Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Wind Poppies

Note: All photographs were taken in spring, 2016, at the North Fork of the King River, after the Rough Fire.

     Wherever I go in the forest, I encounter angels.
     It all started one spring when my wife and I were driving on Watt's Valley Road east of Fresno, and we stopped next to a hillside blanketed by flowers. As I gazed, transfixed, I couldn't help but mumble, despite my agnosticism, “There is a God.” I returned a few years later, after I had experienced a spiritual emergence due to meditation, to what my wife and I have come to call affectionately “the God-hill,” and I scrambled up the slope in the rain, my feet slogging through a tapestry of fairy lanterns, Chinese houses, tarweed, and Ithuriel's spears. No matter which way I turned, magnificent arrays ravished me, and I stood still for a long time—not just because I was trying to avoid stepping on any more plants. I could sense a unique consciousness emanating from each species, a slightly different frequency of the life-force, all the species within their niche tuned to each other. Later, in some esoteric book I read that each species in nature is the manifestation of an angelic, overarching consciousness, and I like to imagine that each species is an angel that I can experience with both physical and psychic senses. I am extremely cautious while in nature because every animal has the right to survive and defend itself and its young, but after I have been in the forest awhile I tune my spirit to the energy of its angels. Even rocks seem to contain a strange, angelic energy, more primeval than the grass and trees, manifesting far longer than any protoplasm.
Ithuriel's Spear and Fiesta Flowers
     Recently I woke up in the middle of the night and could not get back to sleep. Suddenly, after many anxious thoughts, I found myself within the sun, and I sensed its power and light within all the manifested angels of creation. I believed that I knew my purpose, as one sometimes does in the middle of the night when one cannot sleep: I was born to spread the word that everything in nature is the dense aspect of the spiritual, each species the manifestation of an angel, each angel brimming with physical and spiritual light. Then I understood why shamans connect with power animals: Each animal is one of Earth's angels, at least as significant to humans as the great shining ones of other spiritual realms. As physical beings, we are always closer to Earth's angels than to nonphysical beings. In other words, it is inevitably easier to commune with the host of Earth's angels than with angels from other planes of being. These angels can each give us power to survive and thrive on the material plane.
     An angel, of course, is a personification, a symbol, but the human mind naturally anthropomorphizes as a way to give form to the unseen realities of spirit. Some animal species, such as humans, are evolving individual consciousness, which tends to focus on making a unique place for itself within the world, yet as humans we also retain the potential of contacting the unseen. The figures of angels and gods have helped the human mind make this contact throughout history. The mystical Tree of Life shows the relationships of basic unseen energies, and a study of the Tree reveals the types of unseen energies represented by gods and angels throughout history.
Indian Pinks
     The next morning, of course, I came to my senses, realizing that many people, especially the most “rational” among us, would consider my mission ridiculous or insane. Most atheists and religious people, I've discovered, have their own belief system set in stone, and, skepticism, if my experience is any indication, fuels agnosticism. What if, though, humanity suddenly experienced a sea change in attitude and believed that each species is one of Earth's angelic hosts and then extrapolated that Earth is the dense, physical manifestation of a spiritual Source that is both immanent and transcendent?
     As I have progressed through life, I can't help but discern patterns and abstract meaning from them. I call this meaning spiritual principle. Others might consider it existential gestalt or some other term. For example, I have striven over the years, successfully or not, to develop myself as an artist, writer, composer, activist and spiritual seeker. Each of these pursuits has required sacrifices of time, energy, and money. In each case, I have had to give up something basic to achieve my goal, and I have had to forgive people who have harmed me along the way (and I'm sure they have had to forgive me). When I look back, however, I realize that I have experienced an expansion of consciousness resulting from each sacrifice. At some point during each sacrifice, I have achieved a new and larger sense of self.
