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.”
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 ]
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
For I have come forth from You,
And, I return again to You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me through my feet.
Bless me through my legs.
Bless me through my body.
Bless me through my arms.
Bless me through my hands.
Bless me through my face.
Give me your blessing
As I gaze at your beauty.
I return your blessing
With every movement and
Every sacred Word.
I am filled up with You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
I am your Child.
I am Earth.
[Click any image for a larger view.]
“Every rational creature has all nature for his dowry and estate. It is his, if he will. He may divest himself of it; he may creep into a corner, and abdicate his kingdom, as most men do, but he is entitled to the world by his constitution. In proportion to the energy of his thought and will, he takes up the world into himself.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”
“Beauty is the form perceived by the highest faculty of mind in the act of reflection. We naturally reside in the lap of a terrible beauty, terrible because it is devoid of sentimentality and utterly simple and just. It is also terrible because the emotion we describe as awe or wonder also has inherent within it an aspect of terror. If our ordinary experience is comfortable and banal, then revelatory experience is not, and the terror we experience at the edge of divinity in the country of the sublime is also terrifyingly beautiful.”
– Richard Geldard, “The Spiritual Teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson”
An interesting graphic animation of a reading by Dennis McKenna from his book “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss.” In it, he describes a particularly awe inducing vision experience with the medicina. Dennis is the brother of the late Terence McKenna and his book is a good read about their relationship and their various pioneering adventures working with Ayahuasca and other entheogens.
His great vision, related here, is the kind of experience that draws people to Ayahuasca and can significantly alter one’s perception of themselves and of their place in the universe.
[Source: http://vimeo.com/80337226 — Voice Media Group]
A new poem and artwork today.
It speaks of unfathomed dimension and scale in the human mind and soul.
[click image for larger]
The Stars Within
Are we so small?
And yet are we many,
Oh so many, glowing here and there?
Bodies of intricate illusion,
Tiny swirls of light and bone?
Each contains a galaxy.
Breath and beat, independent
Engines that move us,
Just like all the others.
Fear and happiness
Shaping the face
Our mind looks out of.
Step within to see the trick.
Vastness. Volume –
Filled with stars.
Each the color of a memory.
Ideas cluster and flare: suns
Lighting the dark lanes.
Hard and cold planets, some
Massive and others minor;
Worlds of water and storms;
Orbs of unspeakable beauty,
Filled with people and stories;
Turn themselves ’round
And whirl within.
Some we craft with careful
Intention, spinning each one
Lovingly. Returning there,
Spending time, comforted –
Renewed by loved lands and faces.
Others, uncalled for,
Rush up to surprise us –
Alien visions within our domain,
We wonder who made these
Worlds we did not plan.
Our galaxy is so vast.
The stars within swirl right around
And sing the strands of Life.
They swirl right ’round:
An unexpected gleaming nebula
Clothed in humble membrane.
An unchartable symphony,
An unexpected dimension within.
A million million stars and worlds
Dance and turn about
An invisible Center,
An obscured Mystery.
We are many and oh so small,
And when each one is no more,
A wide galaxy, a very Universe
Transforming, winks away
Into unknown night.
– – – – –
[© David P. Crews, 2013]
My final ceremony in the Amazon was not with Ayahuasca, but with the ancient medicine of the Chavin culture of the northeastern mountains and coastal areas of Peru. Huachuma is the most common local name for the plant whose post-colonial name is the San Pedro cactus. As both cacti contain mescaline, Huachuma can be considered South America’s parallel, if decidedly not equivalent, to North America’s peyote. Just as with peyote, this cactus has been used for thousands of years to bring humans into a powerful spiritual dimensional experience for healing and for enlightenment.
