable, wounded heart. It is the heart of the completely open, loving and compassionate Cosmic Christ. I am not a Christian, and even though I was raised Lutheran, I have not attended a church service in decades. (Except for those Christmas midnight services my parents always want to attend as a family, when Im home to visit for the holidays.) I do get a rich legacy of teaching, however, and guidance, from the Medieval Christian mystics, and one or two moderns. There is a legacy of spirituality and mysticism preserved in the Catholic Church, despite all its many other faults, that is worth tending to. When we have these experiences, it helps to have a frame of reference, to know what others have had the same experience before one, and to hear how they have dealt with their own versions of the experience; even if their frame of reference is religiously bound, or framed in a doctrine or custom one personally cannot accept.
Thats how I feel about all this. I reject Catholic doctrine as often filled with hate and divisionespecially with reference to sexuality, sexual orientation, and reproductive rights; all fronts on which the Vatican is rapidly alienating their American flockwhile at the same time honoring and finding great personal guidance in the stories and writings of many of the deepest Christian mystics, from Meister Eckhart to Thomas Merton, Hildegard of Bingen and St. Teresa of Avila to Julian of Norwich and St. John of the Cross; and many, many others. I view many of these individuals as my personal teachers, along with servants of the Divine from many other paths and traditions, and in some cases, such as with Eckhart, as my direct, personal, spiritual directors. They have all had great meaning for me, and helped me survive my multiple experience of the dark night of the soul.
But the Sacred Heart is a universal, not just a Christian, symbol. It resonates with the experiences of many, across space and time. Its the Rose we place in the hands that would bring on Armageddon, to disarm them; and a Rose for Ecclesiastes, saying, yes, we are small and insignificant, and yet we will go on, we must go on.
Close to home, there is the wisdom tradition within mystical Judaism, which is rooted in the Other being the same as oneself: I and Thou, as Martin Buber put it, are One. Theres a saying in the Jewish tradition that speaks directly to compassion in action: To save one life is to save the universe. All of Creation is One, and no action is too small. When you quietly and compassionately host angels unawares, in the form of the strangers at your door, those who come into your life, the travelers who ask only a meal and a place to sleep, those who need saving, you bring Light into the world.
Across the globe, there is the Buddhist way of framing this same experience, of the opened heart of compassion and healing. The Mahayana and Vajrayana paths of Buddhism, especially Tantric Buddhism in Tibet and Japan, symbolize it with Avalokiteshvara, the ambiguously-gendered Boddhisattva of Infinite Compassion. Also known as Kuan Yin, or Kannon, and often depicted as a feminine figure with a heart wounded by the suffering of the world, and healing and love running out of both hands.
The parallels to the Virgin Mary, in symbolism and even in some identical details of stance and gesture (mudra) and symbolic aspect, are direct and obvious: and both are images of the Goddess, in Her many-faced form of compassion, love, and Motherly aspect of nurturing and healing.
The Virgin Mary, with the Heart of Infinite Compassion, pierced by the worlds suffering, and the Bleeding Heart of the Wounded Christ, again with the same stance and gesture, if slightly less bloody symbolism, of Avalokiteshvara, indicate that this compassionate heart is a universal human experience, arising in all cultures and all eras. That this is so is reflectd in the infinite variations on each symbol, and that parallel symbols and stories turn up in other cultures around the globe.
There is also Parvati, Durga, Radha, the feminine aspect of the Divine, as depicted in many guises in Hindu beliefs: the many faces of Mercy, of whatever form and face She might take on. And Mercy is her name, in principle. There are so many other Names for this Face of God, that I stagger under the weight of attempting to compile a list. Mercy is always feminine, in the folklore, always the anima, the Female. Even in her darker and more wrathful aspects, as the dark Durga, or the Green Tara, or the Black Madonna, or even as Kali, her compassion and mercy remain in the foreground.
There is also the Tibetan Buddhist practice of bodhichitta, which is the Compassionate Heart in action. It is the awakened heart, which is soft and tender, rather than hardened and sheltered. As vulnerable and tender as an open wound, the awakened heart is equated both with our ability to love, and with compassion. It is also the broken heart, which, under the anxiety and panic that can be the compensation for the raw wound, is also the tenderness of genuine sadness. Theres also a folk story, which has the Goddess saying, Your heart didnt mend right the last time, so we had to break it again so we could set it right this time. When I first became of the need to open the heart chakra, years ago, I felt as if my heart were encased with ice: the wendigo heart, the glacial heart, the heart wrapped in ancient ice; a heart that had been so sorely wounded that it dared not open itself to further pain, and so wrapped itself in ice to preserve itself. I was afraid of being hurt again, and again. Gradually, over time, with practice in softening the heart, I was able to melt the ice, and thaw my heart; then, it got broken open, and the rawness of it felt like the pain of a literal wound in my breast. My heart turned from blue to red, from ice to blood, from hardened to bleeding. Now, with this recent experience of the Sacred Heart, I see that the further opening of the heart chakra is set the blood ablaze, to turn the frozen heart to fire, to burn without being consumed. ALL beings have the capacity to feel bodhichitta tenderness, and there are methods of developing this compassionate heart, meditations outlined by the experience of centuries of practice. Moving through the world with bodichitta, with the tender heart, is also its own practice, its own state of being, that needs no rewards or justification.
Suffice it to say, therefore: The Compassionate Heart, the Wounded Heart, the Opened Heart of the World, the Cure for the Worlds Pain (the true meaning of the symbol of the Grail), Mercy, Lovethese are all Names of this experience. Each a valid aspect of it.
For myself, I have for weeks now, maybe even months, been more and more aware of the opened heart chakra in my own chest, and how it has continued to open. Sometimes the worlds pain stops me in my tracks, and I must take time to breathe. I practice tonglen, then: the Tibetan Buddhist practice of breathing in suffering, then breathing out relief, for oneself, for those one loves, and then for the whole world. I am also reminded, again and again, of that vision of the world I first experienced in 1984, as part of the World Heart Meditation in the Pranic Healing training session I undertook in March of that year. That was also the endthat very day, that very meditationof over four years of constant, daily, personal dark night suffering that I had been experiencing since my first, crushing vision of the Void. That day, the second vision of the Void came to me, as a relief to suffering, as a reframing of what the Void is, and as a balm to the open heart of compassion. Although it doesnt matter how long it was, I can tell you that there were exactly 4 years, 3 months, and 14 days between those two visions of the Void; and a long personal darkness lay between them.
