Thursday, October 7, 2010

Broken Mirrors, Laughing Trees

The only thing worse than the pain knotting up my stomach was the ridiculous things the trees were saying to me. We'll get to the trees shortly, but for now, just know that if you are ever thinking about drinking ayahuasca and you already have a stomachache, for god's sake, do not do it. Do not listen to everyone telling you what a beautiful ceremony it is and how the woman leading it has such a strong practice and what a special occasion it is. Do not consider that that you'll be out of the country before her next ceremony and that this chance won't come again. Stay home, go to a movie, organize your iPhone apps or cut your fucking arm off. But do not drink the tea.

Unless you want to find yourself lying on a mattress outside of the ceremony proper rocking your belly back and forth in a futile attempt to ease the pain, stumbling up to shit as soon as their is any glimmer of hope that something will come out and praying the universe will see fit to make you throw up whatever kind of sewage is curdling your gut.

The ceremony had started out reasonably enough. It was inside, in a brightly lit room with people sitting upright in chairs (objects which I had been previously unaware of in ayahuasca ceremonies) and a bunch of happy people singing together - just like usual. It was led by a woman named Darshan, who held ceremonies twice a month that loosely followed the UDV (União do Vegetal; Union of Plants) tradition, one of the syncretic churches that mixed indigenous and Christian traditions. I'm always skeptical of anything associated with Christianity, but I'd been told she was more about the love than the Jesus; as far as I know, she'd never bombed any abortion clinics or anything. In fact, she’d seemed like a generous and likable person when I'd met her before. And there was the chorus of happy hippies telling me how beautiful it would all be.

Honestly though, it seemed more formal than beautiful, with the chairs and bright unshielded lights, the ornately decorated ayahuasca decanter and the rapt attention to the distribution of hymn books and posture and singing. It was somewhat Christian-esque but still a good experience. But after about fifteen minutes, the combination of trying to follow along in Portuguese, and sit up straight to deal the tempest in my belly overwhelmed me so I laid down outside in hopes of death or some equally definitive form of relief.

Eventually the trees seemed like a better idea than the people; dancing with them seemed like a good idea and in the past I'd been able to manipulate and pull out the knotty pain energy when I was standing up or dancing. That sort of worked this time. But what struck me was the people, who seemed somehow stuck, with their problems and their pain and the energy that defined it. Whereas everything I was going through seemed somehow manageable; as unpleasant as it was, its origin was no deeper than bad judgment and its end was clearly only a few hours away, a lot of the people around me seemed, well, fucked. Their situations seemed to have a spiritual/emotional element that completely transcended anything as readily understood as the worst stomachache on the planet. This is always part of the deal at group ayahuasca ceremonies; I'm basically all right, and other people are loosing their shit. What gives? This is when the trees, with their suddenly human and comical gestures and limbs, started getting all communicative and winking and nodding and saying, 'See, you should be a shaman.'

I cough and look around for whomever they're talking too. I don't see anyone else.

Seriously... with feathers, wisdom, compassion and stuff?

The tree nods with encouragement.

Which just goes to show that trees aren't really that smart.

I'm sure that sounds like a nice idea to most people, and I do love drugs -- which are big part of the job -- and I love nature and I do think I have a better understanding of the nature of the universe and the human condition than most people and, sure, I feel like I can work with energy. But seriously, a shaman? Do I seem like the kind of guy who is supposed to spend six years puking root vegetables and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes in some obscure Peruvian rainforest and emerge with a deep connection to mother earth and an amazing ability to heal. More to the point, have I ever been accused of patience or compassion by anyone?

But it also made a lot of sense. I do like a lot of the component pieces; I guess this seems like it could be a logical extension. But it just seemed so extreme. But so obvious, the trees say, laughing.

Just to be clear, the trees weren't literally talking in a mouth and vocal chord kind of way. I mean the branches and leaves do seem to self anthropomorphize into representations of what seem to be recognizable emotions and intelligence the higher you get - but that happens with pretty much any drug worth taking. Mostly, they just seemed to be making a point without saying anything; just like when you ask your girlfriend if she minds if you skip her birthday to go to the strip club with the boys: the response, though silent, is unequivocal.

It's funny because, on paper, being a shaman does seem like a great job to me. Drugs, nature, lots of travel. No one expects you to give a fuck about the most recent episode of CSI, Sarah Palin's latest inanity or any of the myriad of other things that I always find myself confused as to why people seem so swept up by. You can travel, and meet lots of interesting people. I'm sure it's super easy to get laid. I imagine that as long as you have western clients, it pays ok. But even more than the presumably unpleasant apprenticeship period, I think what I find fundamentally repugnant about it is all the respect and reverence associated with it. Not to mention my complete lack of enthusiasm for indigenous culture. I'm not hating - live in the forest, respect the earth, cover yourself with cool tattoos, declare the folly of the western way; go big. I'll watch it on Nova. At least while CSI is having a commercial. I just think I'm the kind of person who needs a higher rate of stimulation. And cynicism. Or at least sarcasm.

Eventually the ceremony and the agony and the trees begin to wind down. We sing the closing hymns and are released into the aftermath and the balance of difficulties shifts: once again the task of communicating (or, to be honest, preventing people from trying to do so with me) in Portuguese seems more formidable than the pain in the belly. Starving and desperate for something as straightforward as food in my stomach, I inhale several cups of soup. I look around at the people who really seemed like they were going through hell. Most of them seem happy and relieved like they've just conquered some great adversary, just freed themselves from some great pain. I'm just feeling divorced, tired and embarrassed at my lack of Portuguese, which I've found to be somewhat a standard scene after group ceremonies.

Eventually I make my way to Bellisimo's house, where I'm spending the night. Bellisimo is a great guy - he's always smiling, making food and hugging people, with almost clownish abandon and cheerfulness. I tell him about the whole shaman thing and for what seems like the first time ever, he stops laughing, walks away from whatever he was doing in the kitchen, sits down right in front of me and says in a very encouraging and serious tone that if I feel this calling and it’s great and I should follow it. Not exactly the 'Dude, you were just high' response I was hoping for.

The next day, I tell the whole thing to my friend Napalm. He's like 'Dude, don't worry about it. Everyone thinks that when they first start to drink ayahuasca. You were just high' - a friend indeed.

But in truth, looking back, I have to say, my energetic disinterest in shamanism and my ambivalence towards the indigenous cultures it stems from is firmly rooted in, well, a complete absence of information. I realize that when I think of indigenous cultures, I mostly think of my annoyance with the white people who revere them, or casually adapt their wisdom or artifacts. Dream catcher anyone? I guess I feel like I've met a lot of people who look to an indigenous or some non-western cultural with a kind of blind reverence and very lightly hand it some great legitimacy. It's about as ridiculous as drunken college kids who assume, more or less entirely based on the quantity and texture of my hair, that I have some god given insight into what is ‘up’. All of this nonsense more often seems like an attempt to align oneself with something that seems more significant than the mundanity of modern life or piss of their parents or find solidarity with the problems they have with society at large or any number of agendas that have nothing to do with the actual thing itself. Which is more less what I can say for my own understanding of indigenous cultures.

I think part of my ambivalence to other people's reverence is that nothing has ever made me deeply fear or respect god or ayahuasca or mother earth or any external entity. Perhaps I'm just asking for it by admitting that out loud, but it’s a simple truth. My life, both the good and the bad seem to be very much of my own making, granted I drew an excellent hand: I was born in a good situation to someone who loved me silly and fed me well in a country with no civil wars and gold plated passports, but beyond the gift of comfortable and loved first-world existence (which come to think of it, is a pretty big deal), I've pretty much made my own life. And I’ve made my own mistakes. And I feel the glory and blame are entirely my own. And although kindness to the planet and its inhabitants makes a great deal of sense to me and the universe seems clearly to have elements that are beyond the scope of consensus reality, none of these realities has ever ransacked me in the night as the terrifying truth in the way so many people talk about. So how the fuck could I possibly be a shaman?


This is my first blog entry with an afterward; looking over what I wrote and reflecting on a few more recent events have brought me to a slightly more unsettling conclusion. While writing this entry, I was also intermittently visiting a friend I met recently. Over the course of her life she had had a few things happen to her that were really far more distressing than the worst things that have ever happened to me, by like a factor of ten zillion. Ironically she seems to have survived through all of it and really flourished; she is not the kind of person that it would ever occur to you to mistake for a victim or feel sorry for; if anything the turbulence seems to have just given her more motivation to live her life as fully as possible. But listening to her talk about some of the things that had transpired, I had a few really 'there but by the grace of God go I' type moments. Things had happened to her that seemed about as likely as a piano falling on your head while walking through midtown Manhattan. These were not stories of the bad thing that happened after getting drunk and playing paintball in traffic, or getting kidnapped while hiking close to the border of some autocratic anti-American country. These were perfect storms of misfortune that no one could've predicted or prevented. The one thing that seemed to distress her about all these things was trying to find some reason or justification for all of it. Uselessly rational, I told her there was none, that sometimes bad things happen to good people and that we can make ourselves crazy trying attribute meaning to an unlucky role of the dice.

The day I met up with her her iPhone made it's way to the bottom of the ocean - the new 4G one with Face Time and HD video. Later, something knocked into her surfboard, which fell into a mirror breaking both of them and sending shards of glass falling onto her couch, ripping up the upholstery. Man, I thought, is she having a bad day. Then I opened up my computer to check something and found that it wouldn't turn on; the prognosis eventually being dead motherboard, which, for those of you unfamiliar with Apple's replacement parts pricing, means getting a new computer. So that's several thousand dollars (and all of the photos homegirl had taken since July) up in smoke.

