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Ancient Songs & Green Magic – Link

This is a sticky post. Please scroll down for current posts!  Thanks.

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A main feature of this blog is the journal report I made of my initial experiences with Ayahuasca in 2006. This sticky post is here so you don’t miss my five-part series of essays called “Ancient Songs and Green Magic” covering my entire experience in the Peruvian Amazon.  If you are curious about how a traditional, authentic Ayahuasca ceremony happened to someone who had never experienced it or anything like it before, I will take you with me through an entire arc of experiences from a lesson of sheer terror to a wondrous encounter and love from Mother Ayahuasca herself, plus life-changing after effects that still resonate now. Begin the journey HERE or click the ceremonial image below. I welcome your comments.  –– Scroll down for current posts.

Consciousness Theory, Shamanism, and Ontology

I just came across this interesting article on the brain’s structure and the nature of consciousness that was published by Wired last year:

A Neuroscientist’s Radical Theory of How Networks Become Conscious
BY BRANDON KEIM

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For the last 15 years, I’ve been exploring consciousness from a deeply shamanistic perspective with my main purpose to attempt to determine the borders of ontology. This is a quest to determine what is actual and real as opposed to creative fiction. Humans are very good at creative fiction and many idea structures, especially religious ones, are fully and totally believed by many, as if they are real even though they cannot be shown to be ontologically “real.” I – my own consciousness – was subsumed into a fully Christian belief system for the first 46 years of my life. Others have been and still are fully subsumed into that and other, incompatible belief systems. In order to try to get a more reliable view or a better understanding of that border between what exists outside of human interpretation and what is caused by human invention, I have been led to work with some of the great “visionary plant medicines” of the world that seem to transport us into other realms and give us a perspective on our normal, mundane perceptions.

Working extensively with ayahuasca has opened me up to a frontier of exploration into a state that is beyond our everyday perceptions and it may represent a valid window or portal into another dimension of reality. Just as physical tools like microscopes and telescopes have, for the purposes of knowledge acquisition as well as of beauty and wonder, given us a view into worlds vastly smaller and larger than we can personally otherwise “visit,” these substances might be giving us an extremely useful view that we cannot normally access.

The question of ontology is not easily resolved, however, and that is due to our lack of understanding about the nature of consciousness itself, and how the brain functions in that regard. Much has been written and speculated about this, of course, and no one has the answer, but new ideas are emerging. This article is from a neuroscientist, Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and is from a basically reductionist viewpoint (although he delightfully calls himself a “romantic reductionist”): that any and all systems that are complex enough in the right ways, can be considered to be conscious. Here are a couple of excerpts:

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Koch: “It’s not that any physical system has consciousness. A black hole, a heap of sand, a bunch of isolated neurons in a dish, they’re not integrated. They have no consciousness. But complex systems do. And how much consciousness they have depends on how many connections they have and how they’re wired up.”

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WIRED: “I still can’t shake the feeling that consciousness arising through integrated information is — arbitrary, somehow. Like an assertion of faith.”

Koch: “If you think about any explanation of anything, how far back does it go? We’re confronted with this in physics. Take quantum mechanics, which is the theory that provides the best description we have of the universe at microscopic scales. Quantum mechanics allows us to design MRI and other useful machines and instruments. But why should quantum mechanics hold in our universe? It seems arbitrary! Can we imagine a universe without it, a universe where Planck’s constant has a different value? Ultimately, there’s a point beyond which there’s no further regress.”

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WIRED: “I’ve read that you don’t kill insects if you can avoid it.”

Koch: “That’s true. They’re fellow travelers on the road, bookended by eternity on both sides.”

 

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It’s interesting to follow this article’s discussion as it traverses that narrow, fuzzy zone between empirical science and “faith.”

I am, however, attracted to this view of the physicality of consciousness. It seems more “right” because it is more holistic and scaleable. It neither arbitrarily excludes non-human systems from being capable of consciousness, nor tries to place human consciousness on some magical platform of superiority. Where such structural views or mappings of the machinery of consciousness can be limiting or “go wrong” is in stopping with the understandings we gain about the tool itself and deny or disregard the information that comes through that tool (the brain in our case). This hurdle manifests every time someone claims that consciousness altering plants or medicines are “just drugs” or cause “only hallucinations”.

