Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Media Event: Plutonium, Hazardous Radioactivity Found in NM Water, Plants, Dust as Domenici "Celebrates" New Plutonium Warhead Certification

Media Event Tuesday July 10, 10:30 AM, Hotel Santa Fe, 1501 Paseo de Peralta
Re: Radioactivity Levels Hazardous in Los Alamos Area. Plutonium
Detected in Santa Fe Drinking Water.

LANL Plutonium Reported in Santa Fe Drinking Water, While Dignitaries
Celebrate First Plutonium Pit

The Santa Fe Water Quality Report for 2006 was delivered with the June water
bills. The report stated that there was a "qualified detection of plutonium
238" in Buckman Well Number 1. This means that plutonium from the
development and production of nuclear weapons at Los Alamos National
Laboratory (LANL) was detected in Santa Fe drinking water supplies.
However, the actual amount of plutonium contamination could not be
determined by the test performed. The Water Quality Report is issued each
year as required by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. In 2006, all
contamination detections were below federal and state drinking water quality

Plutonium is the main ingredient in the core or trigger of a nuclear weapon,
known as a plutonium pit. At the same time that the detection of plutonium
is being reported, LANL is once again taking its place as the nation¹s
plutonium pit manufacturing facility. Dignitaries were invited to a
celebration for certifying the first plutonium pit to be accepted by the
government for use in the nation's nuclear-weapons stockpile since 1989,
when Rocky Flats was raided by the FBI for environmental crimes. According
to Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a Santa Fe based NGO, this new pit cost
approximately $2.2 billion.

In the production of plutonium pits, contaminants are released into the
environment through air and water emissions and radioactive and hazardous
waste is generated. The first plutonium pit was manufactured at LANL for
use against Nagasaki, Japan during World War II. At that time, the waste
was dumped in unlined and shallow trenches.

Approximately 12,000 cubic meters of plutonium contaminated waste remains in
unlined burial areas on the LANL site, which is a source of the groundwater
contamination. LANL is located above the regional aquifer, which flows
towards the Buckman Well Field, where the City of Santa Fe gets 40% of its
drinking water.

Registered Geologist, Robert H. Gilkeson, said that intermittent and low
level detections can be an early indication of an approaching contaminant

Gilkeson said, "There is an emerging environmental emergency. Detections of
LANL radionuclides in Santa Fe drinking water wells have been published by
the Department of Energy in environmental reports since the late 1990s, but
the detections have not been adequately investigated. The contamination
must be addressed now with monthly sampling using the most sensitive
analytical methods."

In addition, a recent independent study of the area surrounding LANL found
elevated and potentially harmful levels of radioactivity in materials which
humans are routinely exposed to, such as dusts and plant life. The
Government Accountability Project performed the study, with technical
assistance from Boston Chemical Data, Inc. They will hold a public press
conference to discuss these findings on Tuesday, July 10 at the Hotel Santa
Fe, beginning at 10:30 am.

Joni Arends, of CCNS said, "LANL contaminants are impacting the surrounding
communities. What is national security if we do not have clean air, water
and soil? LANL contamination must be prioritized as the threat, and the
mission transformed to clean up past operations. The time for nuclear
weapons is over."

Government Accountability Project
West Coast Office
1511 3rd Ave., Suite #321 • Seattle, WA 98101
206.292.2850 • www.whistleblower.org

July 9, 2007


Contact: Tom Carpenter, GAP Nuclear Oversight Dir.
Phone: cell 206.419.5829
Email: tomc@whistleblower.org

Contact: Dylan Blaylock, Communications Director
Phone: 202.408.0034 ext. 137, cell 202.236.3733
Email: dylanb@whistleblower.org

Press Advisory: GAP to Release Report Showing Elevated Radioactivity
Found Around Los Alamos Press Conference to be Held Tomorrow in Santa

What: Press conference to release and discuss latest
report on citizen environmental sampling performed around the Los
Alamos National Laboratory. Report released by Government
Accountability Project (GAP).

When: July 10, 2007, 10:30 a.m.

Where: Hotel Santa Fe, 1501 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, NM

Who: Tom Carpenter, Director, GAP Nuclear Oversight Program
Marco Kaltofen, Scientist, Boston Chemical Data, Inc.

Contact: Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Director,
202.408.0034, ex 137
Tom Carpenter, 206-419-5829 (cell)

Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project is the nation's leading
whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating
whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal
reforms, GAP's mission is to protect the public interest by promoting
government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a
non-profit, public interest advocacy organization with offices in
Washington, D.C. and Seattle, WA.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Dharmahouse in Santa Fe?

For some time I have been considering the development of a contemplative and sustainable living based household here in Santa Fe.

I am a full time student looking to live in a household where meditative and healthy living is a central focus to those living in it. We could combine resources to make living well much more easier. Gardening/permaculture, Community-supported agriculture, along with other aspects of living where combined forces will ease our efforts.

I invite anyone interested and/or has any ideas on this topic to share here. I hope that something will develop along these lines.

Below I have posted some info and a link to a community that is doing some of the things that I am thinking of. This is a dharma house in France, they own the land, but I don't see why we couldn't begin by renting a house and in time consider the development of a larger community.

The Dharmahouse community project

In May 2006 the community moved in and started to live together in an 8 acre property in southern France. The property was previously a farm, and gave us a great opportunity to start to explore our desire for community living in the context of natural surroundings. We started to experiment with growing our own food using ideas based in natural and synergistic agricultural systems. We have also started to explore ecological and sustainable building techniques as a basis for future community building. The present property is serving as a springboard and small-scale temporary model for community living. Our main goal is to establish a co-housing community based around the teachings of the Buddha and environmental concern. Why did we choose Cohousing? And what is it? To start with a dictionary definition Cohousing is:

"a type of collaborative housing that attempts to overcome the alienation of modern subdivisions in which no-one knows their neighbours, and there is no sense of community. It is characterized by private dwellings with their own kitchen, living-dining room etc, but also extensive common facilities. The common building may include a large dining room, kitchen, lounges, meeting rooms, recreation facilities, library, workshops, childcare."

The concept of Cohousing was first established in Denmark in the 1970s; catalysed by frustration at the isolation and impracticality of modern day housing designs, cohousing became an attempt to redefine how our living arrangements can support and develop our human relationships. Taking inspiration from different cultures and traditional village settings, the concept of cohousing is now being developed across Europe, north America, Australasia, and eastern Asia.

Expanding on this definition of cohousing within the context of the Dharma, we are seeking a ‘practicing neighbourhood’, a sangha to provide nurturing and supportive conditions for our spiritual lives. Our common building could perhaps be a Dharma hall, to again support our practice, where we could come together to share, discuss, meditate and support each other. This could also be a place where Dharma teachers could come and lead retreats from time to time.

In the on-going development of this project we are keen to discuss the social, economic and environmental aspects of cohousing. What follows are some of the benefits of cohousing and also some of the issues that we will be looking at in our discussions when we come together in August of this year (1st-5th). I am sure many more questions and discussions will be raised when we meet, this will give us a chance to inquire into what best direction we can take this project in the years to come. A chance to dip in to the sea of possibility! Maybe a few different visions of community will emerge from these discussions, maybe a few different communities could start - the beginnings of small network?