This all sucked, but like my stomachache, all these were just very bad mosquito bites; annoying, expensive, but honestly without real impact on our lives. But this was a person who I have a feeling could be one of the people who greatly influences my life and thinking about the precedent of the first 24 hours, it occurred to me to consider that perhaps the universe was trying to send me a message about exactly what kind of influence I was in for.

Over the next few days, I was still trying to figure out what that message might be. It didn't seem like run away, but c'mon, broken mirrors? That's so classic it's cliché. After writing parts of this blog entry about the lack of reverence and fear of I have towards the universe in general and ayahuasca in particular, I was talking on the phone to my friend about some of those genuinely distressing things that had happened to her in the past. And then I started thinking maybe I'm a fucking idiot. In a way, part of my approach to ayahuasca had been, well ok, but when are you gonna scare me for real (This is not quite as retarded as it sounds, well actually it is, but let me give you some background- ayahuasca literature is full of stories that are essentially: 'oh my god I'm scared, oh my god I'm scared, oh my god I'm scared, ok, I'll relax and except everything, oh my god, now the universe is beautiful and full of light and I'm over my life long bipolar disorder and accept and forgive every bad thing that ever happened to me and now I know my true calling in life. A part of me felt like I was missing out by not having such an experience.) And listening to someone who had been scared for real, completely without ayahuasca, I kind of started to feel like I was taunting my own doom. I was in southern California at the time, where the weather was uncharacteristically rainy, and I had the flash that maybe the weather report had missed one falling piano with my name on it.

A few days later, I'm sitting on my friend's couch - same one, though cut, it was still serviceable - and I feel something hard hit my head. And suddenly there is a mirror in my lap. Apparently she had been so distressed by the lack of mirror that she had set this one where the old one was, without really attaching it and a loud laugh or something sent it hurling towards my head. The mirror and I were unharmed but I imagined for a moment what might've happened had this mirror broken into the same type of spiky shards as the other one - a stream of imagination made all the more vivid by some of the gruesome things my friend, who worked in a hospital, had told me about her work.

It was beginning to occur to me that even if I couldn't muster reverence that maybe I didn’t need to put quite so much energy into irreverence.

The next day the potential for some very good luck landed in my lap - the details are to complex to go into - but it was about ten times as surprising as the mirror and as far as I could tell, equally unrelated to anything I had done to earn it. That evening, as I was sitting down to meditate, I realized I was making a very subtle change to my meditation approach, from something like closing my eyes and focusing really hard, to closing my eyes and seeing what the universe presented to me. Somehow, in the course of accepting this fairly subtle change, which was greatly informed by everything I've just written about, I found myself for the first time ever, certainly not accepting as de facto, but being open to as a kind of working hypothesis, the idea that perhaps the universe, or some concentrations of it, actually had an intelligence or an intent behind them. And that whatever they were, for some reason, they had taken it upon themselves to be very, very nice to me and that maybe I shouldn't be sticking my tongue out at ayahuasca or anything else, daring it to show me something big and scary. Maybe I, with my remarkably healthy body, loving friends and family and essentially trauma-free life, should just shut the fuck up and be grateful.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Now I'm you!

And you, and you. Apparently ayahuasca turns me into other people. You read about people turning into jaguars or snakes or god or occasionally vinyl siding (but that's only after smoking salvia), but apparently I'm limited to my fellow Homo sapiens. Second ceremony in Brazil I found my heart opening so much I turned into my partner, Kali-Kava, hips and all, and had incredible empathy for and understanding of her afterwards - it blew my mind.

But now it just seemed like part of the program. I turned not into my partner, but Chaco, this dude she had some romantic involvement with. He always struck me as one of those disingenuous, falsely-sensitive, skirt-wearing New Age player dudes - not that I was biased or anything - but one Tuesday evening an hour or two after drinking the tea I felt that warm generous heart-opening-up feeling and suddenly I'm Chaco. And he/I are this warm, wonderful open-hearted person, overflowing with integrity. Afterwards, I actually feel like I'd like to get to know him. Defies all logic.

A few days later, I make another ceremony with Cyan for the new moon. I turned into Bambini, an Italian girl I'd met here in Brazil, who seemed to posses some of my least and most favorite traits of Kali-Kava. Then I turned into Kali-Kava. And for a moment a little bit of Cyan floated in. And then me as a little kid, and round and round in circles. By now it it just seemed very matter of fact, like anything else you might learn - first time it's an impossible miracle, by the time you're good at it, it barely seems worth remarking on.

For most of this time, Cyan was sitting attentively in full lotus. Of all the people I'd met in Brazil, he had by far the most disciplined approach to the medicine and his spiritual advancement; he's quite focused, keeps a pretty strict diet, treats the medicine with a great deal of respect, always has a clear intent going into the ceremonies etc. It was one of the things I most appreciate about him, though once in a while it seems a tiny bit dogmatic. One of the things he was big on was staying super present and sitting with your spine straight to receive transmissions from celestial bodies during the ceremony. I can hear the naysayers arguing that belief in, let alone prepping oneself for such transmissions is grounds for institutionalization, but if you're working hypothesis is that we're a function of some intergalactic intelligence, you might as well tune into the mothership.

Or not, in my case. I was pretty happy rolling around like some unspecified child/feline-like creature. I kept looking at Cyan and thinking I should sit up and focus but I was too happy chasing my own tail. I also convinced myself there was value in being and thereby understanding other people and in playing with something before one becomes seriously disciplined with it. Comfortability is a necessary part of the learning process after all.

Although all that makes sense to me, I realized that on top of all this was a larger dynamic that I always saw playing out between myself and Kali-Kava, in which I wanted her to be more disciplined about the work she was doing on herself, and to just more present to the world and herself (particularly those parts of herself she found painful and difficult), and she often felt like rolling around like a kitten - except I was the playing the part of her and Cyan was playing the part of me.

I took one look at Cyan's austere, un-fun seeming posture and I had to admit, I could see her point.

Later, Cyan explained how each chakra is associated with a vowel and showed me this basic sound healing exercise where you just start with associated sound at the bottom and work your way up to the top and back down. I really haven't been convinced either way about chakras or sound healing, but I have to say, it was pretty cool.

Then he just leapt out with a freestyle about how we're all here receiving cosmic energy and guidance from the stars. It had that kind of noetic/poetic truth that drugs will give you late at night. It was quite striking.

Eventually we stumble back home - literally - the ground water swelled up through the earth, so it was slow going and on the moonless night Cyan had lost his bearings and the flashlights weren't working - I think he finally wound up navigating, somewhat circularly, by the light of my iphone. He seemed to be getting more and more annoyed with himself, but I just had to laugh - getting lost at night when you're high is both such an amateur move and such a classic. But it was warm and we were probably singing and I still had a little ayahuasca magic in me and no need to hurry or be focused and I didn't feel any sense of responsibility for getting us lost - a kind of carefreeness and that seemed so unlike me and so much like Kali-Kava.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


It was quickly becoming clear to me that the strangest thing on this trip was not the ayahuasca, but what the people who drank the ayahuasca believed. A lot of people believed in a cosmic order of things: we have a purpose, everything happens for a reason, that when we die our energy or our soul will recombine with the universe in an endlessly repeating cycle. All of these things are pretty common New Age fare, and with only a slight change in wording are as fundamental to most religions as they are resistant to any kind of rigorous scientific analysis. But the belief system that really got me was Human Design, which you can sort of describe as the German engineering version of some these sentiments. Pretty much everybody I spoke to was into the stuff - which for those of you who haven't been taking notes, was a system for understanding who you are and what your strengths, weaknesses and destinies are, based on the date and time of your birth. If you are thinking "that sounds a lot like astrology," I would have to agree. However, its adherents would insist otherwise. They claim that it is a completely scientific system. I've yet to get the science about it, but I did like what the system recommends that I do: float around, not work, assess things quickly. To my mind, the fact that it was appealing made it all the more suspect - we are easily lulled into believing that which we find attractive.

The Ryder, the guy from whom I was renting part of a house, was a big proponent of Human Design. It turned out that he was a professional: giving people Human Design readings and guidance was actually his job; this had taken me sometime to ascertain since jobs were so rare in this town that it seemed impolite to ask about them. He was not at all put off by my skepticism - a rare thing in hippielandia, which is often filled with circular reasoning and an us/them magic world vs. material world animosity, in which few people seem willing to bridge the gap between whatever twinkles they see and the world of concrete that we all see - and simply suggested I learn enough about the system to attempt to understand some of its basic predictions/suggestions and see if they were useful. Hard to argue with that.

Looking at Human Design would turn out to be less about looking at Human Design and more about looking at how I decide what to believe, a theme that echoed throughout my whole trip to Brazil, but we'll get to that shortly.

One night, I overheard The Ryder describing a particular element in someone else's Human Design makeup, which sounded kinda familiar. The string of thoughts this would result in turned out to be the first step into the murky waters of a possible magical world that on the one hand seems as foolish and starry-eyed as you could imagine and on other hand I've never been able to complete wash off. My memory is imperfect, but basically the trait had to do with really being ruled by one's emotions; if this trait wasn't properly addressed you would be battered about by the constantly changing turbulence of your emotions and always left somewhat desperate and unsure. There was a way to work with this so it actually turned out to be hunky-dory (part of it was never making decisions on the spot), but the specifics don't even matter so much. What did matter was that it sounded like he was describing my partner, Kali-Kava, as if he'd known her for years.

