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)
“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.
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.
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.
How can you prove whether at this moment we are sleeping, and all our thoughts are a dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to one another in the waking state?
I’ve long thought that many UFO or strange light sightings are of natural, earthly origin, if still quite mysterious in their scientific nature. British author Paul Devereaux wrote an insightful book on the matter in 1989 called “Earth Lights Revelation” that links these sightings with fault lines. It is almost certainly what causes things like the mysterious Marfa Lights in West Texas (which I’ve witnessed) and ball lightning. Surely, many standard UFO “bright ball of light” type sightings fall into this category as well. Some new articles with photos about this phenomenon have just been published, including the one linked above. I love the photo showing several such ball lights “floating” above the ground and presumably emergent from a local fault line there.
That said, there are also many sightings and encounters of other phenomena that go far beyond these lights, and which I believe originate in some form of ‘parallel dimension’. This alternate dimension can be accessed, if only with great discomfort and hard effort, through the ritual shamanic use of entheogens like Ayahuasca and Peyote. Graham Hancock’s book, Supernatural, is a great introduction to this concept.
All such adventures are subjective experiences, of course, (at least for now) but there is a large consistency across all such human reports. I offer my own report of such a powerful experience in my series on Ayahuasca, linked in the sticky post at the top of my Home page (or here).
To quote from the Upworthy site’s take on this video:
“Retired police Capt. Peter Christ is about to make more sense about the War on Drugs than anyone you’ve ever heard in the past. His basic premise is that we need to legalize drugs, but if you’re skeptical, just give him a few minutes to convince you.”
This man is simply the best, most concise speaker I’ve heard expressing this view on this incredibly important issue. Who better than a retired Police Captain to bring an authentic and experienced voice to explain how the use of prohibition backed by law enforcement to solve the drug issues in society has utterly failed and cannot possibly ever work! He also explains beautifully how it can be contained and controlled with the strong comparisons to the way we deal with alcohol and tobacco in our society.
This is about 15 minutes long, but this man is so well-spoken that it will be more than worth your time to watch and listen. I hope his visibility will increase and more of the mainstream public will be exposed to this critical paradigm shift in our group think.
Graham Hancock posted a link to this article and I want to pass it along on my blog as well. It is a thoughtful and interesting essay on the value of ‘psychedelics’ in society and the shifts in the perceived nature of reality one obtains when working with them:
He talks about the conundrum that although there is an infinite variety of unique personal experiences with these substances, there are also many common structures to those experiences from one person to another. Aaron states:
“An argument exists, and may not be easily solved, between whether the many compelling structural similarities give us a more fundamental insight into the nature of such mystical experiences than the seemingly endless amounts of detailed variation. Are they are a kind of metaphorical imagineering of the self, externalized and projected outward, or do they point to a more foundational ontological reality?”
This represents the very edge of the frontier. Since all such experiences are subjective, they can be denied by external reductionists while, for the partaker, the experience resounds with profound insights and meaning that he or she cannot deny by resorting to such reductionism and pretending it is all just a fantasy of brain chemicals. That being so, those who have had such immense experiences often find it difficult to interface with those who have not. Relating such experiences can result in being categorized as fanatical or delusional, which can affect their life in practical ways.
The structures of ancient shamanism provide a methodology to contain such experiences in a meaningful manner. Within it, we can place them inside a time-honored society and a set of techniques that, while never claiming to represent empirical proofs for the nature and reality of the vision experiences, legitimize them as personal and sacred experiences that have actual meaning across a broad spectrum of humanity.
Visionary experiences via psychoactive medicines like Ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin, often provide a new perspective that allows us – actually gives us the freedom and possibility – to examine that which we assume is reality and to question it for the first time:
“The extraordinary nature of my trips has forced me to question some basic assumptions about what it is that I, or we, can know. Objectivity, that holy ideal, seems now merely an attractive mirage, that when grasped at has actually left me stumbling and clutching air as it reappeares across the room.”
“. . . psychedelics instruct us on the arbitrary nature of consensus reality. A slight tweak in what constitutes our day-to-day brain chemistry, and colorful visionary patterns and interpersonal dissolution would be normality, while the idea that we are all separate individuals, apart from wholeness and love, would be the hallucinogenic trip.”
Once this happens for a person, this stretched and massively expanded perception of the universe can never be returned to the small container of reductionist consensus reality that he or she once held, perhaps by default. There exists now for them another vast and awe inspiring view of things. One only has to turn around and look at it. When we do, then who is to say which is the real and which the unreal? Perhaps both are ontologically real simultaneously in some larger multi-dimensional overview that takes us beyond our human limits.