The ritual and ceremonial forms associated with Huachuma are based on the mesa, a literal table or layout of ceremonial power objects in the form of a cross. Much of this has been co-opted by the Catholic church and most “San Pedro Mesa” ceremonies are very syncretic and include objects, references, and appeals to Jesus, Mary, the saints, etc. My interest was to find the older, more authentic, pre-Columbian version of the cactus ceremonies, representing true ancient shamanism. In today’s Amazonian or Andean cultures, this is not easily found, but Howard Lawler is, surely, the best source for this kind of experience. He has been restoring this ancient style and level of Huachuma ritual for decades, and has been able to attain and establish a truly non-syncretic and very powerful mesa ceremony. His Huachuma Mesada Pilgrimages are intense, nearly two-week long expeditions to the ancient sacred sites in northeastern Peru to engage with the plant in the way and in the very places that the ancients did.
He also offers an introductory mesa ceremony in the Amazon for those, like myself, who are there to work with Ayahuasca but also wish to have an initiation into Huachuma. This actually makes a lot of sense, as Huachuma began in the Amazon with the concept of the water mesada.
Yacumama is the serpent spirit that represents water and the essence of life springing from the great Amazon. He is pictured as a serpent and as the serpentine river that winds through the great forest of life, enlivening all the inhabitants from plants, to animals and us. Water is the essential ingredient for life.
In Ayahuasca rituals, one works with Pachamama, the great female spirit of the plants and animals – this is Mother Ayahuasca, the “mother earth” spirit who engages, teaches, and heals within the context of the Ayahuasca medicina. When working with Huachuma, one encounters a complementary male spirit, a Grandfather Huachuma. He is expressed in the Amazonian ritual in the form of Yacumama, the essence of water.
The ritual begins at the great mesa that don Howard has created inside the ceremonial molucca at the sanctuary. This large layout begins with the lower world, then the crossbar mesa representing the middle world (our everyday dimension), and the mesa at the top representing the upper worlds. There is also a lancon or stone stela like the one at the great temple of the Jaguar. This stands at the cross point and represents the “axis mundi” or the world axis. It leads up into the heavenly realms as well as down into the unconscious worlds. The mesa is a three-dimensional map to a multi-dimensional universe.
Huachuma cactus is reduced to a liquid that is intensely bitter, but is not disgusting or nauseating as Ayahuasca is. Also, there are no dietary restrictions with Huachuma as there is in Ayahuasca. One drinks the liquid and is offered an immediate chaser of limonade – a tart and non-sweet lemonade that really helps to offset the bitterness and slight discomfort of drinking the medicine. This will be offered at various times throughout the length of the ceremony, which can take eight hours or so.
[Click on any small photo for a larger view.]
Unlike Ayahuasca, this does not occur at night with darkness and the singing of icaros. Huachuma is an animating and animist agent and it is useful to take it during daylight and, in the initial stages, get out into nature to see and experience it. We took the medicine at about two in the afternoon and after the initial rituals, immediately got into the boat for a trip some miles upriver to a tiny settlement. We pulled into the bank and walked along a long covered wooden walkway to get to the village. A few locals came out to see us and some of the kids played in the river or with a soccer ball while one boy presented a monkey for us to see. As this is happening, I was coming alive with the energy of the Huachuma medicine. A gentle rain began to fall, and the individual drops were superimposed over the verdant green fields surrounding the settlement. Each drop vibrated like electric diamonds and the greens beyond seemed to glow with life and energy. This is a very active medicine that, in this initial phase, engages us in a physical and super-awake mode that leads to a strong sense of joy and happiness.
Everything is alive! This is what animism feels like! As we returned to our boat, I settled in and took a fresh apple to eat. It’s flavor was enhanced in the same energetic manner as the objects I saw. It was delicious! A truly wonderful sunset glowed in orange and red like an open kiln under the rain clouds that began to gather.
As we motored back down the Rio Momón, that rain began to fall in earnest – a true tropical downpour. This was no ordinary rain, with or without our enhanced senses. It rained in sheets until the boat was literally encased in a tube of water. Water below the hull, water rushing the canvas above our heads as if we were under a huge waterfall, and not rain streaks, but walls of solid water on all sides of the open-sided boat. The pilot had to slow to a crawl and use his searchlights to make our way safely back to the sanctuary. Howard said that in his quarter century of living here, it was the hardest rain event he had been in on the water.
Rather than feel in danger during this huge rain, I and the others felt safe, curious, and engaged. It was obvious to us that we had truly invoked Yacumama – the Water Spirit – and he had manifested for us in a very big way.
