LXX. 6 November 2004, Taos, NM
Feeling really lousy and irritable today, kinda sore and achey. I more or less pulled into the camper last night, unloaded my bedding, had a small snack, and got into bed. I read for awhile, some fun SF novels I picked up in the Santa Fe Goodwill yesterday, on my way through; but then I just had to crawl in and shut down. My sinuses are having some problems, so I hope it's allergies and not an incipient cold. Actually, I still feel like I'm driving, wheel under my hands, road in front of my windscreen. I know I need another day off, or three. I plan on that. I am not even going to deal with some stuff till Monday, I think.
And yet .... and yet ....
What am I doing here, really? As long as I was on the road, traveling, I felt good, even if I was tired. Maybe Taos isn't really the place to settleand everyone tells me not to expect a thing to change till after Christmas, assuming we get a good snow year heremaybe I need to gypsy some more. I will do some more self-marketing in Taos this week, but I am not expecting much anymore.
Where would I travel to, next, though? I have no idea. California is a far more tempting place to winter over than Taos, if only because of the climate. The only problem is, the expense of living there is prohibitive, unless you already have an income source or a free place to stay. Well, I made some contacts this trip, which I will follow up on in a few days, when I get some more energy back.
In the camper last night, even with the heater running full blast, the only real warmth comes from hiding under the blankets. Curling up in bed is not a bad thing, actually. And the camper warms up a bit when you run the stove to cook. So, I'll cook something tonight. (Have to do a little more supply shopping on the way home, though.)
I could cheerfully spend a long time in the National Parks, though. Traveling between them, taking the camper this time, and parking in each one for a week. It would cut me off from the internet, very likely, which is my only source of income at present (and I wonder if I've fatally jeopardized a few such sources simply by traveling out West for two weeks), for the occasional little graphics job. Could I sell enough artwork to make it possible to travel this way? That is my dream: my longterm goal, my hope, my eventual plan.
I dream of having s few places that sell my art, and act as my agent, while I continue to travel around and take photos and make art. And play music, too. Visiting Stick Enterprises was a real joy for me, in all ways. Such generosity and hospitality to me, a relative stranger, was beyond anything I could have imagined; this is how you create a true community. Diversity within the Stick community is immense, yet we remain a community: that is something notable, in this day and age, and worth emulating, and generalizing to the rest of our lives.
So, that's my dream. All of this, is doing things to make that happen. It will happen. When, is the only question. And this journey is nothing if not brimful of lessons about having no exceptions, going with the flow, and trusting to the spirits that I will be taken care of.
LXIX. 5 November 2004, Taos, NM
Back in Taos, now, just after nightfall. Mixed feelings: I love being on the road, so it's sort of a collapse to be back. Back "home" in the camper. Have domestic chores to do there, and groceries to acquire before I drive up the hill for the night; tasks for the coming winter. Was it all worth it? Is it still worth it? Should I stay or should I go?
Has anything changed since I've been gone? I have been changed by the experience; I have not been changed. Everything's different; nothing's different.
Back in New Mexico, land of the fee and home of the wageslave, is anything different? Are there any more prospects for Getting A Life here than there were before I left? How long will it take? Is it even worth it to try? Should I just go to Chicago and get it all over with?
Actually, all I have ambition for tonight is curling up with a movie, or something equally brainless. It's going to take awhile to integrate this whole trip. I have thank-yous to write and contacts to follow up with. And people to contact, and hopefully a cheque or two to deposit.
I miss the Big Empty. I miss the silence and the solitude. Even though the Void is there, it's a place where you can hear yourself think. There, you know you are different and alone; are ephemeral; are small in the scheme of things; are who you are. Yes, you have to fight to keep your faith, to even find faith. Yet finding faith there is as easy as being alone: it's everywhere, the land itself calls it forth. Elijah in the desert for forty days and forty nights. But the nattering of humans and the TV back here is painful to be around, and no one but me seems to notice it; the whole culture feels soured, people keep talking about the goddamned elections, and you just want to run back to the desert for a few weeks more silence.
It's going to take me a least a few days to go through the photos I took on this trip: a treasure trove of imagery. I can barely imagine how many images there are to look through. I want to rush through, and I also want to take my time. It may take months. The art is already there, just waiting for me to do as Michelangelo suggested: just remove all the rock that isnn't the statue. Chipping away.
LXVIII. 5 November 2004, Albuquerque, NM
After spending the night at a friend's place in Las Cruces last night, I am on the last leg back to Taos. I have very mixed feelings: exhausted from driving all these distances, wondering if anything was worth it while knowing objectively that it was, wanting to get back "home" to the camper to sleep in tomorrow, even if it's cold outside. I'm eating french onion soupcomfort foodin the Flying Star café in ABQ, where there are too many people and it's too noisy right now. I'm tired enough, driving, that I chose to stop here, anxious as I am to get back to my camper in Arroyo Hondo, because I wish to avoid accidents and mistakes on the road.
Really sick of too many people in the metropolitansABQ being no exception at the moment. Feeling kinda pissy about humans in general, actually: our little self-involved games and concerns, none of which really matter in the long run. So, folks, you know ... get over it. Life will continue to go on, regardless of how big or little all the dramas are.
Me, I'd rather live my life focused on the Infinte and the Mystery, even while dealing with the mundane as necessary. I'm neither the best at living by society's unspoken rules nor the worst at living outside those systems of conformity and cooptation. You don't have to be a monk and withdraw from the world not to get caught up in the Tribal-level dramas. You can simply choose to acknowledge them without buying into them. The radio stations are still full of talk, puzzled or moaning or gloating, about the elections earlier this week. The truth is: no one knows why or what or how: it is all speculation and hot air. As before the elections, so it is after. As long as things continue on the way they have, with no real systemtic change, no real change will happen: too many are invested in the status quo, and fear change. As long as all sides are Washington insiders, don't expect too much variety.
In truth, as the Millenial Fevre lingers after the Millenium itself changed over, and as I have been predicting since, oh, 1974 or so, the turbulence before and after the Millemium took several years to build up and will take several years to wane. All of this is part of the turbulence. There are indeed slow, basic changes occurring on the global levelbut they are easily missed amidst the drama of local details. (I choose to use my Eagle totem to soar up and get an overview. Mice and weasels, and even elephants and donkeys, are shortsighted by comparison.) And the truth is, the turbluence may linger a few more decades. The basic shifts in paradigms from the old guard (often represented by the religious right) to the new (not at all represented by the liberal left, frankly, which are just the mirror of the religious right, in the way that atheists are usually little more than anti-whoever) is underway: but it is vaster than empires, and more slow. You may not notice it in your lifetime, although the evidence is there. Some of the best evidence is the ongoing exploration by many quiet groups pursuing true alternativesthird options, as it wereand without fanfare living their lives with no allegiance to the old empires. Most of these groups don't speak up in public much, or on the media: they just quietly act, and stand their ground. Don't expect any of them to comment much on the elections: for many of them, anything happening on that scale has long since become irrelevant. It's more than alienation from the system, though: it's doingn things so differently, that the existing systems aren't even pertinent to way these live their lives.
Save the fanfares for the rubes.
LXVII. 4 November 2004, rest stop, Highway 10, east of Tucson, AZ
I woke up yesterday feeling disgruntled: irritable, short-tempered, unhappy. Felt that way most of the day. Was not pleased with the hotel. I didn't like Palm Springs, There are some beautiful views there, palm trees climbing the sky in front of the surrounding hills, but I don't like the cultural feel of the place, corrupted by Hollywood's money and attitude; there are roads there named after Gene Autry and Frank Sinatra and Monty Hall, among others. (Let's make a deal! Land for sale!) Driving into town, billboards advertise new condo developments starting at 300 hundred thousand. The cheaper condos are still 200 thousand. Spas everywhere, taking advantage of the thermal hot springs that rise to the surface here, fueled by magmatic heating of groundwater in this area near the San Andreas strike-slip fault zone. When you look at the area from a geologic perspective, all the money here, all the power and influence and wealth, is all a puff of vapour in the grand scheme of things: as ephemeral as mist in the desert.
My irritability lasted all day and into the night. Later, I called up Sage while driving past Phoenix, and he had had a similar day. I wonder now if I wasn't doing detox from being in the overpopulated metropolitan for several days. As much as I enjoyed it, it was stressful and exhausting: too many people, too much driving. Or perhaps we were both doing global-channel detox, clearing and dumping the negativities of others, after all the buildup to and fallout from the Presidential election. (Maybe now companies will start hiring people again, since they always seem to wait till after an election, to see which way the wind blows.)
But there were some good aspects to the day:
In the morning light, I saw what I hadn't the night before: at the mouth of the canyon, where the winds tunnel, there are huge wind farms in the desert. Giant rotors turning with stately grace in the breeze, snow-covered alpine peaks above them. I drove up from Palm Springs on the back roads towards Morongo and Yucca Canyons, towards the west entrance to Joshua Tree, and the road led right past the wind farm. I stopped several times to take photos, and there was a tour bus fishing this same waters: organized tours of the wind farms, who'd have thought of it?
I spent most of the afternoon in Joshua Tree National Park; something of a detour but well worth it. I felt calmed and soothed and healed during the day there. It wasn't just the Joshua trees themselves, in their alien beauty (they're actually a type of lily, genus Yucca), or the fields of cholla cactus, or the long fingers of ocotillo cactus reaching for the moon. It wasn't just the clear mountain air and light again, after days in the populated metro.
It was the silence.
I pulled over several times and got out of the truck to take pictures. No other people around, just the desert landscape, an arcane forest of Joshua trees spreading across the plateau towards the hills. All in complete silence.
The silence was soothing, comforting, relaxing. After the surge and noise of the metro, a balm. My ears welcomed it, straining to hear the smallest sound. I pulled into a day-use recreation area that had picnic tables and grills, and finally used the supplies I'd been hauling around in the cooler, to make myself a big, celebratory meal: lemon chicken curry, with potatoes and onions, sparkling apple juice, home-made lemonade. Food always tastes better when cooked over a wood fire. Plenty of small kindling lying around; deadfall in the desert doesn't decay, it just dries out. Then I sat there and ate my meal in the silence, my only companions a large black beetle and a finch or plover who came to investigate the scraps.
