Today I would like to draw your attention to a topic that is often avoided, overlooked or deliberately ignored in an era of capitalist consumerism and totalitarian tiptoe-ing.
It is the question of what God is…
A thicket of views
Obviously, there is a plethora of ideas and opinions about God. Countless books have been written about it. People of all walks of life have read them and interpreted them in different ways throughout the ages.
Some do not want to deal with this question at all. They call themselves a-theists but what exactly they negate is unclear in many cases since there is no motivation to explore the topic in any depth.
Others have delved into it and doubt the ‚existence‘ of ‚a‘ God. Others are convinced that ‚He‘ does not exist. So why bother with the question of what God is? By referring to the futility of scholastic attempts to logically prove God’s existence or non-existence and by referring to the classical theodicy problem pointing out the improbability of a God that would allow so much evil, they consider it a waste of time to talk about something unproven and, in fact, unprovable.
Some do not even consider the question of God a real question since it is simply a word that can serve as a placeholder for everything and nothing.
Some are convinced that their personal God is money or power or fame or pleasantries. They believe that all the small things you are blessed with are actually gifts of God to You.
Others opine that from the magical sunrise until the magnificent sunset, all is vanity and if a person thinks that God really cares about individual fate it is a form of grandeur or delusion.
Still others equate God with Nature like Spinoza did, they find God in pristine pastures and deep forests.
Then there are those who insist that God is a master mathematician and instead of books of pray it is the laws of physics we have to obey.
The list goes on…
The pharmacological pilgrim
Still others, the nang pa folks, turn away from the apparent material realm and decide to look within. They stop identifying with the false-self system which is characterised by the roles people tend to play, the masks they are used to carry, the reactivity of their everyday lives, and the many things they do because they feel it is expected of them. Instead, a nang pa person finds true home inside, not outside.
With or without entheogens, the inward seeker is on a journey to self-discovery: ‚Know thyself‘ is their credo. Of course, a big question arises due to the nature of experiences one can have with sacred plant medicine. Certain individuals and groups may find that in order to find God within it is necessary to cleanse the system, so to speak, by abstaining from intoxication. Others, however, may argue that in order to clear the mind and gain access to the spirit world it is quite useful to have one’s eyes opened to the shadows that lurk beneath everyday consciousness. In other words, to perceive the box you have been living in you need to think and feel outside the box. After all, how can you determine what is inside and what is outside (and which frame of reference gives meaning to these terms in the first place) if you never experience the very limits of mind through altered states of consciousness?
It is no coincidence that the term ‚entheogen‚ derives from ancient greek and means that God comes into being within. It shares the same root as the word enthusiastic. I think it is a peculiar detail of humankind and the historical unfolding of its cultural belief systems that the very deed the general public – as far as a general public exists since the birth of the media – has been kept in fear of is also the custom which can be seen as a constant constituent throughout history: the use of psychedelic substances.
It can be seen if you are willing and prepared to examine the historical development of language, the origin of certain customs and the fabrication of specific tools that facilitate survival of the human race as a family. We human beings often attribute the outcome of personally meaningful events to a supernatural force, usually split in good or evil depending on whether we like it or not. Thus, according to personal preferences we attribute the origin of good to God and evil to Devil. If it happens to be interpreted as a pleasant surprise, it was God. If it is taken to be a horrific incident, it must have been Devil. To put it simple, if it is good (for me) it’s God, if it’s evil (for me) it’s Devil.
Somehow these complementary personifications of dual nature serve as ideological frames of reference in societies accustomed to blame somebody for personal gain or loss. If we break it down, it is a matter of individual preference. We human beings share certain similarities, and yet we are different, no doubt. To understand your personal preferences without being manipulated, controlled and fettered by them is an essential aspect of knowing your self intimately. The most intense identification, the most insidious fetter, and the greatest manipulator is the idea of a separate self. It should come as no surprise, then, that we do everything in our power to deny whatever jeopardises the (image-ined) ‚reality‘ of the ego. We defend the very idea which oppresses us because we are driven by commands issued by a commander whose existence we deny. It is also perfectly natural that a culture based on egotistic strife and cruel competition is bent on denying any substance which poses a potential threat to the foundation of its ways of ego worship/warfare.
