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Written back in 1999. Has much changed?

Robert Mirabal's CD, Taos Tales, moved me both as a piece of music and a philosophical statement. While the music speaks eloquently, the philosophy behind it is most obvious in the CD's jacket. As I pondered Robert's words about his songs' themes, something inside me stirred. Something jelled from those stirrings: This. If you don't have Taos Tales,, I'd recommend that you get it. Listening to the CD and studying its jacket will make this essay more understandable. You can buy Taos Tales, from Robert's Website or Photos from our recent trip to Taos & environs illustrate Robert Mirabal's words and my thoughts.

This article is about the fundamental human journey from darkness to light. From unconsciousness to spiritual understanding. To being an individual who has a part in society, but who is not buried in it. The journey is called the Red Road, the spiritual path, sadhana, individuation, and as many other names as there are traditions that describe it.

1999 has been a banner year for me. Pestilence. Plague. Cancer. Just the warm up. The issue confronting me at the millennium's end is human evil. The harm that one person does to another. The biggie. Something I've had much opportunity to look at in my life. I do a pretty thorough job of dissecting the beast below. I've spent a fair amount of time at the task, consulting the writings of everyone from holy men to forensics experts. My own spiritual experience, contemplation & meditation has been invaluable. I wrote this because I needed to for myself-- and in hopes it would be useful to others.

This is a long essay and more demanding than what's usually found on the Internet. Popular culture has a tendency toward idiocy. It's sad. People want to take the easy way. One of the things that I like most about Robert Mirabal's work is that it is intelligent. Robert picks up the hard themes, the big themes that we humans must examine. The material below goes straight to the core of being human. I've presented it in as entertaining and easy to take form as possible. With pictures. And yes, I have an educational background in both philosophy and counseling.

I expect that some of you won't make it to the end. Thanks for your company as far as you get. Of course, I don't get to the part about mastering evil and "Can we change the world?" until the end. You may be interested in that. And the stuff about Leonard Peltier's book, Prison Writings: My Life Is my Sundance. That's at the end.

Let's go!


The themes in Robert Mirabal's Taos Tales are fundamental: Survival. Existence. How to live a valid life. How to care for oneself and the planet. In examining these themes, we'll start from the CD jacket's front and work back . Robert Mirabal dedicates his new CD to the people of Taos Valley-- all of them, from prehistory until now. All of them-- conquerors, priests, developers, trappers, his indigenous ancestors, today's artists and farmers. People who were and are marauders, bent on exploiting the land, as well as those who appreciate and strive to preserve it. Everyone. I find this inclusiveness thrilling-- we'll talk about the value of welcoming everything when we discuss evil.

Mirabal talks about Taos Mountain on the CD dedication. If you haven't seen it, Taos Mountain stands over the plain like a guardian, or a god. Mirabal talks about the mountain accepting or rejecting the folk beneath it, but really simply tolerating them. Like ants. He expresses his thanks for the good fortune to be born and live in a place which supports him and his work-- and his commitment to that place. Again, he says the mountain is primal: The Taos mountain sees what goes on at its feet, knows the truth and will be there, silent, when we are long gone.

I thought about the Mountain as I read these words. What is the Mountain? What does it do? The Mountain stands, unmoved by anything human, eternal and timeless. The Witness of all that is, and isn't. A place of refuge, a place to guard your back when you're under attack, a place to take inside and hold you up when you need its strength. The Mountain will be there when all else is gone. It is the backbone and support of our lives, what we need to survive.

Does it care about us?-- Yes. Like a mountain.

Photo: Zoe Nathan

Mirabal arranges the CD in an interesting order. The first song is about the ancestors, the Anasazi, painters of caves, tellers of stories which foretold this time and times to come. The ancestors. Followed by "Friends", an invitation to join in the wholeness of the world, the wholeness of existence. "See how beautiful it is." But in the song's description, "Darkness will come. Give it to me so I can become stronger in the light." Incredible statement, which we will explore.

Robert is weaving themes. Making a tapestry. We start with the changeless Mountain standing over us. Neither judging nor approving, just watching. Our community sprawls at its feet, doing what humans do. We can-- must-- participate in the dance. It's our nature, and what we must do to survive. Life is beautiful-- and darkness is part of it.

