The crescent moon slides across the sky. Her crescent shape… a knife slitting the darkness to make way for Venus. As they gently kiss in the cosmic rotation of celestial bodies…..
I have a fascination with heating metals. I think the process is one of the most sensual and visceral forms of alchemy we humans do. There is something about taking a cold lump of metal placing it in a fire and watching that metal turn to glowing, red, bendable… and eventually if a the heat reaches the right temperature the molecules will release their hold on each other and the metal will turn to liquid. Magic.
Not just any kind of magic. It is a very human magic that imitates the furnaces of volcanoes. It is the magic of human curiosity, discovery and creativity. This wisdom has been held in the lineages of fire, alchemy, art, science and industry found all over the world. In some ancient traditions working with metals meant you were in direct conversation with the Gods…. in others you could if you were successful enough in your acquisition of knowledge create things of wonder and power. Magical swords, wands, amulets and such from the fire of the forge through the process of molecular states, sweat and vision. There is even this magic in the making of nails and other things we build the world around us with. Our understanding of metals change the course of human history.
I chose to write about the forge today as a metaphor. The earth is being place in a fire of transformation on so many levels. The heat of political rest, climate change, industrial growth, the insatiable metabolics of energy use and consumption, war…. etc ….
We are in the process of softening the molecules. The metal of our understanding, knowledge, vision, and actions. The rigidness of our institutions and ways of life are going through change and transformation.
In the ancient western spiritual traditions metals are divined as the path of the soul/spirit moving from lead (the the least evolved) to gold (the achievement of spiritual awakening). Like metals, the earth is warming and the potential for transformation is being raised by our human actions and the demands placed on the earth.
The two kinds of metal working encapsulate where we seem to be in this arc of progress. One is Blacksmithing and the other lost wax casting.
Blacksmithing is a the art of working metals through a process of heating, shaping, and tempering. The metal is never really brought to full liquid. The process aligns the atoms through the process of hammering and heating. This can allow for stretching, strengthening the metal and also change the magnetic polarity of the metal. Blacksmithing offers a way for heating surface enought for the atoms to bond with the same other kinds of metal. These particular methods are wielding and brazing.
This metal work can be seem as the shaping, bonding and tempering metaphor.
Lost wax casting is the process of making a mold. It requires a vision. A form. An idea. Which is created out of a burn able material in this context wax. A proto type of the form is created it with all the details and shapes that will be the finished piece. The wax form is submerged in an investment plaster. Allowed to dry and then put in a burnout kiln. This type of kiln is used to combust the wax so it leaves and empty space in the plaster for metal to be poured into. Like the process of a fossil. The organic material decomposes and is replaced by silicates.
The next part of this process is the metal is put in a crucible and heated to the point of liquidfying…. creating hot molten metal. The plaster mold is taken out of the kiln while still hot the liquid metal is poured into it. Then the metal is cooled and the mold broken to release the casting.
This is the metaphor for taking materials to build an idea, submerging it into a supported contain and through the process of fire and combustion recreating the form in a strong and more resilient way.
Some might call this time the point of evolutionary change. The time that divides those who survive from those to don’t. The earth is getting hotter and the billows of change are blowing, some of is are hammering, some building the molds to create something new, others are heating the metals… some will bust the molds… then there is polishing and finshing…. or starting over….
Some journeys begin and end in the same spot. For me this time, I started here at this view across the harbor. It’s not far from where I grew up.
Salt smell and gentle rolling of the waves into shore. Winter dried mugwart gets pushed about by the wind.
10,000 plus miles is a number. The miles driven over every kind of landscape. Sea to shining sea…. purple mountains… As numbers go, it lacks the richness of each place I stayed and the people. 10,000 is some how an abstraction to the smells and sights, textures, beauty, stars and wide open places. 10,000 is small….. it counts a quantity and leaves the rest for adjectives, memories and storytelling.
We are not born in this world only to escape it when things get hard or difficult. The fullness of the earth experience; ie, life… living is through the body. There is no other way. The journey is designed to break you and rebuild you over and over…. that is the great nature of the universe. It is the prolific artist of cosmic pallets made of stars stuff. The creations are equations of elegance, mediocrity, and failures that fold back into the dust of particles to be reformed again…. and again.
We can look at the language of “past lives”, “present moment”, and “future lives” and perhaps if we look long enough realizes that they are all the same. They are a simultaneous experiences unfolding and reinventing themselves in everyone in every moment into infinity. This is the alchemy. The tiny bits that attract and decay over time to give weight to matter and solidity to energy. Calculating the formation of potential in both chaos and predictabile formulas of the periodic table. Particals participate in a movement that is as beautiful as the captured motion of Shiva in his bronze murtti dancing the cosmology of the stars.
The other part of learning is practice. Mastery is a long game. A discipline of repetitive behavior and actions that stimulates neuronal activity and functions that also build communication with other parts of the brain. The more challenging the learning the stronger and more effective the brain/neural growth. This can vary from person to person in it’s affects on the physiological structures of the brain and the length of the timeline for change; ie, some practices will take weeks to master and years for others.