The rock here weathers into rounded boulders, making bizarre stacked shapes and unearthly ridges that look crushed by a giant's hand. From a distance I wondered if was sandstone similar to the Entrada, but far less homogenous. It turned out, on close inspection, to be a pinkish granite, with big crystals that weather rough rather than taking a polish, and chip off to cover the ground here everywhere with coarse sand that crunches underfoot wherever you walk. Rich in minerals, good pseudo-soil for this desert ecosystem.
Behind the day-use area where I make my meal, there is an open plateau, with more joshua trees foresting off towards the hills. I walk around a little, keeping to the granite as much as possible. Since arches seem to be the theme this journey, there's another back there.
Driving off the plateau as the sun began to gild the landscape, you come down in one area through the center of huge garden of cholla: weird forms, pampas-yellow on top, fading to black near the ground in many cases, reaching for the light of other worlds, other climes. It's easy to believe, standing in the midst of them, that they were planted here by beings from elsewhere. Further on, stands of ocotillo cactus, which look like 15 or 20 foot tall clumps of distorted green chopsticks planted in clusters of ten or more. Behind them, the hills take on a reddish mottled look, as the granite gives way to redbeds. Then you cut through one last canyon, and there, nestled on the plain, is Highway 10 again.
The highway runs flat and straight from there all the way to eastern Arizona. I got to the Colorado River, the border between California and Arizona, right at sunset, the terminator line creeping up the sky, purpling the hills in the distance. I kept driving, though, on into the dusk and gathering night. I wasn't ready to stop. I wanted to get as far across Arizona as possible before stopping for the night. I was still feeling irritable, and used it fuel the drive.
I was glad I drove through what they call the Golden Corridor in Arizona after dark: the area between Phoenix and Tucson, with all the retirement homes, golf courses (an aquifer-depleting absurdity inn the middle of a desert), and their related cultural trash.
One moment of spine-tingling beauty: As I drive, letting my feelings be what they are without trying to change them or suppress them, and listening to shamanic music to keep me going (Prof. Trance & the Energizers: Shaman's Breath)suddenly a meteor splits the sky right where I am looking. It is dead ahead, right over the road. It streaks across fully half of the sky, and pulsates as it turns. (If it were outgassing more strongly from one side than another, and rotating as it fell, it would pulse like that.) Then with a last bright flair, very close to the horizon, it disappeared: leaving me shaken and vulnerable, my hair standing on end.
This morning, after sleeping in the truck at the rest stop, surrounded by many other vehicles whose drivers were doing the same thing, I wake to see more granite of the same type as at Joshua Tree: slightly pinkish, weathering into weird shapes, leaving coarse tan sand everywhere. Either the same formation or a related lithology, I am guessing.
I feel better this morning. It got cold in the wee hours, and I covered myself with my wool coat. But my mood is better today, and now I'm glad I still have a little bit of Arizona left to see in the daylight before I get back to New Mexico. I am driving to Las Cruces today to meet someone and hopefully spend the night before heading north up past Albuquerque and Santa Fe towards Taos.
Oh yeah, one last little tidbit: When I approached this rest stop, where I had been planning on sleeping the rest of the night, construction workers were blocking the offramp into the stop. It wasn't closed, they were just blocking the road. Well, I was tired, it was almost midnight, I'd been driving for almost 12 hours (with breaks at Joshua Tree), and it really pissed me off. I had to drive up to the next exit, turn around on the highway, use the restroom on the other side, then go back down the highway, turn around again, and finally get into the rest stop going east, the right direction. The construction idiots were gone by then. All of this happened between the Dragoon and Johnson St. exits on Highway 10, east of Benton, AZ, in a high pass called Texas Canyon. What I kept thinking to myself was: Once again, screwed over by Texas.
LXVI. 3 November 2004, Palm Springs, CA
Okay, I admit it: once I got over the hump of arrival, I thoroughly enjoyed myself in Los Angeles. I met several people face to face who I had known (virtually) for years over the internet, both the Chapmans and several pagan friends. I went around yesterday to a couple of places that might carry my shamanic artwork, were very complementary about it, and even if all they carry is notecards, the word will be getting out, and people will be seeing my work. It could be the foot in the door that I need. So, I will be going back to LA after all; if not this year, then early next year. I actually liked it. And as for the traffic, I didn't experience anything (so far) any worse than driving in Chicago or Minneapolis: big city traffic is big city traffic.
Driving into Hollywood to see one of my friends and then go to Bodhi Tree, a huge metaphysical bookstore on Melrose Ave., I drove past (or on) certain streets famous in both pop culture media and song. At Sunset Boulevard, think of the classic movie, my favorite film noir movie narrated by the dead guy, and of the Lynn Miles song:
There's a body on the beach
but it doesn't make the news
it's sweeps month here
and nobody wants to lose.
He didn't have connections
didn't even own a car
so it ain't worth reporting
'cause he's not a superstar,
yeah, yeah . . .
And how can one drive down Melrose without thinking, however briefly, of a certain bad TV show. Then on the Hollywood Freeway, I think of Tom Waits' song Frank's Wild Years: Never could stand that dog.
So, I did my artistic search duty, and came up with a couple of good possibilities. (Including one in Pasadena.) I didn't get to Venice Beach this time, or a couple of other places, but I made note of them, and I'll get to them next trip. Meanwhile, some applications from afar can still be initiated. (I also need to re-apply at a terrific small gallery I know in Grand Marais, MN, on the Lake Superior north shore.)
Sunset light in LA was everything you could hope for the last two days of good weather. Two beautiful SoCal days in a row; good timing, I guess.
I am getting tired of driving and driving and driving now, though. It's time to good homewards and stop for now. I really wanted to visit the Grand Canyon this trip, but it would two days to the trip at this point, and so I will postpone it till a little later. I am not afraid of winter driving in the mountains: it just requires care and caution and supplies, no worse than winter driving in Minnesota or Wisconsin.
So, last night, to get this journey homewards kick-started, I drove for a couple of hours to the Palm Springs area. I got here at 11pm, but it took a full hour to find the hotel for which I had a coupon, and when I did they were closed for the night and didn't answer the phone; so I found another, slightly more expensive hotel, with another coupon. But here, they charge even for local phone calls, so the email I had not been able to do for three days was still a rush job, not the leisurely relaxing task I had wanted it to be. This is a frustrating hotel, all in all; not bad, just stupid. I mostly wanted a hotel so I could get online; and even that was made more difficult than it's necessary to be. Palm Springs itself, on first impressions, seems a wealthy leisure community, full of wealth but lacking substance. Maybe in the morning it will look a little prettier; I don't know.
The TV on last night as I typed (as I unwound from driving), all election coverage and infomercials. Now, perhaps, all those economic problems that have been on hold for months while people held their breaths for the electionas though it were the Apocalypsewill finally realize that life must go on, and unfreeze their assets and start hiring people again.
Dropping expectations: that's the recurring theme again to all this.
So, today, to assuage my missing the Grand Canyon, I plan to spend some time this morning in Joshua Tree National Park. It's literally right here. (Had I had the fortitude, or been less tired, I might have tried to go to the park and camp last night. But I really needed to do email.)
LXV. 1 November 2004, Woodland Hills, CA
I'm sitting at Stick Enterprises, listening to Emmett Chapman play one of his new prototype Sticks. Emmett is the inventor and manufacturer of the Chapman Stick Touchboard, my principal instrument nowadays; an instrument I have come to love and feel at least proficient enough on to convey much of what I musically want to convey.
Today has been a pilgrimage of sorts: to Stick Enterprises. After yesterday's level of trauma around travel and so forth, this has been a fantastic day. Emmett and Yuta Chapman are terrific and generous people. They took myself and Vance Gloster, another Stickista, out to dinner, and then invited me to sleep on their spare couch when they found out I had no other place to spend the night. Vance and Emmett and I just spent a couple of hours after dinner trying out Sticks and talking philosophy and physics and spirituality before bedyou know, the usual, for me.
I drove from Ventura to Woodland Hills in the morning after a cup of tea at that same café in Ventura. The early morning light here today was crisp and cool, with occasional periods of high winds: a perfect fall day. Even leaves were whirling in the wind in some neighborhoods, between the wild tall palms. Is it the wind that moves the flag, or the flag that moves the wind? Neither: it is the mind. I drove in on 101, and just went with the traffic flow: less insane than I had imagined, in fact no worse really than Chicago or Minneapolis, at least in my experience so far.
When I showed up at SE, I was given the guided tour and then got to try out several new prototype instruments, including a lacquered composite-material Stick I really liked a lot, and the first two new Alto Sticks, with different pickups. We spent a long time talking and chatting, the warm fall sunlight flooding in the wide windows. Their house here is built into the side of a cliff, surrounded by trees, with wide windows that let in large views filled with greenery and blue sky: a very inspiring setting.
Then in the mid-afternoon I went to meet and talk with a pagan friend of mine, someone I've known for some time via internet but hadn't met before in person. We met at a combination office center and shopping plaza in Sherman Oaks. I had a really pleasant time; it was a talk between peers, friends, and working companions. There are not many people that I can talk to about some aspects of my life, so I treasure it when I can. Having peers keeps one centered and balanced in ways that are mutually beneficial.
Then I drove back to SE for dinner; we went to an excellent Italian restaurant not too far from here, place the Chapmans frequent regularly, and have taken more than one visiting Stickista to.
It's interesting how the days go: one dark, one filled with light. The hoary cliché says: It's always darkest before the dawn. I mislike clichés, but this one has some truth in it. In fact, the evidence is in the amplitude, the range of highs and lows that I experience from time to time. I am learning that whenever something bad seems to happen, a loss of some kind, or delay or error, something even better comes along in its place, and you end up qualitatively ahead, even when you don't know how to get out of the crisis pit yet. I'm still learning this lesson: I get trapped in the pit with the ant lions; but I climb out faster than ever, now, with shorter tours through frustration and anger. It's a work in progress.
Driving here so far hasn't really been that bad. The lesson is, again: remove expectations, and attachments to outcomes. 24 hours ago, had you asked me, I would have said I was never going to visit here again; now, I would say I am. There are now contacts here I have, and good reason to visit. Should my gallery-hunting prospects tomorrow prove eventually fruitful, all the more reason to visit. (Just make sure you have a place to stay at, planned out, next time.)
Channels of media: modes of communication, channels for the passage of life-force to blow through you (like a little hollow bone) to ignite creativity in you. Modes of being that invite the daimon to enter; spirits of change, yes, but also of evolution. We evolve by mutation. We also evolve in the noösphere, as de Chardin described: that new layer of consciousness and interconnectivity made possible by our invented technologies such as the Web.
