I recently finished reading Yann Martel's book, Life of Pi. I had heard of it, because of the movie version released last year, but I didn't see the movie and really wasn't sure what it was about. From the movie previews I thought it was something about a young man lost at sea on a lifeboat with a tiger. That's an interesting twist on the basic ocean survival theme, but it never struck me as compelling enough to see the movie or investigate the book. I did gather that the book was doing well internationally and the movie was so-so, and I left it at that.

Then, recently, my wife read the book and was enthralled with it. So I read it upon her recommendation and became enthralled myself. Yes, the story action is mostly of a teenaged Indian boy who survives a ship sinking only to end up on a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger. Just that aspect of the book is engrossing and makes it a page-turner. But overall, the story is about religion. It is an involved parable that speaks to how our religions are stories that we embrace to help us through life. That's all I'll say about that here. I get into it much more in my review of the book that I've posted on Goodreads.

For this journal entry, and maybe for some more to come, I want to reflect on some of the themes and points Mr. Martel makes in his book. Life of Pi was one of those works that spoke to me on many different levels as I read it. There was much that I related to and "amened" as I read, and I discovered even more as I wrote my review. For example, he makes a really good point about moving.

I've made a number of moves with my family. I mean physical moves--packing up our stuff and moving to another city or part of the same city. A number of them involved house purchases. Why did we do this? If asked that question at those times I would have replied something about going to a better job opportunity, school district, compatible environment or some such. But Mr. Martel stated my reasons very accurately:

People move because of the wear and tear of anxiety. Because of the gnawing feeling that no matter how hard they work their efforts will yield nothing, that what they build up in one year will be torn down in one day by others. Because of the impression that the future is blocked up, that they might do all right but not their children. Because of the feeling that nothing will change, that happiness and prosperity are possible only somewhere else.

Yes, that's exactly why we moved when we moved. And there was good and bad with each move. In none of them did we find that place that was "just right" for us. We ended up coming back to our home city, but then moved around a lot within it. I think we have lived in its every major section and found, once again, that there is good and bad aspects to all of them. All-in-all, we did manage to provide decent places for our kids to grow up and we are currently in a place and a house where we're comfortable.

But we never found that the move was the answer. The "wear and tear of anxiety" always caught up with us. We found that happiness and prosperity were conditions we had to create for ourselves, wherever we happen to be (though "prosperity" is a matter of definition). I think we've stopped looking for that in a place. If we move again, it will be with different motivations.

Now I must make a distinction between moving and traveling. Moving from one residence to another has been, for me, an act of trying to find something, as Mr. Martel stated so well. Traveling, has been an act of trying to experience something. In the little of it I've done, it has always been a seeking for what Joseph Campbell says is that "rapture of being alive." I have made the seeking of that rapture my quest, whether actually doing it or just dreaming about it.

Travel, as an idea and experience, is a classic metaphor and symbol for life lived fully. It is used that way in the recent Walter Mitty movie, and it was what moved me so much when a celebrity visited my city who was known for his travels.

And yet, though travel is widely conceived as a means to "broaden the mind," that broadening can also occur when much spiritual or emotional distance is covered rather than physical miles. Such inner traveling can take us to a new perspective. Indeed, it can be so new that treading our worn paths is like breaking new ground. We see, for the first time, what has always been there but overlooked. This occurred for Mr. Martel's hero, Pi, when taking a familiar way home after a time of spiritual inspiration on a visit:

...I suddenly felt I was in heaven. The spot was in fact no different from when I had passed it not long before, but my way of seeing it had changed. The feeling, a paradoxical mix of pulsing energy and profound peace, was intense and blissful...I knelt a mortal; I rose an immortal. I felt like the centre of a small circle coinciding with the centre of a much larger one.

I think our being becomes lighter at such times. We live then at a higher frequency and concentration. These are the only times in our lives that we remember with clarity, and so we are motivated to strive for them. This is the quest of the holy and the wise, each approaching from their preferred direction.

Moving might be necessary and even a positive, but traveling is usually better, especially if it's done out of a desire for experience. In either case, the distance covered is best measured on the inside.

I have been working hard on my first Dentville  novel (Dentville: The Power of the Ancients) and have made much progress. At this point, I'm hoping for a publication date of around April of 2015. Meanwhile, I thought I would release a little polished back-story to whet people's appetite. So what follows is a scene that is a prelude to the background situation in Dentville: The Power of the Ancients.

I released this scene before as part of a newsletter I was doing about a year ago. It only went out to subscribers who were few. I've since scrapped that newsletter, though I hope to start another one at some point. I entitled this scene, Target Practice. I've edited it a good bit for this release though the essential story remains the same. It is an introduction to the world of Dentville.

This scene is set in the year 2327 when world civilization has collapsed and the earth has entered another ice age. It is a dialogue between a major character (Nia) and an offstage character (Tristan) who are brother and sister. They are children of the Dentville Military Elder and Tristan is about to leave on an important scouting mission for his father. Nia, a fighter herself, doesn't like being left behind to assume the dubious role of helper to her father.

* * * Target Practice * * *

Nia sighted down the arrow's shaft to the chiseled stone practice point, placing it slightly above her small round target to allow for the drop of distance. The plastic disk was barely visible sticking up in a fallen tree trunk. She felt it more that saw it. She held her breath to stop her respiratory tremors that would deviate the arrow's flight, and felt the extension of her aim from her fingers on the drawn bowstring, through the arrow and to the target beyond.

In this barest instance, there was nothing in her world but her aim, the arrow, and the target. Her doubts disappeared, melding into this single shot. All else was forgotten, including the group of warriors that watched from across the field, as she released the bowstring. The arrow shot through empty air, tracing a shallow arc, until it reached its target which shattered into a satisfying spray of brittle shards.

