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.

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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.


First Steps Towards the New Sun

Perspective matters.

Was that light playing on water? Is this, below?

They are one, but only when my body and mind are one. They are different at the same time. This difference is not to be dissected but entered. Here I am…


I am that body. The thing I have been trained to call “I” is a thing made out of these perceptions. In Canadian culture, such perceptions are called fanciful. I can’t help that. Here are the same leaves that have fallen on dry land.

The difference between the two visions of the leaves (in water and on land) is not the difference between water and the earth, but how a human body perceives that difference. They are visions. They are readings, not of the self or of the body, but of a spiritual presence. To read a mind, look here:


It requires the giving up of the self, that’s all. But then, the self is the only thing that stands between you and the reeds below, which is another manifestation of the play of water and light. You don’t have to become the reeds, or the tree or pond above, to be them. That is a fallacy that comes from reading books and living so much in light you are blind to the dark. It is the Canadian way, but, as I said, I can’t help that.


It is easier to enter a body in the world, if sight is not overly privileged. You have been trained to do just that, in the culture of the self, in the discipline of analytical observation which is the culture of the book.


You’ve been trained, in other words, as a book. This, for example, is a book.


So is this.


The ability to stop the world as it flows through you, to develop it…


… is what book culture calls creativity, which is also known as progress and urbanization (which is also known as civilization).


We all have potential for so much more. The pond below is not a narrative of ecosystem restoration but of complex relationships between forms of energy, including the energies of time and mass, as read by bodies. The solidity of the boulder below, and its combined weight and weightlessness, those are part of the way you know how to read the world. That’s you. It’s not creative, because it is an entering into a state of creativity, not its ownership by a self.


In book culture, creativity is defined as the capacity for the making of entirely new things in the world, although there is nothing new in the world unless you separate yourself from it and ignore what you already know. Look at the gap between willows in water …


… and the ones reflecting into the water.


They are the same in the world. You are the difference —and you are the bridge. As the year closes, I’m thinking of these things. I’m pondering the difference between identity and the self. I am meditating on creativity, not because I use the concept, but because the culture that has taken over the earth I live in does, and I find it a dangerous thing. Our children deserve it to be taken to task and clearly defined as the ghost it is. If I were to ask, how did I come to this place, that would be the book talking.


In the world, there is no question, and no book, only the opening that brought this moment here.


Questions, in other words, are the book talking — useful, for sure, but no more a universal tool than a hammer or a pair of pliers. They are extensions of the body, but not the body. The body doesn’t need wings to fly.


And now, well, now it’s early in the new sun.


There’s time, still, to set the book down for a moment, and be present … not to live in the present, as the book demands, but to be present, which is an entirely different thing.


Soon enough, you will be lost again to the world of selves, I’m sure, as will I. If I could make a wish for you, for this coming year, do, please go lightly there.

I’ll be here walking with you.


This discussion will be expanded over the next couple weeks.

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 Spirit of Birds and Trees

Watching the magpies watch me today, in their way of leapfrogging from tree to tree to fencepost to shrub to shrub to post up the slope, always 70 metres apart, always keeping at least 70 metres distance, I realized in a flash that there is a magpie mind that is not just the magpie.

Instead, it’s the sum of all the watchful eyes of all the magpies. In the weaver ants of the grasslands, this sum of points of observation becomes the chemically-controlled mind of the hive, a living brain in which the neurons are individual ants, living out the community centred around their queen (but fully able to replace her if need be.)

In the birds, though, and this is the beauty of it, there is no queen. Among magpies, there isn’t even a flock. What there is, though, is a fluid grid of attention cast over the land that the magpies, singly and in series, observe, re-observe and react to, which becomes the spirit of magpie in the air. It’s the same for the other birds of the grasslands. Here’s a robin mind of this kind.



Here’s a couple of synapses in that mind. They have memory, which sustains the spirit between them.



Here’s a flicker, caught in the energy flows of the tree and making out of them a perch that is both flicker and tree together.


Here are a couple of starlings at the point of moving the point of observation along the line of trees — multiple perspectives, that’s the thing.



Bees do this trick, but they use multiple eyes, linked together (much like ants to a queen), to create this intelligence.

Birds, though, are able to expand and contract the scope of this space.


It can be the spirit of the air …


… the spirit of the hill …

P2140274… slyness, mirth and cunning …


… the spirit of the trees …


and so much more. We all live together on physical earth, but we all live together in this earth of spiritual or observational interactions and relativities as well — like the resonance effects thrown off by the earth’s core, that move continents through the deep seas. This spirit, this memory, both its physical form as bird (or human) and its carrier of ecosystem relationships and innovation stretch deep into time and space …


… and beyond them. We live in that world, too.

Welcome to the Land of the Big Heads

It’s called the Okanagan Valley now, north of the 1846 border that divided this land into two. South of that line, it’s known as Okanogan County, Washington, USA — hardly a valley. Early settlers here before the 1846 border with the United States (or in the quarter century after it was laid down)just called it The Land of the Big Heads. Here’s one just up q’aw’stikw’t (Skaha Lake) from sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (Okanagan Falls).
There are dozens more, between Omak and Vernon. You won’t find mention of these heads in any encyclopaedia article or tourism brochure, but this is our story. These are the ancients. Anything else is someone else’s story written here. Here’s nʕaylintn, the most famous of the  big heads, a few miles south, at Nk’mp, in the summer — commonly known as “The Chief.”

Eventually, we will have a history and geology here, grounded simultaneously in the stories of this place and the exciting new understandings of natural history that fit into it.


At the moment, we have the dreams of the White diaspora, such as the bizarre confluence of billboards above at Thanksgiving. White culture is fleeing Canada today for a dream of the American South in the Land of the Big Heads. To the South, in Winthrop, Richland and Chelan, the White diaspora is made out of Americans fleeing the United States for a disunited one — sometimes built on wine, sometimes built on re-creating the Wild West, and sometimes built on plutonium. Some day we will tell our own story. And the heads? Here are some down in Okanogan Country, near McLaughlin Canyon.

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The heads wait. At 55 million years of age, they can take the long view.