Figuring out if that was actually in her "Design" seemed like a pretty good first real assessment of the system's validity. A few days later I got her birth info and it turned out that this trait was in her Design. That was a little weird, but not as weird as the rest of her Design, which even in the very brief version he gave produced on the spot, described to a tee It was one of the most uncanny moments of my life. I was kind of excited, because I like the idea of a strangely magical and logical world, but it really seemed like it must be a trick or a coincidence; I felt like I should poke around till I found the mirror behind the curtain that was producing this illusion. However, it was a moonlit night on a porch in the middle of Brazil, and Kali-Kava was thousands of miles away, and I don't think she had ever been closer to Brazil than Miami. It marked the beginning of a very subtle sea change in my understanding of the universe. Hearing a person's character so accurately described by someone who'd never met her, based just on her birth info, kinda put everything up for reassessment. If something this crazy could be true, really everything was up for grabs. It was exciting and a little eerie.

I haven't yet researched Human Design fully, but my contemplation of it has caused me to give considerably more thought to how I decide what to believe, and what I consider to be "Truth." To contemplate such heady questions, it seems fitting that we start with a quote from a bonafide French Philosopher, one Jean-François Lyotard:

(To give due credit, I should mention found this quote in Breaking Open The Head, the book by another skeptical New Yorker, Daniel Pinchbeck who, curiously enough is also trying to come some conclusions about shamanism and psychedelia. I'm reading this book now, and I like it for the reasons people like it - vivid and brave descriptions of pooh-poohed and marginalized subject matter, and more importantly, excellent summaries of other, more daring books. I also find his book annoying for the reasons people find it annoying: the weirdly distant skinny hipster detachment he has to the whole process and the degree to which he lets fear define his drug experiences.)

In any case, here's Lyotard:

'Being prepared to receive what thought is not prepared to think is what deserves the name of thinking.'

As far as I can see, opening your mind involves not just taking in new information, but putting the whole operation of your mind up for revision. My approach right now is to basically throw every way I have of believing out the window and see how much sense it makes as its battered and bleeding form tries to struggle back inside. We'll call it the 4 Habits of Highly Defenestrated Epistemologies.

1) The first thing that had to go was the importance given to the knee-jerk assessment of veracity as a function of the speaker. By nature, I'm skeptical of hippies and BP's PR people -- generally anything really far left or far right. This is not so much because I don't think anything out there could be true, but if you're out there, it seems pretty likely to me that you've been listening to one frequency too long to be accurate. So if stuff is coming from way out, I really need to see a bridge from there to something familiar, or a pretty in-depth blueprint of the construction or the island you're on. That stuff tends to be difficult for hippies , because a lot of times they have an opposition to or serious lack of facility with all that mechanistic logic that allows you to build that stuff. And since it's not a real big part of their life, they don't need it to be there to accept something as true. Without really seeing the mechanism, I'm very suspicious of those worlds. However, as I realized upon reflecting on the whole procaine situation, I'd gone a little gung ho with suspicion; just because you haven't in this moment been given a clear explanation, that doesn't mean something's not real. I - and I imagine a lot of people who consider themselves to be intelligent and skeptical (two of my favorite traits) - would tend to discard things at this point. When presented with a foreign idea whose explanation we find inadequate, instead of digging around for a better explanation, one disregards the idea. It's quick and it's effective for making sure you're not buying into fairy dusted horseshit, but it can be a very 'baby-with-the-bath-water' approach. As such, I've been a) putting a lot of energy into not disregarding what someone says based solely on the number of crystals they're wearing around their neck, which is in itself a huge study in self-restraint and b) being open to the possibility that the presentation of a freaky idea by someone who doesn't have the information or the kind of concrete thinking skills that I think of as making beliefs real, doesn't mean that it's automatically untrue. A poorly presented but fascinating argument doesn't necessarily make its conclusion false; worse, it leaves the curious and intellectually rigorous listener with task of digging around till they find, or fail to find something logical enough to support the conclusion. Which is somewhere in between the definition of an open mind and the pain in the ass.

2) Even though I love logic and mechanical explanations, and they are the metric by which I measure the validity of many things, they're not perfect. I can think of three major problems with logic. 1) First of all, by the time you've reduced anything that can be handled by 'logic,' you've simplified it. You've taken out some of the shades of grey, you've rubbed off the hard edges, you've shaped it into something solid and concretely manipulable. Which is awesome. And it's how the internet and space travel and iphones can exist. But it's not good enough for an absolutely rock solid understanding of what is real or a complete explanation of how the universe works. 2) Logic is a construction. It may be an incredibly powerful and valuable construction, but it is a construction. Without being expert in any of them, I can tell you that no system of logic, no physical science, no economic model is perfect, simply because there's more than one, and people debate and make improvements on them all the time. Logic is an evolving enterprise. It would follow therefore, that it couldn't possibly be the absolute truth. It's not done yet. 3) Then you have to actually use it, which is to say simplified representations of the world are put into imperfect models by even more imperfect human beings. The capacity for error is, well, Titanic. Worse, just like any other construction, the more you build, the more significant any minor integrity issues become. If you build a table and one of the say ten pieces of wood in the table is an eighth of an inch short, it might be a little rocky. If you build a skyscraper with the same margin of error, the foundation could be crooked by an inch or two and by the time you get only a couple dozen stories high, you've got something completely unsustainable. Of course, you can be more precise, which is why it's possible to build sky scrapers, but the nature of the universe is infinitely more complicated then municipal construction. Moreover, it's much harder to know when you're in error. A child can tell if a skyscraper is crooked. A good engineer can tell by looking at the blueprints how stable it will be. But the finest minds in the world alternately win Nobel Prizes or go insane troubleshooting more sophisticated logical constructions in physics or economics. And that stuff is infinitely simpler than the ultimate nature of the universe. The real problem with logic is the amount of faith we have in it. People who consider themselves to be somewhat fluent in its language value it so much that they mistake its constructions for reality. We believe in logic. We believe in things we believe to be logical. And most people with any amount of intellectual discipline hold logic as both the ultimate measuring stick of truth and the sword with which to vanquish the pretenders. Logic, like religion, can easily become a dangerous devotion to a belief system that blinds you to what is actually real. I'm not saying it's not great, I'm not saying I'd feel safe going to the deli to get yet another priced carton of coconut water without it, merely that we would be as foolish to fail to recognize its limitations as we would be to abandon it completely.

3) At pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum is a more visceral, trust-your-intuition type approach. I've always been a big fan of this for assessing yourself, your motivations and most of all, other people. It succeeds for all the reasons logic does not. There's no constructions, no confusion, just a simple feeling. I often hear people trying to assess potential lovers, sublettors or employees based initially on credit reports, a string of check boxes from, college attended or some other quantification ready metric. That stuff seems very valuable and real to me, but it's clear to me that the first sorting should take place in your gut.

I came to these conclusions in a fairly organic and unsophisticated manner, but over the years I have learned that people have delved into this idea with great ferocity. Kinesiology holds that your body can tell the truth from a lie, whether certain foods or nutrients are good for you at this exact moment and many other things as demonstrable in a clearly measured muscle test. This is definitely well into the deep left approach to medicine, but there are some studies that support it. The Human Design people are all about deep body truth called the Sacral Response. I heard something on Radiolab the other day about actual non-hippie scientists at Columbia discovering that the body (as measured by pulse, blood pressure, sweat excretion, etc.) was better able to recognize the subjects own voice then the conscious brain. For real. Yeah, body more accurate then brain. And there has also been a great deal of research recently into the intelligence of the enteric nervous system, the second largest collection of neurons in your body which located in your… gut. Apparently your gut has some pretty interesting things to say to you and none of them have the complexity or fallibility of the intellect. Most of the studies so far are about the effect on mood and disease, but the field is just in its infancy, and from an article in Scientific American:

"U.C.L.A.'s Mayer's work with the gut's nervous system has led him to think that in coming years psychiatry will need to expand to treat the second brain in addition to the one atop the shoulders."

So I think there is a lot to be said for this kind of visceral, flash of an eye response. However, I don't think it's perfect. I call my sublettors' references before I actually let them move in. The brainier perspective is definitely important. Moreover, the gut method is fraught with potential problems. First and foremost, I think you have to be pretty honest with yourself and really clear in order for it to work. Second of all, people who eschew logic wind up believing in all sorts of things that aren't true; some people's guts are on crack, and some confuse their guts with a whim, or fantasy, or crowd mentality or any number of other things. One of the great virtues of logic is that it is possible to look at its component parts and attempt to trouble shoot it. It's pretty hard to check the origins of a feeling that comes from inside you for manufacturing defects.

So here we have another important, but imperfect method for understanding the world.

