Saturday, December 6, 2014


Pounding Stone, San Joaquin River Gorge
(Note: the following contains a mix of topics from previous posts in a different context.  If you would like to hear a song cycle, otherwise known as a "concept album," beginning with a song about the dam, click on the title below.)

     Recently I dwelt in the tranquillity of the Earth Soul in the San Joaquin River Gorge, which might soon be buried underwater by a dam at Temperance Flat. To me and many others, a dam that would destroy a stunning ecosystem on public land represents a personal and social tragedy, as well as yet another indication of the absence of an ethos of stewardship in the halls of power. While lounging on a pounding stone in the river bottom and pondering this lack of stewardship, I understood why the looming destruction of the planet is essentially a spiritual problem.
     The concept of the Earth Soul, or “anima mundi,” is, unfortunately, unfamiliar to many. Known also as the “world soul,” the anima mundi has been described as an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet: “This world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence ... a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related" (Plato, Timaeus, 29–30).
     The idea of the world soul has surfaced in many philosophies and religious systems in different cultures throughout history. The Stoics, for instance, believe that it is the only vital force in the universe. Similar beliefs exist in systems of eastern philosophy, such as the Brahman-Atman of Hinduism, the Buddha-Nature in Mahayana Buddhism, and in the School of Yin-Yang, Taoism, and Neo-Confucianism.
     The experience of the Earth Soul often begins as a feeling of peace that grows more profound as you immerse yourself in the frequencies of nature. The longer you are in nature, in other words, the more you naturally tune your brain waves to the frequency of the Earth. The Schumann Resonance (known as the "heart beat" of Mother Earth) is on the average 7.8 Hertz.  Four accepted types of human brain waves occur at the following vibrations per second (Hertz):

Delta:    0.5 to 3 hz
Theta:      3 to 8 hz
Alpha:    8 to 12 hz
Beta:    12 to 38 hz

     Beta rhythm (also known as beta waves) refers to the frequency range of human brain activity between 12 and 38 Hz and represents an intense state of alertness, concentration, logical thinking, and memory. Since beta mode is the required mental state of the workplace, it is generally valued as the most productive state of modern human consciousness in terms of survival and success. Other brain wave rhythms, alpha, theta, and delta, associated with, among other things, imagination, spiritual connection, and intuition, are accessed through deep relaxation, meditation, daydreaming and immersion in the natural world.  
     Previously dismissed  as 'spare brain noise,' researchers have also examined a fifth brainwave that is highly active in states of universal love, altruism, and higher-level functioning. Gamma brainwaves are the fastest of brain waves, occurring at high frequency, and they relate to simultaneous processing of information from different brain areas. In order to access these most subtle of brainwave frequencies, the mind has to be quiet. The presence of Gamma relates to expanded consciousness and spiritual emergence, and because Gamma is above the frequency of neuronal firing, how it is generated remains a mystery.
     An individual during meditation can intentionally move beyond the beta rhythms of the surface mind to alpha, theta, delta and gamma brain wave frequencies.  Alpha brain waves (generally considered 8 to 12 cycles per second), produced when a person is resting, meditating, or reflecting, indicate a state of relaxed alertness, good for stimulating imagination and inspiring powerful ideas.  Theta brain waves (3 to 8 cycles per second), usually associated with the dream state, are produced also when a person is daydreaming, experiencing a flow of ideas, or performing a repetitive task.  Theta brain waves are also associated with profound inner peace, mystical knowledge, symbolic visions, transformation of unconsciously held limiting beliefs, physical and emotional healing, inner wisdom, and psychic abilities. Delta brain waves (0.5 to 3 cycles per second), are produced usually during dreamless sleep, and during meditation can also include deep access to subconscious material and a sense of oneness and pure being.  
     The “heart beat" of Mother Earth, at 7.8 hz, is on the border between Theta and Alpha brain waves.  In other words, The Earth Soul, Mother Nature herself, as well as meditation can induce a brain wave frequency where one experiences tranquility, intuition, visions, and wise inner voices.  I have found this to be the case over and over in my excursions into nature.  In fact, with regular meditation and experiences in nature, I have discovered that the subtle, psychic senses can open in a way that a mind stuck in surface consciousness and dominated by the media would find extremely difficult to believe. 

