Sufic Creativity

As part of my ongoing discussion about how different traditions of creativity lead to different human-earth relationships and, ultimately, different earths, I’d like to introduce you to some ideas I learned while writing my new book of poems, Two Minds.


That’s Khedr, the Sufic power of unified nature and ethics. Let me demonstrate:


P2190287See that?  Two moments of a continuous world are separately illuminated by the attention of the power of wisdom and by being brought together in one space embody it. This wisdom is not generated by human individuality or personality but by the act of a human stepping into space which is complete and unbounded, creating a division, and allowing wisdom, which is ever-present to reveal itself in a spark of wit, a quick realization, a moment of beauty, an artful spark, or any of its other manifestations. It is there for just a moment, then is gone. The manifestation, however, can be coaxed out again by a second pair of images or thoughts, such as this:

mareofthesun P2200041

Once again, wisdom is present, hovers in the air like light over the desert or a wind swirling dust, and then is gone. Through a series of these dances with the omnipresence of thought, an artful structure is constructed: not of words , but of the moments at which wisdom has inhabited the words and taken on form and shape in a dance with them. It is as if light has entered the beginning of one of these series of meditations or conversations, has trickled down over its ledges, and pools at its base.

Well, in Iceland (above) it can freeze from time to time!


Khezr, the Hidden Prophet, Trickster Cook of Alexander.

Khezr is one of the afrad, the Unique Ones who recieve illumination directly from God without human mediation; they can initiate seekers who belong to no Order or have no human guide; they rescue lost wanderers and desperate lovers in the hour of need. Here he is:



Take a look at the dragon wings he has instead of oak leaves for hair. With claws, and everything.


In Sufic tradition, there is no separation between St. George and his dragon: they are one. This one-ness between wildness and civility, that is Khezr. Nature doesn’t have to be killed in this conception. It is a conception of balance. That’s the way of the ghazal. It’s also the way of a man walking.



Salaam Aleikum!

Why It’s Important to Talk About Creativity

Over the past month I’ve exploring human identities and creativity and their impact on the environment. I do this because I have brothers and sisters, not just humans (but humans, too, including you), who I care about:

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Those are just a few of the people I live with and who make my life. Living without them would be this:


Downtown Vernon, British Columbia

Over the last few weeks, I’ve presented a history of the development of the contemporary Western idea of self, and related that to three traditions of creativity:

American, which tries to activate a private Christ-like self to create a human who acts at one with God but leaves emotions as a mystery;

French, which leaves mystery and creativity to God, and encourages a self which makes refined objects out of received inspiration; and

German, which places creativity as part of a group that stretches back a few thousand years back in time.


The Green Man of Davos, Switzerland

This is indigenous memory that goes back through the first Cro Magnon settlers in Switzerland (their descendants are called the Swiss today) to the Himalayas, at least: to the roots of what we call human, at any rate.

Sure, Swiss. German is not a people. It is a language. You get up into the Swiss mountains and that German starts sounding like the French and the French like the German, and both of them sound like the Welsh from Caernarfon, which came from ancient Assyria long ago.


Caernarfon, from the Eagle Tower

One of the reasons I am doing this is aesthetic. I have two degrees in Creative Writing: the first, in 1980, was a degree in writing and the world, taught by a witch, who was a world expert on surrealism, poetic forms, literary modernism, the poetry of World War II, Robert Graves (the mid-century master of Mediterranean and Welsh mythology) and Welsh verse:



Robin Skelton …

… holding poet Susan Musgrave’s Surreal Art in his back garden.

The second degree, completed in 2007, was a masters level course in how to write in order to fit into North American pop culture, which, nonetheless, presented itself as a course in world writing. At that point, I realized that the discipline of Creative Writing had purified its American roots, and that earlier attempts to merge it with world literary culture had been overwhelmed. Social expression had supplanted art — the tradition of craft that had raised writing (and painting and sculpture, etc) as a vital member of the Enlightenment Triad of Art of Science and Religion that came from the dismemberment of the pre-Enlightenment Unified World. I am concerned that art is now expected to live wholly within the boundaries of a technological society, and interact with its citizens and technologies, first, and with the world through them. The thing is, though, I live here:


P2190425Coots Waiting to Migrate North

And one local gull looking for sandwich rinds or, well, hey, anything, really.

If anyone were to suggest, as contemporary Canadian forms of creativity and “art” do, that I have to give up my natural habitat, as encroached as it is …


… and take on a purely social one ….


This Blackbird Needs to Be in a Fir Tree Next to Those Rushes

Later, he needs to move into brown birches, and then the rushes themselves.

… that would be an unacceptable and dehumanizing demand, and yet that demand is made hourly and daily.


Rock Scaping

To adapt human lives to a technological water system, which has replaced the natural abundance of indigenous water systems in order to satisfy the needs of industrial agriculture and the political and social demands of deliberate overpopulation caused by inappropriate political systems, the land is turned into a parking lot. Better to recreate living human relationships with more than over-simplified social boundaries.

