Stephen Gray interviewed by Robert Phoenix

Returning To Sacred World With Stephen Gray – Sep 27,2010

On the evening of Sunday, September 27, I answered the telephone to begin a long and winding conversation with Robert Phoenix on the cultural paradigm shift and in particular the role of sacred plants in this journey of awakening and healing. Listeners may find some very engaging and useful information about how individually and collectively we can work with these plants and nurture them successfully as they take a greater role in the consciousness transformation process underway. Clicking on the link above or here: “Returning to Sacred World With Stephen Gray – Sep 27,2010“, will take you directly to the audio interview.

Robert proved to be a skilled interviewer, keeping the questions focused and allowing me all the time I needed to fully explain the issues as I understand them. I recommend Robert’s internet radio station Free Association Radio for some very interesting interviews on similar topics as well as astrological forecasts and other juicy tidbits of information.

I should tell you that it was a two hour conversation. You could save a little time at the beginning by going to about the 9 minute mark where the actual discussion starts. As always, I welcome and encourage comments and questions and will do my best to respond to all of them. Please also help support this vision by sharing the link for the interview with your own contacts. Thank you, Stephen.

P.S. On the subject of fascinating and informative interviews, don’t forget to check out the interview I conducted with Ronin Niwe, one of the new breed of non-native ayahuasca ceremony leaders who are learning from the traditional masters and bringing this remarkable medicine out in the larger world with respect and humility. I have it here on my website in both audio and text versions.

Ayahuasca: a Remarkable Healer

Peruvian Shaman with Ayahuasca Vine

Although my main practice is the peyote prayer meetings of the Native American Church, the researcher in me is drawn to periodically explore the teachings of other medicines as well. I have a particular fondness and respect for the ayahuasca medicine. For those unfamiliar with ayahuasca, there is no shortage of information online and in books on the pharmacology, history, and current use of this Amazonian brew. There’s also a chapter on ayahuasca in my book Returning to Sacred World: A Spiritual Toolkit for the Emerging Reality (O Books, Nov. 2010.) In that chapter I give a more detailed description of the brew, its effects, and its ritual use. Suffice it to say here that the brew is made from a combination of at least two plants which work in tandem to produce the psychoactive effects.

Ayahuasca is very close to my heart. I’ve imbibed it ten times as of this writing. Though I suspect I’ve barely scratched the surface of its potential, I have already had a number of very powerful and beautiful experiences with the brew. I’m feeling especially inspired at the moment since I recently participated in a weekend event that included two consecutive nights of drinking ayahuasca. I believe I’m beginning to understand its genius.

The ceremony leader, also referred to as the shaman, the curandero, or the ayahuasquero, plays a very important role in the success of the work. The man guiding this particular weekend event, Ronin Niwe, encouraged the participants to understand that ayahuasca will always relate appropriately to each drinker. It will show you where you are at that moment. In that sense it’s like an enlightened Buddhist teacher, who, traditional teachings say, functions as a clear mirror to the student.

Again, for those unfamiliar with ayahuasca and its cultural context, this suggests a living presence of some sort. Those experienced with the plant, and especially the indigenous people of the Amazon who’ve been using it since who knows when, will readily say that indeed, this is the case. Ayahuasca is described as a spirit, a being. It’s often, but not always, experienced as a feminine spirit, and also a serpentine entity.

Ronin was a good communicator and a good listener. He encouraged us to express our intentions. What did we want from the experience? What did we need help with in our lives? In the intention-setting discussion that immediately preceded the drinking of the brew, Ronin worked with each participant to hone his¹ intentions until they were clear and uncluttered.

According to Ronin, the ayahuasca spirit will respond to that intention during the several hours of one’s time in her embrace. This appeared to be true in my own situation and was also confirmed by the others in the sharing sessions that were held in the morning after each encounter with the medicine. Though it wasn’t always clear to each of us at first, with some probing and nudging by Ronin, for most of us it gradually became clear that the plant spirit had indeed responded to our intentional requests.

I’m fascinated by the deep intelligence and creativity of ayahuasca in this respect. Ronin cautioned us to enter the experience with intention but not expectation. As the weekend progressed it became increasingly clear to me how we tend to clutter our minds with analysis and speculation. Ayahuasca appears to cut to the chase, to hone directly in on the heart of the matter. If you have a fixed idea about how she will respond, you may well miss the actual teaching or healing. In fact, it looks like she often doesn’t even require us to consciously realize what has happened. Ayahuasqueros will often tell you she is a healer and that she does her work regardless of how much we recognize and understand what is occurring.

Ronin reminded us that it’s all energy. When we can tune in directly to the energies we’re working with, or that are working us over, we can better align ourselves with ayahuasca’s work. Near the end of one of the ceremonies, as I lay reflecting while the medicine gradually let me go, I sometimes thought of the plant spirit as a poet. It doesn’t necessarily ‘think’ in the rational, left-brain style that so many humans do. It can teach in a great variety of ways: feelings, memories, visions, physical healing through purging, ferocious blasts of energy, gentle invitations to inner stillness, contact with entities . . . if you’re reading this and you’ve had some experience with ayahuasca, I’m sure you could add your own shortlist of ways that she teaches and heals.

I want to point out that, as I understand it, the ayahuasca spirit doesn’t do the work for you. That may be self-evident to many. I bring it up because—and I know this from personal experience too—there’s a tendency for many of us to bring along what Buddhist teachings call a theistic mindset when working with ayahuasca. Theism is described as the illusion that anything outside of ourselves can save us, as it were. The thinking, generally not conscious, is that if we acquire the ‘object’ of our desires, we will feel better. The object of our desires can run from longing for an ice-cream cone all the way to what my old Buddhist teacher labeled “spiritual materialism,”² where we harbor the illusion that the teachings, the practices, and in this case the medicine itself, can save us.

The way I understand ayahuasca’s work at this stage of my education is that it can shine a light on previously hidden knowledge at almost endless levels, from the intensely personal to the universal. As I said earlier, the medicine spirit appears to respond directly to our sincere requests and intentions. If we can surrender to it, the medicine can help us release old wounds, open our hearts, and show us new possibilities. The important qualifier here—and again, I say this based on years of experience with this and other healing/teaching medicines—is that the intensified, clarified condition brought on by the medicine tends to fade back to one’s normal equilibrium state. She gives us the information, she shows us the possibilities, then she leaves us with the ongoing responsibility, and the choice of course, of bringing the learning onto our daily walk.

An example of this for me in these recent ceremonies relates to my request for help in calming my mind. I had had a lot going on in the months prior and for whatever reasons, my normally active mind had been racier than at other times. I spoke to the medicine spirit and asked her to help me tame this wild mind. She appeared to respond to that intention. During both of the ceremonies, and especially the second one, I experienced moments of deep stillness and peace, sometimes accompanied by visions representing and emanating that peaceful energy.

But then I didn’t get to walk away dusting off my hands and saying, okay, we’ve got that one taken care of. In the weeks following, I noticed the busy mind trying to take over the workshop again. What has shifted perhaps is the realization and recollection that that bedrock, unconditioned peaceful place is always there and can be accessed, or surrendered to. It’s as though the medicine spirit is saying, “Okay, here’s what’s possible, it’s real, and you yourself have the tools to open to that understanding and manifest it in your life.”

In the chapter on ayahuasca in my book I mentioned earlier, I’ve gone into some detail on the crucial issue of how to nurture this and other medicine spirit paths as they become better known and spread their influence. I’d also refer you to the interview I did with Ronin Niwe that’s posted on this site both as an audio clip and in text form. I want to say here that if the spread of ayahuasca is done right, with great respect and knowledge, I believe it can help a great many people and can be instrumental in ushering in the consciousness transformation so urgently needed on this planet. It does require courage and there are definitely people who are not ready for this kind of healing and awakening work. However, I’ve certainly seen a lot of—how to describe them?—regular, fairly ordinary people who have drank and benefitted from ayahuasca.

Until the use of ayahuasca—along with other similar medicines—is much better understood and accepted in the mainstream cultures, this growth will be primarily like that of a mushroom that extends itself through a mycelial network just below the surface. At this point in that growth process it’s up to each interested person to find his or her own way to make contact with this loose network. If I could offer any helpful advice at all to people not yet connected, perhaps it would be to clearly state your intentions to the universe. Doing some study and research on the internet and via books would also bolster the likelihood of realizing the intention.

As always, I offer these thoughts in the spirit of the prayer for the healing of the planet and all that implies. And also as always, I warmly invite comments and questions.

Notes:

1. Given the painful history of male domination on the planet, it’s unfortunate that our personal pronouns default to the male gender. In this case, it really was all men. Five of the ten participants were involved with each other in a men’s group. Since they had presumably already ploughed some ground together, the result was that the level of sharing very quickly dove beneath the surface to reveal deeply personal concerns. I believe this in turn influenced the ayahuasca experience, to some degree at least, since by the time we drank the medicine, our intentions had all been laid out nakedly.

2. I’m referring to Chögyam Trungpa, a brilliant and influential Tibetan Buddhist teacher. One of his books is titled Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.

Principles of the Paradigm Revolution

I suspect that if you’ve found your way here it’s abundantly clear to you that the juggernaut of the current dominant paradigm is not going much further on this planet. That conceptual framework has at its core the belief that the material realm is all there is and that we are no more than separate egos disconnected from the whole. Largely as a consequence of that belief structure, Mammon, the false God of riches and avarice, has come to hold much of the world in his tight-fisted grip. This dominant paradigm long ago lost contact with the living Gaian mind and with our embededness in the all-encompassing web of life. And, to restate it, there is an extremely strong and clear case to be made that this way of seeing life is on the cusp of making the planet uninhabitable for the foreseeable future.

Here are a few ideas that many of us see as the operating principles for an urgently needed paradigm shift. This is a very incomplete work in progress and readers are warmly invited to add your own ideas or to comment on those offered here. Some of these principles could also be seen as components of a kind of manifesto for the emerging sacred reality.

1. The Earth is our mother and we are her completely dependent children. It goes without need of elaboration to say that she keeps us alive every second of every day. It’s impossible to overstate how precarious her health is at this moment. For any skeptics in the room who may scoff at the previous sentence as another example of doomsday thinking, I want to say that the basis for such a statement comes not from lack of faith in life but from a deep and fiery commitment to life. It arises from abundant evidence, from knowledge, from individual and collective intuition, and directly from the Spirit when it’s given voice through deep meditative states such as those invoked through the intelligent use of entheogenic plants.

When a beloved parent or other close relative or friend is seriously ill, many of us step up and devote ourselves to that person, sometimes even taking long leaves from our jobs and moving to other places to attend to the sick person. Our primary responsibility now may be to see our mother in that way and to give ourselves over to her healing.

I offer no dogmatic or reductive prescription for this work.  As I see it, the healing work can and does take many forms. In fact, if you were to start at any website devoted to any version of this work and follow the links to related sites, it’s likely the trail would be all but endless. There are many many groups and individuals working to heal the wounds, redress the imbalances, and uplift and beautify the world through every possible sphere of activity: human rights and social justice; environmental; mind/body/spirit teaching and healing; art; food production and distribution; urban design, etc. etc.

The inner paradigm shift required of us now is to learn to step down from our isolated ego-encased misunderstanding of life and allow the ever-present truth of our interconnectedness with each other and with all of life to enter the fabric of our consciousness. For most of us it’s a long journey that challenges us to “quell outer, inner, and secret obstacles”¹ before we can arrive at the trust in life that gives us permission to relax and open our hearts. This leads to principle #2, which could also be seen as a corollary or underpinning foundation for principle #1 above.

2. Healing at all levels must be humanity’s primary mission for the time being. Just as our mother is ill, so are we all wounded and stunned by the ignorance and aggression we see around us, as well as the toxicity and dangerous fragility of our planet and of the collective human enterprise at multiple levels. Buddhist teaching uses the word “samsara” to describe the deluded state of mind that sees itself as only a separate ego. That state of mind dominates worldly activity on this planet and has resulted in untold suffering. If you could peal back the surface layers of the personality, even those who don’t particularly see themselves as suffering are harboring wounds and confusion and typically have no idea of the potential depths of unconditional peace, love, and joy that can be realized in the human form.

