The Tibetans say that the present time is a degenerate era; evidence abounds and ignorance pervades to the point where we may even begin to doubt the validity of the whole notion as a form of relief; Ray asked me if I thought there was ever a time that things were better. And although it is widely understood that we need sharper minds and effective morality in government, I myself have never had any desire to get involved in politics. Growing up in the sixties I remember the Friday afternoon in third grade when we learned JFK was dead. Within five years, I would learn of the shooting deaths of Malcolm-X, MLK and RFK. Kent State got my attention too. I wonder how many other kids growing up during this era quickly came to the conclusion that politics was nothing that they wanted to get too close to. Having lived far from any major cities since I left New York at 18, I have never attended a political demonstration or town hall meeting, although I vote every chance I get and nudge my spacey friends to register. I even sign petitions and know far more than I ever wanted to about current affairs.
For years, I was able to ignore most of it by not owning a television and not reading newspapers. The Gulf War had been over for months but I didn't know who General Schwarzkopf was until I saw his book for sale in the grocery store. All that changed one morning in September 2001. I was sitting on my cushion in silent meditation when my wife came in the room and said that a jet had flown directly into the World Trade Center. Like many others at that point, I began following the news religiously. I'm still jonesing.
For better or worse, we have the system we deserve and while the way out of this labyrinth is endlessly discussed, there is no clear path of remedial action which can be effectively communicated and widely established. It is not that I don't care; its just that in my own case, I don't see any way to make much of a difference about what is happening in the world by those means. Instead, over the past three decades, my tendency has been to focus on cultural education, informed by compassion and commitment to personal spiritual evolution in the context of small, human communities. In a recent biography of Aldous Huxley, the author quotes a letter wherein Huxley expresses his belief that anyone with 'a gift for the knowledge of ultimate reality' could do far more good 'by sticking to his curious activites on the margin of society than by going to the centre and trying to improve matters there.' (Murray, 2002, p. 332)
A little more than a decade ago, I had a desire to travel to some of the power spots on Turtle Island, in particular, to places I had never been before. Such places are often secret because while they are unique in their ability to absorb and re-emit spiritual influences, they are only akin to batteries or capacitors and do not of themselves generate blissful or meditative experiences. They must be regularly frequented by good people who truly contribute something essential to the accumulation of good energy in these places. A certain quality becomes available to the entire world in a non-local way when a site is properly empowered and repeatedly imbued with the effulgent samadhi of non-dual wisdom. A site that is neglected too long or contaminated with an excess of arbitrary impressions begins amplifying the resonances of mundane interests and the mood of separate self, effectively obscuring the extraordinary nature of such a specially endowed site to draw one in. Beyond neutralizing a potential wellspring of spiritual healing and knowledge, negative effects may also manifest as social and political turmoil, natural disasters and disease.
This clogging of the visionary channels with the conventional sludge of self-concern and impulsive dogmas of endless consumption has accelerated our slide into an unecessary war with no end. The open line to infintiy is plugged with the dregs of phantom ego-clinging. The wisdom channel is blocked and we are caught in a satanic loop. Still, the contemporary form of community in the west has no place for the shaman. This ignorance and lack of understanding and support for shamanic activity is one aspect of our current troubles which is not likely to be discussed except in small groups of initiates.
Having visited many of the famous national parks, I was looking for isolated settings that were natural and somewhat off the beaten track, the kind of places that call one to them, to bear witness, to play, to observe. So I began to listen closer and seek out locations where I could be completely undistrubed by the presence and artifacts of other human beings. This would obviously require travelling a good ways from roads and power lines.
Attention was initially magnetized to the rarefied atmosphere of the mountains on a road trip from California to Texas as we passed by a lone volcanic peak in western New Mexico. The afternoon sun lit up its majestic slopes and seemed to say I Am Here; all the time you are running around trying to accomplish this or that, hoping your plans work out and fearing unforeseen obstacles, trying to acquire this and avoid that, counting these and discounting those, all the while you sleep or struggle, argue and augment, whether rain or night falls, still I Am Here...
Oddly enough, this sort of presencing appears to have very little to do with the size or physical mass of a thing as I came upon this same solid feeling of unqualified being seemingly communicated by sectors of empty space six miles above the Atlantic Ocean one golden afternoon. But unlike a rock, the sky does not afford us the convenience of a clearly defined position via precipitation into tangible form. As embodied beings, composite objects may invite a return visit for more intimate and prolonged communion; ordinarily this merely describes our bondage.
This mountain was quite naturally considered sacred to four tribes of Native Americans living around its base. The Dineh (Navajo) view it as one of four directional peaks, physical manifestations of spiritual awareness radiant with life force, defining the pattern of the Dineh cosmos. After learning the significance of these mountains, I felt a deep affinity with this ancient tradition which recognizes the part such entities play in connecting the upper and lower worlds, the inner and outer dimensions of existence. In the language of the Dineh, this is an essential aspect of the Beauty Way.
Having long ago been introduced to the mandala principle through Vajrayana Buddhism, I had an appreciation for these arcane crosses as intuitive maps of the living world. Mandalas reflect an internal compass, a means of tuning into a deeper sense of place and purpose, a portal to central intelligence from anywhere in the four quarters of the world, a cache of meaningful reference points to navigate the dark sea of experience.
I soon learned that this same mountain was also heavily mined for uranium, an operation which shortened the lives of many indigenous miners and the tailings have contaminated local springs. That a sacred mountain should be the scene of such a conflict was hardly surprising and only heightened my desire to make a pilgrimage to such a place.
Human beings have always sought out high places to pray, to gain another perspective, to recalibrate and reconsider their habitual approach in a clearer light. The journey to the summit becomes a means of focusing breath and attention, purifying intention and gradually harmonizing the powers of heaven and earth in a singular quest. From the intial planning and preparation to full execution, pilgrimage is an opportunity to take account of the present, to magnify a simple spirit of gratitude and generosity, to make pure offerings and strengthen the bond between the timeless, ineffable reality beyond change and this impermanent world of fleeting appearances. By such efforts, the adept consecrate all forms and aspects of everyday activity to the point where awareness manifests inseparable from real compassion. Conscious regard of persons and situations is accompanied by a shower of blessings, as the heart becomes fully engaged, blissful in its central place as a spontaneous conduit for essential humor and liberating truth, two primary elements in the great conversation.
There is a natural exchange involved in such journeys. One may be inspired or energized and takes home something of the place in the form of relics like memories, photos, perhaps a little rock or feather, but at the same time, the interaction is not complete unless one gives something of themselves, at the least a respectful motive has fueled the effort to arrive but it is not uncommon to actually leave something of value or possibly make new resolutions and commitments. Expressions of heartfelt devotion recharge the place with the power of sincere prayer and transcendent awareness. I wanted to contribute my mite in the spirit of protecting and honoring a sacred view of these mountains and the rest of the natural world, quite obviously including ourselves. With the intention to benefit all beings by these efforts, I decided to ascend the four peaks of Dinetah in the southwestern United States.