And so I have taken my long experience with art and creation and the reading and creation of texts, as well as my long experience with the quite different genre called Creative Writing, and have walked with them out into the world. The story today is not human. It is the earth.


Fraser River Sockeye Salmon NOT Making it to the Spawning Beds

It is a story of a warm river, the warmth of which is caused by certain ideas of the social embeddedness and rights of certain types of individual behaviour at the expense of others.

It is by expanding the sense of the human, based on accurate measurements of past human identity and creativity systems, that we can best change the earth. The image of the restaurant employee smoke pit and natural gas valve system is not a natural human environment. It is the environment for people constrained by technical definitions and power structures…



… that are very real and completely unacceptable. To expand this social conversation, I will next introduce other forms of creativity, from other cultural traditions —Icelandic, Native American (Plateau), Byzantine (Russian orthodox) and Islamic (Sufi). We could go on for months, around the world, but that’s a good start, and should be enough to make the point out of my own experience. I don’t want to talk about things which I do not know. That would be disrespectful.  Somehow, the human image below, needs to be reconstructed…


19th Century Human Technology

A will extended across a ruined grassland slope. The fence represents the boundaries of both body and will — the American actualized self — and converts the earth into land, or, to clarify, into a series of independent actualized selves creating a common culture through their interaction. No intellectual or artistic comment is allowable, because it is this act of conversion which is the root of the culture. The state of the grassland (see any grass?) shows just how little of the earth this concept is capable of maintaining.

To this, we all have to contribute how we can. By the offering the story of my experience with creativity, I hope to be able to enrich the language with which we all speak with the earth, and which becomes the earth that speaks with us.


This You

When you feel that without words, you will know that we are walking the same path. I call it human. It doesn’t matter what I call it. It’s life.

After completing my exploration of creative context, I will explore the nature of the self in its contemporary creative contexts, including artificial intelligence and other artificial human contexts. Then we will talk about the world and what we can do together.

Beautiful Balance

The bubbles of air that have been drawn by wave action concentrated by an opening and closing gap on the ice of Okanagan Lake, go no further than the crack. Under the water, their air was stronger than the water itself; in the crack, the surface tension of the water is stronger than the air, and so they remain, both air and water at once, in balance.

If you measure either, the moment breaks and neither one is there. They are not a substance, but a relationship. So, beautifully, are we all.

The Glorious Winter Sun

Today, joy. Way up high, the sun.


High up above us, in the shallows of the sea of glorious winter fog Okanagan Lake gives off for the entire length of its 135 kilometre fresh water fjord, there is a continuous pool of brilliant light. Wherever there is a thinning of cloud (such as at Turtle Point eight kilometres to the west, in the image below), it breaks through.


For us, here in the trenches and canyons below this sea, there the sun is for us — often shining from within the lake. We live within a sphere of light.

Beauty, Art and the Self

Beautiful, isn’t it.

This, too.

Note the patterning in this kind of thing.


Sure, it was carefully framed, but oh so many frames were possible.


They all have pattern.


They’re all beautiful.


The patterning is the gift of human observation. In order for there to be thought separate from the world, the kind of sensory connectivity shown in the images above must be separated from the world. It must have an observer and a thing observed. It’s a game, designed for certain ends. To achieve them, the actual connections between the two, that unite them into presence, must be given a name, separate from the moment of presence, or the separation cannot take place. This word is ‘beauty’. Just up from the water, for instance, separated from it by the frame of contemplation, is a rich community of water plants that have adapted to living in air …


… and just up from them, a bearberry plant that is living in the heat gathered by a boulder left by glaciers, like the ones in the pond above.

It is the same moment. It can be studied, contemplated and used to further many ends, including human security and culture. The great discovery of scientific thought, a form of book culture, is that this unity can be divided into pages, which can be studied one at a time, as if they were words, discrete and without connection to others, yet look how the carpet on the soil adapts to minute changes in circumstance and light, such as in the image below, beneath a fire pine taken down by beetles.


Those subtle changes and continuities are part of human presence. By people who have learned to inhabit a tool called the self, a kind of cognitive freeze-frame camera, they are beauty, an enjoyable aesthetic frame that pleasurably satisfies an ancestral, genetic self. Yet it is the world. Look how it changes, as recorded by the image below. Note that these are not discrete moments, as the photographs suggest. They are connected. They are a flow of energy. You know how to read them. This capacity is called beauty. It is a profound order, an inhabitation of order, a being, a being there, here:


A camera is a tool that can create the separation required to sever this human connection, so that the remaining physical or cognitive material can be used to create a secondary, virtual world more suitable for severed selves to inhabit. The camera can be used for other purposes, but it is a constant battle to do so. The machine freezes time and uses that moment of freezing to recreate ghosts of bodily presence. That’s what it’s for. Take a look at this sequence. It is three views from one kayak at one moment in September, looking to the north, to the east, and to the west, all within about a second or two.

