A Soundscape by David P. Crews
[Total run time: 1:17:00]
Ayahuasca–Rain Passage is a visionary sound experience by award-winning musician David Crews, centered on a recording made on his second venture into the Peruvian Upper Amazon to work with the most renowned and respected whole-plant spirit medicine in the world, called ayahuasca–the Vine of the Soul. A jungle rainstorm arrived to guide the ayahuasca ceremony with the energy of Yacumama, the Water Spirit of the rivers and forest, bringing power and depth to the intense visions received from Madre Ayahuasca herself.
About the Music:
“This is a minimalist and immersive ambient soundscape. I designed this to be a deliberately slow and long work to suggest to the listener the mental and spiritual space one enters when working with ayahuasca in traditional ancient nighttime ceremony (which normally lasts from four to six hours). It is based on a 24 bit digital recording, made on location, of the natural sounds environment at SpiritQuest Sanctuary on the Rio Momón, a tributary of the Amazon. It includes the evening chorus of animals and insects, a large tropical downpour, and the post-rain night chorus. This is blended with the spirit songs of the shaman and my original deep electronic music ambient elements.
“Ayahuasca is best encountered when one is surrounded by and embedded into the vast living being that is the Amazon forest. My intention was to make a long-form piece centered on that rainstorm that, while containing creative electronic musical elements, remains an experiential ambient work. Great care has been taken to blend and guide the slowly evolving moods. In ayahuasca, each participant’s specific visions are unique, so I have presented a kind of impressionistic portrayal of the vision experience, very much centered in the entraining of the mind by the rhythms and white noise of the traditional songs, the leaf rattles, and the rain. At 1 hour, 17 minutes in length, this contiguous piece is best listened to in one sitting, when one is ready for an immersive meditational and transforming experience. It also works well as a low-volume truly ambient environment.
“The icaros (spirit songs) heard in this work were also recorded on location, during actual ceremony. They are the songs of don Rober Jarama, the highly esteemed banco ayahuascuero shaman associated with SpiritQuest. I have worked with don Rober over a seven-year period. He is completely authentic and simply amazing in his dedication to traditional mestizo and tribal shamanism in the Amazon. You will hear him whistle his opening Arcana to place spiritual protection on the participants, and also some of his sung icaros that help guide the ceremony throughout the night. Also prominent are the rhythmic sounds of the schacapa, a dry-leaf rattle that helps entrain the mind as the visions progress.
“The musical elements were created with LogicPro X on a Macintosh system and include timbres created in Alchemy, Air Xpand!2, ESX-24, EWQL Symphony samples, and other instruments and modules. Performance, production, and mastering completed at JaguarFeather Studios, Austin, Texas.
“My thanks and love to maestros don Rober Jarama and don Howard Lawler, and the staff and friends of SpiritQuest in Peru.
“I hope you find this journey into the incomparable vision space of ayahuasca to be useful, sublime, and amazing. Blessings and Light!”
-David P. Crews
Author’s Note: Life has been extremely busy and changing for me lately. I apologize to you who are following me that I have not posted in quite a while. This may continue for a time, but I will occasionally post items that I find interesting. I hope that you will enjoy them, also.
Here is an intriguing article from a Christian site that outlines the plans for a kind of new “Good Friday Experiment” with psilocybin (magic mushrooms) offered to long-time meditators and also to traditional active clergy members.
“Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, is leading the new research, which stems from findings that volunteers who’ve taken psilocybin in a wide variety of research settings often report profound mystical experiences.”
The goal is to see if the use of this entheogen will present to the participants a truly mystical experience–one of the same order as those achieved by practiced meditation masters (in particular).
For many orthodox, traditional clergy, however, accepting this offer would mean facing the first such mystical experience of their lives. It seems the study’s organizers are having difficulty recruiting the clergy members for reasons that can be interestingly speculated upon.
I have never been a member of an official clergy, but my own experiences in living and deep-studying Christianity through my first forty years and also in researching and writing a book on New Testament interpretation, lets me identify with a clergy man or woman who would be in a quite similar life situation when suddenly offered the chance to work with psilocybin. Before I decided to encounter Ayahuasca in the Amazon in 2006, I had never used any form of recreational drugs, not even tobacco or any form of alcohol. I still don’t use those particular chemical “allies” today. As one might expect, my initial encounters with Ayahuasca were raw and force-filled. They were the most intense and life-changing mystical or religious experience I could ever have imagined. The experience was not “fun.” It was fear-facing, awe inspiring, and love-power-energy filled. Like prophets of the Old Testament, I trembled and threw myself on the ground. I passed tests and followed a symbolic path to personally encounter and interact with a true Spirit Being. It was far more than and vastly better than anything I had expected, but exactly what I had hoped and worked for.
It seems that my attitude towards encountering the unknown is rare. In the case of this new Johns Hopkins experiment, the clergy have not responded to this opportunity to make such an encounter. Mike Young, one of the participant subjects in the original 1962 Harvard “Good Friday Experiment” speculates:
“It’s still the kind of thing clergy are scared to death to get close to,” he said. “We’ve portrayed drugs as demonic for so many decades. … It’s still toxic.”
Citing a book titled: Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by Bill Richards, a veteran psychedelic therapist who is working with the team at Johns Hopkins, a more profound reason is speculated for the reticence of clergy to engage in this study:
“Could it be that a factor is fear of encountering what the theologian Paul Tillich called ‘the really real God’? ‘Revelatory experiences may have been fine for Isaiah and St. Paul, but for me?’
It takes a great deal of courage and a proactive attitude of desiring truth at any cost to take on a personal expedition to meet, perhaps, God himself, or to find out that the idea of God one has in their mind is inaccurate–or is something Else altogether.
