Black Land, Red Land — Green Land?

Egypt, as I said in a previous post, thinks in terms of dualities. Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt. Papyrus or Lotus. Cobra or vulture. And mostly, Red Land and Black Land. Red Land refers to desert. Black Land means fertile, arable soil, once the land annually inundated by the overflow of the Nile.

While we were in Cairo having lunch at a local farmer’s, I talked with him about the declining fertility of the soil, and the slow subsidence of the land down at the delta, along with the gradual incursion of salt from the Mediterranean. It was worrisome. The coming of the Aswan Dam had ended the Nile’s persistent refreshment of the land. What would replace it? Chemical fertilizers aren’t going to do it, though they may slow the decline. It wasn’t until nearly our last day in Egypt that I saw solid reason for hope for Egypt’s future.

Desert road

On the last day of February, our group of 15 took a 50-passenger bus three hours and more from Aswan into the Sahara Desert ultimately to the temples of Abu Simbel. That’s a lot of desert, and there’s plenty more ahead: 3,000 miles worth, all the way to the Atlantic. The sheer expanse of Egypt’s Red Land is daunting. With the Black Land slowly losing its fertility, and Egypt’s population continuing to increase, where was there a future for this old, old country?

You looked out one way, to the north, and you saw the accompanying power lines that marched along with the road. Look out the other way, to the south, and you saw — what? I told people it reminded me of what the Aussies call GABA — the Great Australian Bugger-All. Deserts have their beauty, but they aren’t exactly inviting.

And that’s a lot of desert — all the way to the Atlantic

But then things changed. At a certain point, we saw that the government has been industriously, methodically, planting palm trees and other forms of vegetation, using water from nearby Lake Nasser (the Nile that was drowned by the High Dam) to do the irrigating. Better, it was apparently raising silt from the bottom of Lake Nasser and creating farmland.

Signs of hope

I was told that it was also importing families of farmers from the delta to farm the new land, thus attacking two problems at once: overpopulation and underemployment in the North, and a need for farmers for the new land being created in the South. What a wonderfully hopeful approach!

It reminded me of the kinds of projects my own country used to undertake, like TVA dams and the Interstate Highway System, and the creation of the industries associated with the Space Race, before people lost faith in the ability of governments to make constructive differences in our lives. Fortunately for the Egyptians, they apparently still have hope that their government can accomplish things.

And what makes it possible

And here is a photo of what I think is the largest manmade lake in the world, the water that may prove to be Egypt’s salvation. If the project succeeds, by rights Egypt will no longer be a duality, Red Land, Black Land. It will have added a third, call it Green Land, turning desert into farms and communities, creating a future.

The Ramesseum — A strong and strange reaction

Our visit to the Ramesseum hit me with a totally unexpected impact.

From Cairo we had flown to Luxor, and on Thursday morning, Feb. 21, we saw several things worth describing. But the Ramesseum is the one that surprised me. Ruth says it is not all that commonly visited. If it impacted others as it did me, it would be much more widely known!

As you can see from the chart below, the Ramesseum is not a building but a large complex containing the remains of temples, statues, etc.

An impressive complex (photo by Ruth Shilling)

As soon as we came to the gates, my jaw dropped. Literally. It was constructed on so huge a scale; it had clearly absorbed so much labor, so much attention. The sheer scale took my breath away. And yet, if I had questioned myself, I might have asked why. After all, we had just been to the pyramids of Giza! A two-million-block structure covering 15 acres of ground is not exactly unimpressive. Nonetheless, it was the Ramesseum that took my breath away.

(Later I wondered if it was because it was New Kingdom, whereas the things we had seen in the Cairo area were Old Kingdom. I found that I responded to New Kingdom remains in a way that I did not react to things of other eras.)

A jaw-dropping first impression (photo by Tom Waggoner)

However, my internal reaction surprised me. I was impressed, all right, but instead of experiencing something between appreciation and admiration, something within me said, and quite clearly, “I’m so sorry!”

Silly, isn’t it? All things pass, and certainly the New Kingdom had its day (had its innings, as the English would say). It isn’t like it was cut off in its prime. Nonetheless, my response to the site was one of sorrow that it was over. Later I tried to explain my reaction by comparing myself looking at New Kingdom remains to someone living 2,000 years after the fall of America, visiting whatever was left of the Museum of Modern Art, say, thinking that they were seeing anything more than shards.

Ruined, fallen (photo by Ruth Shilling)

Anything you could see was a remnant, at best a reminder of great days now long gone. Yes, what’s left is magnificent, but it left me not with a feeling of exaltation but of mourning.