     Moreover, I have come to realize that spiritual principle applies to my worldly experiences whether or not I am, at the time,
Madia, Wind Poppies, Chinese Houses
religiously inclined. For instance, in retrospect, even when I was an agnostic, without knowing it, whenever I sacrificed for beauty, justice, or truth, I was manifesting spiritual principle. Eventually, when I encountered the God-hill mentioned above, I was ready to understand the existence of the higher self and the angelic hosts within nature and spiritual principle in general. I now can clearly see that my readiness for an expanded perspective developed from a series of experiences associated with sacrifice.
     The spiritual principle known as the “mysteries of sacrifice,” I have discovered, consists of a process with three stages: first, of course, the actual sacrifice, the giving up of something for a greater good; then, forgiveness of others who have harmed me during the sacrifice; and finally, transformation, a blossoming into a more exalted state of being. These stages have occurred and the spiritual principle has applied whether or not I have been the least bit concerned with spiritual development.
     In the Qabalah, the Christ is a spiritual force that has manifested as different saviors and gods in cultures throughout history, the most recent being Jesus, in whose life the stages of sacrifice play out dramatically through his crucifixion, his forgiveness, and his resurrection. Each one of us, I believe, experiences these stages to some degree whenever we commit to a greater good, such as raising a family in difficult economic times, creating a work of beauty, or overthrowing a tyrant, whether in politics, academia, or the workplace.

Wind Poppies, Chinese Purple Houses

     The process of sacrifice resembles the act of rolling a large rock up a hill, but when the person reaches the summit, he or she experiences an expansion of consciousness, a greater understanding of spiritual principle, a larger sense of self. With sacrifice and forgiveness also comes freedom. The act of forgiveness itself results in a release from bitterness and anger and hatred, a cleansing that leads to a clearer perspective. Don't get me wrong—the act of forgiveness is never easy and often only occurs years after the actual offense, but in my experience the elimination of negativity is absolutely necessary in achieving clarity and expansion of self.
     Sacrifice and forgiveness also result in breaking away from social conditioning. One recognizes how false and illusory are many beliefs maintained by the establishment culture, which is often focused on hierarchies and power relationships. For me, sacrifice has led to a greater understanding of spiritual principle and the ideals of the higher self, which has released me from the materialistic goals of a capitalistic society. I no longer feel
Wind Poppies, Fiesta Flower
compelled to gain wealth, status, or power. I am free to act 
according to the ideals of my higher self, to strive for harmony and exaltation through my art and spirituality. This might strike a sophisticated modern human being as rather archaic. However, I have come to believe in abstractions such as truth, justice, and beauty because life has initiated me. Like many others, I have contacted the unseen energies, and I know their place on the Tree of Life, the mystical glyph that reveals the evolution of the cosmos and the highest evolution of humanity. As I have mentioned in other posts, Life has initiated me in one way through meditation: I had a number of visions of symbols associated with the Tree of Life that reveal spiritual principle—even while I was still an agnostic.
     A person often progresses from one stage to another through sacrifice, which requires intention and attention to spiritual principles, such as truth, beauty, and balance. The mind must make a commitment and focus time and energy on its goal, which is a basic form of sacrifice, instead of simply focusing on feeling
pleasure and avoiding pain. When rising above Malkuth, the material plane, the mind breaks out of purely physical concerns to understand cause and effect, which on the Tree of Life is the plane of intellect known as Hod. In the sphere of Mercury, the highest virtue is truth, which is a way for the human mind to get into harmony with external and internal reality. After a person has sacrificed in order to align with the energies of Hod, a person is prepared to attune the mind to the harmony and beauty of nature and the arts, the sphere associated with Venus known as Netzach. The mind attunes to the harmony of nature and human works of art by “feeling with” the spirit within the creation; when a person feels a profound piece of music, for instance, he or she understands the meaning with the heart, whether or not that knowledge can be articulated. When a person begins to understand with the heart, he or she is moving toward Tiphareth, the sphere of harmony and selfless love also known as the Christ center.
