OK, so my return flights to Peru are booked and I’m off to the Amazon where I’m going to experience a series of shamanistic ceremonies with the psychedelic spirit brew Ayahuasca. Argh! I hadn’t even heard of Ayahuasca until a month or so ago, until a friend put me onto Graham Hancock’s excellent and controversial TED talk, ‘The War on Consciousness‘. Now I’m feeling some seriously strong pull to the jungle. Curiosity killed the cat!
I have no idea what I’m about to write here yet. I’ve just smoked a joint and feel like writing something, anything. I suppose I want to get down a random assortment of my pre-Ayahuasca musings so that I have an accurate account for an objective ‘before and after’ evaluation, in case this journey does change me on some level and I struggle to retrospectively capture my current attitudes and ambivalence with the same negative passion.
I think it’s fair to say that my starting point for some sort of “spiritual journey” going forward is a very unhealthy one. I was born into the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and happened to have a particularly zealous Elder for a father. I was brought up brainwashed that the literal generation of 1914 A.D. would see Armageddon in their lifetimes. I was born in 1978 and through the 80’s and 90’s people who were alive back in 1914 were starting to drop like flies, so it was simply a day-to-day fact that I’d either be destroyed in my teens or twenties, or live forever on a restored, perfect Earth (only a literal 144,000 lucky sods would ever see heaven, and most seats were already taken, including the likes of Moses, Abraham, and Jesus’ disciples – they’d rule the rest of us from there). Free thinking wasn’t allowed, and it was a sure-fire way to get a hiding to even ask difficult questions, let alone call it all a total crock. It was all so nigh that there was no point in education or careers or families – my sister left school at age 15 to go ‘pioneering’, i.e. full-time door-knocking, while I finished school a couple of years behind her but still wasn’t allowed to leave town to go to university. And kids weren’t the only ones to have their freedom squashed – my mother wasn’t even allowed to do aerobics classes at the gym, thanks to a formal letter coming down from HQ to the body of Elders of each congregation, strongly ‘discouraging’ them against such worldly and vain pursuits as maintaining a healthy body (leotards weren’t appropriate and there are too many mirrors in gyms). Mum was gutted. It all really was just ‘fact’ as far as our utterly brainwashed minds were concerned, and it went almost completely unquestioned.
These days, almost 20 years after getting out of the JW, an enormous amount of dark energy is still trapped inside of me. I have a morbid fascination with death, great contempt for authority, intense discomfort in my skin, and an inescapable and very deep sense of shame (probably from being forced to go door-knocking in my school neighbourhood and give Bible talks in front of large audiences). I abuse alcohol, smoke cannabis every day, and spend my time commentating on what despicable cancer humans are on this planet, how I’d love nothing more than to watch Western civilization all come crashing down. I guess I never really got to lay down any roots or form my own sense of identity in my childhood, and I’ve consequently spent my life lost in the dark, harbouring a great deal of anger and indignation. I guess bitter is the word for it. Yet my diatribes, venomous as they often are, are with the utmost conviction after a lot of objective thought – and they’re invariably venting against things such as oppression, greed, technology, cruelty to animals, or climate issues – so maybe they do actually come from a place of great love and there’s still some hope for me yet. Who knows?
I’ve suppressed my spiritual instincts for a very long time, and have tried my best to subscribe to material science so that to me death means total lights-out. It would be nice to have a decent time-out at some point, and the thought of still being conscious after dying is a very helpless one for me. And I briefly had a son, who died in the Christchurch earthquake in 2011. Physics seems the simplest way to find peace with everything. Otherwise what crime could a five month old baby possibly have done to deserve the death penalty otherwise? Oh that’s right, everything happens for a reason! I find that notion very exhausting to entertain – I think it’s a very deep and uncompromising rabbit hole that can’t really be halfheartedly subscribed to; if a remotely just Universe is to be part of the premise then one has to keep following it down, through the ongoing iterations of reincarnation required to keep it fair, to the point where things become very murky indeed. I mean the concept works well as an algorithm on a whiteboard, but when science and ‘one-way facts’ are superimposed over top – the age of the Universe, the exploding population on Earth, the observations that support Einstein’s relativity and the Big Bang/Crunch, the eventual death of our Sun and thus Earth too – then one still needs to accept an eventual death, and quite possibly without the universal justice books being balanced at the point of it. Either that or we have souls that transcend the entire Universe itself, which is a very, very big call for an ape on a random speck physically in the middle of it to make. It’s certainly much easier to believe that so-called spiritual journeys are just each individual’s inability to accept their mortality, to fend off their saturated sense of pointlessness meantime, even if our complex reasoning and emotions do need to be written off as nothing but a freak accident of evolution in a bleak physical dimension. And yet here I am off to Peru in a couple of months, and boy I’m excited! Go figure.