This is a recipe. We come into this world, one of the ants. Part of a world of ants. What do we need? We need the mountainous backbone. Ancestors to guide and inspire. The support of community and family. The will to join the dance. The will to embrace what comes, good or evil.



But what if you didn't get the Taos mountain? You didn't show up in a sacred valley when you landed on earth? What if yours was a mountain of Jello and your ancestors looked like the Addams family on meth? What if you grew up in a tract house just like 50 bazillion others and spent your childhood at the mall? Or worse? What if you showed up in some slum? A garbage pile? What then? Is it over? Should you check out?

Ah! A good question! Lots of people have thought about this. Philosophers and such. Some people say we are thrown into life. Splat! There you are, in house number 325A of Sunnyside Acres. Mom and Dad have a bunch of hereditary diseases, plus they're really boring and pretty screwed up. The relatives are the same. Ancestors? You had 'em, but who were they? Would you like them if you knew? You're jammed into a public school system, handled like silly putty and come out-- like everyone else in your family. Is this inevitable?

This is existentialism. We find ourselves thrust into life, into a particular set of circumstances. We don't get to vote on it. How many remember floating over the earth, selecting your parents, "Hey. I feel like getting really messed up for about 80 years. I think I'll go there..." to this family. Or that institution.

Life feels more like: "What did I do to deserve this?" Or else-- "Wow! I really lucked out! Fat city!" Or else-- "Damn it! Rodney has a new BMW. Mine's two years old. Life isn't fair." (You can be miserable over anything.)

So you're thrown into existence and spend the rest of your life trying to deal with the fact that it's very dangerous out here, plus it makes no sense. (The existential position.) Alternatively, you accept that you are the product of your genes and environment and the best you can do is train yourself like a rat. (Behaviorists and many scientists.) You may end up a functional, well-trained rat, but still a rat. Or, using a Freudian model, you may get your complexes in order, subdue that id, focus the rest onto something useful. Love and work. But is this much fun? Where's the beef? Or the light?

Are we just our programming? Do we turn out like the mold that shapes us? Are we doomed if we didn't draw the Taos valley in the cosmic lottery?

Hey, this is getting serious.

Yeah. Life is serious. Also deadly.

Photo: Zoe Nathan

But, what I've talked about is not the only way! Other guys and gals have thought different than the folks above. Some say we're more than cookies cut from heredity and environment, nature and nurture. Some say we have a soul. Might not say it using that word. I recently read The Soul's Code: In Search of Character or Calling by the Jungian analyst, James Hillman. He says we have an acorn. Yes, an acorn. (People works so hard to avoid religious terms these days.) The idea is that there's something inside us that makes us grow the way we do, regardless of external circumstances. As a matter of fact, some people, James Hillman and a lot more Jungians, say we pick our lives and parents because they are exactly what we need to grow into what we're supposed to be. Some say, and these are mostly Eastern philosophers and religious types, that we got this lifetime based on what we did before and that it's necessary for our soul's continued growth. We chose it deliberately.

Boy! What a crock! Can you imagine going through some of the horrible stuff people do and someone telling you, "You picked this, you know?" What kind of an idiot would pick some of the rotten lives around? What could you have possibly done in a past life to deserve a pedophile father? An alcoholic family? To be born in East LA with bullets flying over your head? To end up on a poor reservation in the middle of nowhere? Were we all Jack the Ripper once? Adolph Hitler? To come back and get this! Man! What garbage!

Actually, I have come to embrace this point of view, through experiences I've had in meditation and watching my life play out. Also, the alternative is being a trained rat, a puppet yanked around by fools. I'd rather think I chose my part and play hard. Much though I hate some of my life's facets, I find that the circumstances of my birth were exactly what I needed. Have you felt that? "Boy, this sure is rotten, but I'm learning from it. Maybe not what I wanted to learn, but what I needed to learn." That's what my life feels like now. (It took a while to reach this point of view.) Every thrilling, hair-raising episode is and was there for a very good reason-- no matter how much I wanted to die while it was happening.

After 54 years of work, my life feels effortless much of the time. That big river just carries me along. It and the mountain never change. My life is purposive and planned, but not by anything I can see. I just do my homework and show up.

Beats feeling like a trained rat.


So, okay, we've here. Thrown or chosen, we've got Mom and Pop and all the rest, our own mountain--be it sacred or public landfill. We're educated somehow. Sort of alive. We've got a job. Maybe we're married. What next?

