From Spirituality on Wiki: Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual’s inner life; spiritual experience includes that of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm.
The Wrong Track
In the western world, we seem to have lost any grip on our spirituality. As a general rule, we are either found giving up our spiritual freedom (‘inner life’) to some sort of authority figure in fear of getting lost; or wasting our spiritual freedom by denouncing all spirituality as superstitious and repressive in fear of being duped. Both of these attitudes to spirituality refuse to compromise with each other, and refuse to allow for a perceptive or intuitive interpretation of the garden of a Planet we live on.
And so the existentialist crisis of the 20th C continues today. Why are we here? What is expected of us? When or why, if ever, will it end? Is there meaning to life? How is it that the same questions we have been trying to analyse, intellectualise – and basically figure out since (in the most academic sense) the mid-30’s – are still plaguing us today? The conflicting ideas that we are either lost in this world, or taken care of, have been the driving force behind genocides, revolutions, notable censorship and legislation changes, devout idiocy and inhumanity, and some grand leaps in science and forward-thinking. Why is there no coagulation between any of these ideas? In trying to answer any of these questions, including the latter, we have made an absolute mess of our world and each other.
Does religious hegemony not realize that God (and in turn, Christ) can’t be ‘granted’ or ‘denied’? Does the ‘disillusioned’ (yet somehow enlightened) atheist youth not realize that God is inherent in all life? Surely, it can’t be that we are designed to wander the annals of time without purpose. Are we subjects of disinformation and repression of spirit? Are we just plain scared? Whichever path we took getting here, it isn’t working.
Spirituality is supposed to bring people together. It is supposed to be the driving force behind tolerance, compassion and happiness. Yet we haven’t achieved any degree of these aspects. However, looking back at the description of Spirituality that our consensus reality has deemed the applicable one, an outcome of tolerance, compassion and Love should be a given considering the amount of time, effort and money we put into developing our ‘spiritual practices’. Or conversely out ‘anti-spiritual’ practices. It is obvious that we have something deeply and disingenuously wrong with our idea of spirituality when we’re also, seemingly, trying to destroy all other living things.
And so is there any wonder why, as a species, we keep stumbling down an ever-steepening track to madness and self-destruction? When we are destroying our Planet by ways of deforestation, forced extinctions and pollution…. When over half the world’s population is living in poverty… When we can’t even make the decision to not make things worse for ourselves…How can we ask without laughing “What’s wrong?” To my mind, this question answers itself. If there is any wonder, it is because we are afraid of facing the truth; which is waving neon-lit banners in front of our eyes every single day.
When some of our most influential icons are people like Oprah, Lady Gaga and the ‘cast’ of Jersey Shore, and their effect is tangible cultural influence, it is no wonder why, for most people, life really is a series of dis-eases. We are living in what the ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna quite accurately calls the “Death Culture”. In the words of Amazonian Shamans, the problem with our western society is that we have severed our connection with ‘spirit’. We are no longer connected with the creative forces of this universe. We are no longer the masters of our own becoming. We are no longer the Gods we were born to be. Tomorrow no longer belongs to us.
Not only have various philosophers, religious leaders and politicians seen this current global situation coming, Shamen from all over the world, have been acting as a (somewhat ineffective) counterweight to what has been an uprooting all of spiritual practices in the west. Religions and teachings have been bastardised over the centuries and no longer preach the love and tolerance written in their texts. Shamen of the Amazon have no texts. They use their knowledge of the plants and plant teachers termed ‘entheogens’ and a set of beliefs related to these plant teachers termed ‘Shamanism’.
What is shamanism?
Wiki: Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world.
Ayahuasca and its DMT
For thousands of years indigenous shamen of the Amazon have communed with spirits and as a result, gardened and nurtured our two most precious resources – The Rainforest and it’s people. How have these shamen communed with spirits? Through the targeted used of altered states of consciousness. In the Amazon basin tribes have used a mysterious hallucinogenic brew as a shamanic sacrament for, perhaps, 4000 years(1)(some have claimed as long as tens of thousands (2) ). This brew is ingested by the shaman, who will then experience intense hallucinatory visions. These visions may hold the cure to an ailment, clues to where game may be found, or which animals to watch out for. There is also talk of these visions allowing one to reach out of their physical body and interact with a non-physical world of spirit and the entities that inhabit it.