Ayahuasca and Psilocybin (and the other natural holistic spirit medicines) are not for everyone. Although often misused as such, they are definitely not for “recreation” as drugs. Rather, they are a technology for entering the unknown. They are like a cosmic icebreaker designed and capable to take the intrepid explorer on an extreme challenge to an alien land. It very well may be a challenge to their primal understanding of reality and of themselves. That is scary. No question about it.
“I would rather know a fearful truth
than to remain deceived by comforting falsehoods.”
(David Crews – 1990)
Excited to have received my copy here in the US today of the just-off-the-presses book “Magicians Of The Gods” by my friend, Graham Hancock. I pre-ordered the hardback out of the UK to get it faster and with the British cover (shown above). This is the long-anticipated follow-up to Graham’s world-wide bestseller “Fingerprints Of The Gods,” with all new research and information about humanity’s lost past.
In it, he examines the compelling evidence for a devastating comet strike that triggered the great floods of myth, nearly wiping us out as a species and causing the almost instantaneous deep freeze called the Younger Dryas. He also investigates impressive new archeological discoveries like Turkey’s Gobekli Tepe that place (via carbon dating) sophisticated, advanced human societies all the way back at the aftermath of that comet strike, 12,800 years ago, and shows how the survivors of the catastrophe, the Magicians of the Gods, helped restart civilizations all over the world.
He also warns of the likely return of massive fragments from the exact same comet that impacted Earth so long ago. It could happen again, and soon.
Many works in the realm of ancient civilizations (Atlantis, aliens, etc.) are wild speculations based on flimsy evidence. This is not one of them. Hancock’s work is journalistic (his professional background) and very well-researched, mostly through personal trips all over the world to investigate for himself.
The US edition is scheduled to be released on November 10, 2015.
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country. . .”
An observation about reintegration and sharing one’s non-ordinary experiences for good or for ill.
Anyone who has worked authentically with Ayahuasca, gaining sight and knowledge, healing and wisdom, is partaking in the mythic Hero’s Journey. He or she is a legitimate explorer–one who travels to dangerous places, passing barrier guardians, personally encountering the divine Spirit or Spirits, and willingly undergoing tests and challenges that are often terrifying and that threaten survival. When the exploration ends, we who have so ventured return to our mundane world once again, full and overflowing with what has been taken in and we are electrically charged with it. It is a boon for ourselves (this is why we took on the challenge). We wish it to be one for our friends, our family, our tribe: those who did not and would not ever cross the border we crossed; those who would or could not face the challenges and return with the great wealth.
One of the most challenging parts of the Hero’s Journey then, is the return: the reintegration into the “normal” everyday world and trying to fulfill our role as conveyors of the treasures we found and the discoveries we made during our dangerous endeavor. It does not always work, this re-entry into our old world and it can redound to our discomfiture in our relationships with others. Joseph Campbell put it this way:
“[Prior to the Hero’s return from] the mystic realm into the land of common day. Whether rescued from without, driven from within, or gently carried along by the guiding divinities, he has yet to re-enter with his boon the long-forgotten atmosphere where men who are fractions imagine themselves to be complete. He has yet to confront society with his ego-shattering, life-redeeming elixir, and take the return blow of reasonable queries, hard resentment, and good people at a loss to comprehend. . . .
. . . As dreams that were momentous by night may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes.
. . . How to render back into light-world language the speech-defying pronouncements of the dark? How represent on a two-dimensional surface a three-dimensional form, or in a three-dimensional image a multi-dimensional meaning? How translate into terms of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ revelations that shatter into meaninglessness every attempt to define the pairs of opposites? How communicate to people who insist on the exclusive evidence of their senses the message of the all-generating void?”
This, Campbell says, is “the hero’s ultimate difficult task.”
–Joseph Campbell “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” (New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1949–Second Edition, 1968), pp 216-218.
After my first, most powerful and transformative foray into the realms of the Other, I naively presented my journey’s logs and observations to those who are close to me. The reaction was something like that one described by Campbell–the semantic and ontological challenges the very same as he outlined. Sometimes, I wonder if I should have done it, for he also wrote of the hero who might be tempted to “commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock-dwelling, close the door, and make it fast. But if (an obstruction to his retreat has been placed), then the work of representing eternity in time, and perceiving in time eternity, cannot be avoided.”
[ibid, p. 218]
And, so I continue to share what I have experienced. I do so in diverse ways, including (especially) in this blog.
A lengthy but very interesting article in the Atlantic, titled “A World Without Work,” by Derek Thompson, gives a wide view and interesting analysis of work in our challenging and changing times and some ideas for a “post-work” society that are emerging even now.
I, like so many others, am a part of this new process, having been unceremoniously expelled from a corporate “career” job after a quarter-century of working for it, thus being forced to adapt and create new modes of being that are, in most ways, superior to the older paradigm.
A couple of quotes:
“I see three overlapping possibilities as formal employment opportunities decline. Some. . .will devote their freedom to simple leisure; some will seek to build productive communities outside the workplace; and others will fight, passionately and in many cases fruitlessly, to reclaim their productivity by piecing together jobs in an informal economy. These are futures of consumption, communal creativity, and contingency. In any combination, it is almost certain that the country would have to embrace a radical new role for government.”
. . . .
“Decades from now, perhaps the 20th century will strike future historians as an aberration, with its religious devotion to overwork in a time of prosperity, its attenuations of family in service to job opportunity, its conflation of income with self-worth. The post-work society . . . reflects the forgotten norms of the mid-19th century—the artisan middle class, the primacy of local communities, and the unfamiliarity with widespread joblessness.”
Thanks, once again, to Graham Hancock for the lead to this new study on the effects and the likely vital role the chemical DMT plays in human survival.
DMT is one of the ingredients in Ayahuasca and is a powerful vision producing chemical in humans. It has been speculated to have a seminal role in the bringing of consciousness into and then out of the human body at birth and death, leading Dr. Rick Strassman and others to call it the “Spirit Molecule.”