What indeed? What is next? In the CD Taos Tales, the song after the one about Friends and the wholeness of the world is Popay's Runner, about a holy man who starts a revolution. He unites the Pueblos against the Spanish, the first and last time in hundreds of years. After that is a song about a hunting party, where young men go out from the Pueblo to hunt. They come back with tales of far away tribes and places. Or not. Maybe they don't come back.

After all this ancestors & togetherness stuff, Mirabal throws in an insurrection led by a holy man and a journey which may end in death.

Does this mean anything?

Beats me. If you read this, Robert Mirabal, did you have anything in mind in putting your songs in that order? Let me know. I'll post your answer (email me)


The songs' order means quite a bit to me. We've got our hypothetical humanoid born and raised, working and wed. He's done, right? Done everything necessary to have a good life. Hah!

That's when the holy man shows up and starts a revolution! It happened to me, happens to others. Something in there goes, "This ain't working." And you grind away miserably for years, trying to pretend you're happy. Cover that nagging voice up with drugs, alcohol, relationships. Making money. School. Achievement. Compulsive work. Whatever it takes. That holy man will not go away. Or shut up. Eventually, you're in a revolution with all the rest, throwing out the foreign conquerors who have dominated your life. Or mind.

Wondering: Who am I? What do I do next? Why do I feel so screwed up?

Before you know it, you're on a journey. A hunting party. Looking for yourself. Looking for reality. For food to sustain you for the rest of the trip. This isn't an outer journey. You don't have to dump your spouse and job, and travel all over the world-- though many do. You can complete your journey close to home. I traveled light years in time and space, all on the San Francisco Peninsula. It's an inner journey.

Robert Mirabal says, "Still the journey-- he goes."

Abiquiu road, New Mexico
Photo: Zoe Nathan

We need to make a journey-- a sacred journey from what the world says we are into what we really are. To our true selves. Maybe we'll make it. Maybe we'll come back to our village. Maybe not. Will we reach the end? The highest possible place? Will we know all of our glory? Claim our birthright? Most people don't. My meditation teacher said, "Only the bravest make the journey to the very end." Only the bravest can face the fear. The pain. The enemy.


Ladder, Puye cliff dwellings.
Photo: Zoe Nathan

We're on a long, hard journey. How to complete it? Robert Mirabal says: You need a mountain. You need ancestors. You need roots. You need other people. Yep. All true. But you go out on that journey without sufficient provisions, without skills, without a lifeline, without helpers and guides and a whole lot of friends, you're in trouble. Also, a guide who's been there and back wouldn't hurt.

The thing about the journey is that its such a trip. Right away, you're thrown into the shadowlands. Been there? Don't know which way is up? What's good and bad? You're looking for the truth, so you threw out everything you knew, but that doesn't work either. You're just as miserable with all new weirdness. What is the problem?


Puye cliff dwellings.
Photo: Zoe Nathan

Well, it may help to know that many people on this planet-- Hindus, of which there are very many--who regard us as living in the darkest of dark ages, Kali Yuga. In this age, what's black looks white; good, evil; right, wrong, and so on. Things run topsy turvey and justice seldom prevails. The age continues as it has been until we blow up the planet-- or the universe does it for us in disgust: The Dissolution. Given this happy perspective, newspaper headlines make sense. Also the plight of the poor spiritual seeker makes sense. We are literally thrown into shadow the minute we wiggle outside our mother's womb.

Knowing that we're always in the shadowland until we get to the very end of the path helps. Truth is, we were in it before we woke up-- or the inner holy man woke us up. That's why daily life wasn't satisfying: It was just shadows and we knew it. Trying to keep our net worth up with the Jones'. Getting that computer start-up going and making that billion. Making it at the Country Club. With the girls. In the PTA. Keeping up whatever act we've got going. Being hip. Did you know that being hip is a terrible burden? Being an earth mother? You gotta be so laid back. So cool. So happy with the pickles you canned and your fresh bread. Terrible keeping up an act. Whatever kind of act. The political act. The radical act. I was an urban economist in the 60's and 70's. Nothing more radical than that. An act. All illusion. Not who I really am.

We knew our lives were hollow-- that's what propelled us onto the spiritual path. What keeps us there is that the illusion becomes more obvious as we progress. The more miles onto the path, the more that stinking ego in yourself and everyone else repels. The more the ego with its, "I'm so wonderful. I'm so important. Everything about me matters so much," becomes intolerable.