3. Following from the previous principle, there is a dawning understanding which intuition and observation tell me will become much more widely and deeply understood in the years to come. That is that our capabilities for healing are far beyond what has been generally recognized and accepted in the mainstream societies. With the right mindset and knowledge, just about any physical or mental condition is amenable to healing. The currently understood laws of physics fall far short of this potential. The primary guiding principle here could be boiled down to the old homily “mind over matter.” Another statement I’ve always liked is writer Philip K. Dick’s comment that “Matter is plastic in the face of mind.” Based on my experience around healing environments where people invoke the intercession of Spirit, I would also express this idea as “Spirit over matter.”

At this time, the majority of people would probably slot this potential into the realm of magic, or simply deny its reality altogether. However, the people who understand the mechanisms at work tell us that it’s not magic at all but rather the knowledge of the underlying structure of reality that allows this kind of intervention. Anyone who looks beyond the conventional consensual reality and does a little digging will find that the evidence is abundant. There are healers who know that it’s possible to see illness of all kinds and in many cases to be able to invoke the intercession of Spirit, move the energies around, suck out black spots, pray away infirmities, receive insights into the needed healing plants, and many other means and methods.

The encouraging news—though it still hasn’t made itself felt in the mainstream discussion forums—is that a major paradigm shift is well underway in the field of healing. We’re beginning to see evidence of a whole new view of healing work rising up all over the place and influencing more and more people. I could—but won’t—stretch this essay out into near interminability with examples to back up this assertion. I have seen and personally experienced some of this work. I’ve also heard a number of reports and testimonials from highly reliable sources regarding individual and group healing work, seminars, and workshops which indicate the gradual seeping of the power of Spirit-infused intention into both the alternative and mainstream healing professions.

If you want to be skeptical be my guest. Obviously, opportunistic charlatanism can rear its ugly head wherever there’s money to be made and especially in the complex realm of human health. Caveat emptor always applies. Again, the point is that this new—at least for the dominant cultures—understanding is spreading like mycelia just under the surface. Time will tell of course. I suspect we’re extremely close to an almost quantum leap forward in this part of the paradigm shift.

4. We the people have the power. This follows from the previous point but leads further, into the world of business and electoral politics. I’m convinced that without the blind complicity of the majority, the power elites are powerless. But to put it bluntly, we’ve been duped. Maybe you and I do not personally feel like we’ve fallen for the great hoodwink, but don’t forget that in the U.S., after eight outrageous years of transparent incompetence, manipulation and bald-faced lying by the Bush Jr. administration, nearly one third of those polled still approved of his presidency. And in 2010, the influence leaders of the Repugnicant Party can still get a large minority of people to believe that the fox in the hen house is their best friend and supporter.

It comes back to the dysfunctional and dying paradigm introduced in the first paragraph above. Although most of us can be tempted to some degree by the big G of Greed, there are power elites who seem to think that acquiring and maintaining control of vast wealth is their only salvation. The damage caused by their machinations and manipulations has been and continues to be unbelievably harmful and heartbreaking.

At the level of nations, democracy is a sham, a shell game. These elites not only do not believe in democracy, they actively and at times violently oppose it whenever it appears to threaten their strongholds. Not that the United States is by any means the sole culprit, but as the most powerful empire on the planet that country offers prime evidence. You could run your finger around a map of the globe and find dozens of countries where the U.S. has directly or indirectly interfered in a nation’s internal affairs to stop nascent democratic movements and keep or put into power leaders friendly to the agenda of mega-corporations. Even when they don’t take such extreme measures, the meddlers are working overtime behind the scenes to influence and pressure governing bodies in every way they can.

I believe a shift is also well underway in this sphere and again, is a central element of the overall healing process. Though clearly I can’t prove it, I suspect the invisible hand of Spirit is helping us heal ourselves and our planet before we waste this incredibly brilliant creation. The curtains are being drawn back to expose corruption at all levels. As a prime example, for the past thirty to forty years we have seen one exposé after another of hypocrisy and abuse from representatives of the churches. Here in Canada we had years of painful discoveries of abuse in the Church-run schools. Lately of course the Catholic Church has been facing the fire for rampant sexual abuse by priests in multiple countries. Through these exposés we see that—with due respect to genuine Christian teachings and the actions of good-hearted people everywhere—the primary function of the Church has been control.

Developing this idea of sham democracy further, I would suggest that the latest version of this corrective healing process seems to be in the realm of political and economic power directly. With appalling events like the global financial meltdown of 2008, everyone is shown in stark relief the real motivations of those who control the flow of the almighty dollar through institutions by the likes of Goldman-Sachs and their ilk and the hand-in-glove collusion of government in this enterprise.

The idea that the people have the power is a central element of the vision for the emerging reality. It meshes with the truth of our interconnectedness, with the reality that the walls that appear to separate us so solidly are an illusion. A core tenet of The Native American Church says that when united as one heart, people are capable of just about anything. When extended into the larger world, this idea provides the foundation for the manifestation of the best idea. To put it succinctly, this understanding proclaims that we are fully capable of collectively manifesting our best ideas.

At this dangerous moment on planet Earth, any more limited idea is insufficient. There’s an excellent six-part series on youtube called Native American Elders Speak. These elders speak in straightforward language with a ring of authority that seems to rise up from the Earth itself. One of them, Oren Wilson, makes the almost painfully obvious point that we are now reaping the results of the intentions we have sown. There’s no more wiggle room. This leads to the next principle of the emerging reality.

5. I believe it will become increasingly clear to greater and greater numbers of people in the years ahead that there’s a fundamental equation at work. There are several ways to say it, probably all a bit clichéd and obvious: you reap what you sow, thought/intention creates reality, etc. The main reason this insight is likely to take hold in the larger society follows from the previous points in this essay. Again, there’s no more wiggle room. Events are circling in upon one another at an alarming rate. It’s not a game. We are right now reaping the consequences of the intentions of those who have had the opportunity, the means, and the talent to manifest those intentions in the world. The rest of us are on some level complicit in our disempowerment.

The logical conclusion of this fundamental equation ties back into principle #4 above regarding the power of the people. Our past and current individual and collective intentions have brought us to a breaking point. Our only hope is to have faith that our wisest, most compassionate intentions are ultimately stronger than the soulless pursuit of power and wealth. The best ideas are stronger because at the core they are in alignment with reality. They are in some sense effortlessly aligned with the primordial, unconditioned, eternal reality. We appear to be going through a purification process and the “no more wiggle room” hypothesis posits that, as a general principle, only that kind of aligned, awakened intention will survive this transit.

6. This one should be right near the top of the New Bill of Rights. We the people have the inalienable right to cognitive liberty. The days of the patriarchy are coming to an end. We are witnessing the grudging but inexorable death of the paternalistic control-based mentality that treats the people like children or like idiots incapable of taking responsibility for ourselves. The shift in thinking required for this particular element of the revolution to take full hold is that the powers that be and a lot of the rest of us have to radically rethink our evaluation of the potential for wisdom in the human species.

If it doesn’t look that way right now as we observe the banalities and absurdities of so-called popular culture, I believe that’s mainly because of the mindset of mutual group imprisonment. If you were never taught that you are at core an awakened being with vast creative potential, you are quite likely to live down to that expectation. If you were never trusted to see life directly for yourself you probably never learned to. We have to trust the root unconditioned goodness of humans.

There’s a Buddhist view of the potential for transmuting unenlightened thinking and behavior into enlightened mind and activity. It’s another fundamental equation. The force of the energy moving in one direction, however neurotic and unaware it appears, is equal to the potential for transforming that energy into awakened activity. Addictions of all kinds, for example, can be seen in this light, as essentially misdirected energies that can be transmuted into life-enhancing creative energies. For those interested in exploring this principle in more depth, take a look at the chapter in my book Returning to Sacred World called “The Worst Horse”

The right to cognitive liberty is the foundational principle for any number of versions of freedom of expression and behavior. One of the most important at this moment involves the use of sacred plant medicines. I count myself among those who hold the conviction that Spirit-infused, visionary, healing plants are here and available for some very important reasons. Though I won’t go into it here, a little research on your part would reveal that plant medicines such as ayahuasca, psilocybe mushrooms, peyote, iboga, and a number of others harmonize extremely smoothly with our existing brain chemistry. To take a particular, and particularly relevant example, DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, is the primary psychoactive ingredient in ayahuasca and in its pure form considered by some researchers to be the strongest psychedelic on the planet. DMT is found in the pineal gland in our brains, and according to researchers such as Dr. Rick Strassman and others, may be implicated in a host of non-ordinary states, possibly including mystical experiences of divine union.

The bald fact is that with respect to cognitive liberty and the use of visionary plants, the authorities and mainstream opinion leaders in today’s societies are coming from places of fear, ignorance, and control and are standing in the way of spiritual tools and healing medicines that have remarkable potential to shift the dominant paradigm away from the primitive and arrogant assumption that we are the entitled top dogs granted unrestricted sovereignty over an unsentient planet in a soulless cosmos.

7. Art, or perhaps it should be called Sacred Art, is central to the vision for the paradigm shift. Before writing this section I thought I’d do a quick check of the Oxford Dictionary to see what they had to say about the word “art.”  They didn’t even come close. Here we’re talking about the most all-encompassing implications of that word. It includes the attitude that everything is sacred. It includes the view that art is to be found in the smallest of daily experiences. It includes gratitude, praise, and celebration. It includes channeling visions and voices of the Muses, of Spirit. It includes releasing the mindset of struggle and harmonizing with the larger patterns of life.

Art is especially intertwined with the principal of nowness. Living fully in the now, as I understand it, has to do with mindful, aware, relaxed presence in this very moment. It has to do with relaxing out of control mode and beginning to align ourselves with the energies around us. When we can allow ourselves to awaken into nowness, I think we begin to notice a kind of natural, unconditioned hierarchy of values.

My old Buddhist teacher used to talk about choicelessness. I believe the concept of the Tao has a similar meaning. Choicelessness doesn’t mean that there’s only one way to do things. It means that there are ways to do things that feel right because they are in tune with Spirit, with the natural, creative movement of energy. When we’re present enough to tune into that kind of feeling perception, we’re much more likely to fall into harmonic patterns. The universe, or the interconnected flowing grid of energy and intelligence, tends to lubricate those aligned patterns. Ego is in some sense the opposite of art understood in this way. The more intensely we insist on our own habitual, conditioned ways of seeing and acting, the more we block out awareness of the flowing patterns of the Tao. And, as I pointed out back at the beginning of this essay, that way of experiencing the world is damn close to destroying it.

Ideally, culture reaches a point where the creation of all varieties of form and infrastructure is aligned with the Tao. That’s what’s meant by the centrality of art in the vision for enlightened societies. When that happens we’ll see societies where everything we do and create uplifts, awakens, brings joy, and honors life altogether.

If you’ve ridden with me this far you just might be thinking I’ve gotten a little idealistic here. If so, my response to you is to restate my conviction that matter is plastic in the face of mind and that if we could only have confidence in “the possibility of possibility” as Bishop Desmond Tutu once put it, we are completely capable of manifesting our best, most aligned, most awakened visions on this planet, especially when we can join in one united heart to manifest our intentions.

1. This is a phrase from the Shamabhala meal chant I learned in my days with the Buddhist/Shambhala community founded by Chögyam Trungpa.

The book: Returning to Sacred World

master_visual

I’ll be updating this post periodically with news on the progress of the ideas and activities associated with my book, Returning to Sacred World: A Spiritual Toolkit for the Emerging Reality. It was published in November 2010 by O Books. It’s available at Amazon. Clicking on this link at amazon.com should take you directly to my book page.  If you’d like to help the book and the ideas it contains get a good start in life, I would ask you to buy it on Amazon and write a review. Some of you may even get yourselves established as what Amazon calls a “top reviewer.” Reviews by top reviewers are given more credence in Amazon’s complex system. To see some reviews and endorsements as well as a summary of the contents of the book please go to the page on this website called The Book.