Check out this fascinating short animation called “Trip” from a duo based in Sao Paulo. They choreograph projected animated characters onto real life backgrounds.
The film illustrates the journey many are now making from traditional religions to the direct experience of shamanism, especially through personal interaction with vision producing plant medicines like Ayahuasca.
For those of you who may have anticipated an update before now, I appreciate your patience. I decided to wait until I returned home to write my final journal entries for my trip to the Amazon. After the third Ayahuasca ceremony, my work there became more intense and involving, plus the internet connections on-site were less than ideal for posting to the internet. I have safely made my way back to my home in Texas after a final week taking an initial look around Panama. Now, I can begin to catch up on these posts and eventually get some of my many photos and audio recordings posted as well. Please stay tuned!
The final two Ayahuasca sessions were more intense and physical than the previous three. As I somewhat anticipated after the first three ceremonies, the visions aspect of my work here was to be limited, but powerful in the end. It seemed I was to deal mostly with physical cleansing, healing, and insights, which I hope to carry forward into my everyday life. The fourth ceremony was especially physical in that I reacted with a hard sweat all night long. This is uncomfortable, if not concerning, and it really focuses one on the state of the body throughout the session. This hard-sweat ceremony happened to me once before, so I was aware that it might be a possibility this cycle.
My final, fifth ceremony was completely clear of the sweats and other discomforts, and this round of Ayahuasca did let me experience a powerful kind of vision. I won’t actually describe this in detail as it was quite personal and had to do with my own inner emotional state and body state after some recent surgery for cancer. I will say that in essence, it allowed me to experience a kind of complete healing and merging with the universe in a way that I feel is the actual state of being that is obscured by our material lives and bodies. I was made to feel completely loved and welcomed into an embrace of unity with the spirits that watch and love us. Understand that this is my interpretation of the shamanic experience I had, and not a claim for others to believe or reject. While common themes do occur and overarching interpretations can be implied, shamanism, especially of this kind and intensity, is only interpretable by the individuals who partake of the experience, and then only for themselves. There are no priests in shamanism.
Five Ayahuasca ceremonies. When done authentically in the proper set and setting and with properly prepared medicine, this is a massive set of experiences and represents the most that anyone should attempt in one cycle of work. Maestro Howard said that to do more would be like pouring water into a cup already brimming full. The experiences would just spill over and be lost along with their personal value to the participant. With the strict diet and these five intense ceremonies over about two weeks time, I was feeling very stretched and yet full indeed, and I was pleased and ready for it to come to its conclusion.
Some of my wonderful fellow participants headed home after this, and a few stayed with me at the sanctuary to engage in a different kind of plant teacher medicine: Huachuma. This is the great medicine of the ancient Chavin culture of Peru and I will describe that ceremony in my next post.
This is the second post from my Ayahuasca retreat in the Upper Amazon, in Peru. I have come through three Ayahuasca ceremonies, with two more to follow starting tomorrow night.
Tonight, we had a break from them with a special ceremony to work with another teacher plant called bobinsana. This beautiful blooming shrub is a heart-opening plant and working with it helps one suppress any tensions or anger in our lives. It also, and this is what most intrigues me, is a plant that brings vivid dreams and allows you to remember them. I have worked with my dreams for years and find it frustrating when I cannot recall them, so I will be very interested in this aspect of working with bobinsana.
Sometimes, when working with Ayahuasca, one receives strong visions. These are usually cathartic in nature and may be frightening or very beautiful and reassuring. Visions are not the only modality in which Ayahuasca works, however. It can be very healing even when there are no significant visions. In ancient times, and still in some places today, the Ayahuasca vine is taken by itself without the DMT admixture plants that bring the “light” of the visions. The physical purging, the discomforts, and the perspectives one receives as we witness our body reacting, are useful in themselves. We are cleansed and recalibrated to a norm that many of us have deviated from significantly. This is likely the case for me, as my first three sessions have not produced many visions of consequence.
I did see a representation of Mother Ayahuasca in my second ceremony, but she was presented as a stereotyped grandmother figure with a blank cloth face. My intent in this session was to personally thank her for the work she did for me and with me in 2006. I spoke into the vision that I understood that she presents many different faces to those who seek her and that I did not expect another dramatic audience with her as I had before. In response to this, the grandmother figure started taking on a series of faces of evil-looking characters, monsters, aliens, and then a few that were comical monsters. This seemed to be an affirmation of my comments.