Grunts and chuckles came from the warriors' camp at another disk's destruction. They might have been admiring, but Nia considered them condescending and she didn't favor their gap-toothed grins with even a glance. They shouldn't be there anyway, intruding on her home and her practice time. Watching her. Invited or not, and her father must surely have invited them, they weren't her guests. But  she wouldn't defer to them. She would go about her business, including her daily target practice, and ignore them. Or if she couldn't ignore them, she would show them what it meant to be the daughter of Kent Bellengrath and, even at sixteen, their superior in martial skills.

The smell of roasting venison from the warriors' campfire reached her across the snow-covered field as she strung another arrow. She felt a slight gnawing in her stomach; it had been a long time since breakfast. Her brother had challenged her to an archery competition that morning, but said he had some business to attend to first. He didn't say what it was. He just rode off, telling her they would talk when he came back. So she set up the targets and waited. When  he didn't return, she began shooting on her own. The warriors watched from afar as they prepared the deer they had poached for their midday meal. They snickered when she missed, so she concentrated and stopped missing, and they grew silent.

They would probably have cheered her if she gave any notice of them. Not so much for her skills, though, but to win the favor of her father by flattering her. They were feeling privileged just being there and it irked her. Her mother wouldn't have stood for it.

She heard a horse whinny as she took aim again, and the warriors were calling to someone who had just ridden up. She let her bow down and turned to see that her brother had finally returned. He was on his big, bay stallion, Thunder, looking like a young version of Pa, with his long black hair and thick form leaning from the saddle to accept a slice of venison.

Hangers. Pa wasn't there so they butt-kissed the eldest son.

Nia returned to her shooting. A high shot zipped between two disks as her brother approached.

"Miss," Tristan said, still chewing deer meat. "You got to do better than that to beat me."

Tristan glanced back at the warriors, who were watching them both.

"Looks like you got admirers," he said.

"Morons and poachers," Nia said. "I don't know why they be here."

She strung another arrow and let loose a shot that smacked solid into the tree trunk beneath a target.

"Warriors. My warriors," Tristan said. "I need them. That be a miss."

"Close enough to kill. Need them for what?"

Tristan dismounted and walked up to Nia, eying the targets with a critical air.

"That be what I want to talk to ya about," he said, still looking at the disks. "What be we shooting at, anyway?"

"The plastic things the Ancients' made music with," Nia said. "I found a bunch at an old homesite. So what ya been planning with Pa? Why ya been talking with him late at night without me? And why y'all let these hangers drag in from all over Dentville and camp on our land, killing our deer and eating our crops?"

"I picked them men for a mission," Tristan said. "One that Pa been planning for a while. Let me have the bow."

"Planning without me," Nia said. "And where was ya this morning? I thought we was going to target practice."

"I be here, ain't I?" Tristan said. He strung an arrow and aimed it. "I went to see Branch this morning. At his hut. Zane Landstrom was there."

Tristan released the arrow and it stuck in the tree trunk beside Nia's.

"What you want from the sage?" Nia said. "Why all the secrets you cannot tell me?"

"Pa got his reasons," Tristan said.

He strung another arrow and took careful aim. He let it fly and it shattered a target. He lowered the bow. Nia was staring at him.

"It be important," he said. "Pa believes the Corban be marching, and they will eventually reach us. We got to be ready."

"Folks been running here over a year," Nia said, "saying the Corban be coming, but we seen no sign."

"They be marching slow," Tristan said. "They can afford to. Their army be so big, nobody been able to stand against them. That be what Pa thinks. It be why he been building the army. He thinks it be just a matter of time before they get here. We got to be ready. We need information."

"What kind o' information?"

"Where they be exactly. The size o' their army. How fast they moving. Their fighting tactics. We got to know all that to beat them. I be going to find out what we need to know."

"You be going to scout the Corban?"

"Ya, with these warriors." Tristan indicated the warriors' camp across the field. "Balen be going too."

"Well, at least ya got one good man," Nia said.

"We be going east until we find the Corban. We will judge their strength and what we need to do to stop them. But we got to keep it quiet. That be why the warriors be camping on our land. Pa be not wanting to scare everybody in Dentville. Not yet."

"So what be you wanting from Branch?" Nia said.

"Pa says he knows the Corban. Lived close to them once. Pa thought he might even go with me, but he refused when I asked. Thinks he got too much work here, but I think it be something else. But who knows about Branch. Zane be willing to go, though.

"He be too young," Nia said.

"He be older than you," Tristan said. "Got some fire for a sage apprentice, though. Surprised me. He wants to fight. Asked for fighting training from me. I told him I would find someone to help him since I be leaving soon. Guess he be his Pa's son."

"I be the one that needs to go with you," Nia said. "I know how to fight. I can help. Why Pa didn't include me?"

"Nia," Tristan said. "Look. Pa needs you here. You be all he got left, if I don't..."

"If you don't what? Come back? How dangerous be this? It just be a scouting mission, right?"

"Ya. But Pa wanted the spirits' blessing, even if Branch be not going along. So I got Branch to ask the spirits. He went into a trance and flew among them. When he come back, he said they showed him my expedition. He saw us marching, and finding the Corban. He saw smoke and fire. He did not explain that, but he said the expedition would come back. He just could not see me coming back with them.

"You think you be going to die on this trip?" Nia said. "Because of a sage's word from the spirits? You be getting religious."

"There be a danger, Nia. They might have guns..."

"I don't think Branch believes the spirits. Why should you?"

"Look, I intend to come back, little sis, whatever Branch or the spirits say. But we got to be ready for anything. While I be gone, you be the eldest. You be all that Pa got. So you got to run things and help Pa. Keep up the house and the farm. Help Pa in the council and with the army. When I come back, I will do those things again. But if I don't, well, you be the next in line."

"I be the only one in line. So why don't Pa say anything to me? If I be supposed to be the eldest while you be gone..."

