LINDISFARNE CAFE – MEMOIR
Building a Dream, The Shadow Side:
Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997, Part Two
Looking at Lindisfarne, Arcosanti, the Rocky Mountain Institute with Amory and Hunter Lovins, or the Meadowcreek project with the Orr brothers, our shadow was intellectual feudalism. We had turned on the spiral in McLuhan’s process of cultural retrieval and reanimated the Manor of the Laird and the crofters. But America, under Reagan, was going in the opposite direction of neomedievalism and was about to play a game of industrial chicken with the Soviet Union. Through tax cuts, massive defense spending, and huge deficits, America was going to go mega and prove to the Russians that their economy would collapse before ours would.
Think back on the time of Queen Elizabeth when she used Francis Drake’s piracy to negate the power of the land barons and through a combination of world trade, crime, war, and a secret government with its secret police, she created the centralized state. Both the English and the Dutch were forging the iron and carbon of capitalism and war to create the hard steel of the modern nation-state.
As FDR proved again in World War II, a modern economy needs an enemy to inspire and sustain it. The triple circulation of capitalism, war, and organized crime as secret government was the heart, lungs, and brain of the new American body-politic.[i] And until we have a scientific economy that does not require an enemy to sustain it, we will not be able to move forward. James Lovelock has suggested that the “Greening of Mars”–in which we build up slowly the planet’s cyanobacterial foundation for life–could be such a project. A meta-industrial village of symbiotic cultural-ecologies of life was not possible in the pickup truck and parking lot culture of drive-in religious centers of Crestone during my life-time, but as contracdictions of global capitalism continue to play themselves out, there is no way of telling how climate collapse will affact the little and large biomes and the biosphere.
If I had called for the shadow to be part of the design structure from the very beginning, I was absolutely trumped by Reagan, Bush Sr., Cheney, Rumsfeld and Company whose shadow cartels and “Deep State” invisible government formed a kind of capitalist al Qaeda.
The Republicans had mastered the Italian Renaissance art of turning government into organized crime, and then recycling it for public consumption as an evangelizing civic religion. That Cheney Rumsfeld Bush and Company and al Qaeda—as mirror-images of one another—divided the world between them spoke volumes about how the world of the modern middle class democratic nation-state was coming to an end.
It is fair to say that in the seventies I was a hopeless romantic, as long as one also realizes that the Romantic poets can teach us more about the complete phenomenology of the Industrial Revolution than the elected members of Parliament at the time.
The 1979 Lindisfarne conference expressed the movement outward from the Batesonian ecologies of mind to ecological design. Once we had finished the Lindisfarne Fellows House in 1982, we invited the Fellows inside for a large conference—around 100 people—concerned with the theme of the land and the politics of ecology. Maurice Strong took part in this meeting, so this conference for him was ten years after the 1972 conference in Stockholm that served in the founding of the UN’s Ecological Program, and ten years before the Rio Summit of world leaders on the global environment.
In the presentations of Paul Sears, David Ehrenfeld, Gary Nabhan, and such Lindisfarne Fellows as Hazel Henderson, Wes and Dana Jackson from the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas; Wendell Berry from Port Royal, Kentucky; Amory and Hunter Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, John and Nancy Todd from New Alchemy on Cape Cod, David Orr from the Meadowcreek Project in Fox, Arkansas; Jim Lovelock from Cornwall, and Sim Van der Ryn from the Farallones Institute in northern California, Maurice Strong was treated to the visions of the alternative movement, undiluted by bureaucratic NGO’s and government agencies.
Maurice was impressed with our gang and told me so. One of the construction crew also told me that he was stunned as he saw all the people he had been reading for the last ten years gathered into a single living room. But the image of that meeting that remains with me many years later is the image of Gary Snyder and Jim Lovelock hiking up to Willow Lake in the next ridge above our 8000 feet location and discussing nature and science together. Like Wordsworth atop Mount Snowden in The Prelude, or Petrarch atop Mount Ventoux in Provence, here was the poet atop the mountain, not alone in contemplation but in conversation with the atmospheric chemist who had articulated the Gaia Theory. For me the alchemical bringing together of the opposites of poetry and science was what Lindisfarne was all about.
The initial 1979 Lindisfarne conference on solar architecture did immediately what Maurice Strong wanted Lindisfarne to do, and the local Alamosa newspaper had an article that read: “Lindisfarne brings outstanding thinkers to Valley.” We had taken the first step in what would be a decades-long journey.