As well Amazon and perhaps other online sites, you can also order the book directly from O Books. The other thing you could do as a supporter of this vision, in terms of helping the book to have a good life, would be to contact a bookstore in your area that sells spiritual/metaphysical/new age books and, if they don’t already have the book, ask them to order it. Some of you may be so kind as to contact me with suggestions of book stores in North America I might contact myself to offer book signings, talks, readings etc.

Thank you and may the human community awaken to the full realization of the creative harmony awaiting us. Stephen.

Interview with an Ayahuasca Curandero

Interview with an Ayahuasca Curandero

Ronin, or Ronin Niwe, is one of what might be described as the new breed of ayahuasca curanderos. These are mainly people who are not native to the Amazonian region of South America and who have undertaken apprenticeships, often under the tutelage of ayahuasca shamans trained in the traditional way.  This apprenticeship, when done properly, is a very demanding and rigorous commitment that requires many years of experiential learning.

I have now participated in three ayahuasca ceremonies with Ronin Niwe and have had several very interesting conversations with him. My strong sense is that he is one of those who are doing this right—nurturing the tradition with integrity, respect, and humility. This is an important point because, as you’ll hear in the audio clip Interview with an Ayahuasca Curandero, it appears that not everyone involved in this work does have the proper training, and in some cases the intention of some self-appointed ceremony leaders may be questionable.

Ronin generously agreed to sit down with me to answer questions about a range of topics, including his personal relationship to ayahuasca, optimal internal and external conditions (set and setting) for beneficial encounters with the medicine, how ayahausca does its healing work with people, the issue mentioned above about the need for proper training and right intention for ayahuasqueros, and the potential role this plant medicine may play in the years to come.

I’d be very interested in hearing listeners’ comments and questions about this interview. Ronin himself suggested we get together again after I’ve had some feedback. I’d like to go back to him in a few months with a fresh batch of questions, so please post your questions in the comment section following this.

For those interested in learning more, I will be continuing to add content here at the Returning to Sacred World website. My book, also called Returning to Sacred World (due out from O Books this November 2010), has several in-depth chapters on the plant medicines and one chapter specifically on ayahuasca.

I’d also like to direct your attention to a very interesting DVD by Richard Meech called Vine of the Soul: encounters with ayahuasca. Richard gained permission from Ronin’s teacher in Peru, Guillermo Arévalo, to film several ceremonies using an infrared camera. With the addition of a number of highly informative interviews, this film is about as realistic a look as one could get into the ayahuasca experience, short of going to South America and doing some ceremonies oneself. I’ve watched an advance copy of the DVD. I believe its official release date is slated for fall 2010. Richard’s website for the film is www.vineofthesoul.com.

I’ve also transcribed a text version of the interview on this website if you’d prefer to engage it that way.

Interview with an Ayahuasca Curandero – text version

An ayahuasca ceremony tambo near Iquitos, Peru.

This post contains the text version of Interview with an Ayahuasca Curandero. It’s almost identical to the audio version, as is the fairly brief introduction below.

Ronin, or Ronin Niwe, is one of what might be described as the new breed of ayahuasca curanderos. These are mainly people who are not native to the Amazonian region of South America and who have undertaken apprenticeships, often under the tutelage of ayahuasca shamans trained in the traditional way. This apprenticeship, when done properly, is a very demanding and rigorous commitment that requires many years of experiential learning.

I have now participated in three ayahuasca ceremonies with Ronin Niwe and have had several very interesting conversations with him. My strong sense is that he is one of those who are doing this right—nurturing the tradition with integrity, respect, and humility. This is an important point because, as you’ll hear in the audio version of Interview with an Ayahuasca Curandero, it appears that not everyone involved in this work does have the proper training, and in some cases the intention of some self-appointed ceremony leaders may be questionable.

Ronin generously agreed to sit down with me to answer questions about a range of topics, including his personal relationship to ayahuasca, optimal internal and external conditions (set and setting) for beneficial encounters with the medicine, how ayahausca does its healing work with people, the issue mentioned above about the need for proper training and right intention for ayahuasqueros, and the potential role this plant medicine may play in the years to come.

I’d be very interested in hearing listeners’ comments and questions about this interview. Ronin himself suggested we get together again after I’ve had some feedback. I’d like to go back to him in a few months with a fresh batch of questions, so please post your questions in the comment section following this.

For those interested in learning more, I will be continuing to add content here at the Returning to Sacred World website. My book, also called Returning to Sacred World (due out from O Books this November 2010), has several in-depth chapters on the plant medicines and one chapter specifically on ayahuasca.

I’d also like to direct your attention to a very interesting DVD by Richard Meech called Vine of the Soul: encounters with ayahuasca. Richard gained permission from Ronin’s teacher in Peru, Guillermo Arévalo, to film several ceremonies using an infrared camera. With the addition of a number of highly informative interviews, this film is about as realistic a look as one could get into the ayahuasca experience, short of going to South America and doing some ceremonies oneself. I’ve watched an advance copy of the DVD. I believe the film is now available for order. Richard’s website for the film is www.vineofthesoul.com.

Stephen: I’d like to start by asking you how ayahuasca has benefitted you in your life, what your journey has been with it.

Ronin: I could say that ayahuasca has given me lots of teachings and insights, but I think everyone will know that that’s pretty common for most people. On a personal level ayahuasca has given me more than just personal growth or development and evolution. It’s also given me many dear friends, it’s given me a life path, a purpose, and a whole community of people who are working with this medicine who have changed my life forever. To be more specific, I would say that ayahuasca has helped me resolve many things inside myself that were blocked or resistant. Definitely it’s given me confidence, it’s given me belief, it’s given me a spiritual connection, and all those things have benefitted me one way or the other the last eight or nine years.

S: I’ve read in a few places, for example Benny Shanon in his book The Antipodes of the Mind talks about how ayahuasca presents a sequential or graduated course of instruction, that whatever you’ve been able to incorporate from lessons you’ve learned, she’ll take you from there and show you more that builds on that. Does that coincide with your experience and do you have any further comments about that issue?

R: Yeah, I like that metaphor that Benny Shanon uses. I remember that from his book. I would say that’s fairly true. I can remember certain parts of my apprenticeship where it seemed that a lesson was complete and it was on to a new part of the learning within myself. I’ve also seen it in working with people over the last number of years. There seems to be a progression in learning, although it depends on how much you’re integrating. Ayahuasca won’t teach you further until you’ve integrated the teaching into your life. She’ll keep teaching you the same thing and sometimes she teaches you with more assertiveness unless you really integrate that into your life. I remember an example for myself three or four years into my apprenticeship. I seemed to get a seventy or eighty ceremony experience of learning where it seemed that I was just getting taught about creation, the source, or God—whatever you want to call it. Then it seemed to just stop. I remember it going on for a number of months and then the final ceremony came where it felt like I had gotten all I could from that and was moving on to the next bit of learning. So I do like how he uses that metaphor.

S: So if you’re not integrating it into your life, have you seen with people that the ayahuasca spirit starts booting them harder?

R: People have this impression sometimes that ayahuasca is booting them harder. But what’s actually taking place, from my own experience, is that it’s actually yourself that’s doing the booting. Ayahuasca will open this learning, and—I’m guilty of this, I think anyone who’s drank ayahuasca will be guilty of this—we get these amazing teachings, sometimes we get hundreds of teachings in one night. And how do we put this into our lives? How do we integrate this? It’s not easy. Then we come back and some of the core issues, if we haven’t placed them into our lives, the ayahuasca will definitely open up the relearning of it. I think a lot of the time it’s ourselves putting the guilt onto ourselves, or whatever it may be, the shame.

So it’s not really the ayahuasca. I don’t think that ayahuasca has that personality as someone who punishes. But I definitely know the human mind, the human ego, does punish. My experience of ayahuasca is that it’s very nurturing, it’s there to teach, and it’s very much like a mother. There is a sternness from ayahuasca that comes, but it’s not a punishment. You’ll cleanse and you can call that punishment. But it’s not so much ayahuasca punishing you. When you’re cleansing it doesn’t always feel good and you may interpret that as a punishment.

S: Can you say anything about whether there is a certain type of person who can benefit from ayahuasca and a type of person who should probably not involve himself or herself with ayahuasca?

R: I think anyone who’s willing to learn about himself can benefit from ayahuasca. The tricky part with ayahuasca is that although we all want to become better people, not all of us want to put in the kind of time and energy and sacrifice required of us. We want it the easy way. But the learning with ayahausca is not necessarily easy. So if you’re willing to learn, and you’re willing to learn in the way that she wants to teach you, understanding that it’s not going to be easy, then ayahuasca can be very beneficial for you.

As to who should be drinking ayahuasca, number one, there needs to be a maturity, and it has nothing to do with age. It’s a maturity in terms of where you’re at spiritually and emotionally. You need to come to ayahuasca with some tools. If you come without the tools it’s going to be a very difficult experience. Those tools can range from meditation to some self-development workshops. It can be Tai Chi, it can be yoga, it can be art, anything that allows you to be inside yourself and to be present with that, because of what ayahuasca will demand.

If you want to talk about contraindications with ayahuasca, I would say that people with severe mental illness, it gets a little complicated because people need to have support as they discover themselves. It can leave a person very vulnerable, very open, and unless they have that support people could get into difficult places, not so much during the ayahuasca ceremony, which can happen, but in the days following the ceremony. So I would say, bi-polar if you want to put labels on that, but anyone who is in a very difficult place in their life that doesn’t have support, I would be very cautious with for sure. And of course, medically there are indications that with people who are taking certain antidepressants, people with high blood pressure and some other conditions, further research is necessary before I can give a definitive answer.

S: If you’re taking an antidepressant, I’m assuming you can get off it at some point before the ceremony and it’s okay. Is that correct?

R: Again, this is a bit of a grey area because the research they’ve done in the past is when you combine certain SSRIs [Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors] or when you combine certain MAOIs [monamine oxidase inhibitors.] Those are pharmaceuticals. When you combine those two it produces a negative effect. I don’t think there’s been any research that shows that taking ayahuasca along with antidepressants causes the same interaction as taking two antidepressants that are pharmaceuticals. But if you look at it from a pharmaceutical standpoint, then ayahuasca does contain some of the same constituents that other pharmaceuticals would have in terms of the MAOI or  the SSRI. They have similar action, so on paper that’s what the interaction would cause, but I don’t think it’s ever been shown. It would be interesting for someone to do that kind of testing. My feeling, and this is through some experience as well, is that it doesn’t have that same effect.

S: What do you recommend to people in that regard?

R: I recommend people taking antidepressants not drink ayahuasca.

S: Oh, really.

R: Yeah, if you can come off of it in two or three weeks, depending on which antidepressant you’re on, I would get in touch with a couple of friends of mine who are doctors who have experience with the ayahuasca medicine as well as the pharmaceuticals. There’s one you can be off for a week and it should be fine. There are others that stay in the system a little bit longer, three or four weeks. But if you really want to work with ayahuasca you need to prepare physically. Any time you go to an ayahuasca ceremony and you have pharmaceuticals or drugs in your system you’re not as entirely open as you could be. So I would always recommend to people to be clear of those kinds of substances. But again, I think further research needs to be done because a lot of the time people can’t come off of the antidepressants and those are the people who need the work and the healing.

S: On a similar topic, I’m wondering about the dieting. I know that for people like yourself who are training to be or are already working as ayahuasqueros, that you do a lot of very restrictive dieting and work with particular plants. If someone is not interested in pursuing that path of being a ceremony leader, would you recommend them anyway to do some of these kinds of diets and why?

R: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s important to distinguish here between the diets. A lot of people get mixed up about the diet in terms of preparing for an ayahuasca ceremony, the specific diet that we need to follow before drinking ayahuasca and also in the days after that will help optimize their experience. But in the traditional way of working with the medicine there is what’s called la dieta, the diet, which is where a person who’s wishing to learn—traditionally that would only be people who are wanting to become ayahuasqueros or vegetalistos or curanderos. But things have been changing. Also, traditionally, a hundred and fifty years ago, it was only the curandero who was drinking ayahuasca. It wasn’t the participants. I think that’s important to remember, that things are changing.

