Three Panels in Two Days

 Three Panels in Two Days

An Initiation

First Degree: Sit Down and Shut Up

I am leaving San Francisco, moving to Los Angeles to begin another period of my life. In the five years I’ve spent here, I’ve learned more about people than I ever learned about technology, and more about my own heart than about other people. This heart speaks to me of sacred spaces, places where I feel my own connection to the divine.

So I have started to revisit those sacred sites, greeting them to say good-bye. They still have lessons to teach, these places, and I would like to share the lessons of these spaces with you.

Saturday afternoon I started out on a walk through the woods with two acquaintances. They had not been through this wood before, part of the dense blanket of redwood forest that once carpeted all of coastal California. Before we came. This stand is untouched; too deep to be taken forcibly, discovered and preserved before razed and raped.

The trees in this forest sing, wind in needles. For a while, we stopped on our path and talked. As we had never before. About where we are and where we are going. And why, always why. In that warm afternoon we basked in late yellow light and spoke our hearts, and understood that we found ourselves together on the same path. There is no joy like brotherhood, the utter satisfaction when you find yourself in the being of another. And this being newly discovered tasting that much more sweet. 

Time came to move along, so we packed up camp and continued to hike, down, into the park. The route I had planned out seemed ideal for a two-hour tour, but we made a wrong turn, or perhaps I misread the map, because soon we found ourselves deep in the wood. All this while the sun was sinking below the horizon. We found ourselves in a gently gathering gloom wondering if our two hours’ travel wouldn’t last much longer.

We continued our hike and came to a sign which made no sense; not to the map, nor to where we though we were. We came into an understanding of our situation, that we were trapped within the wood, in the dark, and growing cold. We kept our heads and mapped another plan; a bench, just a short ways back up the path, would make a fine place to spend a forest evening. Once there and settled we resolved to enjoy the night, for even though it grew too dark to see the hands before our faces, we could hear a gentle waterfall in the distance.

By fortunate chance I had brought a blanket and a pull-over, for we faced a growing chill in the air. Over the course of the night we waited out eight hours’ dark by talking, doing our best to keep warm.

When morning lightened the sky we lay compressed into a small lump of bodies, breathing onto each others flesh, using and reusing our common warmth. At length we rose and continued on our hike, dawn light on the mountaintop the absolute affirmation of existence, of survival, of triumph. Two hours hike back to park headquarters, to our car, and home.

But before home we stopped a beach along Highway One, and poured out, down to the water and burned ourselves in the sun for two whole hours of warm and safe. Filling the cup emptied in the wood.

I came to my house lucky to be alive, and glad of such a gentle reminder. For it could have been much worse. I had been given a great gift, had been allowed to see something terrifying but perfectly true; our need to survive together.


I had entered that wood knowing that I had no words written for these talks; I had hoped for some inspiration. What I got was a clarifying shock to my system, an encounter with a Dark Night which placed everything into a new perspective.

We are all on a long path, we know not how long, or even where it may eventually lead. We suspect it leads us home, but what is home except other people – our friends and families, those we reach out and love? And when the dark comes down – and it always does, eventually – who will keep us warm in that long night?

VRML is that path, but it is not the goal. The goal is the articulation of human expression in a new form, capable of expressing our deepest selves to each other.

I got a glimpse of where we really are – together in the dark. Is that cause for a panic? I think not; knowing where you are allows you to focus on where you are going, even if we must wait for the dark to lift before we move on. But while we are here, in this dark, we must share everything we have, and everything we are; that is the mandate of survival.

Information sharing between companies is like heat sharing between bodies; you need it, you’re done with it – the best thing to do for everyone involved is to let someone else use it.

And that’s all I really came to say.

So I can obfuscate by talking sweet words about consortia, true but not the truth, at least not nearly enough. But the dark and the warmth speak volumes and they are what we are about.

So for anyone who enters into this dark; who claims to know everything we’ve just discovered we never knew; who blusters and blunders and swaggers about; who knows not he knows not, the hardest kind of fool –

– to this one I can offer only a single advice; sit down and shut up. Shut up and listen. And think about being the only body, in all that cold.

Losing heat.