The next to join us in Crestone were the Carmelites from Sedona, Arizona. Father William MacNamara and Mother Tessa Bielecki told me that they agreed to come to Crestone because Lindisfarne was there. Then came the Aspen Institute, but they left after a few years, and the Center was given over to Colorado College in Colorado Springs to serve as its ancillary campus. Then through the work of Hanne Strong came four Tibetan Buddhist centers, both Nyingma and Kagyu, a Sri Aurobindo House, a Jain Center, and a Harikan Baba Hindu ashram.
Unfortunately, the fundamentalist Christians and theocratic Dominionists in the Valley were outraged at this invasion of New Age syncretism, and they began a campaign of demonization and vilification that still goes on. Two of the rumors that they circulated on the other side of the Valley in Del Norte and Monte Vista were that the Rockefellers and their “New World Order” were planning on instigating a global nuclear war and shifting their world headquarters from Manhattan to Crestone—which considering all the beautiful pieces of real estate the Rockefeller family had in Hawaii, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Caneel Bay in the Virgin Islands, was truly ignorant gossip; and the other was that Lindisfarne was practicing human sacrifice of young virgins in its Lindisfarne Chapel.
I guess because the Lindisfarne Chapel, instead of being a Bible box with a pulpit for sermons, was round and had an oil lamp on top of a 300-year-old millstone from the Hispanic village of San Luis in the Valley at its center in place of an altar, the fundamentalists felt we had to be up to no good, and the only no-good they could imagine for the millstone was, not a reference to Hamlet’s Mill and the 25,920 year cycle of the precession of the equinox,[i] but human sacrifice. We received all kinds of crazy hate mail and death threats, so the San Luis Valley made Manhattan look like a warm and loving community.
Our 1979 Lindisfarne conference in Crestone had such high energy that I decided to continue the program on sacred architecture that I had begun in Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan by establishing a regular summer school for architects who were bored with building suburban houses and strip mall shopping centers. Keith Critchlow, Robert Lawlor, John Michel, and Rachel Fletcher served as our founding faculty, and professional architects and students came from all around the country.
Keith Critchlow was an inspiring lecturer and he soon attracted a devoted following. To supplement this program, I organized more conferences on ecology, Pythagorean philosophy, and—to show the locals we were not heathen—a conference on Christianity to which I invited Dean James Parks Morton from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, Mother Tessa Bielecki, and our local Baptist minister. And, in a spirit of neighborly co-operation, I also agreed to attend the local Evangelical Christian men’s breakfast and prepare my own recipe for blue corn crêpes for the entire assembly.
The split down the middle of Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan that had pulled the anti-modernists to one side and the new scientists of complex dynamical systems to the other became a large fault line in Crestone. Keith Critchlow and I had very different visions for the Lindisfarne Chapel, as Keith was more inclined toward creating a Christian Mosque in which the entry could be consecrated to ablutions and ritual and was so awash with esoteric symbolism that a simple chapel soon became a New Age rococo cathedral.
Keith wanted a large structure that would seat 360 people and have twelve windows. I wanted a space of radical emptiness in which there were no rituals and no cultural icongraphy, only silence and geometry. When I saw that the tiered system of petals I had originally designed for the floor was looking too much like a neo-Hindu lotus temple of syncretic religious kitsch, I rejected Keith’s design and personally redesigned the Chapel to make it more of a simple Southwest kiva rather than a New Age temple. I eliminated the entry room that Keith wanted for rituals of ablution and substituted a simple adobe wall to begin the definition of the space, leveled the tiered floor, and put in simple terra cotta bricks, but still keeping a logarithmic sunflower spiral pattern that was so loved by Keith and emphasized in his lectures.
To this day, the Lindisfarne Chapel is not finished. The glue lams at the top of the dome and the copper roofing all need to be completed to finish this project that began thirty-six years ago. But the beautiful interwoven lattice of beams that Keith Critchlow created for my circular design and that Tony Hunt engineered is still there and the Chapel is constantly in use for Crestone Mountain Zen Center’s summer guest program.
Architecture, unlike poetry, is an expensive art, and sacred architecture is an even more costly expression of striving for an ideal in a real world. I had no idea of what I was getting into when I decided to begin Lindisfarne’s cultural program with the School of Sacred Architecture. Maurice Strong tried to warn me, and insisted that his donations be restricted to the more practical construction of the Lindisfarne Fellows House that was to serve as the conference center for the meetings that were Lindisfarne’s strength.
I felt that the Chapel would actually draw a new energy to the area and serve to express what Lindisfarne’s post-religious spirituality was all about, so I insisted on continuing with the project. I had no idea that the Chapel would actually cost a half a million dollars, as the architects and builders kept insisting we could do it by building it ourselves for one hundred thousand, so I went ahead.