As humans, some of us will certainly continue to push the frontier of knowledge in this direction, however obscure our pioneering pathways or how strongly we may be rejected or vilified in our pursuits. Perhaps soon, however, we may also witness other “self sentient” beings, such as a truly self-aware internet, come into their own consciousness – beings who will be able to assess their own experiences and develop their own data. Hopefully, we’ll be able to compare notes.

 

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On the Burning of the Libraries and Deep Time

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All of my life I have deeply loved books and libraries. As just a small boy, I remember how I felt when I first learned about the famous destruction of the Library of Alexandria in ancient times. What an inconceivable loss it was for humanity – setting us back perhaps a thousand years in terms of knowledge and progress. To my child’s mind, it was a horror: the unspeakable loss of all that knowledge and of the wonderful physical books themselves. It may have been the first time I felt an intense exasperation over senseless injustice caused by the actions of ignorant people – something that still manifests in the modern world.

I know now that whether human caused or the result of natural disasters, all collections of knowledge are vulnerable to eventual destruction, especially the individually curated and conserved libraries that we carry around with us through our lives: our personal knowledge and experiences, our stories, our memories, and our philosophies. Each of us contains an amazingly vast repository of these things, and the human brain is still the most complex object known to exist in the universe. As we know too well, however, we are individually subject to dangers and death, and even if we live a full life, natural death will eventually close our library forever. In a strangely real sense, every person is a Library of Alexandria, doomed to destruction.

I felt this quite personally when I was trying to record my Mother’s knowledge about a large collection of family photographs that range back into the 1800’s. Without her memories, many of these will become disassociated from their personal stories and history and flatten into what so many old photographs are: just an old, vintage photo. It saddens me to see such family images for sale in antique stores. Someone’s family heritage and history was lost. Their library “burned down” and there is no way now to recover the information. We can only look into the eyes of that long-passed person and wonder. There are thousands of such images in my family library and I wanted to preserve as much information as possible, so I began recording my Mother, who was happy to help until her health failed and we had to stop. Now, the opportunity has passed and, as much as my sisters and I may remember of it all, there is yet a large, deeper mass of information that has been lost permanently.

That is just one family and one person’s passing. How many billions of such libraries have perished? It boggles the mind to consider it and to imagine what has been lost along the way.

Writing, itself, is a human invention designed to transmit information over time and space, but it cannot contain all that might be recorded. With our modern electronic technologies, many are trying to address this issue by preserving not only books, but other forms of history and knowledge, including digital data, sound recordings, and photographs. Perhaps it will survive, but there are many who warn that our digital data is more vulnerable than the papyrus scrolls were, stacked in their racks in Alexandria. Perhaps some remote and massively secured vaults will protect some of it for a far future, but will anyone be able to make the ancient machinery work, or themselves make new machines that can access and display the data? Will future historians look upon our time as a sudden blank in history because all of our stories and information went into a technical form that cannot be retrieved? I wonder.

When we look back on ancient lands like Egypt, we should realize that 3,000 years ago is not so far back in time, really. Now, the papyri and the painted tombs are fragile and rare, deteriorating with every year that passes. What seems to stand the test of time best is the simplest and, some might think, most primitive technology: engravings into stone. In Egypt and other lands that so carved, even these records are shattered, chipped, scattered, and represent incomplete versions of their original states. It is disconcerting to realize that modern man has left comparatively little of our thoughts carved into simple stone.

So, in the end, even if that end is a far off future where our civilizations are as murky as Egypt’s or as vague and mythical as Atlantis, does it really matter? Should we be concerned, or try to make a deeper, more lasting mark that may, somehow, survive for our unknown future children? Yes, some are trying to archive and store mankind’s knowledge and they may succeed to some degree, but it is likely that most of it will be lost over vast ranges of deep time. We may, indeed, be living in a future time’s Atlantis – our reality a mythological place to those future kin. Ours a human world that may have existed in some form but can’t be proven. A dream out of Time.

