"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"

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Taos, New Mexico USA







                 "THE REGIONAL IMPERATIVE"

                A Speech given for Colorado College at Tutt Library

                                                         By Frank Waters

                                   July 28, 1985



        I think no one is immune to a faint flutter of butterflies in the pit of his stomach when he returns to that particular spot on the Earth where he had his beginning.  This region, from its short-grass plains to its western mesa and mountain slopes below its majestic peak, is the one I am privileged to call my birthplace.

        My pleasure in returning here to Little London, to my old neighborhood on Shook's Run, and to Colorado College, is enhanced by a warm welcome from this city, which certainly has grown up since I was a newsboy.  This is a high honor indeed.

        The purpose of my visit is, of course, to attend the last Sunday session in a series devoted to discussions of my various books.  Such generous consideration of my writings I cannot properly acknowledge.  I can only thank those so skilled in the art and craft of literature who presented talks and papers.  Most of them are old friends -- Alex Blackburn, Tom Lyon, Charles Adams, John Milton, Marshall Sprague, Dean Glenn Brooks, and Janet Le Compte.  I am especially grateful to my long-time friend Joe Gordon of the Southwest Studies Program who hatched this Sundays series and somehow inveigled its notable speakers to contribute their own work.  Lastly I am indebted to President Riley and Colorado College itself for sponsoring it.

        So you see this program owes its life and interest to a wide range of individuals in and out of Colorado.  I hope all of you have gained much from it.  I know I have.  The thorough going-over my writing has received has revealed to me shortcomings I never suspected; and that while my sights have been set high, my aim has too often been off center.

        My feeling for this region suggests the subject of my talk, "The Regional Imperative”.

Our Mother Earth

         It is a truism that man was born of the Earth.

        Both have a long biography; the life of our planet goes back 4.6 billion years, man's began about three billion years ago.  Biologists tell us that life here began with the formation of organic molecules from the gaseous atmosphere which envelopes the globular Earth.  Photosynthesizing bacteria in the primeval oceans added abundant oxygen to the atmosphere.  Then began the slow formation of individual cells and multicellular organisms, followed by that miraculous parade of plants and animals we call biological evolution, and by the first appearance of the human species.

        Concurrently the planet Earth was also evolving into the geological conformation we now know, through cataclysmic changes, continents rising and sinking, and high mountains heaving up from deep sea floors.  It seems that the evolution of Earth was synchronized with that of man.  The transition of life from water to land marked one of the great stages in this long process.  Yet all intelligent life forms, even whales and dolphins it is said, evolved on land and returned to the sea.

        How alike they are, Earth and man!  Each maintains an even body temperature and an equilibrium among the primary elements of water, air, earth, and fire.  There can be little wonder that from ancient times man has considered himself the microcosmic image of the macrocosmic Earth.  Water is the main constituent in both their bodies; blood is man's liquid flow akin to that of water throughout the Earth.  Both flows are in tune with the phases of the Moon and sensitive to the influences of all of the planets.  Man breathes eighteen times a minute or 25,920 times a day.  This relates him to the great 25,920-year cycle of the precession -- the time it takes for the vernal equinox to move through the circle of the zodiac.  For every eighteen breaths man takes there are seventy-two beats of the pulse, just as the arc of the ecliptic moves exactly one degree every seventy-two years.

        How then can we doubt that the Earth, like ourselves, is a living organism pulsing with the same universal life?  Since ancient times all of Indian America has so regarded it, in contrast to Anglo America, which considers it merely inanimate nature available for exploitation.  What a beautiful residence Mother Earth has been for all of her children, and how varied are the land masses of this only planet known to support life.  Lofty rain forests, thick jungles, wide plains, rolling prairies: every continent, each area, has its distinctive rhythm, mood, and influence which reflect in the lives of its human inhabitants.  The drum beat of native Africa differs from that of Indian America, yet modified as they are by their locality, both echo the pulse of their common Earth.

  The Regional Imperative

         The ancient Incas who lived along the spine of the Andes Mountains believed that their primal ancestors were separated into small groups.  Each group was placed in the direction of the area its future tribe would populate and given the distinctive dress its descendants still wear today.  Such long traditions of man's allegiance to one small portion of the Earth -- which I call the regional imperative -- were worldwide when mankind remained thinly spread in small, isolated groups.  As these groups increased to clans, tribes, and nations, men no longer gave allegiance to the Earth but to the great military empires, religious dynasties, or political governments which ruled their lives.  Today the world's human population has increased to some five billion, and the regional imperative has changed to racial, religious, and national imperatives with their accompanying hundreds of warring factions.

        These groups' common Mother Earth has borne the brunt of their economic, social, and military rivalries.  We are seeing the destruction of vast areas on Earth's surface, pollution of its atmosphere, contamination of its waters, and among ourselves widespread crime, terrorism, revolutions, and the mounting fear of annihilation by global nuclear war.  The world is not a pleasant or even a safe place to live anymore.