You may end up in the shadowlands from spiritual dissatisfaction or for a few other reasons. Evil. Maybe it popped up first, and evil, not the holy man, booted you onto the path to freedom. Maybe something really awful happened to you. Maybe you ended up in jail, or someone left you or hurt you. You needed protection way stronger than what you had. Maybe escaping the pain of evil, of suffering, was what got your soul moving.

Or perhaps you were just watering the lawn one day, watching the little whirly thing go around. Watching the water sparkling as it came out in spirals. Hearing the birds chirping. Feeling the sun on your back. Maybe you sat down, just watching the sprinkler go round and round. And whammo-- that old holy man grabbed you and pulled you inside. The next thing you knew, it was 3 hours later, the lawn was soaked and you'd just been somewhere so wonderful that you'd spend the rest of your life trying to get back.

Lots of ways to get on the path. They all point to the same place.

Puye Cliff Dwellings
Photo: Zoe Nathan

All the traditions I'm familiar with point us to the same place: The inner world. The beginning and ending of the journey. The dwelling of the holy man. Your real home. The inner world calls, the place of stillness and peace. It is far larger than the outer world. Full of great danger and infinite rewards. Bliss beyond measure. Unspeakable beauty. Exploring this inner place is the real journey. Bringing its riches into the world, the task of the human being.

How? How are we supposed to do that?

Here's our poor humanoid, popped out in a plastic world. Brought up like a robot. Now all messed up because everything seems phony. He's not performing at work-- where his capitalistic overlord boss exploits his talents. Or at home. His wife is shallow and less developed than him. He's got his eye on the hip number down the street. Plus, he gets weird urges and thinks he's crazy. Or sane.

What is this poor schmuck to do now that he's on the spiritual path?


Some people are perfectly happy to go through the entire journey with the religious/philosophical tradition in which they were raised. It satisfies them perfectly and they can conduct their inner search within its bounds. Great. Truly wonderful.

But if those traditions don't fit, if in fact they seem like part of the problem, what then?

Where to go for guidance?


Well, you can check out other religions. Try therapy. Find a therapist who can medicate you back to satisfaction. Or make you a better adjusted rat. Or actually help you in your search. They all exist. You can go native and try to find a real shaman. A real holy man/woman. Join a drumming group. Make a pilgrimage somewhere. Tons of options.

Plus! Plus! Being born in Kali Yuga, the dark age, is not all bad! While seekers in traditional societies have ceremonies and practices and bona fide holy people for guidance, modern spiritual seekers have:

A source of unbelievable guidance and support. Really unbelievable.

I picked up a publication in a Santa Barbara bookstore recently. About 3/8" thick, it presented human potential activities currently available in Southern California. What a rich extravaganza! A shadowlands bonanza! The booklet presented more people called "Dr." than I've ever seen. Not sure what all those "Doctor of's...." meant. Or the alphabet soup behind people's names, either. Not too many had just plain MD's, Ph.D.'s or M.A's. Not too many licenses, either. Sure looked cheerful, the bunch of them. Manic, maybe.

But if you want to have your aura read, scrubbed or rubbed, this booklet can help. Jack up your psychic abilities? No problem. Want the supernatural? Spirit World? A workshop can turn you into a shaman in a weekend. Fifty kinds of yoga, with or without clothes. With or without ecstatic sex. Alternative dentistry. (Yipes! Sounds painful.) If you've been having trouble with your colon, suffer no more. It can be irradiated, irrigated, hydrotherapized, resized, and jeopardized-- for a fee. A guy in Southern California knows the number of reincarnations you have before you feel the urge to spiritual awakening! (Guess how many? It's a lot.) Want your past lives regressed? How about having your alien implants deactivated? (Now there's a relief!) They can't remove them, but they can make them shut up. (The ad didn't say if they could handle those radio broadcasts from your fillings.)


What's a person with an urge for freedom to do?

Well, I did 'em all. I didn't have a traditional shaman to go to for advice, so I hit the human potential movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970's real hard. PRIME TIME, FOLKS! I WAS RIGHT IN THE HEART OF THE WOO-WOO WORLD AT GROUND ZERO.

