LINDISFARNE CAFE – MEMOIR
Building a Dream – Part One:
Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Two very strong experiences at Lindisfarne in Southampton determined my goals for the establishment of a new retreat and conference center in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. Both occurred at our bicentennial conference of 1976, “A Light Governance for America.” The first experience occurred in the small meditation room in the Lodge during the conference, the second occurred in our conference meeting room.
The “planetization of the esoteric” had been one of my founding goals in establishing the Lindisfarne Association. I wished to bring the esoteric knowledge and meditational practices of Yoga, Sufi’sm, Cabbalah, and Buddhism together as seeds with which to back-propogate a new kind of post-religious Christianity in association with a new and more participatory kind of Pythagorean science.
My inspiring philosopher for this Integral Science had been my teenage hero, A. N. Whitehead, whom I had read intently in the year I was recuperating from extensive surgery for cancer of the thyroid. Along my way in life I had also picked up new insights as I encountered the Vedic-Christian syncretism of Paramhansa Yogananda, the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, and the esoteric Christianity of Rudolf Steiner, and, finally, my own contemporary David Spangler. As the guest speakers of our 1976 conference gathered in a meditation room that was too small for our numbers, I knew I would have to design an architectural form that would be appropriate both for our numbers and our new intention.
As we sat on the zafus and zabutons, I looked around the room and felt a deep sense of satisfaction that we were coming closer to what I really wanted for Lindisfarne: not an intentional community collectively working out the neuroses we had acquired in the family histories of our personal lives, but a cultural vessel, a grail, if you will, for a new world manifestation.
In this small room there was Nechung Rinpoche and Gomeyn Keyn Rinpoche from Tibet, Eido-roshi from Japan, Baker-roshi from California, Thomas Banyaca from the Hopi Nation, Janet McCloud from the Seattle Indians, the Episcopal Bishop Chandler Sterling, Rabbi Herb Weiner, and the Catholic Cistercian priest, Father Basil Pennington.
But as we settled into the thick silence that often descended on us like a bell jar, I was startled when Eido-roshi stood up in his robes, moved to the low plank that served as a simple altar, lit a stick of incense, picked up a small Japanese hand bell, and began to chant in Japanese. Eido-roshi simply could not resist the temptation of priestcraft to try to own the experience for his tradition. I found this to be completely inappropriate. Why Eido-roshi and not Nechung-Rinpoche, or Rabbi Weiner, or Janet McCloud?
Would we have to go around the room in some absurd democratic gesture to allow every tradition present to play with its bells and whistles to say, in effect, that my tradition is bigger than yours. Besides, all that ritual theatre would simply postpone the real experience of the thickening of the silence. Instead of creating a post-religious epiphany, the space had become a religious Donnybrook—which, in case you are not Irish, is the place the tinkers get together, get drunk, and brawl.
As Eido-roshi finished his little theatre piece of religious appropriation, I looked around the room again and realized it was my fault as creator of the space. I had brought into the room religious artifacts that I had acquired as I had traveled around the world.
So there was a copper flask of Ganges water I purchased in Varanasi, a Buddha from Thailand, a Japanese handbell from Kyoto, a page from the Koran from Turkey that I had bought in London, and a large Eye of God from Toluca, Mexico. Instead of the fullness of a radical Emptiness, I had filled the space with the noise of sixties religious kitsch. Clearly, I would have to reimagine a new form, a Lindisfarne Chapel, that could serve as the vessel for this new post-religious epiphany of the sacred.
When we finally did get on with the silent meditation, the ineffable manifested, palpably. In the Christian tradition, there is the phrase that served as the foundational idea for the Church: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
In our daily group meditations, this sense of the thickening of the silence in which a presence filled the room became evident to us all, and it actually made it easier for us to live together and tended to tone down the noise of personality conflicts–although these never went away entirely. Even my son Evan, who was about eleven at the time, encountered this presence, though he did not describe the experience in Christian terms, as I had not raised him in the Catholic Church of my own childhood.
He sat with us for the usual forty minutes. When the bell was rung at the end of the session, we all filed out, but Evan remained sitting, and he stayed there for almost another hour. When I talked to him about why he had remained in the room, he said: “Oh, I heard the bell at the end of the sitting, but it was like it was at the end of the horizon and was the least interesting thing going on.”
Evan has always been more interested in Taoism and Buddhism, both in its Tibetan and Sri Lankan Vipassana traditions, and this childhood experience of the absorptive state of samadhi was how he experienced this kind of group meditation. Each person experienced it in his or her own way, and I tried not to put forth any religious language that would over-determine it.