In the previous paragraph I sneaked in a little clause, “if a remotely just Universe is to be part of the premise”. Why is it that so many seem to automatically assume some sort of Karma and synchronicity if they’re to have spiritual beliefs at all? Why can’t there be an afterlife of some sort while at the same it is an uncontrolled Universe that has been left to its own devices, where there are no higher beings that care about the details or about keeping said equation balanced? There’s certainly nothing that I can think of that makes spirit realms and randomness mutually exclusive. Who knows, maybe oppression and cruelty and injustice are equally rife in any such other realms, and perhaps even accidents and supernatural disasters too.
The Bible is a classic example around which there are some massive assumptions made that somehow seem to slink under the radar without being proactively questioned much. In my opinion the big majority of those in Christian societies each tend to fall into one of two overall categories – atheists who don’t believe in any Divine input to the Bible at all, and those that believe in a God that loves us so much that he sacrificed His son Jesus for us, so that our souls may be saved. I wonder how many Christians have actually read the Bible. Hopefully it’s very few of them, because the implications are otherwise much worse than ignorance for the true human condition. It only takes a very cursory tour of the Bible to see that God is actually far from the loving, fair being that Christians would like to think; in fact it would be much more accurate to say that the Bible very clearly portrays God as a racist, bloodthirsty warlord. The Bible revels in His taste for blood! Hmmm, one of the Ten Plagues of Egypt was the slaying by an angel of the firstborn son in every household that wasn’t marked to be spared, which is a pretty poignant thought in the context of earlier paragraphs – maybe some babies are evil right from day one. God crushed the Israelites’ enemies en masse like bugs. He parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through then drowned an entire army of chasing soldiers who were unfortunate enough to be Egyptian. He made the sun stand still so that the Israelites had a supernatural advantage on the battlefield. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba then had her husband sent to the front line to get rid of him, then he ends up blessed and in fact one of the ancestors of Jesus. The list goes on; the contradictions and stories of judgments being made with an extremely broad-brushed level of detail are many. One more favourite: God had an angel slay 185,000 Assyrian soldiers overnight, while they slept! That’s outright genocide! What are the chances of every single one of those soldiers being fundamentally evil of heart? I find it much more plausible to think that being Arab was about all that the poor bastards really had in common. The self-professed Christian West got all wound up when Syria allegedly gassed nearly 1,500 of its own people with chemical weapons just recently… By rights the West should’ve been all for it given that their own God, the one honoured on American bills with “In God We Trust”, led by example and did precisely the same thing a few thousand years prior (well, actually 100-fold worse in terms of wanton disrespect for human life). Humans tread on eggshells with their nuclear weapon arsenals, but maybe they’re the least of our worries – God not only has WMDs too, but He uses them with reckless abandon! Yes, I’m still talking about the same God that Christians worship as the ultimate authority on Good and Bad, the God that loves all humans unconditionally, irrespective of skin colour. Where does it leave a human when their moral compass fundamentally disagrees with that of God’s? Do we need to suck it up and worship this monster anyway, for fear of eternal Hell and damnation if we don’t?
Earlier I mentioned the JW’s belief that the literal generation of 1914 A.D. will still be around when Armageddon comes. This is based on a Biblical interpretation so convoluted it leaves me speechless. Actually hang-on, I’ll get back to the JW’s interpretation in a minute… Here’s all of Daniel 4 from the New World Translation, as it happens to still be very interesting when read with use of psychedelic plants in mind, the JW’s interpretation in mind or not.
