Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Similarity of Form

 "The Sage embraces similarity
of understanding and pays
no regard to similarity of form.
The world in general is attracted
by similarity of form,
but remains indifferent to
similarity of understanding."

- Lie Yukou (c.400 BCE)

Monday, August 30, 2021

Divine Spark

"Those who love much, do much and accomplish much, and whatever is done with love is done well.... Love is the best and noblest thing in the human heart, especially when it is tested by life as gold is tested by fire. Happy is he who has loved much, and although he may have wavered and doubted, he has kept that divine spark alive and returned to what was in the beginning and ever shall be. If only one keeps loving faithfully what is truly worth loving and does not squander one's love on trivial and insignificant and meaningless things then one will gradually obtain more light and grow stronger."

- Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890)
The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Transparent as a Dragonfly

"Perhaps everything lies in knowing what words to speak, what actions to perform, and in what order and rhythm; or else someone's gaze, answer, gesture is enough; it is enough for someone to do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it, and for his pleasure to become the pleasure of others: at that moment, all spaces change, all heights, distances; the city is transfigured, becomes crystalline, transparent as a dragonfly."

- Italo Calvino (1923 - 1985)

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Heavenly Gate

"It comes out from no source, it goes back in through no aperture. It has reality yet no place where it resides; it has duration yet no beginning or end. Something emerges, though through no aperture - this refers to the fact that it has reality. It has reality yet there is no place where it resides - this refers to the dimension of space. It has duration but no beginning or end - this refers to the dimension of time. There is life, there is death, there is a coming out, there is a going back in - yet in the coming out and going back its form is never seen. This is called the Heavenly Gate. The Heavenly Gate is nonbeing. The ten thousand things come forth from nonbeing. Being cannot create being out of being; inevitably it must come forth from nonbeing. Nonbeing is absolute nonbeing, and it is here that the sage hides himself."

- Chuang Tzu (c.369 B.C. - c.286 B.C.)

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Conceptualizing Elephants

 "The skies and land are so enormous,
and the detail so precise and exquisite
that wherever you are you are isolated
in a glowing world between
the macro and the micro."

- Ansel Adams (1902 - 1984)

Postscript. These two very distinct images were both taken while on a hike up the Cascade Pass Trail (in Northern Cascades National Park, WA) with my wife and youngest son about a month ago. They obviously represent - and evoke - vastly different emotional and aesthetic sensibilities, yet each captures but an infinitesimally small part of the experience of hiking up this amazing trail. From an epic - and audibly loud -"Wow!" as we turned a corner and were thrust into the first image, to an oh-so-gently-whispered, "How lovely!" as my eye fell on a patch of small ferns quietly sitting along our path, this trail is that, and infinitely more in between. My vain efforts to capture its fathomless heights and depths and all sorts of visual delights with a camera reminded me of the proverbial blind men awkwardly - and absurdly - stumbling around trying to conceptualize an elephant :) 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Turning Matter into Spirit

"There are three kinds of men: those who make it their aim, as they say, to live their lives, eat, drink, make love, grow rich, and famous; then come those who make it their aim not to live their own lives but to concern themselves with the lives of all men – they feel that all men are one and they try to enlighten them, to love them as much as they can and do good to them; finally there are those who aim at living the life of the entire universe – everything, men, animals, trees, stars, we are all one, we are all one substance involved in the same terrible struggle. What struggle?…Turning matter into spirit."

- Nikos Kazantzakis (1883 - 1957)
Zorba the Greek

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Sliding Down Earth's Spacetime Curve

"The air around you is filled with floating atoms, sliding down the Earth's spacetime curve. Atoms first assembled in the cores of long-dead stars. Atoms within you, everywhere, disintegrating in radioactive decays. Beneath your feet, the floor - whose electrons refuse to let yours pass, thus making you able to stand and walk and run. Earth, your planet, a lump of matter made out of the three quantum fields known to mankind, held together by gravity, the so-called fourth force (even though it isn't a force), floating within and through spacetime."

- Christophe Galfard (1976 - )
The Universe in Your Hand

Postscript. This height of this lovely waterfall - Rocky Brooks Falls near Dosewallips State Park, WA - is hard to judge from the picture alone, but it is among the Olympic Peninsula's tallest at about 230 ft! Rocky Brooks falls is also embarrassingly easy to get to: a short 4 mile journey by car on a paved road from the main highway that runs up the Hood Canal, and then (the truly embarrassingly easy part) a 200 yard (!) hike - though "hike" is not the best word: you'll hardly have time to take more than a few breaths before coming to the falls, and can keep the munchies and extra water back at the car. Well, maybe that last part is a bit premature... the falls are so extraordinary to experience in person - the sound, the smell, the subtle mist, the surrounding bird song, and the gentle burbling stream that both greets each expectant visitor and says farewell - that one is well advised to anticipate a longer-than-casual-length stay. Over the course of my family's two weeks on the Peninsula, I took four trips to this falls - the shortest of which lasted no less than 3 hours - and each time spent far more time just sitting and communing with its tender rhythms than prowling around with tripod and camera looking for compositions. A reminder that there are special places that - with "good motivation and appropriate merit" (ref: a blog entry I posted about a week ago) - palpably compel you to stop whatever you're doing and just ... be.

