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.