"You know Pa," Tristan said. "He will not say anything. He will just expect you to do the job. So I be telling you."

"When you leaving?"

"In a couple of days."

"How long you be gone?"

"Weeks. Months. Whatever it takes. I will send runners with word on where I be and what we find. But it all be secret."

"I know," Nia said. "I will keep quiet so the people of Dentville be not panicking. What about Merrydith? She know about this?"

"I be going to tell her next. She been patient and not asked questions, like a good wife."

"Phaw," Nia said. "She got a right to know her husband be going off on a danger. What if something do happen to you? You want to leave your baby boy without a Pa?"

"Course I don't want to leave my family. But I be doing this for them most of all. I want them safe from the Corban. I want Marc to have a home to grow up in. Sides, they got plenty o' family to take care o' them while I be gone. You will look after them too, won't you?"

"I will help," Nia said. "If I be not too busy being 'eldest'."

"Well, you will be busy all right. Taking care o' things for Pa. Taking care of Pa." Tristan handed the bow back to Nia. "You could even teach young Landstrom how to fight."

"He be better off being a sage," Nia said. She strung another arrow and shot it into a plastic target.

Tristan mounted Thunder.

"You quitting already?" Nia asked.

"Got a lot to do before I leave. I told ya what I wanted to. We will talk more before I leave." He kicked Thunder to a walk.

"And with Pa," Tristan called over his shoulder.

Nia watched her brother leave. He did look like Pa from the back. Riding away, looking for trouble before it reached them all.

I loved nature in my youth. Nature was ubiquitous, exerting her beauty, rhythms, and sometimes fright, as a backdrop to my journey to adulthood. As a child, I watched the vividly azure sky and the humongous, billowing cumulus clouds that were bright white and sharply defined even as they lumbered their way over the horizon.

In the summer, the air was humid but filled with smells of flowers and pine trees that I associated with a child's adventures of bicycling through the neighborhood, tromping through the woods, running under a water hose, and grilling out with adults. The nights were full of stars, brilliant and splattered across the sky, held up by the backbone of the Milky Way. The stars were rivaled by the fireflies, or lightning bugs, that filled the air beneath the pines. Cicadas chirped and grunted day and night, and left discarded shells enough to fill a wheelbarrow.

In the fall, Halloween nights were cool and overseen by a harvest moon that lighted our tricks in search of treats, and the air was filled with the smell of candles inside of carved pumpkins. In the winter, snow was rare but pristine when it came. The air was cold, and it stayed cold until the spring.

Rainy days came with the spring, and it rained solid for days at a time, sometimes with dark and powerful storms. But then the sun broke through and, once again, the smell of flowers and pines lent promise to the temperate air beneath deep blue skies.

A beautiful day with unlimited visibility could inspire your soul and make you dare to believe that life was good, and that the future held promise.

I reached midlife taking the natural world for granted as an unchanging inspiration. But now, something has changed indeed. Something is different, and awfully wrong.

For some two decades, the local climate has been getting noticeably warmer, with more and stronger storms and such. But beginning around October or November of 2013, we've gone beyond just warmer to bizarre and, if you haven't been paying attention, baffling.

For those old enough to well remember the weather and look of the skies before about the mid 1990s, the sky and weather are just nothing like they were. Here is my list of 10 things that I see every day as being unnatural about the weather and nature. This is not an exhaustive list, just obvious things I believe anyone will see if they watch the skies:

1. Constant, silvery white mist, like smog, that cuts visibility and makes what sunshine that gets through, very glaring. It varies in intensity, but never clears.

2. Mostly thin "clouds" that break up into clumps but retain long, parallel line formations across the sky.

3. Thick cumulus clouds are much more rarely seen on a "clear" day, and when you do, they don't reach as high into the atmosphere as they used to.

4. Clouds generally have a flat appearance. They are clumpy on a "fair" day, and ragged and "wild" on rainy days.

5. Most storm systems are spotty and very local. Even when it's raining, a third or more of the sky is "clear" bluish.

6. Lightning shimmers like a Stephenie Meyer vampire.

7. Greatly reduced insect populations--mosquitoes, honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies.

8. Trees dying--yellowed leaves, dropping foliage, brown tops, paler greens.

9. Vegetables and flowers are harder to grow, even in soil that looks good.

10. Behind the white "smog," in the early mornings and late evenings, high-flying aircraft are seen trailing long, thick plumes--sometimes visually persistent, sometimes not--flying parallel or irregular patterns.

I have come to believe, through observation and research, that these aberrations of weather and deleterious effects on nature are the results of steadily increasing climate warming from a planetary greenhouse condition.

This warming is greatly compounded by geoengineering efforts  facilitated by the spraying of aerosols from aircraft, and the manipulation of the ionosphere and jet stream by high-intensity beams of electromagnetic radiation.

Ongoing geoengineering is the single greatest threat to all life on earth.

I have set my Dentville novels in a future decimated by the Taker culture. In my vision, nature (Gaia) has responded to humankind's assault with a release of energy that ends in an ice age (one possible scenario). People struggle to survive at a neolithic level, even as forces rise to return to a society of technology and domination. Even if geoengineering is stopped, I believe this to be an optimistic scenario.

I want to see blue skies again, with the beauty of majestic, white cumulus clouds drifting through them. I want to see storms that arise naturally and drop their load of unadulterated moisture on a grateful earth. I want to be able to take inspiration from nature again.

I want there to be a future for humanity. It there is to be, then we must fight for it. I believe in the power of the accumulation of small efforts. If all of us do even a small part, even just accepting the testimony of our own eyes, it can become an overwhelming flood for the good.

You can begin by educating yourself. Here is a good place to start.