In my third ceremony, I saw the face of my own beloved, late mother. It only lasted a moment, but I called out my love to her.
After the first two ceremonies, I had severe mariacion, or dizziness, that lasted into the next morning, along with ongoing purging overnight. The dizziness is not unusual, but the severity of it was for me. The cold flower bath the following morning helps to dispel this, as the psychic space that was opened up in the ceremony is closed again by don Rober. After my third ceremony, however, I experienced no dizziness at all and I was able to sleep comfortably. The tea is getting stronger and consequently more difficult to drink each time. I am looking forward to the final two sessions on Monday and Tuesday nights, and we will see if I have reached a plateau or if there is a vision of consequence in store for me.
To be continued as circumstances allow.
As I write this, I am in the Upper Amazon Jungle, on the Rio Momón. It is early in the morning, before dawn and there is a refreshing rainstorm cleansing the air and replenishing all the life that surrounds me. I have joined a group of eight other seekers who have converged here to work with the ancient and sacred spirit medicine called Ayahuasca. This is the first of my posts from the SpiritQuest Lodge, a spectacular facility here in Peru, designed and dedicated to the most authentic and unadulterated ancient shamanic tradition anywhere in the world encompassing Ayahuasca and other healing and teaching plants of South America.
I have come through my first of five ceremonies. Five is about the limit for anyone working in a set of ceremonies like this, so this is an intensive set of encounters with Ayahuasca. I will be presenting some brief descriptions of my experiences, but detailed analysis will have to wait until I’ve been able to integrate the experiences better. Most who come to work here are seeking healings of some kind. This is the prime modality of these plants and is a powerful reason for our human interactions with them. In my case, I have actually received bodily healings from my previous work some seven years ago. I have also been given sincere gifts of the heart from the Spirit who is an integral part of this teacher plant.
My reasons for returning are twofold. I wish to make an offering to that Spirit by my pilgrimage here and by giving my deepest thanks to her. Second, I request to learn from her and to ask her to bring energies to my life as she did seven years ago – energies that changed me and my life path profoundly. I have arrived at a new major life transition point. It is a good one and I hope to gather energy not only from within myself but from the larger holistic realm of spirit. I ask for a boost to my creative efforts in the coming years while also giving me the perspective and energies to corral my fears and overcome old habits that limit my progress.
My first Ayahuasca session was surprisingly mild. As a last minute thought while offering my Intentions to the vine, I asked the “little doctors,” or “doctorcitos” in the local parlance, to give me some help with my physical body, specifically in the lower digestive tract where I have lingering problems from some cancer surgery a couple of years ago. The doctorcitos are, to my understanding, intelligent parts of our own bodies who work at the molecular and DNA level as the maintenence crew for our systems. When they are encountered in visionary space, they are interesting characters, often very enthusiastic and helpful – anxious to “show you around.”
The onset of the visionary and spirit space in an Ayahuasca session is usually quite strong and dramatic. It can be overwhelming, but usually it feels like a strong wave that brings you up to a highly energetic state. I was waiting for this to happen, hoping for the best, but it seemed to take a very long time. I wondered if the tea was just too weak this time, but I noticed the others beginning their purging. Some were crying and otherwise dealing with the teachings and personal things of their visions, so I knew there was good Work being done and that the brew was strong. It seemed that I was to have an easier time of it tonight. Ayahuasca effects are very personalized, even though we all drink the same medicine.
Finally, the buzzing came, although slow and tentative. A very straightforward vision appeared of a few soda cans floating in a little cement gutter with a small rivulet of water. They turned this way and that, then one aligned with the channel and opened up it’s bottom to make a path for the water to flow through. The others did the same. Then the vision stopped and a series of other scenes, mostly nonsensical, took its place. I had a panoply of the type of visions that are what don Howard calls “taking out the trash,” which is the process of dumping a lot of cognitive chatter and ideation that gets in the way of deeper visions. Much of the imagery here is due to the DMT component of the tea and I saw a continuous background of intricate lines composed of vivid red, green, and blue. These formed into tiles and moved across the background in very pretty ways. This kind of geometric imagery is fun, but not meaningful. Knowing this, I realized that my session would not take me deep into Ayahuasca space this time and then it occurred to me that I had been told what this ceremony was about. That first little vision of the cans was a very plain “text message” from the doctorcitos saying something like, “Got your message, boss. We’re on the job!” They would go to work aligning my “plumbing” to make me feel better, and that is just what they did. After the ceremony was over, I spent the rest of the night in that same light vision space while dealing with purging and cleansing that, while unpleasant to do, was helpful to put my body right. This is a good thing that allows me more freedom and access to work on the deeper spiritual things to come.