Possibly we would be wise to appreciate our civilization, such as it is, while it still exists, for it won’t exist forever.










Egypt: My Real Journey (part two)

Three strands converged during my time in Egypt, with very satisfactory results. At first glance, the three might seem to have nothing to do with each other, but believe me, they do, they do. And the reason to mention them here is that I think they are available to pretty much anyone who wants them. it isn’t a matter of having to be born with special abilities or of spending years in esoteric training. It’s more a matter of adopting a certain attitude.

Let’s call the strands (1) connection without added content, (2) conveying healing energies, and (3) energetic psychometry.

The phenomena themselves are not anything new, and I hesitated to give them labels, lest the words mislead. But we use words because words are what we have to work with. The thing is to remember that, as the saying has it, the map is not the territory.

An absolutely stunning impact (photo by Ruth Shilling)

(1) Connection without added content

As I mentioned in an earlier post, in hoping to experience greater connection, I set out to be open to anything while being careful not to put story to it. It’s one thing to have a real experience, but it’s something else again to know what that experience was, what it meant. On the one hand, you don’t want to be so closed that you miss what’s available; on the other hand, you don’t want to be so hungry for an experience that you allow yourself to make it up, or to embellish. It’s not an impossible balance to maintain, but it does require a certain vigilance. And it means you probably wind up impacted by something without knowing why or how. Perhaps you don’t know anything about it. All you know for sure is the impact it had on you. But if the impact is strong enough, you do know that!

So, case in point, when we were in the Valley of the Kings, the first tomb we went into was that of Ramses V and VI. I can’t say what that site did for others; for me, the impact of the hieroglyphics was absolutely stunning. The hieroglyphics were still in full color after so many centuries hidden from the sun. They were mostly intact, though of course here and there some had been damaged. The indirect lighting, top and bottom, did a superb job of illuminating without glare. So, in short, all the conditions were ideal. But that doesn’t explain why I spent an hour and a half in there, inching down the passageway, slowly absorbing what I was seeing, mesmerized by signs I couldn’t read. When I came out from the tomb, I didn’t have any interest in seeing another. How often does it work, when you try to improve on perfection?

Externally, it was an esthetic experience, but as usual, what was important was invisible, and, also as usual, is not very communicable in words. I had entered into the tomb in an attitude of expectant openness; then the entirely unexpected visual impact of the hieroglyphics had moved me well beyond words. I stood there stunned, overwhelmed. I made no attempt to deduce what the symbols were saying. In context, this would have amounted to trying to guess, even if I thought of it as intuiting. Nor did I make an attempt to apply what little I had learned of symbolism. I came to it like a little child, absorbing the impact of something I made no attempt to understand. (Indeed, at one point Ruth came over and wanted me to notice something that would have required intellectual processing, and I had to tell her that I couldn’t function that way at the moment.)

If I had been trying to put together a story, an explanation, a fantasy, or if I had attempted to consciously communicate with Joseph the Egyptian, I could not have gotten from the experience what I did get. Writing this now, more than two weeks later, I am surprised to realize that I never thought to try to contact Joseph. You’d think it would be a natural development. But I did not, and I can see that it was good that the thought never crossed my mind. I was wide open to input; I added nothing of my own. In this I was working from a sure-footed instinct, but it was only later, thinking about it, that I began to see why this was the right approach.


With Diane and the cane she stopped using (photo by Ruth Shilling)

(2) Conveying healing energies

Years of experience (including years of learning to overcome incorrect ideas) have convinced me that any of us may learn how to help others to heal themselves. But this is not the same as saying that some people “have” a gift of health that they can bestow upon others. It can look like that, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t what happens. Conveying healing energies often amounts to little more than helping others to recognize (or remember) that they themselves have access to all the healing they need.

Case in point, Diane Mullins, one of my fellow excursionists (who has given me permission to tell her tale). Diane has traveled to Egypt something like 15 times, having been fascinated by it since she was a child. She was planning to do Ruth’s tour again in 2019, but early in 2018 she broke her left femur a couple of inches beneath the hip. To provide her the needed support, surgeons had to put in a rod, and of course in the process they had to cut though the muscle groups. All that surgery requires recuperation time, but at the time she assumed that by February, 2019, she would be walking normally again. Didn’t happen. Healing was so slow, so unreliable, that she several times considered canceling. In the event, she came, but she came still relying on a metal cane, still having to give thought to how to climb or descend stairs, how to walk on uneven ground, etc. Not much fun.

