Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mind in the Sand

I've been thinking lately about two things that at first might seem unrelated: my choice of a name for this Blog (Mind in the Sand) and a movie I saw last week about the present day Kogi people in Columbia.

The Kogi of Columbia survived the spanish conquistadors by fleeing deep into the immensity of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The escapees were not pursued due to the seemingly impenetrable terrain and were forgotten over time. The wisdom stories of their pre-columbian culture remained intact. They kept track of us over the centuries but we didn't know much about them. In the 1970's they became deeply concerned about the ecological imbalances that they were beginning to observe in their own mountainous backyard. The Kogi call it The Heart of the World and it is the immense watershed of their habitat. The deep snow that had fallen on its high regions for eons was now declining. No snowmelt = no water = trouble.

The Kogi, who call themselves the Elder Brothers, understood why this was happening. They had a warning to deliver to the Younger Brothers (all of us who live within the western paradigm) about our destructive influence on the global ecosystem. The Kogi believe that through their offerings and deep mental concentration emanating from The Heart of The World they had kept the world in balance. But now the rapacious actions of the Younger Brothers had tipped the scales to a potentially disastrous degree. They decided to breach their intentional isolation from all things Western. They sent an emissary out of the Sierra Nevada to learn spanish and figure out the best way to send a message to the world. They came up with a documentary filmmaker.

It was easy to nod yes to their warnings as I watched the movie. The white man has a god complex - check.  We better knock it off if we want to survive - check. Less taking, more giving - check. Some of us Younger Sisters and Brothers have been saying the same thing for some time now. However, what REALLY grabbed my attention was the Kogi Elders' explanation of the role of the Mind in the manifestation of physical reality. Western quantum physics also indicates that the act of observation changes that which is being observed.  Back in the day, I read the Tao of Physics and other related texts but somehow the technology of it all blocked my ability to feel the impact of the information. But as I watched the Kogi exert Mind, I understood it on a visceral level. I understood it as an artist.

The life of an artist is a different kind of life. For a very, very long time I've been watching my mind and faithfully noting in my drawing notebooks its desires, fascinations, attractions and repulsions . Channeling mind through physicality, I manifest the movement of thought in the form of paintings. I consider this previous sentence to be my job description. The Kogi harness the mind on a level that is light years ahead of my attempts to make good paintings. They train in INTENTION using an almost unspeakable level of diamond pointed concentration. They utilize ancient mental technologies that demonstrate the truth of the Buddhist saying - "thou art that". The world is in balance if the mind is in balance because they are one and the same.

OK, it's a movie. I haven't visited the Kogi and my deductions don't follow the  scientific model. But let's just say the movie does paint an accurate portrait of the Kogi world. They value and cultivate mental balance and a deep attention to their relationship to natural systems. They live a very permaculture based life and, on average, make it to the age of 95. Their eco-system is lush, abundant and giving.  How is your mental balance these days? How about the mental balance of your friends, co-workers and family?  How is our ecosystem looking? I rest my case.

This brings me to the naming of this Blog. Some people might say (have said) that my decision to leave Los Angeles, come to the desert, stop watching television and grow a garden and all things garden-like is akin to an ostrich sticking her head in the sand at the threat of approaching danger (do ostrichs actually do that? ...But I digress). I say there's a big difference between putting your head in the sand and putting your MIND in the sand. The first implies a ridiculous attempt to escape a situation through half-assed sensory deprivation. The second implies a deepening of attention and concentration towards a heightened relationship between observer and observed. There is no doubt that I have deepened my attention to the ground on which I stand (read the ground of my being). After doing this for the last 7 years I observe that my environment has grown more abundant and balanced and my mind has done the same. I am happier, healthier and so seems to be the world immediately around me.

Consider this - I think one of the main reasons why the Renaissance took hold was that all the gifted envisioners were on board; all of them focusing Mind towards the same goal...well, that and the de' Medici money. All of that brilliance, will, creativity and visualization pulled Europe into the Renaissance paradigm. Not every citizen had to be on board at first, just the heavy duty visualizers. Of course, while the Renaissance might have started out as a good idea, it eventually led to an imbalanced materialism, an egocentric arrogance and our present predicament. Mind always needs to make adjustments. So here we are. The stakes are higher and we now have the ability to communicate our thoughts instantly and globally.  The heavy duty visualizers are lining up. Some envision Armageddon. Some envision  humanity in balance with nature and finally at peace. I like door #2. I'm joining up with both feet firmly planted on the ground, my eyes wide open and my Mind in the Sand.