Tonight, I go into the second session and I expect to be taken deeper into the space where visioning is meaningful. It may be easy or it may be hard. The Ayahuasca tea potentiates over time, becoming stronger each time we drink. The shamans here are among the best in the world, working in the old ways, and I feel truly blessed to be here in this amazing place, learning from and singing to the plants.
More updates as I go, as long as I am able to do so.
While preparing for my trip to the Upper Amazon in two weeks, I’ve been thinking about my main area of interest and inquiry – contemplating and exploring the possibility of the actual reality of the other “spirit dimension” that one is so forcefully carried into when working with Ayahuasca. This is such an impressive experience that most who encounter it come away from it convinced that it is real and does exist independently somewhere or somewhen other than this physical universe we normally live in.
I’ve been reading a very interesting book that, while not speaking specifically to the plant teachers, analyzes and compares the phenomena and practices of shamanism with that of the psychological approach and theories of Carl Jung. I’ve always found the two sets of ideas to be very much intertwined and comprising two ways of describing the same thing. I’m particularly struck when Jung says things that show he understood the apparent reality of the “spirit dimension” of the shamanists. The book is “Shamanism and the Psychology of C. G. Jung – The Great Circle,” by Robert E. Ryan (2002).
One passage where Ryan speaks of Jung’s ideas really resonates with me:
“. . . one of the most important touchstones of Jung’s thought and the shaman’s experience (is that) events experienced by the mind in what we would call the ‘psychic or inner world’ would have their own claim to a reality equal to that which the same mind imposes on the unknowable world presented by the senses. Each is a realm of experience in which we seek durable laws with their own universality which allow us to track and predict change or transformation in that realm. We must suspend our reductive tendency to regard as ‘merely psychological’ an inwardly encountered pattern of experience capable of producing transformations in a process which has enlisted the depths of the human mind for perhaps tens of thousands of years, thus holding a pedigree enduring far longer than any of the discoveries of our Western scientific materialism.”
– “Shamanism and the Psychology of C. G. Jung – The Great Circle,” – Robert E. Ryan, Vega, London, 2002, p. 102
Western society is so immersed in materialistic way of thinking that it is easy to simply dismiss visions or powerful dreams as “just psychological phenomena” – that is, happening only in our brains and not exhibiting an external reality. In other words, brain fiction. Anyone who has worked with Ayahuasca will tell you that this is simply not believable. The vision space Ayahuasca takes us into is not only vivid and self-generated, but it is far richer and more detailed than one can ever imagine producing in one’s own mind, upon an instant, and with imagery so vastly original and unknown to that person in normal life. The entities one meets in this realm are vivid as well, and have their own agendas, interact with us as separate beings, and sometimes even require communication and the making of deals or arrangements between themselves and us.
It would be the equivalent of accusing the early European explorers of the Americas of having made their stories up, deluding themselves into believing that there was such a vast and amazing New World out there with all those strange things and beings in it.
Perhaps the spirit dimensions revealed by Ayahuasca are merely “brain fiction,” but if so, that hypothesis speaks of vast depths within our human machine that are not only unmeasured, but totally unsuspected and inexplicable. Why would we have evolved such a thing for the straightforward needs of an animal’s survival purposes? One may as well hammer a nail with a hydrogen bomb, or fill a tin cup by pouring in an ocean. For those who have ventured into it, this dimension or realm and the things that are seen on its shores is a great mystery – a new world and a new frontier that reduces all other human explorations to insignificance. As Graham Hancock has said, it may even represent the next stage of our own evolution. Who, seeing it this way, would not be thrilled and excited to go on such a journey of discovery?
I’ll be crossing quite a few borders on my way to and from Peru and the Amazon, but it is the esoteric border I will cross while sitting still in the heart of the great forest that I am most interested in, apprehensive of, and hopeful about experiencing. I can think of no greater adventure and no better thing to do with my energies and time than to plan my expedition well, board the magical boat of Ayahuasca, and venture into that new continent, slipping between the folds of space and time and seeing around that strange bend that no one can normally find. It is a bend not of this dimension. It can be navigated with the help of the teacher plants and the experienced human guides – our shamans. However, we must be ready, alert, and open to discovery not only about the new universe itself, but also to powerful discovery of our own selves as we cross and recross that often frightening border.