Second Degree: Earth Mothers

Start with woman sacred being invocation; all is sacred, man is sacred. Start with building as cathedral. Perfect body, perfect mind, perfect soul. Call it Gaia and allow it to encompass all you are and almost all you know.

Then turn your back upon it, or better still, lay it waste.

We act as children but who will change our diapers when we foul ourselves and our crèche?

The eternal divine is this body, the unified singular being of the biota of this planet. All we worship is formed within its womb. Our bodies are reflections of this greater body, fractal fragments of sacred expression, a jewel broken into many parts. 

In meditation practice I repeat a simple mantra, which translated reads, “Creator, I am thou.” This unification has two components; I am one with the divine, and it is one with me. And who can look at the glory of the human body and not understand these breasts as mountains, this eye as lake, this flesh as prairie field? As above, so below, so the ancients tell us, those who had time enough to learn and wisdom enough to listen.

We feel the Earth apart from us, and yet this can not be so. But we have no organ of perception so cleansed that it renders things as they are. 

This is where I start.

Five years ago I beheld a vision, saw the holy body of our Mother as it is, and in seeing it, became one with it. For knowing is doing, and doing knowing. To see the truth is equally to accept it.

My task from that time forward has been focused around a specific task; to produce an evocation of the Earth, and by so doing, inseparably connect each of us with it. For the more we grasp the Earth, the more it embraces us; the more we see the consequences of our actions, the more we tend to modify our own behavior. Thus mysticism and cybernetics meet on a ground which is truly transhuman.

At the time of the Spring Equinox I crept into a hole for a week, and began programming. The resources available to me had suddenly grown explosively, and all of the pieces required to begin the articulation of my dream had finally fallen into place. In that week I wrote a simple set of scripts which leveraged existing Web content in new directions, taking satellite images from around the world and integrating them into a single vision of the world, as it is, right now. I called it WebEarth, but really, only the initials are significant – they spell it out in the letters W and E.

WebEarth is a seed, as VRML is a seed. The next step is to prepare the ground, to prepare the way for a community of individuals – students, scientists, artists – to continue to extend our capacity to see ourselves. Over ten years or more I hope it will grow into a valuable resource, distributed across the breadth of a Web which still has no consciousness of its own being or purpose; but such should be expected from a child.

We are the parents of this Web, even as we use it to teach our children. We should parent in the most joyful way, with play and dance, sound and feeling. An investment in this fertile ground will yield us a rich harvest; but those who sow the wind will reap only the dust. This is the law of nature, and it applies to all domains.

Third Degree: The Open Invitation

Ten days ago I traveled to the top of Mount Tamalpais, another of my sacred spaces. Together with a friend we went to the top and walked the circle around the summit, and greeted the South, East, North and West. A great red hawk greeted us at every quadrant, and urged us on to the next. We climbed to the summit and found shade under a great rock, and performed our rituals of greeting and leaving.

I know of a spot, along the west face of the mountain, a point which balances between San Francisco Bay on one side, and Bolinas on the other. A great Live Oak grows there, growing bent into a constant wind. It took us some time to find it – walking across the slope, heading west, we found semi-precious stones spread before us in an alkaline carpet of malachite beauty. We stopped at one spot, then spied another, and traveled there. Each time we saw another place, more alluring than before. When at last I knew we had that tree in view, we walked the slope and rose up to the tree.

In this tree hung a swing, empty and inviting. Someone, equally enamored of this place, chose to reverence it with that most holy of human activities; delightful play. We sat on that swing and talked for hours; about our lives and paths diverging – his northward, mine southward. We watched the most beautiful sunset I have yet experienced; a blood-red cry of sky and sun beneath the fog till under the Earth. Then dark and gone. 

That day formed the beginning of my leaving, just as my dark in the woods formed its midst. After all of this I can only recall the joy on seeing that swing. For that is the true interface, the open invitation to play. So my work has been directed to this end, above all others, that we should find a way to invite each other in to enjoy each other’s being, the comfort and warmth of fellow travelers on an unknown path.

Interface is invitation, an invitation to communicate. Not with computers, but with ourselves and each other. For in this infinitely mutable mirror we find all of the horrors and joys of our own being, and what shines back is exactly what we put forth; nothing more, and nothing less.

July 1996, 
San Francisco