With a safe return to the ceremonial molucca, and with darkness upon us, the next phases of the medicine began. In the presence of the mesa, we entered into a more internal space where introspection and visioning can happen. This lasts until about ten o’clock when the medicine begins to dissipate and we retreat to the dining hall for a good meal. This was the first meal in about two and a half weeks for me that had any salt in it. We had some bits of chicken that were fried with some salt, and they were truly delicious after the long diet and having just been sensitized with the Huachuma.
I feel like I have internalized much of the work I did with Huachuma and will be processing it in my life for a while to come, just as with the work with Ayahuasca. I was unable to continue on with Maestro Howard on his Mesada Pilgrimage this time, but hope and intend to do so next year. These ceremonies: five Ayahuasca, one Bobinsana, and one Huachuma over two and a half weeks, is enough for me for now. I am very happy to have had the opportunity, however, to work with Huachuma this time and experience the great Chavin Mesa and the power of this level and style of shamanism, based as it is on the very work that our ancestors were engaged in over three thousand years ago.
San Pedro ceremonies are rather common in the Andes and are generally not nearly as powerful in terms of the actual medicine used. They also blend in all the syncretic religious elements that tint the experience and give it a shape that does not originate with the plant and its spirits. I feel very fortunate to have encountered Howard’s mesa, an authentic, pre-Columbian shamanism that resonates with the power and energy of the great Spirits.
“Sacred space and sacred time and something joyous to do is all we need. Almost anything then becomes a continuous and increasing joy.
What you have to do, you do with play.
I think a good way to conceive of sacred space is as a playground. If what you’re doing seems like play, you are in it. But you can’t play with my toys, you have to have your own. Your life should have yielded some. Older people play with life experiences and realizations or with thoughts they like to entertain. In my case, I have books I like to read that don’t lead anywhere.”
Excerpt From: Campbell, Joseph. “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2011-08-01.
A lovely quote from the great Joseph Campbell posted on his Facebook group page today (here).
This resonates as I prepare to return to the Amazon in June for an intensive series of Ayahuasca ceremonies. One of the most enduring aspects of working with this great plant medicine is the spirit of play and joy that envelopes the group you work with. Even though there are often tough hurdles during the ceremonies, and honest apprehension occurs when approaching the unknown of this sacred space, this sense of camaraderie and joyful excitement suffuses the family of those who participate together, though we are all strangers before we meet in the great forest.
At least, that was my experience and it reflects the experiences reported by many others. It is part, I think, of what we sense as “authenticity” when working with Ayahuasca. It affects our holistic attitudes and spirits in a positive way that reflects what Campbell was talking about – the essence of sacred work as being like play and expressed in joy.
I am anticipating just such a time ahead. Fortunately, when we gather for this great work, everyone brings their own toys, and they are all really good ones!
I am in the greater void.
Infused with intensity,
Straining for sustenance,
Comforted by reason.
Overjoyed by love,
Amazed by the newly seen,
Grasping for a higher throne
Made solid by the hand and mind
Of my recast soul.
There is much I would like to know about the nature of God,
but I should be satisfied with startling him.
La Selva – The Forest. That’s the name given by the locals to that greatest forest on Earth, that unimaginably immense ocean of green we call the Amazon Jungle.
It contains the greatest diversity of animals and plants in the world, and is the source of much of our breathing air and medicines. It is a vast repository of bio-chemical riches that we have only just begun to learn about, even as the trees and life systems are so carelessly and ignorantly destroyed en masse, every day.
Those who work with the traditional great psychoactive medicines of La Selva, like Ayahuasca, see this green sea as something more than “just trees.” For those who have traveled into the enigma of the jungle beyond the physical matrix, being in the midst of the jungle is a powerful experience. There is a palpable sense of the life force animated as a conscious and intentional entity. Gaia is not a metaphor. Mother Earth becomes a very real person. There is great mystery here and great capacity for gaining knowledge and for healing.