This new DMT study suggests a survival role for DMT and explores how it may extend life and revivability during the trauma of clinical brain death by flooding from the lungs into the brain to fight the damage from loss of oxygen.
It has been understood by many for some time that DMT is endogenous in humans, but most have thought that it originates within the brain itself in the pineal gland. This is the first time I have heard of it being sourced in the lungs, which actually makes a lot of sense if we understand the role it seems to be playing. Also, the concept of DMT connecting with the serotonin receptors in the brain may need some rethinking since serotonin itself is not hallucinogenic.
This Indiegogo campaign is to raise funds for basic research in this very restricted and expensive area of scientific inquiry.
I am always fascinated with new scientific data that works to bridge the gap between our reductionist physical world concepts and the so-called metaphysical or other-dimensional concepts and experiences we can have under the influence of entheogens or spirit medicines like Ayahuasca and DMT itself. If spiritual experiences are “real” and not just brain fiction, there must be a “real” connection in physics, biology, and chemistry. Claiming today that such rational links do not exist and then asserting that all such experiences are, therefore, fiction is a bit like someone from the early 1800s, before James Clerk Maxwell showed that electromagnetic waves could propagate through open space, saying that humans could not possibly talk long distances by “magic” vibrations through the air. The science for it existed even then. It was just unknown to the speaker. Or, as Arthur C. Clarke famously put it:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Excellent video podcast with Amber Lyon of reset.me, in an engaging and fascinating interview with my dear friend and shaman maestro of the Amazon, don Howard Lawler, aka. Choque Chinchay. This is a wonderfully long in-depth discussion about Ayahuasca–what it is and isn’t and how it is properly (and improperly) approached and worked with in its native Amazon setting. Howard is a superb teacher as well as shaman and it is always a blessing to listen to his knowledge and wisdom about the great teacher plants, especially Ayahuasca. This was shot on location at the SpiritQuest Sanctuary in the Upper Amazon where I’ve twice been fortunate to travel and to engage with the great plant teachers under the care and compassion of don Howard and don Rober.
I’ve spent many hours listening to don Howard, asking my questions and having in-depth discussions about the medicine. When you listen to him, you are hearing long and deep experience from one of the most authentic of the Amazon’s medicine men, and probably the best communicator in English for and about Ayahuasca. Enjoy.
Thanks to my friend, Graham Hancock, for this link to a very interesting article about a South Korean physicist, Daegene Song, who is working with the concepts of consciousness and artificial intelligence. First, I should say that this man’s views are controversial and have been challenged, but then, that kind of goes with this territory.
I have long thought that there is a fundamental difference between our organic forms that seem to produce and exhibit what we perceive as consciousness and strictly reductionist machine analogues, i.e.: computers, that are programmed to attempt to re-create it. I personally do not believe that any AI (artificial intelligence) attempts based on current understandings and technology will ever be successful in recreating a fully conscious “being” like us, all the science fiction tropes and movies aside.
I recently saw the film “Ex Machina,” for instance, and as well done as it was, the leap of faith from robot to “person” is palpable and remains firmly entrenched in fantasy. Nothing wrong with that, per se, of course. I write such material myself, but I have at least postulated a mixture of physical bodies/brains with that “something else” that comes from another dimension that I’ve labeled the “Spirit Dimension” in my fiction. We humans may be “bi-modal” without being able to describe or define the dark energy and matter that makes us truly conscious and therefore human. Now, this scientist has done some research that he says proves that consciousness cannot be possible by reductionist mechanical systems alone, because the math prevents it!
From the article:
“If consciousness cannot be represented in the same way all other physical systems are represented, it may not be something that arises out of a physical system like the brain,” said Song. “The brain and consciousness are linked together, but the brain does not produce consciousness. Consciousness is something altogether different and separate. The math doesn’t lie.” (emphasis mine)
I cannot assess the math itself, but this is the first time I’ve encountered someone in that field who is saying something specifically like this, and I find it fascinating and intriguing, especially in light of the “spiritual” work I and others have personally done with actual bi-modal systems such as Ayahuasca.
A lot of folks will disagree and many believe a truly self-aware AI is just around the corner. I think that if that happens, it will still be unexplainable and unreducible in standard reductionist terms, having gathered something of that other dimension, that unknown dark essence that makes us “conscious”.
What do you think?
[ Artwork from Alex Grey. “Human Geometry” www.alexgrey.com ]
Photos ©2015 David P. Crews, CrewsCreative
Through a link from Graham Hancock, here is an interesting article about the medical benefits of Ayahuasca. There have been anecdotal references and rumors about physical cures and benefits of working with Ayahuasca for a long time, but this is a Nature Medicine study that points to one of the vine’s key ingredients as being potentially beneficial in the fight against diabetes.
Some quotes from the article:
“Psychoactive Plant May Hold Key to Reversing Diabetes”
“A chemical found in ayahuasca has the potential to regenerate pancreas cells that have been lost to diabetes.”
“Harmine occurs naturally in a number of plants around the world. It’s one of the ingredients in the psychoactive mixture ayahuasca, which is used by some indigenous people for religious purposes.”
I look forward to more research in this important area. I believe there is a largely untapped resource of powerful natural medicines to be found in our psychoactive plant allies. It is time to do away with the draconian and senseless laws that prohibit researchers from working with these plants.
Much can be done by targeting specific ills such as diabetes with an allopathic medical approach, but I think some of the benefits of working with the spirit plants like Ayahuasca come more subtly from ingesting the specific combination of natural whole plant molecules (and, in a larger view, connecting to the spirit of the plant) and may not express in the same way or be as beneficial when the isolated chemicals (like harmine) are tested individually.