When I am stopped in my tracks, when I breathe tonglen, sometimes I must weep: for no reason, it sometimes seems: the real reason being, of course, that one is grounding and processing and healing and clearing and releasing, through the circuits of ones own being, a unit of negativity from the Worlds Pain. And all of us who daily, continuously process whatever units of negativity we are able to, help the world from being drowned, or exploding, under a deluge of negativity. And there is more crisis, more negativityand more hope, and more healingin the world right now, then ever before. We are at a time of rapid change, rapid change, much turbulence and chaos; every piece of the worlds pain we can ground and clear, helps hold the world together. Paku Alam: in Javanese, the Nail of the World, that keeps this reality in place; keeps it together; that nails this reality into being, and holds it in place, for all those who need it to be held together. All of us hidden, unknown Lightworkersmost of whom you will never know about, although you meet them daily as you go through life; most of whom are quietly doing the work of holding compassion for the worlds pain, with their open-hearted beings, in ways that are invisible, and silent, and unheralded and uncelebrated; and we are all content for it to be that way. I feel like I am violating that very silence, simply by talking about this; it is a large part of why I hesitate to bring it forward. They work best when invisible. I know who many of these Lightworkers are, but I will not tell you; not that its a dark secret, but that in the end its completely irrelevant. It doesnt matter. Every person, everyone you know and those you dont, contain within themselves that Divine spark of Immanence and Transcendence that is our birthright. All of our faces are just masks for the Face of God that lies within us all. We can all breathe tonglen, and be just as effective at holding the world together through these difficult times; so, names dont really matter. You, too, are a Face of God, and can breathe this compassion. I am nothing special; we are nothing special.
The spear in my brothers heart is the spear in my heart: we are One. How could it be otherwise? There is a lot of negativity out there in the world right now, that needs to be counteracted, and salved, and balanced, and grounded, and released. I am thinking of the destruction of New Orleans by a hurricane, for one, and the political and social fallout from that event that will last for years. I am also thinking of the next time it happens, when a coastal city is flooded out by storm or tsunami or rising sea levels prompted by global warming; and it will happen again, one way or another. And the pointless wars in the Mideast, the gasoline price crisis in the USA, the hatred and mistrust of a government that seems to have failed its wards and citizens when they most needed it, and everything else going on in the world right now: all contributing to the negativity that must be grounded and healed, all components of the Worlds Pain.
I already wrote about holding space, holding healing space, and breathing tonglen, and also sending Reiki, to that woman with heatstroke, that afternoon in the Park station at Joshua Tree. A day in the desert, come to it. I did it all invisibly, just holding space, and no one present knew it. And that is right and proper. I dont feel the need to rehash those events, as I have already written about them.
But the experience I had that afternoon in the desert heat, and before and since, of consciously embodying the Sacred Heart, in my own person, soul, and heart chakra, continues to resonate. I feel my heart charka open and bleeding even now, as I write, more than a week later. Bleeding with the sweet blood that does not hurt, but heals. This is the mystics way, in this day and age, when mysticism has gone mainstream: that it be just an ordinary, daily experience. I have plenty of friends who are and will remain skeptical that these sorts of mystical experience can, or ever do, happen to people. Well, I dont mind. I feel no need to convince, convert, or justify any of this. It happened: it will happen again: not just to me, but to many.
Well, what do you do with this? Nothing. Everything. Whatever comes up. Its a state of being, not a set of tools. The difficulty comes in other places: when you find yourself and your friends being judgmental about a political or social situation, and you have to stop talking, because your compassion has expanded to the point of causing you pain, and because you dont want to be judgmental of either the situation or of your friends; and you must withdraw. That kept happening to me all this past week, in several contexts, personal and professional, whenever the current state of the world became the topic of discussion. When you know youre right to respond with compassion rather than judgment, and theres nothing you can say or do about it, in the face of other hatreds and judgments. It becomes obvious how pain and suffering are what you get because its what you put out. We make the world turn around, with the suffering we add to it.
Sometimes the ultimately compassionate action you can do is to refrain, for just this moment, this day, from adding to the worlds suffering. If thats all you were able to accomplish today, you did a great deal. Today I felt challenged to do even that much; and then the discipline becomes, just for today, I will not contribute to the worlds suffering. Nothing more than that: some days thats all the strength you can muster, but it is enough. Just for today, I will not add to the worlds pain. Do you think thats a small thing? It is rather a very large thing. It is the mustard seed rather than the mountain. It is the small act that heals the Universe.
The Sacred Heart knows this: that witnessing, that having an open vulnerable heart of healing, open to the suffering of others, taking in the pain and giving back love, that this is itself enough. Marching in the streets wont change the world. Edward Keating said: You do not destroy an idea by killing people; you replace it with a better one. You can view it as a design problem: to improve the world, you have to make the old paradigm obsolete, by replacing it with an obviously different and better one. And love is that different design; the Sacred Heart is a clean, clear blueprint for making the world a finer place. If we were all able to embody it, as we were intended to do, then so much suffering would immediately be alleviated.
The Sacred Heart is timeless: it is always operating in the Now, the Now that enfolds everyone and all time, always. All action occurs at the same moment; we only separate time into narrative because it is a convenient way to frame it, and to talk about it. Linear time is, after all, illusory, a lie. The Sacred Heart, like all mystical experiences, takes you outside the experience of time, and into that timeless Eternal Now, the moment that is forever, simply because it enfolds all time into the same moment. You want to talk about time travel? Speak, rather, of the collapse of the dimension of time into an unmeasured and immeasurable duration, a duration of Nothing, that is both Abyss and Eternal Now, timeless anguish and timeless beauty. Rilke: Beauty is the beginning of terror.
No angel need clasp you to its breast, immolating you in its higher, more intense breath and heat. All you have to do is stop time, step aside: and the worlds feeling will flood into you, complete, all One, unbearable and breaking like a wave on the collapsing wave function of your consciousness, evanescent, still and silent and utterly embodied. And this is how you live with your heart chakra constantly open, vulnerable, reaching out to heal and be healed. You bleed love from your wounded heart, and from your hands. What are the stigmata but the symbols of the Sacred Heart, the wounds of love? The paradox of pain taken on for the sake of love: the real meaning of savior. Again, I run into that wall of sentimental, unquestioned doctrine, so I want to be clear: the Christ (which is an office, not a surname) wanted us to become like him, and embody what he gave us to learn, not worship him and not deify him into a symbol we could keep at a convenient distance, rather than have to actively engage with, and embody ourselves. Taking on the worlds pain via the Sacred Heart is indeed a personal crucifixion: a door opens in your soul, and you let in such pain and suffering, that you are crushed by it, killed by it, nailed to a fallen tree. And you endure. You endure, and continue to endure. The resurrectionthat coming back to life again on the 14th day of the 3rd month of the 4th yearthat will come, eventuallythat resurrection is the almost-end of the Sacred Heart process. One day, you look around, and it doesnt hurt as much anymore. Is there less suffering for you to transmute that day? Perhaps not. What matters is that your heart has grown, and deepened, and you are able to take on more of the worlds pain, and transmute it, without you yourself becoming quite so crushed. This does not mean your heart is now closed: it means your heart is stronger for having been wounded.