 “From King Nebuchadnezzar to all the peoples, nations, and language groups dwelling in all the earth: May your peace abound!  I am pleased to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed toward me.  How great are his signs, and how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his rulership is for generation after generation.
 “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace.  I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay on my bed, the images and visions of my head frightened me.  So I issued an order to bring in before me all the wise men of Babylon so that they could make known to me the interpretation of the dream.
 “At that time the magic-practising priests, the conjurers, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in. When I told them what the dream was, they could not make its interpretation known to me.  At last there came in before me Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar after the name of my god and in whom there is the spirit of the holy gods, and I told him the following dream:
 “‘O Belteshazzar the chief of the magic-practising priests, I well know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and no secret is too difficult for you. So explain to me the visions I saw in my dream and its interpretation.
”‘In the visions of my head while on my bed, I saw a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was enormous.  The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached the heavens, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.  Its foliage was beautiful, and its fruit was abundant, and there was food on it for all. Beneath it the beasts of the field would seek shade, and on its branches the birds of the heavens would dwell, and all creatures would feed from it.
”‘As I viewed the visions of my head while on my bed, I saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from the heavens.  He called out loudly: “Chop down the tree, cut off its branches, shake off its leaves, and scatter its fruit! Let the beasts flee from beneath it, and the birds from its branches.  But leave the stump with its roots in the ground, with a banding of iron and of copper, among the grass of the field. Let it be wet with the dew of the heavens, and let its portion be with the beasts among the vegetation of the earth.  Let its heart be changed from that of a human, and let it be given the heart of a beast, and let seven times pass over it.  This is by the decree of watchers, and the request is by the word of the holy ones, so that people living may know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and that he gives it to whomever he wants, and he sets up over it even the lowliest of men.”
 “‘This was the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw; now you, O Belteshazzar, tell its interpretation, for all the other wise men of my kingdom are unable to make the interpretation known to me. But you are able to do so, because the spirit of holy gods is in you.’
 “At that time Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was alarmed for a moment, and his thoughts began to frighten him. “The king said, ‘O Belteshazzar, do not let the dream and the interpretation frighten you.’ “Belteshazzar answered, ‘O my lord, may the dream apply to those hating you, and its interpretation to your enemies.
 “‘The tree that you saw that grew great and became strong, whose top reached the heavens and was visible to all the earth,  which had beautiful foliage, abundant fruit, and food for all, beneath which the beasts of the field would dwell and on whose branches the birds of the heavens would reside,  it is you, O king, because you have grown great and become strong, and your grandeur has grown and reached to the heavens, and your rulership to the ends of the earth.
 “‘And the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from the heavens, who was saying: “Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump with its roots in the ground, with a banding of iron and of copper, among the grass of the field. And let the dew of the heavens make it wet, and let its portion be with the beasts of the field until seven times pass over it.”  This is the interpretation, O king; it is the decree of the Most High that must befall my lord the king.  You will be driven away from men, and your dwelling will be with the beasts of the field, and you will be given vegetation to eat just like bulls; and you will become wet with the dew of the heavens, and seven times will pass over you, until you know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and that he grants it to whomever he wants.
”‘But because they said to leave the stump of the tree with its roots, your kingdom will be yours again after you come to know that the heavens are ruling.  Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you. Turn away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquity by showing mercy to the poor. It may be that your prosperity will be extended.'”
 All of this befell King Nebuchadnezzar.
 Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon.  The king was saying: “Is this not Babylon the Great that I myself have built for the royal house by my own strength and might and for the glory of my majesty?”
 When the word was yet in the king’s mouth, a voice came down from the heavens: “To you it is being said, O King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘The kingdom has gone away from you,  and from mankind you have being driven away. With the beasts of the field your dwelling will be, and seven times will pass over you, until you know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and that he grants it to whomever he wants.'”
 At that moment the word was fulfilled on Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from mankind, and he began to eat vegetation just like bulls, and his body became wet with the dew of the heavens, until his hair grew long just like eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws.
 “At the end of that time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to the heavens, and my understanding returned to me; and I praised the Most High, and to the One living forever I gave praise and glory, because his rulership is an everlasting rulership and his kingdom is for generation after generation.  All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing, and he does according to his own will among the army of the heavens and the inhabitants of the earth. And there is no one who can hinder him or say to him, ‘What have you done?’