Lupine next to Trail: San Joaquin River Gorge

      In the film Cold Souls, Paul Giamatti plays an actor burdened by nameless anxieties who has his soul extracted by the “Soul Storage Company.” His soul, it turns out, resembles a chickpea. Unlike the character in the movie, I believed for decades that I didn’t have a soul, extractable or otherwise, until I experienced a series of visions during meditation. My spiritual emergence occurred unexpectedly: I began meditating purely to relieve stress. I had no interest in ideas of God or the soul and no desire to have visions or to expand consciousness.
     When I began meditating, I had a series of related visions. The first in the series was of a golden, equal-armed cross with an angel at each end. The second was of a golden plate and cup on a pure white tablecloth; floating in the cup a large pearl turned ceaselessly around and around. The third vision consisted of a plain, golden crown. Since at the time I was an agnostic with no interest in spiritual matters, my conscious mind took a long time to process what my subconscious mind was showing me.
     By that point in my life, I had experienced enough treachery and deceit to make anyone cynical for several lifetimes. I did not have any reason to feel hopeful about the human condition. I was pessimistic to the point of despair--if I had fallen asleep during meditation, my subconscious mind was more likely to manufacture nightmares than glowing, golden symbols. During the meditations, however, I was totally awake, but in a state of consciousness that I had never experienced before. My subconscious mind in the visionary state tapped into a realm that transcended my limited personality, presenting symbols of what to me at the time was an inscrutable optimism about our essence, what many over the centuries have labeled the “soul.”
     I have come to believe that the great tragedy of our time is a lack of understanding about the different levels of the psyche. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone will be damned for eternity for ignoring his or her own soul. That and other ideas about hell-fire and damnation have kept me and many others from even trying to understand and honor the psyche. I’m suggesting instead that we are losing valuable connections to the spiritual dimension, knowledge from within the timeless core of ourselves that transcends the limited physical senses and also provides opportunities for greater health on all levels of being. When I say, “honoring the soul,” I mean acknowledging all aspects of the psyche--which I have discovered is a far greater mystery than most psychologists would concede. Honoring the soul means acknowledging the vast potentialities of the psyche while recognizing that each one of us, when the veils have fallen, is essentially a magnificent spiritual being containing the inner seeds of abundance and harmony. Honoring the soul is also the first crucial step in honoring the vast, awesome web of nature and recognizing our place within it.
Fiesta Flowers and Lupine:
San Joaquin River Gorge
     My vision of the angels and the equal-armed cross has various esoteric meanings, but to me reveals the balance of elements and the integration of the individual personality resonating with this vast cosmic harmony. Water in the golden cup to me suggests spirit manifesting in matter. I have to confess that the pearl turning around in the water puzzled me for a very long time. Only after I reread the proverb about the merchant who gave up everything for the “pearl of great price” did I realize that the pearl in the vision symbolizes the soul in its various experiences within the material realm.  In other words, the soul forms like a pearl around the divine spark, the core of the psyche, through an evolution, containing the essence of many incarnations, and, like the wheel of fortune, keeps turning as it experiences and reflects the multiplicity of life, both in the subconscious mind (the part in water) and the conscious mind (the part in air).  
     I finally understood the series of visions over all in the context of the last, simple vision.  The crown symbolizes dominion and magnificence, the gold representing incorruptibility and purity. Together the visions reveal the spiritual magnificence, harmony, and abundance within the soul. These visions have a kind of simplicity that has taken me years to understand.

Imaginative Representation of Root Chakra

     Human beings, in esoteric terms, are physical, astral, mental, and spiritual creatures. Whenever a person first begins moving into the subtle planes during meditation, the mind often reveals subconscious content related to the aura, which is the subtle envelope containing the invisible energy centers known as the chakras. The primary chakras correspond to the spine and usually turn clock-wise. If you hold a pendulum made from a paperclip and a thread over a chakra, such as the stomach or heart center, after a few seconds the paperclip will start spinning around. Within the aura, the chakras extend outward into the astral, mental and spiritual levels. I was surprised to find that I can mentally tell the pendulum to spin only in the astral or mental or spiritual level of the aura, and the chakra responds to the command, just like a hand responds to thought. 
     The lower chakras are linked with an individual’s preservation instincts, sex drive, and personal power, the higher ones with communication, imagination, and spiritual awareness. The heart center, besides being the center of sympathy and love, connects the lower centers related to the physical realm with the higher centers related to the spiritual levels. Each of these chakras is associated with a state of being that corresponds to a particular sheath or "vehicle" of consciousness within the aura.  In other words, consciousness is not limited to the physical body. 
   As the mind becomes more adept at meditation (or ritual, if one prefers) the conscious mind becomes better at focusing on particular levels of the psyche. Complex color patterns are associated with the chakras in some traditions, but the subconscious mind responds to an arrangement of the chakras in a simple rainbow pattern, with red at the bottom representing the lowest chakra between the anus and genitals and violet representing the third eye chakra. Brilliant white, a combination of all the colors, is associated with the crown chakra, also known as the thousand-petaled lotus. These different vibrations are associated with the different levels of the subtle planes (besides space, the last frontier). 
     In this stage of evolution, what we currently consider normal consciousness in esoteric terms is an astro-mental state flowing with emotions, ideas, and images, in other words thought-forms, or for lack of a better term, thought-complexes. We tend to create reality with the force of emotion and the forms of the intellect, in other words. The physical senses generally are not nearly as engaged as they used to be even a hundred years ago.
     During spiritual practices, an individual can experiment with the different frequency levels of vibration that correspond to the higher and lower levels, from plant and animal frequencies to the frequencies of the angels and gods. The more one moves in either direction, of course, the more one experiences vibrations beyond what the average person considers within the normal range of perception and consciousness--and the more one begins to recognize the true potentials of the psyche. The old maxim, "Know thyself," means far more, I think, than most modern humans suspect.
     On a social level, frequencies other than beta brain waves tend to be associated with fuzzy head-in-the-cloud thinking and the inability to function properly in the real world, an attitude that has become a major obstacle both to connection with nature and to spiritual development. When not required to remain in beta mode by high stress jobs, people nowadays tend to slip into alpha and theta states under the influence of the mass media, which controls the flow of thoughts and emotions and tends to extinguish the potential for authentic spiritual experience. 
     I had the good fortune to experience the Earth Soul often on fishing trips when I was growing up. After practicing meditation for several years, I finally understood what it means to tune the soul to the heart beat of Mother Nature, explained by science in terms of the alpha and theta brain frequencies. 
     During meditation, I “drop into the void” for extended periods, and I have sometimes experienced a subtle order of existence that is “objective” in the sense that I envision what other seers have also experienced. Other visionaries, in other words, have also envisioned the symbols and archetypes of what Carl Jung has described as the “collective unconscious,” which to me is more accurately described as the “collective subconscious.”                                              
Baby Blue Eyes: San Joaquin River Gorge