In the final analysis, we cannot truly save our worlds. All is in constant motion and does not return again to the same place. Those that come later will have their own world and will not have time to relive ours, even if some of our knowledge may be useful to them, either as practical knowledge or, perhaps, as a warning of what to avoid.

These are melancholy thoughts, and for the majority of us, probably best considered once and then left behind as we pursue our own individual life paths. Perhaps, though, and at a personal scale again, we should at least think about preparing for our own Library to burn down someday and spend some of our time documenting the contents that we think our families, at least, might want to know later on.

We shall not be able to hold on to all we love, and that is just a part of how life is, but some in the future may truly desire to have even a small portion of what we know. I still wish I could have documented more of my family photographs with Mom before she was gone, and I still remember that little boy I once was and how deeply and personally hurt I felt at learning of the loss of the Library of Alexandria – something that happened some 2,000 years before I was born.

We may honor the past and future or desire them greatly, but we cannot live there. It is useful to remember that we honor and desire them in the present moment.

All that truly exists is NOW.

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“Big Bend – The Scale of Time” (film)

 

As a follow-up for the summer photography in my last post, I’m pleased to present a six minute film titled “Big Bend–The Scale of Time.” This is a short preview for my upcoming reflective landscape film about Big Bend National Park in Texas. I am in the process of re-shooting footage in high definition to entirely update and replace the imagery from an older film, while retaining the music track and eventually the incidental poetic script and narration elements. This HD film is hosted on Vimeo and is best seen full-screen.

The cinematography and photography in this short version all come from a brief three-day visit to the park in June, 2014. I plan to return at least twice in the coming months (for longer stays) and obtain much more footage to fill out the main feature. What imagery will I get on my next trip? In June, I didn’t expect to get caught in that dramatic lightning storm or see a cloudy, no-sunrise morning suddenly erupt into an amazing spotlit fan of golden light. Big Bend always surprises me with unexpected scenes of wild and gentle beauty that translate so very well into visual art.
I hope you enjoy my film.

A note about the music: This is my original composition and performance excerpted from the longer film. It won the Calypso Award from the Moondance International Film Festival in 2006, and also a prestigious Silver Telly Award in that same year.

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Big Bend National Park–Summer Photography

I have just returned from a short visit to the wonderful Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas, USA. I’ve been traveling here off and on since the spring of 1962, taking photos and video, hiking and camping, and doing inner work and vision quests. With some extensive new photography equipment in hand including a Nikon D5300 and a computerized slider, I’m setting out to shoot new cinematography and photography of the park in multiple seasons. This is to remake an artistic film I created some years ago using standard definition video. Now, I can remake it in full HD with professional rigging for camera moves.

I’ll post more of the video elements later, but for now, here are some of the still photographs I made this week, accompanied by some script excerpts from the original film.

I hope you enjoy them!

I urge you to click through to the larger images for much higher quality!

MorningBigBend-borderTime

In Big Bend
The scale of time is different from
our time – the observers, ourselves – who come.

It is a different scale of time and of movement than
our time – our movement.

We are too fast to see it.
We cannot slow down.

Slow                 Down

EveningWindowView-borderWonder

There is an enchanted doorway -
a wonder and a sign.

A Temple of water
and air,

And walls of determination.

We briefly enter – and return again.

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There is nothing between this sand and that yonder star
but empty space and a thin breath of blistered air.

A Weight Bears Down.
Relentless.
We cannot escape.

Our branches grow tough – and dark.
Our water, our blood, our thoughts
Dwindle . . . down.

The white light sears our flesh into dust,
and there is no wind to blow it away.

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Stillness

The desert does not sleep.
It is an endless movement – the motion of survival.

We look and listen . . . and there is

Stillness

Silence

You can see it move if you are slow enough.
You can feel it, anyway,
if you are still enough.

Do not listen for it or watch for it.

Be Still

and Listen

and Watch

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This desert is young. This desert is old.
It depends on your speed, you see.

Some have come to change this land.
Some have changed it – some.

All who have come
Have Been Changed.