When my sons went to work for a local Wine & Spirits store earlier this year, they found something more than just a job. The store owner put them through a program of wine education and they discovered in that, an unforeseen passion. It started with a "head knowledge" of how wines were created--growing the grapes, fermenting them, storing the wine, etc. Then knowledge was coupled with experience in appreciating the complexity of the wines themselves.

For, as a symphony is a deliberate, balanced blend of instrumented sounds to produce rich music that speaks to our souls, so a really good wine is a blend of grapes, fruits, spices, and oak deliberately blended to produce a rich drink that enhances our moments.

I had never understood before what was meant by the complexity of wine until my sons pointed it out to me and showed me examples. What I discovered was how a good wine was indeed a symphony of tastes and smells that changed as you drank it. The aroma can speak of the earth, or tart fruits, or exotic spices. A fine red will use its aroma while chilled to hint at the tastes it contains, and then reveal them more and more as it warms in your glass. The flavor does the same, with fruits and spices coming through as it warms and ending with a vanilla-oak fragrance that makes smelling a nearly empty glass nearly as stimulating as tasting the drink.

Such richness in aroma and taste can compliment various foods and when a wine is "paired" with a food so that each brings out the best in the other, the result is magical. Making such pairings is the specialty of sommeliers (wine experts). But even beyond food pairings is, I believe, the pairing of a wine with an occasion. In the company of friends and family, especially at a meaningful time, a rich wine can lend its symphonic complexity to a time and place and fellowship, and elevate it from good to memorable. Such a pairing can make you sentimental about a particular wine.

My sons have thrown themselves into wines with more passion than I've seen from them for anything since practicing Kung Fu and learning Mandarin. Dillon has already earned his first level Sommelier pin and Thomas is working on his. They have begun offering their services to officiate wine tastings (where they help people choose wines to share with friends as they "sip-and-learn"). They can also recommend and serve wines at weddings, parties, and any occasion people want to enhance with a good wine.

Thomas and Dillon have a Facebook page here. They've also started a blog where they'll write about wines and tell about their experiences with them, and make recommendations. Their first entry is about an Argentinian wine called Ca De Calle that I also recall as being a very good one that demonstrates what is meant by a "complex wine." You can read about it here.

Yes, I understand the wine passion. It's far more than just drinking.

Another dreamer...He doesn't have enough money to travel.

This is how Santiago, the protagonist of Paulo Coelho's little book: The Alchemist, is written off by a ticket agent when he inquires about passage to Africa but doesn't follow through with a purchase. This bit of the story is significant to me in a couple of aspects. First, it equates travel with the idea of being free and living fully. Escape through travel is a common dream for people and the ticket agent recognizes that. He sees it all the time in the eyes of his customers, and in regards to Santiago, he is right. The boy is seeking a treasure by following his "Personal Legend" which is leading him to Africa, and he is hitting a wall in simply not having the money for a ticket.

That brings me to the second aspect, which is capitalistic crassness--that commercial precept that commodifies everything, including dreams of freedom. It says that desire and a brave heart are not enough to pursue your life goals. You have to have money so you can make somebody else rich in the process.

I have wrestled with this problem in my life. I've had the desire to travel but not the means, and often not the courage. At the heart of this desire are the ideas of freedom and of finding meaning in this physical life. Both ideas include a fair amount of subjectivity, I suppose, but I agree with Joseph Campbell who said that what the seeker is really seeking is "an experience of being alive."

...so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive.

Our desire for that rapturous experience is what creates our mid-life crises as we grow older and feel our diminution. We write our bucket lists and dream of breaking the chains that prevent their fulfillments. We sit in our cubicles and count a million widgets for the millionth time. A fear rises in us that we dare not voice, yet we must voice if we are to be true to ourselves. And if we can do so, we speak in agreement with Tolkien's character in The Return of the King, who, when asked what it is she fears, says:

"A cage," [Éowyn] said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

To lose the desire is the saddest part.

I believe we go on when we are done with this life, but that doesn't mitigate the disappointment of having wasted it. So we live with the aching need to give vent to a primal scream and run from our cubicles and out the corporate doors. Only then can we go to a distant land and stand on a mountain and gaze down on a sacred valley. There, in the cool morning air, we will feel the energy reaching out to us from the earth, from past lives and companion spirits. This is the point we want to reach; a beginning from which we would live the remainder of our life in earnest, squeezing from it every morsel of being and inspiration until we can see it plainly in front of us, and know it for what it is.

When we find our cage strong, and our bucket list goals unreachable, we often turn to stories--books and movies--to provide that inspiration we can't experience in the living. Some stories do a good job of describing our cage and portraying our escape. Ben Stiller really brought this out in his movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  In Stiller's version of Thurber's story, Mitty spends his life in a basement workspace where he has been "doing his job" for years, suppressing his impulse to experience life, and venting through lucid imaginings until he finally chooses to take a step into reality. That step leads him to some extensive traveling that allows him to experience the wider world, and so find the reality of his own being.

In Stiller's movie and in Coelho's book, travel is used as a symbol of living deliberately and fully in the moment. To achieve such living--the experience of being alive--is the reason for breaking free in the first place. In both stories, that breaking free is begun with a decision. Santiago decides to explore his Personal Legend, and Walter Mitty decides to search for the photojournalist himself rather than let someone else do it, or not do it at all. So the the step into the wider world begins with the simple decision to do so.

But there may be obstacles to overcome in carrying out that first step--maybe really big ones. For Santiago, it was simply that he had no money (i.e., the means), hence, the ticket seller's comment. Walter Mitty had to overcome his deep rut and his lack of belief in himself. Such obstacles are often the manifestations of practiced, internal inertia that we may hear as a voice inside.