Every shaman knows this energetic dynamic: sucking the evil, the badness, the sickness, out of the patient, taking it onto oneself, then transmuting it, getting it out of yourself, cleansed and smoothed out, and given to the spirits, to the Mother Earth, so that both shaman and patient are no free of it: that is the pattern of healing. And that, too, is the operation of the Sacred Heart.
You can only do this by letting go. By not holding onto what comes into you. By learning a strong, non-passive, active non-attachment to suffering. Pain goes away when you let it. It runs through your fingers like blood luck and holy water, and leaves nothing behind. Its only when you hold onto it, grasp it to your breast, nourish it, feed it, keep it alive, turn a wound into a woundology: it is only then that you create more pain for the world to take on, and more pain that must be eased. The Sacred Heart lets go: it lets the pain go, loving it all the way back to the Void from which it arose, as it dissolves. Tonglen.
The Light of the Heart: the Heartlight. The glow of the Sacred Heart. Its a sublime vision of transcendent, immanent, utterly calm compassion. We can take all the symbolseven those tawdry, tacky, cheap ugly images that line the walls of thoughtless sanctuariesand transform them into action. The Sacred Heart is the root of action. Even the cheapest of symbols can be redeemed, in the light and breadth and heat of the Sacred Heart.
I dont want the cheap and sentimental symbols that just get in the way of the real experience, by framing it in a neat, easily swallowed package. The real experience is so shattering, its no wonder we retreat from it, and hide it behind the tacky drapes. But also, I dont want to read any more books about spiritual development, about the New Age, about personal growth, about healing myself and bettering myself. None of that matters anymore. Its time to stop talking about it, and putting it into practice, into action. Ive read enough manuals on how to improve the world; now its time to but what youve learned into practice. This is the discipline of action, that follows on the Sacred Heart: it is a mistake to assume that receptivity equates with passivity. Not at all! Being receptive and open to the worlds suffering is to already have begun to actively transmute it into love. I have said it before: my activism no longer consists of marching in the streets; now, it consists of the art I make, the Things I Make, that ripple outwards and effect the world; and, no less than that, simply breathing tonglen can change the world. Tonglen IS activism. The Sacred Heart, simply by being embodied in you, is a force for positive action. You need do little more.
I will end where I began, last night, with books by Loren Eiseley at hand. I will end with the Star Thrower story (attributed to Eiseley even though he wrote about it in a rather different way, and this is not in his writing style) because in many ways it represents how you take action, when you have the opened Sacred Heart, and need to act in the world. It demonstrates that no action is too small, and underlines that compassion in action is always an available choice for us.
There was a man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work, or to take a break from his work.
One early morning, as he walked along the shore, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer, in the distance. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, so he walked faster to catch up.
As the writer got closer, though, he saw that the figure was that of a young man, and that he was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out, "Good morning! May I ask what it is youre doing?"
The young man paused, looked up, and replied, "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
"Why? What good does that do?" asked the writer, somewhat taken aback.
To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die." There were hundreds of starfish at the edge of the water, some still moving, others still. The young man picked up a starfish that was moving slowly, and threw it far out over the waves.
The old writer said, "But, young man, dont you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? There are too many to throw back in. How can it possibly make a difference!"
At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water and sank, he said, "It made a difference to that one."
CCLXXV. 9 September 2005, Pinole, CA
A blah day. A grey day. A day to sit in front of the fireplace, curled up under a blanket, reading, a mug of hot cocoa. Just: nothing happening. No motivation. A day for being inward. A day fro reflection. For parking it. For reading and contemplating rather than acting.
Picked up Loren Eiseleys The Star Thrower at Goodwill today. Another book of his magnificent essays, plus some early poems. Some Loren Eiseley quotes:
Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war.
If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.
It is frequently the tragedy of the great artist, as it is of the great scientist, that he frightens the ordinary man.
Man is always marveling at what he has blown apart, never at what the universe has put together, and this is his limitation.
One could not pluck a flower without troubling a star.
One does not meet oneself until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human.
Tomorrow lurks in us, the latency to be all that was not achieved before.
No, it is not because I am filled with obscure guilt that I step gently over, and not upon, an autumn cricket. It is not because of guilt that I refuse to shoot the last osprey from her nest in the tide marsh. I posses empathy; I have grown with man in his mind's growing. I share that sympathy and compassion which extends beyond the barriers of class and race and form until it partakes of the universal whole. I am not ashamed to profess this emotion, nor will I call it a pathology. Only through this experience many times repeated and enhanced does man become truly human. Only then will his gun arm be forever lowered.
Being misunderstood is normal, for artists. If you get nothing else from life, learn that. But there is also beauty. And trust, truth, letting go, surrender. Not the first time this sentiment has been expressed, but it remains true: we frighten the ordinary.
Eiseley briefly knew Auden, the transplanted poet, and they admired each other. I read through a lot of literary commentary on Eiseley, and it seems people bend over backward to say he was a scientist, not a mystic. As if one could not be both! As if mysticism was an exclusively religious view, framed by clichéd sentimentality, with angels and ribbons and bows. People who say that Eiseley was not a mystic do not know what mysticism really is all about; the mistake they make is in thinking that mysticism is a special category of being, rather than the ordinary, daily appreciation of life and Creation that it is. And appreciation is something Eiseley had in all his writings, prose and poetry and essay and autobiography. His is a true poet, if, in Rilkes definition, what a poet does most is praise. Eiseley was an heir to Rilke, on several levels.
CCLXXIV. 8 September 2005, Pinole, CA
Back here, if only for awhile. Peripatetic diplodeviant, thats our motto. Its cold and cloudy today, and my back hurts from sleeping on that futon bed. After sleeping on the ground, then in firm beds, it just isnt comfortable right now. Back to the air mattress, for now. I can see blue sky from my window, over the next hills inland, but here its cloudy and cool.
There is stuff happening, but I dont feel like writing about it; its all still turbulent and unsettled, and unclear, and I continue to struggle with Trust. Radical trust.
A day of nothing much. Just resting, reading, recuperating, getting energy back. A few business phone calls, maybe some freelance money to come in, in the next month or two. The gods giveth. I went to Goodwill, briefly, and found the most beautiful glass-lensed candle wall sconce: sheer abstract, antique beauty. Wherever I settle, and whenever, it will become a feature of the place. Now, back here, my eyes already tired, not yet sunset, doing chores, making tea, thinking nothing much. Reading some more.
A day off, in other words.
Girls just want to have fonts. Cyndi Lauper, misquoted
CCLXXIII. 7 September 2005, Paso Robles, CA
Watched the movie A Clockwork Orange last night while doing things before bed, which was a mistake, as the whole night my dreams were of that ilk: violent, twisted, disturbed. Soundtrack by Sting (Shape of My Heart) and Wendy Carlos (Ludwig vans Ninth). Woke up feeling a little slimed.