A Planetary Imperative

          Mankind must realize that it cannot continue to be fragmented into the destructive social entities which demand its sole allegiance rather than the regional imperatives that once bound each to small homelands.  Yet it does not appear likely that any legislative or military measures can end our divisiveness.  It will take a full realization of our dire need, a new way of thinking, to unite us in one effort.

        So it seems essential that we, as one great body of humankind, take another step forward and regard the entire body of the Earth as our one planetary imperative in order to save it from further ravages.  In light of present political dissension and social upheavals, this enlargement of perspective might first appear to be a utopian pipe-dream; but I think it is in the cards.  Mankind has been forced to take many quantum leaps in the past, and we and the Earth will survive this catastrophic era together.

        Our increasing explorations of space suggest another alternative: that we may be ready to abandon our planet for greener pastures on another undetermined speck somewhere in interstellar space.  Science fiction and NASA have been enthusiastic about this idea.  An astrophysicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has predicted that by the year 2050 a seed population of one million people will inhabit the reaches of the solar system, and that after five-hundred years one-trillion people will exist in space beyond the solar system.

        I cannot believe mankind is ready to abandon this global home on which it began to evolve some three billion years ago.  We are so integrated with it that we are carrying our planetary thinking and earthly conceits into space.  Already we have taken golf clubs to the Moon and are preparing to extend our earth wars into "star wars."  We are still umbilically connected to our Mother Earth, no matter how far from it our machines may carry us.

        Our expanding awareness of the nature of the universe seems to indicate that it is structured on one cosmic principle, from the galactic to the subatomic world of matter.  Each molecule within the living body of the Earth, and each cell within the living body of man, is said to be informed with some degree of consciousness which contributes to their composite consciousness.  If this is true, then all of our planets contribute to the unfolding consciousness of the solar system, and it in turn contributes to the consciousness of the galaxy which encloses it.  Then, indeed, the great goal of all the interconnected living systems from cell to star is the eventual attainment of universal consciousness.  In this transcendent pattern of evolution, we can perceive the gradual rise of the Earth's inherent consciousness through its successive mineral, plant, and animal forms, each manifesting a higher stage.  Upon us now, Earth's highest developed life form, rests the responsibility to perceive ever clearer its ultimate cosmic function.

        Man's own evolution is marked by neither his technological achievements, marvelous as they are, nor by the succession of ever larger societies, communist or democratic, but by periodic expansions of his human consciousness.  Our evolutionary journey from molecules to cells, to composite organisms, and to human beings with cerebral intelligence, has also been a rising movement toward ever higher consciousness.  Today, I believe, we are beginning to experience another periodic expansion toward a psychic, universal consciousness which will supersede our rational, terrestrial mode of thinking:  a quantum leap, as I suggested earlier, toward a new perspective inspired by a planetary imperative.  


A New Perspective

                 Accepting the idea, the possibility, of a planetary imperative requires that we look at the world in a way new to most of us: with a holistic, geomantic, or cosmological perspective.  Modern scientific studies tend to show a grid system or network of energy lines covering the Earth.  At the junctions of these lines are nodes of power comparable to acupuncture points on a human body.  Many such sites are oriented toward the solstices and equinoxes, the planets and the stars.  Their influences affect not only the magnetic currents in the Earth's surface, but the mineral deposits and the waters below.  The combined energy they release promotes our own development.

        At such foci stand the sacred mountains of the world, widely regarded as depositories of cosmic energy.  Pike's Peak here is such a font of power.  To it in the past Indian tribes from the Great Plains and down from the mountains made annual pilgrimages.  It was the beacon for the later, white "Pike's Peak or Bust" caravans which crossed the plains.  Still later it marked a mecca for hordes of invalids who believed they would regain health from the region's pure air and medicinal springs.

        On other such sites prehistoric peoples erected shrines and mazes, great stone circles, medicine wheels, temples, and pyramids.  This is not a new way of looking at the relationship of man to Earth.  It is really very old.  The Chinese gave it the name we interpret as "geomancy," which referred to the divinatory art of reading a locality's topographical features in order to place man's structures in harmony with the forces of nature.  They knew it as feng-shui, "wind and water," and the lines of energy were lung-mei, or "paths of the dragon."  The British now call the Earth's energy lines "ley lines," and on their patterns ancients built megalithic monuments like Stonehenge.

        Similar energy channels in Mexico, called trazos, oriented ancient ceremonial centers, temples, and pyramids,  Even the great metropolis of prehistoric Mexico, Teotihuacan, and the Mayan religious city of Palenque, were laid out as geomantic or cosmological paradigms.  There are many other examples in Egypt, Peru, and elsewhere of this phenomenon which Maurice Freedman called "mystical ecology" in his 1969 presidential address, entitled "Geomancy," before the Royal Anthropological Institute in London.