As I prepare myself for a series of ceremonial Ayahuasca sessions in June, I’m reading and re-reading many things about the great spirit medicine. I always enjoy Steve Beyer’s blog on Ayahuasca and I wanted to share a link to one of his very best essays from about a year ago, called “What Do the Spirits Want from Us?”
Link to article here.
In an orthodox, received-religion setting, this might remind us of a question posed by a preacher or teacher who rhetorically asks, “What does God want from us?” and then proceeds to answer their own question (often at great length) based on his or her own ideas – their own presumptions, fed by their own interpretations of the sacred texts they’ve “received.”
In the case of Ayahuasca and shamanism in general, it is very different. When Steve or his shaman or someone taking Ayahuasca asks this, he is being literal and expects an answer to come from without, not from within our ego mind. That is, he looks for an answer in the form of information available to be gained when we enter sacred dimensions and literally ask the spirits themselves. This is not a presumption. Anyone can go do this and see for themselves what they will see and ask what they will ask. The spirits are there whether we approach them or not. If someone does not “believe” in spirits but never approaches them in the way that those who do so find effective, then that person is speaking an opinion, not an observation based on knowledge or experience, which is to say it is also presumptive.
In his essay, Steve speaks about how we cannot be a tourist when dealing with the spirits, while being on a vision fast, engaging in a talking circle with others, or within our dreams. Doing these things requires a commitment and one’s full involvement and attention – a “being there” in the moment and being fully engaged.
This is especially important for me as I contemplate what I “want” from my ceremonies, and how I should approach those rituals and the spirit beings themselves in terms of attitude and expectations.
“We cannot just go to the spirits and expect them to give us what we want. They may well have other plans for us. In fact, rather than asking — or, as some people do, demanding — that they heal us, or transform us, or make us into someone else, we should just pour out our hearts to them in prayer. We should not go to them with requests or demands or even expectations.
We should tell them what we need; tell them what we fear; tell them what we regret. We should speak to them honestly from our hearts, and then listen devoutly with our hearts to what they tell us.”
In my initial ceremonies back in 2006, I found this to be true. Once I stopped listing out what I wanted to see and experience, I was able to listen, comprehend, and receive the wisdom, love, healing, and guidance I was hoping for. I had to get my own ego out of the way and out of the process by basically telling it to shut up and sit still for a while.
One of the most important points Steve makes is one I try to remember within the consensus reality of our everyday lives. This is the understanding that the Spirits are not “elsewhere” but are with us always and can and do influence our lives. We, ourselves, are Spirits as part of our constitution as human animals. Whether we envision them in this way as part of our own Self (which they are) or see them as alien entities (which I believe they also are), we can work in harmony with them and the energies they bring to us if we are aware and open – listening and understanding what we are shown with a heart open to love.
The War on Consciousness – Graham Hancock (The talk that gave TED indigestion)
My friend, Graham Hancock, was recently given the opportunity to speak before a TEDx conference about the mysteries of consciousness and how ancient plant teachers and traditions are critical to our evolution, even as our current society does everything in its power to suppress them. TEDx got more than they bargained for, and they decided to take Graham’s and colleague Rupert Sheldrake’s talks down from their site. This caused a huge backlash against TED and they are now capitulating to the extent they are allowing Graham to post his talk online if he blurs out the TEDx branding (logos). [Unadulterated versions of the speech are available elsewhere on YouTube and the web.]
Graham posted the talk at this link (or click the images).
When phenomena are experienced by large numbers of people, it calls for examination. All science is based initially on discovery and speculation. We ask, “Here is a phenomena. What if this is true or that is true? Then, let us experiment and test it.” It is not “unscientific” to gather information and to assess it, but most scientists today do so within a tightly restrained culture of specialization and orthodoxy. When someone brings together and synthesizes information from a wide array of human experience (in this case, shamanistic effects of using visionary plants), presents reports on his own encounters (tests) with those plants, and then speculates on the possible importance of this to all of humanity, he is operating outside of those orthodox conventions – and the gatekeepers want to shut him down.
Graham rightly complained about TED’s censorship decision. TED did publish his rebuttal, and now Graham and Rupert have challenged them to a neutral debate on the issues.
Graham is not the first to understand or advocate for the things he speaks about in this area, but his public profile and oratorical skills makes him one of the more important presenters of the importance of humanity’s relationship to visionary plants. I encourage you to watch.
