LINDISFARNE CAFE – MEMOIR
Building a Dream/The Cathedral Part Three:
Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
To contribute to our support and put my son Evan through Amherst College, and my daughter through Trent University and the University of Toronto, I traveled and gave lectures around the country, and in Toronto, Halifax, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt, Hanover, Oslo, Kyoto, and Heraklion, Crete; and, as well, served two twelve week terms as a Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Throughout the eighties and up to 1996, I continued to organize Lindisfarne Fellows Conferences and conduct a Lindisfarne Symposium at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. These Fellows Conferences included a public symposium on Gaia with Lynn Margulis, and a conference on the proposed Bioshelter for the Cathedral with the architect Santiago Calatrava.
The architectural project of a Bioshelter of trees atop the Cathedral of St. John the Divine–a project that brought the talents of Santiago Calatrava, John Todd, and Paul Mankiewicz together–never materialized. It remained a work of conceptual art of the “the Green Dean’s,” James Parks Morton.
The scheme was just too expensive, and when Calatrava realized that the project would never rise aloft, he lost interest in the Cathedral and the visionary projects of Lindisfarne and only attended one of the meetings of the Lindisfarne Fellows. As a world-class star architect, Calatrva did not need to waste his time on hippie fantasies and shifted to more fundable projects like the train station for Lyon, the Art Museum for Milwaukee, and the Path train station for southern Manhattan.
But while the Lindisfarne Fellows were still at work on the project and riffing together across disciplinary lines, I proposed a project of “Electronic Stained Glass” for the Bioshelter and organized in 1992 a concert performance of Ralph Abraham’s Visual Math Institute from Santa Cruz in which three mathematicians played algorithmic music on computers that looked more like stringed instruments and harpsichords than HAL.
With visual transforms of invisible micro-structures of time projected onto a large screen set up on the high altar of the Cathedral, it was not your ordinary concert, and we had a large and very interested audience of artists, designers, media experimenters, and a generally hip scene of the sort of people you would expect to see at a La Monte Young piano concert in Soho. But I must confess that after a while, the cellular automata began to look more like a child’s kaleidoscope to me than an electronic cosmic rose window –especially if one was not stoned.
My idea for “Electronic Stained Glass” for the Bioshelter was that we would use James Lovelock’s electron capture device to read the changing atmosphere of the visitors’ breaths in communion with the trees and plants, and then transform these through the use of computers into musical and visual analogues on large panels set into the walls. As well as presenting this completely interactive art, I proposed that the Cathedral or Lindisfarne should commission various musicians and artists to compose works for this array of panels of electronic Stained Glass. With John Todd’s miniaturizaion of the Creation in his “Living Machines,” and Paul Mankiewicz’s waterfalls of liverwort moss to cool the walls, we would add Baudelaire’s “forest of symbols” to the trees atop the largest cathedral in the world.
One of the characteristics of the shift from matter to electronics and virtual cultures is that some ideas remain as quantum potential states and do not collapse into the actualized causal sequence of events we call reality. Permanent institutions become “things” of the past and are replaced by concerts of ideas. Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, and Lindisfarne-at-the-Cathedral, and even James Morton’s whole twenty-four year tenure as Dean from 1972 to 1996 were just such concerts of ideas.
Architects are used to having their hearts broken by love affairs with buildings that are never granted the kiss of life, and I as a writer am happy that I need only pen and paper to write poetry and essays, but I do sigh and feel a sense of loss for all the projects I attempted but failed to realize–from the educational community in Southampton to Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan or the meta-industrial village for Crestone, Colorado. These physical incarnations of the Lindisfarne Association proved to be, not permanent institutions, but time-bound concerts. In this sense of the temporary and the temporal, one could say that the Lindisfarne Association was my generation’s anticipation of the Burning Man gatherings in the Nevada desert.[i]
One concert of ideas that had a little more lasting impact than my other projects was the 1981 Lindisfarne Fellows Conference at the San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm. For this gathering—and for which I had to sell my Jeep to get the money for the airfares—I chose to bring three groups together that had never met to see if a larger moiré pattern would emerge from their overlapping.