In short, encounters with psychedelic plants throw into question the entire world view of the dominator culture.Terence McKenna
What a conundrum it is that the very thing one type of mind calls diabolical and evil is the exact thing another type finds intriguing and inspiring! How is it possible, one might ask these days, that people approve of experimental substances being injected into their bodies peddled by multinational corporations only interested in profit, yet turn anxious and repressive on contemplating the use of psychoactive compounds which have been used for thousands of years within communities all over the world?
The responsibility of the person taking the medicine is simply to trust the process. That is, whatever you bring to a session decides the outcome. As has been pointed out many times, it is set and setting and skill that determine what the journey will be like. It is in a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. Deep-seated fears rise to the surface. Normally, you are bound to fall into a cascade of reactivity since the ego is potentially threatened. Now, there may not be an ego, or rather, the ego may be so apparent that its artificiality, its make-up, its repetitiveness become overwhelming, even nauseating . The entire system which has been internalised through effort and strife is deconstructed through surrender and love. It has to be built from scratch or completely let go of. This is the meaning of being reborn.
Resonance plays a key role in the process of transformation. Sacred psychoactive plants can serve humanity by teaching humans to lift the veil of forgetfulness, to see beyond the programming and escape the matrix. Either you surrender or you don’t – there will be con-sequences (something or other that goes along with it) either way. As mentioned before, it depends on how skilled you are in dealing with the Unknown as well as on how appropriate set and setting are, i.e. what your expectations and your surroundings at the time of travel happen to be.
Finally, the interpretation also depends on your capability to let go of expectations and fears. Two people might have similar experiences and yet, one will regard it as an ordeal while the other will treat it as a revelation. One will be caught up in anxiety while the other will experience insights into the nature of mind and reality.
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.John Milton
The aforementioned inscription at the entrance of the Temple of Delphi ‚Know thyself‘ can and should be expanded to include the unfolding of appreciation and affection. To remind someone: ‚Love thyself‘ in times like these, individualistic, opportunistic, egotistic as they are already? Well, I don’t believe that I can deal with the question of God without dealing with the question of Love.
What is love? What is self-love? I talk about self-love as a kind of appreciation to be alive and to be part of the human family. In order to be able to identify with yourself as being-in-the-world not only as an object for others but as a veritable subject for yourself it is of utmost importance to be well-versed in dealing with your own (meaning: you own them so you can see them) shadows. Becoming aware of your own blind spots (instead of pointing out those of others) is crucial for transformative changes of perception and thence, a deeper understanding of what reality ‚really‘ means. Far from being taken as something that is merely presented to us, reality is known and experienced as something that is re-presented by and through us from moment to moment.
Eventually, everyday response-ability is contingent upon our capacity to deal with the ancient paradigms of idealisation of and identification with the human body, the cultural lineage, the family ancestors, the generational issues and collective prisons of consciousness, in Dieter Broers‘ terms: the matrix we have erected for ourselves and those around us to an extent it seems like second nature, and to let go of deeply embedded traumata as well as ensuing behaviour patterns.
As my beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who has walked the old path and bid farewell to this human form a couple of days ago in order to become a wide white cloud and pour pure dhamma into our heartminds, as my dear kalyanamitra Thay said:
‚And God is what? God is awakening. God is deep understanding. God is non-discrimination. God is Love.‘Thich Nhat Hanh
Path and Fruition
Plant medicine may serve as catalyst for people who are ready to purge their false-self system and realise God in themselves through entheogens. Certainly, this is not for everyone even though some say that to go through life without having tried it is like going through life without ever having had sex. Well, they probably say so because something was born in them when they did. Is it God truly that is born, who can tell? Maybe it is just another idea the mind gets fixated on. It might just be another experience to talk about, another sensational event that a person is trying to re-live without ever achieving a similar state of mind ever again.