But even unsacred architecture can be costly and go five or ten times over budget—famous examples of which are the Brooklyn Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. (Of course, like many people who have lived in New York, from Hart Crane on, I might wish to include the Brooklyn Bridge under the category of sacred architecture.)
So my commitment to the School of Sacred Architecture and the Lindisfarne Chapel meant that I would have to divert all our funds to support this program. Ironically, as it turned out, that meant there would be no money to sustain me at Lindisfarne as a scholar-in-residence whose books and lectures could serve to give expression to what Lindisfarne was all about.
After three years the enthusiasm of beginnings began to wear thin for Maurice as he fell on hard times with a global downturn of the oil business and his holdings in general, so he needed to cut back on his sustenance, and since other religious groups had arrived in Crestone, Hanne Strong needed to help them get established. In the American culture of venture capital and philanthropy, there is a widely shared philosophy that one should serve to aid a start-up, but if after three years or so, it is not self-sustaining, then one should cut one’s losses, and seek other projects that can be more attractive to capital formation.
Lindisfarne in Crestone went into a period of contraction, with just one or two people living there in the winter, and my wife Beatrice led me to follow her to Bern, Switzerland where, with her Swiss degrees she was able to get a teaching position to support us and educate our young son in the public school where she worked.
William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He describes his writing and speaking style as “mind-jazz on ancient texts”. He is an astute reader of science, social science, history, and literature. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.
His book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems was published in 2009 by Wild River Books. Order a copy from Amazon.
Works by William Irwin Thompson
Memoir – Farewell Address at the Lindisfarne Fellows Conference
Memoir – Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne: 1972
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part I
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part 2: A Community in Fishcove, Long Island
Memoir – Building a Dream – Part One: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – My Dinner with Andre Gregory: Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, 1977-1979
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Shadow Side Part Two: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Cathedral Part Three: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Conclusion: The Economic Relevance of Lindisfarne
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary: Reflections of a Homeschooling Parent
Memoir – Sex and the Commune
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary
Memoir – With Gregory Bateson’s Mind in Nature
After Heart Surgery: Hokusai’s Great Wave
A Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Nancy Grayson’s Bookstore
On Reading “The Penguin Book of English Verse”: on my iPad and Exercise Bike
Wild River Books/Poetry – Nightwatch and Dayshift: Cezanne
Anatolian Days and Nights and the Cultural Evolution of Spirituality
And the Votes are In: The American Elections of 2010
Avatar – When Technology Displaces Culture
Bedtime Story for a Civilization
The Big Picture: Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The Big Picture, II
Child Abuse and the Catholic Church
The Digital Economy of W. Brian Arthur
From Shamanism to Religion, Part Two
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality, Part Three
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality: Conclusion
January 1, 2011: Reflections on the Philosophical Notions of Republicans
January 6, 2011 – Part Two: The Etherealization of Capitalism
Nature and Invisible Environments
Of Culture and the Nature of Extinction
On Nuclear Power
On Religion – Part One
On Religion and Nationalism: Ireland, Israel, and Palestine
On Transnational Military Interventions
A Pagan Ur-Text of the Lebor Gebála Érenn
Part 1 – The Shift from Industrial to a Planetary Civilization
Part 2 – The Shift from an Industrial to Planetary Civilization
Part 3 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The Recovery of a Cosmic Orientation
Part 4 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – The Global War for Drugs
Part 5 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The New Jerusalem
Part 6 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Catastrophes as the Spur to Institute Tricameral Legislature
Part 7 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Complex Dynamical Systems and Tricameral Legislatures
Part 8 – The Shift from a Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Israel and Palestine: Sic transit gloria mundi
Part 9 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – On Sarah Palin and the Technocratic Society
Part 10 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – On Conspiracy Narratives as Expressive of the Transition from the Nation: State to the Noetic Polity
Part 11 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Global Awareness and Personal Identity
Part 12 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Conclusion: The United Nations
Political Meditation for the Fourth of July, 2011: Can We Shift from Empire Back to Republic?
St. David’s Day, 2011, Technology and Social Change
Saint Patrick’s Day, 2010: Us and Them: Identity and the State
Some Reflections on Hurricane Sandy and an Outline for a New Civilization
Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism
Television and Social Class
Thanksgiving Day, 2010: The Uses and Abuses of History
The Elections of 2010
Thoughts on My new Kindle App: on My Mac iPad