The first group was the theoretical biologists of self-organizing systems, Heinz von Forster from the San Francisco Bay Area and Henri Atlan from Paris, the second was the School of biologists in Santiago, Chile of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, and the third was the proponents of the Gaia Hypothesis James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis from England and New England respectively.
We came together as a group of about forty people in Green Gulch’s Wheelwright Center in the living room space I prefer for intellectual discussions. Present in the room to listen and participate were Heinz and Elaine Pagels, Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, and the musician Paul Winter.
From the inspirational impact of this meeting, Paul composed his Missa Gaia, and Lynn Margulis made Maturana and Varela’s theory of “autopoiesis” part of her theory of symbiosis and acquired genomes.
And I, for my part, was inspired to write my poetic cycle of “Gaian Cosmologies” and my 1989 book, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science. Looking back over his life’s work in Franz Reichle’s feature film Monte Grande, Francisco Varela credits Lindisfarne with having had an enormous impact on his scientific work. And in considering my own writings, I tend to think that this particular conference was one of our very best.
When I arrived at the small apartment that Beatrice found for us in Bern in 1982, I set down my briefcase, looked at the table and said: “I have to write a novel.” I had never thought of writing a novel before, and this announcement was as much of a surprise to me as to her.
This was the time before laptops, and Beatrice’s wedding present to me had been one of those tough, durable, steel Olivetti foreign correspondent-style portable typewriters. Throughout that winter of 1982-83, I became possessed with the novel. I wrote 600 pages on this small Olivetti, but the writing felt more as if I were channeling the akashic record than creating fiction.
I would break down, sobbing in pain, as I wrote about the rescue of the children, and all my repressed rejections of the authoritarian side of the anti-modernists came exploding out. At the time, I had not known that the guru of sacred architecture, Schwaller de Lubicz, so beloved of Robert Lawlor, was an anti-Semitic member of a French fascist group, or that the Islamic side of Keith Critchlow was closer to René Guenon’s rejection of modernization than it was to me and my working class democratic sympathies for William Blake and Walt Whitman.
Naively, in Crestone I had felt that if it was sacred, it had to be good. And though I loved the poet Kathleen Raine dearly as a friend, Kathleen was a monarchist and felt there should be a caste system in which poets were supported by a laboring class that could enable the more sublime poets to work in peace and quiet on great estates devoted to the arts.
When Kathleen returned to England, inspired as she said she was by Lindisfarne, she founded her Temenos Review and its subsequent Temenos Academy, and it would be the Prince of Wales who became her patron and who continues to support Keith Critchlow and the Temenos Academy. But as an Irish-American born into the working class in the Depression, I was two revolutions–American and Irish–away from any sympathy for monarchy, religious hierarchy, or right wing cryptofascist cabals.
All of this came out through my novel Islands out of Time as soon as I got distance from Crestone. Dial Press in New York published the work in 1985, and like an exiled Jazz musician in Europe I began to be appreciated more over there than in the States. For this work I was awarded the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986, and there appeared an English paperback edition in 1987 and a German paperback translation in 1989.
Islands out of Time expressed a kind of organ transplant rejection of the hierarchical and Platonic sacred geometry I had sought to transplant from London to Crestone. And the book I wrote alongside it in the eighties in Bern, Pacific Shift, expressed my shift from rigid medieval geometries to the contemporary geometrical phase portraits of behavior in chaos dynamics. In the mind jazz manner in which I like to riff with other intellectuals in small ensembles, I now began to play accompaniment to the U. C. Santa Cruz chaos dynamics mathematician Ralph Abraham, whom I met in Los Angeles in 1985.
Through Pacific Shift, I became known to Andra Akers and her Los Angeles-based group International Synergy, and she invited me to lecture there, and at her home, she introduced me to the chaos mathematician Ralph Abraham. As I began to read Ralph’s essays, I finally understood what I and Lindisfarne had really been all about—all the way back to my undergraduate honors thesis in 1962 with its toddling steps to articulate the shift to Gregory Bateson’s circular causality and complex dynamical systems. Out of this collaboration with Ralph was to come our designs for the cultural history “Evolution of Consciousness” curriculum for the Ross School.