I tell my students, ” All great magic requires sacrifice.”
When offering a practice for developing a shamanic experience, I have to drive home the idea that you get out of it what you put in. Practice is your friend and you will progress at your own pace. There is no magic herb, or ceremony that will get you to see or experience the magic of navigating ordinary and non-ordinary reality. They can give you a glimpse. There are plants and such that can open you up to see the possibility yet, these are the not practice methodologies for success. The over use will lead to addiction and dependency on these plants and ceremonies. The experiences they offer are the gift of the plant opening a door for you. After that you need to do the work of practicing and taking right actions.
Sound is an affective tool for shamanic practice. Drums, rattles, singing/chanting, droning all create a trance state in the brain that taps into the flow state. The balance between being fully aware of this world and connected to the non-ordinary world is the essence of the practice. It is supported through a disciplined study of the world around us. This includes Biology, Earth science, Cosmology, Physics, Anatomy, Art, Sociology, etc… These sciences give us context for what we are looking at, what we are seeking and what to do with the information gleaned.
Everything in this universe has a story with a beginning, middle and an end. It’s the job of the shaman to listen to that story and find out how it fits into the bigger story. Fix the broken places, change the dreams in the story when necessary and weave it back into its place of belonging.
In a very general sense we can say that spiritual disease is the disconnection from feeling connected to people places and things. Often this is misinterpreted as seeking “abundance” which it is not. This is the biggest challenge faced in most communities and spiritual groups. In recent years the commodification of spiritual by-pass techniques as a methods for growth and connection have severely damaged people and their trust in themselves.
Some of the most damaging language around this is, “We the have all the answers inside us…”, “trust your intuition…”, “Believe….” …. etc…. there are shelves in bookstores devoted to this kind of thinking. These kinds of suggestions set people up for failure.
Humans learn through a visceral, exploratory experiences and communication. Progress is seen in success and failure. Humans don’t learn or grow in a vacuum. If that were true mothers and mothering wouldn’t be needed after being born. Humans need exchanges of information to gather and process as well as time to assimilate and respond….
In my work I seek to make sure practices are ways to stimulate curiousity. How to move deeper in to the senses and how to use them. How to push beyond what we automatically expect and process. Drawing from real life is a good practice of this.
The simple act of practicing something everyday is where the magic starts.
The world is full of people (myself included) that teach. Teaching is an art, a science, a tradition, a method of exchange that leads ( hopefully) to insight and understanding as well a skill set to apply to something to do something.
There are many varieties of teaching platforms and methodologies. Teaching can be one on one or a room filled with thousands…. there are also books, videos, podcasts, workshops, classes, YouTube, The great Google…. all these ways to learn and some how we do the things we know are harmful to us and the world. This is a curious thing.
This writing today is not about pointing out the ignorance or the denial, the willful beliefs that trap the mind in cages of paralysis to a singular thought or ideology. This is not about the painful inadequacies many feel despite the investment in education and knowledge. Nor is it about the the way we are overloaded with information that is raw, unfiltered, misshapen, honest, lying and misleading.
This is a writing about maybe looking for the things we value that provide and produce people, human beings that act in ways that are truly caring and compassionate. Teaching that makes life better for others, opens doors for opportunities, inspires action and design, art and science. Teaching that gets people to think about how they contribute to not control the world and the lives of others.
One of the exercises I ask my students to do as an entry point towards understanding their relationship to the world starts with these 3 questions:
🤔 Who am I? This explores the feelings, thoughts, motivations of where your consciousness awareness is residing. This is a bring it to the moment question. It is a be here now, in each breath honest assessment of who you are in that moment. What are you feeling, thinking understanding about yourself in the situation?
🤔 What am I doing? This is the question of actions. In response to the first question. What is being delivered to that moment in response to the environment and the person. Is it a reaction from past knowledge or a response from the experience? Is there a subconscious response? A knee jerk action? Is it fight or flight? Or the need for love? Interaction. Even more basic are you building something, deconstructing something? Or learning something?
🤔 How does it serve? Are these actions in relationship to the experience contributing to the great good? A cause for supporting sustainable and symbiotic communities and social growth. Are we making the world a better or worse place with our actions?
From these questions one can begin the process of learning about the direct engagement one has with the world. These can also help to slog through the swamp of information and begin the process of developing discernment. We begin to recognize the things that push emotional buttons and the things that stimulate curiosity. We also can see how we are motivated either through fear/addiction or curiosity/love. We earn how to ask the questions that lead to answers or direct us to the resources for further examination and exploration.
“There are men high up there fishing. I haven’t seen quite enough if the world. I ain’t seen a sign of my hero and I’m still diving down for pearls…” Drowned by, Pete Townshend
Life roads twist curve, split, climb, fall away, and sometimes they end abruptly in a corn field… or dead end. We navigate the inner voice of who we are and take hopefully a directive that leads somewhere. We make a choice. That free will practice. All navigation leads some where. This is the nature of these experiences. Is it really what we want? That question.