Well, on the day we visited the Saqqara pyramid, she and I got to talking. and I offered to work with her, leading her through some second-body exercises, and then suggested that she try walking without the cane. We were on very uneven ground, part of it paved with stones that were flatter than cobblestones, but not level. It made an excellent test. So she walked, and I walked beside her so she could grab onto my arm if need be. And that was the last time she used the cane. In half an hour, she went from being dependent upon it to being entirely independent of it, and never used it again.

I was astonished. I had thought to plant a couple of seeds that might or might not germinate. What I had not known is that she was very accustomed to doing energy work, which of course implies openness to energies and lack of resistance to non-physical manifestations of healing. Without resistance, and with experience in channeling those kind of energies, she was ready for her miracle.

It was only after I returned from Egypt and thought about what I had experienced that I recognized the similarity between the process of connecting without adding content and the process of helping someone convey healing energies. In both cases, it is a matter of your 3D consciousness being willing to channel energies from beyond your conscious control, without insisting on imposing meaning or content of any kind. It is (I realized after still more pondering) a matter of cooperating with your larger self without insisting on trying to run the show.

(3) Energetic psychometry

And that gave me the clue to the meaning of the strongest yet least tangible experience I had in Egypt, something I can only call energetic psychometry. I find no photos to illustrate or even hint at the process. An illustrative photo would have to show me with my hand only a couple inches from carved stone, absorbing the energy without quite touching it.

Psychometry, you may know, involves holding an object and receiving psychic impressions from it. That has never worked for me. The tactile sense seems to overwhelm anything more subtle, or perhaps it is just one of the gifts I have not been graced with. But what does create an impact, at least for me, is to be within a very few inches of the object and open myself to the energies. Again, as in the two previous examples, this comes without substantive content. I don’t “see” or “feel” or even “know” things. So, in that sense, it isn’t psychometry at all. But I did experience something else, with ever-stronger intensity as we went along.

And that something was –? Well, eventually it came to feel like a buzz, an energetic buzz. It was as strong as I have ever experienced, stronger than person-to-person exchanges, for instance. But again, it had no intellectual content. I did not put my hand near a carved hieroglyph and come away “knowing” I had been King Tut, or somebody. Quite the contrary: Each time, I came away feeling the strength of the connection and having no slightest clue what the connection actually was. (Well, one slight clue, perhaps. I noticed throughout the tour that my interest centered on New Kingdom, with only a casual and almost negligent interest in other periods. It was as if New Kingdom was me visiting home, and other periods were me playing tourist.)

Possibly I shouldn’t admit this, but often as we were being shown some detail, or being told of the history or context of something, I would realize that i was standing there somewhat bored. I’d move my hand closer to some carved stone, and the buzz would be back. What I think was going on (though of course how can I know) is that in those times I was directly reconnecting with whoever and whatever brought me back to connect with ancient Egypt. There was no intellectual content for 21st-century me to chew on, so I functioned as a conduit rather than a tour guide, and we’ll see where that connection eventually leads me. But the three kinds of experience all flowed together, and, as I say, provide a hint as to a productive approach to connecting with our larger selves.

As I say, quite satisfactory — if I can hold on to it. We’ll see.

Egypt: My real journey

Not that what I have been writing hasn’t been real, but it has been, necessarily, superficial. Travelogue is all well and good, but it is, as Thoreau once wrote about any biographical facts, like a journal of the winds that blew while we were here. Our real lives are internal, reflected in the external, not the other way around.

As my body was transporting me from place to place, from event to event, I was not necessarily as interested in where I was as in how I was. I went to Egypt not in search of photographic subjects nor interesting information, but in search of me.

Now, you might well ask, how could any particular geography affect one’s internal affairs? Landscape, scenery, even the people you meet and interact with – how can any of that touch you at your core? Yes, you might have interesting experiences, but you might have had interesting experiences at home. Why should the foreignness of a foreign land have value for you, beyond satisfying your curiosity?

It isn’t that easy to explain. Here’s my best attempt so far.

Our society thinks that time works like this: a present moment that is real, surrounded by past moments which were real but have ceased to exist, and future moments that will be real, but don’t exist yet. In effect, the modern mind thinks, we leap from a present moment that is crumbling beneath our feet to another present moment that isn’t yet there.

That would be some acrobatics! But there’s another way to look at it that makes more sense to me.

