Never Separated

I was hiking through a forest last summer and delighting in the beauty surrounding me. At one point my attention focused in on the leaves on the trees and a few thoughts came to mind. Perhaps you’ll take a little mind ride with me here and consider the existence of a leaf for a few moments.

It grows out of its mother to play its part for awhile in a brilliantly conceived and awe-inducingly complex set of bio-chemical processes. Then we give it a name. “Ah, a leaf.” Now, in our mind’s conception of it, the leaf appears to have some sort of independent existence to carry that name. Of course we also break the naming down into more specific descriptive categories: maple leaf, birch leaf, alder leaf and so on.

But as we can readily observe, in some essential way that leaf  was never born as we think of birth into separate existence. The umbilical cord to its mother is never cut throughout the days of its growth and maturity, until . . . still beautifully engaged in the bio-chemical dance, the mother stops feeding her children. Without its mother milk the leaf begins to die, or so it appears, and now we have more adjectives for it: a dying leaf, autumn leaves, a pile of dead leaves on the ground.

Did the leaf really die? On some level yes of course. The lifeblood ceased to flow through it and it fell to the ground where it will soon disintegrate. But what if, instead of thinking of this process as one of dying and death, we saw it as part of a continual process of transformation? Instead of, “Ah, a pile of dead leaves” how about, “Ah, a pile of transforming leaves.” Or maybe we could deconstruct our conceptualization and labeling even further with, “Ah, parts of this entity we call a tree, which is itself an inextricable part of a larger interdependent whole, is transforming more dramatically right now.”

If you accept that the leaf was never really a separate entity, nouns and adjectives notwithstanding, by “dying” it hasn’t ceased to be part of the symphony. For example, maybe its materiality now enters the earth around the tree and provides nourishment for it, or for a young sapling in the vicinity.

Of course you could just as plausibly run through this sequence in regard to the tree itself. In the most obvious way, the tree is never separated from the ground around it. In a somewhat less obvious way, at least to us non-scientists, the tree is a visible presence in a completely interconnected, interdependent ecology of earth, water, air, sunlight and who knows what other elements of art and science and as yet unrecognized brilliant design constituents.

You’ve probably surmised by now where I’m going with this. As I sat in the forest enjoying the beautiful visual display and contemplating leafness, my thoughts turned to us humans. Tricked by our apparent physical separation from our surroundings, too clever for our own good, we’re seduced by the conviction of our  separateness.

But aren’t we really in the same situation as everything else in form? Inextricable component of a living and constantly moving dance of energy and information. Yes, the umbilical cord seems to have been cut. Yes, we can move around more independently than the trees, but seen with a certain kind of vision, we’re no more separate. We are just as much a part of an interdependent and contiguous environment as anything else in form.

One of the most striking confirmations of this understanding I’ve come across is the experience of the neuro-scientist Jill Bolte-Taylor. She gave a talk on Ted TV that should still be there when you read this.  http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

Jill had a massive stroke that all but completely shut down her left brain. Although the two hemispheres are in constant communication, the left brain again, in case you forgot, is the hemisphere that deals primarily with the known, with logical, rational, linear thinking, with concept formation, belief etcetera. The right brain processes direct information, the larger, holistic, interconnected picture, what we might call the unknown.

With her left brain processing almost totally out of the way, Jill was unable to get  hold of its library of information—all the basics of learned identity like her name, her phone number etc. etc. But this clearing away opened the portal to a profound experience. She looked at her arm and could not see where it ended and where the atmosphere around it began. This perception then extended much farther as she began to realize her connectedness to all. Though her left brain did eventually reboot, the experience had a profound, life changing effect on her. She concluded the talk by suggesting that the experience of interdependent interconnectedness is the ground of reality surrounding us and that we are all capable of making the choice to open up to it.

Though I don’t intend in this essay to get into a discussion of how the rest of us can access this kind of state, I’ll offer the observation that for many of us seekers it has to do with presence, with learning to relax into and trust nowness, beyond the brain as it were, or perhaps more accurately, beyond the limiting control of the left brain. Buddhist teachings call it the discursive mind and describe it as the action of ego—a continuous and overlapping process of mental activity that functions to obscure  the underlying reality. Through our presence-encouraging practices we gradually, in most cases, learn to slow down the speed of mind and settle into—again using Buddhist terminology—emptiness. That somewhat daunting word just means emptiness of the obscuring, cluttering, concept-addicted discursive mind, in favor of clear, unfiltered perception of things as they are in each moment.