Not to cling to states of mind, therefore, is good advice. It is not necessary to take any substance to experience the nature of mind, to realise God within, to gain access to spiritual realms, to get profound insight into reality, whatever you want to call it. The cultivation of a spiritual path is crucial to the development of wisdom, yes. But it is also vital to live a life of compassionate action to the best of your abilities. Without the need to proselytise or moralise it is clear for a spiritual adept that teacher plants may point in the right direction, i.e. dissolution of ego structures and belief systems which no longer serve but instead block the maturation of humanity. As much as they are able to teach they can also easily lead you astray and, by feeding the ego, contribute to a self-perpetuating delusion of having achieved some genuine spiritual peak when in fact you got lost in the experience without being able to observe it, integrate it, understand it. Rather, you become yet another one of the ‚failed seekers who never understood the essential old mystic fallacy of the acid culture, the desperate assumption that somebody or at least some force is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.‘
Die before you die
Some may call the use of psychedelics an escape from the real world. They argue that reality is a given and that what cannot be perceived by the human sense doors does not exist. And in a certain way, I agree. It does not exist for those who cannot see. But that does not entail that it does not exist at all. Nor does it imply that it must be imagination or hallucination. For all its sophisticated terminology, I regard it as too simple an approach to explain experiences in terms of neurobiological features, i.e. description of brain activity. There are, however, ideas and hints. For example, what is subjectively experienced as ego death can be described as the destabilization of the mind’s default mode network, is a portal from postage stamp consensus mentality to absolute reality. Ego dissolution sounds gruesome, and without proper preparation and guidance (read: skill, set, setting, shaman), it may very well be. It does not have to be, though. The peeling away of the layers of ego or the gradual unravelling of ego structures may be an equally appropriate manner to describe the process.
Death is usually charged with negative connotations and regarded as tragedy in Western industrialised countries. And yet, ego death is exactly what sufis and sadhus, gurus and mystics have been preaching and practicing. Death always entails birth, in one form or another. Just take a closer look at the process of nature. Eventually, all that withers and dies contributes to life. Spatially, it is an interconnected web; temporally, a spiral of continuity.
I do not think death is something to be afraid of. Not if you learn how to die before you die. Are you afraid of God? Are you afraid of yourself, of what you might be confronted with in your final hour? Why not confront it now, get it over with? Rest assured there will be no judge except you. Shamans remind spiritual adepts to open the heart in order to heal mental health problems.
Our true home
What we truly need to do is to address the state of mind and become familiar with how it physically feels to be a human being and establish a genuine connection to the heart. We must look within to confront greed and aversion. It is not ‚our‘ greed, it is not ‚our‘ aversion, so let’s not take it personally. The world is personal enough as it is. I remember having read in the meditation hall of a Buddhist centre that the entire path comes to fruition at the point of surrender, of laying down the burden. And it is true. From what I have learned, surrender is medicine. In this context, Meister Eckhart speaks of the necessity to become void in order for the Divine to be able to enter the Heart.
So ask yourself: How can I create space for the divine to enter the heart? One answer might be: By starting to connect the dots and see the big picture. And what is the big picture? Individually, it is the view beyond the personal(p)reference frame. Collectively, it is to see things as they are outside cultural bias. Terence McKenna who happens to be a genius, by the way, frequently reminds us that ‚culture is not our friend.‘ How to free ourselves from culturally biased notions and ideas? Well, first of all, it is necessary to see them as conditioned. Why hold on to conditioned phenomena? They are going to pass sooner or later. Better let go now.
Like this, we commence our journey inwards to find our true home.
This is essential since human beings without a dwelling place within tend to get completely lost in the identification with their own ideas and idiosyncracies. This identification is based on the habit pattern of craving towards pleasant and aversion towards unpleasant bodily sensations. Because of that we are suggestible to dogmas and ideologies which we hold onto with firm grip in order to prevent our falling into emptiness – not realising that emptiness is the very form which in-forms us. Lost in the accumulation of information we tend to forget all about the treasures of knowledge and wisdom to be found both in the responsible use of plant medicine and in the proper application of methods of spiritual practice.
One of my preferred method is to travel in one or another form. Meeting people outside your bubble is a great start to unravel the mysteries of your personal convictions and prejudices. And to explore nature, of course. Reconnecting with nature and re-establishing contact with Mother Gaia is one of the best ways to free yourself from fear and anxiety, to breathe deeply and to be filled with life. It is through getting in touch with nature that you open your senses and become immersed in a world of miracles. In a short while, you will become more process-oriented and less goal-oriented. You will be aware of the importance of Being a witness to the wonders of nature. And through this heightened awareness a new dimension of enjoyment will enter your life. You are going to learn so much about yourself. As a consequence, more and more often you will find yourself doing things for themselves without asking ‚what’s in it for me?‘
I am fond of saying that these psychedelic plants are sort of Gaian ambassadors. They are part of the mechanism that the biosphere is bringing forward to try to, again, wake up our species.Dennis McKenna
Above and before all,
it’s just a ride.
Terence McKenna: Food of the Gods
Rick Strassman: DMT – The Spirit Molecule
Hunter S. Thompson: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas