Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Supernatural

All of the quotes below are from the same source, David Abram's SPELL OF THE SENSUOUS.

The primacy for the magician of nonhuman nature - the centrality of his relation to other species and to the earth - is not always evident to Western researchers. Countless anthropologists have managed to overlook the ecological dimension of the shaman's craft, while writing at great length of the shaman's rapport with "supernatural" entities. We can attribute much of this oversight to the modern, civilized assumption that the natural world is largely determinate and mechanical, and that that which is regarded as mysterious, powerful, and beyond human ken must therefore be of some other, nonphysical realmn above nature, "supernatral."

Our modern ideas about the realm of the spirits being some how separate from nature, are actually relatively recent ideas in history. They stem from our largely Judeo-Christian perspective, in which heaven is a realm above and separate from nature. Such an uncoupling is not observed in most oral cultures.

Nevertheless, that which is regarded with the greatest awe and wonder by indigenous, oral cultures is, I suggest, none other than what we view as nature itself. The deeply mysterious powers and entities with whom the shaman enters into a rapport are ultimately the same forces - the same plants, animals, forests, and winds - that to the literate, "civilized" Europeans are just so much scenery, the pleasant backdrop of our more pressing human concerns.

When indigenous people talk about the land being alive and aware, they are not using metaphor. To them it is alive and aware. That has been true in my own experiences.

Magic, then, in its perhaps most primordial sense, is the experience of existing in a world made up of multiple intelligences, the intuition that every form one perceives - from the swallow swooping overhead to the fly on a blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself - is a experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations, albeit sensations that are very different from our own.

The Matrix

I'm writing out some quotes from The Matrix Trilogy and also some thoughts about the ideas shared in the movies and why they might be significant and/or useful to expanding our awareness of life and reality.

Morpheus: I imagine you that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole?

Neo: You could say that.

Morpheus: I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?

Neo: No.

Morpheus: Why not?

Neo: Because I don't like the idea that I am not in control of my life.

Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why your here. Your here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You felt it your entire life. That there is something wrong with the world, you don't know what it is, but its there. Like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I am talking about?

Neo: The Matrix?

Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?


Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world which has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you can not smell, or taste, or touch. A prison, for your mind.

Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix have to see it for yourself.

This is of course part of one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history... The scene with the blue pill and the red pill.


It is that seemingly insignificant little thing that Life presents us with when we seek to know the truth.

The other key aspect of this scene is PERSPECTIVE.

There are of course countless ways to interpret this set of scenes from the Matrix. The way I understand it is that it is addressing the fundamental dilemma posed by enlightenment. That is, posed by a moment of world-shattering personal revelation the likes of which we are not likely to recover from again.

The world we tell ourselves about is an illusion... an illusion held up by our thoughts. When we have an experience of seeing life - not as what we think it is but instead seeing WHAT IS - our thoughts stop. They pale and shrivel under the power of that magnificence. It is unfortunate that our culture tends to view individuals who have had such experiences as mad or even as dangerous. Seeing outside of the shell of experience drawn out by our civilization is seen as sheer madness, but it may also be something we need now more than ever in our history.

Morpheus: As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free.

The way I have come to understand it, the Matrix is the thing we take so for granted, the thing that shapes the way we see everything in such a way that we are blind to the fog it puts before our eyes and deaf to what it constantly whispers in our ears. It is the great experiment that we call civilization.

Daniel Quinn, author of ISHMAEL, BEYOND CIVILIZATION and other titles has a name that encapsulates all the peoples that are part of this experiment. He calls them TAKERS.

It's easy to pick out the people who belong to "our" culture. If you go somewhere--anywhere in the world--where the food is under lock and key, you'll know you're among the people of our culture. They may differ wildly in relatively superficial matters--in the way they dress, in their marriage customs, in the holidays they observe, and so on. But when it comes to the most fundamental thing of all, getting the food they need to stay alive, they're all alike. In these places, the food is all owned by someone, and if you want some, you'll have to buy it. This is expected in these places; the people of our culture know no other way.

Making food a commodity to be owned was one of the great innovations of our culture. No other culture in history has ever put food under lock and key--and putting it there is the cornerstone of our economy, for if the food wasn't under lock and key, who would work?- from Beyond Civilization, pg. 5

There are also those people who do NOT belong to the TAKERS. Quinn gives them the name LEAVERS. Leavers are the indigenous peoples of the world, the people also known as "primitive" or "tribal." The Leavers take what they need from the world and leave the rest alone. Living in this manner, Leavers thrive in times of abundance and dwindle in times of scarcity. The Takers however, practicing their unique form of agriculture (which Quinn calls, Totalitarian Agriculture) produce enormous food surpluses, which allows them to thwart the gods when they decide it's the Takers' time to go hungry.