Weve been looking for settings here to open a yarn store. Some possibilities. I am willing to be wrong, and I feel like this will take some time before it happens, so I wonder what to do in the interim. Trust that things will happen as theyre supposed to happen, I guess. Look for money to live on in the interim. Maybe a freelance or two? It feels like its in progress, but not yet clearly on-track; perhaps thats my anxiety, rather than anything real. The timing is something I have to learn to sense rather than to try to manage or control. And that is a challenge.
Meanwhile, I plan to drive back up to SF today. Pescadero has been tugging at me since last week, so if at all possible today, I want to stop in there for a visit to the sea and the stones. Want to shake off these scattered feelings; these fears; these rough edges. Silence and stillness.
Stopped for an hour an Pescadero. The arch is filled in with sand. I walked around the bend under the bridge, and found a little grotto-like cavity in the reddest rock layers, there, and made an art piece there: another circle in the stones.
CCLXXII. 5 September 2005, Paso Robles, CA
What I'm Reading Now
In Los Angeles, at that excellent bookstore in West Hollywood called Bodhi Tree, as before when last I visited there, I found some books necessary to me right now:
Daryl Sharp, The Survival Papers: Anatomy of a midlife crisis. Ive been reading that this morning; its the first in his series of psychological adventure books, I guess you could call them, written by a Jungian psychologist, tracking the lives of inner and outer characters as examples of how we grow and become who we really are. Ive read two or three others in this series, and really liked them; here, then, is the start of it all.
D.M. Dooling, The Spirit of Quest: Essays and Poems. Dooling founded Parabola Magazine, which I have subscribed to off and on, and always read, even when I couldnt afford a subscription, since 1977. A terrific magazine for explorers of symbol, myth and meaning; each issue of the magazine is thematically, topically focused, with perspectives drawn from the wisdom traditions of the entire world. This is Doolings collected essays and introductions from the magazine, plus some poems at the end of the book, many previously unpublished. I reproduce one here, not because I think its a great poem, but because it says exactly how I feel right now (another function of poetry, often overlooked in our critical attempts to become better artists):
Levavi Oculos Meos
I shall lift up my head and go
Among the hills and live in loneliness
And listen for the silent voice of God
In the loud water falling on the rocks
And see his hands stretched out among the boughs
And I shall say no word, but worship there.
One day I shall come quietly back to you
With speech a new sweet thing upon my tongue
And words like new-winged birds, lovely and strange and slow.
A pause to remind myself: not all poems have to be great art, and not all poets have to be great poets. I do not mind that the message here is greater than the poetic art. I sometimes think, in our critical thinking, that we strive so hard for great art that we ignore the content. Well, maybe not that, exactly, but that we de-emphasize the other functions poetry has, beyond being an art: to present a shared experience, that it might be shared; the expression of Mystery; the evocation of beauty; the reminder of the Divine, which is usually best expressed in poetic, ecstatic, compressed, language. Granted, when the art and the message are both at high levels, such as with Rilke or Rumi, you have something special on your hands. But I can read Mertons poems, think he is not as great a poet as Rilke, and still get a lot out of the poems themselves. You dont have to limit your appreciation for what is said by always wanting it to have been said better.
Thomas Merton and Robert Lax: A Catch of Anti-Letters. This shows a really remarkable correspondence between Merton and Lax, a poet who Merton knew well in college days, before entering Gethsemane. The anti-letters here are playful, and show a nonsense side to Merton that you never see in the more serious or more purposeful writing, humorous as it could be at times. This is sheer play; word-play; fun; edging into that territory explored by Lewis Carroll and James Joyce: the continuous neologistic punfest. Lax is not as well known as Merton, now, but he was an experimental poet of some merit; I think he contributed to Mertons life in a good way by continuously greasing that creative wheel; these anti-letters here seem to be purposed towards kicking each other to life, creatively, keeping that wheel well-greased, and the ability to think sideways honed and practiced. Witness this, all ye writers: throw out the rules and become truly free!
Rob Brezsny: Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia. Okay, I wasnt going to get this at first, even though Rob keeps looping in and out of my life as some kind of wacky spiritual director, a Fool with wisdom. But I had to, in the end, because the book speaks exactly to my needs right now: to be positive rather than negative; to shift my thinking towards loopy ecstasy rather than dim, dull depression; to shake me to my roots. I turn to many writers to shake me to my roots, and keep me focused on my path (if not my goals, whatever those are): Eckhart, Rumi, Rilke, Merton, Frederick Franck, Jung, McPhee, all among the list of who Ive been reading lately. Add this book to the list as a kind of capstone, if you will: a practical workbook of exercises for action, for actually doing the stuff, rather than just reading about it. And thats how the book is set up: as a workbook, a big book of exercises, with lots of blank pages to fill in yourself. Going to get started on it right now. If you want to, you can call this book cheerleading for the soul: it works just as well as a pick-me-up as it does as a brain-can-opener.
What is going on with my Sacred Heart chakra?
I can feel the flames. I can feel the burning. It is not heartburn, an aptly named if frequently misused diagnosis: the usual attempt to ascribe a physical cause to an emotional effect. Upset? Oh, he just ate some bad clams. Hell better with time and an antacid. The same way we try to paste over depression with tranquilizers, ignoring the important difference between personality-ego depression and genuine, spiritual depression. My dreams last night were intense, vivid, laced with the rich colors, silk brocades, and exotic lighting exemplified by the bedspread on this bed; very sensual, but also violent. Raw. Tempestuous. I come away with mostly a feeling of unsettledness. Things are only beginning, not reaching an ending, or a conclusion. This is the start of the trail, not the ending. I am anxious, as usual, because of my fear of unknown outcomes, of having no security, no stability: the same fears I always have when my bank account approaches zero. But I know now its not really fears of having no money per se; its deeper, about being able to be independent (you think youve grown up, but this infantile becoming adolescent stuff still tracks you), about being self-sufficient, about being, whatable to stand on my own two feet.