“Psychedelics are not suppressed because they are dangerous to users; they’re suppressed because they provoke unconventional thought, which threatens any number of elites and institutions that would rather do our thinking for us.”
Some thoughts from Dennis McKenna, ethnopharmacologist and brother of the late Terence McKenna, bard of modern psychoactive literature and thought. This is from his interesting new book, “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss,” detailing his life with his famous brother and how their adventures affected their lives and influenced many thousands more. Dennis goes on to say:
“Historically, those in power have always sought to suppress free thought, whether bluntly or subtly, because it poses an inherent challenge to their rule. That’s no less true today, in an age when corporate, political, and religious interests form a global bloc whose interests threaten all earthly life, including human life.”
[Dennis McKenna, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, North Star Press of St. Cloud, St. Cloud, Minnesota, 2012. p. 450-1.]
Dennis is known amongst many other things for his participation in the “Hoasca Project” – a pioneering effort to document and understand the pharmicokinetics and effects of Ayahuasca in the Brazilian Amazon.
BTW, Dennis’ book was funded through Kickstarter, the crowdsourcing site. It was the most successful book project in Kickstarter’s history.
You can learn more at his book site:
As I prepare to return later this year to the Amazon to work with Ayahuasca once again, I’ve been looking at some of the prep work I did a few years ago, prior to my first encounter with the great spirit medicine. One striking thing (especially looking at it now, long after the fact) was an I Ching reading I did a few months before I left for South America. I see and use the I Ching (the ancient Chinese life guidance oracle system) as a “synchronicity system” that reflects our greater selves back at us from outside the normal time stream. This can inform in ways that are surprising, especially if there is an emotional or life-altering component to the question one asks of the oracle (or rather, of one’s Self).
I asked, “Can I expect Ayahuasca to change my life in a positive way?”
The answer (which I’ll partly quote from my favorite English interpretation of the symbols by Stephan Karcher) was hexagram 36, “Brightness Hiding” (field over radiance). The symbol is of a setting sun, indicating travel through demon’s country.
It told me:
“Brightness Hiding describes your situation in terms of entering the darkness to protect yourself, or to begin a difficult new endeavor. . . Conceal your intelligence by voluntarily entering what is beneath you, like the sun sets in the evening. There is real possibility of injury in the situation. [Meaning the current life situation outside or before this action.] By dimming the light of your awareness and entering the darkness, you can avoid being hurt. This becomes a chance to release from old problems and inaugurate a new time.
“Putting your ideas to the trial by accepting drudgery and difficulty will bring profit and insight. Adapt yourself to the situation. . . . Don’t lose your integrity. Be clear about what is really happening.”
[“I Ching – The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change-The First Complete Translation with Concordance”, Stephen Karcher, Vega, 2002, p. 405.]
This passage one takes is not darkness for the sake of darkness – not an evil trip with no purpose for the voyager other than harm and fear. With Ayahuasca in particular, it is always a purposed passage through the underworld of our soul in order to learn what we are and where our weaknesses come from. We can benefit from this dark passage, this study of our under-structure. If we are shown them, we can better repair the creaking beams that hold up our thoughts, our egos, our presumptions, our social mores and norms, and our very beliefs. We can gain a holistic view of ourselves that will inform us once we are back in our ego-based persona, ingrained in the consensus reality flow of our “normal” lives.
This is not an easy or comfortable journey, this trek through the basement of our being, but it can bring us great value if we consent to do this work. The thing with Ayahuasca is that you will encounter this trying but important task, but you won’t control when it happens. Therefore, one must be ready for it at any time and we must truly and heartily consent to do this work from the beginning.
The rewards are definitely worth the real work we do and the apprehension we naturally feel as we approach the mouth of the dark cave of ourselves.
[For more comprehensive information on Ayahuasca, see my five part series, here.]
Ayahuasca is the great Spirit Medicine of the Amazon. It brings one directly into a different realm of reality. Whether one wishes to name that state as another dimension, a spirit or spiritual realm, or simply non-ordinary and alien, it is the most amazing transformation any human can safely experience and still remain on this planet in this human form.
After seven years of life reaction to my first Ayahuasca journeys (for which story see here), and processing and integrating the life changes it caused for me (all challenging but totally necessary to heal me and re-create me into a better man), I’m making plans to return to the Upper Amazon this summer or fall to continue my studies and explorations with that supreme medicine of the jungle. In doing so, my goal is to re-engage with the spirits of the plants and learn what I can about the things that I do not know. Sounds simple enough, right? However, this is a bit like saying, “I think I’ll go to Mars next month and do particle physics research.” The trip is extremely challenging, and the knowledge one is after is esoteric and in many ways alien to our current understandings or way of being.