This is not a secret experience, reserved for an elite. It is available to anyone who would learn or who would be healed, but it is rarely an easy path. Dealing with one’s own personal psychic challenges can be the hardest work one has ever accomplished. And then, it can be challenging to actually come face to face with an Elemental being and live to tell of it, even if she should prove to be kind and loving. To paraphrase Terence McKenna, one might in that situation be most in danger of expiring from astonishment.
Having braved the journey and traveled through the amazing veil and returned to the physical world of trees and rivers, we are never the same. What unknown new measure shall we use to describe our new perspective of ourselves and our world? The old ones are surely as mundane as the lives left behind us, and will not suffice.
Regardless, it is better to have dared to see a marvel than to settle inside an old skin, fearing anything that changes us.
“I would rather know a fearful truth than remain deceived by comforting falsehoods.”
(A saying I wrote down many years ago, and one that in my life has typified that other old saying about being careful what you wish for, for you might get it.)
You can read about this kind of ancient and authentic journeying in my five part series on Ayahuasca, here.
[GoogleMaps image of Iquitos, Peru (the lighter area center), the Amazon River on the right, and the Rio Nanay as the black squiqqle on the left side.]
“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life.”
– Joseph Campbell
In a New Land
Long I have struggled in the valley, only
To look up at the end and realize with a
That I have arrived at the top of a
The view ahead is one of beauty
And favor. The path before me is
More hills in view, but
The slope is gentle
I’m anticipating a very big change in my life, which I will describe at the right time, but this poem came to me today to speak of the way change can sometimes come unexpectedly upon us, just when it seems that all things are stuck in an old pattern and won’t ever change. Maybe that valley we’ve been struggling through is not a valley after all. Maybe we will suddenly gasp as we gaze into a new vista. Then, we must not fear. We must take action and step confidently into our new world, creating it as we go.
•Click image to go to the film (19 min) •
A short film from an interesting group [The Overview Institute] whose mission is to find a better way to leverage the incredible power of seeing the Earth from outside of it. From the time I was a little boy, watching the space shots and avidly consuming every photo or film of Earth and space, I’ve always felt the frustration these folks are talking about. I truly grasped for myself that “Spaceship Earth” idea, and the concept that we’re all in this together on a small, fragile rock in the middle of infinite and truly harsh space. It is frustrating because as incredibly important this perspective is, it is so inactionable by most of us that we say “Wow,” and then go back to our daily affairs, politics, and wars. Because so few of us humans (about 500) have seen the Earth Overview personally, the idea of it has been relegated to a curiosity or a head-nodding stereotype. Instead, we should be using this priceless insight for the potent tool it is to bring humans together to solve our problems before the fragile craft is so damaged that we cannot. Truly perceived, the overview of our home and the perspective it brings us causes a major cognitive shift. If enough of us experience it and are so shifted, it could cause a true paradigm shift for our species.
I’ve said in this blog and elsewhere that we are not Earthlings. We are not a random thing that happened upon the surface of the Earth. We are not invaders nor are we some unique creation placed here by the hands (?) of some god or gods. We are Earth itself! We are the life that this planet has brought forth and we are intimately connected in every way to this ecosphere. We have minds that are more developed than any that have come before. By taking a bubble of it with us, we can escape the ecosphere for a while and gaze back upon it. We can perceive ourselves as being the planet we gaze at.
We may gain wisdom and learn to regulate ourselves, or we may not and become a colony of spores that overwhelm our own resources until the ecosystem shuts us down dramatically. In either case, we are natural – a part of the overall description of the Earth, including a description through time.
We are Earth.
More from the Overview Institute site at: http://www.overviewinstitute.org/
“All is mystery, mystery, mystery; we know not whence we came, nor why,
we know not whither we go, nor why we go.”
– Mark Twain “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes” – 1905
“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.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson “Essays – Experience” – 1844
What, then, is our current position, and what strange tool shall we use to measure our location and log our progress?
We are in motion, passing through the thing and form called human – shape shifting ourselves from forms we uncomfortably acknowledge to some other fabulous shape: shapes upon shapes. Forms we cannot draw the outline of in our minds, for we are within the process and the ruler we would use to assess it must measure great spans of Time. The journey is by no means assured of an ending, much less one that we might project for ourselves.