The diet is the kind of restriction where someone would go into the jungle for a week up to a year or two of isolation, only working with specific plants, what they call master plants, following all the restrictions. That’s very separate and very different from just preparing for an ayahuasca ceremony. But yeah, I think, absolutely, even if you’re not becoming an ayahuasquero or curandero, walking down that path, you’re still going to learn about yourself. Through the plants you can learn how to heal, not just with ayahuasca. You can learn how to heal in many different methods, whether it’s Chinese medicine, whether its Ayurveda, or other holistic medicine paths. All these plants teach us about ourselves.

So when we’re working and doing healing with other people, we need to know ourselves well, we need to be clear ourselves, we need to be clean, we need to be very aware and conscious and all these plants will teach us. So it’s going to help us not just in ayahuasca healing but in all healing. All these master plants we work with teach us how to live, so it’s not just always about becoming a healer or ceremony leader. It’s about learning how to live. This is how and why these plants are used in the Amazon.

S: Can you say anything about the important factors and conditions that help create a beneficial experience with ayahuasca for the participants in a ceremony?

R: I think you could look at it in two ways. The way to create the best internal environment is, number one, to have a very strong intention and be very clear about what it is you’re looking to learn from ayahuasca. Some people come to ayahuasca because their friend told them he had an amazing experience and that’s great, it’s great to have that kind of referral. But if you really want to work with ayahuasca, you’ve got to be clear on what is it you’re looking for because ayahuasca is very powerful and will demand a lot of respect.

It’s also very helpful to have good support around you anytime you do deep personal work, friends or family who are supportive. They don’t necessarily need to know you’re drinking ayahuasca, but to know that you’re going through some very deep work and that they’re there to support you when you come out of that experience. Again, you want to prepare physically with a clean diet. The better shape your physical body is in, the more open your body is, which will allow for more of the medicine to permeate into your whole being.

In terms of the actual ceremony space, number one, it’s good to know who you’re drinking with, that the person is well trained and understands the sacred space, the ceremony space. There are many different types of ceremony out there. The traditional ceremony is done in a particular way. This is the way I’m trained so maybe I’m biased in the sense that I think this really creates a safe space, the way the traditional ceremony is run with someone who is well trained and with someone there to assist in case it’s needed, or at least a sitter. Location is also important, doing it in a private setting where it’s not around a lot of people, which can bring in other energies. You want to keep the space quite contained, private, and secure.

S: Thank you. I wonder if you could say more about how the medicine actually works on behalf of people. For example, my impression from my relatively limited knowledge of it is that it seems to be able to help you even if you’re not fully consciously aware of how it’s helping you. Am I on the right track there?

R: Yes, ayahuasca works in many different ways, so for some people it works in one way and in other people it works in another way. As I’ve said to people many times before, everyone has their own unique connection to ayahausca. What ayahuasca is to you is going to be different from what it is to me and what it is to me is going to be different what it is to my teacher. What ayahuasca does is show you yourself. Because each one of us is unique, we can’t all have the same connection, even though we’re working with the same spirits. The spirit allows us to see ourselves as unique individuals.

For some people you hear these stories where ayahuasca opens up this incredible teaching where God comes down and gives all the answers to the universe. Then you hear of other experiences where people have no teaching, where in their mind they don’t feel anything. There is something happening but it’s not what they expected to happen. You know, you’re working with a spirit. You’re not working with a drug, you’re not working with a chemical. The spirit of ayahuasca can permeate all parts of ourselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Sometimes we don’t feel it in the physical body, the emotional body, but there is something happening spiritually.

For many people the most powerful time is the days following. Sometimes people don’t have the vision or the big fireworks or the purging. But in the days to follow they have incredible shifts and changes in their lives. If you want my honest opinion, I think that’s even more powerful than having the big powerful visions and all the fireworks, because the way our western minds work, we love to have all that excitement and those dazzling colours. But the real power of ayahuasca is its ability to teach us how to live. So if people are having shifts and changes in their lives, that’s what I look for. That’s what I’m interested in hearing from people.

My experience is just that. I believe that once we connect with the spirit of ayahuasca once and continue to connect with it if we do it multiple times, the spirit is always within us. All we have to do is notice it and be aware of it. Many people have this experience where they’re in meditation five days later and they connect with the spirit of ayahuasca. Obviously the physical part of ayahuasca is no longer in your system. However, the spirit is connected to you always.

S: My impression from that last ceremony was that it showed me what it could do and then it’s that I then have to remember that I can do that in my daily walk. I can tap into that space, I can slow my mind down, I can relax and open up into that space. So you’re being shown that little tool that then you take with you. Does that make sense?

R: Yeah, ayahuasca gives you the key. Then it’s up to you to unlock the door, and you have the choice. You don’t have to open that door. Sometimes people are just not ready to make that shift.

S: You yourself have drank a lot of ayahuasca over the years and seen people who’ve drank it very infrequently and more frequently. Is there anything you can say about the difference in the way it works with you if you’re drinking more frequently or less frequently? It’s probably self-evident in some ways. Maybe you could add to it a little.

R: It goes back to what I said before in that it really depends on how much you’re integrating. Some people drink once every two or three years and they get enough from one ceremony to integrate for those two or three years. Other people may integrate faster, or they don’t get as much in every ceremony. It’s really hard to say because, again, everyone is different. Some people drink a hundred and fifty times a year, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with drinking every ten years. It’s really, what are you learning and what are you putting into place? There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s a spiritual practice.

Do I believe that ayahuasca’s a path? Yeah, sometimes people come with this idea they’re going to drink ayahuasca once or twice and they’re going to get all the answers they need for their life. It’s like meditation. You don’t meditate for five minutes and then you’re good for the rest of your life. Ayahuasca is a meditation, so there’s always practice to be done. It depends on what rate you learn at and how well you integrate and what kind of support you have in your life.

So it’s an open-ended question that every person will have to answer for him or herself. For myself, I knew that when I started drinking ayahuasca I wanted to work with it very frequently at the beginning. I took it to a certain level where I was drinking a lot and then I came to a point where I knew I had to integrate for six or eight months. So I stopped drinking for that period of time and that was a big challenge for me because I also love the ceremonial aspect of ayahausca. But that six or eight month break was also some of the biggest learning that I have ever received. I integrated the hundreds and thousands of ceremonies that I was able to do before that.

S: These ícaros, these songs that the ceremony leaders sing, I love these things. They seem to have quite an effect and I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about, first of all, how you see the ícaros functioning in the ceremonies. Another question I have is that I’ve read that traditional ayahuasca curanderos often learn their songs directly from the plant spirit. Has that been the case with you and is that an important issue?

R: Good question. The ícaros are an enormous part of the ceremony. A lot of people will say that the ayahuasca is what the whole ceremony revolves around. But in fact for me it’s the chanting, the prayer, the songs that are such a beautiful part of the ceremony. They’re prayers. Each song is a prayer. Each song is a way for the ayahuasquero to commune with these plants, to commune with nature. So it’s a very intimate relationship as well.

S: How many songs do you know, quite a few?

R: I have no idea. I work with two traditions. In the Shipibo tradition, which is my teacher’s tradition, every song we do is spontaneous. So I would say that I know an infinite number of songs because whatever’s happening in terms of the patients or in terms of the ceremony, I’m using the vocabulary of what I’ve learned with different melodies in the context of what I’m seeing in the ceremony. So no two songs can ever be the same.

S: So it’s how you feel it in that moment.

R: It’s how I see it, yeah, whatever visions are coming up, whatever I’m clearing away. Sometimes we use very similar melodies or the same melodies but the words may be different. And a lot of times the melody just comes to you in the moment. In terms of the Quechua songs, the Quechua-Lamista style of working is a little different. They have set songs. These are very repetitive. They’re specific chants like you would have in Native American songs. They’re sung in a certain way. There are about twenty or thirty of those I’m familiar with.

S: So in this way of working spontaneously in the moment with the ícaros, are you sometimes responding to a message that you’re getting from spirit or some sense that you need to direct your song to a particular person in the ceremony who you feel needs it at that moment?

R: Abolutely, yeah. And what’s so amazing about the ayahuasca experience is that every ceremony is entirely different because you can never have the same energy in any two cermonies. The moon is going to be in a different place, the stars are aligned differently, the people in the ceremony are different, my energy is different. So all this is going to bring up different energies. When you put the ayahuasca into the participants, when the ayahuasca starts to manifest for people, you open the space for the ayahuasca to come with the chanting. When the medicine goes in it brings up people’s stuff, people’s energy. At a certain moment you have a vision of certain people in the ceremony where you can see into their inner world and you work with that energy. You can also call the person up and do very close personal, individual work called the Soplada to focus your intention on that one person. But you can also do it long distance, that is, when the person is across the room. You don’t have to have them in front of you.

S: How do you know, in your own experience, that the spirit of ayahuasca is there? How do you know that that’s real. Also perhaps an addendum to that question is that I’ve heard it described as a female spirit.

R: I’ve seen the spirit of ayahuasca.

S: In a visual representation? What did it look like?

R: In many different forms. Typically a snake, an anaconda, but also I’ve seen it as a woman.

S: And how could you say for yourself that that was the spirit of ayahuasca as opposed to a representation of the spirit of any number of animals or other entities?

R: Well, she told me [laughter.] That might sound a little funny on tape. I might get locked up in a straightjacket for saying that. But here is an important distinction. A lot of people use the word psychedelic or hallucination in referring to ayahuasca. But for me it’s neither one of those. It’s a vision and it’s the same as having a vision in a sweat lodge or in Sun Dance or any type of ceremony. The vision is gifted  to you from spirit and in the ayahuasca ceremony the spirit can come in a number of different forms. I’ve personally had that interaction where the ayahuasca has told me, “I am the spirit of ayahuasca.” But it can also be very different. Sometimes I see other spirits. Sometimes I see spirits of animals, or sometimes I see dark spirits or negative spirits, if people want to label it like that.

I think everyone will see ayahuasca in their own unique way, although there are also definitely similarities in people’s visions of seeing it as a woman. Then there are also traditions that believe ayahuasca is masculine. In Colombia there are a number of traditions that believe ayahuasca is masculine. Although my own experience has been more feminine, I believe that any spirit has a masculine and a feminine aspect, as we do. Plants are personalities, plants are beings. So although you and I are of course masculine, there is also a feminine part to us. Because of the yin and the yang we can never be entirely one or the other.

S: You mentioned in a previous conversation that people should be very cautious about mixing medicines, especially in the early stages of their work with plants. I think you said something about how doing this could dilute the learning. Can you add to or clarify that point?

R: Maybe this is a generalization but I think a lot of people in western society get their feet wet in all these learnings and traditions. It’s great that we have access to all these amazing teachings out there. Of course if you were in the Amazon a hundred and fifty years ago the only access you had to knowledge and the spiritual path was the access that people had to the natural world around them. There’s nothing wrong with learning different paths or different medicines. But there needs to be a lot of awareness around doing that, following and respecting each tradition.

For myself, ayahuasca for the first number of years gave me more than I could handle. I couldn’t even imagine walking another path at that time. Eventually I did start to learn a different path, the Sun Dance path. But I did so with a lot of awareness and also a lot of guidance from teachers on both paths. It’s something we just need to be very cautious of. Some people want to work with ayahuasca. There are other people working with ayahuasca and LSD and peyote and mushrooms. Each one of those is a lifelong learning. We have to be careful not to go too fast on these paths.

I know in western society we tend to want things pretty fast. The traditional people have spent hundreds of years studying these plants, these medicines, these ways. For us to come in and think we can grasp it in three or four years, it’s just not possible. But I do think it can be beneficial to walk certain paths together. I also had a yoga practice at one time that has helped me in my ayahuasca path and my ayahuasca path has helped me with my Sun Dance path. So it’s not that it’s wrong, it just needs to be done in the correct way with awareness.