Another way of describing this experience I’ve found helpful lately is to envision everything as energy—patterns of energy, constantly flowing, shifting, evolving patterns of energy. Ego is equated with struggle, with trying to force our virtual, imaginary version of life onto these self-existing patterns of energy.

Another relevant Buddhist teaching on this issue is that of effortlessness. It doesn’t mean laziness or lack of effort. It has something to do with surrendering the struggle and resistance and recognizing, aligning, and harmonizing with the existing energies. I also like to think of this as learning to settle into the still center, a place many of us have visited briefly at various times that keeps calling us back. This is the place that provokes phrases like “the peace that passeth all understanding.” That’s a good one. It implies that if you can ‘understand’ it, that ain’t it.

If you’ve read my book or any of my other writings you know that I can’t help relating all this back to the planetary condition. Again, by many accounts and much evidence, we’re in an unprecedented time of karmic completion and extremely rapid change. As a lot of us see it, there is a kind of download underway in which unenlightened, dysfunctional views and behaviors are being challenged, overturned, and healed. A new, saner set of morphic fields is being introduced and is spreading rapidly around the planet, though not to all at this time of course. The transformation is seeping down through various levels. There’s an image of walking in a fine mist. We don’t realize we’re getting wet but eventually we discover we’re soaked.

By way of concluding, it seems that we’re all in the same situation, beguiled and befuddled by the illusion of separateness, with the promise before us of awakening to our true nature as interpenetrating points of  living light dancing in harmony with the ever-flowing energies all around us. I suggest that this is an understanding whose time has come on this planet. Let us pray brothers and sisters.

Iboga Interview—in three parts (audio version)

A few weeks ago (Mar. 2011,) I received an email informing me that two iboga ceremony leaders, Steve and Sean from Britain, would be coming to my area to lead a three-day healing ceremony with the iboga root, sometimes called “the wood.” I found this exciting news since Kanucas, my friend and spiritual elder from the Native American Church, had told me a couple of years ago that he and others had received a vision that ayahuasca, peyote, and iboga would play key roles in the global consciousness transformation. At the time I had no idea how this little-known plant would spread its footprint.

I was very pleased to be able to get in touch with Steve, who readily agreed to come over to my home with Sean for an in-depth interview on this remarkable spirit-plant medicine. I found them both sincere, knowledgeable, articulate, and engaging.

The interview lasted close to an hour and a half. I divided it into three roughly equal segments of a little under a half hour so listeners don’t have to swallow it all in one gulp. I hope you find it useful. For a short synopsis of the history and current use of iboga and its primary psychoactive alklaloid ibogaine, please read my article at this site. I also warmly invite comments. Here is the three-part interview. Enjoy, Stephen.

Iboga Interview Part One

Iboga Interview Part Two

Iboga Interview Part Three

Updates on the Emerging Reality

I spend a fair amount of time maintaining vigilance on the planetary journey on numerous levels. I try to stay somewhat cognizant of new developments in spiritual work, economic conditions, new social forms, visionary ideas, climatic changes and so on. I particularly watch for indications that, as the title of my book says, we are Returning to Sacred World.

In this series of posts I intend to report on events and developments at these multiple levels that point toward the emergence of the new reality. Please don’t be dismayed by this first one. In general I’m looking for positive developments. But what may appear to be negative developments can also be interpreted as positive if we understand them in the context of wrenching change leading to a rebirth of sanity on the planet. There’s an interesting image or metaphor for this. I may have heard it first from Terence McKenna. If we imagine someone who has never seen or heard of the human birth process, he might mistake it for a death. There’s blood everywhere and a lot of screaming. I think we can expect to see some of that during these transitional times.