     The Tree of Life is extremely helpful to the traveler into the unseen. Throughout history, cultures have created different pantheons of Gods and Archangels that represent the subtle forces.  In other words, a God symbolically represents a force or power that exists in the subtle spiritual dimension of the cosmos--and inside each human being: “As above, so below.”  One God might represent the force of expansion, another the force of restriction, another the power of thought, another the power of harmonizing love.  Jesus, for instance, is a Savior that finds his rightful place in the sixth sphere of the Tree of Life, known as Tiphareth, along with other sacrificial Gods.  
     Each culture has similar Gods because the same forces have existed inside of people throughout history. Different forces have been emphasized in each culture based on its needs.  One culture might emphasize the courage and energy and strength of Mars while another might emphasize the intellectual power of Mercury while another might emphasize the power of love and beauty represented by Venus.  Whenever a person contacts a cosmic force fashioned symbolically into a God or Goddess, that person is actually contacting an aspect of the energy of a sphere on the the Tree of Life.  Unfortunately most people do not realize that each individual, without a priest interceding, can access the cosmic force symbolically represented by a God or Savior, and each person can establish a channel or correspondence with that energy because the energy also exists within each individual: the microcosm (the individual) reflects the macrocosm (the cosmos).
     On the cosmic level, manifestation of all forms begins within the seventh sphere of the Tree of Life, a state of being known as Netzach, or "Victory"--a title which suggests the victory of natural forms flourishing in stunning beauty and diversity. Netzach is the sphere of the Goddess Venus. Dion Fortune, arguably the most influential Qabalist in recent history, once pointed out that any religion without the Goddess is "halfway to atheism." In common parlance, Earth is our "mother," and fortunately in much of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at least, the Goddess undeniably still reigns, but many irreplacable ecosystems have already been destroyed or are in danger, like the San Joaquin River Gorge. 

San Joaquin River Gorge

     On the Tree of Life, the sphere of the Sun is just above (or, in terms of evolution--before) Netzach.  Known as Tiphareth, or "Beauty," the sphere of the Sun represents the Source of all life within the physical plane, and, because Tiphareth balances and harmonizes the energies of other spheres on the Tree, it also represents the cosmic Christ force.  Imagine a prism held up before the sun, breaking up the light into all the colors of manifestation.  This is the light of the Source, the One manifesting harmoniously and victoriously as the Many within the sphere of Netzach and the lower spheres.
     For me, spiritual emergence began with physical and mental purification. In many spiritual traditions, cleansing is a crucial step in the process of spiritual development. A person must eliminate negative energies from the body and the aura to progress on the path. Having many food allergies, intolerances, and chemical sensitivities, I first had to eliminate everything in my diet that made me ill or unable to think clearly. Then with a damp white cloth I mentally wiped away negative energies, revealed in various forms to psychic vision, in each one of my chakras while also forgiving myself and others. I felt purified after I dumped trash from my crown chakra for several hours, and I immediately had a vision of a many-petalled, brilliant white flower.  I thought at first that it was a stunning white rose with innumerable petals, but a voice in my head said, “Lotus.” I went on-line and discovered that the thousand-petaled lotus is symbolically associated with the crown chakra.
     Like Dion Fortune, I believe that there is no room for authority in occultism--or any other form of spirituality--but how I would have appreciated another soul explaining what was happening to me! I never once feared for my sanity, but I was many times deeply confused and fascinated to the point of fixation, only slowly piecing together an understanding through experimentation and by wading through many an arcane text. I do not claim to be an authority, but I have had enough experience to become knowledgeable about a subject that is foreign to most people in Western society.
Fiesta Flowers and Fiddleneck:
San Joaquin River Gorge
     In terms of energy frequencies, whether viewed as brain-waves or chakras, through experience I have come to believe that, besides quieting the mind during meditation or contemplation, purification and exaltation of consciousness are the keys to spiritual development and connection to nature.  I believe that cleansing the aura is essential in opening an awareness of the various vibrations of the psyche. Through experience, I have also come to believe that “following your bliss” results in the kind of exaltation and expansion of the mind that leads to spiritual emergence and enlightenment. For me, that means immersion in nature and the arts, both of which are associated with the sphere of Netzach on the Tree of Life.  Others, of course, find their own path. Through experience, I have come to believe that exaltation, inspiration, and expansion of consciousness, associated with Gamma brainwaves, leads to the Vision of Harmony and opens up the state of being known as Tiphareth, the Christ-center, on the Tree of Life. 
     Recently, in the fresh air and splendor of San Joaquin River Gorge, my mind relaxed.  I recognized once again that we are surrounded by field upon field of interconnected, divine energy.  My mind was tuned to the heartbeat of Mother Nature: The inspirations of the divine rise from the subconscious as much as from higher consciousness, from the Earth Soul as much as from heaven.
     Lack of spiritual connection with nature could soon lead to the destruction of the stunning ecosystem within the San Joaquin River Gorge. Lack of understanding about our own psyche and our own connection to nature could lead eventually to the destruction of the planet. Many of those in power can only see the river gorge as a storage container for a certain number of acre feet of water that would benefit private, vested interests, their contributors. Our politicians and the media do not appear to care that the gorge contains an ecosystem of interconnected, divine energy that belongs to the Earth--and to the public.
     As an activist, I have come to take the long view. As much as it would break my heart, the San Joaquin River Gorge might not be saved. But due to experience I know that we are all connected on a subtle, spiritual level, and I believe that through psychic resonance, where on the subtle levels the few make it easier for the many to advance, the more each one of us honors the soul, the easier it becomes for others to do the same and the more likely that as a species we will then be able to honor the planet and ensure our own survival.  