CCLXXI. 4 September 2005, Paso Robles, CA
After two nights in Hollywood, back to the countryside. Can see the stars again. A longish drive, and through areas of the state that are both beautiful and make you think of all the dead, disappointed starlets and other sacrificed lives that the movie industry, and the rest of the entertainment industry in LA, has left strewn across the landscape. Briefly drove a stretch of Highway 1 from Malibu to Oxnard, the misty day filled with holiday weekend RV campers, surfers, day picnickers, and others: all frantically having a great holiday weekend before the seriousness of the fall and winter school and work schedules kick in. Toxic because shallow. The land and sea themselves beautiful, but overlaid with the self-absorption typical of California culture in general, and LA in particular. I found myself getting emotional at times on the drive. Pulled into a rest stop to visit the bathroom, and the place was full of Mexican picnickers, filling all the parking spaces, having big clan parties on the tables; I had to park up the highway and walk back, and I wasnt alone in that; then, the mens bathroom was half-closed for repairs, so the line was long and annoying. I got out of there as fast as I could, and onwards. Later on, felt myself getting emotional as I drove into an uncertain future with no guarantees: more lessons in Trust. My unknown Mystery of no destination, nomadic traveling, and moving at the whims of the Powers That Be. I feel bone deep weary now, late at night, after we sat and talked for hours. I want to sleep and sleep and sleep, and I feel this near-panicked urgency to get things done, gets things started, make plans, set things in motion; knowing full well that the timing isnt up to me, and dealing with both impatience and trust about it. Well, Im very tired. It may all look totally different tomorrow. Who knows?
CCLXX. 3 September 2005, Loa Angeles, CA
A cat on a rooftop, looking out. A distant roar and hum, two distinct pitches, one high and one low: the white noise of civilization in a city. The relative silence of this garden room, looking out on a garden.
I dreamed of travel, again. Content to be where I am, for the moment, struggling to always come back to center, to live only in the moment, and not seek outside it, for life, for love, for anything. There were also circles in my dream: rings in the sky, in the earth, rings on fire, rings of stone, the silent circulation of the rings that added together make up the elements of life: all things being enclosed in the Circle. A Jungian, Rilkean, admonitory mandala: a teaching stone, a prayer place, a flagstone on the desert pavement older than human memory.
I invoke what rises in me, in vision, in silence, as more real than anything outside the self. I do this knowing that my solitudes are permanent even as they seem only temporary. In full knowledge of my continued failings to get at what is beyond things, beyond forms, I strive not to collapse back into forms, even as I must navigate the streets of daily life. It is perhaps too easy to call on angels or lyres, to make this fulfillment in the self. It is perhaps more true to place my song on the floor of the desert, where, with little watering, with infinitely-extending patience, with an endurance born of joy as much as of hardship, it will someday send forth a stalk into the air, and bloom.
And more circles: places the light seeps through the rock, or blares. Geometric forms of penetration from this place where you stand on the old soil, to a blue sky of pure transcendence. Doorways in the sand, in the air, in the light: places to step through, or, unable to step, to reach through, to fling outward with spirit and desire alone, to reach for what is beyond what merely stands here, covered with exertion.
How to place the self into the air? Make it a thing of light. Throw it into the sky, through this window in the tumbled, organiform rocks, again and again: until it dissolves into purest light, becomes limpid, dew luxuriating in its own dissolution, and forgets what it intended or desired, and just: Is.
Everywhere in the rocks of the desert, I sought out and was rewarded with places the light of the sky shone through: portals, doors, windows, circles, triangles, holes in the rounded shapes of the weathering stone, places the sun and air could flow through. It is no coincidence that I open the book to a quote from Meister Eckhart, who is talking about the same thing:
Perfectly to have given up ones own [self] is to have merged with God, and then anyone who will touch the man must first touch God, for he is wholly within God and God is around him, as my cap is around my head, and to touch me one must first touch my clothing.
Therefore if a heart is to be ready for him, it must be emptied out to nothingness, the condition of its maximum capacity. So, too, a disinterested [non-attached] heart, reduced to nothingness, is the optimum, the condition of maximum sensitivity.
CCLXIX. 2 September 2005, Los Angeles, CA
I feel bone-deep weary. I could go to sleep, but its still too early in the evening. It took only two hours to drive here to Hollywood from Joshua Tree, albeit another half hour or so while I got lost in the city, before figuring it out. I got some more lessons last night and today, about my expectations, about my plans versus Divine chaos. And my stillness and serenity were tested last night by a group of rowdy drunken twentysomethings in the camping area; I partially passed with patience, and partially failed. I know it was a test, and I know where I failed. I did some forgivenesses this morning, starting with myself.
The drive was easy, and traffic was light. Still, I can feel Im in a Big City now, and the silence and stillness that I got, even this morning, as I pulled over to listen to the Nothing by the roadside while still in the Park, are covered over by city noise. None of this is bad. I am just noticing.
When I sought stillness and silence for a further day, of course I was tested: to be able to keep still and silent in the face of noise. I missed seeing the coyote wander through my camp last night, as I was out later than before, taking night photos, and then the campgrounds were generally noisier than the previous two nights. But I had time this morning to just stop, and be still, and listen; and that was good. Breaking camp and packing up were easy.
I feel physically tired though: perhaps little more than the accumulated stress of long drives, coupled with the high-temperature hiking Ive been doing these past few days, and the higher altitude. Been drinking more than enough water, at least.
I am having dinner with my Los Angeles pagan friends tonight. Actually, Im cooking it. Something I can do, as a gift for friendship and hospitality; a very small thing, but its the small things that really make big changes. No act of love is too small.
The book I carried into the desert with me to read this week (along with Rilkes poems) is that collection I first read 30 years ago as a teenager: The Choice Is Always Ours. An excellent anthology on the spiritual/religious way. I opened to a page yesterday, only to read an excerpt from Karen Horney on competitiveness; a synchronicity, to be sure. Heres some of what she wrote, decades ago:
Making use of anthropological findings we must recognize that some of our conceptions about human nature are rather naïve, for example, the idea that competitiveness, sibling rivalry, kinship between affection and sexuality are trends inherent in human nature. Our conception of normality is arrived at by the approval of certain standards of behavior within a certain group which imposes these standards on its members. But the standards vary with culture, period, class and sex.
Modern culture is economically based on the principle of individual competitiveness. The isolated individual has to fight with other individuals of the same group, has to surpass them and, frequently, thrust them aside. The advantage of the one is frequently the disadvantage of the other. The psychic result of this situation is a diffused hostile tension between individuals. Everyone is the real or potential competitor of everyone else.
Karen Horney, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time
CCLXVIII. 1 September 2005, Joshua Tree National Park, CA
I think I have found that inner stillness and silence Ive been looking for. It feels fragile and tentative, though, so I am considering staying here in the desert another night. It would mean having to go into town to get more supplies, food, firewood, water, ice, batteries. I want to cement this stillness, this looseness, this emptiness, before going on.
Last night I went to bed early, and slept the night through. I had dreams, which I dont remember in the dawn. I slept with the tent flaps open, for the air to move through, and I slept well. I woke up at Orion-rise and at moonrise again, then now at dawn, with the sun just touching the tent. Other tan that, I slept the night through. I feel rested and at peace. I dont feel like doing anything today, and I dont feel like driving into Los Angeles today.
Maybe one more night here? Maybe.