How you conceptualize is limited by what you can perceive. Sometimes we simply do not see what is there in front of us, because we cannot conceive of its existence: our filters prevent us from perceiving those states of being outside our mindset.
LXIV. I November 2004, Ventura, CA
Spent the night parked on the beach after all, at Rincon Beach just west of Ventura. The sound of the highway and the waves mingled. Slept in the truck. In the morning, a park ranger came by and said, Did you know this area is RV parking only? I told him something close to the truth: I had been tired and pulled over to nap for a couple of hours. He said he would tear up the ticket he had written up, then, for which I expressed proper gratitude.
After he leaves, I get out of the car to stretch. Sleeping in my clothes is not the best thing for keeping up appearances. In the morning light, a plover works the waves nearby. Across the ocean, the Channel Islannds are blue in the distance.
I hate LA, and I guess LA hates me back. Let's see how much I can accomplish today, then move on. I still can't get my email at this stupid café, so I'll try to get it later, elsewhere. LA is expensive. I refuse to take a hotel here. If I don't have a place to stay at tonight, I will just start driving, and nap at a rest stop on Highway 10, headed west. For the first time on this broad loop, I feel like going back to Taos. Maybe it's LA; probably it is. The beach and roads this morning are presences in the early morning light. No shortage of pretty people here, either. I'm not even going to try to fit in, or modify myself: the pretty people are still outnumbered by the rest of us.
In the morning light, a libation of apple juice and bread to the Goddess. Happy New Year! I do the shortest offering and ritual ever. The totem for the year is already one of my principal totems: Eagle. Spirit. The bridge that soars. An affirmation, perhaps, that I am on the right path still. But also the Eagle's gift to the people, from Castenada: not an easy gift, but like making alliance with Death: presence of the sacred, but no guarantees on this warrior's path. You'll still have to strive for it.
So, I sit and drink the tea I ordered. I simplify and slow down my plans. Most especially my expectations. All those that I carried yesterday, that were messing me up, now dropped. Drop all expectations: take each day as it comes. Another lesson. (And a little annoyance about it, since I've been there, done that, lots of times.)
LXIII. 31 October 2004, Ventura, CA
A shorter day's drive today. Only 200 miles, after yesterday's 300 miles. We talked more today, then had a meal, so I didn't hit the road till mid-afternoon. Mostly drove on Highway 101, with a short side trip on Highway 1 from Pismo Beach down through the cultivated plains and open farmlands. Arrived at Santa Barbara at sunset, then drove on to Ventura. I plan to camp on the beach tonight, alone. I want to do quiet ritual, by myself. Meanwhile, I'm sitting in an internet café on Main St. where the WifFi network refuses to log anybody on. Supposedly someone will be here to look at it shortly, but I'm frustrated with technology and communications bullshit after a day or so of nothing but crap; my patience is wearing thin. I need to connect to people tomorrow, to make plans and meet up, and I also need to look up some maps; so this is really frustrating at the moment. I'll give it a little time, then blow it off. If I don't connect with people tonight, then either I will tomorrow or it just won't happen. Only so much technological crap I'm going to put with tonight. (Is Mercury in retrograde again? I don't really care: I just don't want to deal with it. It just doesn't need to be this difficult or draining.)
Ambivalent about being here. This is definitely Southern California. I want to do my business, then move on back towards the Southwest. I can handle camping, even winter camping, in the middle of nowhere, but there are just too many people here. Ventura is on the edge of the metro area; theoretically it's another 25 miles to LA, but it's cityscape all the way down from here. Ventura itself has a funky feel, kinda fun; streets running up the hill from the main drag, which is at beach level, reminds me a little of Duluth in summertime.
I took fewer photos today, the land just doesn't interest me as much. The humaniform geography overlaying the actual landforms is much less interesting: I'd rather look at outcrops than pink motels made out of faux adobe. Parts of the road are very beautiful, but I don't feel like stopping. Some shots of alpenglow on the mountains in the pass before Santa Barbara, when you come over the coastal rangeyounger, rougher here in spots, with heavy banding and foldingfrom the central valley. The road immediately goes to oceanside, where it stays the rest of the way here, a rolling ribbon of heavily-trafficked asphalt. The land of cars. The land of Hollyweird. So much here is beautiful, but so much is also false: what do you believe? Who do you believe?
Can I make this work? I have no idea. I come out of the cellular dead zones to several voicemail messages, (And now I can't connect online, now that I'm here: frustrating.) I am trying to do my own work, to further my life, and frankly I don't have energy and attention to call everyone back right now: bad timing. It takes all my energy just to be in LA, and all of it to maintain myself here safely. Warrior's attention, warily standing guard. I refuse to drive any further today, or get a hotel, even if I end up sleeping in the car. Well, I'll give this a few more minutes, then had back to the beach and scout a place to sleep for the night. I had a bottle of wine, but I left it in San Francisco; but in Paso Robles at the grocery store I found Kristian Regale, the Swedish apple sparkler that I first had in Minnesota, and which I really love; it will serve, although I really wanted wine.
Wine with pasta dinner last night was good; and we stayed up late talking, very late. In the early morning, when I first woke, the area was locked in with heavy fog: glowing pearlescent white and thick, eventually burning off towards noon. Since then, it has been a sunny, cloudless, clear day.
People here walking around in costumes, and at the pubs along the street: Halloween dress-up. The usual SoCal freak show, in miniature. Well, tomorrow the freak show begins for real, for as long as I can stand it. All the pretty people. (Where do they all come from?)
There's a jukebox in this café but it's too loud. I need to make a phone call, and I can't do it here. Fuck this goddamn shit! It doesn't need to be this difficult; it's just the Universe being incredibly, pointlessly obstructionist and stupid. I don't care if it's still the same message to Slow Down, or to drop expedctations. I am allotting myself one full day and two nights in the Los Angeles area, at most. If I can't hook up with people in that time, if the internet fairies are being uncooperative, then I just won't hook up. I've given it every chance, and warned people I was driving this way numerous times, and gave them my phone number. If it doesn't work to connect, then we just won't connect. Period. I don't like it here nearly enough to let my patience get stretched any further.
I wonder if this leg of the journey is even worth it. Not feeling very positive about galleries or anything else, frankly. I know I'm swearing a lot tonight: but I am just that frustrated. I am sick to death of beating my head against these walls. I don't care right now if it's quitting, or giving up, or whatever: some efforts are wasted efforts. If they don't work here, then they don't work here. I. Do. Not. Give. A. Damn.
LXII. 30 October 2004, Paso Robles, CA
Having lunch at a roadside stop just north of Santa Cruz. Sandwiches, and the fresh lemonade I made this morning before leaving. Downloading photos so I can take more this afternoon.
I drove over the Oakland Bay Bridge. Unlike every other day here so far, there was no traffic blockage by the bridge: the traffic flowing smooth and easy, so I decided to cross over to SF this way. Took the 101 down from town, then cut over to 280 via 380, through the tree-shrouded hills on the peninsula south of town. Up into the hills of tomorrow. Then west on Highway 92 towards the coast and Highway 1, climbing to the crest of the coastal range, these rounded, older hillsolder than the rising thrust of the Sierra Nevada, the westernmost edge of the basin and Range. Then plummeting switchbacks to Half Moon Bay, a resort and retirement town, half beaches, two or three ridiculous golf courses, and lots of cheap housing on the wrong side of the tracks. Who lives here? The highest and the lowest. The CEO and the surfer. Perhaps they all mingle in these same waves.
Turning onto Highway 1 at Half Moon, the sky threatening rain, I drove out of the last of the cityscape and onto the Scenic Highway: now, trees line the road, but the ocean is a magnificent view at every corner, every turn. Always nearby. I see a hawk seated on a fencepost as I drive south: another steady companion, my hawk for the day. Later, other hawks circle the thermals on the bluffs inland. A single heron flies to the sea, floating overhead. At the beach, gulls and plovers and starlings.
Now I am driving on the Pacific plate, the west side of the San Andreas Fault. The rocks here are a different lithology, offset by miles from the North American Plate.
Transitions, borders, liminalities. The morning cloud cover, sharp-edged, comes to an end abruptly, and now I drive in the sun. Taking off layers, sweaters and jackets, after putting them on when I reached the coast, with tits cold wind off the ocean. Now, off to the west over the ocean, the line of clouds still marks a sharp boundary, while here it is becomes bright and sunny and windy, a classic California fall afternoon. It's a Saturday, so the roads are busy with day-trippers and gaudy-clad bicyclists. I pass by beach after beach; under clouds, people with picnic lunches and pullovers; under clear skies, surfers pulling off their shirts and pulling on their drysuits, before plunging into the cold, heavy waves. Many beaches are not for swimming, because of recurring riptides.
I am always marking boundaries: walking their edges. My life always half in this world, half in the other. This time of year the veils between the worlds at their thinnest. Halloween tomorrow. Pumpkins for sale everywhere by the roadside. Hundreds, thousands, of orange pumpkins, all sizes and shapes, and a corn maze in a farmer's field below.
On the beach at Waddell Creek, sailboards, and surfers using parasail kites to pull them through the waves at high speed. 20 or so playing in the waves. Everything always moving.
The beach at Pescadero State Beach, and the nature reserve there, one of the most beautiful places I've seen on the Pacific coast so far. Another small arch in the promontory over the park. (Arches everywhere I go on this journey.) On top, a canyon in miniature, rounded into the soft sedimentary rocks here: siltstones, sandstones, shales. The waves and wind weathering them. Clambering over outcrops to take photos, then down to the beach; the soft, loose rock crumbles easily, making these coastal cliffs unsafe; my pants scuffed and shaded tan and red and umber by the dirt as I climb. An hour of windy, wet beauty.
Santa Cruz in the late afternoon was reminiscent of other seaside resort towns I've visited: fresh air, clear light, and a nice vibe. It felt relaxed and open. I pulled into a rest stop to stretch my legs, and discovered it was probably a gay cruising spot. Other men were there, and disappeared into the woods.
A second beautiful place on the coastal road, south of the Monterey Peninsula: beginning just south of Carmel, the coastal range goes right to the sea, a direct plunge. On the cliffs of Carmel highlands, five-million-dollar homes. I pull over to take a photo, and above me is a house with four people on a balcony: cocktail hour, black formal clothes, conviviality. Lifestyles of the rich and pointless. But the landscapes of some of these houses look like exquisite seaside Japanese gardens.