Let's see……


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I recently got a bug to check out the Buddhist schools here in Santa Fe. I had first thought to return to the Shambhala Center where I attended a really great series of classes last spring. I found that they have moved a little further from my house and stopped the classes for a while. So I checked out the Thubten Norbu Ling Buddhist Center on Alameda because it was really close to home and I felt drawn to it for some reason. I would stop there during slow periods while on my Taxi shift, sit across the street, listen to the river, smell the sweet blooms and chant.

I checked out their calendar and decided on a class to attend. Fortunately, before I attended, I stumbled across a flyer for the class I intended to attend, it said down towards the bottom that the suggested donation was
$20 per session or $75 for the entire weekend workshop. I had read on their website that classes were free, but they asked for a donation to help with rent and all. I usually leave about ten dollars if I can afford it, so $20 threw me for a loop. I could attend a yoga class at the most expensive studio for that price. Wow!!! So, now I am looking for some teachings, a school or center once again.

I really liked the people and teachings at Shambhala, I wish that they were still around.

Have any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Stupas Along The Rio Grande

Building a monument to enlightenment: The consecration of Tashi Gomang Stupa near Crestone, Colorado.

Stupas Along The Rio Grande

Anna Rocicot


The stupa, an ancient form of architecture, evolved significantly in both form and meaning with the coming of the Buddha. Cairns in ancient India were traditionally raised as monuments to kings and heroes and contained their remains. At the suggestion of the Buddha, stupas began to be built as monuments to the Awakened Ones and their disciples, a reminder of the potential for enlightenment within us all. Its corpulent shape now suggested the Buddha in meditation posture: the base, his crossed legs; the rounded dome, his shoulders; the square-shaped harmika with painted eyes, his head.

As Buddhism spread, so did the building of stupas, and each area or country developed its own style. It was only a matter of time before Western practitioners would try their hands at stupa building.

From 1983 to 1996, six Tibetan-style stupas were built in a line roughly following the Rio Grande river from Albuquerque, New Mexico, north to Crestone, Colorado. Traditionally in Buddhist countries, hundreds of monks supported by devoted lay followers contributed to stupa construction. Along the Rio Grande, each community of dharma students, or sangha, found its own way to meet the rigorous, precise, and expensive demands of building a stupa. Wise direction for the careful completion of each step, from fire pujas (prayer ceremonies) for fair weather to the construction of hundreds of thousands of tsa-tsas - tiny clay stupas - to be sealed in the bumpas, the spherical rooms below the spires, was provided by lamas - especially the Venerable Lama Karma Dorje, resident teacher at the Kagyu Shenpen Kunchab Center in Santa Fe, who has overseen the construction of three of the stupas in New Mexico.

Khang Tsag Chorten and
Ngagpa Yeshe Dorje Stupa, Santa Fe

The story of stupa building in New Mexico began in the early 1970s in Santa Fe. David Padwa requested H. H. Jidral Yeshe Dorje Drudjom Rinpoche of the Nyingmapa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism to come to Santa Fe and donated the funds necessary for Khang Tsag Chorten (or "Stacked House" Stupa) to be built. Consecrated in 1973 by the Venerable Drodrup Chen Rinpoche, the eightfoot-high stupa, now under the care of the Maha Bodhi Society, is located adjacent to Upaya, a Zen center. The following year, Khang Tsag Stupa was also blessed by the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It is said that all stupas bless beings who see or touch them whether or not they understand the dharma. But Khang Tsag Stupa is believed to have the additional power to purify all hostility.

Kagyu Shenpen Kunchab Bodhi Stupa, Santa Fe

A few miles from Santa Fe's largest mall and the infamous Cerrillos Road, one of the most hazardous thoroughfares in the state, this stupa looms up over the adjacent trailer park. Off busy Airport Road, there is a graveled driveway, and a large white-walled enclosure. As one enters, only the back of the stupa is visible-white and pristine. Circumambulating, visitors arrive at the huge, painted doors of the Kagyu Shenpen Kunchab Bodhi Stupa. Within the shrine room, a statue of the Buddha, surrounded by paintings of saints and holy beings, invites you to take refuge.

Lama Karma Dorje was sent to Santa Fe at the behest of the renowned meditation master, His Eminence Kalu Rinpoche. He began building the stupa with a local practitioner Jerry Morrelli, in 1983. They worked for three years, with help on the weekends from members of the Santa Fe sangha, and in 1986, Kalu Rinpoche consecrated the completed stupa.

Ngagpo Yeshe Dorje Stupa, Santa Fe

The newest stupa in Santa Fe commemorates the life and work of Ngagpa Yeshe Dorje, one of the first lamas to visit the area. Since 1986, Ngagpa Yeshe Dorje of the Nyingmapa lineage and master of weather ceremonies for the Dalai Lama had visited Santa Fe annually to perform the Dur ceremony (to benefit students and deceased relatives) at the Kagyu Shenpen Kunchab Bodhi Stupa. Following his death, his students, under the guidance of Tulku Sang Nga, built a stupa for him in the mountains east of Santa Fe.

There are eight traditional architectural styles of stupas, and the seventeen-foot-high Ngagpa Yeshe Dorje Stupa was built in the elegant but simple "bodhisattva" form. It was consecrated in 1995 on private land.

Kagyu Deki Choeling, Tres Orejas

The gift of a small statue of a stupa by Kalu Rinpoche to Norbert Ubechel, a longtime student of the Karmapa, was the inspiration for a twenty-two-foot stupa in Tres Orejas, New Mexico.

A few miles north of Taos, Tres Orejas is an almost treeless expanse between three peaks and the 600-foot drop-off of the Rio Grande Gorge. There are few inhabitants, no water, and no electricity. Despite monetary gifts for materials, the building of a stupa here was an arduous task. Lama Dorje and Ubechel hauled water for mixing cement by hand for the construction of Kagyu Deki Choeling, a "bodhisattva"-style stupa similar to the one in Santa Fe. Other students lent their labor, and on August 8, 1994, three years after the project began, the Venerable Lama Lodo consecrated the stupa. It was later blessed by the five-year-old Tsogya Gyaltso, tulku of Kalu Rinpoche, as well as by Bokar Rinpoche, a meditation master of the Kagyu lineage.

With Lama Dorje, a handful of students later built a gompa or meditation hall. From the steps of the gompa, the stupa is visible below, shining white. The cedar trees here are wind-stunted and twisted, like the treacherous road that leads to the stupa, looking out over miles of sagebrush as if from the edge of the world.

Kagyu Milo Guru Stupa, El Rito

About a quarter of a mile off NM Highway 522, which stretches from Taos toward the Colorado border, stands Kagyu Mila Guru Stupa, thirtyeight feet tall and clearly visible, an unexpected architectural jewel set close to the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in El Rito.

From 1992 to 1995, a handful of families living six miles north of the mining town of Questa gathered every Saturday morning to build the stupa. At an attitude of 8,ooo feet, work is possible only from April to November. And almost every Saturday during these months, Lama Dorje and a few Santa Fe students made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to El Rito, bringing plans for the next phase of construction, strong arms, and a generous supply of doughnuts and Gatorade.

Land, donations, and volunteer labor came primarily from students of the late meditation teacher Herman Rednick, whose teachings blended Eastern and Western meditation concepts. Lama Karma Dorje provided inspiration, guidance, and constant supervision of the project.

