Monday, February 10, 2014


Menno Otten

This post begins and ends with videos because Tim was always right about images being as important -- often MORE important than words.  You could watch these two videos without reading any of my words, which are only commentary anyhow.  Both vids are from Aeon, an online magazine of essays and short video.  The subject here is cognitive shift, which turns out to be far more than just a sort of descriptive concept used by therapists.  On monitoring machines like fMRI “cognitive shift” can now be seen as the changing connectome.  The connectome is the constantly fluctuating network of pathways among neurons and processing nodes that manage thought, spinning meaning out of the intimate connections between the sensorium and the memory.  This is the visible confirmation of the subconscious.

The first film is by a Netherlands artist, Menno Otten.    His work is meditative, only narrative in the sense that it happens over time and that means movement, but in his case, especially his barely moving "Vermeers", so minimal one isn’t quite certain it’s happening.   The film I’m talking about here clearly IS moving -- it is a record of the Via Dolorosa ritual in Malaga, Spain, in which strong men lift a very heavy surrogate for the cross Jesus was forced to carry to his own crucifixion and support it through a specific route.  This is an ordeal journey

The embossed metallic end of the shaft.

We only see the men’s faces, never a long shot of the burden.  The motion is rocking from side-to-side, the rhythm of walking.  At one point the focus shifts to the men’s hands, which are covered with white gloves, but we see white shirt cuffs with fine cufflinks, a bracelet, a tattoo.  A few men are blindfolded.  As the burden becomes heavier, they begin to hold each other’s shoulders.  Only at the end do the women’s faces and voices appear, along with the relief of putting the weight down.

Bosque Redondo

Such a ceremony develops organically, weaving society together with history and myth.  The  whole idea of the Via Dolorosa (The Stations of the Cross) is so direct that even here in Browning on the Blackfeet Rez it is enacted every Easter by devout Catholics marching from Starr School to Browning. For them it echoes the many long marches across barren distances that other Native Americans were forced into by armed cavalry when the federal government just wanted them to go away.  Hundreds died.  I just reread Tim’s essay called “Reservation Rocks and the Long Way Home” which tells about walking the forty miles to the Bosque Redondo where the Navajo and Mescalero Apache were confined in an early version of Guantanamo.  The situation finally became intolerable, mostly because of the cost of feeding the People (never quite enough to survive) -- and they were allowed to go home -- another Long Walk.

But that’s just commentary.  What I’m after is the ecstatic consciousness of the participants in this video Spanish version of Jesus’ cruel journey into eternity.  Both the physical exertion and the emotional response to meaning contribute to the cognitive shift of these men, their inspiration becoming determination, then finally satisfaction -- knowing.  Such mind-spaces meld together the physical and what we think of as separately mental, though it isn’t.  Drug users know.

The other video is about the experience of looking back from outer space at the planet earth.  I am not the only one to remark that if the meaning of Jesus was the connection between the human and whatever mysterious force is out there in the rest of the cosmos, then the planet Earth is my Jesus.  This video is eloquent in exploring the experience of something so fragile, our only home in the black void.    Aeon also gives access to this video.  A second longer one is coming up. 

Edgar Mitchell

Edgar Mitchell, an astronaut who walked on the moon, came back awestruck and heartstruck by what he saw -- not so much the accomplishment, but the perspective of the fabulous shimmering and flickering planet from space.  He searched for a term in scientific writing to describe it, was at a loss, and resorted to his nearest university for help.  They offered a classic term from India:  Savikalpa samādhi (Sanskrit: सविकल्पसमाधि) is a state of samādhi in which one's consciousness temporarily dissolves into Brahman.  In this state, one lets go of the ego and becomes aware of Spirit beyond creation. The soul is then able to absorb the fire of Spirit-Wisdom that ‘roasts’ or destroys the seeds of body-bound inclinations.” 

City lights and aurora at the pole

Some people cannot resist making something flowery out of the vision of the planet -- a sentimental valentine to create the illusion that what is essentially a gyring rock has feelings about us or will somehow protect us.  Living through this winter’s arctic vortex phenomenon ought to cure them.  If there is a simulacra for outer space the prairie in the depth of winter is close -- closer at night.  Forty below and dry is roughly the weather on Mars.  People who are not vigilant or don’t have the resources to protect themselves simply die.  Civilizations that put profit or war ahead of protecting the planet simply die.   Life is an ordeal journey. 

Mitchell's organization

Mitchell collapsed back to earthly matters of organization and prestige, moved to Petaluma where things are nice (and warm), and began to fiddle with notions of magic and “healing”, flying saucers, and other supernatural woo factors.  I like his idea about aging well, but I don’t like the commodification of it in kits for sale and I don’t like people like Dan Brown seizing on a major mind shift like Savikalpa and reducing it to a thriller involving Masonic rites.  That’s not different from digging up Geronimo’s skull and using it in initiations for a bunch of self-important frat boys.  Bad karma.  Belittlement.

Aurora Borealis from space

If we cannot accept the horror of not being the center of the universe, either in terms of suffering or of bliss -- neither state being a way out of the final disintegration in death of ourselves and those we love -- then we are not worthy of any really meaningful religion.  The purpose of meaning is not to excuse us from death but to urge us to participate in life while we can, with courage.

Out my kitchen window I can see the sunset/sunrise line halfway across the moon.  Down in the snow the feral kits are lapping water from an old red enamel saucepan I found.  The miracle is that I can stand in my kitchen, looking out, knowing that I am alive and a participant in all this.  For now.

Cat skeleton -- no one I knew.

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