Some have gone now.
A fragrance lingers in secret places.
Their song echoes lightly on adobe and wood and stone.

The mesa shrugs, and it is gone.

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She is clothed in riches. Bejewelled in green and yellow and brown.
An extravagance on this plate of rock – standing up, tasting the water.

Big Bend is not barren.

LIFE is everywhere in this Desert –
this Living Land.

Raising faces – arms to the air,
feeling deeply down for the lifeblood –
a watery current within.
Knowing how to keep that – and to hold it.

A Treasure.

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The desert is a mirror.
The desert is a portal.

It reflects our souls back at us,
and then offers a Way
into another Realm.

We are opened up
and slowed down.

The soft voices of the Plants can be heard.
The wordless brotherhood of the Animals is known.
The marvel of the Eternal Moment can be felt
In our very ground.

Big Bend is a Heart Land.
A place of shifting Shapes.
It is a healer of the Spirit.

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Standing Up Country – Utah

 

A photography post for this hot summer’s day.
Here are some of my images from my last journey into an amazing landscape in southeastern Utah. Please click on any photo for a larger, better view.

I will be heading back into this area this fall to do some more photography and cinematography and I will look forward to sharing some of that with you then.

 

CheslerPark1-borderThis is Chesler Park, part of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. It’s a very special place I’ve repeatedly visited since 1975.

Here is a manifestly magical landscape where, as the ancients said, “There are more rocks standing up than lying down.”

Entering this land, we feel like we have stumbled into a giant, ancient, Atlantisian cityscape – thousands of massive buildings, scatter far over the rolling hills and loom profoundly next to our tiny forms. They are frozen in time as the wind and sun slowly melt the magnificent masonry into curious shapes. Long, inspiring parks of green and orange still echo the aesthetic design of a masterful and artistic urban planner. It is a scene that seems populated or that seems it should be – filled with milling crowds. When the black raven caws and the wind sighs around the rocks, however, we realize that it is too quiet for such crowds. There are few humans here. The rock pillars themselves form the sense of mass congregation.

Perhaps it is all mere sand and wind. Perhaps.

As we stand, dwarfed, by a reddened wall topped with curious minarets and colorful balanced spires, we may sense that this primordial cityscape was designed this very way by spirit beings or unknowable men and women of mystic vision, serving some need of the soul and heart that still resonates in us today. We feel the rocks ringing and singing their long songs, gazing ever into eternity.

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Spirit hand prints of the Ancestral Puebloans who passed this way some 500 to 900 years ago. With time so long and slow in this magical land, it seems that the red paint should still be wet to the touch.

You can hear Time pass by in a soft and curious breeze between the painted walls.

 

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State of the Vine 2014 – Rak Razam

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One of the most interesting writers about Ayahuasca is the featured author on Graham Hancock’s website this month. Rak Razam’s article on the “State of the Vine” is an interesting overview of how the great plant medicine is viewed, used, and evolving into our modern cultures. Rak wrote two excellent books on Ayahuasca:  “Aya Awakenings: A Shamanic Odyssey” and “The Ayahuasca Sessions” (www.ayathe­book.com) and continues to verbalize many views and overviews of the medicine, giving perspectives that are sometimes lost in the tangle of the vine as it is being used and sometimes abused today.

I was particularly struck by this excerpt about the reason many Westerners have decided to approach and work with Ayahuasca. I am one of these seekers, coming as I did to it at the same time Rak did in 2006:

“So when tens of thousands of Westerners started coming in search of ayahuasca–the vast majority with no obvious ailments–the curanderos soon realized there was still a sickness: this one of the soul, a spiritual malaise where people talked of being disconnected from nature, from the whole idea of spirit and spirituality, in any tangible way. That is why the came seeking visions, wanting to see spirits and validate the spiritual world that has long been disconnected from the West. They were filling a burning ache within them for re-connection, which is, of course, what religion means in the original Latin.”

If you have read my series on my original encounter with Ayahuasca, you know that this describes my reasons and approach to the medicine quite well. It also describes my actual experience in re-connecting with the Spirit of life itself. Working with Madre Ayahuasca led to the first and so far only event in my life that I can unflinchingly call a “religious experience.” One that was all the more mind and eye-opening for having had nothing at all to do with the religion of my first forty years on this planet, and everything to do with the life of this planet itself.