So in the middle eighties I began to drop my emphasis on the planetization of the esoteric, and let the Buddhist/Christian dialogue carry on by itself, as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was conducting annual conferences on this theme at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Instead, I shifted my focus to science and through Lindisfarne Fellows Conferences at Perugia, Italy, Esalen Institute in Big Sur, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in the late eighties, two large conferences in Crestone in the early nineties, and a concluding conference at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I worked to articulate the scientific side of Lindisfarne through meetings with Ralph Abraham, Mary Catherine Bateson, David Finkelstein, Stuart Kauffman, Tim Kennedy, Jim Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Susan Oyama, Evan Thompson, John Todd, Francisco Varela, and Arthur Zajonc.
In the eighties, Laurance Rockefeller had given grants for the Lindisfarne Chapel, but in the nineties he began to be more of a spiritual godfather and personal helper. When I had tried to interest Laurance in Crestone in the early eighties, he had been focusing on his larger donations in the order of twenty-five million dollars for the Center for the Study of Human Values at Princeton and the Sloan Memorial Cancer Center in New York. But around 1992, he began to take a stronger interest in Crestone and the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. Laurance never visited Lindisfarne in Southampton and Manhattan, but he came out every year to Crestone, on his way to the JR Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He gave donations to Mother Tessa and the Carmelites, to Hanne Strong and her Manitou Foundation, to Lindisfarne in Crestone, and in our new symbiotic association, to the Crestone Mountain Zen Center. Laurance also donated funds to Joan Halifax-roshi and her Santa Fe Upaya Zen Center, and helped work out an exchange of properties in which Baker-roshi transfered his Dharma Sangha facility in Santa Fe to Joan Halifax-roshi, I transferred our land and Lindisfarne Fellows House to Baker-roshi, and Laurance built a new log cabin home for me on five acres around the Lindisfarne Chapel that Lindisfarne was to retain as a kind of organelle within the organism of the Crestone Mountain Zen Center.
The symbiosis, however, did not work out, and Lindisfarne could not continue as a mitochondrion within the larger eukaryotic cell of Crestone Mountain Zen Center. I became violently allergic to pinyon sap and pollen and had to leave.
In my absence caused by this illness, Baker-roshi took over my cabin without consulting me and made it into his personal family home. The artworks Baker-roshi didn’t like—such as inexpensive reproductions from the Book of Kells–were thrown out, and my furniture was scattered among the student and guest rooms. When finally I did come back in 2005, I remember seeing a poster I had brought back from the Rietberg Museum in Zurich tossed on a woodpile in the workshed. The large frame and the glass had cost more than the poster, but now the glass was cracked and the brass frame broken. Baker-roshi didn’t like cheap art posters or reproductions, and one of the points of contention with his sangha in San Francisco arose over his purchase of expensive original works of art that ended up in the three personal homes he maintained in the city, in Tassajara, and Green Gulch Farm in Marin County.
In Crestone, Baker-roshi also built a traditionally carpentered Japanese Tea House for his study, but he continued to use my old study in the “tower” of the stone house as a place to store his books and take naps. In essence, Baker-roshi was living again in three houses on the property Lindisfarne had transferred to him in 1988, but his students were living in single rooms or adaptations of waterless garden Tough Sheds. And even these three houses were not enough to hold all the stuff Baker-roshi owned, for he had to buy two storage sheds to hold all the paintings, tea bowls, statues, and designer furniture he had accumulated over the years in his compulsive acquisition of objects and things in his pursuit of Emptiness.
When I came back to try again to live there in 2005, I was assigned one of these waterless huts, and when I asked if I could use the bathroom in his Japanese Dokusan House next door while he was away in Germany, he explained that the abbot’s space was sacred and that only his servant could be allowed to enter when he cleaned it or brought him tea. In exasperation at this form of psychic inflation and mystification of hierarchy, I exclaimed: “I have given you five bathrooms and you are telling me you can’t share one! I didn’t donate this place to you so you could carry on like the Lord of the Manor with the peasants living in shacks.” Baker-roshi was incensed that I would dare challenge his supreme rule, or seek to undermine his authority in front of his students.
