January 13, 2012

Spoons and Bobcats

The articles I have written recently, on December 16 and December 23, have been focused on a book by Martha Beck, entitled Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want.

As I have said before, the book has gotten my attention, and as promised, I will be talking about it quite a bit. The article on December 23 was about wordlessness, the first technology of magic as defined by Beck. Wordlessness is a familiar concept for me, and I have written here and elsewhere about it, usually as the antidote to what I like to call monkey brain. It's essentially Buddhist mindfulness. It's also one of the most profound tools I know of for centering and clarifying your mind and heart around what is really important in your life.

Over the past couple of weeks, while you were reading Peggy's Progress, and then the wonderful interview with Mike and Leslie Hannon, I have been working my way through Martha Beck's second technology of magic: Oneness. I thought I would breeze through that section of the book and hammer out a nice little article about it and be done. Oneness is a concept that I have been batting around since high school, which was a really long time ago. You know, more Buddhist stuff. I've read a lot about it, and it's a very fine concept. It's the notion that we are all connected—that everything is connected. And these days, it really seems like we need to get a better handle on oneness for the sake of ourselves and the planet. But still, it's something most of us, me included, tend to think about rather than practice in any really tangible ways.

But Martha isn't willing to let it go at platitudes and nice ideas. She jumps right in with a story about bending spoons. Yes, bending spoons. How this relates to oneness perhaps needs a bit of explanation. According to Beck, one must empathize with the spoon—"feel into the spoon," to make it happen. The story she tells is about a lunch date she had with a woman who was a noted field anthropologist. She knew this woman had studied magic in various cultures, and she asked her to give her some tangible example of the efficacy of magic. To her surprise, and mine, the anthropologist challenged her to bend a spoon. And then incredulous, Martha bent a restaraunt fork, which she said became as pliable as wet clay in her hands. Over the next few days, she bent all of her silverware. Since that time, she has taught others to bend metal, and once bent a piece of rebar with her bare hands.

I spent ten years as a professional welder and fitter and know a little about bending steel. You can do it with powerful tools and leverage, or you can do it with extreme heat. The heating method involves getting the metal to the temperature where it glows red. When glowing red, steel bends with very little effort, much like the phenomenon that Martha experienced at that resaurant table with no heat. The way I do heat bending is with an oxy-acetelene flame. When you heat steel to red, you are exciting the molecules into a non-crystaline structure in which they can move around easily in relation to each other. But when the steel is cool, the crystaline structure returns, and the geometrical bonds hold the molecules in a rigid matrix. It would appear that if a person bent steel without extreme force or heat, it must involve the rearrangement of the crystaline structure by some means not normally available. I'm pretty sure that there isn't a metallurgist alive who would believe that this can be done with the mind alone.

By now, you are probably guessing that I followed Martha's admonition that anyone can bend metal with their mind. I tried it—several times. And sadly, I can report that none of my flatware has suffered deformation up to this point. I'm not beating myself up over this. Not too much anyway. But on the other hand, it would be really nice to be able to transform steel into a wet clay like consistency while making art. Wow! That would be very cool. I tend to be a pretty open minded guy, and probably have given this challenge quite a bit more thought and energy than most college educated people that I know would give it. It sounds ridiculous after all. But I don't know if bending flatware is possible. For an educated modern man, that is a significant statement. I'm supposed to say that I know it's impossible. But impossible was Martha's initial response as well. I'll keep you posted on my progress with the silverware.

But bending spoons is not really the point. It happens or it doesn't. The idea here is a state of mind in which one sets aside the limitations of Newtonian materialism, which sees us all as mechanistic bits of matter interacting with each other in cause and effect relationships and with rigid boundaries around what is possible. What this excercise has shown me, is that I am far more steeped in materialism that I thought. This idea of oneness is really tough for me. I can go into a wordless place and stay there for periods of time. I can quiet my mind and feel a closeness to the people and the things around me pretty easily. But I can't really say that I have experienced a clear sense of sharing my existence in a tangible way with a spoon. I've been trying, but it's not something that comes easily for me.

I know that quantum physics is more supportive of the notion of oneness than I am. I have all the stuff in my head about quantum entanglement, or spooky action at a distance (that bizarre phenomenon, proven experimentally, in which two particles that have interacted with each other locally in the past will react together when one of them is stimulated, even when they are a great distance apart.) I get the idea that matter barely exists, that space is almost completely empty, that matter only exists when there is an observer and is really just a manifestation of energy brought on by the observing. I know that modern physics describes a world that is completely different from what I see around me, and I also know that we really don't have a clue what is actually behind it all. I recently heard that astrophysicists can only account for about 4% of the mass of the universe, and that they just can't find the rest. So there is a very real sense in which it seems that entertaining the notion of becoming one with a spoon, and then bending it, is no more crazy than anything else that I do from day to day.

In the meantime, Martha Beck also talks about a whole range of experience that manifests oneness. She talks about, and offers the reader exercises to develop skill in calling wild animals, and communicating with both domestic and wild animals as expressions of oneness. She is not focused on reading the minds of dogs and horses per se, but rather on getting into a state of mind where you are on the same wave length with them. This, as well as the manipulation of the physical world (spoons?) is something that comes out of wordlessness. Wordlessness is where animals and trees and grass and rocks and spoons spend all their time. To grow an awareness of what we share with the rest of the world, whether it be your cat, or a bald eagle, or a four point buck, or a rock or a spoon, we must first shut up. No one talks besides us. To understand, and even better, to empathize with our companions in this existence we have to be still inside and listen without words, and find the space common to us all.

I am not there yet on the issue of oneness. I understand it conceptually, but have not yet reached the place where I can sit quietly and call a bobcat into the yard in front of my house. I have not yet successfully seen my connectedness to the bobcat beyond some philosophical level. There are shamans the world over who exhibit such skills in navigating the hidden realms. And as artists and wayfinders for this wild and crazy world that's unfolding and explosively developing around us, such skills might be our only way to keep up. We may or may not ever bend spoons. We may or may not ever summon a mountain lion to come and sit with us under a tree. But we must learn to walk with the poise and presence and balance of mystical wayfinders if we will keep our balance in this wild new world. And of course, you'll be the first to know when I begin cold forming artwork in steel with my bare hands...


A few weeks ago we mentioned that we are talking to Steven and John at CDM Real Estate Development in Watsonville, California about how to move forward on the development of Windhook. Those talks continue, and currently we have two things in the works. First is the program for Windhook. John and Steven wanted to see more detail about what we envision actually going on at Windhook once we get it going. That helps them to understand what the vision is more clearly, and it's a very good exercise for us as well. We have a pretty good idea, but up to now it has been in our heads, and in conversations with various artists whom we want to offer workshops. So now we are beginning the task of committing it all to a formal plan. If you are an artist, writer, or other creative who teaches your craft to others, we might have already had some converstations about this, but whether we have talked before or not, it would be very helpful to discuss your ideas for workshops and classes. What goes into this plan will be informed by such conversations, and will help to define what we build and when. So if you have ideas for a workshop you would like to teach or attend, send us a note!

The first tangible thing that has come out of these conversations with Steven and John is a consensus that a large multipurpose barn should be the first thing we build. We already have an approved permit for a 3000 square foot barn from the county, and the structure, because it is a barn, requires minimal inspections. It will be the fastest, cheapest, and most versatile structure that we can put up. We are hoping to find the funding for this barn within the year, and to be able to put the beginnings of our program into action there. More to come as we go along, so watch for updates.

View to the west from our barn site

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