“These are still early days, and for all the teething issues that hit the headlines, a great archaic revival is underway, an understanding of the true nature of our reality and what we are embedded in. This is the true beauty of ayahuasca, and the invitation to become part of this movement is there as the vine reaches out to embrace the world.”

Her spirit infuses my life continually, as I am certain it does for most who encounter Ayahuasca with a good heart and honest intentions for visionary healing and enlightenment, whether that healing be physical, emotional, or spiritual.

 

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Inducing Lucid Dreams

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“If Voss’ research provides a consistent method of psychic exploration, scientists and psychonauts will be able to further understand the mysteries, mechanisms and potential self-discoveries of dreams.”

“The study, published in Nature Neuroscience in May, provides some of the first data necessary to understand the biology of lucid dreaming.”

Here’s an interesting article by Daniel Appel at Ultraculture on new research into brain function and the phenomena of lucid dreaming. Reductionists will surely use these kinds of discoveries to assert that lucid dreaming and other “spiritual” experiences are nothing more than meaningless bio-mechanical artifacts. Others will understand that the brain functions as a kind of receiver and amplifier/filter for connection to non-ordinary dimensions. In that understanding, it makes perfect sense that altering or manipulating the brain with electromagnetic forces can “tune” our marvelous receivers in various ways to attain specific effects, just as a radio’s tuning mechanism does to select certain frequencies to display.

I find this particularly interesting in that if this new methodology is proven effective, it may also help many of us who have never attained these particular states do so for the first time.

 

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The Pursuit of Other Worlds

BistiPortal-border(Click image for larger view.)

 

“A creature who has once passed from visible nature into the ghostly insubstantial world evolved and projected from his own mind will never cease to pursue thereafter the worlds beyond this world.”

-Loren Eiseley, The Invisible Pyramid, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1970, p. 151.

 

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Quiriguá – Mayan Monuments and Time

 

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[Click any photo for a larger view.]

Meet K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat, or in our best interpretation of his name: Kawak Sky.

Time for a travel post and photos.

Whenever I’m not focused primarily on landscapes and scenery, travel for me often involves ancient cultures and archeological sites. I’ve been scanning some of my older photo collections, and these images from the Mayan site called Quiriguá came up today. Quiriguá (our modern name for it) is a modest Mayan site in terms of architecture, but its collection of carved stelae and zoomorph stones are amazing.

Quiriguá lies in southern Guatemala, not far from its large rival city, Copán, just across the modern border to Honduras. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Quiriguá was the first Mayan site I had the privilege to visit, and it was a good introduction to the Mayan world.

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Kawak Sky was the “k’ul ahaw,” or “Holy Lord” of Quiriguá. This small city was active during the Maya Classic Period from about 200 to 900 AD, and is noted now for its important carved stone monuments. These represent the most dense collection of Mayan hieroglyphic stone stelae known to exist in one site, and the tallest freestanding stone monuments in the Americas. Stela E stands 35 feet high. The local red sandstone is solid and clear of fractures, which allowed the Mayan artisans to carve deeply and in large format.

Quiriguá was a subservient city to the much larger and more powerful Copán until Kawak Sky managed to ambush the elder king of Copán and haul him back to Quiriguá for a ritual execution. This occurred in 738 AD, establishing the independence of Quiriguá from that time forward and making Kawak Sky the most celebrated of its rulers.

It was fascinating to walk for my first time among ancient Mayan carvings and see a real ball court. At that time, I was recently married and we enjoyed climbing the carved stone steps of the central acropolis and listening to the forest birds as we soaked in the strange air of this place. It’s history, often very violent, was so different from our own culture. Yet here it lies, surprisingly close in physical distance to my own home in Texas. I’ve been to a number of other Mayan sites since this, but I never tire of the sense of wonder and history one experiences when actually walking these old cities and monuments.