Even though that is so, it is what I and others who work with Ayahuasca attempt. It’s exhilarating, to say the least, to cast one’s self into the raw frontiers of human perception – a pioneer in a fragile human ship, tossed by waves and seeking a comprehensible and attainable shore. It is even more remarkable when said pioneer suddenly realizes he is being guided by an interested, even friendly hand, but a hand that is distinctly and obviously not human. This force, this spirit, seems to want the pioneer to understand this new and intimidating realm and to help him or her process the information. This spirit also seems to want to influence the explorer’s own human life, both to heal the body and to affect the life path they take from that encounter going forward.
This is what has happened to me, and I’m thrilled with the prospect of setting sail once more and, hopefully, encountering that elemental spirit in some form again.
I was brought up as a Christian and I took it very seriously for over 40 years, even to the point of writing an influential book on New Testament interpretation. Taking the path of shamanism and exploring beyond the borders of current knowledge (religious, political, societal, and scientific) is viewed askance by those still embedded in orthodox structures of belief. It is often judged as a negative moral choice, influenced by the devil or the “world.” For the person who seeks knowledge beyond those structures, however, the process has nothing to do with moral choices. The acquisition of knowledge (especially “new” knowledge from unknown and untapped sources) leads to completely different and unexpected perspectives on everything, especially our worldview and the philosophies that worldview engenders in us.
In my search for What Is Real, the old orthodox religious worldview is simply inadequate and it has been left behind me as I have grown into new paradigms. Now, I and others like me, seek knowledge where it is most different from what I know. We seek not what is known, but what is unknown. This is the mantra of science and of humanity.
The unknown exists beyond the borders of our paradigms. We must seek it by traveling to and beyond the true frontier. Wish me a good journey and I promise to report any curious sightings in the new worlds beyond the veils of our mundane lands.
Zozobra is “Old Man Gloom.” (Zozobra is “anxiety” in Spanish.)
Here is a link to a short (4 minute) film I made showing the ritual burning of the Zozobra in Santa Fe. It includes video, effected still photos, and some of my own original deep ambient music tracks. Run full size if you can, and please enjoy it!
Zozobra represents or symbolizes troubles, worries, and the problems of life. Once each year in September, the city of Santa Fe hosts a very unusual ritual: the burning of the Zozobra. This 51 foot tall statue is made mostly of paper and is actually a marionette – the world’s largest – which is ritually burned in front of tens of thousands of yelling participants, thus releasing all their collected sorrows and problems into the ether and bringing peace and happiness to all who engage with the rite. This ritual has been conducted every year since 1924 – for 88 years as of this year’s event.
[Click on any photo for a larger, higher quality view.]
I was lucky enough to be in Santa Fe on just the right day to attend, and I was truly fascinated to see this essentially pagan, shamanistic ritual played out in front of, for, with, and to a mostly typical American audience. Unlike some of the neighboring pueblo religious events, dances, and rituals that can be attended by non-Indians if they remain quiet and do not disturb the proceedings, this event, invented by a white man, is participatory by everyone and anyone. It is made to be palatable and acceptable to this presumably mostly non-pagan audience by one overriding fact: it is conducted as a very broad, humorous, tongue-in-cheek event. No one really appears to take it seriously and everyone has a party good time.
It struck me, however, that this is actually a very powerful ritual taking place here. Even through the fun and games, the essential and actual power of the symbol comes through for everyone who participates. It might be at a sub-conscious level, or buried under a layer of smirks, but there is no way such a grand metaphor, played out in live action, movie-climax style, cannot be effective as advertised. I have conducted similar rituals at home with friends and a backyard fire pit, casting our slips of paper all inscribed with our regrets and sorrows into the flames, and that was powerful even at that level. This ceremony is public, gargantuan, and potent.
Zozobra is an older manifestation of the modern “Burning Man” event in Nevada each year, but the shamanic ideas and the ceremony of the fire go much farther back in time than even Zozobra, of course. Shamanism is the oldest of the “religions” of mankind and one would think it to be fully buried and fossilized, but that is not the case. Shamanistic societies, tribes, and individuals thrive all across the world. Once in a while, a manifestation of it shows up like a lava intrusion into the solid granite of the orthodox religious cultures of our modern world. Zozobra is one of those, even if it is, perhaps, not intended to be by those who conduct the rite.