Miley Cyrus' song, "The Climb," begins with the words:

I can almost see it
That dream I am dreaming
But there's a voice inside my head saying
"You'll never reach it"

I hear that voice every day. It is the accuser, berating me for being so foolish as to think I have any hope of breaking out of my cage. It tells me the world is too small, and the evil in it is too great. It says I'm lucky to be surviving, that my Dentville novel will suck, and that I'm not even a good and faithful servant. It tells me I don't have the money to travel, and that even if I did, all I would see is a tourist's veneer in front of a wasted, dying world.

But I keep trying. Something won't let me give up. For some reason, I keep believing I will find a way to fly out of my cage. I think this is not courage so much as not being able (or willing) to do anything else. It may be a Don Quixote kind of courage, where I follow a dream in the face of a reality that pummels me, sometimes greatly. Such "courage" is often called naiveté or lunacy, and is usually ridiculed. Then it becomes a matter of sheer endurance.

So endure, my friend, and know that the pursuit of your passion, your Personal Legend, is enhanced many-fold when it includes helping others. Especially if your help contributes towards their finding their Personal Legends. I hope this helps you find yours.

As for me, I still want someday to stand on a mountain and view a sacred valley. I want to feel that rapture of being alive because I am NOT a good and faithful servant.

I'm just another dreamer.

The Books of this Literary Expedition are:

The Story of B by Daniel Quinn

The Chalice & The Blade (Our History, Our Future) by Riane Eisler

Adventures Beyond the Body by William Buhlman

The Eagle's Gift by Carlos Castaneda

Expeditions are often undertaken to find something. It might be something (or someone) that has been lost. Or something known only vaguely or that has only a suspected value that needs to be discovered. The expedition to find this thing is likely part of a larger journey.

In this particular expedition, we've discovered a compelling narrative of the origins of humanity's present condition. Based on anthropology, archeology, art, and history, it tells us that world culture was hijacked, millennia ago, by a very prolific, but destructive, ideology. It is one that is very materialistic and that rewards the brute. But there are contrasts to this ideology and the views it supplanted were not extinguished. People who are not among our wealthy rulers still believe that life is spiritual at its core and that it has value rather than profit. We have even found evidence for that higher level of life in the tales and techniques of out-of-body travel.

The last book in this literary expedition is The Eagle's Gift by Carlos Castaneda. It is essentially a tale about learning to live in the awareness of the greater spiritual dimension. Mr. Castaneda relates his experience of discovering that dimension and learning about it from Mexican Indian teachers. In my review of Mr. Castaneda's book, I talk about what he learned, and how it relates to what others have written about such spiritual matters. Let me give another summary here:

* People (and all living creatures, actually) are multidimensional beings that can be broadly considered to be a fusion of spiritual and physical natures. Another description of the same thing is that we are spiritual beings expressing themselves in this physical dimension through physical bodies. Reaching the spiritual part is accomplished through meditation and other techniques that are basically developing intense levels of concentration. It may be that sheer concentration is the most important key to self-development, especially of your spiritual aspects. Mr. Castaneda refers to a person's spiritual body as their luminous body.

* There are levels of spiritual development and consciousness, all the way from the physical to the numinous. Mr. Castaneda's teachers referred to these levels as the first attention, the second attention, and the third attention. They correspond roughly to normal consciousness, awareness of the luminous body (the spiritual), and a level of such heightened awareness (i.e, "vibration") that the person exits (or can exit) the physical world. This progression is famously illustrated in the Nine Insights of James Redfield's spiritually brilliant (and literarily dubious) book, The Celestine Prophecy. And G. I. Gurdjieff's idea about this progression was one of varying levels of being asleep.

* It is best not to attach too strongly to material things (designated as "shields" by Castaneda's teachers).

* There is far more to the world (i.e., universe) than normally perceived by people. Nonhuman entities are at large on the earth, in this physical plane.

* Stay positive, or at least, not negative.

* It is possible, even natural, for people (and likely, animals) to move through the numinous world outside of their bodies. This can occur spontaneously in sleep (remembered as lucid dreams) or deliberately induced. This state, and the control of it, is referred to by Castaneda's teachers as dreaming (though more is implied in their use of this term).

* Physical success and comfort in the world can impede spiritual development.

There's much food for thought here for the serious spiritual seeker. In these literary works I've mentioned (and many others), guidelines and practices can be gleaned to help us, but it takes an open-minded effort at discovering them. And then, it takes a great effort at absorbing the knowledge and putting the techniques (meditation, self-remembering, exercise, etc) into practice.

So we've used the books of this literary expedition to take us from prehistory, through myth and history, to the edge of the numinous to discover truths and clues that tell us where we have come from, why we have such problems, reveal some mitigating comforts, and suggest a strategy for living to help us through.

I think the most important part of this strategy is the idea of awareness or concentration that becomes evidenced in a person's level of consciousness. If we wish to transcend the Taker, Dominator culture that has all but doomed the earth and oppressed all life, then we need to shed our delusions and rise above the physical by recognizing and developing our spiritual sides. Greater awareness (of everything!) is the key.

Mr. Castaneda's teachers described the "power that governs the destiny of all living beings" as the Eagle. They said:

The Eagle is devouring the awareness of all the creatures that, alive on earth a moment before and now dead, have floated to the Eagle's beak, like a ceaseless swarm of fireflies, to meet their owner, their reason for having had life...awareness is the Eagle's food.

G.I. Gurdjieff painted a similar picture but his devouring image was "the Moon." It is the idea of people going through life never aware of any more than the physical, and so never developing that part of themselves that is the most real. What's left of them beyond death then is, not much. Hopefully, it's enough to reincarnate and take another shot at development, until they escape that wheel, which is the Eagle or the Moon--the devourer of awareness.

This should be a motivation to try to develop as much as we can in this life; to be the best that we can in all respects. It takes much work and courage. Losing delusions and seeing the world as it is, is not easy. But the effort can reward us with true personhood, aware of our connection to all other life. As Mr. Castaneda says:

To die and be eaten by the Eagle is no challenge. On the other hand, to sneak around the Eagle and be free is the ultimate audacity.