S: When I asked you earlier about a good environment for beneficial work, you said that the ceremony leader needs to be properly trained. I wonder if you could add a bit more to that in terms of the fact that apparently there are a lot of people leading ceremonies who aren’t that well trained.

R: Yeah, this follows what I was just talking about, how in western society we want things so quickly. As I mentioned, most of these paths require much time, dedication, and sacrifice. I recently read somewhere that there’s a Become a Shaman workshop in a weekend. It’s hilarious. A shaman is someone who has a lot of wisdom, someone who’s an elder, who’s a priest, who’s a medicine man, who’s a politician of the tribe. He’s someone who people go to for answers. To become that person in a weekend, or even in five years, it’s not possible. Wisdom is something that comes with practice and knowledge. It takes many years.

People throw that word shaman at people like myself. I’m 33 years old. I’m not a shaman. I’m a baby. I’ve been practicing for eight or nine years. Maybe by the time I’m eighty I may have that wisdom if I keep living in a good way and learning in a good way. People think that someone who’s becoming an ayahuasquero is someone who has drank ayahuasca a lot. In fact, becoming an ayahuasquero or curandero has very little to do with how many times you’ve drank ayahuasca. It has more to do with the training, and the dieta, and the discipline, the restriction in terms of the master plants. So from my perspective there are not a lot of well trained people out there in this work. I would caution people to really know who they’re drinking with and how much training a person has, how much time they’ve put in, how much dedication. It’s a huge path.

I’d like to speak more about this. I think people really need to hear that. In a way it’s not me saying that people aren’t trained or good enough. There are some great people out there who are well trained. But I’m also hearing from people going to these very large ceremonies with seventy or eighty people. My teacher has been doing this for thirty-five or forty years and very rarely would he do a ceremony with over thirty or thirty-five people. That’s someone with more experience than most people on this planet and that’s a caution he has about ayahuasca ceremonies. And then I  hear about people coming through different cities who are working with eighty people. I don’t think you can create the proper healing environment that is safe with that kind of ceremony.

S: One group that I think we’re both slightly familiar with, I went to one of their pre-ceremony gatherings and they spoke about trying to up those numbers into the 150 to 200 range.

R: Well, people will do what they wish with this work. I would caution those people to just look inside. What’s their intention? Why do they need to have so many people at their ceremonies? There’s enough energy, from my perspective as a ceremony leader, with fifteen or twenty people. That energy can be overwhelming when you’re working and with the depths that ayahuasca can take you to. So I’m wondering about the intention. They may be coming with a different intention in working with ayahuasca. It’s not for me to judge. I would hope that they’re being clear on why they would want as many people as they’re looking for.

S: Somewhat following on that, I have a few questions about ayahuasca’s expanding footprint on the planet. It seems to be spreading quite rapidly, both through the ayahuasca churches and through this traditional shamanic approach. How do you see this happening? Are you happy with where it’s at now? Have you had any kind of personal vision about where we might be going or where we might be with ayahuasca in ten or twenty years?

R: Yeah, good question. I think somewhere Dennis McKenna has written about this vision he’s had of ayahuasca spreading as a vine over the world. I’ve had very similar visions myself. I don’t think it’s by chance that ayahuasca is coming out into the world this way. I think all of us would admit at this time that humanity is in need of some help. Ayahuasca can play this role. It has it’s own agenda. I believe that the spirit of ayahuasca  is guiding us right now and that it has nothing but good intentions for helping us human beings.

But yes, I do have some concerns. I’ve seen white man, I’ve seen western society take many traditional things. I haven’t seen it personally but obviously it’s been a part of history. We’ve taken things out of context and sometimes what I’m hearing is that people are losing the tradition of ayahuasca. I wouldn’t say it’s common. I think most of the people who are using ayahuasca around the world are doing so with a very strong intention and a very strong prayer behind that. But once in a while I hear about people using ayahuasca in a different context. So it is a concern of mine that we may lose the essence of this work which is a very sacred space that ayahuasca creates with well trained practitioners who are able to hold that space.

Working with ayahuasca is similar to going for heart surgery. It’s something very deep and very personal and we want to make sure that if we’re going for surgery we’re going to get a well trained heart surgeon. This is important to remember. We want to make sure that people who are using this medicine and practicing it and holding these ceremonies are well trained, and also that people who are coming to them are coming with the right intention, which is healing, which is to look within and find their own healing power. I really believe in the power of ayahuasca, in the spirit of ayahuasca, that it will guide us and not lead us astray. I believe that we’re going to be kept in a good way. Ayahuasca will always demand out of us, so it would be very difficult for people to continue working very deeply with this medicine and not stay on track with the tradition of this work.

S: We covered this general theme earlier but I wanted to ask you more about the visionary element of  ayahuasca. In the experiences I’ve had the visions have sometimes been stunningly beautiful, but I’ve also wondered what they have to do with the learning. There’s been a continuing thread through this conversation from your side about ayahuasca being here to help. How do the visions play into that?

R: Certainly an aspect of the ayahuasca experience is the visions. But also what comes with the vision is the interpretation of that vision. That only comes with practice.

S: So when you see some kind of absolutely beautiful patterning, gorgeous art work, if you can’t interpret it it’s not of any particular use other than just having that experience in the moment?

R: There can be teaching behind that vision, but it can also just be that what  you’re seeing is energy. Each one of those patterns you’re seeing are energetic imprints of plants. I wish I had an example of the shipibo weavings here right now to show you. I’ve always seen these visions as the energetic world, the spiritual world, when you walk into that other reality. The practice for myself is to be able to actually work with those visions, to manipulate those visions. It’s like when you’re dreaming, being able to actively participate.

S: Can you say more about how you actually do that?

R: Through the power of the chanting, the ícaros, through the power of the mind.

S: What kinds of things might you be asking for, or what might you be wanting out of that?

R: It depends on what the experience is. If I perceive it as being something negative when I’m working with someone, if it’s an energy that’s maybe not patterned, or that sometimes comes in and it’s not sequential, doesn’t have a rhythm to it when I’m seeing that person’s energy, then I need to remove that energy and reinforce good visions and good color. It may also depend on what color the vision is. All these different parts of the vision, I can’t say that one is necessarily negative or positive. Sometimes it just is, I’m witnessing the person’s pure energy. In that case it’s not for me to change or manipulate. It’s for me to get to know that person’s energy.

S: That brings up another question for me from the participants point of view. People seem to have a lot of experiences where they’re about to go into something that looks like it could be pretty scary. How do you know whether, if you don’t go in there, you’re missing some important teaching? Is there any way for people to know how to determine where to go with that kind of material? Are there places you could go that really could be harmful, that you shouldn’t go?

R: There’s no definitive way to know how to deal with those moments. I can give you little hints and suggestions and recommendations. One is the color of the vision. It’s not definitive in the sense that say, if it’s white it’s good, if it’s black it’s bad. Sometimes there’s some trickery going on by the spirit as well. But sometimes there’s an intuitive feeling that each person gets. Sometimes in my visions I’ve declined to go into a place to learn something because it intuitively didn’t feel right to go there. I remember one specific example where I had an opportunity to go into this doorway, this opening, and I chose not to. Then later on in the experience I came back to the same door and saw it from a different perspective, and I knew I had made the right choice. If fear comes up for you because it’s the unknown, that fear may just be the block of going into a part of yourself that you need to go into.

S: It’s hard to be intuitive if there’s fear in the picture.

R: The feeling of fear can be an intuition, but the rationalization of the fear can be a block for you. If you’re walking in the forest at night and you hear a noise somewhere and fear comes up, intuitively that might be a very good thing because it might make you run, and if there’s a bear there it’s going to eat you. But if it’s just a twig cracking and you create a whole story, that’s very different.

S: Okay, so, hypothetically, let’s say you’re a reasonably mentally healthy person and you’re not dealing with really dark energies and huge trauma in your life, and you’re in a good situation with a good leader, are there places you could go that could be truly harmful with ayahuasca?

R: Uh…no. If, as you say, that’s all set up with a well trained practitioner who knows energy and how to work with it and how to protect the people. Energy is energy. I can’t say you’ll never get into difficult challenges in the spiritual world because the spiritual world is the spiritual world. But if you go with the right intention and keep yourself in a place of love, not much can come and touch you. You start opening up your fears and making yourself vulnerable and not protected, then you’re going to be in the energetic world.

Energy is around you all the time. For example, big cities often have sections where there’s a lot of suffering, a lot of trauma, areas which many people would say are very dark. Whether or not you’re with ayahuasca, you could walk through a place like that and energetically be impacted by the experience. In an ayahuasca ceremony you’re exposing yourself to energy. In life, every time you walk out the door you’re exposing yourself to energy. If you’re in a good place and you’re well protected and clear and healthy, there’s very little that can touch the place of love, the place of heart based living. Every time I lead a ceremony I’m exposing myself energetically. Have I been harmed? I’ve carried energy and it hasn’t felt very good, but I’m always well supported spiritually in this work. I haven’t felt that anything has impacted me long term.

S: That’s great. Maybe we should bring it to a close here. Has anything occurred to you that my questions haven’t covered that people listening to this might benefit from knowing about how to work with this plant?

R: No, I think you’ve covered everything. I really like the questions you’ve asked. I think we’ve touched on some important issues. I would just remind people to go into this work with a lot of respect, reverence, and with clear intention, and not to go into it because other people are telling you to do it or creating false expectations for you, but to go in with the intention that you want to learn about yourself. No matter what happens in your experience with ayahuasca, or in any spiritual path, if you’re willing to learn about yourself you’re always going to come out a better person.

S: Great, thanks a lot.

R: You’re welcome Steve. Thank you.

It’s Already Gone

Sacred Spirit of the mountain

Did you ever see the movie The Sixth Sense? It’s a psychological thriller written and directed by M. Night Shyalaman and released in 1999. I and many others found it a very interesting film and if you haven’t seen it yet you may want to skip the rest of this paragraph because I’m going to spoil the surprise ending. Both the audience and one of the main characters, a Dr. Malcolm Crowe, spend most of the film believing he is still alive. He has conversations with a nine year old boy throughout the story. At the very end he comes to the shocking, and redeeming, realization that he is in fact dead. This realization allows him to release himself and his very much alive but still mourning wife to move on.

The implication here—and this has been supported by a significant number of those who claim to have seen ghosts—is that the sheer force of denial and will can create a kind of virtual representation of something real. I’ve come across a number of descriptions of ghosts as people who have died, often traumatically, and haven’t been able to come to terms with their death. They somehow manage to keep a faint version of themselves clinging to the material realm, but of course are unable to act. It’s a frozen, stuck state of mind.

That central theme in The Sixth Sense stands as an apt metaphor for an extremely common and often poorly understood psychological pattern. We tend to hang onto things after they no longer serve us or have life for us. And we do this to the great detriment of our ability to deal effectively with the present. There are oft repeated and quite understandable reasons we do this—issues of fear, force of habit, comfort, and the like. As a prime example, we’ve all seen it or been through it ourselves in relationships. The energy is gone but the status quo lingers on.

The metaphor can also be shifted from the individual level to the societal and even planetary level. I’m sure you’re well aware of the pervasive intensity of our conditioning to see the world in certain ways, to define what we believe is real and of value. These patterns of belief are undeniably powerful, irrational, and often not even consciously recognized. A very simple and mundane example from my own life that hints at this power is that to this day I’m nagged by the pull to finish all the food on my dinner plate, just as I was taught by my mother some half a century ago. Imagine the power and slipperiness of conditioned beliefs which determine the central supporting premises of the way we live our lives.

There’s widespread—though clearly not universal—agreement in a culture about what reality looks like and what we have to do to accommodate our more or less agreed upon descriptions of reality. We carry in our marrow these myths, if you will, about what to expect from life and what is expected from us. They’re powerfully reinforced by both the wider and more local environments. If you see everyone around you behaving in certain ways, buying certain things, raising their children in certain ways, and so on, you tend to absorb all that as normal and expected. This whole process usually happens below the level of conscious awareness.