Today, I’m presenting a virtual getaway, especially for anyone stuck in this year’s snowy winter. I’m pleased to offer you my short (7 min.) nature film I shot in November on location in the beautiful country of Costa Rica.
I love waterfalls, and Costa Rica has many lovely ones, both small and very large. All are situated in rain forest settings that invoke images of a lost, green, wild world.
This film also features my original symphonic music score. Be sure to go full screen and volume up.
I hope you enjoy “Costa Rica Waterfalls”!
My posting frequency on this blog has slowed recently due to my becoming deeply involved in writing my first novel. The book, an epic science-fiction/fantasy series, is approaching completion and I will update this blog as I can, but I thought that for now I’d post some recent thoughts in the forms of a poem and a digital image or two.
Often, I find myself simultaneously holding different visions of my humanity. On one hand, I sense the melancholy (which is not the same as sadness or hopelessness) of our situation here in this physical reality. It is the conundrum of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s metaphor of the Stairs that I’ve spoken of several times in these pages. Upon those stairs, we awake and know not whence we came, nor where we are bound. It is an authentic and enduring melancholy for every person–a melancholy borne of that mystery.
On the other hand, I feel a strong imperative to constantly and consciously create real happiness and fulfillment for myself within the time I exist upon those mysterious stairs. I do so by being a creator and I live that role right now. This is the only way to be in this life that brings me (or, I will maintain, anyone else) true joy. It is what Casteneda called a “Path with Heart,” and it brings unexpected delights and challenges to us, while each of us also remains involuntarily bound to that mysterious river of time that leads us to an unknown destination.
Those two visions emerged into two different creations recently, and I thought I’d share them here while I may be away from more regular blog posts for a while.
The Melancholy observation is represented by a poem that is my take on Emerson’s Stairs. It came fully formed out of sleep and the spirit realm of dream last night. The accompanying image (above) is my digital art alteration or enhancement of a detail from one of my favorite painters, Thomas Cole. (It’s from his four panel “Voyage of Life” series from 1842.) His paintings include some directly religious elements, but I believe the idea of guidance from “outside” of ourselves is possible in many shapes and forms that cannot be empirically measured. We are, in any case, on the boat and in motion to an unseen destination.
The Creative/happiness/joy/challenge observation is an original saying and a digital artwork rendered on a moonrise photograph I took along the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica a few months ago.
May we all continue to look, wonder, and choose to make our time upon the waters of life worthwhile by creating joy.
In fragile boats
Clad with skin.
We make no stops–
Frail vessels that
Set no anchor.
The wind blows
Our measured course
Fades in mists
[David P. Crews, 2015]
[Click any image for full size.]
I believe it is a valuable exercise and privilege to be allowed to see ourselves from a completely different perspective – one from the “outside.” For Westerners, our civilization and culture dominates our worldview so thoroughly that it is difficult to find such an “exterior” assessment of our own ways. Here is one – one that is authentic. This article from The Guardian features some of the observations of Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, one of the most influential tribal leaders in Brazil and an Amazonian shaman. As article author John Vidal says,
“In the past 25 years, he has travelled widely to represent indigenous peoples in meetings and, having lived in both societies, he has a unique viewpoint of western culture. With the help of an anthropologist, Bruce Albert, who interviewed him over several years, he has written his autobiography. It is not just an insight into what a Yanomami leader really thinks, but a devastating critique of how the west lives, showing the gulf between primordial forest and modern city world views.”
A few choice excerpts from that autobiography (from the article):
On western wealth –
“Their cities are full of big houses and innumerable possessions but their elders never give them to anyone. If they were really great men, should they not tell themselves that it would be wise to distribute them all before they make so many more?”
On shopping –
Their thoughts are constantly attached to their merchandise. . . .They do not seem concerned that they are making us all perish with the epidemic of fumes that escape from all these things. They do not think that they are spoiling the earth and the sky, and that they will never be able to recreate new ones.
On western cities –
Their cities are beautiful to see, but the bustle of their inhabitants is frightening. People there live piled up one on top of another and squeezed side by side, as frenzied as wasps in the nest. . . . I can never think calmly in the city. . . .Whenever I stay there too long I become restless and cannot dream.
On the environment –
When they speak about the forest, white people often use the word “environment”. What they refer to in this way is what remains of everything they have destroyed so far. I don’t like this word. The Earth cannot be split apart as if the forest were just a leftover part.
To my thinking, agreement or disagreement with this shaman’s specific views would be beside the point. What is important is listening to him and others like him – finding perspective and truth in the refreshingly honest view of ourselves and our culture spoken by those who live in another, nature-based society. Especially so, as their worlds are being so impacted by ours, whether they wish it or not.
The autobiography is:
“The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman” by Davi Kopenawa and
Bruce Albert, published by Harvard University Press.
I just came across this interesting article on the brain’s structure and the nature of consciousness that was published by Wired last year:
For the last 15 years, I’ve been exploring consciousness from a deeply shamanistic perspective with my main purpose to attempt to determine the borders of ontology. This is a quest to determine what is actual and real as opposed to creative fiction. Humans are very good at creative fiction and many idea structures, especially religious ones, are fully and totally believed by many, as if they are real even though they cannot be shown to be ontologically “real.” I – my own consciousness – was subsumed into a fully Christian belief system for the first 46 years of my life. Others have been and still are fully subsumed into that and other, incompatible belief systems. In order to try to get a more reliable view or a better understanding of that border between what exists outside of human interpretation and what is caused by human invention, I have been led to work with some of the great “visionary plant medicines” of the world that seem to transport us into other realms and give us a perspective on our normal, mundane perceptions.
Working extensively with ayahuasca has opened me up to a frontier of exploration into a state that is beyond our everyday perceptions and it may represent a valid window or portal into another dimension of reality. Just as physical tools like microscopes and telescopes have, for the purposes of knowledge acquisition as well as of beauty and wonder, given us a view into worlds vastly smaller and larger than we can personally otherwise “visit,” these substances might be giving us an extremely useful view that we cannot normally access.