At the suggestion of children in the community, an inside shrine room was included in the plans for Kagyu Mila Guru Stupa. Cynthia Moku, art director at Naropa Institute in Boulder, who had helped direct painting of the deities in the shrine room at the stupa in Santa Fe, designed and oversaw the painting of the Kagyu Mila Guru shrine room. In the small chamber, nearly human-size representations of Chenrezig and Tara rise before the meditator with a sense of immediacy. Every detail seems to enliven the walls with a tangible spiritual presence.

In June 1995, students finished details on the stupa before the arrival of the six-year-old Tsogya Gyaltso Rinpoche and V. V. Bokar Rinpoche for the consecration. The following year, Lama Karma Chodrak, an associate and friend of Lama Dorje, arrived from India to join the community as its resident lama.

More info on the Kagyu Mila Stupa, supplied to me by the centre

Tashi Gomang Stupa, Crestone, Colorado

Five miles south of Crestone, Colorado, high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and surveying the San Luis valley, stands the forty-one-foot-high Tashi Gomang Stupa, "stupa of many auspicious doors," commemorating the moment when the Buddha first turned the wheel of the dharma.

His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, who in 1980 owned 200 acres in the Crestone area, envisioned a Tibetan medical college for this area as well as a monastery with three-year retreat facilities. In 1988, Crestone dharma students received a letter from His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche suggesting that they begin with the construction of a stupa. Due to its remote location, in an area lacking electricity and running water, and the need to build a "floating" foundation, the construction proved expensive and lengthy. Students spent five years and more than $10,000 making the hundred-thousand tsa-tsas required for the bumpa alone.

Here, too, a combination of volunteer labor and generous donations brought the stupa to completion. Kyenpo Karsar Rinpoche and Bardor Tulku Rinpoche of Woodstock, New York, directed construction, and on July 6, 1996, Bokar Rinpoche consecrated Tashi Gomang.

(Much) More info on the Tashi Gomang stupa

No-Name Stupa, Albuquerque

Rarely does a visitor to a national park have the opportunity to brush past a relic of the great Tibetan Guru Padmasambhava. But at Petroglyph National Park in Albuquerque, strollers may encounter a stupa. Consecrated by lamas and containing the many traditional objects that help make a stupa sacred, this stupa has no name. It is not advertised or even acknowledged by officials at the park's visitor center.

The National Park Service in iggo began acquiring the property of Harold Cohen and Arriam Emery as part of Petroglyph National Park, established to preserve the Native American rock art chipped into volcanic stones there. The move came six months after the consecration of the ten-foot-high stupa, which had taken Cohen and Emery eleven years to build on their property. According to Cohen and Emory, they lost their home and their battle to retain the stupa. Money they had saved for a future Padmasambhava Center was spent in litigation.

Lama Rinchen Thuntsok of Nepal, who had aided the couple in building the stupa and had consecrated this Nyingmapa bodhisattva-style stupa in 1989, advised them to view the process as a lesson in impermanence and suggested they build a larger stupa. The park service maintains that the stupa has been moved off what is now park land, but Cohen and Emery hope public opinion will influence park service officials to protect and preserve the stupa.

Anna Racicot is a writer living in Questa, New Mexico.

Tricycle The Buddhist Review

Here is another page describing the stupas of the Rio Grande

Back to the Stupa Information page

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I’m interested in living in a world not being systematically dismantled.

. . . "Do you believe that the culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to obtain a sustainable way of living? If you don’t, what does that mean for our strategy and for our tactics? We don’t know. The reason we don’t know is that we don’t ask that question. The reason we don’t ask that question is that we’re so busy pretending that we have hope.

One of the smartest things the Nazis did was to co-opt rationality and to co-opt hope. The way they did that was by making it so that at every step of the way it was in the Jews’ rational, best interest not to resist.

Would you rather get an ID card or would you rather resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to go to a ghetto or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to get on a cattle car or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to take a shower or do you want to resist and possibly get killed?

Every step of the way, it was in their rational best interest to not resist. But I’ll tell you something really interesting: The Jews who participated in the Warsaw ghetto uprising had a much higher rate of survival than those who went along. We need to keep that in mind over the next ten years." . . .

. . . "Most of our actions are frighteningly ineffective. If that weren’t the case we would not be witnessing the dismantling of the world. Yet we keep on doing the same old symbolic actions and keep on calling the making of this or that statement a great victory.

Now don’t get me wrong, symbolic victories can provide great morale boosts, which can be crucial. But we make a fatal and frankly pathetic error when we presume that our symbolic victories, our recruiting and our morale boosting, by themselves make tangible differences on the ground, and we should never forget that what happens on the ground is the only thing that matters.

There comes a time in the lives of many long-term activists when symbolic victories, rare even as these can be sometimes, are no longer enough. There comes a time when many of these activists get burned out, discouraged and demoralized. Many fight despair. I think fighting against this despair is a mistake. I think this despair is often an unacknowledged, embodied, understanding that the tactics they’ve been using aren’t accomplishing what they want and the goals they’ve been seeking are insufficient to the crisis we face.

These activists get burned out and frustrated because they’re trying to achieve sustainability within a system that is inherently unsustainable. They can never win. No wonder they get discouraged. But instead of really listening to these feelings, they so often take a couple of weeks off and then dive back into trying to put the same old square pegs into the same old round holes. The result: more burnout, more frustration, more discouragement, and the salmon keep dying.

What would happen if we listened to these feelings of being burnt out, discouraged, demoralized, and frustrated? What would those feelings tell us? Is it possible they could tell us that what we’re doing isn’t working, and so we should try something else? Perhaps they’re telling us to switch metaphors. That we should stop trying to save scraps of soap in a concentration camp and try to bust out of the whole camp."

From an Derrick Jensen interview.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Grow Here Now and Build Here Now

a future of possibility Lama Foundation, located in the Mountains of New Mexico is host to Grow Here Now and Build Here Now. Annual workshops which bring together teachers as well as students of sustainability. Join us as we examine “what is permaculture” as we attend the Grow Here Now - Convergence at Lama.

Permaculture is a word originally coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid 1970's to describe an "integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man" 'Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organize themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Local Ecology


Because of the vast comprehensiveness of the Daoist cosmic ecology, and not in spite of it, the arena for all human action is the immediate environment. Only by paying attention to the minute details of one’s local context is one able to penetrate to the deep roots of the Dao. Popular Chinese culture is full of ways for human beings to micro-manage their environment, from feng shui, the strategy of arranging one’s immediate area to take full advantage of its natural environment to taijiquan (t’ai-chi-ch’üan), the embodiment of cosmic patterns to properly attune the self in the world.

Daoism has particularly emphasized the importance of small beginnings and local perspectives not as an end in itself, but as a strategy. The advice of the Dao de jing is to be low, soft, weak and nonassertive. The Zhuangzi praises the spontaneous skillfulness of craftspeople that cannot be easily taught in words, but is achieved only by the repeated practice of an individual in a highly particular context. Religious practices begin with the purification of mind and body and take for granted the respect for all living beings in one’s immediate environment. Religious communities enshrine such attitudes in precepts that are the precondition for more advanced methods.