4) Direct access to truth. This is sort of the super extreme version of trusting your gut. Basically, you just pay really close attention to your belly button and you figure the meaning of life and the course of the stars through the universe. This is meditation, taoism, shamanism, etc. The basic idea is that through some kind of concentrated focus or meditation, without with the addition of some kind of holotropic agent, music, dancing or some other catalyst, you can ascertain the workings of your body and the universe as whole. We'll throw into this category channeling, noetic knowledge and plausible explanations for the ridiculously-accurate-but-telescope-free Mayan astronomy or any similar ancient knowledge whose origin defies explanation. Basically, all the really weird shit. It's ridiculous, except that it has yielded some remarkable successes. The origin of the basic principles of taoism - and by extension Chinese medicine, amongst things - basically came from people sitting really still and paying very close attention to what their organs told them. And when they got bored with that, they used the same methods to come to an understanding of the universe as vibrating waves of energy, something western science has only cottoned to in the past few generations. Less unequivocally, people argue the prevalence of the snake in ayahuasca visions is actually an awareness of the double helix in the DNA and that the ability to work directly with this energy, and thereby affect expression of the individual's genetic information is the means by which very powerful shaman can heal diseases. The second is some far lefty thought. The first is in so many books it almost seemed silly to even waste a sentence writing it down. As a way of ascertaining truth, it has all the pluses and minuses of the gut reaction times ten million. Basically you can figure some real deep stuff out, but since no one else can even use the same microscope it's pretty hard to verify or analyze the results.

But acupuncture does work pretty damn well.

The reason I'm traipsing through all these ways of looking at things is not because I find typing such to be such a fascinating activity, but because I find myself having too many conversations with people who are really invested in just one of them, or put too much faith in those conclusions they have drawn from just one of them, be it some sacred bit of channeled knowledge that is beyond reproach or that the current most advanced scientific understanding of something-or-other that they find to be equally beyond reproach. And I think that's pretty naive. I don't believe that we as a human race have a complete system for understanding anything more complicated then billiard ball type classical mechanical events. I think a lot of our overzealous faith in logic comes from those things which it easily describes. There was a time when certain learned Europeans, which is to say the people from whom we inherited most of what we considerate be 'thought,' considered classical mechanics to be a perfect and complete system. And understandably so, because this was the Enlightenment: giddy and drunken with the power of reason, which in its heady and prodigious youth had burst free from the tyrannical triumvirate of fear, superstition and religion that preceded it and set about building a playground of wonderful and useful machines out of clear, finite and measurable pieces. People thought they could take that clarity and extend off the billiards table into the whole universe. And that was their hubris and to an extent ours, if we put too much faith in any scientific system, (or more damagingly, if we just don't consider it, because as these people are very much our intellectual forefathers, we have simply been inundated with the perspective since day one. If we don't all do a little defenestrating, we'll just believe that this is reality). If you go far enough, any system of understanding breaks down. Classical mechanics was great for falling apples but really went to hell once you looked inside an atom. Staying with physics, which is held up as the height of rationality and is the logically-minded man's completely-unassailable path to the meaning of the universe, even the modern theories still don't work with each other. Quantum mechanics, - the part of physics that looks inside the atom's most popular interpretation "The Copenhagen Interpretation," sees increasingly smaller subatomic particles that have a paradoxical ability to exist not in a single place, but as probability that they will be in a range of places, a concept that should make anyone's head spin with confusion, but also sounds like the dancing waves of energy that adherents of Eastern spiritual practices had figured and gotten perfectly comfortable with thousands of years ago by staring at their belly button eight hours a day - does not correspond with the other big part of physics, general relativity, which gives us, amongst other things, gravity.

On the simple: you can either have a nuclear power plant to power your city, or you can have the gravity to hold the power plant in place. Can't have both in same theory. You could argue that we'd be better off without either, but since they're both here, I would say a complete theory would have to explain both. And it doesn't. But it does get worse. A friend of mine who actually has a background in physics pointed out to me that "Superposition" is just the leading interpretation of quantum mechanics (further evidence for inconclusiveness of anything we call science ) and that "other areas of science also don't fit together in practice but are assumed to fit together - which is probably a good assumption but it is interesting to note - for example, virtually none of chemistry is derivable from physics - similarly very little of biology is derivable from chemistry - we assume that if we had enough computing power we could derive one from the other, but we haven't actually done it, and it is probably computationally impossible," so I am done hopping that all understandings of the universe could be held in the same hand. And I'm also done believing that one is the ultimate truth. Maybe those kids at CERN will figure it out, maybe it's in the next glass of ayahuasca, but really, I don't think we're gonna get there any time soon.


there is some even weirder stuff to consider, such as the somewhat unique nature of 'source monitoring' in western culture - which basically is a somewhat cryptic way of saying we're the only ones who give no real credence to our dreams, visions or hallucinations, but I'll stop for know. I'm just saying I've really given a lot of thought to clarifying not only what I believe to be true, but also, the mechanisms by which I assess truth, because I don't think that mine, or anyone's for that matter, are perfect.

All of this is a little maddening, but it reminds of me of something I heard the moderator say at a conference I attended this spring. In thanking one of the presenters of a fascinating but frustratingly-inconclusive paper, the moderator commented that like most good research, the most remarkable thing is that it suggests further paths for research and raises more questions then it answers.

Just in case I haven't been clear: I'm trying to deliver questions, not answers.

There are arguments in favor of eschewing logic almost completely-- that it is a hinderance in the understanding of the true nature of the universe or, humanity or (as Kali-Kava insists) at least the feminine nature. This is an argument that I'm going to state without really having much of a conclusion about either way, but I have to say, I think logic or anything constructed or abstract is often a latecomer in the cycle of awareness.

For example, it's pretty easy to argue that music is often the leading edge for the majority of youth/cultural movements. The first thing the kids have to say, they say it in music. We even name our movements after the type of music - punk, hip-hop, emo. The reason why there are more twenty year old rockstars than novelists isn't just because playing guitar is more likely to get you laid, it's because the genesis of expression is preverbal (which may also be why playing guitar is more likely to get you laid). And pre-logic and pre-symbolism and pre-everything constructed. The first awareness comes from within and the first utterance is rhythmic, it's a gurgle, it's a scream or a desperate gasp for air. Eventually, we spin that into something more concrete, more able to be manipulated and constructed into something that can be communicated more abstractly, and we call it language, or philosophy. And just as science brand science has only recently been able - with all its wonderful logic and precise measurements - to describe the movements of celestial bodies as accurately as the Mayans, or arrive at the understanding of subatomic particles which is implicit in eastern philosophies, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that all sorts of things, including perhaps Human Design, the shamanic/psychedelic understanding of the world, or even things that seem to me totally cornball, like elves and auras, will eventually be found and understood by a kind of science and a kind of logic more advanced than what we have at our disposal now. Remember, the earth was once flat and the center of the universe. So although I'm not about to jump on board with logic as hinderance, it seems pretty easy for me to imagine that the kind of logic with which we are familiar may be totally inadequate to comprehend realities that perceived by more direct means, in the way that the 19th century telescope was totally inadequate to be able to perceive a quark.

Before I was in Brazil, I looked at lot of things, particularly hippyish things, with a perspective I'll dumb down as 'I am here, in logic, and whatever craziness could only be valuable if it can make it to me here.' However, what I have found to be useful while considering the world of weirdness is to see how far one can extend into the realms of the strange, without completely losing a foundation of rationality. I found the world is a lot more interesting of a place when I stopped looking for proof that things were true and started to see if I could find a perspective, which could incorporate the 'far out' while still retaining the stabilizing influence of logic. In any case, looking at things in this light is an uncertain endeavor and does have the downside of leaving you with a lot of interesting ideas that you can't completely defend or discard, but honestly, irrespective of substances, I find this kind of perspective to be catalytic to a much more colorful world. And to the extent that you find what I'm writing about to be interesting, I would invite you to consider the possible utility (and entertainment value) of approaching things from this 'could it be true, could I stay in me (and by my extension my invaluable logic/belief system), but get to there…' angle, as opposed to ruling things out because they are too far out, because the person who said them looks weird or that they do not immediately come with a bridge to what you consider to be rational or familiar.

The greatly simplified explanation for the mechanism of Human Design is that the stars are sending an every changing pattern of tinny, massless subatomic particles called neutrinos out into the universe (this is also true in science brand science as well) which influence our sun, (not sure if that makes it into regular science) whose neutrino output at the moment of our birth imprints our 'Design.' That part is not in science brand science and I am not at all in the business of trying to get that to hold up in a court of law, but walking home that night, and the subsequent ayahuasca voyages, I looked up at the stars and I have to say I could very readily believe they were watching over me and wanted to be happy.

But of course, I was high.

* * *

A few things you may find interesting related to all this.

I first read about the similarities in the perspective of quantum mechanics and eastern spirituality in a book called The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. It was written in the '70's so it's not exactly up-to-date, but it gets the idea across pretty well.

Regarding the ayahuasca/shaman/healing/snake/DNA thing, Jeremy Narby is supposed to be the man. He has book I've not read called The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origin of Knowledge.

Regarding the gut brain thing, there is a book I also haven't read called The Second Brain by Michael Gershon, which is well summarized in this NYT article.

The Radiolab show I referenced is here:

the whole thing is fascinating, but the part about your body recognizing it's own voice is about 49 minutes in.

And there is yet another recent Radiolab about words, which has at xx has a segment about a woman who suffers a stroke and loses her language (temporarily) which thrusts here into a universe in which there in which her life is pure experience - completely devoid of the constructions of thought, logic and language; she makes it sound beautiful.
starts 31 minutes in

This original story is available from TED:

and, from the so there department,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Yang, again

This is a lot like the last journey, so I'll keep it brief:

An hour or two in, as my attention shifts from the ayahuasca gurgling in my belly to a certain tightness in my heart, I remember that the last time this happened the next thing that happened was turning into my partner for a spell; I prepare myself for the estrogen influx. My heart does open. There is a wash of love. But check it out: this time nothing curvy. In fact it's totally masculine, with about a zillion exclamation points afterwards. My body is suffused with an energy of loving support and strength. I feel like I could build a city on my heart, that I could wrap my arms around everything dear to me and keep it safe and protected. My heart opens, fearlessly with warmth and strength flowing out of it, to light up the world. Suddenly the term 'lionhearted' makes a great deal of sense. It's not as sweet and pleasure-filled as the super feminine energy, but it does have the huge advantage of actually feeling like me—but better, like a higher version of myself, the man who I am when I am clear, who I most aspire to be.