The brew is known by various names but most commonly referred to as Ayahuasca or The Vine of Souls. It is a combination of two specific botanical elements. One is a DMT-containing leaf from the plant Psychotria Viridis, and the other the crushed bark of the vine Banisteriopsis Caapi. The B.Caapi vine contains a chemical called Harmine, which is in a class of compounds known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors or MAOIs. In the human stomach there is an enzyme known as monoamine oxidase. This enzyme prevents DMT from being orally active by breaking it down and excreting it. However, taken with an MAOI, DMT becomes orally active and produces the visions these shamen experience. Anthropologists and Pharmacologists such as Luis Eduardo Luna, Jeremy Narby, Kat Harrison, Charles Grob and Dennis McKenna have done extensive work with Ayahuasca and its analogues.
Leaving aside, for the moment, the spiritual implications of this brew, it is already by virtue of it’s format a great mystery. How were supposedly primitive, pre-literate people in the Amazon able to distinguish between the estimated 438,000(3) species of plants and trees to find the exact two able to produce the effects needed to have intense, supposedly spiritual visions? Of course there is the possibility of chance but when you factor in the various processes these plants undergo to become Ayahuasca, the chance becomes so slim it is scarcely academic behaviour to entertain such an idea. This is a well-known, but still unanswered question anthropology, ethnopharmacology and ethnobotany face.
The potential for highly evolved, preliterate chemistry is not the only strangeness this brew presents. The active chemical, DMT, is present in most life, and theoretically could exist in all life. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. It is present is all life. Tryptophan is 2 enzymatic steps away from DMT(4). The two enzymes, which enable tryptophan to be converted to DMT, are also ubiquitous in living organisms. One enzyme removes the acid group causing the ‘amino acid’ to become an ‘amine’ – i.e tryptamine. A second enzyme then adds methyl groups to the amine. Adding two methyl groups would change ‘trypamine’ to ‘di-methyl-tryptamine’ which is DMT(5). It is entirely possible that DMT is an endogenous chemical in all known life.
Another fascinating point is how the brew seems, rather than to trigger self-manifested hallucinations, to truly expand the perception of a shaman to perhaps see into the root of a medical ailment. I like the metaphor Dr. Rick Strassman used of a ‘reality thermostat. We don’t know enough about the levels of DMT the brain naturally produces, and how those levels change with different stimuli to say for sure, but its totally valid to postulate that DMT is a kind of monitor for how we perceive reality. Under this model there is a ‘normal’ ballpark for the level of DMT present in the brain which elicits our consensus reality.
Where this gets interesting is the suggestion that notably decreased, or increased levels of DMT might have a real effect on not only our perceptual apparatus, but also our emotional and interpersonal habits. Could the pineal gland really be the ‘third eye’ everyone is talking about? In some animals, the third eye is actually still a physical eye know as a Parietal eye (6). Now this may, or may not be related to the pineal gland of the human but some philosophies and even scientific-minded trains of thought allow for a viable connection to be established between the two.
Could DMT and its relationship with the human pineal gland be a ‘signature’ of consciousness on all it inhabits? I think it’s quite likely. When we stop to consider that the accepted model for what is represented in the very first cave art humans ever made, is that what’s represented is shamanic visions, is not hard to then put two and two and two together regarding consciousness, the evolution of ideas, and our connection to DMT.
It is, then, very intriguing that DMT is a schedule 1 hallucinogenic substance internationally, and is not only able to elicit these incredible visionary experiences, but it is also present in every human being at every moment. If you are caught with this substance outside your body, you can’t be sent directly to jail. But it is inside your body all the time (7). Perhaps it is the perception that exchanging the alert, everyday state of consciousness for a more open and loving one is a threat to the ‘corporate hegemony’ that keeps this experience out of the hands of he vast majority of us.