P2020534 P2020548 P2020549

Such descriptions of time are meaningless in the moment, but are of great use to the self that is a book. Just a moment away, the forces of energy and matter and time that those photographs render into images, look like this:


It is the same moment, but extended differently into spiritual space. This, too, up on the shore.


Presence would be better served by a term other than beauty, because that term does not differentiate between the book self and the human capacity to be present in a continuum. To the book self, the continuum is meaningless, and can only be intuited by yet more divided knowledge. To presence, the divided knowledge is a machine, a device, a tool, and not identity. The need for better differentiation is clear. The word that keeps getting in the way is “creativity.” This, for instance, is not a creative photograph:


Nor is this:


To be creative, it must serve the expansion of the virtual self and the replacement of the world of presence, and the infinitely gradated ability of the human body to read and extend that presence, through the combination of pre-existing elements. This would be creative:





Those are beautiful things. They represent the colonization of the world of the self by the world of presence, its humanization, shall we say. It is another representation of the ability of the human body to find spirit, wherever it may be found, and in whatever form its presence may take. We should be very clear about the differences and similarities between that and this eagle (below.)

The world, and other people within it, have become prey. It need not be so. Ah, here you are at last.


Forget That Jigsaw Puzzle

Follow game trails instead. Lots of fun! Sacred, too. To find an ancient village site, just follow the stories of the land. You’ll soon be home.P2030513

Painted Hills at a Secwepemc village site relinquished to the Hudson’s Bay Company in the long ago of the Bonaparte River Valley

The Guests are Here


Catholic Church, Okanagan Indian Reserve

Father Nobili spent two years on this site, from 1848-1850. There was no British Columbia then, and no Reserve. When the British came in 1859, he was soon forgotten. I am remembering him this Christmas Eve, in that moment of pure Grace. Look how the spirits have come to his welcome in what only looks like an empty, half-ruined church.

The Beautiful Math of Soil

Here’s what I’m talking about.


Look how the sun and its shadows are interacting with the slopes of this ravine to create wet and dry, cold and warm zones (which alternate with seasons and time of day) to move water (and life) through the soil. If this irregular surface were flattened (the same as if DNA were flattened, or the hydrocarbons of leaves were flattened), the potentiality of such activity would be shifted to some other point of boundary between these forces, at the valley bottom, at the lake shore, at a stream bed, or some point fifty kilometres away, wherever the boundary was. Here’s also what I mean about the beautiful mathematics of soil: P2160057

Notice how the flat, packed surface is impervious to the sun, and retains its snow, while the grassy slopes lose snow quickly. It’s not just about slope. Here’s another reason, grass:


Each blade of the grass, adept at collecting light for photosynthesis in the summer, can also collect heat, transmit it downwards, concentrate it in the increasingly-dense mound of the grass, and not only melt the snow but deliver its water to the roots of the grass, which soak it up. The surface might be a boundary to visual creatures, like humans, but it is an exploited and manipulated space by the grass: infinitely malleable; a place that can gather sun and water. Here’s a grass that specializes in this surface manipulation more than most, blue bunch wheatgrass:


She knows the power of resonance effects well. Now, I know, I promised to talk about soil, so let’s not forget that this is not soil:


That is glacial clay laid down rapidly 10,000 years ago as the glaciers melted away. It has been bared to the air for a decade now, with not even the tiniest weed to show for itself. It’s just ground up mountain. Plants have no use for this stuff. This is soil:


Here all kinds of “life” have modified their mineral selves by self-replicating and climbing towers and conduits of water tension manipulated by surfaces and the sun, and have create new and far more complex surfaces in the process, concentrating water tension in the same way that the blue bunch wheat grass above concentrated the sun into resonance patterns within their mounds. We could talk for a long time about the complex biological processes involved in this work, and it would be a great pleasure, but it’s joyful to also celebrate the simplicity driving it all: surface. It not only creates this…


… which can be represented by this…


… which is grand stuff, or viewed as it is in the material universe (in the same level of beauty and complexity, but using different factors, as read by bodies not cognitive systems)…


And, let’s remember, that this story of surfaces continues deep underground and that if a cloud passes overhead …


… the bacteria that make up the soil, breathing the underground atmosphere and the life-giving breath of plant roots, react to it with a complexity equally or exceeding this:



(x2+y2)2 + (z2+w2)2 + 2b(xz-yw)2+2c(xw+yz)2 = 0

And remember that we all, all of us, have the words for this. There are many of them. Here are three: elk, sumac, and pond.

P2050845 p2090315 P2010650

It’s not that mathematics can be rendered in presence and dance but that there is presence, and there is dance. They are all extensions of soil.