It's cool for all the reasons you might imagine, but it's also a huge relief. A lot of my ayahuasca experiences thus far had really been about becoming more comfortable with my feminine energy, a theme that was echoed in my romantic relationship as well. On the one hand it opened up a lot of worlds and gave me a lot of insight into myself. On the other hand, the extreme extension of this path seemed a little freaky - was I about to grow a vulva and start to like Lifetime movies? So it was very reassuring that after digging around in the pink side of the sandbox, I found myself back on the blue side, to see that all the toys were still there and still fun, and that they had been given that cosmic profundity that had first visited me in the feminine guise. Medicine makes things a lot more intense and having spent so much time in the intense feminine made regular masculine seem a little lackluster, so it was very balancing to come back to a similarly intense masculine. A little trickier too. Amplifying the feminine usually works out ok; it can get a little weird - too catty, too chatty, too indecisive, but generally it's really not that bad; too motherly, too sexy, too nourishing, too loving, too communicative? We'll live. Granted there are certainly other unhealthy elements of the feminine that become messy if amplified but there is a pretty broad path on the healthy end of things.

Amplifying the masculine is a much dicier proposition. The basic masculine virtues, strength, clarity, decisiveness, are every bit as necessary as the feminine virtues. But, as the boys in IT would say, they don't necessarily scale well. The very solidity of masculinity, which is its core and its beauty, also makes it difficult to expand it gracefully. (We'll just skip the obvious joke here.) Feminine energy, being soft and yielding, can more easily increase without bumping into things around it. Masculine energy is harder and more decisive, so it can easily become unyielding, insistent, closed. And of course there's that will to action which is so necessary to the whole equation, which becomes a healthy amount of aggression with a little amplification and easily becomes a monster when it really gets turned up. It's not that things can't be extremely masculine and extremely good, but at least in the culture we live, the path for doing so seems much more precarious and far more rarely traveled.

Which is why this journey seemed so great: because it was about feeling all this great roaring masculine stuff in my center and then having it radiate out of my heart, under the gentle and compassionate guidance of love. Because I felt strong like a lion, I could be gentle like a kitten, without being afraid of being attacked. And because I could be gentle like a kitten, I could be strong like a lion, without being afraid I was attacking.

I like it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stranger Than Hallucinations

'You won't get that hungry, there's a lot of plant energy here.'

Is what Cyan said when I mentioned that for some strange reason I hadn't been that hungry for the day or two I'd first been at his house.

'Whatever, Hippy"

Is pretty much what I thought; death and taxes are only relative truths - just ask a hindu and good accountant. But my appetite has been an overwhelming certainty my whole life. I have a memory from when I was about seven of eating breakfast at some pancake house where the record was 16 pancakes. The adults I was with made me stop at 14, but to this day I can tell you: there was room for more; at an age when I had not yet learned long division. Sometimes people who are watching their weight seem envious, because all this food doesn't make my gigantic, but in a lot of ways it's just a hassle. I'm a fussy fucking eater and honestly a cheapskate, so I wind up cooking for myself quite a bit and putting enough of the calories I want into my body is practically a full time job. I often travel around with a half a loaf of bread and small collection of apples and carrots to make it through the afternoon. Time and time again I realize that what I think is the beginning of spiraling bout of depression or the demise of a love affair is just low blood sugar. Food and lots of it, is pretty big part of my life. So to hear someone say that 'plant energy' had superseded my need for calories, seemed I don't know, questionable. Kinda like Bear Sterns balance sheet circa 2007.

But not as strange as what he was to say to me a few mornings later - which was that I should come with him to get procaine treatment. It was early. For me at least - the whole up with sun part of spiritual growth has always been a hard sell for me - and my groggy head could only remember hearing of procaine once; as far as I knew it was some kind of cheap synthetic cocaine that dealers used to water down their high priced product. He told me that actually it was a lightly processed product of 'the highly medicinal coca plant' that had remarkable healing properties. I pressed him for more details or a more scientific explanation of the process, but neither were forth coming. The term neural therapy came up, and something to do with the flow of energy and that kind of thing. Just like every other alternative healing modality. But with less details. It was far from convincing.

I spent some time thinking about my resistance to the whole thing and realized that in essence, I was writing it off because the explanation I was hearing was incompletely presented, full of holes and therefore highly suspicious. But I turned it over one more time and realized that one thing that was a lot stupider then a bad explanation was not examining something directly if I had the opportunity. The mere fact that I was not at this time being presented with a clear explanation as to how the thing worked didn't mean it didn't work. I didn't seem dangerous, I might as well give it a shot.

Quite literally as it turned out. Procaine as administered with needles - some of them close to a foot long I should add - to the area where it is supposed to facilitate healing. The 'Doctor', I never did ascertain whether he was an actually MD, explained - with limited English mixed with a simple Portuguese that he hoped my even more limited command of his language would be able to comprehend, all of it stapled together by Cyan's polylingual facilities - something that almost made sense: apparently when cells are damaged or scarred, one of the things that goes wrong is that they loose their ability to communicate their needs to the rest of the body, the repair team doesn't know to show. Procaine hands all the freaked out cells a prepaid phone and suddenly they can call for whatever they need. There was a little more of an explanation that has since slipped my mind - I think it had something to do with negative ions and facilitating electrical current, but I can't really be sure.

What I am sure of is that it worked. I have a whole tract of sciatic tension on my right side, for which I've tried a number of things, all of which have helped to very degrees, but this was like winning the lottery. The process was a little freaky - as the needle went in, I could feel muscles, presumably because they were waking for the first time in awhile spasm and contract, moments of numbness, etc… There were a few teeth clenching bits, but things leveled out pretty quickly. By the time I got off the table, I felt like I had a whole new leg. It definitely wasn't perfect, but I'd say the improvements were equal and in addition to the weeks of acupuncture or the months of physical therapy I'd done. I was one happy mother fucker. Gave the guy a big hug and felt myself taking another step further into a universe where all sorts of magical seeming things were possible.

Naturally I googled procaine as soon as the possibility arose. The only thing that told me was that procaine is generic name for the drug more commonly known to Americans as Novocaine. That's right - it's a pain killer. It occurred to me that maybe the guys was a huxster and that things would start to suck again as soon as feeling returned, but that would be a few hours and I was still going strong the next day.

Googling neural therapy was a little more fruitful. Apparently it was developed in the 20's by two Austrian physicians who much to their surprise, cured their sister of horrific and previously incurable migraines the moment they accidentally injected her intravenously with a tiny amount of procaine. The how it works part remains pretty fuzzy:

The practice of neural therapy is based on the belief that energy flows freely through the body of a healthy person. Proponents claim injury, disease, malnutrition, stress, and even scar tissue disrupt this flow, creating energy imbalances called "interference fields." Some proponents of this theory in Germany have stated that 40 percent of all illness and chronic pain may be caused by interference fields in the body.
There are other explanations for how neural therapy works, including the electrical disturbance theory, the restricted lymphatic system theory, and the idea that illness is caused by distortion in the connective tissue of the body. All of these theories assume that any interference in structure, lymphatic flow, or electrical conduction can cause illness. The goal of neural therapy is to correct the interference and heal the illness or symptom. However, even those who practice neural therapy acknowledge that the process is not well understood.

Also fuzzy is why I wasn't very hungry that day or the next or the whole time I was in Brazil. I don't think it was the plant energy because I'm writing this from the almost completely treeless neighborhood of Williamsburg Brooklyn and I still have the appetite of a super model. You could say it has something to do with the heat but I've been in tropicalish whether most of the time since Christmas and before Brazil, still ate like a horse. It might've been the aya, but they day I stopped getting hungry wasn't a day I drank any tea. It could've been Cyan's energetic influence - he was big on the virtues of minimal consumption and the idea of getting your energy from the plants, the stars and the sun. But honestly it's the weirdest thing that happened when I was in Brazil. No matter how strange the aya experiences were, I could still see how they had evolved out of some part of me, or somebody else. This was like some ghost had just come in and flipped a switch.
The day after the procaine, I woke up with an unfamiliar sensation in my lower back. I reached around to see what it was and realized that the weirdness was not feeling the mild muscle spasm that had flanked the right side of my spine for close to half my life. I still don't know how neural therapy works, but considering the results, I'm happy with 'it just does'
There are couple of fairly reasoned links about neurotherapy here:

and more gushing information-cum-advertising here:

Doesn't seem like theres much of it going down in the states, but I'd say that one experience alone was worth the trip to Brazil.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Yang, for once!