In some cases, I could tell with certain individuals–from their body language–that meditation was for them an impossibly foreign experience and that they simply could not settle down and in, but that their minds seemed to race with inner dialogue and a fidgeting impatience for the period to end. For this sort of person, the exoteric physical activity of ritual–like the language of prayer and the up and down movements of the Catholic Mass or the Protestant singing of hymns–is their preferred approach to the presence of the sacred that connects the part to the Whole.
The second experience that came out of this 1976 Lindisfarne Conference was an exchange of their traditional prophecies for the end of our world-cycle between the two Tibetan rinpoches, Nechung and Gomeyn Keyn, and the Hopi spokesperson, Thomas Banyaca. These two Gelupa lamas, with Professor Robert Thurman present as their translator, were basically passing on the shamanic transmissions of the Gelpua Oracle of Tibet, and Thomas Banyaca was passing on the Kachina transmissions of his tribal Elders. The “planetization of the esoteric” that I had hoped for in setting up Lindisfarne as an “Association” had indeed taken place.
A similar goal had always been at the heart of Hanne Marstrand Strong’s attraction to Tibetan Buddhism and native American traditions. And when her husband Maurice Strong acquired the Luis Maria Baca Grant Ranch in the San Luis Valley in southern, Colorado, she knew as she felt the spirit of those mountains that she wanted to create there a place of refuge where all the sacred traditions of the world could come together at a time of their prophesied earth changes.
My path crossed with the Strongs even before we met. After Maurice acquired the controlling interest in the AZL Corporation in Phoenix, he toured the Southwest to take inventory of its real estate holdings, among which were the Angel Fire ski resort in Taos and the Baca Grande subdivsion in Crestone, Colorado. On this tour, Maurice and Hanne attended a meeting of the Hopi Elders in Arizona.
The traditionalists of “the Hopi Nation” were seeking more autonomy from the U.S. Government, which was always willing to sell out Hopi cultural interests to the Peabody Coal Company in the hopes of “economically developing” the Hopi community. The traditionalist Elders knew that Maurice Strong, through his position as an Under-Secretary responsible for founding the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) had also been instrumental in securing recognition of the Kingdom of Bhutan as a nation by the U.N. so as to protect it from being taken over by communist China after the manner of their violent conquest of Tibet.
The Elders felt that if Maurice could help the Hopi with their presentations to the U.N., then their culture too could be saved. As Maurice entered the room where the Elders were seated around a table, he saw that each participant was given a xerox of a three page interview with me in Time magazine from August 21, 1972. In this interview, I had mentioned the Hopi and their cosmology.
When Maurice returned to New York, he had lunch with Professor Saul Mendlovitz of the Institute for World Order, and as they discussed both Buddhism and ecology, Maurice asked Saul how he had come upon this mix of the two subjects, and Saul answered, “at the Lindisfarne meetings.” When the word “Lindisfarne” kept popping up as Maurice moved around New York–from the interview with me on theBill Moyers Journal, to meetings at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund or with Curtiss Roosevelt at the U.N.–he decided that I might be the right person to help him transform Crestone, Colorado from a failed and tacky suburban real estate development to a cultural center. If I were to hold my Lindisfarne meetings in Crestone, then Lindisfarne could be the string in the liquid salt solution that could serve to crystalize something more substantial for Crestone than the failed Baca Grande Phoenix-style subdivision. And, in fact, Lindisfarne did just that.
Our paths finally came together personally when we both were invited to speak at a solar village conference organized by John and Nancy Todd of the New Alchemy Institute and funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. I was asked to give the opening address for this conference and spoke on the need for meta-industrial villages in which we could miniaturize technology in order to scale nature up and scale down our physical impact on the environment.[i] After my talk, Maurice and Hanne took me aside, and Maurice said: “Lindisfarne is looking for land, well, I have a 150,000 acre ranch in Colorado. Come and choose the land you need for Lindisfarne.” Thus began a new and more cultural future in Crestone that still continues to this day.
John Todd, Mary Catherine Bateson, and I flew out to Colorado with Maurice, and Maurice and Hanne drove us from one end of their ranch to the other. John and Mary Catherine were Lindisfarne Fellows and also served on our board of directors, but they very graciously allowed me to choose the land in my own way using what I jokingly referred to as “my Druid Radar.”
I chose 80 acres on a shelf overlooking the valley at an altitude of 8000 feet that bordered on the all-year flowing stream of Spanish Creek. Behind us was a magnificent Chinese-looking peak with a dragon face that appeared when the angle of the sun and the shadows of the rock were just right. And behind this peak, the spectacular escarpment of the Needles and Kit Karson carried on up to an altitude of 14,300 feet.