Monday, November 10, 2014


Creek near Native American Village Sites


     I have known a handful of activists who were unrelenting in their efforts to protect human and natural communities, no matter the personal cost. You could not find people more unlike each other in terms of background and lifestyle and philosophy, yet despite their differences, each was driven to accomplish his or her own personal mission. A few of them spoke truth to power and used the system so effectively that they ended up blackballed or ruined financially by the powers that be--and that did not even stop them. They cared little or nothing about power or status or money or any of the  ideals associated with the American Dream. Malcontents or misfits in the eyes of many, some were poor, and getting poorer, but nothing would stop them. None of them ever talked about what motivated them, but I believe that I might understand at least a few of them now after my experiences in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
     Before I knew anything about Native American artifacts, I hiked all over the foothills searching for birds, a hobby that requires a heightened sensitivity to the foliage and the terrain. A flitter here or a hop there would make me whip out the binoculars in search of a rare or colorful flower of the air. Sometimes a stunning bird such as a bunting or a tanager or an oriole would wing right in front of me, unbidden, like grace. Other times I pushed through dense foliage, up steep mountain slopes, just to catch a glimpse of a bird I had already seen a hundred times. But even then the experience ended up being memorable because I had never witnessed the bird in those surroundings before or at that particular time of day. As I was searching for yet another bird, I came to know the flowers and where they grow, and over time I noticed that the plants are, from one generation to another, migrating a little every year over the land.
Flowers near a Native American Site
      I have followed numerous trails, whirling around now and then with binoculars in hand. Only after I became knowledgeable about the birds and flowers did I become sensitive to the human history in the mountains. Coincidentally, around the same time I was becoming more sensitive to the spiritual side of my own nature through meditation, which helps to explain the strange experience that I’m going to describe to you.
     When I first started bird watching, I never thought about who or what had made the trails. I just assumed that cattle had made them. 
     One spring day, I followed a creek where three different types of swallows wove invisible loops around me and orioles scolded me and male tanagers scouted out suitable nesting habitat in the canopy above me. I was having an amazing bird watching day, so I kept trudging along even though my feet hurt and I had little water left. I finally plopped down next to a creek and noticed smooth cups in a Native American pounding stone. Lounging quietly in a cool breeze, I felt like my mind was part of an ocean of consciousness, and suddenly I heard the laughter of women right next to me. I looked all around, but found no one. Even though I had never been there before, at the same time I knew without a doubt that a trail was nearby that would lead me to another pounding stone.
Trail Connecting Pounding Stones
     I scrambled up the slope and quickly found a distinct trail that led up the hillside. Without a second thought, I followed the trail and discovered a pounding stone about two hundred yards away on a ridge overlooking the creek. The pounding stone seemed familiar even though I had never been there, and for the first time I suspected that cattle had not made the trails. 
     Because the sun was going down, I headed back to the floodplain of the creek and rested on the pounding stone again before heading back. Feeling excited but uneasy, I waited a few minutes for something to happen, but nothing did, so I stood up and began the long trek back to my car. Suddenly I stepped into a current of cool air and experienced an intense rage as if something precious had been stolen from me. Up until that moment, I had been feeling only tranquility and fatigue. 
Pounding Stone next to Creek
     Perplexed, I whirled around to see if anybody was in the vicinity. I had not encountered another soul all day, but I had an eerie feeling that a powerful drama had at some point occurred there. I then had an overpowering urge to cross the creek and climb up to the ridge on the other side. As crickets chirped in the cool air, I hopped across unstable stones without getting my boots wet, and, vexed by the feeling that some memory was about to surface, I followed a faint path up the hill on the other side of the creek.
     When I reached the top, I found only a few oaks and dried cow droppings. After I stepped into a clearing, I could see across the creek to the ridge with the pounding stone. Then I peered into the floodplain below and noticed the pounding stone that I had first encountered that day. Exhausted, I paused in a shallow indentation in the ground, absolutely certain that I had discovered another Native American village site, but I could not find any evidence of it. By that point I could no longer postpone the journey back.      
     After that, I searched for pounding stones as I hiked the trails, and I found them about everywhere I wandered in the foothills. I also began to find shallow indentations in the ground just about wherever I found pounding stones, and eventually I realized that they were pits where the Native Americans had set up their houses. 
House Pit near Pounding Stones

     I eventually returned to the ridge where I had stood at dusk in a shallow indentation, where I had felt a Native American presence, and realized that at the time I had been standing in a house pit. I then carefully searched the ridge again and discovered several pounding stones blanketed by leaves, one of which still contained a pestle in a mortar.
     “I live my life in widening rings," states the spiritual poet, Ranier Maria Rilke. I realize now that I have continued to open my heart and mind in nature as I have grown older, noticing relationships more clearly as I have evolved spiritually, and those relationships reveal correspondences and contrasts that lead to the recognition of unpleasant truths. For instance, the awe-inspiring remnants of history and biological diversity in the mountains place in stark contrast the almost total absence of history and biological diversity in the San Joaquin Valley. If past is prologue, the same cultural and natural devastation will occur in the mountains. More dams, more exhaustion of resources, more development. I would like to believe that as a species we have moved beyond genocide, but the current perpetuation of ecocide suggests that our rapaciousness does not yet end with the exploitation of nature.
Pestle, as I Found it and Left It
     How much value does our culture place on aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual development? Through the ideals of capitalism and the dominance of media, our culture has come to worship youth and money and remains in a limbo of the perpetual present, with very little sense of history or natural diversity, stuck in the “surface mind” that values status and glitz and excitement over spiritual connection.  I mention this only because I believe that each of my diehard activist friends at some point in their life activated a higher aspect of the self that enabled them to feel a bond of sympathy for all things, which continued to motivate them despite the beatings they received in the political arena. Most of them, I suspect, would never view their own motivations as spiritual in nature, yet this spark, I believe, was undeniably Christian in nature, from an esoteric perspective.
     I returned to the Native American village site recently, ravished by the flowers that are flourishing despite the drought that our politicians claim will end civilization as we know it if we don’t build more dams, and I realized that this stream could just as easily be buried under hundreds of feet of water or bulldozed into a nucleus for urban growth. As I stood again in the house pit in the clearing, gazing at the ridge across the creek, I began to fear that only a core group of adults with open hearts and minds, who against the odds have developed themselves aesthetically and ethically and spiritually, would fight to save this place, perhaps at great personal sacrifice--and I remembered those activists that I haven’t seen in years. 
Pestle, Removed from Mortar
     At the same time a few of the values of Christianity became clearer to me.
     I haven’t attended a Christian church regularly since the fourth grade. I confess that for many years I suffered from a serious “Jesus allergy,” and I have never made any effort to be “saved.” For the majority of my adult life, Christianity has seemed authoritarian, rigid and damaging.  After my experience with my activist friends, however, I believe that Christianity is crucial to our society--but not the type of Christianity that so many know. (I am approaching this subject from the perspective of a mystic who operates in the tradition of the Qabalah, which means that my interpretation of Christianity is esoteric. In the not too distant past, I am sure that I would have been burned at the stake for my beliefs.) 
     From the mystical perspective of the Qabalah, the Christ is a cosmic force that manifests as harmonizing love, spiritual inebriation, and sacrifice--not as one man who will come either to save us or condemn us.  The principle of cosmic harmony has been personified throughout history as different gods and goddesses, not just as Jesus, and has had many names, such as “ma’at” in Egyptian culture. Gods of exaltation and sacrifice have also surfaced in different cultures. For instance, Apollo and Dionysus, sons of Zeus, symbolically personify the harmony and spiritual inebriation of the Christ force. 
     Because the Christ is a cosmic force, any human can manifest it, not just a savior or a priest. I believe that this force will not “save” anyone from a hell in the afterlife or ensure that a person enters a heaven.  Instead, a person can choose to manifest the cosmic force in the here and now to establish and maintain harmony within his or her own personal sphere, just as a worshiper in Greece might have manifested harmony through a mystical connection with Apollo, who is, like Jesus, a symbolic representation of an invisible but very real force. Just as importantly, a person can experience the spiritual exaltation of the Christ force, which provides a permanent expansion of the personality, resulting in a greater sense of harmony, a stimulation of the ethical faculties, and a sympathy for all life.
Pounding Stone and House Pits on Ridge