In this expression of one of the Seven Deadly Sins, Superbia, Baker-roshi was very much like Chogyam Trungpa rinpoche in Boulder and Eido-roshi in New York. But the problem of my living within a cult run by a psychically inflated guru eventually sorted itself out. Due to dehydration within my waterless cabin and living at high altitude, my kidneys collapsed and I had to be hospitalized, first in Alamosa, then in Santa Fe. Although I had fought and won a battle with Maurice Strong to secure the senior water rights for the Lindisfarne land, Baker-roshi won this battle over water closets, and my challenge to his autocratic mode of ruling the community was successfully eliminated. Cults cannot hold together without the mystifications of a supposedly enlightened guru. In his form of psychic inflation and narcissism, Baker-roshi was no different from Yogi Bhajan, Eido-roshi, or Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Ironically, when I was in the near-death state of kidney-collapse while sitting in my chair and practicing yoga nidra—the yoga of sleep and dreams—I had the experience of entering a hypersphere of light and cognitive bliss that Christians would call God and Buddhists would call Buddha Mind. As I came out of this state, I realized that enlightenment was the default setting of the human mind. If one subtracted perception and discursive thinking from the mind, one experienced this foundational Mind of Light that Baker-roshi had mythologized into his “I have got a secret” presentation of Enlightenment.
Enlightenment isn’t a secret that will be opened to you in mind-to-mind transmission after thirty years of obedience to a Zen Master, it is the natural, essential, and foundational condition of the human mind. The ordinary human being is simply distracted by the perception of objects, habitual patterns of thinking, and the grasping feelings of desire. The much less mythologized and less pretentious approach of Vipassana Buddhism and Joseph Goldstein’s Insight Meditation groups seem to me to be a more healthy and democratic approach to Buddhism for Americans than Baker’roshi or Trungpa’s foregrounding of Japanese and Tibetan medieval cultures and their elevation of the Absolutism of the teacher. “Zen? mais c’est moi!” was certainly Baker-roshi’s self-serving non-self philosophy.
I had no one to blame but myself for my failure to understand the nature of Baker-roshi’s approach to sangha. At Lindisfarne at Fishcove in the seventies, Reb Anderson now one of the abbots of the San Francisco Zen Center, had confided in me that Baker-roshi had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his High Priest silk robes because he insisted on having only those robes that were made by National Treasure artisans. Only what was good enough for the Emperor of Japan was good enough for Zentatsu Baker-roshi.
At Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan in 1978, I organized a dinner to bring the San Francisco Zen Center and the New York Cathedral of St. John the Divine together to celebrate Lindisfarne’s bicoastal activities. I personally cooked the meal of Greek food for fifty people and set the places to make Baker-roshi, Dean James Morton, and Nancy Wilson Ross the guests of honor. Baker-roshi never showed up, because on the spur of the moment Mick Jagger had invited him to go to his rock concert in the Meadowlands in his Rolls Royce. This so-called enlightened man with no ego was so thrilled that like an ecstatic teenager jumping up and down in excitement, he jumped at the opportunity. And I was left to wonder, staring at the empty chair, what had happened to him. My wife Beatrice told me that should have been sign enough for me and I should have dropped him from the Lindisfarne Fellowship then. But I was dumb and overly impressed with the theatrics and robes of Zen. Years later when Baker-roshi married Her Royal Highness the Princess Marie Louise von Baden and was invited to have tea with the Queen in Buckingham Palace, I listened to Baker’roshi’s bragging report and remembered the occasion with Mick Jagger and the Rolls, and began to wonder about why he always talked about no-self but had the biggest ego of anyone I knew.
The con-man, like the Wizard of Oz, needs a stage-set and a costume, and Baker-roshi certainly was the best con-man I ever met and he did indeed con me into thinking he was some sort of Enlightened Being who could read minds in Dokusan. But if Zen is simply a technique for staring at nothing until you can you suspend thinking and sensory-motor activity to achieve the default setting of the mind as “the Mind of Light,” then even I could claim to be “enlightened” and could have set up Lindisfarne as a cult with me as its leader, but to prove that Lindisfarne was a We and not a Me I had established the Lindisfarne Fellowship.