Blog post header illustration - untitled, 2011, oil painting by me.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stacking Functions

One of the important ideas in permaculture is to "stack the functions". Permaculture vernacular has a lot of strangely evocative phrases. When I first heard this, a picture immediately formed in my mind of the human body with the ankle bone connected to the knee bone...and the knee bone connected to the thigh bone; a big bony structural stack where every part depends on every other part for stability. And in fact, that IS what it's all about; interconnection and making sure that everything serves at least 3 purposes.

I'm a permaculture novice but the elegance of the idea appeals deeply to me as an artist. As a matter of fact, I've come across little else in my life that can hold my attention as fully as permaculture - only art making has done that up until now. Oh, and fire making. Oh, and greek mythology....and my dog. There's nothing quite so mesmerizing as an idea whose time has come. Maybe that's the main ingredient for a great work of art too - the mastery of a form synched with a tremendously timely idea. And a great work of art also stacks functions in the sense that nothing can be parsed out separately in the apprehension of it. It's seamless. It's full, complete, and self sustaining.

An example of a permaculture stacked function would be living with chickens. Chickens are a big item in permaculture for this very reason. They produce great manure for fertilizer, you can feed them the vegetable garden scraps that they helped to grow with their manure, you can eat their eggs (and them if you're so inclined), you can corral them temporarily in your garden bed where they will happily scratch around thus aerating your soil and pulling up weeds, you can build a winter coop that's attached to the south side of your home and their bodies will help passively warm the house. Like that. No waste. A closed loop system.

But that's all down the road for me. My mate and I have just bought a house in the desert. A permaculture paradise is the goal. You start at the hearth and build outward. That's where I am - in the center of the newly gutted house. We tore out all the walls to start anew, to clear the road for passive solar heating, grey water, etc. Two days ago, I was standing in that exact center of the house feeling maxed-out and overwhelmed thinking about the years ahead and the work it will take to manifest this dream. For a few minutes, I stepped onto the Dark Road - I'm too old, it's too late, there'll be an earthquake and the San Onofre nuclear plant will explode, the winds will bring the radiation RIGHT HERE, we'll have to flee, where will we go? Is my passport up to date? Where the hell IS my passport??? ...Ohhhh, I can slide onto that road in a heartbeat. It's delicious.

So, I was flying down that road when I suddenly heard the sound of a water drip close by. A leak?? In the house?? Oh my god!! (The Dark Road). I looked around and noticed for the first time that my dog's water bowl was in the center of the room at my feet. Hmm...that's a strange place for it to be. Then I saw a water droplet hit the center of the bowl. I looked up and saw that it was directly below a newly exposed copper water pipe with an apparent leak. Like the way a really good joke works via a series of quick revelations, I understood that my mate had whimsically created our first STACKED FUNCTION. And the best part was that over the next few days I saw that the interval of the drips corresponded perfectly to the amount of water consumed by my dog so that the bowl was always full of fresh water and never overflowed. Now a stacked function ideally should have at least 3 purposes. The bowl caught the leak, and provided water to my dog. Where's the third function? As my permaculture friend, Daniel Francis, says "beauty is a function".  I consider humble revelations to be beautiful. So there you go.

Ace builder, Sequoia Smith, in center with friends. His first 
stacked function underlined in yellow.

Our second temporary stacked function.
Washing machine drains into barrel on
top which uses gravity to send the
grey water to select trees.

A great, literally stacked function
invented by Transition Food Group
member, Janet Tucker. She cleaned up
the desert of 3 abandoned tires (function1),
put a cage of rat wire on top to protect
the plants, plastic around the sides for wind
 and cold and grew broccoli (function 2).
Huge, vibrant broccoli I might add.
Function 3 - a great invention for people who
can't afford the expense of a green house.

Instructions for building the Goodyear Greenhouse.