Do you see where I’m going with this? If you’ve read anything else at the Returning to Sacred World site, or if you’ve read my book (O Books, Nov. 2010) of the same name, you know that my central concern is the spiritual healing and renewal many of us see as our most urgent priority for the planet. Our intuition, our visions, a plentiful number of indigenous prophecies, and observation of the evidence all around us tell us that to have a sane and sustainable future, our species needs a major wake-up call and a radical reprioritization of values.

I was talking with my friend Nancy Littlefish after a ceremony recently about the state of this crisis and transformation process and she made a comment that stuck with me. She said a lot of us see that the old paradigm is already dead and gone and that, just like the illusion of Dr. Crowe in the movie, it only appears to continue because of widespread clinging to the belief that it’s still alive. The belief that we are not more than isolated individual egos separate from from everything else and that this Earth is nothing more than a resource for our comfort and pleasure—has had its day. The sooner large numbers of us recognize that and understand how badly disconnected and out of balance we’ve become, the greater the likelihood we’ll be able to do enough about it to redirect the momentum of human activity before the planet reaches a tipping point.

Clearly, releasing our attachments is no easy task for most of us. I could almost envision powerful ritual ceremonies in which we rant and shriek and wail and grieve as we say our goodbyes to all these attachments and to the culture of entertainment and commodity fetishism, then open our arms and offer it all up to the sky Gods and turn our full and free attention to the emerging spiritual reality and the task at hand. One metaphor for that task is to recognize that we have made a huge mess as we’ve run roughshod over the planet asserting our domination, and now have to clean up the mess. The mess extends from the thought patterns in our minds to the political, social, spiritual, and geological environment altogether.

I hope that all doesn’t sound too grim and serious. The willful ignorance that keeps people clinging to a dead paradigm and keeps the damage coming is truly outrageous and heartbreaking. But it certainly isn’t through grim earnestness that we’re going to pull ourselves out of “the muck and mire of the dark age,” as a line in a Buddhist prayer goes. A central principle of the renaissance and recovery is joy: joy and delight in this incredible gift we call life, heart-opening gratitude for the brilliance and beauty of it. Or as the legendary Wavy Gravy once said in regard to charity work, “If you can’t laugh about it, it just isn’t funny.”

It’s that vision of a world that honors and does justice to the brilliance of the Creator that keeps people toiling away to spread the message. Presumably it’s also why you’ve taken the time to read this. There are a thousand and one ways to say it and show it, not least of which is acting from the conviction that the authentic reality we envision is already here. One way or the other, those of us who can have to help the rest of the folks see that the jig is up, that they’re released from the illusions that no longer serve us, and that they’re free to move on.

Crop Circles: a Beautiful Enigma

At the risk of being filed by some readers under F for flake, I feel compelled to address the issue of crop circles. It’s just too bizarre and mysterious to ignore. Most people have by now heard of these crop formations—”circles” doesn’t begin to describe most of them—and most are happy to put the story down to some eccentric folks having a good one on the rest of us. The information in this post may be familiar to those who’ve looked into this phenomenon. For that group this essay may offer a few interesting insights and perhaps a confirmation of what you already know or intuit to be true. Those less familiar with the crop circle phenomenon may find some thought-provoking information here. For those without the time to do a lot of reading on the topic, I’ve done the work for you and you’ll find a detailed yet concise summary below.

The connection may seem tenuous between crop circles and other topics addressed at the Returning to Sacred World website; such as shamanism, Buddhism, meditation, 2012 issues, and the sacred plants like ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms. As I see it these topics are all inextricably bound together. There’s a consciousness transformation underway on this planet and most anything that points in that direction or aids in the manifestation of the vision is worth considering.

In any case, here’s what’s fascinating about the crop circle phenomenon. As much a brain-shock as it is to the modern conceptual framework, the fact is that if one makes even a relatively cursory examination of the available information, it’s very difficult for people with a corner of openness in their minds to fit the facts neatly into a box labeled “Made on the sly by human hands.” There may yet turn out to be some stunning rational explanation for these formations, but it hasn’t appeared yet—not by a long shot—and none of the so-called hoaxers have demonstrated that they can create anything remotely like the genuine article.

So why do I bring this up on a website devoted to the vision for enlightened society? For starters, the formations are often very beautiful when seen from the air, as with aerial photographs. Many are complex and sophisticated in concept and execution. Formations are populated with little-known symbols and obscure theorems based on Euclidian geometry. There have been large, accurate representations of complex mathematical configurations and fractal formulations like the Mandelbrot Set and the Julia Set. Five new mathematical theorems have been seen so far.

But beyond all that, there’s the distinct possibility that we’re being shown something remarkable here, something whose intent is to rattle our operating paradigms. Like the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas, the crop formations are created with no hope of permanency, celebrity, career advancement, or remuneration. They almost always arrive in the wee hours of the night when the crop is developed to just the right height and are erased by the farmer’s combine within days or weeks.

Perhaps they’re saying to us: “Look friends, here’s something lovely for you, something symbolic and maybe even information-laden, and you can’t explain it. We’re showing you in a playful fashion that what’s going on around here requires you to open up your reality framework. You need to wake up and see that the world is alive with information far more vast than you have allowed yourselves and each other to contemplate. The momentum of your misunderstanding has brought you to a precipice and now you need this information, you need to let down your guard and pay attention without prejudice. The future of the planet depends upon it.”

Without expanding this essay into a book on crop formations it would be impossible to do full justice to the complete picture. But perhaps I can tease you with a few facts that may lead you to question the quick dismissal of claims regarding the non-conventional genesis of these creations. There are numerous books, movies, websites and other sources of information created by people who have made a serious study of the phenomenon. What follows is a brief summary of some of the key facts involved.

The patterns are as large as 1,000 feet (about 300 meters) across.* They are made with great precision and often with incredible detail. Even the circles themselves are often slightly elliptical, a shape that is said to be much more difficult than an exact circle to measure and produce accurately. Just looking at some of the many crop formation photos available online would demonstrate their grandeur and precision far better than if I attempted to describe any of them here. One of the most telling pieces of evidence is that typically the plant stalks are not broken or crushed as would be the result of any kind of roller or vehicle moving over the field. According to one of the researchers, the stalks “appear to be subjected to a short and intense burst of heat which softens the stems to drop just above the ground at 90°, where they harden into their new and very permanent position without damage. Plant biologists are baffled by this feature…”1

Farmers have often seen steam rising from the laid-out stalks. Significant quantities of surface and subsurface water are found to have evaporated under the “floor.” Researchers have found distinct changes in temperature, composition, and crystalline structure in the soil and the crops within the formations. Close-up photos reveal elaborate swirling patterns in the laid-out stalks matching the fundamental vortex pattern found often in nature—for example with shells, sunflowers, and even galaxies. The swirled patterns have up to five interwoven layers of stalk within a radius of just a few feet.

A whole range of unusual events and phenomena have been associated with the formations. They alter the local electromagnetic field and result in the malfunction of a variety of equipment, including cellphones and cameras. Car batteries have been drained. Compasses are bewildered and can’t locate north. Odd lights have been seen by many night-watchers shortly before the patterns are discovered. There are frequent reports of headaches and other unusual pleasant and unpleasant physical and mental anomalies. The list goes on.

One of the features of crop formation creation most difficult for rational reductionists to explain away is the ways and means of their actual construction. Nothing is trampled. No one has ever been seen creating one that fits the profile of “genuine.” No equipment or other evidence has ever been inadvertently left behind. Many have camped around fields with a history of formations—video cameras and sound equipment trained on the field—but have found nothing and seen nobody, even when a new formation is discovered in the morning. The formations are usually created in the hours between 2 and 4 a.m. and a number of reports have shown that they are done very quickly. One well known example is that of a pilot who flew directly over the Stonehenge monument at dawn and spotted nothing whatsoever out of the ordinary. Fifteen minutes later another pilot flew the same route and clearly observed a massive pattern some 900 feet in diameter with a 149 individual circles.

A highly skilled and prepared team just might be able to replicate the general surface appearance of some of the formations—after many hours of exhaustive measurement and meticulous labor in broad daylight. But such activity has never been observed. And then they would be extremely hard-pressed to recreate the technique by which the stalks are bent without being broken or crushed, and would find it nearly as difficult—and immensely time-consuming—to interweave the stalks in such complex and precisely layered configurations. I challenge you to find the people who could and would design and create these elaborate and often very beautiful formations year after year in multiple locations without ever being caught or claiming authorship.

It’s an unsolved mystery at this point, and again, perhaps a jolt to our attachment to the rational, material conditioning so predominant in the modern world. As I’ve described in the book Returning to Sacred World and as reported by a great many of the Earth people and the new explorers of traditional spiritual paths and medicines, the world is alive and communicating with us in a great variety of forms. It’s time for humanity to come out of the caves of blinkered mechanistic perception and open up to the living intelligence reaching out to us and pulling us toward the truth of who we are and what we are capable of envisioning and accomplishing. I’ll give the last word here on this topic to Richard Tarnas:

“Above all, we must awaken to and overcome the great hidden anthropocentric projection that has virtually defined the modern mind: the pervasive projection of soullessness onto the cosmos by the self’s own will to power.“2

1. Freddy Silva, lovely.clara.net/education.

2. Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 41

*The tram lines that mark the fields are said to be generally between 55 and 80 feet apart. The formation in the photo at the top of this post, as an example, would then be roughly between 170 and 250 feet in diameter. As I said, there are many photos available online and in some of them you can see people walking around. That gives you a sense of the scale.

Signs of Awakening

I’m going out on a limb with this topic and perhaps risking accusations—including from myself—of hubris. A long history of practice and study, however dubious at times in its effectiveness, has brought me to a place where I believe I know a little about whether one’s spiritual work is having the effects one would hope for; that is of course, waking up and all that implies. What follows is a series of observations based in large part on my own experience.

Part of my motivation for writing this has been the observation that spiritual practice in itself doesn’t necessarily transform people. In particular, I’ve been a little surprised to have encountered a very small minority of people with experience with sacred plants—or entheogens—such as ayahuasca, psilocybin, peyote, and others, who appear to be still in the grip of their self-importance. Similarly, in my experience with Tibetan Buddhism, some with many hours of meditation behind them don’t reliably comport themselves with humility and warm heart.

I intend this post to be a work in progress as my own awakening unfolds. I also invite readers to add their observations on the topic. My hope is that some of those observations would find their way into this discussion. So here’s my unfinished list of signs that one is making progress on the spiritual path.

1. Becoming less opinionated: When asked how he knew he’d experienced enlightenment, the Buddha is reputed to have said,  “This solid earth is my witness.” It wasn’t about belief and we can assume he said it with a smile and without any need to browbeat the questioner into agreeing with him. Opinions are so often associated with ego, with ego’s need to solidify it’s hold by seeing itself as right or as superior, and typically by impressing this rightness upon others. I doubt that you need reminders about this but if you do ever feel the need, try tuning into one of those right-wing talk shows or foaming-at-the-mouth ‘news’ outlets in the U.S. A small dose of the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck will quickly refresh your memory of the hot, empty rhetoric blowing through the airwaves.

Of course there are plenty of issues to get hot over on this planet and I’m certainly not speaking against passionate and compassionate expression aimed at healing injustice and fighting against ill-considered ideas. The problem is that in the egoic state we have a need to believe that our view of the world is the correct one. This is how we think we’re protecting and maintaining ourselves. As we learn to relax into the ongoing stream of life, as we learn to trust in life, or you might say, trust  in Spirit, the need to be right tends to diminish in intensity.

It’s been said that the competitive person doesn’t know himself. Competitiveness is of course deeply ingrained in the majority of us and not easily weeded out. I watch that feeling as it arises on occasion. The checkup we could give ourselves is to observe our state of mind/body and see if we’re getting tight as we engage in debate, disagree with someone else’s opinion, or try to convince others of our point of view. Of course arrogance and smugness are also obvious signs of a soul caught in the grip of opinionatedness. The irony is that far too often there’s an inverse relationship between the intensity of the opinion and its relationship to reality. In simple terms, there’s opinion and then there’s reality and opinions are typically a grid thrown over and obscuring reality. As W.B. Yeats wrote in his famous poem The Second Coming, ” . . . the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

2. Sense of humor: We’re not particularly talking about jokes and puns of course. My old Buddhist teacher spoke of the spiritual journey as one of gradually gaining a panoramic perspective. The opposite state of mind to that is what in the Buddhist community we used to call “going solid.”  As we relax out of our struggle, maybe we start to see how funny our seriousness has been. Without callousness toward the struggles of others, we may also find their seriousness funny. Perhaps the great cosmic joke is that our oh-so-serious struggle wasn’t necessary at all.