The question of ontology is not easily resolved, however, and that is due to our lack of understanding about the nature of consciousness itself, and how the brain functions in that regard. Much has been written and speculated about this, of course, and no one has the answer, but new ideas are emerging. This article is from a neuroscientist, Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and is from a basically reductionist viewpoint (although he delightfully calls himself a “romantic reductionist”): that any and all systems that are complex enough in the right ways, can be considered to be conscious. Here are a couple of excerpts:
Koch: “It’s not that any physical system has consciousness. A black hole, a heap of sand, a bunch of isolated neurons in a dish, they’re not integrated. They have no consciousness. But complex systems do. And how much consciousness they have depends on how many connections they have and how they’re wired up.”
WIRED: “I still can’t shake the feeling that consciousness arising through integrated information is — arbitrary, somehow. Like an assertion of faith.”
Koch: “If you think about any explanation of anything, how far back does it go? We’re confronted with this in physics. Take quantum mechanics, which is the theory that provides the best description we have of the universe at microscopic scales. Quantum mechanics allows us to design MRI and other useful machines and instruments. But why should quantum mechanics hold in our universe? It seems arbitrary! Can we imagine a universe without it, a universe where Planck’s constant has a different value? Ultimately, there’s a point beyond which there’s no further regress.”
WIRED: “I’ve read that you don’t kill insects if you can avoid it.”
Koch: “That’s true. They’re fellow travelers on the road, bookended by eternity on both sides.”
It’s interesting to follow this article’s discussion as it traverses that narrow, fuzzy zone between empirical science and “faith.”
I am, however, attracted to this view of the physicality of consciousness. It seems more “right” because it is more holistic and scaleable. It neither arbitrarily excludes non-human systems from being capable of consciousness, nor tries to place human consciousness on some magical platform of superiority. Where such structural views or mappings of the machinery of consciousness can be limiting or “go wrong” is in stopping with the understandings we gain about the tool itself and deny or disregard the information that comes through that tool (the brain in our case). This hurdle manifests every time someone claims that consciousness altering plants or medicines are “just drugs” or cause “only hallucinations”.
As humans, some of us will certainly continue to push the frontier of knowledge in this direction, however obscure our pioneering pathways or how strongly we may be rejected or vilified in our pursuits. Perhaps soon, however, we may also witness other “self sentient” beings, such as a truly self-aware internet, come into their own consciousness – beings who will be able to assess their own experiences and develop their own data. Hopefully, we’ll be able to compare notes.
All of my life I have deeply loved books and libraries. As just a small boy, I remember how I felt when I first learned about the famous destruction of the Library of Alexandria in ancient times. What an inconceivable loss it was for humanity – setting us back perhaps a thousand years in terms of knowledge and progress. To my child’s mind, it was a horror: the unspeakable loss of all that knowledge and of the wonderful physical books themselves. It may have been the first time I felt an intense exasperation over senseless injustice caused by the actions of ignorant people – something that still manifests in the modern world.
I know now that whether human caused or the result of natural disasters, all collections of knowledge are vulnerable to eventual destruction, especially the individually curated and conserved libraries that we carry around with us through our lives: our personal knowledge and experiences, our stories, our memories, and our philosophies. Each of us contains an amazingly vast repository of these things, and the human brain is still the most complex object known to exist in the universe. As we know too well, however, we are individually subject to dangers and death, and even if we live a full life, natural death will eventually close our library forever. In a strangely real sense, every person is a Library of Alexandria, doomed to destruction.
I felt this quite personally when I was trying to record my Mother’s knowledge about a large collection of family photographs that range back into the 1800’s. Without her memories, many of these will become disassociated from their personal stories and history and flatten into what so many old photographs are: just an old, vintage photo. It saddens me to see such family images for sale in antique stores. Someone’s family heritage and history was lost. Their library “burned down” and there is no way now to recover the information. We can only look into the eyes of that long-passed person and wonder. There are thousands of such images in my family library and I wanted to preserve as much information as possible, so I began recording my Mother, who was happy to help until her health failed and we had to stop. Now, the opportunity has passed and, as much as my sisters and I may remember of it all, there is yet a large, deeper mass of information that has been lost permanently.
That is just one family and one person’s passing. How many billions of such libraries have perished? It boggles the mind to consider it and to imagine what has been lost along the way.
Writing, itself, is a human invention designed to transmit information over time and space, but it cannot contain all that might be recorded. With our modern electronic technologies, many are trying to address this issue by preserving not only books, but other forms of history and knowledge, including digital data, sound recordings, and photographs. Perhaps it will survive, but there are many who warn that our digital data is more vulnerable than the papyrus scrolls were, stacked in their racks in Alexandria. Perhaps some remote and massively secured vaults will protect some of it for a far future, but will anyone be able to make the ancient machinery work, or themselves make new machines that can access and display the data? Will future historians look upon our time as a sudden blank in history because all of our stories and information went into a technical form that cannot be retrieved? I wonder.
When we look back on ancient lands like Egypt, we should realize that 3,000 years ago is not so far back in time, really. Now, the papyri and the painted tombs are fragile and rare, deteriorating with every year that passes. What seems to stand the test of time best is the simplest and, some might think, most primitive technology: engravings into stone. In Egypt and other lands that so carved, even these records are shattered, chipped, scattered, and represent incomplete versions of their original states. It is disconcerting to realize that modern man has left comparatively little of our thoughts carved into simple stone.
