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.