The experience of Enlightenment may be simply a natural, brain-based phenomenon, or not, as the Dalai Lama claims. I have no way of getting out of myself to prove the question one way or another. A cognitive scientist would say that because I was in a near-death state from dehydration and kidney-failure, I naturally experienced deliriums and felt I was out of my body, entering a hypersphere of Divine Light, for this was the nature of my personal imagination. Joe Six-Pack in the same situation might have visions of driving a Ferrari or making love to Christina Hendricks.
Cognitive scientists can reasonably claim that the Asian religions have simply mythologized this experience of Light into Enlightenment to advance their agenda in a medieval lust for hierarchical power. The proof for this scientific contention can be seen when the so-called enlightened being gets up from the cushion and returns to being the same old selfish and egocentric jerk he was when he sat down–only now he was a much more pretentious and psychically inflated jerk—a narcissist in the case of Baker-roshi, a lecher in the case of Eido-roshi, and a drunk in the case of Trungpa rinpoche. Trungpa was able to con his followers into thinking his lechery, drunkenness, and delusions about establishing a Buddhist theocracy in Nova Scotia–and printing its own currency in advance–was a Buddhist and shamanic Bonn manifestation of “Crazy Wisdom.” In religion, you get the guru you deserve.[i]
When I moved back to Crestone, it was a move of desperation, for I was broke from a whole Lindisfarne career of living without an adequate professional salary to support myself and my family, and I needed to find a place to retire in my old age where I would not have to pay the expensive rents of Cambridge and Manhattan, but could live simply on my Social Security in a contemplative center. I had hoped that the contemplative center I had built might be an appropriate place for me, but these conditions of dire necessity were not the right reasons to live in the sangha of the Crestone Mountain Zen Center. There are homeless people everywhere, but filling monasteries with the homeless and unemployed is not the right use of these centers devoted to a demanding and traditionally based esoteric practice.
Countless people besides Reb Anderson, mostly women, had tried to warn me about Baker-roshi, but I did not pay sufficient attention to them, and thought that he had reformed after his scandalous exit from San Francisco Zen Center. But it is characteristic of the narcissistic personality that it cannot admit error and always blames others. As I listened to and believed Baker-roshi’s endless narratives of innocence and complete self-vindication for his actions in San Francisco, I was taken in.
Perhaps it was for the best in the long run, and twenty-five years from now the Crestone Mountain Zen Center will still be there, but under a more balanced and benign leadership. Perhaps the much more congenial Christian Dillo will prove a more modest and compassionate leader than Zentatsu. I like to think that both Baker-roshi’s grasping and collecting of objects, and my continual loss of them were being used by the Guardians of the Dharma for a higher purpose that will not become visible in either of our lifetimes.
Under Laurance Rockefeller’s plan for co-operation between the Lindisfarne Association, the Crestone Mountain Zen Center, the Santa Fe Upaya Zen Center, and the California Institute of Integral Studies, Lindisfarne was to conduct an annual conference of the Fellows in the original stone Lindisfarne Fellows House that Sim Van der Ryn had designed. To stabilize the whole project, Laurance paid for re-engineering the water and utilities for the campus and provided the funds for carrying on with the construction of the Lindisfarne Chapel, and built the log house for me in my retirement. As Laurance and I sat in the completed house, he said: “Well, Bill, you’ve got your cabin the sky.”
In the gatherings inside the Lindisfarne Fellows House at the new Crestone Mountain Zen Center, it became clear to all that Lindisfarne was embodying a noetic polity in much the same way that the artists and scientists of Paris had embodied one as they gathered in their cafés like Le lapin agile. Michael Murphy, the founder of Esalen, approached me at one of these gatherings, his eyes aglow with that extraterrestrial Walk-in radiance he has, and expressed how uplifted he felt. I remembered back to our first conversation about counterfoil institutions at the wine bar of his Esalen Institute in the summer of 1967, a quarter century before. All had not been in vain.
The troika of Baker-roshi, Joan Halifax-roshi, and me ran very well at the start, and Joan contributed greatly to several of the Lindisfarne Fellows Gatherings. I divided my time from 1992-1995 between my new log cabin home in Crestone and serving in the winter to spring as Rockefeller Scholar at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. During that time I gave 42 public lectures for the Institute—lectures that became my book, Coming into Being: Texts and Artifacts in the Evolution of Consciousness.