     As a Qabalist, I am basing my understanding of the cosmic Christ on the glyph, or composite symbol, known as the Tree of Life. On the mystical Tree, the sphere of the cosmic Christ is the sphere of the Sun, the source of life, and is known as “Tiphareth,” or “Beauty.” The spiritual experiences assigned to this sphere are “The Vision of Harmony” and “The Mysteries of the Crucifixion.” 
     The vision of harmony includes an understanding that each life is a field of conscious energy within fields upon fields of interconnected energy throughout the cosmos. The mysteries of the crucifixion include creating balance and harmony within the self and the community through sacrifice.  Some people, such as my activist friends, for instance, have the courage to experience great personal sacrifice for the community. 
     An extremely important concept relating to this sphere of balance and sacrifice is the concept of the higher self, an aspect of the self in touch with the principle of cosmic harmony and divinity. This higher aspect of the self, open to powerful forces, sometimes inexplicably knows things in a way that transcends the five senses.  This connection, commonly known as intuition, is often associated with a guardian angel or “daimon" and is one basis of faith.  
     Only through the expansion of the mind, aesthetically, ethically, and spiritually, is the higher self activated. Since this expansion of mind normally takes years, it is extremely unlikely that a child would be able to view the world through the eyes of the higher self. In my opinion, a society’s obsession with youthfulness suggests an ignorance or rejection of the higher self.     
Manzanita near Pounding Stone

     The higher self strives for the highest good, even though this might require great personal sacrifice. Due to the profound vision of harmony, the individual understands that all energy is connected. Through this recognition, the individual develops sympathy for all things and embraces the physical world, with all of its harshness and suffering, instead of rejecting it as evil, turning to the natural world, and the spiritual forces behind it, as to a friend.
Nine of Wands
     Each sphere on the Tree reflects the primary forces within both the cosmos and the individual, and each force contains extremes at each end of a pole of many degrees.  As a sphere of equilibrium and the higher self, the Christ center on the Tree helps place the extremes of all the forces into perspective. Without the perspective of the higher self, in other words, an activist, like anyone else, can get out of balance, becoming  merely combative, biased, or egotistical. Through the perspective of the higher self, an activist can move by degree to a state of harmony and an understanding of balance, remaining focused on the highest good for the self and the community.
     An activist might not realize that he or she is motivated by the higher self, but from an esoteric spiritual perspective a selfless striving for justice, equality and balance, despite the personal sacrifice involved, is one indication. The Sun in esoteric symbolism is associated with the higher self, and the Moon, which reflects the light of the Sun, reveals how that light over time changes in the lower personality. Few people can stay fully in the light all of the time. Once the personality has expanded to a certain degree, however, the desire for the Beauty of the Christ force--in aesthetics, ethics, and spirituality--persists.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Grass Growing from Pounding Stone:
 San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area