On the headlands further south, the setting sun spotlights the sea through gaps in the clouds like the fingers of God. There is a photographer with a 8 inch view camera shooting down the headland, missing what I saw because he wasn't fast enough: the movements of Spirit.
I reached Big Sur around sunset. I continued driving down the coast for an hour after dark, which was another Void experience: hairpin turns at 20 miles per hour, with a hundred foot drop to the ocean on one side and steep cliffs on the other. You either fall to your doom or crash against a solid wall of sedimentary rocks. It was a stressful drive, that made me tense. Turn after turn at low speed, clutching the wheel: slow progress. And then there are the, well, Things running across the road, as usual this time of year. It's All Hallow's, and the walls between the worlds are at their thinnest.
But I made it here, to my friends' rural home, after calling for directions: wine country inland over the coastal range. Outside, frogs that sound like ducks; coyotes moving through making the dogs bark; ground squirrels everywhere.
Some stress about this leg of the journey. I'd like to be quick and fast in LA, but it will probably take longer than planned, as has everything else on this trip. Driving today was beautiful, but after dark it turned stressful and tiring. I am staying up late talking with friends; a little anxiety insomnia. But then, however far I get tomorrow will enough. Monday I can do LA errands, and maybe Tuesday; then move on. I want to stop at Joshua Tree National Park on the way back to New Mexico; then the Grand Canyon. Camping from now on, if at all possible.
I have envisioned being alone and naked by the ocean's side, making offering and prayer to Spirit, with wine and bread. Scrying for the next year's energy to be worked with. On the Day of the Dead, when the Year too dies.... All this becomes what is real, when what is real becomes the veil. (I think too of nudity when seeing barebacked surfers carrying their boards over the trails to the oceanside. How our post-Puritan culture is so messed up about sexuality, so repressedexcept in places like California here, where body acceptance is more common, more progressive. How nudity is always sensual although not always sexual. The confusions of prudery. The terrors of embodiment.)
LXI. 29 October 2004, San Francisco, CA
Went into the City again today. It started out cool and cloudy, then the sun came out. I rode the BART reading John McPhee's Basin and Range. Had lunch and a nice time talking with one of my Radical Faerie friends, Heron. Ate at an excellent Thai hole in the wall place on Valencia. Walking back to the BART station on Misson St., dodging the dark parts of humanity on these streets; don't make eye contact, walk with a sense of purpose.
I wanted to go to the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park, but I didn't make it there this week. Some days I just didn't get moving fast enough to get it all done. And tomorrow I begin driving down the coast towards Los Angeles. A journey by the sea. Time traveling through the geologic record. Sea-spray and salt and surfers: boiz and gulls.
This evening I met and jammed music with two fellow Stick players, in San Leandro. We played for awhile, freeform open jams, grooves and solos. Then we went to a nearby Mexican restaurant for a a snack and a beer; I had chile rellenos and a chicken burrito, excellent food, too much food to finish. Then we went back and played some more: some nice jams. Whenever you play this way, you end up pulling things out of yourself musically that you wouldn't stumble across on your own: the joys of collaboration. I had a really good time doing this, and am really grateful for it. I am too tired tonight to load the truck, so I think I will hit hte hot tub one last time, then get up early to pack and go. It won't take long at all to load up.
But before I go to bed, now, I want to make key lime pie: my gift to my hosts for this week of having a place to stay, and a home base from which to have these adventures. Sweets for the sweet.
LX. 28 October 2004, San Francisco, CA
This morning, had an interview with a graphics firm in San Leandro. We ended up talking for a long time, and I was very encouraged. It may lead to nothing, but it is also potentially a terrific connection, and good people to get to know. Regardless, I had fun.
The past few days have felt like a vacation, a pause in between the focus and work and self-marketing that has been my life for months and years. Or so it feels. Los Angeles isn't necessarily going to be fun, it will be work: work, as defined as making something more of my life and art than it has so far been, by seeking to manifest an outlet for my art.
Los Angeles doesn't scare me, but it intimidates me. Moments of self-doubt. How am I supposed to make this work? I have no idea. It's all faith. I keep reminding myself of this. Sometimes I can even believe it.
I mean, at the moment: I'm three days away from my camper, ny home on wheels, and I don't at the moment have enough money to get back there. Something has to fall into my lap, in order to make it there. I don't know what that will be. I never know. Faith means, simply, knowing that something will come up that will help me, and get me where I'm supposed to be, and get me back to my base. Something will happen. My constant challenge is being okay with not knowing what.
There's an Inuit word I first encountered in the terrific SF novel China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh: perlororneq. The closest English equivalent, although there is no exact translation, would be wintermind. Here's what Barry Lopez has to say about it in Arctic Dreams:
The darker side of the human spirit is not refined away by civilization. It is not something we are done with. Eskimo people, in my experience, have, still, a sober knowledge of their capacity for for violence, but are reluctant to speak of it to whites because they have been taught that these are the emotions, the impulses, of primitives. We confuse the primitive with the inability to understand how a light bulb works. We confuse the primitive with being deranged. What is truly primitive in us and them, savage hungers, ethical dereliction, we try to pass over; or we leave them, alone, to be changed. They can humiliate you with a look that says they know better.
In the modern ironies of a remote villagesatellite televising of game shows, a small boy wearing a Harvard sweatshirt, pasts for dinner with cloth napkins, after a sermon in the Baptist church about the scourges of Communismeven here, especially here, it is possible to catch a glimpse, usually in the preparation for a hunt, of the former power, the superhuman strength and unflinching intensity, of the angakoq. He is an intermediary with darkness. He has qaumaneq, the shaman light, the luminous fire, the inexplicable searchlight that enables him to see in the dark, literally and metaphorically. He reaches for the throat of darkness; that is the primitive, as primitive as an explosion of blood. Our hunting, in the welter of gore, of impetuous shooting, that heady mixture of joy and violence, sometimes it is possible for an outsider to feel the edge of the primitive. Unbridled, it is frightening. It also defeats starvation. And in its enthusiasm for the concrete events of life, it can defeat what weighs against the heart and soul.
Winter darkness brings on the extreme winter depression the Polar Eskimos call perlororneq. According to the anthropologist Jean Malaurie, the means to feel "the weight of life." To look ahead to all that must be accomplished and to retreat to the present feeling defeated, weary before starting, a core of anger, a miserable sadness. It is to be "sick of life: a man named Imina told Malaurie. The victim tears fitfully at his clothing. A woman begins aimlessly slashing at things in the iglo with her knife. A person runs half naked into the bitter freezing night, screaming out at the village, eating the shit of the dogs. Eventually, the person is clamed by others in the family, with great compassion, and helped to sleep. Perlororneq. Winter.
This is precisely what I think it means to own one's own Shadow: you can't run from it, you can't suppress it, you have to integrate it into your whole, so that it does not possess you. I have spent a lot of time in the darknesswhich alienates some peoplebut it's in the service of knowing myself. I contain a great capacity for violence, as do many others; I choose to let it out into the open air, sometimes, so that it does not own me instead.
This is the shamanic and Tantric alchemy: to own all that which is dark and scary in oneself, so as to be free. Free to heal, free to live outside the village (outside the conventioanl rules of Tribal snivellization), free to be authentic, true, and real. Nothing less will do.
But, as Lopez continues:
No summer is long enough to take away the winter. The winter always comes. You try to get a feeling for the proportions of a full life, one that confronts everything. An animal dies. You face two central, philsophical questions: What is death, and what is the nature of an animal?
This is something you have to learn to live with. Hope and faith and charity all seem illusory before its onslaught. Nothing seems to matter, or even to exist as real, tangible, solid. You can see through matter to the emptiness at the heart of the Universe; the atom is mostly empty space, after all.
Sometimes it becomes an actual, authentic battle: a fight with the darkness. Wrestling with the angel of death and light: I shall not let thee go until thou blesst me! You have to fight for your very survival. This may be demanded of you. Civilized people nver face these fights, unless they are able, or somehow forced, to shed that crust of hardened propriety, and let out their innermost fighting spirits. You can't refine it away, and be done with itin fact, you need this inner primitive survival instinct in order to live. It can be your ally, and help you preserve yourself. But to obtain it and integrate it, you must sacrifice those parts of yourself that care what others thinks of you, that urge you to fit in to the group, to lose one's individual will to the mass instincts of the Tribe. Resisting this can itself be an ongoing battle.
How much of myself must I shed to be what I am? How many layers of concreted, encrusted conformity plastered over my birth-soul must be released to scale away like lichen falling off granite? How can I become what I already am? The Zen command goes: Show me your original face from before you were born! Do you not see it, there, hiding under the elm and jasper? Here it is, too, in the spontaneous, instant wakefulness of a drowsing cat noticing a vole running along the baseboards. Your original face, before you were born: before all that social conditioning was applied; before school and office and the Status Quo brainwashed you into beieving it has always been this way, and always will be, when nothing is more permanent than change: impermance and uncertainty, the foundations of being, the fish in the stream upon whose backs we walk and call our walking solid ground.
LIX. 27 October 2004, San Francisco, CA
Drove up the coast to Goat Cove beach where the Russian River runs into the Pacific Ocean at Jenner, CA. A beautiful clear day after a night of hard rain. The afternoon sky blue, with just a few high clouds. Surprisingly warm. The wind coming of the high surf made clouds of spray over everything, but out of the wind, in the sun, it was warm.
Stayed there till just before sunset, photographing and spending time with the Ocean. That sound of heavy rollers breaking on the gravel beach. The undertow, the steep drop off. In the distance, over the waves, a storm on the horizon covers the sun, which goes to molten gold when it sets into the sea, hissing steam. The pelagic fields of night.
Looking at the rocks, as I have been doing all through this trip. These rocks here were once ocean spreading seafloor: they're diabase laced with sheeted dikes of gabbro. Ophiolites: part of the sequence of lithographies that gave evidence for the theory of plate tectonics. I read John McPhee's Assembling California before leaving Taos; it had been on the stack for a month or so; and was a real page-turner, a geologic detective story.
The sand here forms a spit and breakwater almost choking the tidal estuary of the Russian River. Upstream, mergansers ply the clear green waters. On the hills above, tall pampas-colored stalks of papyrus reed blow in the sea-wind, brushing the night's hair with iridescennt combs.