        The common purpose of the ancient builders was to achieve harmony with the natural forces of earth and sky.  Their ruins today still visibly express the world view of their vanished civilizations.  We can be properly impressed by the divinatory art that enabled these architects to align their temples and cities with astronomical, mathematical, and calendrical precision to topographical and planetary positions.  But the modern visionary pioneers who have carried forward and developed the ancient geomantic concept are equally impressive.

        Early among them was George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff,  who established in France a school of the mystical teachings of Central Asia.  In his doctrine of "reciprocal maintenance" he grouped all modes of existence into a series of energies or essences ranging upward from formless energy, through the Earth and its plant, vertebrate, and human forms, to finally the supreme will and consciousness.  Each class of energy fed on that preceding it and in turn fed its successor.

        Teilhard de Chardin, a Catholic priest, advanced the now-famous theory that a "noosphere," an envelope of thought or a planetary mind, would eventually surround the Earth once mankind's consciousness became unified and expanded.  Since Chardin's death in 1955, Oliver Reiser, a physicist, has reportedly developed Chardin's theory.  Reiser has postulated the existence of a psi or paranormal field of knowing, which is the equivalent of Chardin's noosphere, and which functions in conjunction with the Van Allen radiation belts surrounding the globe.  This bipolar field is something of a planetary cerebral cortex; its two hemispheres correspond to the halves of a human brain.

        How interconnected everything is!  The left lobe of the human brain, as Robert Ornstein has written in The Psychology of Consciousness, controls the right side of our physical body and our rational thought processes.  The right lobe is connected to the left side of the body and directs our intuitive and spiritual insights.  Ornstein's neurological explanation can be stated more simply: philosophy since the time of Pythagoras has been based on the principle that in each of us there are two selves.  One, the outer persona or personality, is oriented to the material world of appearances, of  things.  The other is an inner self with an apperception of the universal realm of divine reality.

        These bipolar tensions also split world mankind.  Western civilization is dominated by the rational intellect which is chiefly concerned with constantly increasing our material wealth, while the East traditionally has been more devoted to religious pursuits.  Reconciliation of these opposite polarities would integrate us collectively as well as individually.  A common imperative effort to preserve the global Earth from further destruction may well unite us all on a higher level of consciousness.  Could this eventually lead to a postulated planetary mind consciously functioning as a part of a universal process of still greater integration?

        How nebulous, incredibly vast, and immeasurably lengthy such an evolution of Earth and man appears to our puny, limited minds!  Yet the trend of thought manifested by so many intuitive spokesmen points the general direction we are already taking.  More and more of us will follow the trails they are blazing, impelled by the dire necessity of changing our mode of thinking in this tragic era of world turmoil.  Hence it seems to me that a planetary imperative, with it cosmological perspective, is an inevitable step forward.  Curiously enough, it validates the regional imperative of ancient small societies.  For in achieving harmony with their immediate environment, they also attained a measure of integration with the world outside.  As we know, the whole is in every part.

                      Regional Writing

         These rather abstract and probably too expanded thoughts recall to me the specific subject which has brought us together: regional writing.  It has long been the custom of the eastern literary establishment to look down its nose at regional novels, especially those of western writers, as being provincial, naive, and too narrow in points of view.  John Milton in his South Dakota Review has been jousting against this prejudice for many years.  Yet I think such criticism is sometimes justified.  Too often regional writers paint only "local color," being too close to the trees to see the forest.

        Nevertheless, regional writing is the common denominator of all literature.  Certainly a writer must know who he is, what he comes from, how he stands in relation to his own region, but without confining himself to these limits of his awareness.  His stance should provide him a glimpse of the horizons beyond.  A regional novel, if it fulfills its highest function, is also universal.

        I have never objected to being called a regional writer.  This is my stance.  Here my roots go deep.  Yet in my attempts over the years to fulfill, in some measure at least, the true function of regional writing, I have often recalled an outing with my high-school physiography class here in Colorado Springs.  We met at the old Busy Corner downtown, rode the streetcar to Adam's Crossing, and spent the afternoon digging sharks' teeth out of limestone outcroppings.  We needed no lecture to explain their meaning.  It was apparent in a single tooth held in a sweaty palm.  In a flash of comprehension I could see sharks and strange fish nosing at the streetcar windows: Adam's Crossing, Pike's Peak above, and all America itself washed by the engulfing waters of a timeless time.  This was no longer a separate and isolated little vicinity, but an indistinguishable undersea part of a whole, vast world mysteriously undergoing another cataclysmic, evolutionary change.  Such are the nebulous roots of feeling, deeper than thinking, that nurture in a regional writer a fuller realization of his place and time.

        Change, constant change, is the one great theme in the history of the Earth and its human family.  There have been many changes here in my home town, some of which, I think, have not been for the better.  There will be more, as everywhere.  The world is now undergoing the greatest cultural change since the beginning of the Christian era.  Let us believe that it will reflect our growing universality of thought and unity with the enduring Earth.
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