Aya has a lot of fear surrounding it. Fear and reverence, neither of which really come naturally to me. The first time I made a ceremony by myself, I was a kinda triple checked everything or maybe quadruple checked. I don't know if I'd call that fear, but a bit of apprehensiveness. Tonight I was planning on making another ceremony alone. Cyan, who had been in the house and played some music for me last time I went solo, still hadn't gotten back from town yet. I wasn't particularly worried about the all alone part, but as I started to walk down the hill from The Rider's house, I started to get a little worried about Cyan - he had called The Rider to say he was leaving about two hours prior. People are always late and more so in Brazil, but I didn't really get the impression that he had the best understanding of his motorcycle and my mind abounds with catastrophic explanations for the absent. That set off a cascade of micro-fears. I'd taken some Loratatdine for allergies, and couldn't quite remember if that was on the no no list for MAOIs, which made me a little worried - it would certainly be an embarrassing way to die. More over, there was no moon, the wind whistled ominously across the hills. Matches, candles and fire starting materials all seemed in short supply. And worst of all, I was still feeling a little sick - a cold kicking around. Suddenly I remembered the words of this fear monger dude I'd spoken with briefly at the MAPS conference who claimed to hang with Terence Mckenna 'If you ever feel like it's not the right time [meaningful pause] don't do it.' The absoluteness with which he reiterated all this, staring straight at me with his clear turquoise colored eyes, had almost made me want to purge on him right then and there - the descent from reverence to religiosity is greased with lubricated with the oozings of guys like him. But you never now… Fuck it, I decided, there's always tomorrow, it had gotten kinda late, I could barely breathe through my nose, I was feeling a little worn out and, truthfully, nourishment seemed more appealing then divine enlightenment. So I decided to heat up some leftovers - with oil, a treat for a none aya night. I realized I was starving, and started to eat everything nibbliable, Suddenly, after wolfing down a frustratingly small handful of sunflower seeds, I felt revitalized. Maybe they really are good for you. Fuck it, I thought, tonight is a great night for aya. I shut off the stove and started to scrounge around for the fire stuff. The bottle of aya had been opened about a week before, which meant that the brew had oxidized, so you have to bring it a boil to cook off the nastiness before you imbibe... or else, - well I didn't know what would happen, nor really how long to cook it for, but I let it go for a few minutes, poured a moderate amount in a cup and took a drink. It tasted delicious. Seriously, I mean it kinda does have a vomity sharpness to it, but despite being told the opposite would happen, it tastes better and better every time I have a glass. As I put the glass down, I saw a golden glow on the horizon dead in front of me: the moon had just peeked over a gentle distant hill. An excellent omen. Sometimes god speaks in plain language.

I started with some Chi Gung - because my hip needed it and because I'm still experimenting with combining different substances with practices. So I face the moon, and do few repetitions of the practice, and the suddenly I get the sweeping sensation of power. Fearless indian chief (excuse the cultural insensitivity) style. I am one with the land and the wind and the sky and I am supposed to be here doing exactly this and fully in my power as a creature on this earth. It was amazing. I wasn't that high - I mean I'd just put down the cup ten minutes before - and honestly it wasn't that intense, which made it seem more real. I didn't feel like that common psychedelic 'I have the power of the universe feeling' which we all know is precious difficult to recover the next morning. It was more like some one handed my a simple type written note that I felt in my body. Complete power and the ability to manifest. I should stop to mention how much I hate it when people shit say like that. Manifest is really one of my least favorite hippy buzzwords. Like what, out of thin air… Nobody I know can create matter out of thin air. And usually the origins of things people 'manifest' are fairly easy to articulate. There is food because you cooked it. You have money because you stole it. You have a novel because you wrote it… Can't people just say make it happen and be done with the smoke and veils. But I could kinda see it. Not abracadabra, but something more like a marital artist in proper form, or well equipped kitchen, or the blocks and block of semis on hand for a blockbuster film. They can just do it. It's not effortless, but the resources are completely available and I was completely connected. I wasn't really sure what it was that I wanted to manifest at that exact instant, but anyone who know's me half way, knows there a million things I'd love to make happen. Apparently, Ms. A wanted me to know that it was possible.

Power gets a bad name a lot the time and even as I felt this awesomeness I could hear fairy dust contingent lambasting my excess and arrogance. But that's because people associate power with abuse, or think of it as something predicated on weakness. Those are very weak kinds of power. This was not that at all. It was power drawn from the earth beneath me and the heavens above. Given as a gift, perhaps even a mandate. And it wasn't power that would grow by stealing other people's power. It was actually the opposite. It was like a power you wanted to share, that you wanted everyone you know to be able to access. Because really, it was just the power to be, to be yourself, to be in tune with your surroundings, and to have clear access to that which governs the universe. And that is the kind of thing you want to give to everyone you meet.

It was weird how decidedly masculine it all seemed. Ayahuasca's great stuff, but everyone agrees that it has a very feminine and softening quality. It doesn't make you weak, but everyone talks about how open and vulnerable it can make you. That had definitely been my experience so far - turning into a sexless court jester, feeling my heart melt open in very palpable, feminine kinda way under the love of the full moon, fully becoming my partner for a bit and experiencing a whole slew of other feminine energies. But this was definitely masculine. And it was great! I thought for a little about why this was not so feminine. The best thing I could think of was the gross physical movements, arms sweeping up the sky, standing tall, especially through those most interior core abdominal muscles - sounds manly. Whatever - I decided I'd take it.

As I finished my the Chi Gung, I felt more into where it had all come from. I think it was the moon and the night, the posture, but really I think it had to do with breaking through fear. There is always strength on the other side of fear. Granted the fear that I had broken through was barely worth mentioning, but the message despite being clear was really only assertive whisper. It all makes sense. Or at least I think it might. People talk about how subtle ayahuasca can be. This was certainly subtle.

I thought about how much I wanted to share this with people, and by people I mean partner. She is always encouraging me to open to my feminine, which is cool and life changing and all that, but it's rarely reciprocated. She's so busy dogging on the oppressiveness of the patriarchal world we live in, that she's very reluctant to open herself to her own masculine energy- in my opinion much to her loss, but we go round and round on that one all the time. It was petty, but I was totally like check it - even aya is in favor of the masculine today.

I lit the fire - effortlessly this time, I'd laid it after dew had fallen, not to mention I was in masculine mode- and realized I had exactly zero stomach ache. I usually do ok, but this was perfect. As I watched the larger logs catch I thought to wonder why. I'd taken maybe two thirds as much as the time before. I don't think that was it. I had a little food in my stomach - which may have helped. And I'd been eating not just within the diet, but without seasoning, which is supposed to help with the stomach and since you're already tasting subtler flavors food wise, you're better able to get the subtler flavors meaning of life wise. I think that probably helped too. But I think the main thing was starting with movement; it really helps moving all kinds nastiness out of me.

My shoulders hurt a little, which I've noticed before - not in that scrunchy around the neck way that I associate with the end of night of acid but - a specific aya ache. I really don't know what that's about. I braver man might of stretched but I just curled up under the covers. It worked.

In the morning I made my way to the waterfall to do Chi Gung

The transformation from the austere dryness of the Cerrado where the house is to the tiny rainforest where the waterfall is never ceases to amaze me. As soon as you enter, everything seems so alive and welcoming, so fertile. Half way up the waterfall, there is a little flat place where you can stand right in the middle to Chi Gung. It's heaven sent.

The waterfall is such radiant advocate for the feminine. Sitting in her gentle spray I reflect upon the myriad virtues of the feminine, beauty, pleasure, nourishing, embracing, surrendering - and kinda think why bother with masculine. Especially when you think about all the wars and financial crisis and Deepwater Horizons that are blamed on the masculine (at least in new age circles, from those of you joining us from the rest of the universe). And of course all these crazy statistics about men going to college less and earning less. Then you think about Vice magazine and the Simpsons (both of which almost always make me happy) and you can kinda believe that even the universe has given up hope on the masculine.

Then I remember the feeling under the moon the night before, the purpose and strength, the ability to shape, to focus, to build… and all the other virtues of the masculine. Of course their is a necessity and beauty in both.

The problem is not masculinity, but the state of masculinity. The ladies had gotten such a bad shake that they've been fighting back since before our grandfathers could point their dicks at a pot - at least in the States, femininity has had a huge series of revisions in the past hundred years, - Suffragettes, Flappers, Rosy the Rivetter, Feminism, Madonna, and for those of us visiting hippielandia, now there's Goddess Worship. And probably a whole lot of other stuff I'm not thinking of. Not all of it dead on track, but all of it going forward. Although one could argue the exceptions, comparatively speaking, masculinity has pretty much stayed the same the whole time - probably for the most part, because we weren't in such desperate situation that we needed to change. There are of the course apologists, a common sort of bottom feeder often observed in new age circles who basically apologize for being men and don't want to be accused of anything as offensive as speaking in the active voice or a getting a hard-on without consensus of all present. But that's not a rethink, that's bullshit and half the time it's wrapped up in some kind of passive aggressive misogyny or fear of one's own masculinity. The only possible value for dudes like that would be if they were rendered down for their fat content.

But part of the reason for the apologists is they don't see a better answer. Our world is sorely lacking in a positive expression of the masculine and replete with the negative expression.

Here is the snapshot that tells the story perfectly for me: Entheon Village, Burning Man, 2008: as people are signing up for workshifts one of the coordinators says that every year, everyone wants to help build the temple of the sacred feminine, but no one ever signs up to build the temple of the sacred masculine. How much clearer of a metaphor do you need? The time is nigh boys. Our shit is in serious need of some rectification. We need to grab our David Dieda and our dicks and step the fuck up.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Acid Echoes

I wound up staying the next night as well. I like the people I was staying with in town but this place was just calling to me with a quite austerity that cleaned and crystalized. The stars overhead were infinite and people basically non existent. Beside my host, Cyan, The Rider and his family, at maybe a mile away, was the only encroachment of humanity for a few miles. There was nothing but you and God.

