Photos, Artwork, & Musings on Life, Spirit, Entheogens, Time, & Travel

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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 Doesn’t Compute

Human-Geometry-Alex-GreyThanks to my friend, Graham Hancock, for this link to a very interesting article about a South Korean physicist, Daegene Song, who is working with the concepts of consciousness and artificial intelligence. First, I should say that this man’s views are controversial and have been challenged, but then, that kind of goes with this territory.

I have long thought that there is a fundamental difference between our organic forms that seem to produce and exhibit what we perceive as consciousness and strictly reductionist machine analogues, i.e.: computers, that are programmed to attempt to re-create it. I personally do not believe that any AI (artificial intelligence) attempts based on current understandings and technology will ever be successful in recreating a fully conscious “being” like us, all the science fiction tropes and movies aside.

I recently saw the film “Ex Machina,” for instance, and as well done as it was, the leap of faith from robot to “person” is palpable and remains firmly entrenched in fantasy. Nothing wrong with that, per se, of course. I write such material myself, but I have at least postulated a mixture of physical bodies/brains with that “something else” that comes from another dimension that I’ve labeled the “Spirit Dimension” in my fiction. We humans may be “bi-modal” without being able to describe or define the dark energy and matter that makes us truly conscious and therefore human. Now, this scientist has done some research that he says proves that consciousness cannot be possible by reductionist mechanical systems alone, because the math prevents it!

From the article:

“If consciousness cannot be represented in the same way all other physical systems are represented, it may not be something that arises out of a physical system like the brain,” said Song. “The brain and consciousness are linked together, but the brain does not produce consciousness. Consciousness is something altogether different and separate. The math doesn’t lie.”  (emphasis mine)

I cannot assess the math itself, but this is the first time I’ve encountered someone in that field who is saying something specifically like this, and I find it fascinating and intriguing, especially in light of the “spiritual” work I and others have personally done with actual bi-modal systems such as Ayahuasca.

A lot of folks will disagree and many believe a truly self-aware AI is just around the corner. I think that if that happens, it will still be unexplainable and unreducible in standard reductionist terms, having gathered something of that other dimension, that unknown dark essence that makes us “conscious”.

What do you think?

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[ Artwork from Alex Grey.  “Human Geometry”   www.alexgrey.com ]

Harmine in Ayahuasca May Help Reverse Diabetes

Aya-Harmine

Photos ©2015 David P. Crews, CrewsCreative

Through a link from Graham Hancock, here is an interesting article about the medical benefits of Ayahuasca. There have been anecdotal references and rumors about physical cures and benefits of working with Ayahuasca for a long time, but this is a Nature Medicine study that points to one of the vine’s key ingredients as being potentially beneficial in the fight against diabetes.

Some quotes from the article:

“Psychoactive Plant May Hold Key to Reversing Diabetes”

“A chemical found in ayahuasca has the potential to regenerate pancreas cells that have been lost to diabetes.”

“Harmine occurs naturally in a number of plants around the world. It’s one of the ingredients in the psychoactive mixture ayahuasca, which is used by some indigenous people for religious purposes.”

I look forward to more research in this important area. I believe there is a largely untapped resource of powerful natural medicines to be found in our psychoactive plant allies. It is time to do away with the draconian and senseless laws that prohibit researchers from working with these plants.

Much can be done by targeting specific ills such as diabetes with an allopathic medical approach, but I think some of the benefits of working with the spirit plants like Ayahuasca come more subtly from ingesting the specific combination of natural whole plant molecules (and, in a larger view, connecting to the spirit of the plant) and may not express in the same way or be as beneficial when the isolated chemicals (like harmine) are tested individually.

 

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Costa Rica Waterfalls


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Today, I’m presenting a virtual getaway, especially for anyone stuck in this year’s snowy winter. I’m pleased to offer you my short (7 min.) nature film I shot in November on location in the beautiful country of Costa Rica.

I love waterfalls, and Costa Rica has many lovely ones, both small and very large. All are situated in rain forest settings that invoke images of a lost, green, wild world.

This film also features my original symphonic music score. Be sure to go full screen and volume up.

I hope you enjoy “Costa Rica Waterfalls”!

 

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Mariners We Are

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My posting frequency on this blog has slowed recently due to my becoming deeply involved in writing my first novel. The book, an epic science-fiction/fantasy series, is approaching completion and I will update this blog as I can, but I thought that for now I’d post some recent thoughts in the forms of a poem and a digital image or two.