Look at it this way: What if every moment of time exists and continues to exist whether we have “come to it” yet or not, whether we have “moved on from it” or not? In other words, what if moments of time are more like our everyday experience of geography than like this hairbreadth-harry idea of the present moment being the only thing that’s real? In geography we would never dream of thinking that the place we just left had ceased to exist, and the place we were moving toward hadn’t yet been created, even though, so to speak, the railroad tracks were headed there.

If this idea is new to you, it may seem fanciful. But play with it, and perhaps you will find that it makes sense of many of the conundrums of life. Either way of seeing the world shows us the present moment as our point of application; common sense does the same. That’s our experience of life, after all. But only the view that says that past and future moments exist and continue to exist makes sense of well-reported time-slip phenomena.

But this isn’t the place to try to “prove” what can’t be proved. You are either going to consider it as reasonable or reject it. (Either way, your reaction will probably have more to do with your emotional makeup than with intellectual process.) The point here is that if all moments of space-time exist and do not cease to exist, then, since we cannot revisit past times at will, perhaps we can connect by revisiting the places associated with those times. And that’s what I went to Egypt to try to do.

Of course, any such attempt comes with potential pitfalls rooted in our psychology. It is so easy to fool ourselves! It is so easy to (on the one hand) persuade ourselves that something is so because we want it to be so; thus we come home convinced we were King Tut, or Nefertiti. It is equally easy (on the proverbial other hand) to persuade ourselves that nothing is happening, because it is important to some part of our psychology that nothing could be happening. Thus we come home triumphantly convinced that nothing happened because we are way too rational to believe in such nonsense.

You can fool yourself in either direction, with too much credulity or with too much skepticism. The trick is to be open to experience without structuring it, thus avoiding both pitfalls. How I set out to do that, and with what results, will constitute another post.



Hanging in the air

As we climbed into the small not-quite shoulder high wicker basket, anchored by a strap to a truck, lest we accidentally begin to proceed sideways, I had to time to think, “This may be the stupidest thing I have ever done.” (And that’s some competitive bar to pass!) Nonetheless, in I went with the others.

We weren’t the first balloon to get up and out. As we got to the field, the first hot air balloons were already ascending toward the moon. Ghostly. Unworldly.

In the pre-dawn

Crowded little space, holding about half a dozen people on either side of the center box which held the pilot in his solitary (if constricted) splendor. Wicker, so, creaky and presumably flammable, and here was a guy deploying a gas jet that, as you can see below, shot out several feet.

Lighting up

All told there were, by my rough count, 21 balloons on the field, all of them hurrying to make the most of the calm, still, early morning air. Not the sort of thing you see every day.

We were a little late getting off, but not much. It was scarcely dawn and we were already in the air. You can’t quite see the Nile here, but anyway we’re looking east, unless the sun was VERY confused.

Dawn from the air

(Rotten photo, sorry)

We weren’t up all that long. An hour, maybe. Our pilot brought us high, higher than the others, showing us the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens at the same time, which requires some altitude! (It was only after we were safely on ground again that he told us he was used to much bigger balloons, and wasn’t all that familiar with the controls on our little vessel. I thanked him for not telling us earlier.)

Landing mechanism is ingenious and simple. He lands, he is met by a ground crew that links the carriage to a tow rope, and they pull it (he keeping it still inflated and thus friction-free) until they get to a place where they are ready to take it down. He slowly deflates the balloon and as the lower end deflates, the ground crew gathers it up and flemishes it (at least, if it were sheets on a ship, that’s what they would be doing): they fold it neatly so that at the end the balloon itself is like a serpentine rope, ready to be stowed on a truck. Then it’s back to the everyday world.

Back on the ground again.

As it turned out, NOT the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. One of my better moves, actually. Flying the way flying ought to be and rarely is: Silent, serene, open-air, slow-motion. (Slow cabin service, though. Still waiting for someone to offer coffee.) A nice start to another day.

Giza pyramids by day

Who goes to Egypt without seeing the Pyramids? But there’s seeing, and seeing. When Ruth and Ehab bring us to the pyramids and temples, they give us time to experience them, not merely to glance at them, check them off our mental list, and move along. So our interaction is different from that obtained by people on what my brother calls Tourist Time.

On our first day, we went to Dashur, where few tourists go. On Tuesday, we’re ready for Giza, where everybody goes. This morning’s exercise is to see what everybody sees. We’ll look around, go into the second pyramid, and come out to do other things, knowing that tonight we’re going to have the Great Pyramid to ourselves — just our 12 tourists and three guides — for two hours. Are we looking forward to it? You guess.

A popular destination!

You see photos of the pyramids, but it’s hard to put them into perspective. A pile of stone without a yardstick is just a pile of stone to the eye, no matter what the mind knows. So, you hear that the great pyramid extends over 15 acres (roughly 7 hectares, I think), but what does that mean? The scale is too big; there’s nothing to compare it to. How easy is it even to envision 15 acres? Here’s an easier way: Look at the size of the people and the size of the blocks, and try to remember that the great pyramid is said to contain two million such blocks. And try to absorb the fact that we couldn’t do anything like it today.

Notice the relative scale of blocks and people

I don’t know about you, but I always thought of the pyramids as being all by themselves in the desert — which they are — without being able to realize that they are also within easy eyesight of the city of 30 million people east of the Nile. Nonetheless, that’s where they are. Three pyramids and the Sphinx, eternally placed, infinitely alone — and if you stay at the right hotel, you look right out on them.

It can be hard to remember, but just across the river from Giza is Cairo, home to 30 million people, several of whom have come to visit.

If you’re interested in the pyramids, you know something of the controversies: why they were built, how they were built; when they were built. Like every other unqualified person, I have my opinion, but in the face of this massive stone reality, how important are opinions and theories? I do maintain, though, that this is not a work that was accomplished by ignorant slaves using copper chisels!

And tell me this: Why would they leave the face of the rock partially smoothed and partially not, as it is here? (This, even disregarding the question of how they smoothed it.) I’ve been puzzling over it ever since I saw it.

Lesser known pyramids

First day, by design, rather than start us off at the crowded Giza plateau, Ruth and Ehab take us to see the relatively unfrequented pyramids at Dashur: The Red Pyramid (“the shining one”), the so-called Bent Pyramid (“the southern shining one”), and, from a distance, the largely ruined (because made of mud brick) Black Pyramid. We board out tour bus for the first time.

Surprisingly roomy and comfortable, complete with ice chest always filled with bottled water.

First stop, the Red Pyramid, vandalized (I don’t know how else to express it) years ago by the systematic theft of its polished outer sheath. Several of us enter the opening and descend a cramped uncomfortable shaft to an empty chamber and an empty sarcophagus. Though it is early in the day, we are accompanied by a number of fellow tourists from elsewhere, younger, very much other-directed, radiating noise, random energy, and an impressive amount of body heat. Then, like a flock of sparrows, at some invisible signal they are gone, leaving five of us and a custodian in quiet contemplation.

I am led to try to absorb the energy of the sarcophagus not by touching it, but by almost-touching it; that is, by feeling it with my energy body rather than using the tactile sense. This will lead to something important, after a while.

We emerge to see, a little more than a mile (two kilometers) across the sands, the Bent Pyramid. We are told we can walk to it if we wish, or we can climb back into the bus and drive over. It doesn’t look like a hard trek, so Sue and I decide to hike overland.

The sand is hard packed, and the terrain is only gently rolling, so of course there is no danger. Nonetheless that mile seems long enough before we’re there. But how fine, to be able to breathe, deeply, the cleanest air I can remember breathing in a long time. And what a fine cloudless morning, so silent, so still and peaceful. Not a long walk, but one to be remembered.

Looking back at two other pilgrims making the same trek

The Bent Pyramid is called that because it begins at one angle, then moves to another. There are many entertaining and unconvincing theories as to why it was built this way. The most absurd, in my opinion, is that the builders began to build, then realized that it wasn’t going to work, and changed plans in mid-stream. As if anyone outside of a lunatic asylum would begin so major a work without having done the calculations ahead of time! And as if – having fortunately discovered in time that they hadn’t known what they were doing – they then compensated with a brilliant stop-gap measure. Tell me another.

Nor is this the first pyramid to be attempted, so we don’t have to assume it was learn-as-you-go. But we don’t need to bandy arguments to appreciate the result.

What they call the Bent Pyramid

This may give you an impression of the difference between how the pyramids looked before vandalism (top of photo) and after (below). With the casing, it would have been smooth, polished, shining. Without it, well, look at it. It’s a mountain of stone partially quarried for the same of projects we don’t know about and wouldn’t care about.

Now, I’m sure whoever took all that casing said, with Jefferson, “Earth belongs to the living,” but I still take it somewhat personally.

Finally, just for the sake of completeness, a glimpse at the ruined Black Pyramid. This is as close as we came to it, or wanted to come. Mud brick can’t compete with stone, in longevity, in beauty, or in interest.