     I should make clear that I am not a Christian in the conventional sense. I am, however, living proof that a person who has never accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior can experience the Christ force. People throughout history have experienced the force of harmony and selfless love even if they have never heard of Christianity, but identifying with the archetype of Jesus, I believe, is an effective way of attuning the heart and soul to that energy, so long as the vice of that sphere, pride, doesn't rear its ugly head—just as identifying with Mercury is an effective way of giving the mind an intellectual focus or identifying with Venus effectively gives the mind an artistic focus.
Ithuriel's Spears, White-tipped Lupine
     Over the years, I have witnessed activists who have kept fighting despite attacks on their credibility and reputation. I stand in awe at how they did not give up after being blackballed or ruined financially. They have shown me the power of sacrifice, which sometimes results in other people doing the right thing just as a situation appears at its bleakest. When I was working as a political organizer, I was an agnostic, but I began to recognize sacrifice as a spiritual principle as I worked with these amazing activists. I first experienced the Christ-force, not in a church, but while active in politics. I witnessed how other activists sacrificed just about everything they had for a higher purpose, and they fought on despite being vilified, blackballed, or ruined financially.
     An activist chooses a life of sacrifice. Beyond the sacrifice of time, energy, and money, he knows that he is taking a risk standing up to influential people in business or academia or politics. He does not know exactly what sacrifice will be demanded but knows that it will occur. In Fresno, CA, an activist learns the score pretty quickly. If activists are effective, people in power will eventually try to undermine them because they interfere with their interests or threaten their reputation. Local governments practice a kind of faux democracy, where political representatives go through the process of listening to testimony at public hearings in order to fulfill legal requirements and maintain the illusion that average citizens can influence the political process. Even in the most backward communities, political representatives have learned how to “dot the i's and cross the t's” for statutes and legal documents, such as environmental impact reports, while relying on their staff and industry attorneys to ensure that their decisions are legally bullet-proof. Elected officials are more often than not influenced by money, and their votes usually boil down to what is expedient and beneficial for their contributors, not what is morally right or in the public's best interest.
     Vested interests use a number of tactics to undermine activists behind the scenes. Powerful people can complain to the activist's employer, for instance. They can get politicians or business leaders to question an activist's credibility. For example, one activist in the Valley sued a developer for inadequate environmental review. During the settlement process, in which the activist demanded that the developer preserve a tract of farmland in perpetuity as mitigation, a local government official phoned the activist and stated that he had called the school district where the activist worked as a substitute. The official wanted the activist to know that he had complained about the activist to the school district. When I spoke to him last, the activist had not been called to work for the school district in over a month, yet that didn't stop him.
     Inspired by their example, I too have experienced forms of ambiguous intimidation. I have lost several jobs, for instance, one after an unexpected evaluation where the administrator begrudgingly marked excellent in each category. He, however, refused to talk about the evaluation with me in a post-evaluation meeting, and I discovered a few days later that I would not be rehired as a teacher at that community college. This was a few weeks after a local newspaper had published an op-ed piece of mine opposing dams on public land. I had worked as an adjunct instructor at the college for over twelve years, receiving a rating of excellent in every category on every evaluation. I had never
Chinese Houses, Wind Poppies, Fiesta Flowers
received a reprimand or a warning, yet I was not rehired. A similar process occurred a few years later. I was still publicly opposing dams that would benefit agribusiness and destroy public land, and I received an email informing me that I was not being rehired at the community college. (Part-time instructors are usually hired on a semester by semester basis.) This, coincidentally, was not long after a “People vs. fish” rally that members of the college took time off to attend, during which they carried signs supporting the ag industry. Some employees of the college brought their signs back to the college campus and stashed them in their offices. A few years after I had been fired, or, as the case may be, “unrehired,” scientists could only find one delta smelt in the wild. Farmers had won the PR campaign.

     I can't, of course, prove that I was fired for opposing the ag industry. I'm pretty sure I have been fired from several other jobs in academia simply for telling the truth, but since so much occurs behind closed doors, and loose lips can lead to lawsuits, I cannot provide definite proof. Coincidentally, academia is the sphere of Mercury, where truth is the highest virtue—and deception is its vice. My experience with academia is no doubt akin to another person's experience with corporate culture: power relationships are more important than truth.