So, in the end, even if that end is a far off future where our civilizations are as murky as Egypt’s or as vague and mythical as Atlantis, does it really matter? Should we be concerned, or try to make a deeper, more lasting mark that may, somehow, survive for our unknown future children? Yes, some are trying to archive and store mankind’s knowledge and they may succeed to some degree, but it is likely that most of it will be lost over vast ranges of deep time. We may, indeed, be living in a future time’s Atlantis – our reality a mythological place to those future kin. Ours a human world that may have existed in some form but can’t be proven. A dream out of Time.
In the final analysis, we cannot truly save our worlds. All is in constant motion and does not return again to the same place. Those that come later will have their own world and will not have time to relive ours, even if some of our knowledge may be useful to them, either as practical knowledge or, perhaps, as a warning of what to avoid.
These are melancholy thoughts, and for the majority of us, probably best considered once and then left behind as we pursue our own individual life paths. Perhaps, though, and at a personal scale again, we should at least think about preparing for our own Library to burn down someday and spend some of our time documenting the contents that we think our families, at least, might want to know later on.
We shall not be able to hold on to all we love, and that is just a part of how life is, but some in the future may truly desire to have even a small portion of what we know. I still wish I could have documented more of my family photographs with Mom before she was gone, and I still remember that little boy I once was and how deeply and personally hurt I felt at learning of the loss of the Library of Alexandria – something that happened some 2,000 years before I was born.
We may honor the past and future or desire them greatly, but we cannot live there. It is useful to remember that we honor and desire them in the present moment.
All that truly exists is NOW.
As a follow-up for the summer photography in my last post, I’m pleased to present a six minute film titled “Big Bend–The Scale of Time.” This is a short preview for my upcoming reflective landscape film about Big Bend National Park in Texas. I am in the process of re-shooting footage in high definition to entirely update and replace the imagery from an older film, while retaining the music track and eventually the incidental poetic script and narration elements. This HD film is hosted on Vimeo and is best seen full-screen.
The cinematography and photography in this short version all come from a brief three-day visit to the park in June, 2014. I plan to return at least twice in the coming months (for longer stays) and obtain much more footage to fill out the main feature. What imagery will I get on my next trip? In June, I didn’t expect to get caught in that dramatic lightning storm or see a cloudy, no-sunrise morning suddenly erupt into an amazing spotlit fan of golden light. Big Bend always surprises me with unexpected scenes of wild and gentle beauty that translate so very well into visual art.
I hope you enjoy my film.
A note about the music: This is my original composition and performance excerpted from the longer film. It won the Calypso Award from the Moondance International Film Festival in 2006, and also a prestigious Silver Telly Award in that same year.
I have just returned from a short visit to the wonderful Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas, USA. I’ve been traveling here off and on since the spring of 1962, taking photos and video, hiking and camping, and doing inner work and vision quests. With some extensive new photography equipment in hand including a Nikon D5300 and a computerized slider, I’m setting out to shoot new cinematography and photography of the park in multiple seasons. This is to remake an artistic film I created some years ago using standard definition video. Now, I can remake it in full HD with professional rigging for camera moves.
I’ll post more of the video elements later, but for now, here are some of the still photographs I made this week, accompanied by some script excerpts from the original film.
I hope you enjoy them!
I urge you to click through to the larger images for much higher quality!
In Big Bend
The scale of time is different from
our time – the observers, ourselves – who come.
It is a different scale of time and of movement than
our time – our movement.
We are too fast to see it.
We cannot slow down.
There is an enchanted doorway –
a wonder and a sign.
A Temple of water
And walls of determination.
We briefly enter – and return again.
There is nothing between this sand and that yonder star
but empty space and a thin breath of blistered air.
A Weight Bears Down.
We cannot escape.
Our branches grow tough – and dark.
Our water, our blood, our thoughts
Dwindle . . . down.
The white light sears our flesh into dust,
and there is no wind to blow it away.
The desert does not sleep.
It is an endless movement – the motion of survival.
We look and listen . . . and there is
You can see it move if you are slow enough.
You can feel it, anyway,
if you are still enough.
Do not listen for it or watch for it.
This desert is young. This desert is old.
It depends on your speed, you see.
Some have come to change this land.
Some have changed it – some.
All who have come
Have Been Changed.
Some have gone now.
A fragrance lingers in secret places.
Their song echoes lightly on adobe and wood and stone.
The mesa shrugs, and it is gone.
She is clothed in riches. Bejewelled in green and yellow and brown.
An extravagance on this plate of rock – standing up, tasting the water.
Big Bend is not barren.
LIFE is everywhere in this Desert –
this Living Land.
Raising faces – arms to the air,
feeling deeply down for the lifeblood –
a watery current within.
Knowing how to keep that – and to hold it.
The desert is a mirror.
The desert is a portal.
It reflects our souls back at us,
and then offers a Way
into another Realm.
We are opened up
and slowed down.
The soft voices of the Plants can be heard.
The wordless brotherhood of the Animals is known.
The marvel of the Eternal Moment can be felt
In our very ground.
Big Bend is a Heart Land.
A place of shifting Shapes.
It is a healer of the Spirit.
A photography post for this hot summer’s day.
Here are some of my images from my last journey into an amazing landscape in southeastern Utah. Please click on any photo for a larger, better view.
I will be heading back into this area this fall to do some more photography and cinematography and I will look forward to sharing some of that with you then.
Here is a manifestly magical landscape where, as the ancients said, “There are more rocks standing up than lying down.”
Entering this land, we feel like we have stumbled into a giant, ancient, Atlantisian cityscape – thousands of massive buildings, scatter far over the rolling hills and loom profoundly next to our tiny forms. They are frozen in time as the wind and sun slowly melt the magnificent masonry into curious shapes. Long, inspiring parks of green and orange still echo the aesthetic design of a masterful and artistic urban planner. It is a scene that seems populated or that seems it should be – filled with milling crowds. When the black raven caws and the wind sighs around the rocks, however, we realize that it is too quiet for such crowds. There are few humans here. The rock pillars themselves form the sense of mass congregation.