As we loosen up we might begin to take greater delight in our world, in the moment to moment experience of moving through the material world. Humor and delight, or you might even say joy, are bosom buddies. Humor in this sense also means to be of good humor and if I’m not mistaken, the spiritual awakening that sees through obstacles and releases them inevitably brings an increase in good humor.

Relaxing into panoramic perspective allows you to see the humor in day to day encounters. Maybe you’re having a fight with your partner. You’re falling prey to the same old hooks and patterns. But then you catch yourself and relax on the spot. At that point you might say something that lets the air out of the beast for both of you, or just have a laugh at the absurdity of your games and sword fights.

3. Humility: See numbers 1 and 2 above. Less opinionated, more delight and humor, more humble—all close relatives. I notice it in association with a softness, the felt presence of my heart. When I feel that humbleness I notice I’m more present, more compassionate, not needing anything from situations. It’s as though you just become part of the stream, not self-absorbed in your own place in it. Buddhist teachings talk about forgetting the self and just being fully present in any situation.

In my experience, the increasingly frequent presence of humbleness is a good sign that you’re being “worked”—that your mind is being tamed, that you’re relaxing into Spirit. Humbleness is kind. I don’t know about you but I can usually read it in people. And I’m not talking about people putting themselves in small boxes of politeness and self-deprecation out of fear of offending, need for approval, or lack of self-esteem. I’m talking about people who no longer need to impress others, people who are coming from their hearts. When the heart awakens, that is automatically humbling. And almost ironically, humbleness is real power because it’s not conditional upon ego’s perceived success or dominance. A lot of energy gets wasted maintaining self-importance.

One of the observations that confirms for me the potential benefits of the plant medicines is that I’ve seen that quality in many who have worked with plants like ayahuasca and peyote for a long time. The plants ask you to surrender to something bigger than your ego. The softening of surrendering to that something opens the heart and helps put you into an authentic relationship with the world.

4. Spacious mind: See all of the above. The relaxing that comes with not struggling so fiercely against one’s demons, not needing to control oneself and attempt to control energies around one, and from allowing the heart to open, also allows the discursive mind to slow down. The Buddhist description of the discursive mind—confirmed in direct experience—is that it acts to avoid acknowledging anything that threatens ego’s illusion of a separate self and the survival package one has put together. The overlapping busyness of mind throws up an obscuring screen which keeps out the awareness of big mind and of the shadow material that needs to be released to allow relaxing into big mind. This discursive mind is ego’s primary tactic.

As you work through those obscurations and discover you don’t have to resist, you don’t have to keep patching the fissures in that wall, the need to fill the gaps with thought diminishes. A good sign that your practice is working, in the long term, is to find that you can drop the thinking mind more readily and just be empty in the now. If my experience is at all typical, I see that it comes and goes. Maybe you release some things and settle down. But then later some new layers of material start to bubble to the surface and at first you may fear being swamped by them. The mind becomes compulsively active. I see it as my job to observe the mind in action and when I notice it’s harder to allow the space I make the tentative assumption that there’s something I need to look at, or something that’s challenging me to open further. Times like that remind me to get my butt back on that meditation cushion more often and to work harder to allow more frequent gaps in the thinking mind in the “post-meditation” experience.

Landing on spacious mind also softens the boundaries between self and other. If you don’t need to defend yourself against perceived threats to the ego, you can relax and open your heart toward others, invite them in a little more. Chögyam Trungpa taught us to renounce, to let go of, anything that makes us less accessible to others.

5. Gratitude and appreciation.  Yes, that’s right, see all of the above again. Does this seem too obvious? Perhaps it’s worth mentioning since I’ve noticed a gradual change in this regard in my own life. As my healing and awakening journey has progressed, I find that I’m generally able to appreciate things more. Life in general and in the particulars feels more precious to me than it used to.

Appreciation and gratitude go hand in hand with the opening of the heart. We find ourselves more easily touched by the world, more intimately related to the world. It’s also probably safe to say that a deepening relationship with the world would generally lead to a stronger desire to care for and help the world in some way. Buddhist teachings talk about the commitment to benefit all sentient beings. Of course we all have to find our own ways to do that. It need not be reduced to any simplistic notion of saving the world or a fixed program that says you must contribute to charities or teach in an African village. No doubt there are a great many ways to benefit, from the largest to the smallest and from the most direct to the least direct. The foundation is intention.

I also find soulfulness is more important to me than ever. With music for example, I have no time for music that lacks it, but I recognize and appreciate its presence when I hear it, even in the simplest of music. Similarly with people, like the humbleness mentioned earlier. When I see someone whose heart is open and soft, someone who exudes natural, authentic presence, I’m moved and inspired by that.

6. Becoming less judgemental:  Carl Jung and others have done a pretty good job of nailing that one. Buddhist psychology has also made that issue clear with the concept of projection. I believe it was Jung who coined the term “the shadow.” The shadow is everything in our minds that is unconscious, repressed, undeveloped, and denied. One of the wonders of the human mind, a law of its functioning, is that the shadow material is unconsciously projected onto the world, onto others.

When you experience negative thoughts toward someone, what you could call a judgemental feeling, you can pretty much count on the fact that the shadow is at work. It’s anything but easy to see this and take responsibility for your own mind. Attitudes of blame and victimhood are central to this issue as well. But as you uncover that material through spiritual practice and healing work, it gradually loses it hold over you. As you see this material and accept yourself as you are, the projections tend to diminish.

Most of us humans, I think it’s safe to say, are making judgements much of the time and much of that judging takes place at a subliminal level where we may not even be aware we’re judging. Just to clarify, when I speak of judgement I don’t mean what I would call discriminating awareness. There are a great many more or less neutral discriminating judgements we need to make throughout our days and weeks. The problem with the kind of judgement being discussed here is, probably among other things, that it tends to block and numb energy. People who know a lot about how mind and energy function talk about how “it’s all energy.” When we can allow energy to move unobstructed and be awake to and in harmony with the flow of it, life itself flows much better. This is also not about being passive. Like, you don’t just stand there like a victim when someone in your space is running aggressive, manipulative, harmful gestalts. But foggy numbness and passivity aren’t the opposite of judgementalness. They’re the opposite perhaps of sharp mindful awareness and clear seeing.

7. Complaining less: See the discussion above on the shadow. Moving from projection, blame, and victimhood should be reflected in a general diminishment of the tendency to complain. At the very least you might find yourself complaining with a sense of humor. Complaining also carries that sense of struggle. You’re fighting with your world. You’re projecting your own dissatisfaction onto the world. In general, complaining tends to be self-justifying and ego aggrandizing.

Not to say that there aren’t things to bitch about. We’re surrounded by ignorance and lack of awareness every day and the machinations of the movers and shakers in such worlds as the political and the economic can provoke an understandable outrage. I think we just have to be on the watch for our outrage and our critiques not to be in service of ego justification.

8. A sharper bullshit detector: Having an effective bullshit detector is not necessarily a symptom of an awakening soul. Some pretty hard-assed and cruel people also can see through others. For many of us though, our own neuroses—our fears, naivety, lack of confidence and so on—tend to obscure our clear view of others. My old Buddhist teacher used to talk about egolessness of self and egolessness of other. It seems that as you learn to relax out of the struggle to maintain ego and land on the solid earth, you also see situations around you more clearly. The awakened heart is a very astute observer. It registers the authenticity of people and events. It feels the soulfulness quotient.

9. Seeing past “this” and “that”: This is another way of talking about some of the issues already addressed in this essay. It’s about letting go of control. We tend to spend a lot of time judging experiences and attempting to get everything happening the way we want it. The counterpart to that attitude, it should be clarified, is not passivity. It’s more a statement that you can fall into the flow and pattern of energy, appreciating things as they are and working with those energies. This is also about allowing ourselves to experience and even revel in the unknown. We can step out of our safe, habitual patterns. Life becomes a lot more interesting and enjoyable with that attitude. Everything is sacred world and surprises can occur at any moment. It’s also a big relief not to have to put so much energy into choosing one experience over another.

10. A sharper sense of feeling and a deepening compassion. I’m not talking here simply about emotions. Everyone is coming from somewhere along a continuum from having a habitual style that’s very emotional at one end of the scale to being almost completely unemotional at the other end. In Buddhist understanding, styles anywhere on this scale can be problematic. We’re talking about learning to relax out of one’s own solidity and habitual style to feel the world more deeply, more sharply. My old Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa used to speak of mixing joy and sadness together, of being touched by the world. This is about being able to feel things beyond yourself. Does that make sense?

The great good news is that feeling the world more vigorously and at more refined levels is actually completely natural to human beings. It’s not about adding something to who we are. It’s about releasing the obscurations, the mindstuff that creates veils of self-protecting numbness. It’s a relief, and encouragement, a joy even, to find oneself opening up like that, being touched by the world. It tends to give our lives meaning.

(Imaginary) Interview With God


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Don’t worry, I’m not turning into a megalomaniac or a fire-and-brimstone preacher claiming to have a direct line to a personal God. What follows is a somewhat playful but nonetheless sincere attempt to imagine what such a conversation might entail on issues of planetary and personal consciousness transformation. It contains direct and indirect references to Buddhism, Native American spirituality, 2012, meditation, sacred plants, crop circles, and prayer. It may help to put a few things into perspective.

Stephen: Good morning. Thank you for seeing me.

God: No problem, always willing to help out.

S: Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?

G: As I said . . .

S: We humans have so many ideas and opinions about what God is. Can you clarify any of this confusion for me?

G: Ah, going right to the heart of the matter. Not a simple question at all. I’m appearing to you today as a wise and kindly older friend for the purpose of making you feel comfortable. Perhaps you could say this is a temporarily configured pattern of the primordial intelligence. You could also say I’m speaking for the Source, but defining that is another matter altogether. I am a voice of the awakened and you are my brother, but you don’t fully understand that yet. I would advise you not to worry about conceptual understanding. In some ways you already know since you and I are of the same essence. In truth, God is nothing you can define or label. There are levels beyond levels beyond levels. Just keep paying attention, keep opening, relax and enjoy the ride, and all the information you need will be revealed as you’re ready to receive and make use of it.

S: Can you tell me anything about the qualities of this Source energy?

G: There are two completely different kinds of responses I could give you on that one. The first is to say again that you have to discover it for yourself. Otherwise it remains a concept in your head, and if there’s one place where a great many of you humans spend far too much time, it’s in your heads. Having an idea of God in your mind is not only not helpful to you, but as you’ve seen on this planet, can also be most harmful. To help out a little however, I could also say it has something to do with eternal creation fueled by something akin to what you call love. We create with unbounded love. We create with a smile. We’re never short of ideas, patience, or hospitable impulses.

S: Why has there been so much suffering on our planet? If we were created with great love and intelligence, how did we manage to make life so miserable for so many for so long?

G: Well first, from where I sit, it hasn’t been long at all. Pockets of humanity scattered across the historical—and what you would call pre-historical—landscape have lived with lines of communication open to the Source. But as a planetary community, you’re just getting started and you’ve hardly begun to realize what you can do with these minds and bodies of yours. More importantly, we’re creators, not control freaks. Our design for this place—and everything else we do—has always been to make it beautiful and interesting. You are completely responsible for your choices. We watch closely and we’re available to help at all times. We know what you’re capable of and as wise educators we grant you complete freedom to learn what you need to learn so that you can find out who you really are. If we interfered too directly, you’d remain as children and would never learn the lessons required to grow up, to wake up.