The books I'm using as maps for this literary expedition are:

  • The Story of B by Daniel Quinn
  • The Chalice & The Blade (Our History, Our Future) by Riane Eisler
  • Adventures Beyond the Body by William Buhlman
  • The Eagle's Gift by Carlos Castaneda

The first two (Quinn and Eisler) are strong clues of where the human race has come from and, most significantly, of what happened to create our civilization where evil flourishes and that has developed to this time when our destruction seems assured. What they say, in a nutshell, is that a portion of humanity living on the outskirts of the predominate culture of about ten thousand years ago, gained enough consensus and strength to impose their view of things on everybody. Their view was a "Dominator" belief in might-making-right and over the succeeding centuries it fought all other views to near extinction (today, only scattered tribal cultures retain the previous, alternate culture of cooperation). I discussed all this in my reviews of those books and in my previous journal entry.

So with that insight into where we came from and where we are, how now should we live? That is, how should we live in a culture where the odds for living a happy, effective life are way stacked against us?

We will not find the answer to those questions in this expedition, but we will uncover some clues to guide our thinking and so help us to find our personal answers. Making that exploration is the purpose of these journal entries, and is ultimately the purpose of everything I write, and is certainly what Dentville will be about.

Now the next book in this journey is Adventures Beyond the Body by William Buhlman. It is a very readable account of the author's experiences with traveling the higher dimensions in his energetic form, outside of his physical body. This is subject matter very akin to Near Death Experiences (NDE) and communication with the dead. These are usually regarded as spooky, "woo woo" subjects but Mr. Buhlman does a great job of bringing the OBE out of that realm and discusses it as an ability natural to all humanity because we actually spiritual beings. You find my Goodreads review of Adventures Beyond the Body here.

The implication of Adventures Beyond the Body is that the universe is a very extensively multidimensional place and we inhabit only one small, very dense, dimension. Of course, that idea has been the foundation of mystic beliefs for many years but now books such as Mr. Buhlman's put a modern, more scientific face on it. The idea that we live in such a multidimensional universe puts a much larger framework around our physical lives and offers a foundation for psychic phenomena and the beliefs of folklore. That's why I posit such a universe in my Dentville saga where I feature a general acceptance of the numinous world by people living, once again, very close to nature.

For the sake of this journal entry and to advance our expedition, however, I only want to focus on one feature of the numinous world brought out in Adventures Beyond the Body. That feature is the malleability of the higher dimensions by sheer thought and the implications of that. Mr. Buhlman says that all matter is energy and energy is susceptible to manipulation by thought to some degree. The denser the matter, the less susceptible but still, it implies that the power of thought can influence our physical world. In Mr. Buhlman's words:

Negative and self-limiting thoughts are the real enemy we must face. Within the inner dimensions of the universe, our thoughts, both good and bad, exert a powerful creative influence upon our immediate environment.

Following world events and seeking to understand the reality of the way our civilization works, and the truth of historical and current events can lead down a very dark road. A person can get lost in that darkness and some very good people have in recent years. Very often, such seekers-of-truth will pooh-pooh a positive attitude as "wishful thinking," but being positive, even happy, is not necessarily the same as being deluded. It may be that we construct our world to a very large extent from the energies we send out into it. Certainly, the dominators of the world send out much negative energy with all their dark machinations, and so make the world dark. We seek to be lights in that darkness.

And so maintaining a positive outlook, even in the face of dire times, could be a more effective strategy for living than is generally imagined. If our thoughts and attitudes can affect our world, then the Golden Rule becomes a very sound baseline for morality.

I am currently reading the last book in my list for this literary expedition. It is The Eagle's Gift by Carlos Castaneda. One passage in it strikes me as very relevant to the theme of this journal entry. At one point in the book, Castaneda and his shaman-apprentice-girlfriend become very disillusioned and negative. They have been pondering mysteries and dark questions to the point that they are miserable. Then Castaneda is hit with an insight that is simple but powerful. He suggests that they stop focusing their energies on the dark questions and concentrate on the ideas of wonder and mystery that had originally brought them all into the study of shamanism. They jumped on this suggestion and their mood instantly changed for the better and they found the joy in their work again.

This idea of positive thinking (or at least not being negative) is simple but powerful. It is often not easy. When practiced honestly and with integrity, it is not delusion. In the face of evil, it can even be an act of defiance.

I take from this that the best strategy for exploring the numinous world is also the best for living in the physical--strive to keep the negative from dominating you, don't express negativity, and believe in yourself. Whether flying through the higher dimensions or slugging it out in the flesh-and-blood, its best to remain positive.

"What happened?" is a natural question, a nearly automatic question, when you come upon a scene of destruction, extreme disorder, or just something that is obviously not right. It's the question begged when a bad result is seen with no obvious cause (like the proverbial train wreck).

The books I have examined so far in our literary expedition (The Story of B, The Chalice & The Blade) have centered around this question as applied to the sight of the current condition of human Industrial-Technical civilization. The loss of freedom by peoples around the world (especially in the US), the suffering caused by extreme weather aberrations (natural and human-made), the extreme disparities in living conditions between the haves and have-nots (wealth inequalities), the promulgation of open-ended war, the rise of brutal political extremes, the depletion of fossil fuels, and the economic collapse of the "first world" are elements of the (impending) scene of destruction to be explained. That explanation is their primary theme and concern.

We have learned from these books that humanity's problem is that it is, indeed, fallen. This fall, however, is a matter of culture, that is, it was a change in the overriding structure of the beliefs and directions that govern people. This change was from one of peaceful equalitarianism and partnering relations among people (and among the sexes) to one of domination (by the males over women and by one group over another) and competitive hierarchy. This change was (to use Daniel Quinn's terms) from a culture of Leavers (leaving world rule to the gods) to one of Takers (taking world rule from the gods).