Perhaps it is all mere sand and wind. Perhaps.
As we stand, dwarfed, by a reddened wall topped with curious minarets and colorful balanced spires, we may sense that this primordial cityscape was designed this very way by spirit beings or unknowable men and women of mystic vision, serving some need of the soul and heart that still resonates in us today. We feel the rocks ringing and singing their long songs, gazing ever into eternity.
Spirit hand prints of the Ancestral Puebloans who passed this way some 500 to 900 years ago. With time so long and slow in this magical land, it seems that the red paint should still be wet to the touch.
You can hear Time pass by in a soft and curious breeze between the painted walls.
One of the most interesting writers about Ayahuasca is the featured author on Graham Hancock’s website this month. Rak Razam’s article on the “State of the Vine” is an interesting overview of how the great plant medicine is viewed, used, and evolving into our modern cultures. Rak wrote two excellent books on Ayahuasca: “Aya Awakenings: A Shamanic Odyssey” and “The Ayahuasca Sessions” (www.ayathebook.com) and continues to verbalize many views and overviews of the medicine, giving perspectives that are sometimes lost in the tangle of the vine as it is being used and sometimes abused today.
I was particularly struck by this excerpt about the reason many Westerners have decided to approach and work with Ayahuasca. I am one of these seekers, coming as I did to it at the same time Rak did in 2006:
“So when tens of thousands of Westerners started coming in search of ayahuasca–the vast majority with no obvious ailments–the curanderos soon realized there was still a sickness: this one of the soul, a spiritual malaise where people talked of being disconnected from nature, from the whole idea of spirit and spirituality, in any tangible way. That is why the came seeking visions, wanting to see spirits and validate the spiritual world that has long been disconnected from the West. They were filling a burning ache within them for re-connection, which is, of course, what religion means in the original Latin.”
If you have read my series on my original encounter with Ayahuasca, you know that this describes my reasons and approach to the medicine quite well. It also describes my actual experience in re-connecting with the Spirit of life itself. Working with Madre Ayahuasca led to the first and so far only event in my life that I can unflinchingly call a “religious experience.” One that was all the more mind and eye-opening for having had nothing at all to do with the religion of my first forty years on this planet, and everything to do with the life of this planet itself.
“These are still early days, and for all the teething issues that hit the headlines, a great archaic revival is underway, an understanding of the true nature of our reality and what we are embedded in. This is the true beauty of ayahuasca, and the invitation to become part of this movement is there as the vine reaches out to embrace the world.”
Her spirit infuses my life continually, as I am certain it does for most who encounter Ayahuasca with a good heart and honest intentions for visionary healing and enlightenment, whether that healing be physical, emotional, or spiritual.
“If Voss’ research provides a consistent method of psychic exploration, scientists and psychonauts will be able to further understand the mysteries, mechanisms and potential self-discoveries of dreams.”
“The study, published in Nature Neuroscience in May, provides some of the first data necessary to understand the biology of lucid dreaming.”
Here’s an interesting article by Daniel Appel at Ultraculture on new research into brain function and the phenomena of lucid dreaming. Reductionists will surely use these kinds of discoveries to assert that lucid dreaming and other “spiritual” experiences are nothing more than meaningless bio-mechanical artifacts. Others will understand that the brain functions as a kind of receiver and amplifier/filter for connection to non-ordinary dimensions. In that understanding, it makes perfect sense that altering or manipulating the brain with electromagnetic forces can “tune” our marvelous receivers in various ways to attain specific effects, just as a radio’s tuning mechanism does to select certain frequencies to display.
I find this particularly interesting in that if this new methodology is proven effective, it may also help many of us who have never attained these particular states do so for the first time.
“A creature who has once passed from visible nature into the ghostly insubstantial world evolved and projected from his own mind will never cease to pursue thereafter the worlds beyond this world.”
-Loren Eiseley, The Invisible Pyramid, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1970, p. 151.
[Click any photo for a larger view.]
Meet K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat, or in our best interpretation of his name: Kawak Sky.
Time for a travel post and photos.
Whenever I’m not focused primarily on landscapes and scenery, travel for me often involves ancient cultures and archeological sites. I’ve been scanning some of my older photo collections, and these images from the Mayan site called Quiriguá came up today. Quiriguá (our modern name for it) is a modest Mayan site in terms of architecture, but its collection of carved stelae and zoomorph stones are amazing.
Quiriguá lies in southern Guatemala, not far from its large rival city, Copán, just across the modern border to Honduras. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Quiriguá was the first Mayan site I had the privilege to visit, and it was a good introduction to the Mayan world.
Kawak Sky was the “k’ul ahaw,” or “Holy Lord” of Quiriguá. This small city was active during the Maya Classic Period from about 200 to 900 AD, and is noted now for its important carved stone monuments. These represent the most dense collection of Mayan hieroglyphic stone stelae known to exist in one site, and the tallest freestanding stone monuments in the Americas. Stela E stands 35 feet high. The local red sandstone is solid and clear of fractures, which allowed the Mayan artisans to carve deeply and in large format.
Quiriguá was a subservient city to the much larger and more powerful Copán until Kawak Sky managed to ambush the elder king of Copán and haul him back to Quiriguá for a ritual execution. This occurred in 738 AD, establishing the independence of Quiriguá from that time forward and making Kawak Sky the most celebrated of its rulers.
It was fascinating to walk for my first time among ancient Mayan carvings and see a real ball court. At that time, I was recently married and we enjoyed climbing the carved stone steps of the central acropolis and listening to the forest birds as we soaked in the strange air of this place. It’s history, often very violent, was so different from our own culture. Yet here it lies, surprisingly close in physical distance to my own home in Texas. I’ve been to a number of other Mayan sites since this, but I never tire of the sense of wonder and history one experiences when actually walking these old cities and monuments.