 “At that time my understanding returned to me, and the glory of my kingdom, my majesty, and my splendor returned to me. My high officials and nobles eagerly sought me out, and I was restored to my kingdom, and even more greatness was added to me.
 “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, am praising and exalting and glorifying the King of the heavens, because all his works are truth and his ways are just, and because he is able to humiliate those who are walking in pride.”
In other words the king was too full of himself, then had visions and an ego-pummelling stint with insanity, and then returned as a more humble, peace-loving version of himself and with a newfound respect for higher intelligence. Is that not the gist? I haven’t tried it yet, but based on all of the accounts I’ve read and watched – sound like an Ayahuasca experience much?! There’s even mention of shamans and everything.
So how mind-bendingly ironic that that exact passage – perhaps one of the richest accounts of psychedelic use in the Bible, and one with a very positive outcome at that – is the most fundamental cornerstone of JW doctrine, and ultimately the reason why us kids were beaten, why the public is harassed with such urgency, why we were brainwashed that we’d either never die or that our lives would be prematurely cut short by the dramatic arrival of some heavenly fury. If you agree that sounds hard to swallow, just wait until you hear how the JWs managed to come up with their own interpretation in the first place (all blatantly despite Nebuchadnezzar already handing us the interpretation on a platter and wrapping up the story and its moral in the same chapter, without the need for any ‘higher’ interpretation at all). This is how… Basically the JWs decided that the tree must have actually represented God’s involvement with humanity, not just Nebuchadnezzar’s ego, such that the felling of the tree represents God leaving humans to it for “seven times”, followed by His subsequent return to clean up the mess once everybody acknowledges that they need Him. There was still some funky maths needed to arrive at “the imminent future”, so they scratched around in the entire Bible, spanning numerous books, centuries, and authors, until they managed to put something together that works. The Apostle John wrote in the book of Revelations (more great reading with psychedelic dream states in mind):
Revelation 12:14: But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is to be fed for a time and times and half a time away from the face of the serpent.
The verse doesn’t necessarily even equate to 3.500 “times” at all, but it suits because it’s half of 7.000, so let’s gloss over that possibility and now skip back a few verses:
Revelation 12:6: And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God and where they would feed her for 1,260 days.
So now we have a woman in the wilderness for 1,260 days, and an extremely dubious and weak assumption that she was also there for exactly three and a half “times”, such that the “seven times” in Nebuchadnezzar’s personal vision must therefore equate to precisely 2,520 days (despite needing to have combined two unrelated visions had by two unrelated people, and many centuries apart to boot). That’s not much help in itself, but if we fossick around a bit more it turns out that Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6 both imply a mapping of one day = one year (albeit again in unrelated contexts). So now “seven times” is 2,520 years, which is starting to look more promising. We’re still missing a suitable starting year though, so the JW chose Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E. to signal God’s leaving mankind to it, or in other words the start of the “seven times” (ironically when Nebuchadnezzar kicked arse, not when he was humbled and made peace-loving and tolerant per the actual passage).
2,520 years from 607 B.C.E. puts us at 1914 A.D., right on time to marvel over how WW1 coincides with Satan’s expulsion to Earth and the beginning of ‘the sign of the times’ foretold by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 24). Now we’re talking! This is ideal, especially for hanging the necessary carrots in front of some gullible noses with threats of imminent destruction! I mean, really. I imagine poor old Nebuchadnezzar would be turning in his grave if he realised his account of an enlightening and positive experience would end up causing oppression and suffering for untold people thousands of year in the future. Maybe it’s morally questionable to even tell our own stories at all – for fear that we in turn end up ruining lives in a distant future from now, by it being dug up and twisted into a dark and sinister prophecy to control people. These days I imagine it’d probably be less than one in every ten JWs that would even be able to tell you this basis for their beliefs, yet they’re still out there urgently knocking on doors to save our souls from an Armageddon that is really starting to cut it a bit fine in terms of timing. I think it’s very apt indeed that they liken themselves to a figurative Great Crowd of sheep.