The authors of these books (Daniel Quinn and Riane Eisler) indicate that there is no flaw within human beings, but rather, the flaw is in the Taker (or dominator) culture that is the prevalent culture over all the earth. In fact, Quinn makes quite a point of this, especially in My Ishmael. But if that be so, then why has humanity remained in thrall of the Taker culture--a culture oppressive of most humans and destructive to the earth--for some ten thousand years? I believe, as I noted in my previous journal entry, that it is because the Taker culture rewards and promotes psychopaths. So, generally, those at the top of the pyramid are the worst of us, and they now have the power and the tools to keep the rest of us (though greater in number) under control.

But the arrogance and God-complex of these ruling elites (declaring with Lucifer: "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High") has reached a point of destructiveness such that life on earth may not survive. Ms Eisler saw this some twenty years ago:

What may lie ahead is the final bloodbath of this dying system's violent efforts to maintain its hold.

And this is the point in our journey that looks most bleak to me. I see the oligarchs that rule the world as fighting hard against the limits of growth heralded by the depletion of cheap fossil fuels and sheer over-population. They have very powerful tools now, powerful enough to take us all down with them, and that seems to be their intent. They are still eating of that fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, imagining themselves as gods, and deciding who lives and who dies.

At this point, I could down a very dark road, indeed. But I will not do that. I want to travel a higher road.

In writing my Dentville novels, I am envisioning a time beyond this present darkness. I see us as having made it, and being forced to face the consequences of the long reign of Taker culture and living at a much simpler level (that I believe will be at a roughly Neolithic level). Our fight at that time will be against the resurgence of the Taker culture.

So if humanity survives, it will be because of a brightening of a light from our higher natures to a point of prevalence, perhaps aided by Gaia herself.

My next book in this expedition speaks of the higher nature in all of us, though in many of us it is buried deep. That book is Adventures Beyond the Body by William Buhlman and is a chronicle of his out-of-body experiences. The hope I pull from books of this sort is the idea that we are more than the physical. The greater truth of our existence is the higher, spiritual one that expresses itself through our physical bodies in this dense, physical dimension. It is the realization of the truth of this spiritual side that will, I believe, get us through this time, if anything does.

There are a number of books I could have chosen that deal with the expression of this spiritual side of our life, day-to-day. I probably will write about them in the future, but for now, for this expedition, I'm reading what I believe is the last of the books on shamanism by Carlos Castaneda: The Eagle's Gift.

I've read about Castaneda but I've never read any of his writings until now. Though a lot of doubt is cast on the story he tells, his writings are generally regarded as instructional in the basics of shamanism. I'm interested in that because shamanism is the fundamental spiritual belief of indigenous Americans. It represents, for me, the baseline belief that arise in a people living close to nature, much like the druid beliefs among the Celts in ancient Ireland.

In Dentville, the spiritual beliefs of people, especially as expressed through the sages and the Order of Gaia, are based on folk beliefs as I understand them. The sages in my stories are shamans, working as liaisons between people in the physical life and the spirits. People struggle through this physical existence with hardship and fear, and look to what's beyond to provide meaning and support. We'll need that as we go along, struggling into our future.

Understanding how we got to this place, in this mess, can help with our struggle. The explanations of Ms Eisler and Mr. Quinn have been a revelation to me in that regards. Both mesh nicely with my view of the world that has evolved from my early, very religious, years through my scientific phase, and into my more spiritual time. I'm sure I'm not unique and many others will catch the same resonance when reading their work. If you're so inclined, I highly recommend both.

You can find my review of The Chalice and the Blade here (Goodreads).

I recently purchased three books that I had put on my Amazon.com wishlist and they represent a certain path that I want to explore, even as I work hard on my first Dentville novel. That path is a consideration of "why things are the way they are." That is, it is an attempt to answer the questions: Why is the world like it is? Why such ignorant cruelty at work in human affairs? Why does it seem for real that we are living the apocalypse? Is there hope for humanity?

Heavy stuff, I realize, but these times call for it. Also, in seeking to create dramatic works, I can't ignore the darker side of reality when it's pressing in on all sides every day. In fact, everything I've done so far in writing fiction has been my attempt at reconciling, or at least understanding, good and evil. This theme is even in my lighter writings and it would be disingenuous of me to abandon it for the sake of "sounding good" or not offending (though I certainly don't intend to offend anyone).

It has long been my desire to not live in a deluded state, never seeing beyond the immediate locus of my day-to-day life and accepting the popular beliefs about what's happening in the rest of the world (which is at best based on propaganda and always qualified so as to be safely ignored). This delusion extends into the stories we as a society tell ourselves about who we are and where we come from. For the first two-thirds of my life I pretty much accepted the delusion, or at least, shed it only slowly. Shedding delusions can be painful. The truth revealed can be hard to deal with, but once you've seen it, you can't go back.

If you follow my journal and my reviews, you'll explore this path with me and if you find the journey to your liking, I would encourage you to read the books I mention. You'll undoubtedly see things I miss, and you'll find your own message in these works that enriches you (even if some of the material disturbs you). But let us proceed with the foundational insight that you have start moving to get somewhere.

 Let's start with the three books I moved from my wish list to my reading list. They are:

The Story of B by Daniel Quinn

The Chalice & The Blade (Our History, Our Future) by Riane Eisler

Adventures Beyond the Body by William Buhlman

I recently finished The Story of B and posted my review of it on GoodReads here. The Story of B is part of Daniel Quinn's Ishmael trilogy and I like that work because it hits an important nail on the head in understanding the antecedents to our current predicament.

