Oregon on my mind today . . .
Though this massive desert formation was created in 1990, it’s still extraordinary to behold. At first I thought it might have been made by ETs, just like some of the crop circles in farmer’s fields might be. But then I read the comments below the video, and came across one which said that he was the son of the artist who made it, Bill Witherspoon. So I googled Bill Witherspoon and I found a story that’s utterly magic. I post the first part. Do read the whole thing. To me, the way he describes his experiences while making the Sri Yantra structure imply a dramatic expansion of the dimensionality of what we call “permaculture.”
Witherspoon: ” . . . for those who are drawn to exploration of reality’s deeper layers, the refinement of perception resulting from a restructuring of awareness emerges as an extremely attractive and useful tool. Therefore, this experience of more refined perception coming from my encounter with the Sri Yantra led me to wonder what more I might do to amplify its effect. . .”
by Bill Witherspoon
The following pages chronicle a series of experiences and observations that have
emerged from several years of exploratory art projects. Necessarily, they are personal.
The experiences resulted from events that were intuitively directed or were the response
to some environmental stimulus. Because of this, things were often done without
preconceived intellectual rationale. Often I had questions and was seeking answers, but
at other times I did not know the questions and seemed to be engaged in activities that
were following some barely perceivable thread. It was often months or even years
before I understood the reasons, purpose and way the projects arranged themselves.
And, even with a feeling of understanding, it has often been difficult to verbally explain
or place actions in the context of a commonly acceptable model of how the world works.
In this chronicle, I have attempted to relate some of the facts and simple observations
that accompanied these projects without attempting to describe the delight of the
II 1989: Oregon Desert and the first Desert Design (Fig. 1-2)
In the summer of 1989 I took my studio, a large converted bus, to a remote part of the
high desert in southeast Oregon. I stayed there about four months in a familiar place
that I had painted from the previous year and made paintings. After being there a few
weeks I made a design in my notebook, which I had planned to integrate into a painting
of the sky. For some reason, instead I built the design with lines of cairns (small piles of
rocks), placing the bus in its center. The design was about sixty yards across, precise
and symmetrical. The center of the design was left open, in a sense unfinished, because
it lay under the bus, directly beneath the spot where I regularly practiced meditation.
After the design was completed, animals started to come into its boundaries. This was
in complete contrast to the previous year when only a few birds and kangaroo rats came
near this spot in a six-month period. As far as I could tell, nothing had changed except
that I had made the design. In the next three months, several hundred animals of all
kinds appeared inside the design. Many of them, such as the water ouzels, had to come
some distance from their normal habitat. Others, such as the golden foxes that slept by
the door in the late afternoon, were undoubtedly always in the area but because of their
shyness had never before come close.
The animals that came behaved in an unusual manner. They did not seem inhibited by
my presence and they did not seem to be territorial or aggressive with each other. For
example, one night I watched owls, rabbits and kangaroo rats all within a few feet of
each other without seeing any signs of fear or aggression. Several times I saw twenty or
more jack rabbits gathered together, walking upright on their hind legs and on more
than one occasion antelope walked into camp and stood looking at me attentively.
Later that fall in a gallery in the Midwest, I made the same design from desert rocks
mounted in columns of white concrete. The design was more elaborate because it
included a vertical dimension and used vertical and horizontal colored chalk lines to
enhance its articulation.
During the exhibition I remained in the gallery and observed the visitors to see how the
design might influence their behavior. Classes of school children who would visit the
exhibition in groups of twenty to thirty were the most interesting. They would
invariably remain within the boundaries of the design even though there was far more
space outside the design than inside. When their teachers asked them to sit down on the
floor for discussion, they would always collect in the center of the design and the
youngest ones would pile themselves two and sometimes three deep on each other’s
laps, filling the center completely. Adults who visited the exhibition also tended to stay
inside the design and many remarked that the place felt good and that they stayed much
longer than intended.
At this time, I began researching traditional designs from different parts of the world. I
found this particular design almost exactly described in an obscure Sanskrit text called
the Vastu Sutra Upanishad. According to this text the design was to be placed on stone
blocks before carving sacred images. Carving the parts of the image in harmony with
the design was said to insure that the image would be “attractive to consciousness” and
this in turn would result in the finished image being entered by the consciousness of the
deity. The phrase “attractive to consciousness” caught my attention.