In the shallows, dry-suited body surfers wait for the best waves. One young man, on shore between cars in the parking lot, changing out of dry suit back into street clothes, muscled torso of a young god. Truly, this is California. Above the hills, a lone parasailer soars and hovers. I stalk with camera, and catch him hovering above the arched window outcrop a quarter mile to sea. Arches everywhere this week: dry desert sandstone, wet cold shattered ophiolitic pelagic serpentine.
gull chase and scatter: winged cloak of seafoam.
turning and turning, the curl. wavelick, plunder, roar.
hills of twilight, opening arched gates between worlds: tectonic.
we are the backs of pelicans, winged angels of fisherfolk dead.
the sea is made of light: sun descending. everywhere there are lightenings.
I know that some of today's photos will be among the best from this trip. I was able to get into that camera-walk headspace: non-attached: what Frederick Franck calls seeing/drawing, where the mind does not interfere with the vision being transferred into the artistry. That space so well described by the best philosophical book on photography I have ever read: Robert Leverant's Zen in the Art of Photography. (Long out of print; perhaps someday the author will choose to reprint this little book, as every photographer deserves the chance to read it.) Here's a couple of quotes from it:
The pursuit of photography is also a pursuit of will, of making us masters of ourselves so that under any conditions, including sickness and fatigue, and under the fall of rain, snow, earthquake, or sunshine, we can wield our instruments with the delicate lightning of a Samurai.
When we have stilled ourselves, we are what we are focused on like iron filings and a magnet. We find ourselves picking up our cameras and see ourselves at work. All at some other spirit's request. In this respect all photography is portraiture.
The language of the heart when tapped makes each of us ask the questions which caused language to be in the first place.
A book of perfect questions, without answers. The questions are more important. (Of the six small books of poetry that were found on Pablo Neruda's desk after he died, one of them was The Book of Questions. In it, there are several dozen quatrains, all consisting of questions. The entire book asks questions. Many of them have no answers, and no answers are given in the book itself.)
After an hour or so of looking at the rocks, finding driftglass amongst the sands, staring at the endless crashing beautiful dangerous waves, watching pelicans and starlings surge across the sky, watching the light slowly change towards twilight, I felt a long-desired peace enter my heart, tremulous, unexpected, infinitely healing. Even this small contact with the living, ever-changing ocean relieves me of some burden I have been carrying for too long, many months. A small ocean within calms and shimmers.
It is just like driving across the desert, where behind every curve is a new vista, a new view, a new stunning, awe-full arrangement of natural elements into a perfect form (wabi-sabi) that no lesser mind could have placed. Only the Zen mind, the arrangements of angels, here: placers and concretions of the infinite.
As a last measured desire to create a drama of wings across the fields of sunset clouds, I walked down the beach towards the sunset seagull flock standing or nested on the sands. I walked amongst them, waving my free hand, and they bounced into the air, curved aerodynamic wing-forms a slash of black against the gold and steel grey of the appraoching storm still miles away oversea. Disturbing their universe, the gulls all posed for me eventually. Photos of the scatter of wings into the lowering sky, as waves crash in the background, filling the air with cold seaspray.
Above the cliffs rising above this shore, turkey vultures circle slowly, broad wings spread to catch the last thermals of the afternooon before the rocks cool off for the night. While below them, boys like black seals play in the surf.
On the road, not much later, driving south down the coastal highway as long as the light lasts, a 6-point buck suddenly leaps the fence and bounds across the road directly in front of the truck, startling us. He prances over the sea-side fence and downhill towards the beachspray. A close encounter with the forest gods, come here to taste the waters of storm and twilight.
LVIII. 25 October 2004, San Francisco, CA
Another factor: the terrible age of these places. The rocks at Black Dragon Canyon in Utah were laid down before the great Permian extinction, when 95 percent of the species living on the planet suddenly died off for reasons unknown. Falling into the Void. Disappearing.
Yesterday, driving across Nevada, when I had been going for hours already, it raised its head again. But this time, with Death as my ally not my adversary, I was able to say to my usual fears: No. This is a waste of time, and never does us any good. It will work out; have a little faith. Then I had to laugh at the irony of me giving my fears the same advice I've been given so often: the shift in perspective was ironic. I am not my emotions. I could feel them, but separate from my newly-gained perspective. When you look to Death for guidance, you will always get one very important thing: perspective on what really matters in life. Realization that the things we are usually afraid of, or about, are really very small. (Really, what have you ever lost by dying? Nothing of any importance.) The Sufis say: Die before you die. I begin to get a small glimmer of what they mean: remember every day that this body will die, inevitably, and then look at what's bothering you in the moment. Is it really so looming and massive as all that? Or is it just a flea on the ass of God? Tomorrow will take of itself: what you fear will work out, and be overcome; the warrior knows that whatever he needs will be provided by the Universe, by Spirit. I have to laugh at myself, and my own smallnesses sometimes.
I pulled in and had dinner last night, warmed up stir fry and corn bread and ice cream. Played tag with the cats. Talked for awhile, as I unwound before the bed. The hot tub was a really good idea: my back feels unkinked for the first time in a week.
The day spent in the City, not doing much but wandering and shopping. A total vacation day, with no agenda and no plans. The day was clear and warm, even though they'd predicted rain. I found a couple of DVDs I really wanted. Had lunch at a Thai restaurant in the Castro, overlooking the street.
Downtown on Market, there's a building wrapped in white plastic, the entire facade covered while construction goes on. I looked at it from across the street and said, "You know, it just goes to prove how messed up the world is when you can't even get a real Christo wrapped building. I mean, it's not even saffron or yellow cloth, just white plastic. Not even a real Christo, just a faux Christo." Jane takes one look at the building and says: "Christo Lite."
LVII. 24 October 2004, San Francisco, CA
I know what it is, of course: behind the long road lay an aspect of the Void: the experience of nothingness, that dark night that has been my companion for several years, that I never seem to be free of. Well, it's the shaman's way, to make friends with Death, to learn from Death, to know it intimately. What have I ever lost by dying? This is an old friend, really, just appearing in a new aspect, when I wasn't expecting it.
This morning, after rain all night, a cold and grey sky, snow on the peaks surrounding the city. I started the day looking out the hotel room window at horse and cattle fields; a corral right there next to the hotel, and cattle mooing just past. I loaded up and headed out by 10am, into a light drizzle. I drove back up to Salina, backtracking slightly: I needed to drive around a mountain range to keep heading west from Richfield, and you either have to pass north or south of it, and north was shorter. Then I got onto Highway 50 and headed west. It was late morning by then, although the grey overcast destroyed all sense of time.
I wondered if I would see another hawk this morning, and just before Aurora I saw not one, but three mature hawks sitting on various branches in a dead tree not far from the roadside. I stopped and took several pictures before they flew off, one by one. Odd to see so many together in one tree, and odd that they were so patient with me. Like they were waiting for me.
Later on, flocks of crows picking over corn husk fields; then a single hawk on a fencepost a little further down the road. This in the first open stretch of road past Highway 15, and off the beaten track.
I spent most of the day driving across the Basin and Range region of south central Nevada and Utah: long stretches of flat, flat basin, punctuated by high intermontane passes, some as high as the upper 7 thousands in elevation. It started to rain in the early afternoon, somewhere in Nevada, and continued to rain most of the day till I got to the California borderin twilight, with an almost-full moon painting the snowcapped Sierra Nevada peaks with ethereal luminescence. In two of the higher summit passes, between Ely and Eureka, NV, it was snow on my windshield instead of rain.
The clouds hung low most of the day, hiding the mountain peaks from view, except for an occasional glimpse of alpine snow. I dug out my compass, and used to get my bearings, so I could see where I was on the maps. I always carry a lensatic compass with me, but I haven't actually had to use it like this in years. I normally have a very accurate sense of direction, and can usually tell you where magnetic north is; but today, in land new to me, following roads and landscapes alien and otherworldly, it was easy to become disoriented and confused.
Many stretches of road were knife-straight to the horizon, paralleled by a single line of electric power lines, or sometimes a railway: the classic Western highway scene out of a movie starring Sam Shepard and some young kid, driving a beat-up pickup forever across an endless desert. Dust-trails behind the truck, even on asphalt roads. Denim jeans, denim shirts, cowboy hats, boots. In black and white, of course. Overexposed, to give that extra sense of desert heat.
You go up the side of a range, since we are basically crossing the Basin and Range perpendicularly. You go up to a summit, a high pass, then plummet down again. And there before you, as the road curves around the last spine of rock, another wide, flat valley: maybe 8 miles wide, maybe 50 or a hundred. You take on speed, accelerating across this unmonitored expanse: slower driving in the ranges, then 80mph or more on the flataways. Nothing before you but air and another distant range, slowly coming into focus below the low-hanging clouds. No people, except occasionally. You could be all alone in this world.
You do this over and over again, all day long, till your ears hurt at the end of the day from over 20 elevation pressure changes. Driving towards the ocean, towards sea level, going gradually down, but not before one last high pass in the Sierras.
It's the Big Empty: the outback, the lost places of the world. It's like being on Mars, exploring an alien landscape all by your lonesome. There's more than one stretch of road where a sign warns you, ÒNo services for the next 110 miles.Ó No gas, no food, no shelter, but for what you bring with you. If you break down, you're stuck. For long periods, no one else is on the road with you, going in either direction. You let yourself drift dangerously across the yellow line, and the truck goes on its own while your mind wanders. Lots of time to think.
Because of the cold, grey, depressing morning weather, I started the day off listening to John Dowland. The Elizabethan blues:
Flow, my tears, fall from your springs,
Exiled for ever, let me mourn
Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.
Or our ally Death, again:
Come, heavy Sleep, the image of true Death,
And close up these my weary weeping eyes,
Whose spring of tears doth stop my vital breath,
And tears my heart with Sorrow's sigh-swoll'n cries.
Come and possess my tired through-worn soul,
That living dies till thou on me be stole
Then some more Bach. Then I got into a Nordic mood, and listened to Jan Garbarek's Rites, and Nordan by Lena Willemark and Ale Möller. And, finally, back in reach of snivellization, I was at last able to listen to the radio, as public radio was on the air in Reno; out in the hinterlands, it was either Christian radio or the two kinds of music you get out here: country and western.
The last part of the drive, I listened to a CD by the Balanescu String Quartet, one of the modern string quartets like the Kronos that specialize in modern music. Their CD, Possessed, features several very effective arrangements of Kraftwerk tunes. This really proves, I think, that Kraftwerk is classical music. Minmalist, propheticComputer Love perfectly described computer sex connections years before the Internet came into beingone on level very simple, on another level very sophisticated: classic.