At long last, after twenty years of work, the efforts were beginning to pull together and make sense. In the 1994 Lindisfarne Fellows Conference, I surveyed the group and felt grateful that I had been able to conduct these gatherings for an entire generation, from 1974 to 1994. With the lectures of Tim Kennedy and Evan Thompson, I had actually been able to pass the torch from one generation to another. I had homeschooled Evan at Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, and Tim had taken part in my Lindisfarne Symposium at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine while he was still a graduate student at Columbia. With Stuart Kauffman from the Santa Fe Institute for the Study of Complex Systems, Ralph Abraham from U.C. Santa Cruz, and Francisco Varela from CREA at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris all present in the 1994 meeting, I felt that Lindisfarne had lived up to its founding goals. The program for Biology, Cognition, and Ethics that Francisco Varela and I had initiated in Kyoto in 1985—thanks to a grant from Billy Wood Prince and the Prince Trust in Chicago—was now inspiring a whole new generation of young post-docs through Evan and Cisco’s work in Paris and Toronto. The waters of the rivulet of Lindisfarne had hit and moved aside a rock of reductionist scientific materialism and now other streams were joining together in a much larger watershed.
The growth of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in the mid-nineties seemed to signal a general shift in the countercultural movement in the United States. C.I.I.S., which had been established by Haridas Chadhuri, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, had originally been an Institute of Asian Studies founded on Sri Aurobindo’s vision of Integral Yoga. It was always hard pressed for funds, and was in danger of going under completely when Laurance Rockefeller came to its rescue with a donation of several millions. Robert McDermott, who was a student of the philosophy of Aurobindo and had a given a course of lectures on him at Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan in 1976, became the president of the new institute–renamed the California Institute of Integral Studies—and helped it become an accredited graduate school with a strong faculty giving graduate degrees in psychology and philosophy.
Along with Robert McDermott’s shift to C.I.I.S. came a general shift from independent institutes back to the university and the degree-granting academic world. The New Alchemy Institute and its spin-off Ocean Arks were no longer the central focus of John Todd’s work in biological design as he began to work for the Institute of Natural Resources at the University of Vermont in Burlington. David Orr gave up on his Meadowcreek Project in Fox, Arkansas, and became the Dean of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, and Sim Van der Ryn shifted his energies away from the alternative Farallones Institute back to his architectural practice and his professorship at the School of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. And Arthur Zajonc and David Scott began to work on the design of a Center for Integrative Learning and Action for the Five Colleges at Amherst, Massachusetts. So my serving as Rockefeller Scholar at C.I.I.S. for three years and working on the design of a new evolution of consciousness curriculum for the children of the Ross School in East Hampton, New York seemed to indicate that as the year 2000 approached a generation of experimentation was ending and that the university as an institution was going to absorb whatever changes or innovations it felt were appropriate to its traditional mission. Concurrent with this educational shift was also a shift in the popular religious sensibility, as fundamentalism in all the major religions began to express the spirit of a new time. Clearly, my efforts to articulate a postreligious spirituality for a new planetary culture would have to wait until fundamentalism and neoconservative capitalism had failed to deliver the Good and the goods.
Lindisfarne, New Alchemy, Farallones, and the Meadowcreek Project all subsided after a generation of work because these “alternative” institutions were exhausted from the unending work of fund-raising. Lindisfarne died for lack of funds every year of the twenty-five years I kept it alive by an act of will. Enough funds would trickle in slowly from philanthropists and foundations to keep the Gaian visionaries at their work, but the real money still went to the major leagues of Harvard, MIT, and Princeton. By contrast to the small funds given to Lindisfarne or Meadowcreek at that time, from the seventies to the nineties, enormous funds went into the Neocon think tanks—the Hoover Institute, the Project for a New American Century, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute—and the academics who co-operated with this rising wave found themselves well rewarded and swept up into influence and power. The handful of powerful men—billionaires like Rupert Murdoch—who controlled the media not only owned the tabloids and cable networks, but also the major publishing houses like Harper Collins; so intellectuals and cultural philosophers who did not go along with the system often found that their books were either not reviewed or accepted for publication in the first place. And as for the state universities, investment in sports replaced investment in the humanities, and cultural figures became celebrities who were spotlighted to distract the country and keep us thinking about personalities and not ideas. Traditional literary figures moved onto the reservation of Creative Writing, collected their subsidy, and clung to the dying rituals of their increasingly artificial pseudo-literary cultures to vend their tribal wares in boutiques for tourists like American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner and Poetry. In the new dumbed-down America, if you couldn’t pitch your idea and flog your book with a joke and a slogan on Oprah or John Stewart in a two-minute slot, you did not exist.