The Taker perspective on life is them against the world. That is why so much in our civilization is focused on conquering: everything from climbing mountains, building dams, to producing food and maintaining health.

So where does such an attitude come from in the Takers? Why do they view themselves as separate from nature? I think the following quote from Alberto Villoldo's DANCE OF THE FOUR WINDS book captures it very well...

"The Western world, the civilized nations, what is called the 'first world' cultures, rule the Earth by right of their economic and military might. And the philosophical foundation of the Western culture is based on a religion that teaches of the fall from grace, original sin, and the exodus from the Garden of Eden. This concept is fundamental to the mythology of the West, and represents Nature as hostile and man as corrupt.


"It is such a peculiar myth," Morales said, "The emphasis is not man's relationship to his environment, to Nature, to the Garden, but man's relationship to himself as an outcast, fending for himself, becoming self-conscious in a hostile world. The Westerner has accepted this tradition, has promoted this concept through art and literature and philosophy. Indeed, it has become ingrained and second nature, has it not?"

"I suppose it has," I said. "You can live your entire life in a city, for instance. It provides shelter, a controlled environment, and acts as a buffer between the individual and Nature. Even foods in supermarkets are treated before they are consumed, either artificially ripened, colored, or preserved, then packaged for consumption."

One of the basic assumptions in Taker culture is that we are separate from nature. It is a perspective of "Man and Nature" rather than "Nature includes Man." It might sound like a unimportant opinion about the human relationship to nature, but this view has devastating consequences. It allows us as Takers to act with absolute conviction that we are at odds with it, therefore, devastating the earth and sending countless species of to extinction without regret or remorse. Why should we? We are separate from those extinctions, separate from nature, so it won't effect us, right? This perspective allows us not only to feel that what we do as Takers is understandable, but also that it is necessary.

Friday, May 16, 2008

For the shaman, life is not limited to plants, animals, and humans, because life is defined as movement. Some things move very slowly, like rocks, and some things move very quickly, like light. For a shaman these are simply different kinds of life.

- Serge Kahili King

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Silent Exchange

Consider a spider weaving its web, for instance, and the assumption still held by many scientists that the behavior of such a diminutive creature is thoroughly "programmed in its genes." Certainly, the spider has received a rich genetic inheritance from its parents and its predecessors. Whatever "instructions," however, are enfolded within the living genome, they can hardly predict the specifics of the micro-terrain within which the spider may find itself at any particular moment. They could hardly have determined in advance the exact distance between the cave wall and the branch that the spider is now employing as an anchorage point for her current web, or the exact strength of the monsoon rains that make web-spinning a bit more difficult on this evening. And so the genome could not explicity have commanded the order of every flexion and extension of her various limbs as she weaves this web into its place. However complex are the inherited "programs," patterns, or predispositions, they must still be adapted to the immediate situation in which the spider finds itself. However determinate one's genetic inheritence, it must still, as it were, be woven into the present, an activity that necessarily involves both a receptivity to the specific shapes and textures of that present and a spontaneous creativity in adjusting oneself (and one's inheritance) to those contours. It is this open activity, this dynamic blend of receptivity and creativity by which ever animate organism necessarily orients itself to the world (and orients the world around itself), that we speak of by the term "perception."


In our culture, we tend to view nature as largely mechanistic in its actions. Even when evidence for the contrary looks us right in the eye.

When in California last Spring, I was exploring a restored salt marsh known as Bolsa Chica. Along a trail through the drier uplands, I spotted a western fence lizard in the leaf litter below some shrubs. With my camera, I squatted down to get a closer look. Fully expecting it to run off, the lizard did something very unexpected. It ran a little closer to me and snatched a bug, which it crunched down and swallowed quickly. With that, I sat down and started shooting pictures. The lizard posed, without fear. Then, it ran up to me in several spurts and hid under one of my crossed legs. From their it hopped onto my jeans and climbed up my leg into my lap, and stopped to look me deep in the eyes. There was a wordless exchange passed between us. I felt a strong feeling of acceptance, peace and even friendly warmth flowing from this lizard. For a moment, I felt I had a peak into the deep awareness that is "lizard." That very same lizard is in the photo below.