Coming out of the Big Empty back into Snivellization was a shock. After most of the day spent on mostly empty roads passing through a very empty landscape, where it was possible at times to believe that you were the only person alive on the entire planet, suddenly at Fallon, NV, there was traffic, a fairly big town, and traffic, traffic, traffic. After that, the rest of the drive was heavy road congestion. It's hard to believe that only a few hours before I had stopped at the Border Café which is right on the Nevada/Utah border, a truck stop with nothing around it for miles. Shocking to walk in past the bar towards the bathrooms, and there are two rows of slot machines; oh yes, gambling is legal in Nevada, you remind yourself.
Laying naked in the hot tub behind the house of my friends here in SF, letting the hot water and the jets unkink and untense my back and legs, I look up through the clear sky at the almost-full moon: the steam from the hot tub veils her face, bright and silver. I am very glad to be here, and not having to drive for a few more days.
LVI. 23 October 2004, Richfield, UT
Last night: Eyes closed, seeing stars moving in space.
Dream: in a synagogue, the rabbi is angrily and loudly fulminating against gays and the way they live their lives. An older man, a senior rabbi stops him, and pleas for tolerance. The rabbi's own son is gay, and waiting outside, saying nothing, waiting to be loved. The older, wiser man brings about their reconciliation. I can't remember his speech, but in the dream it was powerful and brilliant in its language.
The three ages of man: wild youth, angry adult, wise elder. All aspects of one's inner self. Archetypes of renewal and reconciliation.
The morning air clear and bright. Driving past Mesa Verde, and west towards Utah. A single hawk spins a circle above the road, passing right above me. Unexpected benediction.
The southwestern corner of Colorado, rolling hills and cultivated fields, could be anywhere in the central plains, except for the snowcapped mountaintops peaking over the horizon. Grain elevators, cattle, tilled fields, red earth, black earth. It could have been Wisconsin, till you saw the sagebrush.
The road was long today, and most of the time I had my direction of travel to myself. Lots more traffic going the other way. Small-town Utah felt empty, barren. I drove west across Colorado, then north towards Moab. Nothing much happening in Monticello, Utah, this morning. The area around there looks like the classic stereotype of a Western landscape: lots of open space, cattle and horses on the range, low rolling hills covered with sage and scrub pine, sand in between. The very cinema image of itself.
Driving north from Monticello towards Moab, coming into the slickrock, the canyon country, suddenly the land changes. Tall islands of Entrada sandstone breach like whales above the plain. Domes, runners, lines, pillars: fluid in shape, organic in form, round curves and standing capstones. The Entrada is a smooth, homogenous, unbedded sandstone, and is the primary arch-forming sandstone in the area. You can see new arches being built slowly by weathering in many of the standing fins and spines of the formation near the highway. Overlaying the more bedded and tumbled Navajo sandstone, the Entrada is smooth, and takes a high polish: hence the term slickrock. It was laid down in Jurassic time, probably a deposit of air-born sand deposited by a seaside. This is the formation that makes Arches National Park possible, with its giant soaring formations and temples of stone.
Standing over all of this, holding the eastern horizon, the La Sal Mountains, with Mt. Waas and Mt. Peale both above 12,000 feet. Mt. Waas' summit is pure white, draped with snow and ice, a classic alpine peak. All day long, these mountains kept catching my eye; even when I was in Arches, they were the backdrop for the Navajo sandstone's petrified dunes, and the freestanding Entrada formations: the gorgon fields, the balanced rocks, the tall hoodooes, the arches themselves. The Windows, a paired arch formation on the east side of the Park, beautifully framed the view of the La Sal.
Moab itself was kinda cool. It's a tumble of dwellings and funky businesses in a canyon surrounded by high vertical cliffs. The north end of town is bounded by the Colorado River, and Arches National Park is just north of town. You switchback up the cliffs to get to the top of the plateau above, to enter the park itself. The downtown area has a new age store, a couple of funky used book store coffeshops, and an internet café. Far more funky than I would have imagined small-town Utah could be. I stopped there to use an ATM, and it was like being in Berkeley or Madison, for those few blocks. Moab is also a city full of bicyclists: I saw at least two bike stores, and spandex-clad bikers were all over the town, the local highway, and even in Arches National Park, just up the highway from downtown.
I spent several hours this afternoon at Arches National Park in the early afternoon, driving and photographing. Every corner turned, every new vista, brought fresh amazement. I took photo after photo, laughing in amazement; the Creator sure makes a beautiful and surprising landscape here. Such beauty cannot be formulated or labeled, it is beyond words and reckonings. I bought a geologic map of the Park to study later: old habits, I know, forged when I studied geology in college. But I notice that I photograph like a geologist as much as like an artist. I do take photos that are unusual angles and views, not like what I've seen in postcards and guidebooks, again letting chance make some of those decisions for me. But I also find myself wanting to photograph the entire formations, appreciating their shapes as a geologist, and then do close-ups of whole rockfaces where weathering has made indentations and darker markings that look remarkably like pictographs and petroglyphs.
Later in the afternoon, driving across central Utah, on Highway 70 from Green River to Salina and Richfield, I felt some sense of urgency: this was a drive across the badlands, the canyonlands, a landscape devoid of and indifferent to anything human. Literally 100 and more miles with no human habitation except the occasional ranch, and no services, no gas, no food, no lodging, no rest stops, not even more than one or two official highway exit ramps.
Canyons ripped into the land by giant eagle claws. Every vista a new world, a new kind of canyon, a new rock formation. The angle of mountain-building here exposing a new lithography every few miles. Green clays. White limestones. Red soft sandstones. Black sediments I couldn't identify. I stop at one scenic overlook because it has the name Black Dragon, a name that has resonance for me. Overlooking Black Dragon Canyon, named for an ancient, mysterious petroglyph, standing on dolomitic limestone cliffs above a stone arroyo, feeling like dancing on the rocks: graffiti here and there, nothing very original, but I feel enlivened, connected to a deep earth power that bears my own sacred name: Dragon.
The drive was up and down, into broad canyonlands then up slots and bluffs to fresh vistas. Respighi's dramatic tone-poems, The Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome got me through this drive. The drama of the music perfectly suited the drama of the landscape, occasionally sending shivers down my spine. (I had been listening to Steve Reich's gradual process music earlier in the day.)
I was agitated for this part of the drive. I was worried about how far I'd get before dark, and where I'd spend the night. I ended up here at another hotel in Richfield, Utah, after dark, after looking for campgrounds and national parks all day. They were all full: it's hunting and fishing season here. Massive trucks pulling ATVs in trailers all day long. At sunset, I came into the mountains again, the high pass through Fishlake National Forest. There was snow on the ground the roadside, both climbing and descending. Nearby, the white peak of Mt. Terrell, alpine snow and clouds shrouding its peak above 11 thousand feet. Not a safe place to camp for the night, although there were plenty of hunters with their camper-vans and RVs along the roadside near the highest parts of the pass. The plummet down from the pass seemed to take an eternity, in the fading light.
I'm exhausted again, but sleepless at the moment. Stiff from driving all day. Tomorrow I plan to take Highway 50 across central Nevada over to where it joins the famous Highway 80 near Reno, then hastens across California past Lake Tahoe and Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay Area. I want to get to the Bay tomorrow, although I may not make it before nightfall.
One last sighting during the day: parking the truck behind the hotel, my headlights catch a fox just as it runs behind the dumpster behind the hotel. A brief moment ot Fox contact, then gone.
Something in me remains unsettled, disturbed perhaps by the Utah badlands and canyonlands this evening: so relentless, so indifferent, so immense. I finally had to say, stop it, I can't take any more fresh beauties, shocking vistas, landscapes the color and shape and scale of Mars. Whatever Power shaped this landscape, shaped it as a reminder of the immensities beyond our miniscule and self-absorbed perceptions. It was one of the most unearthly passages I have ever experienced. I was totally unprepared for it, never having been this way before, or seen any of these landscapes before. Arches is something that will linger in me for a long time. Some of the hoodooes (a nonsensical label given to tall freestanding pillars of rock; I prefer the word gorgons, after a shamanic story by the SF writer Kate Wilhelm, The Gorgon Field) were downright ithyphallic, erotic, leering, full of life-force. There were vistas and scenes in Arches that evoked awe, and awe is a terrible thing: it disrupts you, it disturbs your universe. I feel changed in some way after today's journeying: perhaps this was another initiation, another awakening, or opening. I was neither prepared nor warned for the effect it had on me. I dared not venture into Canyonlands National Park, which neighbors on Arches, or I would be there still, no doubt of it. I would end up losing time and distance in the fractal, annihilating sinews of the earth here: twisted and tangled, ripped and torn. The sheer violence of the badlands drive, the roughness of the earth, the sheer force and weight of time it took to make such a landscape. Nothing comforting about these canyons: no green and pleasant valley here: solid, hard rock, as smooth and inhuman as glass, as rough as abrasive sandpaper, as hard as, well, rock.
I have to incorporate this land somehow into my sense of self; I need to find an accommodation in my inner landscape (Hopkin's inscape). I need to find a new balance, after experiencing these vistas and visions, lest they devour me whole.
I will also have to come back again, in the near future, and spend more than a single day in each locale: absorbing, dialoguing, finding the self in the world that has no place for the self. Your must change your life. Change, or die.
LV. 22 October 2004, Mancos, CO
Being on the road again, feeling excited. An exhausting day's driving, though. I made it as far as Mancos, CO, east of Durango, near Mesa Verde National Monument. (The Old People in their cliff dwellings. I want to see the cliff houses, but I resist the Disneyfication of archaeology and history, and I have no idea how respectful the park tours are.) I'm in a hotel tonight, a cheap hotel in Mancos. I had been planning to camp throughout this trip, but it's too cold and it's been snowing most of the afternoon. I got here just after dark, and was too tired to drive any further.
During the middle of the night, last night, extremely heavy winds suddenly blew across the plateau. The camper rocked with the wind, waking me. The winds stayed strong throughout the day. I set out from Taos in full sun, ravens and a flock of tight-flying birds skating in the strong air above the mesa. All morning I wondered if I would see another hawk today, as I had yesterday, the third hawk in a week. (Synchronicities often appear in threes.) At last, just before I left Taos to set out across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge on Highway 64, a hawk strutted and spun in the air right above the road. It hovered for a moment nearby, then stooped below the mesa's edge and out of sight.