When the Organisation catches wind of material such as this they frantically jump into damage control mode faster than you can shout “holy guacamole!” to protect their members from questioning their house of cards as best they can. The arrival of the Internet and social media must have been a right royal headache for them! If it’s still anything like when I was in it, this blog and my name might even get a mention at the church – I’ll be ‘disfellowshipped’, and actually worse, labelled an apostate. Apostates are the worst of the worst, worse in fact than murderers or rapists in their eyes, and the congregation will be categorically ordered not to speak to me in case I share any of my free thinking with them. Apostates are considered so evil that they won’t even get a trial with God when the time comes – it is immediate, absolute, unequivocal destruction. It is oppressive human rule-makers that will pass this ultimate of judgments on me. If you’re in the JWs, and you’re reading this, then I urge you to dig as deeply as you can and muster the courage to think about these points for yourself, however scared you are of quietly even having thoughts that contravene those of the Organisation.
My involuntary life journey to date has left me pretty wounded and confused, so I’m not really surprised that I attempted to convince myself that material, accidental science is the sole factor at work in the Universe. If I could only achieve that then I might have a hope of discarding the past as bad luck, dropping the baggage, achieving freedom from moral conscience, and packing the rest of my pointless life full of cavalier hedonism in order to at least amuse myself going forwards. Alas, despite experiencing many, many incredibly beautiful experiences (usually involving the classic combination of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, or the breath-taking scenes of nature), I never got even remotely close to truly achieving this, and in fact I think that many physical scientists are just as stupid and closed-minded as those oppressive bigots behind orthodox religion are.
I tend to agree in part with the views of Rupert Sheldrake in his entertaining and also-controversial TED talk, ‘The Science Delusion’: basically that physicists insist on a set of dogmas, the so-called “laws” of science, and in so doing they place severe constraints on the spectrum of possible answers that they will consider. It is Sheldrake’s work so I won’t regurgitate it much here in the egotistical hope that somebody thinks they’re my own original thoughts – look him up on YouTube. But basically he discusses how “civilized” humans live according to “laws” (being a human word for our legal system, and its colloquial use in science is probably half of the problem in itself), and in our infinite wisdom therefore so must the entire Universe. We have imposed a plethora of laws and constants on the entire Universe, and these go just as unquestioned as the premises behind orthodox religious beliefs. In fact I think maybe somebody needs to produce a competition show called Battle of the Bigots, to see who wins the title: physicists or priests! Most of these laws and constants were proposed by scientists who are long dead, sometimes centuries ago, but people accept them as gospel because they’re presented as facts in the official science texts in schools. New theories need to adhere to all of these existing rules for them to be taken seriously; if observations yield naughty or contradictory results then they’re quickly written off as instrument error or ‘invalidated’ some other way – because the Universe could not possibly dare to break the laws that civilized humans have written for it. If that’s not already the height of sheer arrogance, some physicists also refuse to accept the possibility of anything that their little toys can’t already detect – all despite none of their existing laws even precluding the possibilities! There can’t possibly be spirit realms or at least additional mediums for sensory perception – we’re so advanced that we’d already know about them if there were. God, I think I was actually feeling less contemptuous writing about the use of the Bible for oppression. “Hey kids, have an open mind, think freely, and explore the beauty of science and the Universe! Just don’t forget, the speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second in a vacuum, everywhere! Oh and don’t do drugs either, or you’ll be a no-hoper that never achieves anything!”
What that really equates to is, “Hey kids, don’t do drugs, or you might run the risk of feeling a selfless emotion – and then you might get side-tracked with Earthly irritations such as famine, poverty, deforestation, and pollution!”
I simply can’t fathom how so many material scientists can remain so incredibly closed-minded in the face of constant hints at something more, especially given that they wouldn’t even need to contradict themselves or revise much existing work to accommodate any additional “spiritual” aspects. They’re happy for string theory to require a bunch of hypothetical space-time bubbles for the equations to work, but that’s OK – because they’re not spiritual bubbles. Why do so many scientists feel a need to make such a separatist choice for their views: physics OR spirituality? The juncture shouldn’t even exist. I breezed through the sciences at school, but I feel like I must be missing something absolutely fundamental here – because from where I’m sitting there’s nothing to prevent them coexisting just fine, without anyone on either side of the fence running the risk of embarrassment over their prior belief system.