April 8, 2010. This is one of those developments that appear at first look to be negative. Please take a little walk with me here while I work up to the phenomenon in question with a little background. A basic teaching of Buddhist psychology tells us that much of the energy of the mind dominated by ego, in the world of confusion or samsara , is focused on creating and maintaining the illusion of security, stability, and permanence. My old Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa called it the cocoon, an apt metaphor that creates a vivid image of the condition of the ego. Common sense shows us—and if we’re paying attention we can see it functioning in our own lives—that when the ego is threatened, it’s going to freak out. Anything that pokes at the cocoon causes the ego to panic. Its stability is highly conditional on things seeming to go its way. The ego forms a tight portrait of how the world is and should be. It perks up when events around it appear to conform to that portrait and tends to lose heart or become depressed when they don’t.

You’ve probably noticed that the world is changing rapidly in almost all spheres of activity, from the biosphere to the human community. From the point of view of the emerging reality, much of this is good because it’s necessary. Many of the old certainties were unhealthy and in the way of our spiritual evolution. For the past several decades and for some time in the years ahead, healing at every level, from the individual to the planet, is a central focus. So, for example, maybe you used to assume that homosexuality was an afront to God, a sin, an aberration. This was a part of the tight little picture you had that told you who you were and how things were supposed to be. Now you look around and see that gay people are being granted legal and moral respect. They can even get married. If you are fully in the grip of the fearful ego, that kind of change shakes your world. It’s bewildering. You feel like you’re losing control and that’s ego’s red alert.

We know that the fearful mind is not a skillful mind. When we’re afraid we don’t think clearly. Our choices are knee-jerk choices. We desperately scheme to try to regain that stability, that certainty. When the changes are happening on multiple fronts we might expect to see an increase in irrational behavior. Sure enough, there are some distinct indications of just that. The particular development I’m thinking of here is the rise in of right-wing, Christian militia groups, specifically in the United States, though there may be similar events occurring elsewhere as well.

The Spring 2010 issue (#137) of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s intelligence report has an article by Mark Potok called “Outrage on the Right.” The report claims that there has been a 244% growth in the so-called “Patriot” movement, 363 new groups in 2009 alone. From the report: “Broad-based populist anger at political, demographic, and economic changes in America ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation.” The report also notes that the number of “Hate Groups” rose 54% from 2000 to 2008.

As I suggested above, these disturbing statistics may very well be indications that the change that must come to this planet is well underway. The more the ground becomes unsettled, the more likely those who have no real relationship with their own minds, their own natural inner Buddha if you will, will freak out and look for targets and sources of blame, control, and comfort blindly and desperately. If indeed the old order is giving way rapidly, this is inevitable.

I believe that the only sane attitude the rest of us can take about such developments is to remain in the still center of sanity as much as possible, to move from the chi and to do our damnedest to radiate love and peaceful mind. As I’ve spoken about often in other writings, there’s a very good chance that directing our prayers toward healing these wounds can have a powerful impact on conditions. There’s a compelling case to be made for us to keep our eyes on the prize and not indulge in negative, doubtful, fearful thinking.

February 2011. There are a remarkable number of compassionate and visionary initiatives blossoming on the planet right now. As has so often been said, necessity is the mother of invention. It’s also the mother of commitment. As the frivolity quotient diminishes for many of us in the face of a deepening crisis and transformation process, more and more people are seeing that they can change the world  in tangible ways. Maybe such ideas and initiatives will in fact overwhelm the blindness and cruelty at some point with tsunamis of creative, healing energy.

One of many such brilliant schemes is a program called Witness. The current spokesperson for this program is the musician Peter Gabriel. I don’t know if it was his original idea or not. Their website is http://www.witness.org/. As Mr. Gabriel has explained it, the intention of Witness is to get cameras into the hands of as many oppressed and abused peoples around the world as possible. The view is that there are far too many unrecognized and unvalidated acts of cruelty and injustice committed against individuals and especially against groups of people. I believe Witness is particularly attempting to distribute  small, inexpensive devices that can record video.

If egregious acts are recorded and distributed, the hope is that there is then the possibility of bringing justice and redress to bear upon the situations. Mr. Gabriel claims that Witness has already had some significant successes. Please check out the website listed above and contribute in any way you can.

February 2011: As I write this on Feb. 9,  hundreds of thousands of people have been gathering in Cairo’s central Tahrir square for over two weeks. It’s far too soon to tell what will come of this determined action, but whether or not a new, just order is born in the short term, I have  a strong sense that these events are indicators of something in the air which cannot be stopped. The protests in Egypt were immediately preceded by an equally remarkable upheaval in Tunisia which resulted in the banishment of the corrupt and hated ruling family. Now there are distinct signs of unrest in several neighboring countries in the middle east; Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and perhaps others.