In the early 1930s, author Aldous Huxley visited Quiriguá. He was also impressed by the stelae, writing:

 “And there they still stood, obscurely commemorating man’s triumph over time and matter and the triumph of time and matter over man.”
Huxley, Aldous (1950) [©1934]. Beyond the Mexique Bay: A Traveller’s Journal (Reprint ed.). London: Chatto & Windus.

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Infinite Love in a Finite Room

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Stepping Outside the Shadow

In an earlier post, I spoke of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s metaphor of the stairs. It is a disturbing observation, precisely because it is the simple, honest assessment of the fundamental experience of all men and women. In his essay “Experience,” he states:

“Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight.”

We, each of us and collectively, wake upon these stairs from a shadow of unknowing. Furthermore, we live our lives inside a kind of cosmic prison whose bars are made of unreachable stellar distances, vast time, and the necessarily precise material nature of our fragile yet essential protective physical environment. When our encased and brief life ends, we enter a shadow of greater unknowing – greater not by essence, but by virtue of our ability to perceive and anticipate it. It leads us, we know not where.

Is this our lot, not to know, not to ever understand? Are we mere chemical accidents–embodied processes running meaninglessly on for a brief moment? If not, and if we are more than that, can that part of our nature that is beyond the reductionist machine, give us the insight we seek? Can it give us energy and something of value to accomplish? How can mankind escape his prison of shadows?

William Blake once wrote, “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.” Some say that all the apparent universe we see–all of reality–is literally created by our thoughts. That may be so, but the old stairs seem solid and unchangeable. It is unquestionable however, that we are unique beings that have the ability to create new things and new cultures from the images we conjure in our minds, images that arise out of veriest nothing. Images that have no source in the cold stairs of our cosmic prison. We have the ability and power to live another life concurrent with the merely physical, a life that constitutes a different universe and a new set of stairs created and described by our own minds and hearts.

With this ability, we can step beyond our restricting shadow-shell and use our new energies for either positive or negative ends, but we must choose our inner path with care. There are shadows here of a different kind. Carl Jung said, “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.”

There is a balance to be obtained between the finite world of physical bodies within gross material life and the inherently infinite universe within our minds – that well of infinite possibilities that has propelled us so far as a species in so short a span of time. The Christian mystic, Thomas Traherne, put perhaps the finest focus on the matter when he wrote, “Infinite Love cannot be expressed in finite room: but must have infinite places wherein to utter and shew itself. . . . And yet, it must be expressed in a finite room. . .”

All of this is to paraphrase and restate a view expressed with eloquence by one of the last century’s finest essayists, Loren Eiseley. In The Invisible Pyramid, he writes:

“In man, moreover, consciousness looks out isolated from its own body. The body is the true cosmic prison, yet it contains, in the creative individual, a magnificent if sometimes helpless giant. John Donne, speaking for that giant in each of us said: ‘Our creatures are our thoughts, creatures that are born Gyants. . . . My thoughts reach all, comprehend all. Inexplicable mystery; I their Creator am in a close prison, in a sick bed, anywhere, and any one of my Creatures, my thoughts, is with the Sunne and beyond the Sunne, overtakes the Sunne, and overgoes the Sunne in one pace, one steppe, everywhere.’

“This thought, expressed so movingly by Donne, represents the final triumph of (the) interior microcosm in its war with the macrocosm. Inside has conquered outside. The giant confined in the body’s prison roams at will among the stars. More rarely and more beautifully, perhaps, the profound mind in the close prison projects infinite love in a finite room. This is a crossing beside which light-years are meaningless. It is the solitary key to the prison that is man.”

[Loren Eiseley, The Invisible Pyramid, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1970, pp. 48–49.]

In this way and along this path, we can choose to express our inner creations for love rather than power, even as we are trapped, contained within the narrow prison of our bodies and lost somewhere along an unexplainable stairway. This is the difference between those shamans who choose healing over sorcery. It is the open heart that brings health and joy to our shadowed life. The words of Traherne again ring true:

“This moment exhibits infinite space, but there is a space also wherein all moments are infinitely exhibited, and the everlasting duration of infinite space is another region and room of joys.”

and:
“You never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.”

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