In my little film, I tried to show this multi-level contrast between the broad humor and the serious symbolic work by juxtaposing the circus aspects of the gathering and the undercurrent of true meaning by incorporating the intense, austere soundtrack of my deep ambient music. I hope you enjoy it, and I’m always interested in and open to your comments.
“As I walk, as I walk, the Universe is walking with me.”
(from the Navajo rain dance ceremony)
Digital artwork by David P. Crews
The shamanic path gives us direct, personal experience of non-ordinary as well as everyday reality. These shamanic experiences underlie all our religious ideas. I believe it represents the source experiences that establish our core humanity. It is our birthright, available to all who wish to experience the universe rather than just read about it.
My last post about the Mayans made me think about how they revered caves and other underground spaces as sacred portals to the afterlife, so I thought I’d post this recent image of mine from Carlsbad Caverns Nat. Park.
As I suspected, this discovery helps to show that the Mayan “End of the World” is not literal, but rather a change of time or a transition to a new era. This is similar to the same end-of-the-world phrases in the New Testament that actually spoke of a fundamental change of the social, political, and religious “world” of that time.
What might our new “world” look like? Will the transition seem slow or fast? The modern Mayans I’ve spoken with know no more than we do.
Towards an exploration of the mind of a conquered continent.
Sacred plants and Amerindian epistemology
By Luis Eduardo Luna, Ph.D., Dr. H.C., F.L.S.
This excellent essay by Dr. Luna about shamanism and the use of sacred plants in the Americas, was recently posted on my friend, Graham Hancock’s, website. In it, Luna gives a useful overview of shamanism and its role in the pre-Columbian Americas and how it was repressed by the European influx (and is still repressed today).
In one of the most interesting aspects of this essay, Luna talks about how the Amazon is not the primeval wilderness we all think of, but is largely the result of massive human cultivation and manipulation over long periods of time. He says:
“The people of the Amazon live in one of the areas of the largest biodiversity on the planet. It is becoming increasingly evident that the biodiversity of the Amazon is to a great extent the result of the natural resource management of the pre-Columbian people. . . . To a certain extent the Amazon is an anthropogenic forest, a gigantic garden partially created by human beings through millennia of interaction with the natural environment.”
He also includes an interesting section on Shipibo shamanism and their wonderful geometric artwork. It’s one of the best explanations of the origin and function of the fractal-like designs I’ve read.
He also talks about the powerful cognitive transformations that can occur with plant teachers like ayahuasca. He relates an ayahuasca shape-changing vision that occurred to a French anthropologist, Dr. Françoise Barbira-Freedman, who took on the form of a jaguar (a common theme and experience in ayahuasca visioning). She said:
“Nothing I ever read about shamanic animal metamorphoses could have prepared me for the total involvement of my senses, body, mind in this process. . . . This vision engaged my whole self experientially in a phenomenological approach, which was blatantly at odds with the empiricist standpoint I intellectually favoured.”
He also relates Dr. Dennis McKenna’s transformation into a sentient water droplet who then directly experiences photosynthesis within a plant. Luna states that these kinds of experiences, “point to a new alter-ego, to an alternative epistemology: the gaining of knowledge through a radical self-transformation, by taking an alternative – non human – point of view, by cognitively merging with the focus of one’s attention.”
He concludes by stating that even though our science has explored the depths of space and the tiniest realms of quantum matter, “the exploration of consciousness is still a forbidden realm, vastly explored by shamanic societies yet neglected in contemporary science due to a great extent to religious preconceptions carried throughout centuries.”
I recommend this and other articles by Dr. Luna and also highly recommend Graham Hancock’s excellent book on shamanism entitled “Supernatural”.
“Perhaps time is after all merely a device to prevent everything from happening at once – or the illusion that prevents us from seeing that in fact everything is happening at once. For time really dwells within the vastness of Eternity – where all things exist simultaneously without any past or future: as that most ancient of all texts, the Rig-Veda, tells us so pointedly.”
– Paul William Roberts, In Search of the Birth of Jesus-The Real Journey of the Magi (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995) 278.
Note: recently reissued (more appropriately) as The Journey of the Magi.
By the way, this book by Paul William Roberts is one of a very few that have actually changed the course of my life and my philosophy when I encountered it by chance in the mid 90’s. He traces the history of modern religions back through Zoroastrianism to the Vedas. That logically leads the intrepid seeker on back to shamanism. I highly recommend his book for its truly important insights, plus it is also a great travelogue and one of the most outrageously funny such books I’ve read.