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Often, I find myself simultaneously holding different visions of my humanity. On one hand, I sense the melancholy (which is not the same as sadness or hopelessness) of our situation here in this physical reality. It is the conundrum of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s metaphor of the Stairs that I’ve spoken of several times in these pages. Upon those stairs, we awake and know not whence we came, nor where we are bound. It is an authentic and enduring melancholy for every person–a melancholy borne of that mystery.

On the other hand, I feel a strong imperative to constantly and consciously create real happiness and fulfillment for myself within the time I exist upon those mysterious stairs. I do so by being a creator and I live that role right now. This is the only way to be in this life that brings me (or, I will maintain, anyone else) true joy. It is what Casteneda called a “Path with Heart,” and it brings unexpected delights and challenges to us, while each of us also remains involuntarily bound to that mysterious river of time that leads us to an unknown destination.

Those two visions emerged into two different creations recently, and I thought I’d share them here while I may be away from more regular blog posts for a while.

The Melancholy observation is represented by a poem that is my take on Emerson’s Stairs. It came fully formed out of sleep and the spirit realm of dream last night. The accompanying image (above) is my digital art alteration or enhancement of a detail from one of my favorite painters, Thomas Cole. (It’s from his four panel “Voyage of Life” series from 1842.) His paintings include some directly religious elements, but I believe the idea of guidance from “outside” of ourselves is possible in many shapes and forms that cannot be empirically measured. We are, in any case, on the boat and in motion to an unseen destination.

The Creative/happiness/joy/challenge observation is an original saying and a digital artwork rendered on a moonrise photograph I took along the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica a few months ago.

May we all continue to look, wonder, and choose to make our time upon the waters of life worthwhile by creating joy.

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Mariners

We are,

Passing through

Unknown lands

In fragile boats

Clad with skin.

 

We make no stops–

Frail vessels that

Set no anchor.

The wind blows

Without cease.

Our measured course

Fades in mists

Ahead.

 

[David P. Crews, 2015]

 

[Click any image for full size.]

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A Tribal Shaman’s View of Us

I believe it is a valuable exercise and privilege to be allowed to see ourselves from a completely different perspective – one from the “outside.” For Westerners, our civilization and culture dominates our worldview so thoroughly that it is difficult to find such an “exterior” assessment of our own ways. Here is one – one that is authentic. This article from The Guardian features some of the observations of Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, one of the most influential tribal leaders in Brazil and an Amazonian shaman. As article author John Vidal says,

“In the past 25 years, he has travelled widely to represent indigenous peoples in meetings and, having lived in both societies, he has a unique viewpoint of western culture. With the help of an anthropologist, Bruce Albert, who interviewed him over several years, he has written his autobiography. It is not just an insight into what a Yanomami leader really thinks, but a devastating critique of how the west lives, showing the gulf between primordial forest and modern city world views.”

DaviKopenawaYanomami

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/dec/30/western-living-yanomami-shaman-brazil

A few choice excerpts from that autobiography (from the article):

On western wealth –

“Their cities are full of big houses and innumerable possessions but their elders never give them to anyone. If they were really great men, should they not tell themselves that it would be wise to distribute them all before they make so many more?”

On shopping –

Their thoughts are constantly attached to their merchandise. . . .They do not seem concerned that they are making us all perish with the epidemic of fumes that escape from all these things. They do not think that they are spoiling the earth and the sky, and that they will never be able to recreate new ones.

On western cities –

Their cities are beautiful to see, but the bustle of their inhabitants is frightening. People there live piled up one on top of another and squeezed side by side, as frenzied as wasps in the nest. . . . I can never think calmly in the city. . . .Whenever I stay there too long I become restless and cannot dream.

On the environment –

When they speak about the forest, white people often use the word “environment”. What they refer to in this way is what remains of everything they have destroyed so far. I don’t like this word. The Earth cannot be split apart as if the forest were just a leftover part.

 

To my thinking, agreement or disagreement with this shaman’s specific views would be beside the point. What is important is listening to him and others like him – finding perspective and truth in the refreshingly honest view of ourselves and our culture spoken by those who live in another, nature-based society. Especially so, as their worlds are being so impacted by ours, whether they wish it or not.

The autobiography is:

“The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman” by Davi Kopenawa and
Bruce Albert, published by Harvard University Press.

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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

Wired-Networks-Conscious

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.”

———-

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.

CastolonPeak-borderHeat

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

OldWindmillChisos-borderChange

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.

SotolAndChisos-borderLife

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.

WindowSunset-borderSpirit

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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