The central problem for a very long time has been the ability of small, brutal elites to control and manipulate the people. I predict that this time is finally coming to an end. For whatever reasons—worldwide connectivity via communicative technologies; the inevitable arrival of a time of karmic completion; a stage of maturation in the species; the intentions, prayers, and activities of good people everywhere; the influence of Spirit; the unfolding of unknown energies and forces within, on, and beyond the planet—it appears that the energy and impetus of righting cruel injustice and outrageous repression is rising to the surface and will sooner or later—quite possibly sooner—sweep much of the world. Watch out USA, your people are still somnambulent and confused but you’re on the list too. The extreme imbalance of wealth in your country will not go on forever. If enough of the misled actually figure out who their real enemies are all hell could break loose. As the saying goes, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

December 12, 2012 (or 12/12/12, and for those who like numeric patterns like this, a little after noon today the clock struck 12:12, making the whole list: 12:12,12/12/12). Also, of some passing interest says I with tongue in cheek, we’re nine days from the supposed end date of the Mayan calendar, although according to Johan Calleman in his book The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness, the end was actually in October of 2011 with a kind of resonance wave carrying through until December 21, 2012.

One way or the other however, there is little indication that anything particularly dramatic is building to a climax that could peak this month. I first heard about this 2012 thing from Terence McKenna over twenty years ago. At the time I found it an intriguing idea that resonated with my sense that the dominant trajectory had to be headed for disaster. No doubt placing some hope in the transformative potential of the time also supported a longing for change that I understand as both a genuine compassionate prayer for the realization of our potential and a projection of my own unfulfilled longing for awakening.

Although I never fully embraced it as a literal and specific prophecy for an exact time, in recent years, as this meme gradually crept into the mainstream, the whole idea has felt increasingly out of step and even ridiculous, especially where there is any hope of salvation or where it’s seen as the end of the world. These hopes and fears appear with some frequency and I believe are always unrecognized projections that come from the confused mind of ego crying out in the darkness for release from its own grasp.

Though I haven’t dug into any of the scholarly studies lately, I hear intimations here and there that there is no consensus among researchers about the end date of the calendar anyway. I’ll confess though that there’s a tiny superstitious corner of my brain somewhere that still wonders if some event of significance will occur on the solstice. Given the power of imagination and the widespread awareness of December 21 in many parts of the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if the electrical energy of collective thought itself produces something observable. (I’m getting a kick out of writing this nine days in advance because the question, at least on any level that most people can see, of whether anything will occur on “the day” will be answered toute suite)

Regardless of the appearance of any kind of game changing event or energy this month, in a very real sense that is not the important point at all. The point, as many have been saying in different ways about various facets of the issue, remains that a radical shift of direction, intimately tied to a radical consciousness transformation, is going to be essential for the future not to look extremely bleak. The ongoing corporate coup continues unabated and if anything with greater willful ferocity than ever, even as the evidence piles up daily that our blind material rush is destroying the planet. I have a deep faith in the underlying intelligence within and all round humanity and a strong sense that crises can bring out hitherto untapped resources, but neither I nor anyone else can know how this story is going to play out in the short term.

Perhaps the most meaningful and useful concept associated with the 2012 meme is about that. It’s one more reminder, maybe a morphically resonating meme from the dreamtime, that humanity has reached the completion of a cycle and may be ready to undergo the drama of the birth process. As others have pointed out, if you didn’t know what a birth was and you saw one happening you might think something terrible was unfolding with all that screaming and blood. So brothers and sisters of  the Spirit, let’s be as real as we can, let’s keep breathing and not judging, and let us have confidence in the indestructible reality of awakened heart and the vision for enlightened society. Embracing the truth and celebrating our oneness in the Spirit might be a good way to ring in the new era.

One thing I do believe is that January 1st is not the beginning of the new year. The cycle of life turns on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, a night when visionaries have told me the star nations are particularly attuned to us and appreciative of our sincere efforts to honour the occasion. So Happy New Year.

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.

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.

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.

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.