     In a faux democracy, an activist can become quite paranoid. Once, a friend from collage called me out of the blue one evening. I hadn't heard from him in years. The first thing he asked about was an op-ed piece that I had written opposing development in the river bottom. He invited me to a party, and he and his friend and I jammed on electric guitars for most of the evening. As I was placing my guitar in the trunk, for some unknown reason my friend tried to get me to drive home even though I had imbibed at least four beers. He had been friendly the entire evening until I insisted that my wife drive home. Then he snarled offensive remarks questioning my masculinity. His friend also made fun of me while I was getting into the passenger seat of the car. When I refused to drive, they both seemed to panic, as if they both were desperate to get me behind the wheel in an inebriated state. Their remarks were so vulgar and mean-spirited that I kept an eye out for a cop car, and while my wife was driving home I noticed not far from my friend's house a man sitting in what might have been an unmarked police car.
     Around this time I had also published an article critical of a judge who had fined a local activist hundreds of thousands of
Hooker's Onion, Wind Poppies
dollars for a frivolous lawsuit. During the last public hearing the activist had submitted testimony about the precedent-setting and growth-inducing impacts of rezoning the river bottom, and the judge considered his testimony insufficient for a lawsuit, a legal decision which could have established precedent that would have enabled developers to sue just about anyone who does not participate in every stage of a land use decision. The judge's decision was overturned on appeal, but not before the activist was driven to bankruptcy.
     Even though I thought we'd had a blast during the party, I never heard from my former “friend” again. Believing that an old friend might try to get me arrested for a felony DUI might seem like a case of simple paranoia, but I cannot help but remain in a state of agitated hyper-vigilance: Causing an activist's life to unravel is an effective way of keeping the activist from participating in the democratic process. Since poor health now is keeping me from being active, I'm stuck writing this blog instead.
     For several years, I worked as the director of an effective environmental organization. I organized coalitions, testified at public hearings, spoke at press conferences, and gained public support in a number of ways. Just when the organization was hitting its stride politically, helping to stop projects such as coal-fired power plants and a hazardous waste incinerator and establishing the public support to pass legislation forming a Unified Air Pollution Control District, I was named in a sexual harassment lawsuit because I allegedly allowed sexual harassment in the workplace. I had not witnessed, nor had I found any evidence of sexual harassment, but the organization in Fresno eventually had to close its doors due to the lawsuit: the organization, already in the red, had to settle out of court instead of paying much higher court costs. At the same time, the organization was evicted from the building where it had rented office space for over four years, not for failure to pay rent, but for overdue late charges. As the director, I kept experiencing trouble from every side, such as a bogus organization, which paid its employees under the table, canvassing on similar issues; repeated burglaries; and the local newspaper putting our recruitment ad in the sales section of the classifieds even though we were not selling anything, simply exercising our right to free speech and involving the public in the democratic process.
Madia, Wind Poppies, Chinese Houses

     Activism matters because, even though laws and policies are always subject to change, and even though activists in places like Fresno, CA, are vulnerable, the best activists through discipline and sacrifice manifest not only the virtues of Mercury and Venus but the courage of Mars, the spiritual magnificence of Jupiter, and the harmony and selfless love associated with the the Sun. I am certainly not a great activist. As soon as I have become effective on an issue, I also tend to become beset by almost insurmountable problems, and I have alienated many powerful people in academia and business and politics. I now stand alone, which is not usually a good thing when one is trying to establish public support for one's position. However, I have witnessed, during my various spiritual initiations, that the positive use of the energies associated with the higher self, including the spheres of Mercury, Venus, The Sun, Mars, and Jupiter, can inspire people on a deep level: Far better activists than I have inspired me. Activism is about fighting for what you love, and despite my flaws, I have at least had the privilege of working with people wholly committed to protecting what they love, and those who have sacrificed a great deal have certainly had a lasting effect on what the Qabalist's call the “inner planes,” as well as on the quality of life of the community.