To the south, one had the horizon of Mt. Blanca and the Great National Sand Dunes, to the west a view of the entire San Luis Valley and the Continental Divide of the San Juan Mountains, and to the north, a clear view of the next valley with its fourteeners of Mt. Princeton and the Ivy League range. One could see for 100 miles in three directions, and the backyard just went on up into the sky.
To build in the wilderness was, of course, another matter. On the human level, there was nothing there, so roads, water, energy, and materials would all have to be brought in. To make sure that Lindisfarne would not simply sell the property and head back to Manhattan, the terms of our donation from Maurice’s AZL corporation required that we had to carry on with an educational program for three years before the land was owned outright by Lindisfarne. And to secure a senior water right on Spanish Creek, I had to haggle with their lawyers for three years.
The next step in the development of the Batesonian “pattern that connects” Mind to Nature was to extend Lindisfarne’s interest in biology to architecture and ecology in a conference on solar architecture to decide upon the design for Lindisfarne in Crestone. I set to work on the project by organizing a conference with the leading architects of the alternative movement to choose among them who was to build the Lindisfarne Fellows House. I invited a whole leonine pride of solar energy architects to come to Crestone to offer their designs for ways in which Lindisfarne could dwell appropriately in that place.
It was in a series of lectures at Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan that became my 1978 book, Darkness and Scattered Light: Four Talks on the Future, that I first outlined the concept of “the meta-industrial village,” so Crestone in 1979 became an opportunity to embody this philosophy of using electronics to miniaturize industrial technology so that nature could be scaled up at the same time that industrial hardware was scaled down or completely made invisible. (This was, of course, before personal computers and the Internet and their enormous energy consumption for climate-controlling the Servers.)
In my opening talk to the architects I proposed that every structure—as well as every social organization—casts a shadow; so instead of waiting for the process of time to reveal that shadow in space,—the enantiodromia that turned an institution into the opposite of its founding vision that I had discussed in Evil and World Order–good design should accelerate the cultural process by making the shadow an integral part of the structure from the very beginning.
In essence, I was responding to John Todd’s concept of “Living Machines” by seeking to extend it into a realm of cultural phenomenology and not just bacteriology. Whatever the structure produced in terms of pollution should be made part of its metabolic structure from the start. A truly “green architecture” should be a symbiotic architecture of energy-production and pollution-consumption.
Obviously, we are still decades away from being able to achieve such a goal, but in places like Cape Cod, Crestone, and Biosphere II in Oracle, Arizona, people were beginning to take the first steps in this direction. At the end of the conference, I chose Sim Van der Ryn, professor of architecture at U.C. Berkeley, because he was willing to work with the land and me as the client to come up with a design that worked for all three of us.[i]
Sim chose a passive solar, earth-bermed house, and I insisted that it be built of rocks from the site, and the builder Michael Ogden from Findhorn chose spruce beams from local trees that had been killed by a recent beetle infestation. My wife Beatrice and I designed the kitchen, because we both had experience in cooking for large groups of people. And I designed the large living room so that it could serve for intimate living room conferences that yet could accommodate up to eighty or ninety people.
When I talked to Sim Van der Ryn about the kind of design I wanted for Lindisfarne there, I contrasted the imagined Lindisfarne Fellows House with the Earth Sciences Building by I. M. Pei at MIT. This building is a container that is imposed monumentally on the site as a kind of colossus expressing technology’s domination over nature. Strangely for a Chinese architect, Pei forgot about the wind. Feng-sui in Chinese means wind and water.
But this building by the waters of the Charles River forgot the wind as it arose on its two legs through which the wind funneled with such force that the secretaries had not the strength to open the doors to go to work. I guess in revenge for the architect’s locking nature out, the wind locked the people out.
Pei went from this commision to do the John Hannock building on the Boston’s side of the Charles, but the wind did not let up on him, and for months the wind was popping out the windows of this glass tower and hurtling them to the streets below. For Crestone, I wanted the mirror-opposite of this approach: not a transcendental celebration of technology, but an immanental form that participated with the landscape.
As a thought-experiment, let us consider what Lindisfarne would have looked like had it achieved all its goals. If one took the evolution of consciousness curriculum that I later designed for the Ross School in East Hampton, New York and put it together with a traditional American liberal arts college—only this college would have symbiotic architecture rather than educational Gothic—you would have the kind of educational community I had in mind in 1979.
If one adds to the educational economy, a vision of spin-off products and services that could generate income to sustain the educational investments, then you would come up with a more romantic vision of a meta-industrial economy that was appearing right at the time the mega-industrial economy was about to take over America with its Silicon Valleys and dot.com start-ups, or its MIT East Cambridge explosion of Genentech industries.
But there was a shadow to our social group itself…
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