Joel Glanzberg, a teacher and tracker familiar to recent attendees of the Minnesota Men’s Conference, his regional projects, and community support groups writes to us from the Four Corners area of the American Southwest. His story, like his work in permaculture inspires us to track our way back from what we see around us to our roots in unseen worlds, from where, like ancestral cultures, we climb out again—properly oriented to this world—and giving thanks to all our relations.
~ mark gardiner
Seeing the Unseen World
Standing amongst the stepped roomblocks, towers, subterranean kivas, and terraced plazas high up the canyon wall in an enormous alcove just below the rim of Mesa Verde a woman wondered aloud, “Why didn’t they just level everything?” My wife at the time whose Pueblo ancestors had built these places replied, “Because they saw and lived in a world of many levels.”
Mesa Verde Cliff Palace Kivas
Their creation stories tell of repeatedly climbing from one world and emerging into one after another, like a hatching chick emerging into this world of light and air to be fed by her parents until she outgrows the nest, fledges and flies off into yet another.
The land here speaks of layers and levels. The changing colors in the sandstone record the changing tilt of the earth and the shifting source from which the sediments flowed. The ground climbs from the river valley climbs to the high benches that were floodplains of glacial rivers. Mesas step up to mountains’ skirts of lava flows and cliff faces stagger all the way to the summits. My friend Louie Hena from Tesuque Pueblo tells me this is the meaning of the spiral petroglyphs so commonly found carved into the rocks —each go round of the spiral is another level of the land in this four cornered bowl we call the Rio Grande Valley.
Snakes and Ladders
This is the way of the living world—constantly evolving, developing, de-veiling. This is why the old stories, the deep ones, speak of other worlds, beneath the waters, above the clouds, under the ground, in our dreams.
This ladder of worlds appears also in the Thanksgiving Address. The speaker and listeners direct their attention and appreciation in turn to the People, the Earth, the Waters and waterlife, Plant life and on up through the Animals, Trees and birds to the Winds and heavens and all that lives there. If you do not have time each morning to say the entire address there is a phrase in Mohawk that I’m told is very sacred which means: “layer upon layer” that can be said instead. It is the pattern not the content that matters.
Spruce Tree House Kiva
Physicist David Bohm (whose doctorate dissertation was the basis of the Manhattan Project here in Los Alamos even though he could not participate because he was an avowed Communist) spoke of three levels of worlds: the Explicate order, which we see, touch, and feel, the Implicate order which is the unseen basis of this physical world, and the Supra-implicate which is the source of everything. Each level can be understood by what can be seen in the world that springs from it.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
This is the basis of tracking: seeing the unseen with the mind’s eye by reading the tracks it left in passing. Geologists see epic movements of the Earth from looking at landforms and the rocks at their feet. You are doing it right now, seeing the movements of my mind through the tracks they left upon this page. We all spend much of our time seeing the tracks of invisible worlds but are mostly unaware of the lives that left them and so they remain unseen.
As Robert Bly pointed out, our biggest problem is that we are too literal. We do not see that there are many levels of meaning and significance to everything. This is the gift of story, song, and poetry, but only if we let them have levels of meaning and not nail them to the cross of Cartesian boxes—the purely mechanical physical Newtonian world. The rack on which Sir Francis Bacon threatened to torture Nature so that She would reveal her secrets, wrung out of her mystery in favor of a reality where mass, velocity, and force are enough to predict all outcomes.
Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) by Salvador Dali, 1954
But those shades of meaning hide very close at hand: in the shadows of our minds, like frightened children waiting to be seen so they can bestow their gifts.
Like other predators, our human eyes lie on the front of our faces. This allows a great overlap of our binocular fields of vision and our ability to perceive a visual depth of field. Deer, mice, and other prey animals do not perceive three dimensions well with their eyes because they are placed on either side of their heads to increase their field of vision. Focusing merely on screens, pages, and surfaces our natural perception is wasted. It reduces our multi-dimensional reality to a flatland, as boring and predictable as the worst sit-com.
Tracking is the oldest art amongst humans. We came from the humus and so reading marks in the earth is second nature to us. It is like understanding our mother, reading her face for traces of stories, trails of tales, of the underworld and the heavens, the past and future, where to find cooling waters, where to wait for the magical deer to come to us, or finding the way to emerge into the next world. This is our human nature, our birthright, and salvation.
Patterns are the language of Life. This is why they are so beautiful to us – the spiraling shell or storm, the branching of roots and rivers, the concentric growth rings of wood and water. They speak to us in our native tongue, singing to us like returning salmon to the high mountain source of our birth stream.
Ignoring the content in favor of the pattern we see energies at work. The same patterns of energy spiral your cowlick and the water in your drain. This is their power: the same patterns apply across great ranges of scale and media and change occurs logarithmically rather than linearly. Learning how to create change in any system teaches us how to make change in any system. Tracking the patterns we can find the small change—the right time and place to toss just the right pebble—so that change rings out, not only across the placid surface, but down into the depths and up into the sky changing the entire system in an instant. This is the transformational power of patterns and how the living world of which we are a part moves from one world to another, climbing scaffolds of branching stories, layers of meaning, or spiraling whorls of worlds.
~ Joel Glanzberg