Let’s take memory as an example. According to material science all forms of consciousness must be confined inside the skull, in the physical brain – including our memories. Material scientists don’t have a clue how memories are stored in reality, but the laws of physics require their storage to be in the brain, so, so be it. I’m an embedded software architect for biomedical devices, where the characteristics of physical storage are a day-to-day consideration: capacity, efficiency of access, and reliability, so maybe I’m guilty of being a bit biased here myself… but I must say I find it absolutely impossible to comprehend that such unfathomably large volumes of data could be stored physically in the brain. Scientists invest untold time and many millions of dollars with the latest-and-greatest in lab precision, constantly employing their great minds towards achieving better and better storage capabilities – and yet we’re still aeons behind a storage capability that is supposedly achieved in an evolutionary grey muck with some electrical charges, a storage capability that preserves crystal-clear integrity of data despite an absolutely enormous degree of chemical and physical variability. In fact material science should be utterly ashamed of itself, that, for all of its collective intellectual horsepower and irrefutable knowledge of the entire Universe, to this day it can’t even achieve anywhere near the same quality of result as a random accident did, in terms of both storage and sheer processing power. All the while mocking spirituality as blind faith in a complete absence of supporting evidence. There are actually hints everywhere, if only they’d look. Memories, instincts, potential ESP in plants (dating at least all the way back to Clive Baxter’s work in the 1960’s – I guess Einstein’s material work was hogging the limelight at the time), reports of species finding it progressively easier to learn things despite the subjects being separated by vast oceans, the list goes on – all consistent in their suggestion of some degree of consciousness outside of the brain. I’m as green as grass in all of these areas, and am certainly not going to go vouching for every sniff of anti-physics talk that I come across just because I love to hate it – all I’m saying is that there is a quite remarkable array of phenomena that has gone unexplained to date, and that until science is able to get over the colloquial social stigmas that come with the word “spiritual”, and get united in agreement that all avenues are worth pursuing without predefined laws and limitations, then it is doomed to remain in its hollow rut while the planet and everything on it continues to suffer the ramifications of its arrogance. I think that any distinction between “science” and “spirituality” is solely a man-made construct, and that they’re actually one and the same thing.
A friend of mine rubbishes Sheldrake’s work as ‘straw-manning’, i.e. manipulatively portraying an opposing subject in such a way that it is easier to then tear shreds out of, and he ribs me for often doing the same thing myself (to which I usually counter-jab that he just pulls out the term when it suits, to shift the focus onto my crap delivery so that the actual point is conveniently lost under the bridge, then we give up and resort to marveling at what great mates we are instead). So just to be clear I’m by no means trying to lump all material scientists together and attack them – science has many fantastic facets and has achieved some very impressive and constructive achievements, and it would be grossly unfair to generalise scientists as arrogant and closed-minded. There are many, many scientists putting their minds to work in alternative or contemporary fields, including the sincere, open-minded study of the mysteries of consciousness, and I’m sure plenty of them are humble and earnest. It’s the overall system that winds my crank, a system that churns out material scientists who don’t even pause to question any of the man-made cornerstones upon which they base their work. It might not even cross their minds to, so arrogant is far too harsh a word to label the individuals with – rather, they’re products of an arrogant system. It wouldn’t be so bad if the dogmas were confined to science, but unfortunately nobody can go through the education system or in fact life without being dramatically affected by them, and usually very adversely. It’s a system that is far more likely to produce blinkered atheists than naturally open-minded, inquisitive free-thinkers, and I think that the result is absolutely disastrous – atheism promotes harmful behaviour, greed, capitalism, and an utterly selfish environmental apathy as long as the planet looks like it’ll survive another few decades. I think that shared belief systems and visions are required to hold any group of individuals together with any semblance of harmony – be it project teams, armies, or even schools of fish. Unfortunately humanity does not share any such common vision, so all we do is bicker and fight, and leave a devastating carnage in our wake.
Hmmm, I feel like that’s a natural segue into Hancock’s ‘War on Consciousness’ work, so I might give that a bit of a summary now too – after all it was his superbly delivered and very compelling talk that is ultimately responsible for sending me off into the Amazon jungle!