Monday, August 23, 2021

An Element of Absolute Chance

"We must...suppose an element of absolute chance, sporting, spontaneity, originality, freedom in nature. We must further suppose that this element in the ages of the past was indefinitely more prominent than now, and that the present almost exact conformity to law is something that has been gradually brought about... If the universe is thus progressing from a state of all but pure chance to a state of all but complete determination by law, we must suppose that there is an original elemental tendency of things to acquire determinate properties, to take habits. This is the third or mediating element between chance, which brings forth First and original events, and law which produces sequences or Seconds... This tendency must itself have been gradually evolved; and it would evidently tend to strengthen itself... Here then is a rational physical hypothesis, which is calculated to account, or all but account for everything in the universe except pure originality itself."

- Charles Saunders Peirce (1839 - 1914)
The Monist (1890-1893), quoted in Truth, Rationality, and
Pragmatism: Themes from Peirce
Christopher Hookway

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Forms and Shapes

 "Although our modern way of thinking has, of course,
changed a great deal relative to the ancient one,
the two have had one key feature in common:
i.e. they are both generally ‘blinkered’ by
the notion that theories give true knowledge
about ‘reality as it is’. Thus, both are led to
confuse the forms and shapes induced in
our perceptions by theoretical insight with
a reality independent of our thought
and our way of looking."

- David Bohm (1917 - 1992)
Wholeness and the Implicate Order

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Energy of Thought and Matter

"There is a relationship between what we think is out there in the world and what we experience as being out there. There is a way in which the energy of thought and the energy of matter modify each other and interrelate. A kind of rough mirroring takes place between our mind and our reality. We cannot stand outside this mirroring process and examine it, though, for we are the process, to an unknowable extent. Any technique we might use to 'look objectively' at our reality becomes a part of the event in question. We are an indeterminately large part of the function that shapes the reality from which we do our looking. Our looking enters as one of the determinants in the reality event that we see. This mirroring between mind and reality can be analyzed, and more actively directed, if we can suspend some of our ordinary assumptions. For instance, the procedure of mirroring must be considered the only fixed element, while the products of the procedure must be considered relative. William Blake claimed that perception was the universal, the perceived object was the particular. What is discovered by man is never the 'universal' or cosmic 'truth.' Rather, the process by which the mind brings about a 'discovery' is itself the 'universal.'"

- Joseph Chilton Pearce (1926 - 2016)
The Crack in the Cosmic Egg

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Chrono-Synclastic Infundibula

"Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child’s Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right. Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn’t agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child’s Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree. The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where each Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chrono-synclastic infundibula. The Solar System seems to be full of chrono-synclastic infundibula. There is one great big one we are sure of that likes to stay between Earth and Mars. We know about that one because an Earth man and his Earth dog ran right into it. You might think it would be nice to go to a chrono-synclastic infundibulum and see all the different ways to be absolutely right, but it is a very dangerous thing to do. The poor man and his poor dog are scattered far and wide, not just through space, but through time, too.  Chrono (kroh-no) means time.  Synclastic (sin-class-tick) means curved toward the same side in all directions, like the skin of an orange. Infundibulum (in-fun-dib-u-lum) is what the ancient Romans like Julius Caesar and Nero called a funnel. If you don’t know what a funnel is, get Mommy to show you one."

- Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007)
The Sirens of Titan

Postscript. Do you see a "dog" in the image above? The photo is a rather straightforward shot of a stain on a piece of driftwood captured at the appropriately named "Driftwood Park," just down the road from the Coupeville Ferry Terminal on Whidbey Island, WA. My brain's strange lifelong affliction of conjuring associated memories of stories and books whenever an abstract image presents itself to my camera's viewfinder (the phantasmagoric mystical visions of Borges are a particular favorite of mine, as kind followers of my blog well know!) was in full force when this "dog-like stain" (or, more precisely, this "dog-like stain caught in an energy field") caught my attention. Why, that's "Kazak-the-dog running into the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibula!" I thought to myself, as I clicked the shutter with a smile (well, I almost remembered it correctly; I had to look up the reference later - but my brain got the gist). I'm not sure that this association - now that I've confessed it - makes the image any better (it's a very simple abstract), but I'll bet you can't now see anything else except "Kazak-the-dog running into the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibula!" :)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Oysters, Beyuls, and Palimpsests

"We are surrounded and embraced by her;
powerless to separate ourselves from her,
and powerless to penetrate beyond her.
We live in her midst and know her not.
She is incessantly speaking to us,
but betrays not her secret.