In founding Lindisfarne, I had reached back into a historical Imaginary and invoked a mythic landscape of the decentralized Celtic Church, with its roots in an esoteric past that went back to megalithic stone circles and Hyperborean visions. The Synod of Whitby, with its mythical battle of the Celtic Church of John versus the imperial Church of Peter in Rome, was a symbolic displacement for the battle of the alternative, environmentalist culture versus the globalist culture of the multinational corporation—the Gaia Politique vs. the Neocon agenda.[i] But in becoming, as the Jungians phrase it, “possessed by an archetype,” I had also brought forth that archetype’s shadow, as well as its light. There were no cities in Ireland, and knowledge was stored in monasteries. But the single shamanistic abbot could not equal the societal power of a new civilization in which expanding populations and growing cities would become dioceses ruled over by a bishop, responsible to the bishop of bishops in Rome. The alternative movement of the seventies and eighties was similarly decentralized, and though various institutions like New Alchemy on Cape Cod, the Meadowcreek Project in Fox, Arkansas, and the Farallones Institute in Marin County, California could become sources of imaginative innovation, they could never become economically self-sustaining and always were dependent upon the fund-raising abilities of their leaders. Just as the Church of Rome swallowed up the Celtic Church of John at the end of the dark ages and the rise of medieval civilization, so within a single generation did the university reabsorb the works of people like John Todd, Sim Van der Ryn, David Orr, and me. It was in recognition of my shortcomings and those of Lindisfarne that I decided to honor the monastic impulse I had invoked and donated the land and facilities of the Lindisfarne Mountain Retreat to a monastery—the Crestone Mountain Zen Center.
With the needs of his new second family of wife and daughter in mind, Baker-roshi and his princess wife eyed my cabin above the Zendo and thought it was a shame to let it sit there empty, awaiting my return, a return that might never happen, and so they decided to take it over without consulting me. Laurance Rockefeller was upset at the wreckage of his plans for the cultural network of Lindisfarne, Crestone Mountain Zen Center, Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, and the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco and said to me in a mood of both anger and frustration: “Richard ends up with it all!”
My loss was indeed Zen Center’s gain. Dan Welch, the assistant Abbot, who had served as Lindisfarne’s first contemplative in residence in Southampton in 1974, told me on the phone in 2005 as we discussed my return and retirement that the apple trees Beatrice and I had planted in front of the Lindisfarne Fellows House twenty four years before were now giving fruit, and that the community was having applesauce for breakfast and apple cobbler for dinner. So, to take the longer view than one of personal possession, mine or Baker’roshi’s, I can now in old age sit back in my rocker–far away from Lindisfarne in Southhampton, Manhattan, or Crestone–and finally enjoy being as American as apple pie and Johnny Appleseed.
[i] See William Irwin Thompson, “The Meta-industrial Village” in Darkness and Scattered Light (New York; Doubleday Anchor Books, 1978).
[i] See Sim Van der Ryn, Design for Life (Gibbs Smith: Salt Lake City, UT, 2005).
[i] See the works of Peter Dale Scott, especially his American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection and the Road to Afghanistan (Rowman and Littlefield: (Lanham, MD and Plymouth, UK, 2010).
[i] See Wlliam Irwin Thompson, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light; Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981), p. 217.
[i] See Geoffrey D. Falk, Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, and Enlightenment (Toronto: Million Monkeys Press, 2009), and Michael Downing, Shoes outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center (Counterpoint: Washington D.C., 2001).
[i] See William Irwin Thompson, “Gaia and the Politics of Life: a Program for the Nineties?” in Gaia, A Way of Knowing(Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1987). For a discussion of the multinational corporation’s Disaster Capitalism, see Naomi Klein’s brilliant book, The Shock Doctrine (New York: Henry Holts & Co., 2007).
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