Such an experience may be passed off as a fluke of nature. An odd event that was a coincidence. Nothing more. I have had too many such "coincidences" in my life to believe that, though.

Intermittently, I began to wonder if my culture's assumptions regarding the lack of awareness in other animals and in the land itself was less a product of careful and judicious reasoning than of a strange inability to clearly see, or focus upon, anything outside the realm of human technology, or to hear as meaningful anything other than human speech.


It is a common western cultural assumption, that animals are less intelligent, less aware beings. Their ability to comprehend their experience in life limited by the development and size of their brains. And if they show themselves to act outside of the mostly mechanical assumptions, we excuse them to be motivated only by their basic functions, such as "Oh, that lizard was just looking for food, some bugs on your clothes." It is as if until the animals walk up to us and start speaking English, we won't believe that communication with them is possible. We won't believe that they can be just as aware of their world as we are, but in a different way.

Another event happened this past year with a raven in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park. A raven landed in a nearby joshua tree as I was walking back towards our car, along the trail. I approached it slowly, hoping for some close up photos. The bird started calling, in a low, soft voice. Soft, that is, for a raven. It would bow its head down and give a soft croak. I imitated this call as best I could, as I had a strange feeling it was aiming this call at me. Then we engaged in calling back and forth for several minutes, in which time I walked slowly closer and closer to the joshua tree it was perched in. Eventually, I was standing almost right under the tree and still the raven was calling. Its the same bird pictured calling in the photo below.

It flew out of the tree as another bird - probably its mate - came flying by. I believed that to be the end of it. But, once I had walked back to the car something else happened. The raven flew by, close to the windshield and looked in, right into my eyes as it passed.

These two very different animals engaged me in cross-species communication. Animals are not the only beings in nature that can communicate with us.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Rain is falling on the grass. Individual drops, dreaming their dreams together with their many brothers and sisters. Dropping. Falling. Joining together. Falling on the backs of little birds, and rolling off. Falling into the grass and soil below. Caressing and feeding each in turn. Still falling. Making little puddles. Joining and making little streamlets, streams, rivers, and seas. Oceans. Aren't oceans the dreaming of rain drops?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dreams and Dreaming

I want to make it clear, that the way I am defining dreams is as something real and tangible on an experiential level.

Let's look at some of the dictionary definitions of the word, dream:

1) a succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep.

2) an involuntary vision occurring to a person when awake.

3) a vision voluntarily indulged in while awake; daydream; reverie.

4) a wild or vain fancy.

The way I choose to define the word "dream" as I use it in the title of this blog, is different from the dictionary definitions. By dream, I mean the creative and inclusive realm and process in which we all manifest our lives through our focus, energy and thoughts. This is not a process of fantasizing or indulging in reverie, but rather in creating a particular path in the possibilities within the dynamic of cause and effect.

I know that in our western culture, we have a strong bias against taking the word and process of dreaming with any amount of seriousness. The view I am choosing to live with and share of dreaming is more along the lines of understanding practiced by many tribal peoples' around the world.

Let me use an example from a book to explain this process and act, a little bit better...

This quote is taken from the non-fiction book called Shapeshifting, by John Perkins. It explains the practice a member of the Bugi (tribe from Sulawesi) uses in making traditional wooden ship, called a prahu.

"Every prahu has a dream," Buli explained. "This dream exists before the ship is built. My grandfather showed me how to enter the dream of the prahu as I begin my work. I see where it will sail, what storms it will encounter. This tells me how to focus my work, the parts of the prahu that need special attention. Everything on our ships comes directly from nature; we use no metals or plastics. Once I understood the dream of the prahu - its future voyages - I journey into nature, into the dreams of the plants I need, and select those that are most suitable for this particular ship."

This is a view of reality and of nature that was once common throughout the world, and is still found among the remaining tribal peoples in many parts of our world. It is included as part of a world view that might best be described as "animist" or "animistic."

Dreaming our world

I came upon a blog written by a friend of mine, and it inspired me to write and share about the many books, authors, speakers, visionaries and ideas that inspired and continue to inspire me.

Here is his blog, if you are curious:

My intent on this blog is to share freely and encourage ideas and practices in the world, that I believe will help us to heal ourselves and our relationship to Nature.

It is my belief that we dream our world into being, along with all other forms of life around us. We can choose to do that consciously or not, but we are engaged in it all the time. It is my hope that this blog, in some small way, encourages others to dream more consciously and take responsibility for their part in the web that we all weave.