     Many years ago I heard a version of a legend about how one of the bluffs overlooking the San Joaquin River got the name “Squaw Leap."  In this version a squaw during a skirmish pulled a Spanish conquistador over the edge of the cliff. I didn’t think much of the story then, but one meaning of the story has stuck with me over the years: Some people will, without hesitation, give their life to protect a place and a community. 
     Over the years I have come to understand the natural, cultural and spiritual “significance of place”  at “Squaw Leap” and other areas in the foothills. I know where to find different species of flowers and birds every year. I know where to find many of the ancient Native American village sites. And I have experienced profound spiritual revelations in the river gorge and elsewhere in the mountains. 
Fiddleneck and Popcorn: 
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area
     For instance, almost every year in early spring near the parking lot of the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area, popcorn and fiddleneck flowers bloom profusely. In some years baby blue eyes blanket such a large area that you might think the sky has fallen to the ground. As you progress along the trail you find red maids and purple vetch and poppies and soon are overpowered by the cloying fragrance of deer brush. Next to a small stream that runs across the trail, shooting stars bloom. Storks beak and fennel grace the edge of the trail. Then you find spot rugs of baby blue eyes and goldfields, each stretch of trail providing a different array of flowers.
     When I was a younger man, one day as I hiked down to the river all stress disappeared and my senses opened. I noticed flower after flower, each with its own stunning color and design. Feeling adventurous, I decided to stray just a little from the trail to explore the creek and discovered a pounding stone with one mortar. 
Pounding Stone next to River: 
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area
     The place took on a completely new significance for me. I realized that another culture had dwelt there for thousands of years, perhaps sixteen thousand years or more. Our own culture, in contrast, has only settled the area in the past century and a half. In most of the mountains and valleys, a few trails and pounding stones are all that is left of once great cultures that spanned across the the entire continent.
     What we did to those cultures was unspeakable, and what we continue to do to what they left behind and to the natural world that was once their home is also unspeakable. 
     I have returned many times to the river gorge. If you have only been there once or twice, you cannot possibly have a true perspective of the place. You have not seen how the living tapestry has changed from one year to another.  You do not know the different arrays of flowers that grow there given the varying weather conditions.  You do not have, in relationship to this place, the living, changing tapestry of memory that is the basis for so much meaning in our lives.
Lupine Bushes: 
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area
     Once, when I was hiking down to the river, I passed a lupine bush with numerous buds. That day at sunset when I returned back up the trail, I noticed that one of the buds had bloomed--perhaps the first bloom of spring in the gorge. The next year that I returned I searched for the lupine bush and discovered that its gray limbs were strewn upon the steep slope.  The other lupine bushes and the goldfields that had jeweled the slope the previous year were blooming again in the sandy soil, but there was also much more miniature lupine and owl’s clover. I risk stating the obvious when I say that these little things weave together to form the living tapestry of memory.
     A little farther down the path, just south of the second gate, over the past twenty-five years or so I have occasionally encountered a pale yellow flower that I have never seen anywhere else in the foothills (and I have seen much of the foothills). It only blooms when the conditions are right. I have never found it in wildflower books, so I don’t know its name.  It’s possible that the home of one of the last specimens of an entire species is right next to a path that will be buried underwater by the dam.
Popcorn Flowers below Bluff:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area
     On that path I had what the Qabalists call the “Vision of Harmony.” I saw each life form, in the river gorge and the cosmos, as a field of energy within fields upon fields of living energy all harmoniously interwoven. But I cannot dwell on what kinds of spiritual experiences I have had or how or I have recovered from personal losses in the river gorge. 
     I know from experience that the jargon of an environmental impact statement often hides what is truly happening. This process is all about legality--essentially about what makes the destruction of this river gorge legal. However, what is legal and what is moral are two very different things indeed in this case.
     You cannot rip apart a magnificent tapestry thread by thread and hope to put it back together again. The habitat of the San Joaquin River Gorge is a majestic, sprawling tapestry in all its dazzling complexity and fragility. All the species, so interwoven and interdependent, have adapted to their own unique location and to each other over time immemorial. When you destroy an entire habitat individual “mitigation measures” become merely a piecemeal attempt to salvage the most threatened species. 
Goldfields near Dead Lupine:
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area
     Moreover, a habitat does not just consist of rare, threatened, or endangered species but of many interrelated species, all of which are significant. The loss of individual members of a “thriving" species due to habitat loss means a loss to the overall species as a whole, moving it closer to the “threatened" classification. Destruction of the entire habitat means dissolving the web of species that have adapted to each other within uniquely specific conditions that cannot be recreated anywhere else. You cannot hope to recreate the habitat ever again if you bury it under water--no part of the personal, cultural or biological significance of the habitat can truly be recovered or replaced. Mitigation measures become a pathetic attempt to save a few of the most fragile threads, not the whole tapestry.
     Once the water from the dam at Temperance Flat drowns the habitat, the threads of life that once tied the place together will be gone forever. The roots will die, the rocks and soil remaining unstable. 
Pounding Stone near Hydro Project in Inundation Zone of Millerton Lake: 
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area

     The dam will not only destroy an entire habitat. The water from the dam will bury the homeland of a Native American tribe under hundreds of feet of water, the last stage in a long, horrendous process of genocide. You cannot realistically mitigate the destruction of a Native American site, each of which is unique, each with its own cultural, historical and spiritual significance. You cannot move the pounding stones and house pits and burial sites and trails to some other place. 
     Despite all the discussion of mitigation in the environmental impact statement, adequate mitigation for ecocide or for the last stages of genocide is impossible.
     Every stretch of trail in the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area contains personal significance to the people who have hiked or biked the trail with friends or relatives or alone. You cannot tear apart the living tapestry of memory within an individual or a community and hope to piece it back together. 
Baby Blue Eyes next to Trail: 
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area
     If the dam is approved, the public will pay more than a billion dollars (perhaps billions) for the destruction of this habitat and former Native American homeland. The public will pay to destroy the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area. In other words, taxpayers will foot the bill for the destruction of its own land, essentially for private interests, such as the farmers on the east side of the valley.
     Claiming that water for salmon is a public benefit, after Friant Dam destroyed the original run, is an insult to the intelligence. The greatest public benefit would consist of spending the billions for water conservation measures, which have already proven to be far more cost effective, far more efficient and far less damaging to the environment. Government agencies should already know about these conservation measures.  If not, just a few minutes on the internet can be very enlightening.
     As a final insult, the burden of ensuring that mitigation measures are effective ultimately falls on the public. Too often, government agencies make a poor attempt to implement or “bird-dog” the implementation of mitigation measures.  To continue with the analogy, the public is left with the task of ensuring that a few threads of a huge tapestry are woven back together in a way that resembles the original.
Pounding Stone near Suspension Bridge: 
San Joaquin River Gorge Special Management Area

     Regarding the loss of the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, the only adequate mitigation would consist of replacing these public lands with habitat of equal size and natural values.  Without this one-to-one mitigation the public ends up a pathetic, hoodwinked loser, paying for ecocide and the destruction of its own lands and participating in the last stages of genocide, essentially for the benefit of private interests.  A dam at Temperance Flat would remain an unconscionable violation of the public trust in the broadest sense.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Trail near Pounding Stone, San Joaquin River Gorge

     Voters could soon give the government the right to “take” property from a land owner and destroy it without either paying for it or providing the owner with comparable property as mitigation.   
     Hard to believe, but the legislation requires the land owner to pay for the destruction of her own property--while a few people who control certain “rights” benefit from a valuable commodity found on her land.
     The property contains Native American cultural resources, including pounding stones and sacred burial sites supposedly protected by law. The property contains environmental resources, including twenty-four rare, threatened, or endangered species, also supposedly protected by law, as well as a stunning river ecosystem. All of this could be lost if voters pass this legislation.
     Have you guessed who the property owner is?