I chose to meditate on it, and was unexpectedly pulled into a minor mystical experience. I sat, and went within, and was lifted up, surprisingly, into the Light. Light everywhere, white light of consciousness filling everything, every pore of being. A place of infinite white light, and a Presence. I have been here before, at least twice that I recall. Even so, I felt detached from the experience, even though I can reach back into my self as I write this and find it still there, because I know even such visions are fleeting.
The tent is getting hot now. Time to get moving.
Fleeting, yet permanent. Permanent, yet transitory. I can reach back in my mind and find the White Light, as a field of light, like the wall of light at the end of the Universe.
I drove out of the Park, got re-provisioned, and made a couple of phone calls; and now, I am back here in the Park for the rest of today and tonight. I am back in my little cave structure in Hidden Valley, almost nude, absorbing the coolness of stones amidst the midair heat blaze. It is totally silent, except for the wind and some small wildlife sounds.
I am getting used to seeing Joshua trees; they no longer look so alien, they look almost normal. That itself is strangely calming.
I also stopped at a funky little store in the town of Joshua Tree, a hodgepodge of climbing support gear, new age books and nostrums, hippie stuff, and even a couple of djembe for fire circle drumming. (A book of drumming for circles I ignored; a book of Activities for Pagan Children on the other hand, by Amber K, I looked at with pleasure.) I picked up a bumper sticker that seems most appropriate to my life now, the first bumper sticker I have wanted to put on this truck: Not all who wander are lost. That seems apt and fitting to my life now. Forty days and forty nights, wandering in the desert with the prophets, listening to the voice of god out of the whirlwind.
On the way back, I saw a sign that said Free Wood, pulled over, and restocked my firewood supply. When you trust, the godz provide.
Time to do nothing. Beautiful, still. nothing.
I read for awhile, then napped for awhile. I got out of my clothes, just to feel the air on me, here in the shade. Then I was disturbed by the echoing shouts of rock-climbers nearby: boys who shout just to hear themselves, to hear an echo back, just to know theyre alive. How very different from last nights reverent silence up at Keys View, where everyone seemed to respect the silence.
Rock-climbing. I see two young men practicing their technique on an inverted boulder, hanging on upside down. Must we turn every human activity into a competitive, judged sport? Are we so competitive? Is there no room left, in this culture, to do something just because one wants to do nothing else? Is there no room left for simple play? Is it all a field of play for ego, and none left for soul-play?
Even the New Age ends up being competitive: we compete to improve ourselves, evolve, become more than we are. People compare paths, trade notes, gossip about gurus. They say they are being non-competitive, but oh yes, they are. Is there no room to just do the inner work, without fanfare or accolades? Does not going within mean going into silence, into the self, to meet the Self? Is this not a solo journey, a perilous journey undertaken to become more than what we are now?
(I too am being judgmental, I suppose, in asking these questions in this particular way. Yet I feel something rising towards the surface; almost graspable; still just out of reach. Ive been feeling it all day, and am writing towards it, gradually. A redtail hawk swooped right at me, when I got back into the Park after re-provisioning, right out of the blue sky and into the air past me. A Messenger. I also thought I heard my cellphone ringing, in the distance, although it is switched off. Yes, something is coming.)
Ive been thinking about this in terms of Caroline Myss thoughts on self-esteem: that self-esteem is central to the spiritual life; that the ultimate test of self-esteem is, do you need anyone to pat you on the back for being a good person, for doing good deeds? Do you need to be known? Or are you strong enough to become invisible? I see these shouting rock boys, harmless as they really are, as at that exuberant age when they are testing their own boundaries; but having to do it in a loud, self-advertising way that indicates to me that they really lack any healthy self-esteem about it. Those who shout the loudest have the most to prove to themselves. And it is proof to the self, not others, that is at stake in such displays: needing the accolades, even the reverse accolades, which still get one the attention one craves, are a sign of immaturity. We play loud music partly to fend off what we fear in ourselves: that deep, silent abyss of nothingness within.
Are you strong enough to come into the desert and be silent, and face your own silence within?
The voices move off into the distance. Its the high heat of day, yet cool enough here in my cave. I drink water. I feel the rough texture of this large-grained monzogranite against the skin of my back. The ground is flouring into dust, with pea gravel still mixed in where chips come off the rocks above. I am slowing down, eroding down into desert time. Even a geologic catastrophe can take a human lifetime. Are the inner pressures enough yet to rip apart the crust, along the fault and joint lines? Eroding into my true self.
I become my true self,
that thing I am when all else
is stripped away, burned away,
starved, chemically eaten,
faulted, broken at every joint,
weathered down to nothing,
where what is left at the center
is both nothing
and who I truly am.
I come alive.
I am in this moment,
and this moment, and this,
no other moments, no sense
of other times.
Does God dwell
only in those who are ready,
prepared, the lineaments
of proper form and ritual all emplaced?
God dwells in everyone,
in everything, immanent and
Pick a name. Any name will do.
I call You by Your true name,
which only I know, since it is
my own name, my inner, secreted Name.
We are these mirrors.
Everywhere I look,
I see phantoms, silhouettes
of people in motion,
or just sitting there the way they used to,
routinely sifted into their memories.
I hear their voices, every night
when the doors open under the stars.
Who is it that rode down the road
last night, between rocks when
there was no road?
Is that you?
Here in my desert cave,
I stalk you:
relentlessly, without ceasing,
to become that which
we already are.
CCLXVII. 31 August 2005, Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Ive been out driving and taking pictures. Now it approaches the days high heat, and Ive taken shelter in the shade of my campsite. The flies here are bad, but the breeze is nice.
I drove out to Keys Point, a place that overlooks the valley to the south of the Park. You can see Palm Springs (with too many golf courses, a waste of water in the desert), San Gorgonio Peak and Pass, and San Jacinto Mountain. Off the to southeast, the Salton Sea is hidden by haze. Smog comes up the Pass from LA, and hides it most days. The San Andreas Fault lies in the valley below me. This entire journey I have been driving along the Fault, or near parallel to it, and keep seeing it. Its a dominant feature of the land here, of course,
I scare a patch of quail into the air, wings thrumming. A bird calls, a strange call, echoed across the hills by another. Jackrabbits everywhere. And bees chasing me, for my sweat. The flies are bad everywhere in the Park. I stop to take photos. Raven calls, nearby. I wonder if Coyote knows about all these rabbits hereabouts. Grasshoppers make clicking sounds in the shrubs. Theres juniper here, as well as many plants I dont recognize.
I went next, in no hurry, to a place called Hall of Horrors. Its a pathway between outcrops of weathering pink granite. Everywhere there are weird, organic shapes in the rock, and the cacti, Joshua trees, shrubs, and other plant life all look like aliens from beyond the stars. I scare lizards, and follow them down the trail. I see a lone ruby-throated hummingbird, a flick of joy between flowers and nothingness.