In the early 1930s, author Aldous Huxley visited Quiriguá. He was also impressed by the stelae, writing:
“And there they still stood, obscurely commemorating man’s triumph over time and matter and the triumph of time and matter over man.”
Huxley, Aldous (1950) [©1934]. Beyond the Mexique Bay: A Traveller’s Journal (Reprint ed.). London: Chatto & Windus.
Stepping Outside the Shadow
In an earlier post, I spoke of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s metaphor of the stairs. It is a disturbing observation, precisely because it is the simple, honest assessment of the fundamental experience of all men and women. In his essay “Experience,” he states:
“Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight.”
We, each of us and collectively, wake upon these stairs from a shadow of unknowing. Furthermore, we live our lives inside a kind of cosmic prison whose bars are made of unreachable stellar distances, vast time, and the necessarily precise material nature of our fragile yet essential protective physical environment. When our encased and brief life ends, we enter a shadow of greater unknowing – greater not by essence, but by virtue of our ability to perceive and anticipate it. It leads us, we know not where.
Is this our lot, not to know, not to ever understand? Are we mere chemical accidents–embodied processes running meaninglessly on for a brief moment? If not, and if we are more than that, can that part of our nature that is beyond the reductionist machine, give us the insight we seek? Can it give us energy and something of value to accomplish? How can mankind escape his prison of shadows?
William Blake once wrote, “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.” Some say that all the apparent universe we see–all of reality–is literally created by our thoughts. That may be so, but the old stairs seem solid and unchangeable. It is unquestionable however, that we are unique beings that have the ability to create new things and new cultures from the images we conjure in our minds, images that arise out of veriest nothing. Images that have no source in the cold stairs of our cosmic prison. We have the ability and power to live another life concurrent with the merely physical, a life that constitutes a different universe and a new set of stairs created and described by our own minds and hearts.
With this ability, we can step beyond our restricting shadow-shell and use our new energies for either positive or negative ends, but we must choose our inner path with care. There are shadows here of a different kind. Carl Jung said, “Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.”
There is a balance to be obtained between the finite world of physical bodies within gross material life and the inherently infinite universe within our minds – that well of infinite possibilities that has propelled us so far as a species in so short a span of time. The Christian mystic, Thomas Traherne, put perhaps the finest focus on the matter when he wrote, “Infinite Love cannot be expressed in finite room: but must have infinite places wherein to utter and shew itself. . . . And yet, it must be expressed in a finite room. . .”
All of this is to paraphrase and restate a view expressed with eloquence by one of the last century’s finest essayists, Loren Eiseley. In The Invisible Pyramid, he writes:
“In man, moreover, consciousness looks out isolated from its own body. The body is the true cosmic prison, yet it contains, in the creative individual, a magnificent if sometimes helpless giant. John Donne, speaking for that giant in each of us said: ‘Our creatures are our thoughts, creatures that are born Gyants. . . . My thoughts reach all, comprehend all. Inexplicable mystery; I their Creator am in a close prison, in a sick bed, anywhere, and any one of my Creatures, my thoughts, is with the Sunne and beyond the Sunne, overtakes the Sunne, and overgoes the Sunne in one pace, one steppe, everywhere.’
“This thought, expressed so movingly by Donne, represents the final triumph of (the) interior microcosm in its war with the macrocosm. Inside has conquered outside. The giant confined in the body’s prison roams at will among the stars. More rarely and more beautifully, perhaps, the profound mind in the close prison projects infinite love in a finite room. This is a crossing beside which light-years are meaningless. It is the solitary key to the prison that is man.”
[Loren Eiseley, The Invisible Pyramid, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1970, pp. 48–49.]
In this way and along this path, we can choose to express our inner creations for love rather than power, even as we are trapped, contained within the narrow prison of our bodies and lost somewhere along an unexplainable stairway. This is the difference between those shamans who choose healing over sorcery. It is the open heart that brings health and joy to our shadowed life. The words of Traherne again ring true:
“This moment exhibits infinite space, but there is a space also wherein all moments are infinitely exhibited, and the everlasting duration of infinite space is another region and room of joys.”
“You never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.”
Here’s a very interesting article from a couple of years ago that I want to pass along. “The Heretic” is from Tim Doody, originally published in The Morning News. He presents the life journey and describes a speech by noted psychedelic researcher, Dr. James Fadiman. He was part of the International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS), which was doing important research in the summer of 1966 when the Feds slammed the door on all psychedelics, including LSD.
This is a fine survey of that interesting story and its aftermath, plus an analysis of how these substances are slowly returning to the public surface once again, expressing how they should be reassessed for their immense value for healing and for inspirational creativity.
He relates Dr. Fadiman’s list of six requirements for a quality session with the these substances, which include well-known and established concepts of set and setting and an experienced and supportive Guide.
He also talks about the long tribal history we humans have had with the sacred plants, including this about Ayahuasca:
“It’s a fairly open secret that not only does the Amazon contain the necessary ingredients for ayahuasca, one of the strongest and oldest psychedelic brews, but that the forest itself isn’t so much a wilderness as a 10,000-year-old garden under indigenous management.”
He also talks about ontology, or the assessment of reality in the visions (one of my own deep interests):
“If reality isn’t shaped with the psychically aware, self-organizing units that Giordano Bruno called monads in the sixteenth century, then perhaps it’s woven with Indra’s net, the jeweled nodes of which stretch into infinity, each one a reflection of all others. To entertain such ontologies is to re-contextualize one’s self as a marvelous conduit in a timeless whole, through which molecules and meaning flow, from nebulae to neurons and back again. If certain of these molecules connect with our serotonin receptors like a key in a pin tumbler, and open a door to extraordinary vistas, why shouldn’t we peek?”
Thanks to Mitch Schultz at DMT: The Spirit Molecule for the link.