Across the wide plateau, I could see low white clouds off to the southwest with haze under them. The clouds touched the road right as I turned north at Tres Piedras, hazing the hills with white. I thought, is that snow? And it was. Snow skated the hills in the distance to the southwest as I drove north past San Antonio Mountain to Alamosa in Colorado. The roadside outcrops near the border between Colorado and New Mexico showed the sandstone and quartzite underlying the ubiquitous columnar basalt of these parts; banded and folded and distorted, the discontinuity was still sharp and clear.
From Alamosa, I turned west on Highway 160, heading towards Durango, CO. I could have taken a somewhat shorter route, cutting the corner off a triangle and joining Highway 160 at Pagosa Springs. But I'm glad now I went this way, for the beauty of the journey was beyond anticipation.
All afternoon, as I drive in the warm sun, snow skirts the mountaintops, the clouds and the snowfall blending together without edges. I pass through small rural towns and hill ranches as I drive up the valley. Horses everywhere. But the land reminds me of other things, too: Appalachia, parts of the hillier regions of the Midwest, like the Driftless area in southwestern Wisconsin. In one area, black pyramidal peaks scattered in all directions, chess pieces laid out on a rambling table.
Then I am climbing towards Wolf Creek Pass (10,550 at summit), and suddenly I am in the clouds, and the snow is all around, whitening the road and land. I stop to take photos of the Creek itself plummeting furiously over boulders, an inch of wet snow already on the ground. It is cold outside the truck, but I am bounding in the snow like it's Christmas in Connecticut. Such beauty cannot be reckoned.
As I rose higher, I ended up following a snowplow the last few miles to the top of the pass, where a whiteout blizzard had already shed two inches of ice, snow, and sleet onto the highway. I had no fear. I kept laughing for joy, and shaking my head in amazement. This is the beauty and danger of Colorado in winter: clouds moving around us, wind scraping snowswirls across the road, the outcrops of banded rock and tall cedars crusted and limed with snow and icicles. Every so often, a thin waterfall plummets through a notch in the cliffs. Wind in the trees. (Snow falling on cedars, indeed.) These are the cold, violent headwaters of the Rio Grande; these waters go to feed the entire arid Southwest. Several streams converge here to form the big river itself, which then winds down the San Luis Valley towards New Mexico and Texas.
I had no fear. I was so enchanted with the beauty of the snow and the pass and rocks and trees and scenic views. I dared not stop driving, or I might get stuck, but I slowed several times to take photos out the window. The only worry I had was other drivers. I have driven in so many northern Midwestern winters, snow doesn't scare me; other drivers sometimes do. As SUV tailgated me going down the mountain till I slowed further and pulled to the side to let it pass. Tailgating is the stupidest driving behavior on the planet, especially in a blizzard on top on a mountain pass going downhill on sheer polished ice for a road. People can be so ridiculous.
Coming off the pass, suddenly at about 8500 feet the snow stopped as if a switch had been turned, and the road was wet but clear. I pulled off at a scenic overlook to get out and take pictures: freezing winds, views of snow-laced mountain vistas from another world. My feet slipped on rime ice by the overlook's railing, a sheer drop of two hundred to the treetops and lake of a high mountain canyon to my right, then took purchase in the drifted snow at the corner. I could only stay out of the truck for am minute, and when I got back in my hands were numb; it felt like it was ten below on that cliff.
As we switchbacked down, the road cleared and passed below high outcrops and fingers of mountain upthrusts. Many ranches with ostentatious steel gated entrances, huge name signs arching overhead, some with artistic little logos, like Yellowjacket Ranch with a giant bee on top. Hubris and personal advertising. I passed through Pagosa Springs, with its resort-town time-share condos and golf courses and other signs of tourist playground wealth, for all the world an alpine theme-park reminiscent of Orlando, FL.
In the Colorado part of the Four Corners region, passing through Rio Grance National Forest, next to the Southern Ute Reservationthe traditional enemies of the Navajo from when both peoples were warrior nationsand past Chimney Rock, sacred to many native peoples from this region. The feel of the land near Chimney Rock was old, old, but fertile, green, the hills covered with life. Lots of places to hide in these hills, and be sustained by the land.
I got to Durango around sundown, but wanted to drive on for awhile more. When I got to Mancos, though, I could go no further. I had been planning to camp on this trip, but with a whiteout blizzard and scattered snow in the air ever since, I could find no place I wanted to winter-camp in my little nylon tent. (The big canvas tent is still erected next to the camper in Arroyo Hondo.) I am glad I wasn't pulling the camper on this trip: two high passes today, not counting snowbound Wolf Creek. So, I ended up in this small-town hotel for the night, sitting writing this and watching TV as I eat. I haven't watched TV in literally months, now.
I wanted to listen to classical music today, as I drove across the West. I set off with Holst's The Planets. A CD I made of my favorite choruses and arias from Bach's St. Matthew's Passion got me from snowfall to pass to wet valley on the other side. Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 brought out deep feelings as I drove on from Pagosa Springs almost to sunset in Durango, when the clouds over the mountains turned pink and angelic. Angelic music for an angelic journey.
I have already filled up and downloaded a couple of hundred photos today, many of snow and wind and rock and water. This entire California trip, I look to shoot more photos than ever before out West. I am deliberately driving on routes I have not taken before, to see parts of the country I haven't experienced. I had thought I would drive up to Salt Lake City, and drive west on Highway 80, a route I know will get me from Salt Lake to San Francisco in a full day's drive. But now, I am thinking I will drive across southern Utah and Nevada, and join Highway 80 at Reno, seeing parts of the Basin and Range I've never seen before.
When I first experienced these lands, that summer spent doing geology based in Wyomingmy first actual college class, the summer right after high schoolwe drove through here on a long loop, stopping at outcrops and examining rocks and the land. I still see the land here through its geology: the vast time scale besides which human time, where it overlaps with geologic time, is so very small. We camped one night on the Bonneville Salt Flats, and another night on the Green River in a state park just north of the city bearing the river's name. I will pass that way tomorrow, and wonder how it will have changed.
LIV. 21 October 2004, Taos, NM
It's been cold and cloudy all day, but I spent the afternoon playing music again with some new friends. It could lead to something; we'll see.
Driving down the hill, for the second time this week, a redtail hawk is perched by the roadside, not more than four feet from my truck as I pass. This time, he tolerated me coming to halt right nest to him, and taking some photos through the window. He flew off after a minute, but to a tree further down the road. Fearless Messenger.
My close association with redtails. Messenger birds. Pay attention to what happens throughout the day. Notice things carefully. Messages from the Divine. Notice what happens, what you're thinking about, what seeming random events come forward. There are no coincidences; only synchronicities.
LIII. 19 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Spent all yesterday being-in-Dreaming. A time for working with the second attention and the dreamingbody, and letting the rest of it take care of itself. Also a day of rest. Putting off all life decisions and worries for a day.
Outside my door this morning, I see my first wild tarantula, black as night, a couple of inches in size.
Lying in bed, legs crossed, hands behind head, in Dreaming.
The Hanged Man: at peace with himself. Sacrifice. Self-sacrifice; sacrifice of self. A god self-slain upon his own strange altar. Odin hanging on the Worldtree for nine days, crucified, a sacrifice of himself to himself, till in his extremity the runes came out of the abyss and into his hands.
Hunter and farmer, medicine shaman and warrior shaman. I know which of these I am, which are my path. The way of the spiritual warrior, I've called it more than once; and written about it. The path with heart.
The wolf loping across the desert, tongue lolling in the heat, steady ground-eating trot. Travel. The journey. Pathfinding. Waymaking. Always with the second attention; sometimes literally pathfinding. The Red Road.
Skin tingles all over the body. Shivers down the spine. Hair standing on end. Extraordinary states of awareness. Dreaming-vision. Vision-dreaming. Trance. Ekstatis. Dreamingbody. Stop and Pay Attention.
From Arnold Mindell, The Shaman's Body: A new shamanism for transforming health, relationships and the community (1993):
None of the indigenous shamans I have met identifies himself as such the whole day long. The word shaman, borrowed from Siberian culture, refers to one who works only part-time as a spiritual guide and healer. The shaman heals without identifying himself only as a healer, similar to a master in martial arts who fights without emotionally involving himself in a battle.
The shaman is independent of organized religion. The indigenous shaman always takes some from of psychic journey to the world of spirits to find out what is missing in everyday life, traveling in her dreamingbody. Shamans are as individual as other people and, in my experience, do not seem to follow particular personality types. Some shamans focus mainly upon healing, while others are warrior shamans seeking the key to power and liberationÉ.
Lots of people get confused on this point; and ego is often involved. Being a Òlittle hollow boneÓ for Spirit to blow through, as Lakota shaman Frank Fools Crow described it, means a lessening of ego, not an inflation. You get yourself out of the way, so that Spirit can work through you, cleanly, clearly, and without any hindrance created by your own needs and desires. In fact, a good test of your own clarity is, how attached are you to the outcome? If you feel an emotional attachment to an outcome, you are probably letting your own wantings and desires interfere with the healing process, possibly even blocking it.
Calling oneself a full-time healer can be a form of ego: the test is self-consciousness. Self-deprivation and asceticism, even fasting to achieve an altered state, can also be forms of ego. As Meister Eckhart reminds us: Asceticism is no great importance for it creates more, rather than less, self-consciousness. Self-flagellation, whether of a literal or spiritual form, only makes the ego more aware of itself. So, when we seek the transpersonal, the methods we use matter a great deal, and how we use them even more.
What shamanism is, at core, is a spiritual technology: a set of practices for obtaining knowledge through altered states of consciousness, which may be induced in many different ways. There have always been shamans. It is probably the oldest human spiritual technology, as practiced in the indigenous forms we can still see among native peoples around the world today which date back millennia. Shamanism pre-dates all of the existing organized religions, and their precursors. It functions within the community, but it is not a fixed set of beliefs or worldviews or systems of faith. It is a set of practical spiritual tools, independent of cultural beliefs.
There are many types of shamanic training; some happen spontaneously within yourself when wise inner dream figures and body experiences guide you. Others are connected to spiritual or psychological teachers, traditions, and schools. In all, however, it is common to experience ordinary reality and its conventions, rules, and rituals as dangerous opponents. Consensus reality and social rules seem to repress signs from the unconscious. The reality most people follow seems to forbid you from investigating your hallucinations, aches and pains, and accidents.