As I - finally! - jump back into the practice of posting an image or two with accompanying quotes (I've been busy with "day job" activities and travel for what seems like forever! - for those kind readers who are still with me, a humble bow and "Thank you!" for your patience), there is no better place to start than by explaining what the title of this blog entry ("Oysters, Beyuls, and Palimpsests") is referring to.

I have written before of viewing old subjects with new eyes (that summarizes how a Kauai I thought I knew well after multiple visits that began in the early 1980s, gradually revealed new truths about herself, but only after I changed my own way of "looking"), but never before have I experienced this as deeply as I did on the most recent trip my family and I took to the Pacific Northwest; specifically, the eastern part of the Olympic Peninsula that opens into the Hood Canal. As on myriad past trips, my reading material played an unexpected but vital part in steering my eye/I toward specific elements of the physical environment. In Scotland, I was "accompanied" by a biographies of William James (in 2009) and of Jon Schueler (2016), and both shaped the photography I did on those trips; likewise, in Kauai (in 2014), my compositions arose in part from a book about the island's history that I was immersed in on that trip; and the same in Alaska (in 2018), when a book on Alaska's history gently fueled my imagery. On our first trip to the Northwest (in 2019), I was reading histories and biographies of 19th century Western/U.S. photographers (William Henry Jackson and Carleton Watkins), and my photographs from that trip tended toward the Ansel-Adams-ish "epic" macro landscapes. But, on this most recent trip, my lens was almost always trained on far quieter and subtler kinds of micro-landscapes.

To be sure, part of the reason was the weather. While July's "heat dome" (that descended over much of the Pacific northwest) had dissipated by the time we arrived, it had not gone entirely, and the area was blanketed in unseasonably high temperatures and perfectly clear skies (i.e., far from ideal conditions for landscape photography). Luckily, the book I chose to accompany me on this trip provided both solace (from the physical conditions) and nourishment (of a spiritual kind), that together compelled me to view an old subject with astonishingly new eyes. 

The book is called The Heart of the World, one of seven that Ian Baker has written on Himalayan and Tibetan cultural history, environment, art, and medicine. This particular book - written in 2004, and one of the very best adventure/spiritual-quests I have ever read (!) - is ostensibly about finding a fabled colossal waterfall deep within an unexplored part of Tibet’s Tsangpo gorges in the Himalayas (Baker has subsequently been honored by the National Geographic Society as one of six ‘Explorers for the Millennium’ for the ethnographic and geographical research he was a part during his quest to find this waterfall), but is really an extraordinary (and extraordinarily spiritual) account of how one's state-of-mind/reality determines access to Beyul, or "hidden lands where the essence of the Buddhist Tantras is said to be preserved." 

Writing of Beyul, the Dalai Lama asserts in the book's introduction, that "...such sacred environments ... are not places to escape the world, but to enter in more deeply. The qualities inherent in such places reveal the interconnectedness of all life and deepen awareness of hidden regions of the mind and spirit. Visiting such places with a good motivation and appropriate merit, the pilgrim can learn to see the world differently from the way it commonly appears..."

While in the Pacific northwest, I read small bits of The Heart of the World each day, cherishing and relishing it's quiet insights and deep wisdom before drifting off to sleep, and anticipating the next day's activities. The result was that my attention was drawn far less to "Wagnerian epic"-like vistas, and more (so much more!) to the timeless essence of place - such as the Oyster-shells seen in the triptych above. Why Oysters? For one thing, our Airnb rental was close to the Hamma Hamma oyster saloon near Lillywaup, WA; so - given the "non photographer's weather" - my wife and I wound up having a lot of time to kill during the day enjoying local quisine. For another - in dreams at least - oysters are associated with quiet meditation and “going within." And, since like palimpsests, oysters record both time and events, their ubiquity in Lillywaup (heck throughout the Hood canal) entwined with my nightly excursions into Tibetan Beyuls. Oysters became my own palimpsests of spiritual and aesthetic journeys, both real and imagined. I was utterly mesmerized by their siren call; the elegance of their form, and the numinous quality of their decaying shells. And on those rare occasions when I was lucky enough to have particularly "good motivation and appropriate merit" - such as when I chanced upon a small deserted beach strewn with oyster shells - the results were pure magic! I caught brief glimpses of the preternatural luminescence that permeates an ineffable Beyul-of-the-mind. 

For those of you interested in viewing a few more examples of what I'm tentatively calling "Numinous Palimpsests," I have posted a small portfolio on my main website.