San Joaquin River Gorge

     This land is your land! If Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond, passes, Temperance Flat Dam might be built and a public recreation area, the San Joaquin River Gorge Special Recreation Management Area, might be buried under hundreds of feet of water.
     Let me be perfectly clear: The public could vote to destroy its own property for the private gain of vested interests who control the water rights. The supposed public benefit, with a price tag of $1.25 billion: Water for salmon! Dams have helped salmon so much, haven’t they? 
      (Imagine what kind of uproar would ensue if the government took away a farmer's property and turned it into a public park....)
     The hydraulic brotherhood, a cabal of farmers, lobbyists, and politicians, is hoping that the drought has scared the public into voting against its own interests. 
     Socialism for salmon? What’s next, welfare for delta smelt? Who or what will be sponging off of taxpayers next? 
     According to Doug Obegi of the NRDC, “the federal feasibility study for Temperance Flat estimates that this project would cost nearly $2.5 billion and would yield only 61,000 to 76,000 acre feet of water per year. "  Obegi goes on to say that, "In contrast, the state has estimated that $1.4 billion in water bond funding for integrated regional water management (IRWM) projects like water efficiency, water recycling, and groundwater cleanup over the past decade leveraged $3.7 billion in local funding and has helped save or create nearly 2 million acre feet per year.  Big new dams simply can’t compete economically with these regional and local water supply projects."
     Peter Gleik also points out that “400,000 acre-feet of water per year can be quickly conserved by urban users by replacing only some of the many remaining inefficient toilets, showerheads, commercial spray-rinse nozzles, and washing machines. These savings would require an investment of under $2 billion.”
     That’s not even half of what we could save through conservation measures. According to Gleik, “Another 600,000 acre-feet per year of water can be saved by applying smart irrigation scheduling to 30% of the state’s vegetable and 20% of the orchard acreage, practicing regulated deficit irrigation on 20% of current almond and pistachio acreage in the Sacramento Valley, and converting 20% of Central Valley vegetables and 10% of orchards and vineyards to drip and sprinklers. These changes would save water at a cost of around $100 per acre-foot.” Why so much effort over the past decade to build Temperance Flat Dam even though conservation measures could save a lot more water for a lot less money? The farmers with the water rights in this region cannot as easily get a hold of this other water.  
     The Fresno Bee has admitted that “much of the new water” created by a dam at Temperance Flat “is already spoken for.” In fact, the government has already allocated water rights for five times the amount of water that exists in the state, according to the Bee and others. What chance does the public have to benefit in any significant way if so much water is already “spoken for” in this bizarre system of water rights? 

Baby Blue Eyes, Popcorn and Fiddleneck, San Joaquin River Gorge

     Some believe that building the dam might create a kind of “trickle-down effect.” The farmers, in other words, would receive more water,  keep people employed and prices down. This is a kind of perverted socialism for those who own the land and means of production, a “socialism for the wealthy.” If the dam is built, taxpayers would once again hand over public resources, including money and land and water, to the rich, revealing again the attitude that some businesses are too big to fail. The price of the dam would be another subsidy that  supports unsustainable, water-intensive crops such as almonds. Of course, with this subsidy farmers could continue to provide those cushy menial jobs that so many people covet! Without this subsidy, the public might refuse to pay for their expensive crops, forcing farmers to implement water conservation measures and grow crops more suited to the region. This is capitalism, after all. Isn't it?
     The NRDC also points out that the dam will create very expensive water: "the water coming out of Temperance Flat would cost more than $1,500 per acre foot....Even with massive taxpayer subsidies, the Bureau of Reclamation estimates that water would cost more than $200 per acre foot for agricultural contractors (far more than these districts pay today, especially since the project would eliminate much of the cheap $10 per acre foot water that is provided in wet years)." As so many continue to point out, the cost of water produced by new dams would be far more than the cost of water generated from water recycling, storm water capture, groundwater storage, or water conservation projects.
     People are hurting. Those in favor of the dam point to the bread lines forming in the Valley, without mentioning how our economic system continues to marginalize workers, especially farm laborers. I feel great sympathy for the farmworker during a drought. Why don’t we create an effective safety net for the farmworker as well as the farmer?
      Remember the 1,400 dams and all the subsidies that we have already provided for the farmers? Remember that farmers use about 75 percent of the water in California?
     The Valley is a semi-arid region, practically a desert, and we have suffered through many a drought without our civilization collapsing. The people who came before us somehow managed both to survive and preserve public land. Were they better at spotting corruption or simply more courageous?  According to the NRDC, “Importantly, the water bond does not earmark funding for Temperance Flat or any other surface storage project.” However, if the bond passes, this storage project will be eligible for development and, due to the feasibility study and draft environmental impact statement already completed, one of the first on the list to be approved. Given the numerous efforts by the hydraulic brotherhood over the past decade to build this dam, which I have witnessed, I suspect that they will use all of their influence to get the dam approved. The danger? If the dam is approved, only a handful of already over-extended activists will make any effort to stop it, especially since the San Joaquin River Gorge is not widely known.
      So let's review. A "yes" vote on the $7.5 billion water bond could mean that you agree that taxpayers should subsidize agri-business interests again with billions of dollars. And you agree that we should destroy public land for the benefit of private interests. And you agree that we should spend more money for far less water than we can conserve. And you agree to allow our legislators, and the vested interests they represent, to trample our laws regarding endangered species and Native American burial sites. 
      You might not have ever visited Yosemite, but would you want to bury that gem of public land underwater, mainly for the benefit of a few private interests? You might not have ever visited the San Joaquin River Gorge, but like Yosemite, this majestic public park still belongs to you. In this case, your vote actually matters! 
     Our economy has survived every drought before now, and it will weather this one. We have time--time for the politicians who supposedly represent us to address our water woes in a way that truly benefits the public, not the top few percent.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Tiger Lilies, Arrow Leaf Tansy, Angelica, Columbine