Some people, who get reductionistically attached to the form over the content, it seems, think that there is only one way to become a shaman: the way that they understand. (Usually the model presented here is the apprenticeship model.) Most actual working shamans tend to be more open-minded and flexible. A shamanic awakening and training can happen to a person, led entirely by the spirits, and helpers, and guides, apart from any human mentor. Having a human mentor, on the other hand, can be a good example for the apprentice, to see that it's possible to survive the initiation and still be a whole person.
The first worthy opponents you must overcome, therefore, often appear as those closest to you. The viewpoints of consensus reality, friends, and familywho may love you but be jealous of youseem to be the greatest danger to your progress. Patriarchal, conventional family systems and groups have a formidable power, like witchcraft, from which the shaman's apprentice must save herself. The warrior-to-be feels accused of disobeying cardinal social rules and of flirting with forbidden gods, with the spirit of natureÉ.
The first battle is with one's own internalized acculturation, the assumptions about right and wrong, morals and ethics, that you learned at the dinner table, in church, and in school. Public schools, which began 150 years ago as an attempt to bring literacy and knowledge to all citizens, have devolved into indoctrination systems; they don't teach you how to think or how to learn for yourself, they teach you what to think, and what is, according to some calculus of value imposed by governmental authorities, even worth learning. Everywhere the growing person turns, there are lessons about conformity and messages that resist any change to the status quo. It's no wonder we've developed a continuously-updating adolescent-aged Tribal-level culture of rebellion. The young Individual, without consciously understanding it, is fighting for its right to exist in the face of Tribal pressure to conform; for its right to be itself, to be eccentric, to be purely Individual.
This pressure that comes from the birth-Tribe can also look like Òchange backÓ messages; that is, signals that the person changing and growing through their initiation makes those who haven't yet changed out of the birth-Tribe's indoctrinated habits feel uncomfortable. They will want the initiate to revert to the comfortable, familiar person they already know, even if that person is dysfunctional or even criminal. The tidal undertow of the Tribe can be a very powerful thing; yet it must be resisted. This battle can take years to wage, depending on how entrenched you were in your birth-Tribe's mythos.
Caroline Myss talks about three levels of power: Tribal, Individual, and Symbolic (or transpersonal). In her book Anatomy of the Spirit she describes how Tribal-level issues are located in the lower charkasliterally, below the belt. But to evolve as persons, we must climb the ladder of the chakras, and open them as you go. The heart is an Individual-level chakra, for example, and the crown chakra a Symbolic one; both function by different sets of rules than the Tribe. Similarly, the Tribal level, because it encompasses so many people, tends to evolve at a very slow rate: only as fast as the slowest member of the group will allow. As you move up the chakra ladder towards becoming an Individual, and then towards leading a consciously Symbolic (shamanic, mystical, transpersonal) life, the rate of change accelerates. Things can move very quickly; people can heal at accelerated rates that allopathic medicine can't account for.
Modern [psychotherapeutic] methods are helpful, even wonderful for many of us, much of the time. But today they need renewal, magic, and reconnection to ancient practices. They are too internal and do not deal with the transformation of communities and with the spirit of the environment. The development of therapy seems to have reached an impasse.
Our modern techniques often lack a sense of magic and do not address global issues such as racism, homophobia, women's rights, and poverty Étherapy needs new blood to strengthen it so that it will work with political problems, abuse, revolution, and poverty, instead of focusing mainly upon people of the upper- and middle-income classes who have enough time, safety, and quiet for innerworkÉ.
This is essentially the same critique of psychotherapy that I have heard other Jungians and post-Jungians give in other books, for example, Janet Dallett's When the Spirits Come Back, and the marvelous book of dialogues and letters between Michael Ventura and James Hillman, We've Had A Hundred Years of Psychotherapy & the World's Getting Worse. Matthew Fox also talks about social justice and related issues as part of the Via Transformativa in Original Blessing, It is not coincidental, I think, but synchronistic, that so many are thinking along these same lines at this time. In fact, the openly-stated purpose of many of these critiques is to re-en-spirit psychotherapy with spiritual depth, shamanistic ways of working, and move it away from the dominantly verbal and intellectual forms it often takes. So simple an act as listening to the body, and letting the body participate in the process, can seem radical, in the current context; yet there is wisdom there that can cut through years of verbal dodging to get at the truth.
Jung once said, Thank god I am Jung and not a Jungian. I think there's a lot of truth to that. The generations that come after do seem to want to codify, organize, rationalize, and strip away all the Mystery and magic, the Unknown and the visionary, in favor of something rational, orderly, and "scientific." It is often useful, therefore, to go back to the source, and then bring in one's own experience, and think for oneself. This won't always win you points with the psychotherapeutic mainstreambut then, that is also another form of Tribe.
Modern science, allopathic medicine, and psychotherapy are only a couple of hundred years old, yet they are based upon alchemy and a shamanistic ancestry as old as the human race.
In the Modern era, which has repressed the unconscious and the irrational, we turn to doctors as priests to cure our ills, and to psychotherapists as psychopomps to salve our emotional and spiritual wounds. We turn to therapy and religion, and flee from the unconscious. We still instinctively seek out healing on the spiritual level, when it erupts into our lives, but we don't know who to turn to. This is why we substitute therapists for spiritual directors and shamans. This is why people in extreme states, altered states, and mystical states are often medicated into submission, rather than following their healing processes through to completion.
Everything you do that is fun is based on shamanism. Dancing at discos till you go into a trance, screaming yourself into a frenzy at a ball game or music festival, running till you are in an altered state of consciousness: All are shamanic. And what about fundamentalism and the passion for god? Don't forget that the oldest churches in modern Europe were built upon ancient power sites. We tend to not only build over our past and injure native people, but also to deny our own magic and belief in the unknown and to act like rationalists, as if we had created the world.
Western psychotherapy, without reference to ancient world history, tends to be a mostly white, middle-class dream with as much air as earth. It is a useful dream, but it misses the eccentric nature of the shaman, love for community, and a culture in which self-knowledge is based on powerful altered states of consciousness.
Worse, as rationalists we mistrust altered states, we mislabel dreams as meaningless phantomsit was just a dream, go back to sleepand we deny any reality to non-material realms. We draw the shutters closed on the other worlds, including the worlds within. Surrealism was an attempt to bring symbols and meaning back from the dream-worlds; but Surrealism as practiced by its original founders failed to do more than peek through that door, then slam it closed again so that the rational mind could then use (exploit) the materials found there as just another resource to be mined. The original Surrealists sold their dreams back to the rationalist nightmare of power-over (also known as Control) rather than power-with.
Since the explosion of Eastern traditions into the Western consciousness over the past century, many more people have explored the Eastern ways of being. The benefits of this have led to a more transpersonal way of looking at life. But many also misuse Buddhism, with its potential open-endedness and compassion for all levels of human experience, and turn it into another Western form of judgmentalism and escapism: another attempt to chase after the light while ignoring or repressing the Shadowed darknesses in each of us. Tantra, which in the original embraces the Shadow and all the darker emotions as well as the lighter ones, is too frightening for many light-chasers, and too little understood; and too often watered down into just another manual for sexual technique, missing the spiritual level entirely. Shamans, on the other hand, find a dark cave and go in. The warrior shaman in particular turns to the Shadow to seek self-knowledge and self-mastery, and to wage battle with the Self.
A line from Michael Murphy's novel (a spiritual thriller I highly recommend) Jacob Atabet: All the old maps are incomplete. Meaning, the old schools of thought, even the old mystery schools with all they have to teach us and all the tools they provide, are not ideally adapted for life in our present era. We are being called now to reintegrate mystery back into our lives, after centuries of banishing it in the name of rationalism. But when you dis-en-spirit the world around you, you can exploit it; if you treat matter as dead, you can strip-mine the earth without feeling the earth cry out in pain. This is the legacy of Augustinian and Cartesian dualism. We are now rediscovering that the body and mind never were really separate, and . But the old paradigm still controls the world's economies and the mindset of most its dominant (Westernized) cultures. These, too, are the Tribal first worthy opponents we must overcome.
LII. 18 October 2004, Taos, NM
A day for being-in-Dreaming, for spending time in the second attention:
To the Angel: I shall not release thee until thou blesst me!
To Death: What is it you wish to teach me?
I am already dead, and in the in-between place, the Bardo, the time between. I am waiting for rebirth. Rebirth is coming soon. I am still in the chrysalis, awaiting to be the butterfly, still resting and changing. The chrysalis will open soon.
LI. 17 October 2004, Taos, NM
Twice now, I have thought I might have found a job and a place to live, and twice now they've been yanked away at the last minute. Caretaker jobs, places you live and do some work in exchange for rent. Twice in as many weeks, what looked promising has turned in bitter disappointment. Who do you trust? Can you ever take people at their word?
At this point, I'm ready to give up and say it was all a bad idea, and get the hell out of here.
The only thing that saved the day, wihch had been compounded by wrenching my back yesterday and waking up this morning with a migraine, was driving back from failed caretaker position number two the long way around, which ended up going through a no-place named Carson and then down into the Rio Grande Canyon, through the national parklands down in there, then back up the other side via Pilar. A big loop of driving today. It rained a lot of the day, and it's raining again as I type this, this time with thunder. But in the canyon gorge I shot a couple of hundred of dramatic, beautiful photos, I believe. The fall river, green and rapid over black stones, the bank lined with yellowing aspen and cottonwood, and in one area flowering cactus of a species I'd never seen before. I will download from the camera and look through them starting this evening. (Might as well, have nothing at all else to do.)
New Mexico is indeed a very beautiful place. But maybe I'm not supposed to live here. This morning I was thinking about driving on, who cares where, when I passed a hawk mantling on a fence post amidst the overgrown chamisa in what passes for residential Arroyo Hondo. We looked each other in the eye, as I passed: a long look of connection and communication: a Messenger from the gods, I guess they felt the need to shout.
This bitterness that is growing in me about it ever working out in Taos is something I don't know what to do with. It is too alike to the bitterness and despair I felt all three years of being unemployed in Minnesota: all too familiar. Is there any place for me in this entire world? Any place I can find a home? Any place I can make a living for myself? Anywhere to live, just even live? Will I ever get out of this exhausting mess that my life has become?
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