Through his teacher characters in his books (especially Ishmael) Mr. Quinn points out that our culture--the one that dominates the world today--had its beginnings in the Neolithic era some 10,000 years ago. It was one among many practicing the domestication of plants and animals and living a settled, agricultural life as opposed to hunting and gathering (foraging). This led to food surpluses, spare time, cities, specialization of labor, and population increases.

This was very nice for humanity. People generally lived longer and better though they (arguably) worked harder. Still, they lived peaceably. Their cities were not fortified and excavations show no signs of martial destruction during this time period. Evidence from their art and funeral practices indicates an equality of the sexes in their societies and even a sophisticated religion of goddess worship (see The Chalice & The Blade by Eisler).

Then our ancestors had a bright idea. They decided that they "could have it all" by refusing to follow the law of limited competition. This law is Mr. Quinn's term for a natural law that all life on earth, including humans, followed up until the "agricultural revolution." This law says:

You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food.

This law (followed naturally, no committees of cavemen drafted it) allowed life on earth to live sustainably within the bounds of the food resources their environment could produce. This is the natural "law of the gods" that allows life on earth to exist in a harmonious balance. Humans came into existence following this law and their early cultures are called "Leavers" by Mr. Quinn because they left the rule of the world in the hands of the gods (see The Story of B).

Our ancestors' culture (that is, some group of Neolithic people among all the others) decided they would take the rule of the world into their own hands. They would be like the gods. Mr. Quinn calls them "Takers." The Takers then began to practice totalitarian agriculture where they violated the law of limited competition at every turn. They hunted down their competitors, destroyed their food and denied them access to their food (i.e., they waged war). And so they subdued the earth, were fruitful, and multiplied.

The Taker culture extended their method of totalitarian agriculture to their own people in denying access to food to their own population unless they worked for it. This went along with the stratification of society into specialists and managers (rulers) and launched a "limitless growth" model. That model was given a tremendous boost by the industrial revolution a couple of hundred years ago. The boost came from the application of fossil fuels to technology that allowed more food production until now when the earth is literally filled with people and is dying from our wastes.

Mr. Quinn makes (to me) the brilliant application of this narrative of human history to the stories in Genesis. The story of the Fall is picture of the emergence of the Taker culture. In eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (abandoning the law of limited competition) Adam and Eve became like the gods (deciding who would live and who would die by practicing totalitarian agriculture), began a life of toil ("the most laborious lifestyle ever practiced on this planet) and were subject to death (the Taker life "bears with it its own seeds of destruction").

Also the story of Cain and Abel is a picture of the agriculturalist (Cain) killing the herdsman (Abel). They are brothers, but the one took on the power of the gods and decided the other must die. The Takers have been killing the Leavers for ten thousand years.

This is basically the picture presented by Mr. Quinn in his Ishmael books describing why the world is like it is and why we've reached this point. I would add that the Taker culture (called "Dominator" by Eisler), with its emphasis on hierarchy and acquisition of power, rewards sociopathic behavior. So the premise that "the world is run by psychopaths" gains much credence. Is there any greater demonstration of psychopathic behavior in playing God with no concern for human life than geoengineering the planet?

I've begun reading Riane Eisler's The Chalice & The Blade and I see that it supports the basic premises of Mr. Quinn's books. From both, it is easy to see and understand the impetus of Taker culture that has brought us right through the limits of growth to the climax of Taker (if not human) history.

My Dentville books will explore the world beyond that climax and will represent the most positive slant of future events I can imagine. In other words, if the world reaches a Dentville level of existence, it will be by the slimmest of margins.


Here are links to my GoodReads reviews of Daniel Quinn's Ishmael books:


My Ishmael

The Story of B

Life is a blend of good and bad, like a sweet-and-sour sauce. Usually the net effect is more to one pole or the other, and strive for the good side--sweet-and-sour sauces are very good tasting. But in cooking and in wines, the product is usually a result of blends that be quite complex, and much of the reward in consuming it is appreciating the blends of flavors and textures.

Sometimes the blends are extreme. It is said that some very exotic oriental dishes include ingredients that, taken alone, are poisonous. The rising sun was beautiful this morning, shining through the bright haze of the geoengineers' spraying. In both cases, while I may be able to detect the constituents of the whole, I'd rather there not be the poison to detect.

There are blends in my work, as there are in yours. The novel I'm working on is shaping up, but it's hard work done at the end of my "regular" job's day, when I'm not fresh. I have an "activist" story in mind (whether novel or novella; see my previous journal entry) that I much desire to do but find it hard to get to (and it will be a balance of inspiration and warning).

But the best blends are of desirable, positive ingredients, especially where there is the subtle ambiance of something special that instills a joyful inspiration to the whole--like the hint of French oak in Ca De Calle. In my work, that special hint comes from a love of storytelling and a desire for travel.

So what's the subtle flavor that lends joy to the whole in your life? What always provides a positive infusion to  your circumstances, even when they are bad? I urge you to find it. Develop the sensitivity of your palate to the point you can always detect that gentle, positive spice that flavors your life, and savor it.

Of course, sometimes we work to savor a good thing and it turns sour. That's life and we just have to carry on and do better next time. Dillon discovered that in regards to storing wine.

Dillon's Pick – Spoiled Wine

In the time since my last post, I have learned the importance of keeping your wines in a dark, cool place the hard way. I had a nice lineup of wines to taste for my education, but I kept them on my desk which is close to a window. Well, the sun streaming through the glass panes turned my wines sour. A soured wine is a terrible thing to taste. They all finished so sour that I just had to pour them out.

So don't make my mistake; you've been warned. I will be getting a wine cooler as soon as I can afford it.

Temperature is an important factor when keeping wine. For the more full-bodied reds, it is best to serve them at 60-65 degrees. For the lighter reds, like a Burgundy red, you'll want to keep them at 57-60 degrees. White wines should be kept cooler. The optimal storage for white wines will be around 50-55 degrees.

I hope this helps you avoid accidents like mine.