There are moments when the road is empty. The sound of the wheels drones the brain into a light focused trance and the mirages on the road are ghosts of things deeply hidden. Failures. Lovers. Mistakes. Inadequacies. Dreams. Hopes.
The coyotes of memory gnaw at the edges and the Ravens watch. Time bends just enough to slow the clock and the tears come. The brain starts to wonder what could have been done differently. Is there another way? I am drowning in my fears. The vultures pick at my bones and scatter my entrails. The hawks watch for the divination.
The smallness feels big. The sun beats down and the road vanishes into a pin prick. Where are the Goddesses? Where are the Gods?
The heart keeps time. It synchronizes with the breath and the mind stills.
The bones bleach in sun and dry on the medians. The winds change. The clouds rise to create the rain that washes the thoughts into rivers. I keep driving.
The sun will rise and set. The moon will cycle. All things turn with the dance of the universe. The coyotes smile. The Ravens wink.
The mountains begin to straighten out. The wrinkles and tucks in the earth flatten and roll into flat plains and fields. Dotted with cows, horses, geese and the occasional small town of stockyards, grain silos, and the usual assortment of services that appear and disappear in the distance once passed. This part of the country is like a thin membrane of earth. Fertile. Flat. Under a sun that bears down. Not a tree insight. Pulled by the politices of church and governing, survival by livestock and grain, these are the people of the flat earth. Everything lives is under the sun. This is where the elements if Earth and Air press together pushing out all matter of excess to distill the alchemy of direct living in a no nonsense kind of way. Every thing is there under the sky and God is the guiding hand of reason.
I find myself today in a snow dusted neighborhood in Lawrence Kansas. (20° is making me miss the California coast) This sprawling college town of Kansas University and a never-die-hippie-ideology of artists, writers and those still exploring the use of drugs and counterculture. Some of the highlights of this liberal Kansas geographical node are the The Spencer Art Gallery, final resting spot of William Burrows, tiny over priced houses mixed with others that are at least in line with the living standards of students and adjunct professors. The outer environs are the circling of big box stores and the scrum line along the inner edge to resist full gentrification. There are bookstores and coffee down town…
The general feel is a place with night chatter in the dark plotting a revolution, football pride and the scurrying of people to get to class, work or find a willing ear to listen to the next great idea.
In 1993 I lived here briefly before I returned to the East coast to begin a journey of self discovery and recovery. I find myself again turning inward to see where I am on the path of my current journey. This spiritual medicine is more like a mechanic with socket wrenches and a hammer. As one clears and adjusts the machinery, oils the gears, replaces the spark plugs and other parts of the soul, the tinkering spits out the next cog to be fixed… the next broken belt to be replaced.
Life takes the dexterity to learn, play and make choices. The journey this winter has pulled me inside out and laid bare a new set of challenges and ideas that I need to learn and figure out.
I am in the middle of my life. The middle of this life road heading to a reboot back east. I’ve paused in the middle of the country to be still. I sense with proper care another 40 years of life. If I pay attention to these long flat roads that show the sign posts and telephone wires. What is connected. What is a choice. I have this opportunity to view what is needed to take the next steps towards, home, work, love and the mysterious.
During the Triassic period. This dry river bed was once a lush forest. Because of plate tectonics the place where these stone trees lay scattered about was once in the same place where iCosta Rica is today. The Earth we live on has been moving, and changing from the very beginning. Leaving behind the story of diversity and death, design and adaptation. These trees are the ambassadors from a time past and they hold their secrets in the way silicates and other minerals filled the void left behind after the organic matter disappeared.
This land is a sacred burial ground. These trees are the remains of our modern trees. Walking among them tou feel the anima(spirit) of their presence.
I visit this place when time and travel allows. I give thanks for their being and to the air they gave us to give life.
The road stretches and bends. Winds down along the coast. To my right the falling away of the earth revealed the beauty of blue waters, stones, the lush plants of a coastal habitat. Kelp rolled in the waves. Foam churned in the surf against the rocks. It was hard to leave. So much beauty.
Then I turned east on to the rolling desert of scruby plants, yucca and josha trees articulated in their odd way. The ground dried and the sky opened up. The mountains rose in jagged colors of reds, greys and blues. The sun burned down on the earth. Dust flies at the slightest touch creating haze and clouds. Power lines cross the empty spaces carry the energy for places far away. The artificial mesas made with the discarded rubble from mining stretch past the 20 Mule Team Road. Trucks and boots kick up dust and the day collapses with the particles sticking to windows and everything else.
The sky expanded cloudless and blue. Creating the dome which the Sun arched across on it’s travel everyday.
The car smells of sage and mugwart. Dust covers the dashboard. The road is a straight line dividing the mountains as the sun follows me into the Mojave.
I’m making the long way back east under a big sky.