And the waterfall. Alto is famous for the waterfalls. Key letter being 's'. Where as most places have a particular waterfall, or set of falls that they take pride in, Alto has waterfalls like a beauty competition has boobies: they're just everywhere! And they're beautiful. I'd seen a few so far and the one here was my favorite, and completely unexpected. The landscape here is dry grass and this little Joshua Tree cactusey looking things, not really the kind of environment that leads to waterfalls but about five minutes from the house there is a tiny forest, maybe a hundred feet wide. As you walk into it, the universe transforms: instead of lizards and sunburn, it's suddenly jungle. The air is moist and the earth fecund. Butterflies float and play through mossy trees, vines and flowers entangled in a thickness of flora that seems completely incompatible with the austerity a few steps away. All of this is made possible by a spring which emerges from the ground and cascades through the center of the forest across gorgeous tan colored rocks, sparkling over emerald patches of moss. The volume of the water isn't that high, but somehow it lends a more personable feel to her. Like you can actually take in every aspect of her gentle flow. And just for fun, somebody built a little rock pool about half way up so you can submerge yourself completely. I was in love.

I'd had such a time at the last ceremony that I'd wanted to make one the next night, while there was still an almost full moon. Cyan, who was the closest available authority on ayahuasca suggested I wait a night.

As it turned out, Cyan wasn't up for another ceremony the next night and there was no one else around, so I wound up making my own private ceremony. I laid a fire, set out the mats and made everything ready, poured one big glass and drank it down.

I'm very interested in the idea of trying to work with different medicines in combination with various meditations and eastern spiritual disciplines, so I stared off by doing an hour of Vipassana meditation which is my most regular spiritual practice and - to summarize an entire discipline into a sentence fragment - basically means you sit with out moving, usually cross legged or (if you're more flexible than me) in a full or half lotus, close your eyes and scan your body, usually starting from the top of your head. At first you're supposed to pay attention to what we would think of as normal physical sensations - warmth, tightness, pain etc. The idea is that eventually you get to the point where your awareness is heightened to the point where you can experience things at a subtler level and experience yourself less in the gross physical sense and more as patterns of energy. Which seemed like it would be great way to dip into the ayahuasca experience. And probably would've been except for the stomach ache. Ayahuasca is famous for creating a world of difficulties in stomachs, but so far I hadn't had anything more serious then an intense craving for granola. But this time I felt the pain. My guts were were just going through it. I tried to throw up but that wasn't happening. I was just stuck with pain, sitting there, eyes closed, focused on my bodily sensations. Vipassana incidentally, is all about acknowledging and excepting the pain (which will eventually dissolve and free you from and endless cycle of craving, or so they say).

I made it almost the full hour and finally had to get up. I've given quite a bit of thought to why my stomach hurt so much at this particular time. First I really didn't eat quite the right food - pasta that was a little to oily, garlicy and flavorful - the aya diet is all about the blandness. Also, I think something about the my sitting position constricts the stomach - my posture is often not the best so I collapse a little on my belly. But more significantly, in my limited ayahuasca experiences, I'd gotten really good at clearing bad energy without throwing up or doing things other people do. I just move the energy out. I can do it with my hands, or by singing or just stuff. I just kind of feel out what will work, but it always involves some kind of action. Just sitting there focusing my awareness on it like a good mediator was not on the list. Also, there's just a little resentment/I-don't-feel-like-doing-this-bullshit energy I have around meditating sometimes and I think that manifested itself in a stomach ache, which loathe though I am to admit the value in pain, was kind of a useful kick in the ass to get me to clean up how I related to my whole mediation practice.

Once I gave up meditating (for the evening), I found the world very pleasant - the plants that looked freaky two nights before now looked funny and playful. The moon still shown from above and the air smelled beautiful.

I went to light the fire, but a lot of dew had fallen and the matches and the kindling were wet. Instead of taking two seconds, it took like twenty minutes, stomach ache and all. Between the dew and the wind and the shitty matches it wasn't a lot of fun, but the main thing was that except for the stomach ache, I realized I could basically shut off the aya if I had a practical matter I had to attend to. I just told it to go away and come back when the fire was lit. And it did. And this was the biggest glass I'd ever drunken.

Once I got the fire lit, I lay down on my back and started to sing a little, and the stomach ache disappeared almost instantly.

On the last journey I'd had a pretty intense heart opening experience. This time I reapproached that space in a less dramatic way. If previously I'd been thrown into another universe, here I was it was more like someone pointed out that there was a door that led to the other universe and reminded me of how to use it, and where the mud room was. This whole heart opening concept, had really entered my consciousness via my partner, who is greatly invested in her ability to be open hearted and loving and for whom the major question about anything, particularly us seemed to be how open hearted she felt at the moment. And one of her main things was that an open heart was always very vulnerable. Which certainly made sense, but problematically black and white to me, so I spent a good amount of time playing with the idea of opening the door part way, and the closing it again, leaving is slightly ajar or developing an open heart with some kind of protection around it. Basically making there be language and a level of gradations around world of open/vulnerable and closed/protected.

After that the night was basically about sex and gender essences - but then isn't life. I like to think I have a pretty clean ship as far as most of that stuff goes but there is definitely some detritus floating around and I suddenly found myself swimming in it.

Basically as I dissolved, I found myself again feeling more and more feminine, which by now I'd just decided was part of the aya process. As I was dissolving, I again got caught up on this sciatic tension, which has always seemed like a zit on the face enlightenment. And the more I worked into it, the more I could feel that it held all sorts of really nasty fears and perspectives. Part of it was a fear of the feminine in myself. It's disconcerting how feminine I tend to feel after drinking aya and I often don't know whether to love it or hate it. On the one hand it seems wonderful and effortless. On the other hand is seems terrifying - I mean am I gonna wake up in the morning growing boobs? But in the clear light of day - or in this case, computer monitor - it's actually pretty straightforward. We all have a lot of stuff in us that needs expression. And though society generally encourages us to express that within ourselves that matches our gender and gives us a healthy bit of fear around that which doesn't, it's important to do pay attention to both sides of the coin. Because in order for one side to be fully and healthy expressed, the other side does too.

Next comes a particularly weird kind of homophobia. Not a sudden hatred of showtunes and those who listen them or a fear that I might be just slightly to concerned about whether my curtains match my living room sofa set. But this concept of a really misogynistic hateful kind of gayness. Macho leather clad barbarian dudes who spend a lot of time talking about how women are disgusting because they bleed and needs lots of attention and cart around these noisy children that always need feeding. To top it all off they start to shout that if I had any balls I would join thier tribe. I can already here the politically correct up in arms over such a callous stereotype. And I completely agree. The weirdest thing about all this - and this movie went on for some time - was that it didn't seem like anything I particularly believed in. I mean obviously everyone has some degree of homosexuality and for that matter homophobia in their make up, but this particular scenario seemed pretty off the wall to me.

That said, the content seemed very similar to things that had flashed through my mind on acid years earlier. And the way it was constructed had a very acid feel as well. LSD has this capacity for multiple hypothetical truths, sewing together immense stories instantly and that kind of mocking 'it could be true or it could be made up' thing. It's really different then the slow methodical clarity of ayahuasca. This felt like some weird acid echo chamber that had been lingering in my consciousness, synthesized at a rave years ago partially from my own perspectives and partially from all the crazy sexy energy rattling around the bass bins. I'm not saying that it wasn't at least partially from me, just that it wasn't from that moment. It was something indigestible from another time and socked away in my body like mercury in a fishes fat cells. That was actually the weirdest part because it did seem to come from a very concrete place, the sciatic tension on my right side.

And there I was in open minded land, staring up at the sky and I had to asking myself, am I secretly gay? Do I hate women? Do I hate the feminine in myself?

When the storm finished thrashing itself out, I was kind of washed up on the beach of sexual romantic possibility and left to think about what I want. And I felt around for minute, and what did I feel. Hatred of women? Fear of leather clad gay men? A deeper fear that actually I wanted to join them? Alas, no. What I felt was… come on, it's ayahuasca. You can probably guess the answer. Thats right... Love. My partners love to be precise - for those of you who skipped the previous entries, she is definitely a woman. And love for women in general. And I knew that although all sorts of sexual permutations, and perspectives on sexuality are possible, and that the theater of my imagination is essentially infinite, that what I really wanted was love. And right now, love is centered around my partner, and everything so wonderfully female and messy about her. And without denying or distancing myself from any part of the movie that had played throughout the journey, it seemed like just that, a movie. A random collection of fears and unhealthy perspectives that I had watched or created some time ago, that would have been long since forgotten in sensory tidal wave of a random acid trip but because it was a little to frightening to ever completely chew on, it never got processed, and because of that had been given the enduring longevity that all ghosts possess. But now it seemed as harmless and quaint as Casper.

I lay there pondering over many things and noticing this and that about my self and the universe and realizing for the millionth time that I want share everything that I experience with my partner. The way the wind was rustling. The bird that flew into the vines, the soft hissing of fire and the warm pleasure flowing through my body and most of all, the beautiful love in my heart.

Such a dork!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blame It On The Moon

Apparently my ability to predict the future isn't so great.