As Loren Eiseley put it, we are “crouched midway on that desperate stair whose steps pass from dark to dark. . .”
– Loren Eiseley, “Man Against the Universe” – The Star Thrower, 1978
“Tantalus means the impossibility of drinking the waters of thought which are always gleaming and waving within sight of the soul. The transmigration of souls is no fable. I would it were; but men and women are only half human.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson “Essays – History” – 1841
(Click any image to enlarge)
The Shape-shifter’s Tale
(a fragment of a myth)
He asked the Turtle, “Would you like to learn about things? Would you like to see what the world looks like for a horse?”
The Turtle replied, “A horse? That big thing? I don’t know what that would be like. It is too different from being a Turtle.”
“Yes, but you would learn what it is like!”
“I like being a Turtle. Turtle makes sense. Turtle is comfortable and safe.”
The Horse whinnied at him and said, “Neigh – OK, that was a joke. So is that little Sparrow. I’m a Horse and I am happy to be a Horse. That’s the mane thing!” And he whinnied several more times causing the Sparrow to fly away in disgust.
He did not bother to remind the Horse that he might learn what other things are like.
He came up to the Boy and said, “Would you like to learn about things?” The Boy smiled at him, so he continued, “Would you like to see what the world looks like for a Lion?”
The Boy said, “I AM a Lion!!” and, still smiling, he ran around the meadow making a roaring sound.
[Click on any photo for a larger image.]
The petroglyph panels above are from the remarkable (and remarkably accessible) Newspaper Rock State Park site, right along the roadway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah.
The Murui Huitoto tribe lives in the northern part of the Upper Amazon in Peru and northward into Columbia. The name Huitoto refers to their use of the Huito plant (Genipa americana), which provides a permanent dark black-blue stain for the skin. This is used ceremonially and will naturally exfoliate after about two weeks.
As with most Upper Amazon tribes, the Huitoto use and honor the Ayahuasca vine and psychoactive tea made from it. Wisely, they also cultivate the vine in order to replenish it and make it continually available. This is done in a synchronistic manner in the jungle environment, not in planted rows. Ayahuasca likes to grow on or around trees, so they will plant vines at the base of certain trees in their tribal areas.
[Click on images for larger photos.]
In 2006, I was privileged to meet one group of this tribe on the Amazon, just downriver from Iquitos. We hiked in a couple of miles from the great river and brought in some medical supplies. They honored us with dance and friendship, and we also swam in the small river there.
It is always intriguing to see the Ayahuasca vine growing in its natural setting, surrounded by all the wondrous plant life and animal life (including us) that stretches for thousands of miles. Ayahuasca is a great Spirit that lives in the heart of the life of the Earth.
See my five part series on Ayahuasca starting here.
A lifetime of knowledge earned
Along the paths of wisdom,
Will one day surely seem to you
Quite meager and in vain.
Not because you have failed to learn,
But that the universe has opened up
Infinitely before you.
– David Crews
The photo is of myself at Bonneville Salt Flats in the NW corner of Utah. It had rained recently, leaving a wonderful reflective mirror for the mountains to float above.
Ah, yes, those Bonneville Salt Flats. Thought I’d set a new speed record – for how slow I could go.
“In the desert, water in any amount is a tincture, so holy that it will burn through your heart when you see it. . . . If you want to study water, you do not go to the Amazon or to Seattle. You come here, to the driest land. Nowhere else is it drawn to such a point. In the desert, water is unedited, perfect.”
– Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water,(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000)xiii-xvi
A quote from one of my favorite books on the desert by Craig Childs, The Secret Knowledge of Water. It is unlike any other nature or desert book I’ve ever read. Simply marvelous.
My photograph is from Big Bend National Park, on the flats of Terlingua Creek. I was hiking to the right-hand fracture, called Brujo Canyon (meaning magic or sorcery). I almost did not make it back across due to lack of water and overexertion. A hard lesson. I almost died in that awful, bright, oppressive, scintillating, intriguing, dangerous, wonderful place. It was a white hot dance and a reducing to that which is most simple. Beckoning and deadly.