About this time a friend asked if I could make a Sri Yantra. The Sri Yantra is a
traditional design from India that is thought of as an instance or occurrence (rather than
a symbol) of the deepest laws and forces of Mother Nature or Mother Divine. I spent a
few months doing extensive library research on the Sri Yantra and also spoke with
people who had experienced its use in India as part of the spiritual tradition of Sri
Vidya. Then I decided it would be consistent with its traditional use to make one from
gold leaf and transparent pigments.
The process of research, and especially construction of the Sri Yantra, produced a
powerful influence. It restructured my awareness and perception. I believed that my
sensory experience and understanding of deep laws and forces of Nature was rapidly
I had been in the habit of understanding reality as being hierarchically structured in
interpenetrating layers; with successively deeper layers being simpler, more
comprehensive and more powerful. The activity of these deep laws creates the surface
of life, which we experience as every day reality. (“Laws”, used in this sense, contains
the notion of ordering principle or intelligence combined with force or energy.) It may
1 The following was written in an attempt to capture that experience.
It must have been smoldering for a long time. Why it broke into flames when it did is uncertain.
Probably she had something to do with it. Why, though? She had been patient so long.
Maybe too long. Perhaps she saw an opening, an opportunity. I had been calling her for some time and I’m sure she had answered, but I didn’t hear well.
It started in the center, in the heart of things, in the deepest part where I didn’t know how to look. By the time the first flames appeared, there was no stopping, it spread like an echo. As the interior burned, everything came down – all my comfortable habits were destroyed. I thought that the shell would remain – that something would last and contain me. But somehow the fire smoldered. Finally the shell burned out as well.
Now, everything is much better. Before, I would hear her only faintly, if at all. With all of my little spaces and so many places to be, I was always in the wrong one, or too busy, or, I am embarrassed to say, unwilling to hear what she said.
But now, with everything gone, her voice is everywhere, soft and quiet.
not be common to give our attention to the direct perception or experience of these deep
laws, due to our absorption in the surface events of the world. However, for those who
are drawn to exploration of reality’s deeper layers, the refinement of perception
resulting from a restructuring of awareness emerges as an extremely attractive and
useful tool. Therefore, this experience of more refined perception coming from my
encounter with the Sri Yantra led me to wonder what more I might do to amplify its
III 1990: Oregon Desert Sri Yantra (Fig. 3-6)
In the summer of 1990, a group of friends, one of my sons and I went to a remote alkali
lake bed in the high desert of southeast Oregon to inscribe a large Sri Yantra in the earth.
It was to contain a central point large enough to live in. The site was chosen because of
its beauty and remoteness. Almost no one, except a few ranchers, ever went there.
Inscribing lines in the alkali surface would not disturb any vegetation and it would be a
transitory event, eventually disappearing back into the surface through the natural
action of wind and the occasional water that floods the lake bed every few years.
The design was made without machines or modern tools except binoculars and a simple
hand plow. We used only ancient principles of geometry and long wires and sharpened
poles as tools. When completed it was 1/4 mile across, covered over forty acres and
contained over thirteen miles of lines. The lines, plowed with an old fashioned garden
cultivator pulled by three crew members and steered by the fourth, were about four
inches deep with the hard alkali crusted dirt cast to both sides of the furrow.
During construction, we were careful to minimize the disturbances to the land. We
chose to walk several miles daily from camp to the site rather than use vehicles, and
refrained from using other motorized devices such as a tiller. We did not want to leave
tracks or other marks, not to preserve anonymity but out of respect for the purity of the
Construction of the Sri Yantra took ten days to complete. As soon as the last line of the
design was plowed, heavy clouds began to collect in the south. Within an hour, our
valley was filled with high winds, intense lightning strikes and about 1/2 inch of rain.
The result of this storm was that all traces and tracks from our working were dissolved.
Like a finished painting, it was as if the surface had been varnished. Remarkably, the
lightning and the rain were limited only to the small valley where we were working, a
fact that was the source of much speculation by a nearby rancher who wanted the rain
on his land.