     When I was in college, one of my bar mates was an aspiring writer. Over french fries and libations, we would discuss weighty literary and philosophical topics.  At one point, after a few beers, she blurted out, “You have to leave the meadow!” She sighed and chortled, believing that she had made another profound statement. I have to admit that I was impressed by the sentiment, having already imbibed a few, and I enthusiastically agreed. Having already lived in three different apartments in the El Dorado District, the most poverty stricken neighborhood in California, dubbed “Sin City” in the sixties, I had grown accustomed to the grittier side of life, the drugs, the criminality, the tawdriness. At the time, I believed she was implying that people cannot hope to understand art or literature without first questioning superficial middle-class values and losing their “innocence.”
    Now I realize that she might have also been poking fun at the sixties. I have to admit, however, that I have always secretly wanted to “get back to the garden.” Having experienced more than enough chaos, corruption, pollution, needless suffering, destruction and waste, I understand the universal longing to return to Eden. Born at the tail end of the baby boom generation, I have always been fascinated by sixties’ counter culture movements.  I have since understood that returning to paradise is not simply a matter of taking the right drug, joining the right political party, finding the right yoga position, or sitting at the feet of the right holy man.           
     I have always believed that you must become as a little child to regain paradise, possibly due to my Christian upbringing. I now understand that this is true in a very limited sense but also very misleading. We long to return to a time before we had to repress emotions to survive. But in childhood we have not had time to develop our minds and learn to harmonize instincts and emotions. There is more than a little suggestion that “returning to paradise” means giving free-reign to all instincts and emotions, no matter how selfish or destructive. It is easy to see why many efforts to “get back to the garden” have failed, and why so many individuals in the counter culture in the sixties have become libertarians.
     A return to paradise can be made only if one expands consciousness through exaltation and mental development. In a life-long process of expanding and disciplining the mind, sincere efforts must be made to balance the emotions and to comprehend spiritual principles. Returning to the meadow is a return to the state of being known as Tiphareth, the Christ center, on the Tree of Life. Through an expansion of consciousness, one achieves an understanding of the spiritual principles behind natural forces and develops compassion for all things. The Vision of Harmony leads to an understanding of the need to strive for the highest possible good as a way to harmonize the aspects of the self, the community and the society as a whole.
     Analyzing the symbolism of the Sphere of Tiphareth, Dion Fortune states in the Mystical Qabalah, “The Order of Angels of Tiphareth are the Malichim, or Kings. These are the spiritual principles of natural forces and no one can control, or even safely make contact with elemental principles unless he holds the initiation of Tiphareth....For he must have been accepted by the Elemental Kings, that is to say, he must have realized the ultimate spiritual nature of natural forces before he can handle them in their elemental form.  In their subjective elemental form, they appear in the microcosm as powerful instincts of combat, of reproduction, of self-abasement, of self-aggrandizement, and all those emotional factors known to the psychologist.  It is obvious, therefore, that if we stir and stimulate these emotions in our natures it must be that we use them as servants of the higher self, directed by reason and spiritual principle” (193).
Columbine, Tansy, Angelica, Tiger Lily
     Regaining paradise, in other words, includes the understanding that if we “stir the emotions,” we must learn to channel them productively through reason and spiritual principle.  Otherwise we might as well just continue to rely on the old tried and true methods of stifling emotion as a way to maintain social order. 
     According to Fortune, we must “give ourselves wholeheartedly to the corporate life” (157); in other words, we must accept that we are members of communities, instead of merely rebelling against any type of order that stifles the instincts and emotions. The powerful instincts of combat, reproduction, and self-aggrandizement will lift their heads even above Tiphareth, like the many-headed dragon in the glyph of the Garden of Eden after the Fall, if the higher self does not bring them into harmony.
     We cannot escape the polarity of emotions and instincts, each of which has a positive and negative side. For instance, the powerful instinct of combat can lead to cruelty and destructiveness or to great courage and energy, to injustice or to justice. The instinct of reproduction can lead to lack of chastity and lust or to unselfishness and the production of beautiful works. The higher self harmonizes and channels instincts and emotions for the highest good, but this takes concentration, inspiration, willpower and experience. “Stirring and stimulating” the emotions can lead to lack of balance, resulting in what others perceive as mistakes in one’s personal life, while one is learning what it means to open the heart and use emotions wisely and productively. Learning to live in the higher self and regaining paradise is the “great work” of a lifetime, but in the process we understand the Power and the Glory, the Victory and the Splendor and ultimately the Beauty of the Tree of Life and the natural forces within us and the cosmos.
Camas and Shooting Stars
NOTE: If you are wondering what has happened to the other essays that I’ve written for this blog over the past year, I have collected the ones I like and put them in what I consider the most effective order after eliminating mistakes and redundancy. If you wish to experience these superior versions, click on this link: Exploring the Experimental Range.

PLEASE ALSO NOTE: Inspired by the topic of “returning to the meadow,” I have written a modest story (with illustrations) for a harp and piano concerto in four movements. If you wish to experience the story, music, and illustrations, click on this link: The Last Meadow.

All of my revised work can be accessed at this site: PATHS AND THRONES.

All text, music and illustrations Copyright 2014, by Jim Robbins.
Tarot cards by Pamela Coleman Smith (in public domain).