As an example, Ayahuasca seems to be the voice of the Amazon rainforest calling out to those systematically destroying it. In a conversation I had with Graham Hancock in May 2011 he made the point that spirit, if it exists, cannot manifest physically. These plants may be the ‘nature’, however you consider that, trying to reach us on a non-physical, spiritual level. If we are to take the idea seriously that DMT might be the signature of life on this planet, then we must also consider that all living things have cognitive spirit behind them. It certainly seems there are lessons to be learned from Ayahuasca and its related brews. The increased appreciation that is bestowed upon its drinkers (as a general rule), for the rainforest and its absolute miracle of diversity and bio-flexibility seems to mirror this notion.
Ayahuasca, Yage and a number of other psychedelic, or psychotomimetic brews in the Amazon have long been termed plant teachers. They seem to hold the keys Shamen need to reach the knowledge they intend to receive. Kat Harrison once asked, very pointedly, ‘how can a plant be a teacher?’. The question is still one with no concrete answer. These plants seem to hold information about the nature of our experience here on earth, and in this dimension that our scientific view hasn’t gotten to grips with yet. At least two worthwhile scientific studies have been doen on the usage of Ayahuasca(8).
Ayahuasca usage as a sacrament has been ruled as protected by the laws of Religious Freedom in the United States twice. First, the Uniao de Vegetal(9) and then the Santo Daime(10) have both won court cases granting them legal exemption from the Schedule 1 status of DMT under laws of Religious Freedom. The SDC has won at least three court cases in the US, The Netherlands and Italy. Maybe now that we are facing some very real ecological and existential challenges at this point in our history, we may open up to the wisdom of these plant teachers and perhaps, for the sake of scientific thoroughness, really get down to what these plants are and how upon why we are interacting with them and bringing back such important messages.
The psychoactive mushroom is probably the most interesting of all the shamanic sacraments. Some particular species of the fungi known as Mushrooms contain a chemical called Psilocybin or Psilocin. As presented in the 80’s and 90’s with much enthusiasm by the psychedelic writer and botanist Terrence McKenna, there is a theory that psilocybe-containing mushrooms; or ‘magic mushrooms’; were the force behind our ancestor’s divergence from the Homo genus (10). This is known as the ‘stoned ape’ theory and includes the notion that low doses of these mushrooms improved our ancestor’s eyesight making hunting more profitable, and increased sex-drive meaning more offspring. These are all rather culturally desirable traits.
More recently, Graham Hancock in his book ‘Supernatural’ argues with a great deal of scientific evidence that the same mushrooms were responsible for our shift from routine-based hunter-gatherers into artists and philosophers. The cave paintings of Alta Mira in Spain, Lascaux and Chauvet in France show motifs and models that are nearly ubiquitous in the context of the shamanic experience. Graham invokes a number of real credible scientists that agree with some degree of his postulations including Prof. Benny Shannon, John Mack PhD, Rick Strassman PhD, Jacques Vallee PhD and a number of others. It seems these proto-shamen were using the mushroom Semilanceata. Commonly used still today under the moniker the ‘Liberty Cap’.
One of the interesting claims Hancock puts forward is that the Alien Abduction phenomenon is related to the DMT phenomenon and may possibly be a result of a spontaneous burst of endogenous DMT. They seem to share an uncanny number of similarities such as therianthropic elements, ‘probing’, and the potential for un-going relationships with ‘beings’ from ‘somewhere else’.
Interestingly, mushrooms are the shamanic format that has gained the most positive press. This youtube video shows a CNN report entitled ”‘Magic’ Mushroom Surprise: Study Finds Lasting Benefit”(11) In that video we hear Dr. Roland Griffiths speak about the potential for the mushrooms to be used to treat anxiety in terminal cancer patients. Well…CNN has actually already covered this one. In an article posted September 7th, 2010, CNN covered to the work of Professor Chares Grob; a professor at the UCLA School Of Medicine(12).