What a ride! I've never had anything like that on the rankest horse. I learned that higher consciousness exists, spirit exists, and you better be careful about where you open up. Some of these workshops really do work-- but no one knows how to control what comes out. Or wants to stick around past the workshop's ending to do mop up. I learned discrimination from the human potential movement. That's an Eastern term that means: being able to tell what's good for you from what's bad. Discrimination is how to tell s--t from Shinola, in other words.In my New Age forays, I saw things that would have gotten licenses pulled from MD's and Clinical Psychologists. Of course, the people doing them weren't licensed, so, what the hey? And I wrote a case study for a professor friend of mine on one of the organizations. Which shocked me silly, knowing all that went on.

I'm telling you this because you can get hurt with this stuff. I know people who were. And what about those poor fools in San Diego who castrated themselves, then committed suicide so they could jump a spaceship? Fatally missing the difference between spiritual transcendence and physical. And the folks in Waco and Guyana? Probably nice people who listened to the wrong guy. Darkness in the light.

What is the poor modern spiritual aspirant to do? If you don't have a traditional culture with a certified holy man/woman available, you'll flounder around.

Keep going. I had done a bunch of the stuff in that pamphlet in the old days. While most of these workshops are nonsense, they will soften you up and educate you so that when you run into the real thing, you'll know it.


How do you know the real thing? Here's a story: Back in 1962, I was 17. I rode a lot then. I showed my horse a lot-- and I won. My dad wanted to do something really special for me: Buy me a horse I could ride at any show, that could take me as high as I could go. Well, we thought we found her. A Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred cross with the best spin I'd ever seen. We took her to one of our friends, a well known horse trainer, Jimmy Black, up in Oakland, California. He checked her out and said, "Yeah. She'll do the job. She'll take you wherever you want." It was a hard decision, buying this horse. We stood in the middle of the arena, my dad and Jimmy and I. Plus the horse, Robin Rose. We hadn't tried her with cattle, which she was supposed to be really hot at working. I hadn't shown in a class with cattle, but I might want to. Jimmy didn't have any there to test her with. "Well, how will I know if she's got cow?" I whined. Jimmy turned to me with one of those slow, cowboy grins and said, "You'll know. Show her a cow, you'll know."

Well, life zigged and zagged. My dad died. My fancy horses and all that went with them disappeared, including Robin Rose. I never rode her around cows, after all. Years passed. Robin was given back to me in her old age, 23 years old. About 3 years older than most horses live. An equine elder. I got invited to a cattle branding, my first. I went on my ancient horse, wondering if she was up to it.

Well! Robin saw those cows and stopped dead. She stared, bug eyed. Started to shake. 900,000,000 kilo volts of electricity flowed out of the ground, through her hooves, all over her body. Out my ears. She was volcanic. Tore at the beeves like an avenging angel. SHE HAD COW! I finally understood what Jimmy Black meant.

On the spiritual path, when you find the real thing, you'll know it.

The frog kissing part is just warm-up.

Date looks like '65.


We've drifted. Lets get back to Robert Mirabal's CD. After the guys got going on their hunting trip, the next song is entitled "Skinwalker's Moon" Skinwalker-- what a cool word. I wish I knew what a Skinwalker is. The word demands a short story or tale. This is a kicky tune, with the most fascinating reference. About Skinwalker's Moon, Robert Mirabal says: "No one can live with only the good. In order to understand the purest of the purest, we must accept holding hands with things that are not so pure." Ooh. I love that. Because it's true. Evil is everywhere. You can't get away from it. I know-- I've tried. I've devoted much of my life to getting away from evil, from the pain of being hurt by others. Mostly I tried by being good. Didn't work. Evil still got me. And, it trained others to take over its work in the future.

Light and dark, good and evil. Hand in hand. Robert Mirabal references evil again and again in his CD's. From Mirabal: The paradoxical pair, good and evil, show up in "Tony and Allison" and "The Dance" . In Taos Tales, Robert makes two wonderful statements about evil: In "Friends", "Darkness will come. Give it to me so I can become stronger in the light." Again from "Skinwalker's Moon," "No one can live with only the good. In order to understand the purest of the purest, we must accept holding hands with things that are not so pure." Light and dark, good and evil. Hand in hand.

Hum. Very interesting. Evil is just there. And it is evil. It exists to destroy. And it's not always easy to spot. We live in Kali Yuga. The age of darkness, where good looks evil and evil looks good. What's a person to do?



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