We arrived at the first stop on the way to the ceremony, the house of this German guy called The Rider, who had lived in Ibiza and Goa for something like twenty years - talk about 24 hour party person. Two things struck me within a few moments of getting there. The first was the house. It was situated at a dip where two small hills met, which didn't seem that impressive as you approached, but when you entered the living room and looked at the back wall which was entirely glass, you saw that it looked out over a broad shallow valley that seemed to extend endlessly into the distance: infinity in dusky green. Walking through the living room, you see that walls slide open to let you onto a huge deck. Upon closer examination, you realize that both the back wall and the front wall are mades of giant sliding glass doors, so that the whole space can be opened up - front deck, living room, back deck, view to infinity. It was genius. I work on film sets which takes me into a lot of homes I think I'd love to be able to afford, or stay in for awhile, but rarely do a I see space and think about killing the owner so I can move in the next day. The way this place worked with the land was amazing. It wasn't a particularly big or expensive, it was just some really well placed glass. The decor was cool, an interesting combination of cut stones and polished steel, which seemed to be channeling eighties club aesthetics and upscale ski resort at the same time. Cool, but perhaps a little to austere for me. I decided to let the guy live.

The second thing that struck me was that this guy was into Human Design. As was Cyan and they both seemed to be pretty excited that I was a "Reflector" the rare kind of person who is supposed to not really work, float around a lot, sample things and assess them quickly. When I wasn't completely occupied drooling over the house I listened to them talk about it a little. I had to admit I was warming up to the idea a little. First of all these guys seemed a lot more sane and coherent than Chatty. And based on architectural tastes, more likely to have common interests. Secondly, anyone who knows me will tell you that I don't particularly think I'm supposed to work that much and that I do tend to float around and come to opinions about things and especially people very quickly. People tend say I judge prematurely, but I've always been of the opinion other people don't pay attention to the right details- you can tell a lot by looking. And of course, I definitely get it wrong sometimes. And here were these people saying that it was cosmically designed to do exactly that. Kind of appealing.

I chewed on all of this as we headed out, to a little tiny house where Cyan lived where we we're going to make the ceremony.

Despite all sorts of transportation concerns based on the fear of tons of people wanting to come, only one other person wound up showing up, this Italian girl named Bambini. She lived in the house with all the kittens and all the people and I really hadn't separated her in my mind from teaming mammalness there. She seemed quite young, had eyes that seemed to alternate between beautiful and awkward which matched her disposition which seemed to alternate between sweet and combative.

The ceremony was outside - it wasn't so much a temple as a consecrated ground with a few poles that had baby aya vines planted at the bottom. My contribution, ironically enough, was to take a make a circle of crystals around the whole thing. As crystals are not really my area of expertise, in sort of the same way that nursing is not really a navy seals area of expertise, I was a little concerned that I would somehow go about it the wrong way. I was instructed to point them up, to direct the energy up. Seemed simple enough. And I appear to have survived the process, but I was definitely out of my element.

By the time the ceremony started, the full moon shown down on us like infinity, and the earth seemed to extend endlessly in all directions. My intent before we started was to really take the aya into me fully. As I've said, I'm well grounded in this here reality, and was trying to figure out how to dive more deeply into the mystery. Everyone made a little ceremonial gesture before drinking. I put the glass below my nose like wine and wafted it in, really trying to unite with it, then savored it's taste on the way down.

Nothing to exciting happened at first but I eventually got up to pooh and the world had gotten interesting. Plants had a spooky life like quality and the bathroom smelled gnarly. I'd really been thinking about the possibility of malicious transdimensional entities, so stuff that seems spooky seems significantly more spooky because the possibility that genuine evil might be able to make it's way through the space time continuum still lurked in the back of my head. Anyways, I got through all that, and I was lying down tripping out a little. Patterns that were more organic then geometric. Not quite as many eyes as before and a little more death imagery - mostly skulls and bones. It didn't seem scary, just like the truth: passive, eternal. I saw faces in the clouds . Plants looked very much like faces and figures that you might see in those kind of indigenous carvings that have always made me pretty dismissive of indigenous art: Simple figures, big eyes and mouths, exaggerated gestures. Apparently they were actually taking pretty good notes. Shows what I know.

And then the fun started.

First I felt a some tension or pain. I couldn't figure out if I was cold, having some kinda normal toxic reaction to the aya, or processing something ugly. It wasn't that bad, but it did feel kinda like poison. I wasn't worried though, because I had the plan: just love the fuck out of anything scary or unpleasant. But…

My heart wasn't pumping. I mean it was pumping blood, but I couldn't get it to pump out any love. Everything felt really constricted and tight. This was not life threatening, but it wasn't going to produce a Burning Flame of Love that would slay the unspecified unpleasantness. I was a little freaked out. My whole whole plan for navigating weird stuff on aya had just been stopped cold. And I was shivering and uncomfortable. Heart must be opened! So I started to rub around heart, and send lots of opening energy into the area. It took awhile, but eventually it worked. I felt the stuff around my heart open up, and then my heart. I kept rubbing and rubbing and my heart felt more open and happy alive. Not in some abstract emotional sense but a completely tangible physical feeling, just like a water splashing on your face is a tangible physical feeling. I looked up, and saw the beautiful moon shining right down on me, just pouring love into my heart. It made me think of my partner, and how we had gotten into some argument about what love was - I was arguing for something about love should require one to consider or be aware of the person one is loving. She had said something like 'Does the moon consider how it loves each blade of grass or does it just love?' It seemed pretty lame at the time but suddenly there the moon was, just shinning her love into my wide open heart, and my god it suddenly made complete sense. It just felt so good to be open to that loving feeling and shinning right into me. It was like nothing else mattered. It was so beautiful. Open and love, open and love, what a hippy, I can't deal with myself.

And it had a very feminine and vulnerable quality which quite surprisingly, was wonderful.

And this is the weird part

I mean really


became …

My partner!

For real!

Or her in some sort of prototypical girl-becoming-a-women sense. And it was totally awesome. I went from feeling this oddly enjoyable open feminine energy in my heart, to just being her. Full stop. Like I had hips and long hair and a proclivity to get stoned and devour an entire bag of organic blue corn chips in less time than it takes to burp. Suddenly she made so much more sense to me. My partner is pretty fetching and I guess the best way to put it is kind of too much women. And that's exactly how I felt. Like I just wanted to love, or at least flirt with everything and like I had this almost supernatural power of attraction. Like I was this volcano of desire and love and attraction. It felt like it was to much, like it should be illegal - there was no way the world was ready for it, particularly the fashion world she had worked in when she was younger, with it's demonically circumscribed take on all things feminine. Or perhaps more significantly, her midwestern military family. It was like all this potential and desire and beauty that was forbidden to happen. But since it was aya, and not the real world, I just lay there and let the energy of that possibility roll through me. I just became this super affectionate, delicious gluttonous cuddly loving creature.

Love. Cuddle. Puppy. Repeat. Brilliant. The only problem was I was starting to get cold. At about this time, Bambini comes over, and says something I don't understand. And then I think she's gonna curl up with me and cuddle, which normally would be odd, but makes sense because I've become the ayahuascic version of my already very cuddlable, partner. And then Bambini says 'I can see you're wide open which is so beautiful and anything is possible for you in this moment, but you need to protect yourself' Which made sense, it did seem like a very a vulnerable place, but the moon was shining her love down on me and I was all that love between my partner an myself and I really didn't wan't Bambini to go on some heavy trip about entities and danger and blah blah blah. That's one of my big problems with the aya scene. Everyone's so cautious and concerned and worried. And then she said, 'For now this blanket will keep you safe.' and put a blanket over me. Best thing ever! I was like some annoying candy-cane raver who had just been given a soft fuzzy blanket to keep them warm. Actually come to think of it, I was embarrassingly like that.

That went on for awhile. It was kinda to much fun to leave. Eventually I got up and danced - it was a little of the jester thing again but even lighter, really feminine, but more working with and playing with energy kind of dancing. If my stomach hurt, or I had an ache somewhere, I could just feather it away with my hands. Very lightly. Totally cool. They should teach all the kids this.

And at some point I was kind of taking a tour of my own body and realized that deep in my sexual make up there is this sense of frustration threaded in. Like sex just comes with frustration. I was definitely not a smooth operator as an adolescent and young man and in a certain sense this had led me to assume things would just never go well romantically or sexually for me. I'm definitely doing better these days, but what
I realized was that all those years of not getting what I wanted had cause me to weave in frustration as necessary part of sexuality. Basically I realized that at a certain level I manifest the energy of not getting what I wanted and a sort of fear around pleasure. Not to useful. But magic aya: she just washes it all away.

The rest of the night was basically more me being my partner and realizing/understanding things about her. They really belong more in a blog about relationships than drugs, so I'll just sum it up by saying that a lot of stuff that bugs me about her, seemed very clearly a reaction to her having felt stifled in who she wanted to be, or judged for the way she lives and loves (she is a little out there) or something else had that fucked with her natural expression of herself - before I'd even met her.

A lot of this stuff we had talked about before, so it wasn't really a news flash. But to go from understanding some ones perspective, to embodying it. Damn. Seriously! Suddenly everything made so much more sense. I have every confidence that if all couples, or people in any kind of relationship, romantic or not, could experience this, we would live in a completely different world. There really aren't words in English to describe the degree of empathy and understanding the experience provided.

And then Bambini wanted her blanket back. The moon remained magical, but alas, the body was cold and the drugs were wearing off. Eventually some suggested inside, which of course meant warmth. Soon I was happily snoozing the in the living room.

The next morning we woke up to a breakfast of quinoa and Japanese sweet potatoes. Cyan eventually gave Bambini a ride back to town. I looked around at the wide open land and the sky above and decided I would stay.