I stop to make sculptures: arrangements of stone on the earth. I feel called here to make two spirals, one out of black rocks, the other out of banded gneiss. I arrange the stone lines into the energy movement of the spiral. Later on, under an arch made by two huge boulders fallen together, I make a line of schist and gneiss, aligned with Spirit, all pointing in the same direction. I felt called to make land art here, as I have in other places of beauty and power. Its intuitive; you just feel like doing it. I listen to the silence, the wind, the raven in the distance, and even though its an intrusion on the pristine silence of the desert, I make spirals and lines. Where you place them, in points of power, is also intuitive, and calls the power to the surface, for all to see and feel. These pieces last longer in the desert than they do by the ocean shore. I wonder if anyone will ever notice them, find them, respond to them. Its nothing I can ever know.
Raven is in the rocks across the way, calling. The flies are really, really bad here.
I cant rest in the tent after all. Its too much like a sauna. A near-naked man walks by in the sunlight, on the road. I am sweating profusely, and feel hot. A few minutes more of this sauna, and Ill go back out to the flies. A fit of breeze catches in the tent walls, but doesnt do much to cool me.
This is, naturally, the hottest time of year in this mid-altitude arid desert. It can get frozen and snowy in winter, but is moderate the rest of the year, even cool at times. Today, not as hot as yesterday, is hot enough. Still well above 100 degrees Farenheit. I think I will go for a drive; at least the air moving across my skin will help cool me. I have drunk gallons of water, which I brought along. All to the good. Food? I should probably eat something, although Im not that hungry right now. Maybe some cheese or chocolate.
I have enough rice and potatoes and chicken for a big feast tonight. I think Ill cook it all, even if I cant eat it all. Make jerky in this heat, perhaps.
I am so close to the silence now. So very close. Meister Eckhart talks of emptying and indifference; a kind of non-attachment, and also an emptying that is a receptivity to the action of Spirit coming in. You can understand this out here, in the emptiness that is not empty.
I drove around for awhile. I went back to a place I keep going back to, which has a magical feel to me, and is becoming a favorite place: the Hidden Valley picnic area, with that archway behind the first line of outcrops; a Japanese torii that leads to an inner sanctum; and where I sit now, in a silent place like a cave under the balanced rocks, with nooks and crannies and holes to let the breeze through. I can hear Raven in the distance again, and a plane high above; otherwise, it is as still and silent as I could hope for.
Music is rising up from within: that inner music that fills me, whenever I can empty myself of the rest of life, to be able to hear it. I was driving, taking photos, in the Wonderland of Rocks area, my favorite part of the park, the pinkish-white monzogranite outcrops that dominate this part of the Park, and I realized, as I stopped taking photos for awhile: I am in overwhelm. It is all too beautiful, and all too much alike. Hidden away in here, in this quasi-cave, I am still engaged with the land, the rocks, the wind, the light, and I am also more at peace than I have felt all day. I find it easier to nap here than back at the tentsite.
I saw a gray and black horned lizard on a rock, here, awhile ago, when I was just walking around: big red eyes moved to follow me as I took its portrait. No doubt poisonous as hell. I havent seen any snakes at all this trip, but already have seen dozens of little lizards of all varieties. Well, we like lizards: they eat flies.
I went out to Keys View again for sunset, and stopped to take pictures of the forest of Joshua trees as the sun went down behind them. I stayed out there for awhile. There were a lot of people there for actual sunset, and everyone was very quiet and reverent in the golden light. I stayed for awhile, to take night photos of the cities below, and perversely, make a few cell phone calls. I wondered about reception, but I got a good strong signal: straight line to Palm Springs, after all.
On the way back in, stopped to take more night photos of the trees, till my batteries ran out.
Then I came back to camp, made some tea, and stood under the stars, watching the southwest sky, Capricorn and Sagittarius in the alpenglow. Lots of planes moving overhead.
As I sat there on a boulder, I heard the sound of paws. There was coyote again, and this time he walked right into my camp, into the lamplight and firelight, a glimpse of his tawny hide confirming it as he sniffed around and moved on. Bold as you please. No regrets, Coyote.
There are a couple of other campfires out there tonight, casting light onto the rocks. My own camp is a glow of yellow orange against the night, the lamplight washing on the walls, till the rocks darken as you look up, and then the stars above everything, bright and crystalline. I took of my clothes preparatory to going to bed, then stood out there in the cooling air for awhile, nude, watching the sky. I made a second cup of tea, then decided I didnt want it, so I left it inn the sealed mug for morning. Everythings washed and put away, and I used up all the firewood I brought along, so no breakfast fire anyway.
Its a quiet night, a feeling of calm tiredness settles over me. There are crickets in the bush, otherwise all is still. I stood there for awhile, just being silent myself, then got ready for bed.
CCLXIV. 29 August 2005, Pinnacles National Monument, CA
I'm driving again. On the road again. The Western desert highway, a straight line to the horizon, hills in the distance. Back in motion again. Beginning to travel again. Rootless and homeless again. This feels so natural, I can barely describe it.
Nearing sunset, I walked up Condor Gulch trail from the ranger station at Bear Gulch. The fine white light of the mountain late afternoons, wherein each grass stalk glows white from within, and every tiny stone is detailed and exquisite. I started up in sunlight, hot on the trail, and returned in mountain shadow, in the cool of the evening shadow. Still some hours left of daylight, but the sun went behind the high ridges where the Pinnacles, gorgonlike, cluster. I made it more than halfway to the top before turning back, marshalling my strength.
The crags, the pinnacles, the gorgon field, all rich with magic. A very active place. I can feel the doors between the worlds here, and I see rock-weathered holes and forms that look like pictograms, the living consciousness of the planet emerging from the rocks themselves. Silence. Wind-summoning in the silence.
On the hike up and down, I saw: small western quail, who took off into the brush from the trail with a loud thunder of wings, as I approached; bluejay pairs in a tree hanging under the trail, before they flitted off to another tree (ho, whiskey jack!); two or three banded and painted lizards; and lastly, as I descended, very high in the sky above a valley across the canyon, three condors. Magnificent birds, huge vultures. In the parking lot, two desultory woodpeckers poke languidly at a tree trunk.
The volcanic geology here exotic, moved over millions of years up the San Andreas Fault rift zone from the Transverse Ranges near Los Angeles. Breccia, welded tuff. I crossed the San Andreas Fault itself on the way here, near Willow Creek, near an abandoned farmhouse, where the asphalt of the road rippled and shifted wildly.
Again on the driving way, going further down Highway 25, along this valley that harbors the fault. The fault makes the rock loose, and easily weathered; so, rivers and valleys naturally appear along the fault track, because the rock there is already broken and easy to transport. In the dusk, a silent owl swoops across the road.