His work was experimental psychiatric work administering psilocybin to terminally ill cancer patients and gauging what effect it had on their psyche in regard to stress and anxiety. As he can be seen discussing in the film ‘DMT: The Spirit Molecule’, he got some quite positive results from this research and psilocybin mushrooms are now seriously being considered as viable tools in psychiatry and psychology. Dr Grob has also done work with Ayahuasca in the early 90’s.
Iboga and Ibogaine
Iboga is a root-based sacrament used in central Africa by the Bwiti tribe in Gabon. The President of Gabon partakes of this ritual sacrament regularly and it is protected under religious freedoms standards.
Rocky Caravelli of the ‘Awakening The Dream’ house near Puerta Vallarta in Mexico claims that Ibogaine, which is an extract from the Iboga root, alleviates 90% of withdrawal symptoms from substances such as alcohol, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. Another claim is that it addresses the cravings brought on by an addiction to a substance for anywhere between 2 and 6 months after the treatment his clinic offers using Ibogaine. If his treatments are to be taken seriously, this seems like the anti-addiction drug. He further claims it can be used as an antidote to an array of psychological ailments and a limited number of physical ailments (13).
Another common attribute is its ability to allow its user to commune with dead friends and relatives. Reportedly, a good number of users address unfinished issues with family and friends during their (rather nasty) ordeal on Ibogaine (14). Indigenous and modern cultures in central west Africa believe they commune with their ancestors to receive wisdom on various subjects. Graham Hancock recalls in ‘Supernatural’ and lectures how he was able to find closure in his relationship to his father who had passed on prior to his ingesting Ibogaine.
Ibogaine is also a Schedule 1 substance in the US and a number of other countries. It is no under regulation in Canada or Mexico, so a large number of addicts go abroad to receive treatment with Ibogaine for their addictions (15). Why this is the case, I don’t now. It seems a successful treatment that doesn’t act as a revolving door, as most clinics and rehabs seem to. It’s a medicine used be people for thousands of years and I think its worth our unreasonably inhibited society to give it a look-in when we have such a problem with abuse of other substances.
The Groundwork Has Been Laid
None of what I have said is new. We have known that these cultures have used these plants to heal for thousands of years with great success. We know that these plants can allow you to transcend this physical word and embrace parts of yourself you didn’t even know existed. We know that this substances open up an infinite capacity for love in a human being. Both giving love, and receiving it. Why then, are we stuck in such an archaic mindset that all these sacred plants are nothing more than ‘drugs’ and must be suppressed?
We embrace alcohol and cigarettes as acceptable social drugs. We even accept coffee as an acceptable alternative to amphetamines. We allow sugar to be introduced to almost every food group and every food product, yet we can’t give these ancient healing plants a good chance to show us their power. It makes such little sense to me that western culture actively tries to hoist itself into countries that perhaps don’t want democracy. Even if so, it hasn’t even worked in the west yet. How can we be trying to push a system that hasn’t worked yet?
Without integrating these ancient plants, society is going to have a very hard time trying to find a method of operation that is sustainable and humane. Without considering the what these plants have to show us, we are prematurely closing the book on reality and experience. We are abandoning the true exploratory basis of science for a more conservative, almost religious approach. I am not an advocate of any religion or any particular philosophy, but I say; By God, let the plants free!
(1) McKenna Ph.D, Dennis – Ayahuasca- A Pharmacological History(1998) pg. 3
(2) Strassman, Ph.D, Rick – DMT: The Spirit Molecule(2001) pg. 43
(4) McKenna, Ph.D, Dennis – Manifesting The Mind(2009)
(5) McKenna, Ph.D, Dennis – Manifesting The Mind(2009)
(7) Barker S.A., Monti J.A., Christian S.T. (1981). “N, N-dimethyltryptamine: an endogenous hallucinogen”. International Review of Neurobiology 22: 83–110
(8) McKenna, Terrence(1992) Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge – A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution (Bantam)
(13) http://www.awakeninginthedream.com/index.html, Manifesting The Mind (2009)