This is not to say there’s any limit to what we can do. Everything you experience in the material environment is a temporary manifestation of an idea. If we felt it was necessary to dissolve the canvas and start fresh, that could be arranged. I’ll confess I’ve had moments of temptation. But it’s not our style. We like to release our creations and see what they can do for themselves. Being surprised is one of our greatest joys. I’m not sure that answers your question about how humans managed to create so much suffering and I’m not sure it’s necessary to know all the ins and outs of that. I’ll just say that in many places, humans allowed themselves to forget who they were. In this state of ignorance and disempowerment, they also allowed others to manipulate and control them. Fortunately, this is changing rapidly now. There are encouraging signs that more and more of you have had enough of that misery and are starting to realize what you’re capable of accomplishing.

S: Thank you. That response brings up so many questions in my mind I hardly know where to start. For example, why do you say “we?”

G: Well, again, you can’t pin God down to anything specific that you can label. There are emanations of awakened mind in a multitude of forms. As I said, without direct experience, any concept you come up with doesn’t mean much. For many of you it would probably be best if you even gave the word “God” a rest for awhile. There are plenty of beings with different interests and areas of expertise. Many of them have nothing to do with your planet and many of them are intensely interested in your journey. I say “we” because a lot of us are available to you if you can find a way to dissolve the veil enough to make contact with us. We can and have appeared to people in a great variety of costumes, from subtle intuition to apparent coincidences to visible representations of anything from the play of light to animal and human forms.

An example of the kind of observable involvement we’re enjoying these days is what you’ve labeled crop circles. There’s nothing heavy-handed about them. Everyone is free to believe whatever they like. Most people assume that some clever rascals are responsible for them, since their programming doesn’t admit of any other possibility. But if your mind is not completely fixed and you look into the manner of their construction, you’ll see that these formations couldn’t have been made by people on the ground. They’re created with a few quick but precise brush strokes, almost always in the darkest hours, and sometimes instantaneously. If you tried to replicate this work, you might at best be able to create a very rough approximation with a group of skilled workers over several days.

In truth, these little gems of art and design are playful offerings devised by some of my friends in the spirit world. They appear in part to tease you awake. If you’re open to our intent you’ll see we’re showing you that there are things you can’t fit into your existing programs. They’re also gentle reminders of impermanence. Beautiful and symbolic images appear out of nowhere and are erased by the farmer’s combine within days. Nothing to cling to or capitalize on. Your Buddhist sand mandalas have a similar intent.

As a last point regarding your question about why I say “we,” I wish to remind you that we are also you and that the invitation to join us in this limitless creative adventure is always there.

S: How do we do make that contact?

G: Ah, another loaded question. You’ve been puzzling over that one since the dawn of self-reflective consciousness. For starters, there’s no shortage of assistance. A good number of you have indeed been able to cross through the barriers, and some have come back with useful information. Anything that dissolves the barriers you’ve erected in your minds is fine with us. Don’t waste your time listening to people who claim they have the only or even the best system, especially if they denigrate other methods of opening the doors. The most important point is that you have to allow a gap in the fear-based, continually overlapping mental busyness that keeps the barrier firmly in place. You just need to learn how to surrender your fearful resistance and open into that space. Most of you have deep-seated fears about losing control and being overwhelmed. This is understandable but unfortunate and most importantly, unnecessary. Yes, the ego must give way of course, but we’re not talking about a passive experience. You are being invited to enter the flowing patterns of creative energy and dance gracefully with those patterns. When you join the party you’ll see that what you’ve been afraid of losing has actually been a great burden to you and your brothers and sisters here.

Some of you have natural abilities in this way. But since the conditioning has been so intense and unremitting, most have to work at it. You can benefit from any activity or practice which slows the speed of your mind and brings you into the present or that shocks the monkey out of its unexamined, habitual patterns of thinking and behavior. When you ask about making contact, I would also say that we have excellent hearing for clear, sincere, confident, and compassionate prayer. Effective prayer is simple knowing how to ask, knowing how to speak from your heart with conviction.

S: I’ve been very interested in certain plants that seem to have the potential to dissolve the barrier. These plants are highly controversial, even among many who are sincere and committed to the awakening process. Are medicines such as the psilocybe mushrooms, the peyote cactus, the ayahuasca brew, the iboga root and others helpful?

G: I could refer you back to my answer to your question about how to make contact and leave it at that. You already know the answer to that question my friend. However, since I suspect you’re going to want to share this around when you get back, I’ll elaborate a little. We have left numerous clues and forms of assistance by the roadside, and as I said, anything that works is fine with us. Did you think it was a meaningless coincidence that there are plants all over the planet which are highly compatible with your brain chemistry, fit smoothly into waiting receptors, and are extremely fertile sources of transformative information and assistance? These plants you mention are powerful and direct methods of dissolving the barrier. I’m delighted to say that some of my closest associates have long been lovingly involved with them.

You know as well as we do though, that they’re not for everyone and that they’re far more likely to work for you if taken with the utmost respect and care, among others of similar intention, and under the guidance of those with experience. It is we who have placed these medicines there for you, and if conditions are right, there is no question that they can open the doors of perception. They’ve been cast along your paths because the blanket of conditioning is so thick that strong medicine is often required to cut through the layers. If you’re able to surrender to their power, these plants can temporarily dissolve those layers of obscuration and allow you to receive information from our side of the veil. Then you might be able to hear and benefit from the healing and teaching spirits who are happy to come through. When approached properly, the plant spirits can show you just about anything you need to know and can be of great assistance on your journey of awakening.

S: Thank you. You said that you don’t like to interfere too directly since we have to make the journey for ourselves and learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. But you also said that you’re willing to help at all times. What kind of help do you provide that doesn’t interfere with our own learning process?

G: Good question. Two thoughts come quickly to mind. First, as I suggested earlier in our conversation, nothing in form is solid. It’s all highly malleable. Your Buddhist teachings have understood this quite well. I don’t know if the word “illusion” is completely accurate. On some level what you see does exist, but again, only as the temporal manifestation of an idea with the appropriate engineering applied to it. For example, without ears do you have your music? Without eyes do you have your colors? Without noses can you smell your flowers? Without taste buds can you taste your food? These are all specific technologies designed for this particular local environment and completely interdependent with all other form on your planet. Indeed, I sometimes wonder why you aren’t all walking around in a state of awe at the brilliance of this beautiful work of evolving art.

So what you label “matter” presents no obstacle to intention applied with skill. Don’t worry. I’m working up to the answer to your question. You just need to be clear on these principles first. The complementary part of my answer to this question of how we can help has something to do with readiness and appropriateness. If you have an accident and lose the ability to walk, it may be that there’s an important lesson involved. Perhaps the limitation of movement forces you to redirect your energies in ways that serve your education and benefit the whole. On the other hand, the accident may have been completely random, or you may have already learned what you needed to and have work to do which you can accomplish more successfully without the wheelchair.

Strange as it may seem to most of you, any infirmity is amenable to healing. Individual intention can be powerful medicine, group intention even more powerful. If you get a group of people together who can step out of themselves and place all their attention on a particular prayer—especially when the barriers have been softened through your spiritual practices and medicines—there are very few limitations to what can be accomplished. That’s where we come in. We support and amplify your intentions. When you know how to ask for help there are beings with the knowledge to effect the healing.

S: Can you say anything about what is going to happen here on Earth in the coming years and decades? Are you optimistic about our chances for creating a world that does your vision justice?

G: Ah, more questions far too large and complex to fit into a simple container. I’ll try to give you a little something you can take away though. I could say there are two distinct levels to how we see things—the absolute and the relative. First, as I told you a little while ago, we like to be surprised. Your future isn’t written in stone. Right now it’s a white-knuckle ride with an uncertain outcome. Second, even if we did know for certain, we wouldn’t want to give away the ending. At this exact moment I would say it could go either way. As you might say, the planet’s karma has ripened. You are being severely tested now—not by us but as an accumulated result of your behavior and degree of spiritual ignorance over the course of your history, in conjunction with a few other forces and factors far too complicated and overlapping to explain.

On the absolute level everything is perfect. We’re not going anywhere and time is irrelevant. It’s always and forever now and the possibilities are limitless. On the relative level, you break our hearts all the time. We weep for you. We cheer you on. We’re always waiting for even one of you to see through the veil and discover the truth of who you are. I will say that if you are going to avoid the most drastic possible outcomes in the near future, a good many of you are going to have to wake up fast and exert all your energies with great confidence toward healing the wounds. Fortunately, you are completely capable of doing just that.

S: Do you have any guidance to offer about how we can best help each other and the planet at this time?

G: You do like to ask complex questions with no simple answers don’t you? How does that saying go? Something like, “Physician, heal thyself.” That’s the foundation. An awakened soul walking around in a human body can’t help but be a blessing. Just helping people cheer up, just being kind and thinking of others—these are simple things with immense benefit. I would, however, offer a piece of cautionary advice for those working to heal themselves. Keep your eyes on the prize and don’t obsess about your personal problems. There are worlds beyond your mind. We see people get lost down the wormhole of their own case and forget that it’s about relaxing, stepping out from that self-absorbed self and joining the community of awakened hearts. If you focus as often as possible on being fully present, thinking of the welfare of others, and sending out kind and peaceful energy, most of your own healing will take care of itself.

So although it’s important to build that strong foundation and develop clear vision, please don’t wait for enlightenment to strike before helping each other out. I can’t tell you what to do. There is no shortage of need for assistance on this planet. Just look around and respond to situations as they arise. If you begin to act on a good idea with the right intention, we’ll be there to support it and help it grow into something beneficial. The fully formed idea may even surprise you. And you know, contrary to rumor, we’re not omniscient. We are often informed and delighted by what you little wizards come up with.

S: I assume you’ve heard of 2012 and all the speculation and prophecy surrounding it. Is there anything to it?

G: Well, like I say, I don’t want to spoil the story. Also, you folks get so easily seduced by an idea that it can get in the way. If you have a concept in your head about what you’re looking for, what you’re expecting to see, there’s a good chance you’ll miss what’s actually happening. You remember I told you earlier in our conversation that the planet’s karma has ripened. That is true and in that sense there is something to the idea of breakdown and transformation. There are a lot of factors in play right now that haven’t come to complete fruition. You may see a kind of quantum leap in the next few years where many of these energies and developments interact at much more intense levels. And even if the year 2012 brings no grand upheavals and transformations, it must be obvious to you by now that sooner or later, and probably sooner, the trajectory of your thinking and activity is going to have to undergo some major recalculation if the human community is to survive and thrive in the times to come.

Again, I would like to encourage you by saying that this transformation is entirely possible. As one of your fine thinkers put it, there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. So take heart, have confidence. What are your best ideas? I want to encourage you by stressing again that your capabilities are far greater than almost all of you have realized. When I spoke of healing through the power of shared intention, I meant also to imply that when enough of you put your minds together with the intention of healing your world, it will happen.

S: Thank you very much for that encouragement. I know how easy it is to lose heart.  No more questions are coming to mind right now except to ask if you have any final words of advice that I could take away with me today. And of course I hope I’ll be able to speak with you again.

G: You are always welcome. The door is always open. You, Stephen, have seen for yourself that it’s only you who keep it closed. And please remember, it doesn’t have to be a formal visit. Our whispered guidance is available whenever you can still the disturbed waters and allow something other than your own thoughts to come through.

Final words of advice for today?  Perhaps I could send you off with a couple of reminders. First, keep your mind completely open about how and where this guidance can appear. Judgements, beliefs, and expectations disable your receptors. Information can come from anywhere, at any time, in any form. Second, the Earth is your mother. You are completely dependent on her every moment of your lives. But many of you have taken her for granted and become seduced by illusions of independence and self-importance. You’ve discovered all these things you can do in the material realm and invented all these toys to play with. Some of the toys are very clever and some may yet evolve into tools that benefit the whole. But your world has gotten dangerously out of balance. You’re in this trouble now at least partly because you’ve forgotten to honor, thank, and take care of that which has always taken care of you: the air, the earth, the water. Now your mother’s health is failing and you need to devote yourselves to her healing. Indeed, caring for the Earth at this time is an essential component of your awakening.

S: Thank you very much.

G: No problem. My door is always open.