Getting out at a rest stop after dark, I see the crescent moon and Orion. Old companions for this traveler, who I have not seen for months together. The Milky Way thick and rich. In the southwestern sky, the familiar asterism of Capricornus.
At night, passing through the Valley between orchards, on Highway 46 east of Paso Robles, suddenly a huge owl swoops out of the trees, flaps directly along the line of the highway, going the same direction I am for several seconds. A vast white shape of wings in the dark. It flaps directly above me, as I drive, in my lane, and I pass underneath: two voyagers going the same direction through the night.
Song Without Words, 28 August 2005, San Gregorio Nude Beach, CA
CCLXIII. 27 August 2005, on the San Francisco BART train, CA
I have abandoned the stupid online poetry boards once and for all, as too facile, as pointless. They might be good for social connections, but they wont help you improve as a writer; except, perhaps, in terms of craft. The way to improve as a writer is to read, read, read some more, and write, and write. Good critique is worth its weight in silver, but good critique is very rare to find on the online poetry boards. They cant help your need to writeto create. They cant address creativity, only craft. I pick up and re-read Rilkes Letters to a Young Poet, for perhaps the tenth time, and I read in his first letter about the I must.
When I go within, do I feel this I must about writing poetry? No, actually, I dont. Or rather, not specifically about poetry. I can go for a long time without writing a poem; its not as necessary to me as breathing, and when I am musically engaged and satisfied, I dont write poems, I never even think about writing poems. Music is my I must, a daily need as deep as breathing. (I will go to the desert to clean out the mental ears; I will go for the silence, and the outer silence that lets the inner noise rise to the surface to be faced.) Poetry writing is, I guess, a distant third among my list of creative channels, after music and art-making. (I will make sculptures of arranged stones on the floor of the desert. Circles, spirals, lines, whatever forms seem to be called forth by the desert itself.)
My I must is for creativityperiod. No matter which channel it comes through at any given time, its the need to create, to Make. I Make something every day; every single day. Whatever it is, I must Make daily, hourly, to keep my balance and sanity and equilibrium.
Poetry is only one of the creative channels I work in, and not the central channel, and not the most important channelfor me. None of my poet or writer friends understand this. All of them are bound in words; I spend a great deal of time, now, in those wordless places, those places where no words arise, and none are needed. Sounds, to be sure; and visionalways vision. Most of my poet friends are too close to their own poetry, to be able to step back, and view it all in perspective. They rarely take an overview, look at the forest rather than the trees, and go within. This is only accentuated on the online poetry boards, which are all so word-oriented, and left-brain dominate, simply because they come to us via the left-brain channel of the computer. It is a very logos, rather than eros, medium, and it tends to inflate egos, expand logos consciousness (while not expanding ekstasis consciousness), and distorting the balance between logos and eros. It makes it too easy to think its all about craft.
I seem to be the only poet, amongst all my poetry friends and acquaintances, who never sets out to write a poem. I may set out to write, because I feel the need to write, but I never know what form it will take. Its as likely to be this sort of writing meditation as it is a poem; more likely, perhaps. I usually let the contents dictate the form. I seem to be the only poet who waits for a poem to appear. To arise out of the stillness. Its an inward, contemplative, meditative, Rilkean, Zen practice for me.
There is probably better language for all this; it feels inadequate at best. But reading Rilke, even reading these Letters written years before his own deepest flowering, his later ripened maturity, there is seasoned wisdom here. The rest of the poetic world of advice pales before it, in comparison.
My own quietness, my own growing inner silence, as so much is stripped away, has been and continues to be stripped away, deepens my appreciation of Rilke, and the resonance I feel when I read him.
I struggle with habitually thinking too far ahead, with living too much in the future instead of the present moment. I need to keep coming back to being in the moment. The letting go of plans, of expectations, of my desire for instant fulfillment of all my plans and hopes and wants. The anxiety that waiting causes me. The vice of impatience. My desire to always be in motion.
I seek a balance here, a balanced way. I am still too not-in-the-present yet, I gather. I am still absorbing this, still learning to slow down.
CCLXII. 26 August 2005, Pinole, CA
Yesterday was the anger today. Today I woke up at 8am, feeling pretty good. Im pretty much over it, and ready to move on. Still exercising that newfound Trust, still practicing with letting it go and seeing what happens.
Ive been reading Semiotext(e) SF, one of that journal's special issues, this one on transgressive, anarchic SF fiction and nonfiction. Then this morning I decided to dip into Rilkes Letters to a Young Poet again, at random. I came away with a sense of just how deep Rilke is compared to most other literature. His solitudes were necessary, and came from his need to be in a quiet place, because of his extreme sensitivity. A trait I strongly resonate with. Reading this after the transgressive SF collection, you come away with the realization that literature that sets out to be transgressive, that tries so hard to shock, is really just puerile. I get no thrill from it; mere shock doesnt thrill me at all. There is no visceral twist there, no truth as deep as Rilkes.
Im still pissed off about one thing: the timing of the layoff sucks, because it kills my ability to take that desert vacation Id planned, then come back and work some more, save some cash, before moving on. I just cant afford to go to Zuni now, so I will miss Gathering. This is simply because gasoline is too expensive right now, and Id use up all of whats left of my dwindling cash reserve on gas to travel. I still plan on hitting the desert next week for a few days of camping; but it will have to be California or Nevada, not all the way to New Mexico or Utah. I did more online map searches last night, and found some possibilities. They couldnt have waited a couple more weeks? Whatever.
CCLXI. 25 August 2005, Pinole, CA
I feel enraged today. Not at life, not at the godz, not in any victim kind of way. I find myself enraged, because there was no reason to have been laid off, if the companys owners knew how to run a business and had better money management skills, and the fact that I just wasted an hour and a half in rush hour traffic, with low blood sugar, driving back from the office where I spent a couple of (paid!) hours today cleaning out my work computer and backing up recent projects onto the server. Nothing big, just you know, like, the whole fucking website, all the fonts, and all the photos I took at the office over the past few months. And also enraged because the timing was so critically bad: I had just had to spend a whole paycheck on fixing my laptop, and was planning to go on vacation next week, camping in the desert, then come back and earn some more; now, I doubt I can afford the vacation, as all the money I have now is all the money I have, period. Maybe I can squeeze in a couple of days camping somewhere around here. I really need a desert break, and this does a lot towards killing that notion.
And also burning off CDs of my own art projects on their machines; not that they need to know that. What else are you supposed to do, some days, when the morning is rushed then nothing happens all afternoon? I made art one or two afternoons just to keep from falling asleep at my desk.
Enraged. Not in an unhealthy, self-destructive way. Just angry at the pointlessness of it.
But its true: this frees me up to move on, to find better things, to go wherever I need to go, now. It frees me up sooner than expected, is all.
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