Hancock starts out by presenting a strong case for humankind’s sudden leap to a higher degree of consciousness, after millions of years of fairly dull evolution and a great period of primate boredom, to very likely corresponding to the discovery of various psychedelic plants – hence the sudden emergence of fantastic structures and cave art that depicts scenes that must surely have required their artists to have experienced some sort of visionary ‘dream states’. He then discusses Ayahuasca, which is a psychedelic brew made by boiling two plants – one containing the active ‘Spirit Molecule’ DMT, and the other containing a compound that nullifies the DMT inhibitors that exist in our bodies and otherwise block it from having any effect when ingested – together with water. Unlike smoking DMT, which apparently results in an extremely intense but quite brief experience, ingesting it spreads the experience out over 4-6 hours and allows for much richer and in-depth and ‘interactive’ journeys in other realms, where encounters with intelligent beings are consistently reported by people from all over the world, and from all walks of life. I can completely understand if you’re rolling your eyes and your hocus pocus radar is going nuts right about now – I was a little dubious about how much of it may have been exaggerated myself, and I’ve spent a great deal of time off my face, including ad hoc use of psychedelics in the form of LSD or magic mushrooms, so I can only imagine how big a mental block may need to be overcome for those who have spent their entire lives on the straight-and-narrow in terms of consciousness. However I did a fair bit of research after watching the talk and despite being yet to experience it myself I’m now quite convinced that Ayahuasca is in a completely different ballpark to any substance I’ve ever used.
Beyond the expected trippy effects associated with psychedelics, I think the most fascinating thing about Ayahuasca is that accounts of its use are eerily consistent in terms of the profoundly positive healing effects it has on people, on both material and spiritual levels. These effects range from healing depression and other mental illnesses, incredible success with quitting unhealthy addictions (including the heavyweights such as heroin and cocaine, but also lesser drugs, alcohol, and in fact all manner of harmful behaviours), through to various physical ailments. Its users also seem to consistently report great spiritual enlightenment: a greater sense of connection with the natural environment and other life, getting past their fears of death, better understanding of our place and purpose in the Universe, and generally being guided and taught by higher beings to be better, more loving people.
That paragraph probably doesn’t do much to quieten your hocus pocus radar, so to be clear – these people are not preaching statements in terms of the reality status of these beings; just that they are encountered, whether real or imagined. However I get the impression from watching their accounts that these experiences are indeed just as real for them as anything experienced with the material senses that the law allows them to have. If somebody sees something with their eyes, they consider it real. If somebody hears something with their ears, they consider it real. If somebody feels something with a potential sixth form of sense that DMT might activate, then I see no reason why that experience should be considered any less real. I think to argue otherwise, especially before even experiencing it for ourselves, would put us immediately and squarely into the category of the pitifully small minds that I talked about earlier. So yeah, I’m off to Peru in June. I’m definitely not going there in blind faith, and I may well come back thinking that Ayahuasca has been built up into something more than it is, but at least I’ll have basis for my opinion so that – whatever the outcome – at least my self-respect can remain intact, if not my sanity! Man I can’t wait to check it out… It will surely be such an epically cool adventure into the Amazon rainforest and a break from my mundane nine to five – and I even get to take drugs in the name of human curiosity and sovereign freedom of thought! Woop!
Seriously though, I’m not going to Peru to enjoy myself with the use of Ayahuasca (although if it’s a total flop a trip downstream on the hunt for the best cocaine on Earth mightn’t be a bad secondary objective!) But yeah, Ayahuasca truly does sound like an absolutely awful experience. By all accounts it causes nausea, vomiting, and not just shitting oneself literally but mentally too – it isn’t taken recreationally. Part of the healing apparently involves being shown the cold, hard truths about oneself, and it sounds like unhealthy egos can really get put through the ringer. It has been likened to the type of life review experienced by many on their death beds, and particularly during near-death experiences (NDEs) that people come back from and are able to tell their stories.