In the three weeks that followed, I lived in the nine-foot central circle of the Sri Yantra.
During that period and on several occasions during the following years, other people
and I observed remarkable changes in the workings of Nature within the design and in
the valley where it was situated.
One of the more interesting subjective changes was a modification of the “feeling”
within the valley. While a difficult parameter to describe or measure, this change in
feeling was noted by ranchers and other people who have known the area for a long
time. People reported experiencing qualities of energetic peacefulness, harmony with
nature and enhanced intuition when they were in the design and valley. Another
influence was a radical change in the quality of meditation that would repeatedly occur
if individuals moved a few feet out of the central circle into the innermost triangle of the
design or vice versa.
Changes in the environment were also observed. Within the design, which had been
inscribed in highly alkaline silt, incapable of supporting any kind of vegetation, there
were remarkable changes in the direction of increased fertility.
Two years after construction, even though the lines were disappearing, the structure of
the soil had changed from a highly compacted mixture of silt and salts to a loose,
crumbly soil that smelled and tasted more like normal soil. The surface of the soil was
also significantly changed. Instead of the flat, layered and often cracked surface that had
characterized the lake bed before inscribing the Sri Yantra, the surface became
“rumpled;” formed into a three dimensional configuration of regular ridges and valleys
that arranged themselves in the pattern of hexagonal close packing, much like an egg
carton. The pattern was caused by modification of the surface soil into a physically
expanded, more adhesive and resilient material.
Both of the soil changes were due to an extraordinary proliferation of soil
microorganisms and the resulting increase in soil organic matter. The soil changes were
limited to the forty or so acres of the design and were most pronounced in its center.
In other respects, the entire fifty square mile valley was different. The ranchers noticed
a continued increase in the valley’s rainfall. This was accompanied by increased
vegetative growth, as well as increased populations of several plants and three animals
species that were not previously common in the valley.
Because of these observations, I began to speculate about possible mechanisms by which
the geometric structures might bring about change. The most interesting observation
was that there appeared to be an inverse correlation between the gradual disappearance
of the design as it melted back into the lakebed and the increase in the presence or
influence of the enlivened laws of Nature. Other analogous situations seem to exist as in
Homeopathy, where increasing levels of dilution are said to represent or impart
increasing levels of strength. An even more striking parallel may exist with the
principal of Sangyama. Sangyama, as described by the Indian Rishi, Patanjali, is a
process in which the mind generates an impulse at the deepest level of consciousness
and then allows that impulse to settle back into the field of pure undifferentiated
consciousness from which it had been drawn. The result of this process is the
appearance of a new impulse that has enormous power and direct support of
fundamental forces of Nature.
The construction of the Sri Yantra was also accompanied by other events that gave rise
to new understandings about how Nature might operate. Going into the valley for the
first time, I was driving the converted bus and towing a pickup truck. We stopped and I
got out to open a barbed wire gate. Sitting on the gatepost was an adult golden eagle.
The eagle looked at me squarely, swished its tail back and forth several times, dropped a
tail feather and flew off. In the next several weeks, I had occasion to go through the
same gate many times and there was no eagle. Then, on my homeward trip, as I passed
through the gate for the last time, a golden eagle was sitting on the same gatepost. It
waited for me to get out of the bus, looked at me squarely, swished its tail, dropped
another feather and flew off.
Back home, several weeks later, the National Guard discovered the Sri Yantra and the
media, not knowing its origins or implications, created a greatly exaggerated hoopla. I
was in a position of deciding to speak publicly about the project or remain anonymous.
In order to clarify the rapidly growing misunderstandings, I decided to speak publicly.
Immediately upon making that decision, I walked outside my rural Iowa home and
looked up into the sky. Directly above the house were fourteen circling bald eagles.
A year later, I had occasion to tell this story to a Vedic scholar. He told me of a
traditional yagya, or ceremony, infrequently performed in India to honor the Divine
Mother, which is considered to have been successful only if it results in the appearance
of an eagle. Finally, these events, related to several Native American elders and
medicine people, elicited in-depth explanations of the ways Nature communicates.