Reversion and Spontaneity

The goal of all higher Daoist practice is to mirror unobtrusively the dynamic spontaneity of one’s environment, to become imperceptible and transparent as though one were not at all. This goal is made all the more remote by the complex web of social and intellectual structures layered throughout history that form the cultural flux in which human life is trapped. The path towards pure spontaneity thus consists always in reversion or undoing. This reversion can occur mentally, through sitting in oblivion, physically, through the generation of an immortal embryo, and even cosmogonically, through alchemical practices founded on the principle that degenerative natural processes can be reversed and restored to their pure essential state.
Constructing Nature
Daoism proposes a comprehensive and radical restructuring of the way in which we conceive of our relationship to nature and our cosmic environment. This imaginative act does not readily lend itself to the solution of the problems of modern society except inasmuch as it challenges the very foundations of our economic, political, scientific, and intellectual structures. At the same time, however, as Daoism becomes more influential in the West, even as it is misunderstood, it surely exerts a positive influence with respect to understanding what it means to be embedded in a cosmic ecology.

In such an understanding nature is not something outside of us to be dealt with after the fashion of a mechanic repairing a car, but is both a mental attitude to be carefully cultivated and the true condition of one’s body that contains the infinite dimensions of cosmic reality within itself. Ultimately, therefore, nature is to be constructed and visualized time and again. Its destiny lies more than anything else in the human powers of imagination.

Friday, April 06, 2007


La Llorona

The Tears of Llorona

Introduction: The Tears of Llorona


Craig Chalquist, PhD

Image created by Carlos Encinas.  See the end of this document for a link to his site.

It is my experience that the myths we enter most deeply
are not ones that we choose out of some book of myths.
Rather, in some profound way, these myths choose us.

— Christine Downing

California can only be understood by those for whom
the symbols, if they come at all, follow the land itself
in the order of apprehension: it can only be known in
all its dimensions by the native, or by those like
him, from within and never from without.
— Wilson Carey McWilliams

Sing in me, O muse, and through me tell the tale….

On May Day of 2000, having returned to San Diego County after being away for eighteen years, I was putting away some books when one of them chanced to fall on my head. I bent to pick it up and noticed the title: Homer’s Odyssey.

Oddly enough, I had just been going back three hundred years into the history of San Diego and then of California. I had read about that brutal butcher Cortés, credited with naming our state after a fictional paradise; about Cabrillo and Vizcaíno, those transient seafaring explorers who came, saw, claimed territory, and left; and about Father Junípero Serra, who opened a mission here before moving on to bless nine more. It was he who led the first European colonization of my troubled homeland.

I had also been dreaming about San Diego, who personified herself into my nocturnal reveries as recounted in my book on Terrapsychology, the study of the presence, or “soul,” of the land. That book grew out of depth-psychological doctoral fieldwork begun shortly after my return to San Diego, the county of my birth. Local history, trauma, geography, dream: why did they seem to parallel each other image by image and event by event? Getting to know the past and present lay of the land might give me a hint or two about this.

Responding to a subvocal restlessness, I got up from my research one evening, made my way around piles of books, and went for a walk through the Escondido Hills. Ten miles to the south stood the Elfin Forest, where a ghostly woman in white was said to occur of a quiet night looking for her lost children. A familiar hawk circled high above my right shoulder.

The research wouldn’t let go of me. In my mind’s eye I saw a map of California with twenty-one crosses near the coast, each indicating a mission, an enclosed adobe complex in which padres who sailed over from Spain and walked north from Mexico in 1769 had sought to convert the indigenous peoples of California into laboring Christians. Nothing new in that story, especially for someone raised on this soil. I loved to travel and did so often, but I had lived in this state all my life.

That pattern of crosses…it seemed familiar, struck a hidden chord, wouldn’t go away. I halted for a moment. And then I had it. Those crosses marked the path of my wanderings throughout California. Every town I’d ever lived in, felt compelled to get acquainted with, or visited for more than a few days or weeks was a mission town along El Camino Real, the “royal road” that linked them all. Serra had compared the chain to a rosary.

For eighteen years, then, I had unknowingly pursued him up and down what had once been an actual paradise, the verdant home of loam-hued human beings deliberately made out to be childlike savages by colonizing consciences eager to be soothed. Having witnessed what each place had become, I moved on—was moved on—up the King’s Highway to the next leg of my long Californian odyssey. But why?

Nor was I alone, for another figure haunted me just as I had shadowed Serra.

Not long after the Aztec Empire fell to the ministrations of Hernando Cortés, a ghostly woman was said to appear in the streets of destroyed Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) roaming and weeping and wailing. Stories about her proliferated, but in most of them, a young, pretty mother gave birth to the son of an unfaithful lover, a heartless and powerful man who threatened to abandon her and take the newborn with him. To prevent this, she drowned the child (in some versions two children) under the full moon, and then she lost her mind. When she finally died, she was condemned to wander near bodies of water, a sad ghost wailing for her lost children, whose souls she must find in order to finally attain redemption. To this day many Mexican mothers warn their own children not to stay out late or La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman,” pronounced “lah-yoh-roh-nah”) might snatch them away, mistaking them for her own.

I had been born in San Diego below a full moon, the double-Cancer son of a dark-eyed mother who had lived on boats and bays and beaches. A self-styled gypsy, she did not want to raise children, but my father did and made it plain that he expected to. To solve this dilemma, my mother arranged a secret adoption, then told the entire family—including my father, according to him—that I, who would have been given my father’s own name, had died of heart failure at birth. I passed briefly into foster care and ended up in the home of the adoptive parents who raised me without knowing much about my past. But when I first learned my mother’s name after a long quest after my roots, its echo with that of the Weeping Woman remained hidden from me: Lorna, born with eyes biologically devoid of night vision.

No matter how estranged we may consider ourselves from the tangled, improbable—indeed monstrous—world of myth, in various ways and under certain circumstances unwilling tributes to its signs, fictions, and symbols are wrung from us.
— Frederick Turner

From the standpoint of depth psychology, the discipline that evolved from the pioneering work of Pierre Janet and C. G. Jung and the synthesizing contributions of Sigmund Freud, who founded the field of psychoanalysis, a myth is not a dead explanation for lightning or rain, but a living force in human affairs and assumptions. Dream, drama, symptom, folklore, ideology, religion, and perhaps psyche itself all display a deep mythic structuring. A fabled pathway unknowingly retraced and haunted from San Diego to Sonoma by a roving figment of Mexican folklore might seem coincidental to the thinking of mainstream materialism; but heaping on the head of Coincidence what does not fit a worldview imitates the ancient Roman habit of reflexively attributing uncanny happenings to the wheel-spinning goddess of luck and chance.

A series of coastal pilgrimages, a wandering, weeping specter, and a city of asphalt and dream, all repeating uncannily like doubled images seen but through a glass darkly. What did they all have in common except the old Mission Trail itself?

A particular place in the land is never, for an oral culture, just a passive or inert setting for the human events that occur there. It is an active participant in those occurrences. Indeed, by virtue of its underlying and enveloping presence, the place may even be felt to be the source, the primary power that expresses itself through the various events that unfold there. It is for precisely this reason that stories are not told without identifying the earthly sites where the events in those stories occur.
— David Abram

As I studied and walked and thought, at my side lurked a very San Diegan suspicion that El Camino Real, La Llorona, Lorna, Serra, and a frowning dream city might after all represent random spinnings of the wheel of Fortuna; but along the way my doubts melted like adobe in a downpour. If these images could flash from so many disparate realms of highly localized experience, from maps to moves, bays to births, then didn’t it make more sense to think of them as emanating like heartbeats from hidden but potent waypoints up and down the King’s Highway? Was it possible that a mythic-imaginal geography permeated the physical?