The use of DMT can be fatal with anti-depressants so I stopped taking mine a few days ago, and I’m currently in the peak of physical withdrawal from 100mg of Pristiq (desvenlafaxine). It’s quite a strong one, and I feel God-damn awful. My mood is fine, but I’m dizzy, nauseous, and have a horrid tingling sensation everywhere, particularly in my hands, face, gums, and teeth. It’s commonly described as “electric shock sensations”. I’ve done a little reading to make sure I’m not coming down so abruptly as to potentially be dangerous, and it sounds like there is just a physically uncomfortable period of chemical adjustment to put up with while the central nervous system and neural pathways are adjusted. And then it dawns on me – why is my clarity of thought not even remotely affected by this electrical shit-storm? I’m not talking about moods and attitudes; I’m talking about the absolute integrity of clear-headed consciousness. Is this not yet another powerful suggestion that our consciousness is completely independent to the physical state that our ultra-delicate organic computers are in? I think it’s much, much more scientifically plausible that our consciousness is aware of our physical bodies – pleasure and malaise alike – and gets affected emotionally by them, but that it is not governed by them. I think that it’s quite literally mind over matter.
I think that Hancock’s analogy of a TV signal vs. TV set is a good choice to convey the overall concept succinctly for delivery in a time-boxed talk. However I think that computers, networks, and the global Internet make for a much richer analogy. Computers are independent entities and can operate perfectly fine offline – they can perform all sorts of useful functions locally, with various inputs and outputs. However they can also be networked locally as a group of peers to experience relationships, share knowledge and ideas, and collaboratively contribute processing resources toward shared tasks that no one workstation could achieve by itself. Further, they are actually capable of connecting to a global network – including to servers that are much, much more powerful and overarching than themselves – and suddenly the floodgates are opened with access to an absolutely vast amount of knowledge and even the potential for every computer on Earth to contribute collaboratively towards a common vision. I think that most computers go through their lives only connected to a local network – I guess I’m off to decide for myself whether a global Internet might indeed exist naturally. In which case perhaps DMT is the network card that allows us to connect to it.
I sense that most people I’ve verbally told about my journey to Peru are secretly thinking, “here’s a damaged guy with a big spiritual void to fill; this is 101, he’s a lost soul and seeing what he wants to see!” I can see the presumptuous amusement in their eyes. A couple of well-meaning friends have even gone so far as to tell me outright that that’s what I’m doing. They couldn’t be more wrong. Firstly, I couldn’t even tell you what I ‘want to see’ in the first place. Like I discussed at the start a great peace of mind could come with the thought of a completely unconscious nonexistence after death. Secondly, unfortunately I’m a pig in the mud when it comes to material science and maths, and especially when it comes to being a cynic and dispensing negative energy in forms like “bah, you’re not special – the mathematical probability of that is 1 in x and there’s seven billion people on the planet; I don’t mean to rain on your parade but that’s probably happened n other times completely by chance, so in fact sorry but you’re all a dime a dozen”. At the end of the day I think it all boils down to this: what is the most plausible explanation for something? It’s not blind hope that makes me believe that out-of-band consciousness and undiscovered forms of sensory perception do exist in some shape or form. I’ve been mulling on life and the Universe for as long as I can remember, considering all sorts: material evolution, Divine creation, combinations thereof, the harmony between science and spirituality, mathematical probabilities, and all manner of empirical evidence – and I’ve reached my own objective conclusion: I think that it’s simply much more likely that there’s a lot more to life than meets material physics’ eye. That doesn’t automatically mean a desperate search for loving beings and a higher purpose. I think presuming that is just another ignorant stigma at work, and perhaps even projecting the own sadness of the individuals in question. In some ways it’s an annoyance having to lug my personal baggage along on what genuinely is an open-minded investigation into Ayahuasca: consideration of scientific and spiritual explanations equally. But, well, of course it would be great if some form of purging and healing does result – what sort of staunch scientific martyr would say otherwise?! Of course I’ll be going into the experience hoping to have the same profoundly positive experience that everyone else seems to. But conversely if I come back bedraggled with my primate tailbone between my legs, begging physics for mercy, then I assure you I’ll report that just as honestly.
Hmmm, I’ve never written a blog before and in fact done next to no writing at all, and I feel like there’s a huge jumble of thoughts inside my sludgy grey matter that are all gagging to come out… but in the interests of actually finishing something I might call it a day with this one!
Watch this space… See you on the other side my fellow chimps! ; p