Psychotherapy knows all about returns of the repressed: unhealed wounds repeating themselves symbolically in encounter after encounter and decade after decade. Could the traumas inflicted by conquest, exploitation, and loveless domination similarly punctuate the history of a stretch of troubled terrain?

The more I learned about the places where I had lived, the greater grew the sense of a persistent voice I could not hear; of old local traumas, ironies, and unlearned lessons passing in succession like a series of repeating billboards written in an indeciphered tongue.

It is not accidental that “home” and “haunt” share deep roots in Old English, that we speak of the home of an animal as its haunt, or that “haunt” can mean both a place of regular habitation and a place marked by the presence of spirits. Like scars, the spirits are reminders—traces by which the past remains present.
— Jack Turner

My researches included the discovery that no one had written a history of the mission cities and counties of California before, let alone one informed by recurring local motifs now known to terrapsychology as “placefield syndromes”: facts of the land which symbolize themselves into the minds and souls they interact with. We are not as separate from the places we inhabit as we like to believe. Obesity rates parallel the sprawl of fattening cities. A fortified border is not just a very tall fence: it also recurs as a psychic division, a cleavage of the heart, a spiritual dam, a cultural barrier, a split within the self, a political regression, and an ecological absurdity. The matter we would master enters into us at will through openings of metaphor and bridges of dream.

To my knowledge, no one had investigated the thematic resonance of place before, but in terms of my role I had years of experience. As I had been for my clients, so I would become for the coastal counties that had infected me: a wounded healer, an unveiler of shadowy narratives, a chronicler of their reenactments, and a breathing repository of themes both current and archaic decanted into the psychic spaces I made available, unknowingly at first, but now opened freely.

“To come alive again,” wrote Albert Camus, “one needs a special grace, self-forgetfulness, or a homeland. Certain mornings, on turning a corner, a delightful dew falls on the heart and then evaporates. But its coolness remains, and this is what the heart requires always. I had to set out again.” I had, at least, the homeland along with the resolve to initiate another recurrence: that of following the Mission Trail all the way up El Camino Real to listen more consciously into unburied pasts, into underground themes still pulsing in the shadow of what we like to call development (from words that mean both “enclose” and “expose”), a contemporary legacy of the relentless march of Cross and Sword.

Perhaps one spots a freshly fallen tree, or a bit of flaking paint, or a house where none has stood before—any disturbance, large or small, that inscribes the passage of time—and a place presents itself as bearing on prior events. And at that precise moment, when ordinary perceptions begin to loosen their hold, a border has been crossed and the country starts to change.
– Keith Basso

This book is a collection of California tellings arranged in chronological order county by county. Rather than laying down dead in a text caught in a fantasy of objectivity, they constitute a multidimensional history in the spirit of Nietzsche’s term “genealogy”: a quest through events, prime movers, Great Men, “facts of history,” ecological anomalies, character quirks, and other forces often lab-coated as causes to uncover the themes and images in motion behind them. Put simply, this book is less a case history of California’s edgy psyche than a “place history” set forth in a series of vignettes: briefly sketched deepenings into what has happened here.

As with most case presentations, woundedness will remain a chief concern as we move from city to city and county to county up the King’s Highway through emplaced, paradigmatic, and often ironic motifs whose echoes outlast lifetimes and defy monocular assessments. Our focus will not dwell on the self-congratulatory spires of Progress and Development, for example, but must linger with their unpopularized umbrae as we move an incident at a time from Baja through Alta to the terminus of the Mission Trail and beyond it to the hope for fresh sights and soundings that make for healing and an end to anguished reenactments.

Our wanderings upon the trail of Serra and Llorona move back and forth within magnetic lines of geography, trauma, biography, reverie, psychology, relationship—and myth, “myth” not as lie or fiction, but as collective manifestation of a storied presence beyond the daily ken. To describe Llorona as a mythic figure is not to declare her unreal (those who so regard her do it at their peril), nor does it reduce her to a byproduct of human thought. She is a ghostly, wailing psychic body, a tortured tissue of dreamstuff looking in on the maulings of malls and the damnings of dams, and transgressing at will customary notions of propriety, landscape, gender, and power. What she has to teach us awaits at journey’s end.

As for the architects of the historical and contemporary events described in these pages, some, like Cortés, were deliberate, ruthless opportunists, and some were not. There were missionaries who beat their “children” while others stood up for their rights. The missions founded and guarded to house the Indian converts were neither “concentration camps,” as Carey McWilliams has written, nor blessed outposts of civilized pure-heartedness, as the Catholic Church maintains even now against documented evidence to the contrary. Into the so-called New World rootless men carried new ideas and a measure of good will as well as diseases of body and mind. Whether their motives were akin to those of gentle St. Francis, nominal patron of a colonizing Order, or corrupt Alexander VI, writer of the papal bull of 1493 that handed a brave New World to Spain, what these true believers and wandering conquistadors did here lingers on to demand recognition, even to haunting us from within.

Starting out from a Prelude in conquered Mexico and Baja, we will learn the story of each mission town from its founding days onward, listening for themes and meanings and gleaning the symbolic from the factual as we feel our way into the past of each county—San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, and on up to Sonoma—whose colonizers still struggle in localized returns of the ecohistorically repressed. Quotations throughout highlight themes latent in the material.

History was part of the baggage we threw overboard when we launched ourselves into the New World. We threw it away because it recalled old tyrannies, old limitations, galling obligations, bloody memories. Plunging into the future through a landscape that had no history, we did both the country and ourselves some harm along with some good. Neither the country nor the society we built out of it can be healthy until we stop raiding and running, and learn to be quiet part of the time, and acquire the sense not of ownership but of belonging.
— Wallace Stegner

For these unhealed and highly symbolic events have not been left in the past, as the biographical material in each chapter will emphasize. Old motifs of wounding haunt our occupied territories—inner and outer—as persistently as Llorona haunts her children. In nightmares, symptoms, families, freeways, and barrios along El Camino Real, a contemporary Cortés still charges across a promenade, a resistance still greets the gold-seeking invaders, ideologies obliterate indigenous values, and Llorona still moans for a chance at redemption.

The men responsible for starting us along this five-hundred-mile trail are long gone, as are their most immediate victims. But the will to colonize—places, people, resources, economies, cultures, even gods—is no bygone relic of a less evolved era. It has grown clever enough to pitch for the planet and “the people”: for democracy, globalization, progress, even freedom (from a Sanskrit term for “to own”) in the totalizing campaign to enforce widespread dependence on rosy pseudo-worlds of pleasant fantasy. Yet, “The dream lives on,” notes Kevin Starr, former state librarian, “promising so much in the matter of American living. It also threatens to become an anti-dream, an American nightmare. Memory, then, must come to our aid; for while the recovery of the past can traumatize, it can also heal.”

A newly ecopsychological sensitivity informed by myth, history, and folklore must also remember an ancient human truth: those who alienate themselves from the natural world by attempting its domination always alienate and dominate people.

Disregard of the invisible landscape—and impressing change upon the physical terrain that anchors that landscape—forces psychic pain and dislocation on others, pounding flat those imaginative bumps by which they orient themselves and which give meaning to their worlds.
— Kent Ryden

California has ever been pictured as an exquisitely spiritual place—but one insisting that the spiritual ground itself in the earthly, in cool rivers and dank, tangled roots. In psychological terms this means taking our highest aspirations here with a healthy dose of sorrow, protest, humility, and absurdity, blending them soulfully in the cauldron of the heart. Only then, when the stories and themes have grown slowly within us, can we claim the authority to have heard even a little of what California has to say. She is many things, but I have yet to know her as silent.

The fictional Ramona of Helen Hunt Jackson’s sappy novel is our most well-known weeping woman, but she is in no danger of being our most vocal. Shunned everywhere else, Llorona has been invited to come forth from the shadows of the mission communities and haunt this work of hearing and witnessing, contemplate its stops along El Camino Real, and moisten it where needed with a few of her copious tears. For after all, our excursion moves not just into bright Californian daylight, but into the shadows too, where sightseeing must surrender pride of place to another mode of vision, namely: soul-seeing.

Table of Contents
Introduction: Setting Out Again
Highway’s Beginning: The Cry of Cihuacoatl
San Diego
Los Angeles
Santa Barbara
San Luís Obispo
San Benito
Santa Cruz
Santa Clara
San Francisco
Highway’s End: Sonoma
Afterwords: California Indian Voices

© 2004-2006 by Craig Chalquist. All rights reserved.

La Llorona image created by Carlos Encinas.

West of the West

Juana Alicia’s newest project:
“La Llorona” mural, San Francisco Mission District

http://chicanas.com/jalicia.htmlCome to the July 10, 2004 fundraiser at Mars Cafe! (pdf flyer here)

How you can help

Juana Alicia is presently creating a new mural, entitled “La Llorona” (“The Weeping Woman”) for the corner of York and 24th Street in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. This is the current site of her 1983 mural “Las Lechugueras.” Juana Alicia is currently raising funds to replace the deteriorating Lechugueras mural with the new Llorona mural.

In her imagery and practice of art, Juana Alicia attempts to break down traditional barriers between genres, media and categories, combining the personal with the political, the public with the private, to create images that are simultaneously decorative, educational, critical and celebrational. Her art often pays homage to ancestors and contemporary, living people. Through her paintings, artist and educator Juana Alicia seeks to create visions of hope by reflecting histories of both trouble and triumph. These images also project the possibility of asserting our highest human values in scenarios of a compassionate world. In the past twenty-five years, Juana Alicia has created over thirty murals and a large body of drawings, prints, paintings, mixed media and ceramics.

Although the Llorona Mural Project is a work of art, its “work” is to support environmental and social justice and raise awareness about water issues. The new mural will illustrate the effects of globalization on our natural environments, both urban and rural. The work reveals environmental conditions, crises and hopes shared by the local Latina/o, indigenous, and other communities of color who share the sacred ground we call The Mission. The planet and our physical bodies are composed mostly of water. Water connects and affects all of humanity and all life on the earth.

This mural seeks to educate viewers about the central importance of water in our lives, and about the crisis we face with regard to its scarcity and contamination. The mural will also celebrate the role that women play as caretakers of the environment, using as it’s central protagonist “The Crying Woman” of Mexican history and legend. The new Llorona mural, like her predecessor, will focus on women and environmental health and justice. Juana Alicia created the existing Lechuguera mural in 1983, and it is one of her most published works. It has traveled across the world as an image on book covers, postcards, posters, and via the Internet. Because the existing wall has deteriorated excessively, it will need to be resurfaced and this process will necessarily wipe out the existing work. Instead of re-creating it from “scratch”, the artist has elected to create a new, updated work on the topic of working women and the environment.

The mural has lent its message about the struggles of farm workers to many organizing struggles and has received wide exposure; Juana Alicia is satisfied that the Lechugueras mural has lived a long and fulfilling life! Las Lechugueras depicts the dangers of pesticides, factories in the fields of California, and the menace of the field bosses and immigration service while it honors the strength of Mexican women farm workers and the beauty of our natural environment. The new mural will address the worldwide environmental crisis over water. The new piece will celebrate as a heroine La Llorona, the much-maligned mythical Mexican woman who haunts the riverbanks in search of her lost children. For Mexicans and Chicanos, La Llorona is the protagonist in an oral history rooted in the conquest of Mexico. It’s a story that is still told to children today. There are many versions of the story, but over many generations, children have been warned to stay away from the river banks because La Llorona might capture them, mistaking them for her own children. Often it is said that she herself drowned her children in a fit of rage, insanity or despair, though other versions portray her as saving them from enslavement and conquest. In Juana Alicia’s mural design, she reclaims La Llorona as a heroine instead of presenting her as a crazed victim, which is frequently the case. In the image in the planned mural, La Llorona will be pictured in the act of saving her lost and “at-risk” children, and the river will be pictured as a source of life, beauty, and restoration. The mural features diverse scenes of environmental struggles over water: The U.S./México border; Cochabamba, Bolivia and the Narmada River Valley in India.

In the center of the composition, a thirty foot tall Chalchiuhtlicue (the Aztec goddess of the water), surrounded by clouds and mountain waterfalls, gives water to the world. The ancient lake Texcoco that once covered the Valley of Mexico emerges from the mists that make up her skirt. To the left of the goddess, Bolivian peasants defeat the fat cats of corporate domination in a fight for the water rights of their country, and to the far left, the farmworkers of India’s Narmada Valley hold a protest by refusing to leave their flooded homelands, threatened by an enormous dam project. To the right of Chalchiuhtlicue, we see the Llorona herself, embracing one of her children, while extending her hand to those still in the water. She revives the spirits of her children and preserves the planet for future generations. Behind her is the nopal, symbol of Chalchiuhtlicue, the cactus that flourishes, gives fruit and flower despite the harshest of conditions. Its secret is an internal reserve of water. To the right of the Llorona, the Women in Black of Juarez march alongside the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande), demanding to know what has become of the murdered daughters of the border. A maquila (border sweatshop) pours pollution in the background. , reviving the spirits of her children and preserving the planet for future generations.

The Llorona mural is a new addition to Juana Alicia’s body of work which bears witness to the deepest challenges of our communities, and to the marvelous potential of our imaginations to transform crises into triumphs of the spirit. Juana Alicia’s work can serve our local community and its organizations that serve our civil rights and equal opportunities as well.

If you would like support the Llorona Mural Project, you can do so in various ways:
  • Donations in any amount, can be made out to “The Women’s Building” (Juana Alicia’s fiscal sponsor), with a notation “for the Llorona Mural Project.”
  • You can donate services such as assistance with publicity, printing, fundraising, website building, or documentary film or video assistance.
  • You can volunteer as a project assistant, hauling water, washing brushes, bringing food and answering questions from passersby.

If you would like to support this project in any way, please do not hesitate to contact Juana Alicia at texcali@pacbell.net or see her website: http://JuanaAlicia.com

Bibliographical Resources for the Llorona Mural Project

  • Barlow, Maude and Tony Clarke (2002) Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water, New York, NY: The New Press.
  • Basu, Amria, Ed. (1993) The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women’s Movements in Global Perspective Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Davis, Mike (2000) Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City, New York, NY: Verso Press.
    Delgado, Richard and Jean Stefancic, Eds. (1998) The Latin@ Condition: a Critical Reader, New York, NY: New York University Press.
  • Galeano, Eduardo (1973) The Open Veins of Latin America. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.
  • Louie, Miriam Ching Yoon (2001) Sweatshop Warriors: Immigrant Women Workers Take on the Global Factory, Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
  • Macy, Joanna R. with an introduction by Thich Nhat Hahn (1999) World As Lover, World As Self, , Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
  • Nelson, Barbara J. and Najma Chowdhury, Eds. (1994) Women and Politics Worldwide, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Ruiz, Vicky and Ellen Carol Dubois, Eds. (1994) Unequal Sisters: a Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History, 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Schultz, Jim (2002) “Bechtel Corporation vs. Bolivia’s Poor” The Democracy Center On-line. http://www.democracyctr.org/
  • Schultz, Jim (2000) “Bolivia’s War Over Water” Earth Island Journal, Fall 2000 Vol. 15, No. 3.
  • Sen, Rinku, Ed. (1995) We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, United States Rural Mission of the World Council of Churches. Geneva, Switzerland: WCC Publications.
  • Shiva, Vandana (2002) Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution and Profit, Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
  • Shiva, Vandana (1999) Stolen Harvest: Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Return to Chicanas.com


Yonder Lies It


Yonder Lies It

The little migra in every US Xicano

February 20th, 2007


I have always had trouble believing am a Xicano. No matter that the evidence points to the fact that I am just that.

This has become even more apparent for me here in Europe. the Nordic corner, isolated from Aztlán. Being away from the motherland has proven a sky that raineth a mana of ideas. I started out by declaring myself a 187 exile. The first Xicano in Exile driven away by Pete Wilson and his conservative tirade of this and that of the likes of me. Then I wrote. I wrote and I discovered the real Xicano in me through the written word.

This has proven quite productive because xicanismo is closely tied to language. I am fortunate to love language so in the process of peeling the core that I had in proper Aztlán, using language as a peeler, I discovered layers of myself that I figure I would not have otherwise managed to put in evidence to the naked eye of the I. Through my language [read: English, Spanish, Spanglish, Espanglish, the southwest dialect] I learned who I really am. I found my roots. Being away from the American psycho identity dominatrix that usually sadomasochistic fellows like me tend to bed with gave airs of freedom unknown. It was a breath of fresh air away from the stars and stripes which hangeth upon us like a Democles sword.

We xicanos tend to prefer the gringo in us because it is just the gringo in us which makes us. And because some of us understand only that side and use our mexican heritage like a mourning gown we never take of we react naturally to anything that threatens this ‘identity’. Though this theory is hardly embraced because it means that Aztlán lieth not in one nation but precisely in the being of two de facto lands. So don’t expect people to nick away in approval at the latter exposed idea.

Little is known about the degree of gringoness in each in one of us. We discuss this not because doing so would mean too much differentiation rendering atoms a mere metaphorical image. So while we spouse in all glory all México we seldom do so our American side. Yuck say some. Too pocho, too gabacho.

We don mexican heritage like a perennial día de los muertos affair, in all earnest. Although some xicanos drape themselves in their mexicanness like a fashion gown, alas! their appearance or self image, shallow like a dead river bed, doth needeth a cork. This gringo alienates us from one another because as gringo nature is we feel different. The kind of different that says am better than you. An am and you world which builds canyons the like of the Grand one. It is a fact which cannot be denied. Tis easy to lay claim to Aztec culture and ignore the rest. Tis easy to lay ink to flesh temples of the Maya when Geronimo, so close yet so far away from Quetzalcoátl, remains in the sands of the Sonora Desert surrounded by the silence of time.

I, for example, have been excluded from my so-called brethren from both sides. My brethren xicano infected by Manifest Destiny from Los and my xicano brethren infected by mexican nationalism who are yet to realize how xicanos they are.

I feel the difference like a slight scent of garlic because am not fully Mexican and because am not fully American. That is my most natural state. A state that perhaps ensued in me a quest for learning to command the whip which castigated me the most, language. So I learned to command what the land gave me as a birthright. And this difference became even more apparent. I went below the shallow.
I was born in Tijuana. Of recent I have reached a sort of compromise with myself. I say am a xicano tijuanense. Un xicano de este lado. That is, a Xicano which is not born in the US.
By adhering to this formula I allowed myself to become closer to my own surroundings. That is, I saw that which nurtured me whilst I breathed Geronimo’s sand through nostrils filled with muck from other lands. Santa Ana winds cleared the way.

Off course it still irritates me to be xicano in the vicinity of my gringo cousins because though I speak english I am not a US citizen. Here in Sweden they a saying about Germans: there is a little Hitler in every German. I can say this about my gringo Xicano cousins: there is a little migra in every US born Xicano.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Surya Namaskar


Chant to accompany Surya Namaskar

Om Hram Mitraaya Namah Salutations to Mitra, the bestower of universal friendship

Om Hrim Ravaye Namah Salutations to Ravi, the bestower of radiance

Om Hrum Suryaaya Namah Salutations to Surya, the dispeller of darkness

Om Hraim Bhaanave Namah Salutations to Bhaanu, the shining principle

Om Hraum Khagaaya Namah Salutations to Khaga, the all-pervading

Om Hraha Pushne Namah Salutations to Pushan, the mystic fire

Om Hram Hiranyagarbhaaya Namah Salutations to Hiranyagarbha, the golden colored one (who brings healing)

Om Hrim Marichaye Namah Salutations to Marichi, the light

Om Hrum Aadityaya Namah Salutations to Aaditya (an aspect of Vishnu)

Om Hraim Savitre Namah Salutations to Savita (Savitri) the impeller

Om Hraum Arkaaya Namah Salutations to Arka, the remover of afflictions

Om Hraha Bhaaskaraaya Namah Salutations to Bhaskara, the cosmic brilliance


Friday, March 30, 2007

What Is Terrapsychology?

Craig Chalquist, MS PhD


For the last five hundred years of Western history, environmental research has confined itself primarily to looking at the world from the outside, through a screen of self-interests, numbers, theories, and data. Whether prompted by profit, curiosity, fear, or concern, this heavily quantitative style tends to frame the world as an object and ourselves as detached observers of it.

Yet every culture, including ours, has insisted throughout its pre-industrial stages that the world—including the sky, the air, the sea, and particularly the land—is alive, reactive, and very present to what human beings do upon it. From kami to lorelei, naiads to dryads, the Navajo Changing Woman to the Neoplatonic World Soul, every local folklore reflects what the Greeks and Romans knew as the genius loci, a resident “spirit of place.”

That such animated images have been depreciated as mere projections or primitive superstitions says less about indigenous or rural psychology than about an economically and colonially vested need to see the land as an exploitable resource and ourselves as above it, masters rather than dwellers or guests. Nevertheless, they recur time after time in place after place. Artists, poets, naturalists, nature healers, and wilderness guides have born frequent witness to the strength of this influence of the surround. So, finally, has psychology as it extended outward from inside the person to inside the family and beyond with constructs like the transference (Janet and Freud), the psychological field (Lewin), intersubjectivity (Stolorow and Atwood), the relational matrix (Mitchell), and ecopsychology.

Terrapsychology seeks to hinge the two great traditions of inner and outer knowledge—the richly animistic and the empirically scientific—by listening into the terrain and its features and occupants without losing what more external knowings can tell us about them. Put simply, terrapsychology is the deep study of the animated presence, or “soul,” of locale, made visible through deep connections with the human interior. It treats the places and things below and around us as psychological presences in a widely flung field.

It is precisely the power of these connections that the market- and conquest-driven Western habit of self-world mind-matter dualism has obscured. But if they inhabit our psychological field—and their persistent reappearance in dreams, symptoms, folklore, recurring motifs, and unhealed local histories suggests that they do—then we share an ongoing but nonvocal dialog with the things around us. Consider the following examples of this:

  • A man residing in a city heavily militarized in his absence discovers otherwise unanalyzable qualities of defensiveness and guardedness showing up in his relationship with a long-term resident.
  • A woman working in an oppressive, conflict-ridden institution realizes that she and her coworkers unknowingly repeat a 150-old local historical drama whose key player bore the same name as the institution’s.
  • A graduate student researching the designs of petroglyphs scattered around a present-day bombing range discovers carved images shaped like bombs, jets and explosions—images carved hundreds of years before the invention of missiles or aircraft. Indigenous locals attribute these parallels to the presence of the Thunderbird deity.
  • Another student preparing to visit a county he’s never been to dreams about it the night before his trip. The word “contaminated” occurs throughout the dream. When he arrives at the place, he finds this motif everywhere, from polluted bays and streams to invading species and underground oil spills.
  • In a small sample of interviewees asked about their experience of some sacred or meaningful place, all unknowingly describe it as though it were a soothing, healing, or mentoring person.
  • Shortly before a tsunami strikes, five tribes move inland to avoid a flood that destroys their villages. One medicine leader claims that the god responsible for the deluge warned him in a dream.

The tribalist says that the natural world acts like a community of living beings. The geologist says that natural disasters like tsunamis come from measurable seismic movements. What if both are partially correct?

From the mainstream perspective, the examples above seem superstitious in their evocation of a soul or spirit of place. But this perspective fails to distinguish between literalized animism—explaining meteorology or other natural events as being caused by a spirit or arcane force—and the inner experience of these events as animated, ensouled, and full of significance. That places and things act as though alive need not conflict with explaining them outwardly as Western science normally would. How we experience them depends on the mode of consciousness available: literalistic and externalized, or symbolic and interpretive.

The uncanny aliveness of the locations we inhabit seems to be the rule rather than the exception. It’s as though what the conscious mind sees as dead places and things, the unconscious reacts to as animated presences and metaphors. Borderlines and borderlands, polluted bays and polluted moods, personal complexes and apartment complexes all seem to resonate together. This should not surprise us. Not only can events in the world symbolize aspects of the human self, those aspects in turn point back to the features of the world that evolved our minds.

Terrapsychology aims to bring these resonances more fully into consciousness by using the psychological field in which they surface to listen in on parallels between human and ecological wounding and well-being. Rather than reducing one to the other, the method honors the fully interactive nature of placefield motifs—recurrent themes common to people and place—as multidimensional, interdependent, intersubjective, and symbolically connective and meaningful. In fact, given the “transferential field” they inhabit with us, we interpret them much like the images of dreams, where even the most literal facts carry symbolic impact.

When local events are reexamined as linked to our interior depths by motif and metaphor (the language of the unconscious)—in other words, as though they possessed their own subjectivity, inwardness, or psychical aspect—then a fortified border is not just a very tall fence: it also recurs as a psychic division, a cleavage of the heart, a spiritual dam, a cultural barrier, a split within the self, a political regression. Instead of a psyche confined to human heads, we behold an ecology of the heart, where verdant landscapes moisten verdant souls. The matter we would master enters into us at will over bridges of image and dream.

How is terrapsychology different from ecology or environmental psychology?

Terrapsychology follows the example of deep ecology and depth psychology by looking below the surface of obvious connections between persons and places. Mainstream studies show a high correlation, for example, between rates of obesity near expanding metropolitan regions, whereas a terrapsychological question would be: Do we need a new concept, obecity, to describe an unconscious but bodily registered connection between urban sprawl and expanding waistlines?

Is terrapsychology scientific?

In terms of “science” narrowly defined as a search for causal relationships, the answer would be no, but humanistic and transpersonal psychologies have pushed for broader definitions. To extend Abraham Maslow’s remarks about studying the uniqueness of individuals to the uniqueness of places and their features: If what we discover does not fit a particular idea of science, “then so much the worse for that conception of science.”

What kinds of research does terrapsychology conduct?

Because current quantitative and qualitative methods tend to split self from world, we are fashioning our own blend, called Terrapsychological Inquiry, which draws on phenomenology, hermeneutics, ethnology, naturalism, geology, geography, collaborative inquiry, and various techniques from depth psychology to put the presence of place directly into the foreground.

Can you prove that matter possesses qualities of subjectivity?

Not with purely quantitative methods. They can’t even prove that we possess a subjective life. Search for it and all that appears are neurotransmitters and complex nervous networks. No hidden vital principle, no homunculus pulling the strings anywhere, and why? Because subjectivity is not a locatable thing to be detected from without. It is the felt interior of matter: the “within” of everything, as Teilhard de Chardin expressed it. The more complex or "brainy" the matter, the more differentiated the subjectivity. Looking for a source of subjectivity with such crude instrumentation is like leveling a yardstick at the symphony-ghost floating in the space between stereophonic headphones. It breaks the basic engineering rule of “the right tool for the right job.” The terrapsychological view is that the right tool is the psychological field: using the researcher’s subjectivity to explore the subjective properties of a given location.

Do you investigate things like ley lines, morphogenic forces, vibrations, etc.?

Not usually. Aside from what’s mentioned above about the limits of quantitative methods, the thesis that places and things occupy interactional fields with us makes force explanations unnecessary. If a housing development or a forest are resonant, integral parts of someone’s psychological field, then looking for lines of force or energies stretching between them and the person’s psyche is less fruitful for us than uncovering more symbolic, transferential connections. Discussions of forces and energies also tend to be what analyst Heinz Kohut referred to as "experience-distant." We don't invalidate any of that, but we try to keep within the range of what we can sense and feel.

What are some of the benefits of this kind of investigation?

All who have done it feel closer to the world, to things, to the places where we live. They have come to be like persons to us. As a result of this interior connection, we are less willing to see our surroundings wasted and destroyed, and more willing to educate each other about the losses of sanity and joy and embodiment that parallel losses of air, water, and land. Human and ecological health, wholeness, and justice can not be legitimately separated.

We also find ourselves less inclined to unknowingly repeat, become entangled with, or otherwise act out themes of local or historical wounding. It sounds paradoxical, but the very expansion of consciousness that allows reassessment of local doings as psychical facts somehow detaches us from the shadows they cast into the human psyche. The materialism of an unconscious identification with the environment, the very regression indigenous psychology has been accused of being stuck in, gives way to an intersubjective dialog. It’s rather like the difference between knowing and loving an animal well—prizing its uniqueness, respecting its needs—and babying it to death, looking down on it, or covertly reinforcing its barking or biting.

Deep ecologists, naturalists, and bioregionalists have spoken and written at length about the need to reinhabit our surroundings, to live in them consciously and caringly. Wendell Berry’s observation that we Americans still have not truly arrived in America speaks to the need for this sense of emplacement, of being still long enough to feel connected and responsible. Terrapsychology engenders this while demonstrating how the what of our surroundings also tends to approach us as a who.

Terrapsychology: Reengaging The Soul Of Place

- Spring Journal Books -